Welcome back to the round-up! It’s our second biggest yet with six of this week’s books reviewed. Below you’ll find a wide range of books from Conan the Barbarian to X-O Manowar to Avengers Assemble and more! What are waiting for? Dive in!
THE MIDAS FLESH #1/ Written by RYAN NORTH/ Art by SHEILI PAROLINE & BRADEN LAMB/ Letters by STEVE WANDS/ Published by BOOM! STUDIOS
Despite its odd, slightly morbid title, The Midas Flesh is a breath of fresh air. It’s a very strong opening act, with a lot of elements to enjoy.
First and foremost, the characters are likable. Joey and her crew have a rapport that comes off as casual and genuine. Even if we don’t know exactly who Joey, Fatima, Cooper are yet, North’s writing makes it clear that these characters are not only talented, but fun people to be around. The artwork accentuates this. Its simple, straightforward designs accentuate the fact that these are not cosmic ultramen or space cowboys, but normal everyday people. That isn’t to say it’s so simple it’s not a treat to look at (it is). It just means that even as the cast includes King Midas, Greek Gods and a dinosaur, everyone feels like an everyday person.
This aesthetic makes for a very interesting combination with the story itself. The narrative presents a clear mash up between a sci-fi intergalactic war and the Greek myth of King Midas. Despite the wildly different genres, North manages to mesh the two extremely well. At no point do the jumps between Joey and her crew and Midas’ kingdom ever feel forced or unnatural. The narrative sets up the believable notion that there is a connection between the two, a connection that later issues will hopefully explore. Paroline’s and Lamb’s artwork does a similar task, crafting a soft, simple style that fits both in deep space and in ancient Greece.
Another enjoyable part of this issue is the sense of mystery. The story is simple to follow yet at the same time, the reader doesn’t know everything that’s going on. The reader doesn’t know how all the pieces connect yet. The reader doesn’t know exactly who all these characters are. Now, this isn’t surprising or new for any original series’ first issue, but what puts The Midas Flesh a cut above most pilot issues is that the story isn’t confusing or cluttered. Rather, it’s fun, straightforward yet with a mystery that begs to be solved: what does a Starship Crew want with King Midas’ corpse?
In a nutshell, don’t let The Midas Flesh’s odd title throw you off. It is an entertaining, straightforward romp with a likable cast and a genre-bending story that leaves you asking questions but never dazed and confused.
GHOST #1/ Written By KELLY SUE DECONNICK & CHRIS SEBELA/ Art By RYAN SOOK/ Colors By MCCAIG/ Letters By RICHARD STARKINGS & COMICRAFT/ Published by DARK HORSE COMICS
A lifetime ago, Elisa Cameron discovered a secret. The mayor of Chicago was a demon and he was using a magical artifact to place other demons inside human bodies before placing said humans in positions of power around the city. It was a secret worth killing for and in every technical sense of the word Elisa Cameron did die for it – her body and soul sent into Hell.
Yet, fate had more in store for the intrepid reporter. And what should have been the end of her story proved to be a new beginning. For a pair of paranormal investigators accidentally opened a pathway from the world of the living and Elisa took it, despite having no memory of who she once was. Now, the memories of her past life partially restored and gifted with the power to phase through physical matter and to touch the insubstantial forms of demons, Elisa fights to save the soul of Chicago itself as… THE GHOST!
This first issue neatly establishes the series’ concept for those unfamiliar with the character’s previous appearances as well as the current status quo of The Ghost’s world. Despite the amnesia background being incredibly cliched, Elisa proves to be a unique, engaging and sympathetic heroine. The script by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Chris Sabela does an excellent job in establishing a film noir aesthetic, with Elisa being unsure just how far she can trust her few allies and whether or not she can trust an enemy to play straight with her.
This same aesthetic fills the artwork by Ryan Sook. The world of Ghost is full of dark alleys that hide darker secrets. This only causes our heroine to stand out all the stronger, her costume a classy white affair that leaves her looking like a movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The final effect is breathtaking and every page of this book is gorgeous.
