Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier

Coming to screens in April, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is pulled from the pages of the award-winning Winter Soldier storyline by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting. Spanning Captain America issues #1-9 and #11-14, Winter Soldier is a fast-paced spy story that changed Cap’s status quo forever. Aided by artistic team Mike Perkins, Michael Lark and John Paul Leon, Brubaker and Epting reenergized the Captain America mythos in the introduction of the arc’s titular character, reviving Cap’s dead partner Bucky Barnes as highly-skilled Soviet assassin the Winter Soldier. Full of action, intrigue and poignant character development, this saga lives up to the hype as its movie adaptation makes its way to a theater near you.

Since the end of World War II, Soviet Russia has used its secret weapon, the ruthlessly efficient and untraceable Winter Soldier, to assassinate key Western political figures. Deactivated at the end of the Cold War, this undercover agent is once again revived by the power-hungry General Lukin and used to do his dirty work. Lukin, who has come into possession of a vastly powerful and reality-bending Cosmic Cube, embarks on a plot of death and destruction that brings Captain America to his door. Cap, still reeling from a series of