This book is a must read for all fans of quality comics, particularly film noir enthusiasts and fans of the supernatural in general. With an interesting heroine, strong script and amazing artwork, this is one Ghost story that won’t scare audiences away.
X-O MANOWAR #20/ Written by ROBERT VENDITTI/ Layouts by CARY NORD/ Finishes VICENTE CIFUENTES/ Colors by ULISES ARRELDA/Published by VALIANT ENTERTAINMENT
Event tie-ins are tough to pull off. With all the action and drama of a big blockbuster looming offstage, it’s challenging to entice readers into taking a side trip from the main event. Case in point, X-O Manowar #20. The issue serves as a tie-in to publisher Valiant’s mega-hyped Unity event, and while not quite as stellar as X-O’s regular story arc entries, it builds on the momentum of Unity and delivers a fulfilling single issue read.
Writer Robert Venditti deals well with a cast and series of situations inherited from Unity’s second issue. As action propels the story along from the first pages, there’s a deliberate effort made to introduce each character and flush out their complex backstories in short time. The blocking and tackling is crucial, as Ninjak, Eternal Warrior, Toyo Harada, and Livewire share the issue’s pages with X-O’s main star, Aric of Dacia. There’s some channeling of the best elements of old superhero storytelling at work, a sort of Claremont-era Uncanny X-Men rundown of strange individuals with even stranger powers and abilities. It’s fun stuff, with a nice balance struck between giving Unity readers more of the story and delivering a fundamentally enjoyable single issue romp.
Artists Cary Nord and Vicente Cifuentes turn in mostly solid work. There are a few choppy panels scattered throughout, but overall the art delivers workmanlike action beats and characterization. The large cast is well defined and recognizable, and Nord keeps things dynamic and punchy as Valiant’s all-stars mix it up. Harada’s telekinesis, Ninjak’s stealthy moves, and Gilead’s fisticuffs add variety to the pages. The art particularly shines when focused on Livewire, whose terror at being trapped in the X-O armor is striking.
Crossover tie-ins can often feel like filler, but X-O Manowar #20 provides a tangible extension of the Unity storyline and enough self-contained action and characterization to make it worth picking up.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #22/ Written by KELLY SUE DECONNICK & WARREN ELLIS/ Art by MATTEO BUFFAGINI & PACO DIAZ/ Colors by NOLAN WOODARD/ Letters by VC’s CLAYTON COWLES/ Published by MARVEL COMICS
Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Avengers Assemble has generally been fantastic, and the current “Spider Gals” arc is no exception. What’s interesting particularly for the writing of this issue is that she is joined by Warren Ellis. Ellis and DeConnick are both terrific writers and friends, so teaming up isn’t exactly a stretch of the imagination. And while Warren Ellis isn’t exactly an unwelcome name on a title, the issue did not really need him. Still, it’s Warren Ellis, and since this is the first part of his return to writing Marvel Comics, well, who are we to complain?
DeConnick and Ellis’s second part to the arc is just as good as the first. The dialogue is notably excellent – it’s much more natural and organic than most titles out there – and the character interaction is the heart of the issue. Spider-Girl is a pretty underused character, so making her the protagonist of the arc was smart thinking: fans get to see their darling in the spotlight, and new readers get a real introduction to who Anya is and how she works. For those new to Anya, the way she works is terrifically. She’s an energetic, proactive, caring, and funny heroine, and her hostage scene with Black Widow and Spider-Woman is the funniest moment in the book (though Hulk’s outburst a few pages later gives it a run for its money). Black Widow and Spider-Woman remain the co-leads, though Black Widow has a smaller role in this issue than the last. Bruce Banner and Wolverine sub in, the latter of which will continue into main support next issue.
Matteo Buffagini and Paco Diaz are tremendous on art duty, and fans and artists looking for a book where female characters can be attractive without being drawn exploitatively should take notes. Every woman in this book is gorgeous to look at, June Covington especially, and yet there is no unnatural and awkward fanservice to be found. Nolan Woodard’s colors are also great, particularly on the last two pages as Covington finds what she’s been searching for. Avengers Assemble #22 really does have everything, and it’s a $3.99 well worth spending.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #23/ Script By BRIAN WOOD/ Art By RICCARDO BURCHIELLI/ Colors By DAVE STEWART/ Letters By RICHARD STARKINGS OF COMICRAFT/ Published by DARK HORSE COMICS
The crew of The Tigress sailed up the dark waters of the Zarkheba River in search of a fabled city filled with gold and jewels. While they found the treasure, they also found trouble beyond even the local legends of poisonous waters and deadly snakes. A winged beastman haunted the city and the poisonous perfume of the dreaded Black Lotus plant hung heavy upon the surrounding jungles. Now, Conan of Cimmeria finds himself alone in this accursed place, racing against unimaginable evils to find his love – the pirate queen Belit!
Brian Wood’s script borrows heavily from the original text of Robert E. Howard’s classic pulp tale Queen of the Black Coast. Indeed, so much of the dialogue in this issue is taken verbatim from the original text, it might be more appropriate for Wood to be credited as an adaptor rather than as a writer.
Curiously, Wood does make one change to the action of the original story, with Conan taking time to bury one of his comrades who was driven mad by the Black Lotus fumes. Such behavior – while not out of character – seems impractical given that Conan is meant to be desperately searching for his beloved Belit and he has no idea if she is alive or dead. It’s also curious that Wood decided to add this scene into the tale yet saw no need depict Belit’s last stand, when this final story arc is meant to be about her just as much as it is about Conan.
The artwork of Riccardo Burchielli proves equally troublesome. Belit is absent for most of the issue and – once finally revealed – is depicted in a way that seems exploitative and gratuitous. It’s a shame because Burchielli’s artwork is so skillful in every other respect. His use of shadows in particular is tremendously effective.
In the end, it is hard to suggest an audience for this book. Howard purists will dislike it because of Wood’s additions to the story. Modern fantasy fans will dislike it for how Belit is depicted. Everyone else will feel inclined to either pass the book over completely or track down the original Roy Thomas Conan comics to see this tale told more effectively.
SCARLET SPIDER #25/ Written by CHRISTOPHER YOST/ Art by DAVID BALDEON/ Colors by CHRIS SOTOMAYOR/ Letters by CHRIS ELIOPOULOS/ Published by MARVEL COMICS
Kaine thought that he had found happiness and peace in Houston, but he was wrong. It seems that the formerly evil clone of Peter Parker is destined to live in turmoil and chaos. Christopher Yost brings his Scarlet Spider run to an end, in issue 25, by filling in the action-packed gaps created by Kaine’s final showdown with Shathra and leaving the reader with some enjoyably dramatic dialogue.
It is clear throughout that Kaine is severely depressed about losing the comfortable life he had established in Houston. Yost does an excellent job of bringing his previous story arc and the finale together as Aracely tries to get Kaine to open up about the events his violent encounter with Shathra and the suspicions Wally Layton had begun to form about his checkered past. Yost’s dialogue juxtaposes Kaine’s personal torture and pessimism with Aracely’s bubbly immaturity to create an unlikely duo that the reader will wish had more development.
Baldeon’s art does an excellent job of capturing the different tones in the story line. On some pages, Baldeon captures the terror and explosive force behind Kaine’s last encounter in Houston, while in others he captures Kaine’s defeated mentality as he travels to Mexico. There is a full-page scene where Kaine looks up in horror as Shathra dominates the page. Baldeon’s use of shadowing makes Shathra seem just as terrifying as the look on Kaine’s face would lead one to believe.
Yost and Baldeon prove in Scarlet Spider #25 that the combination of unique art and excellent writing will be sorely missed in the Marvel line-up.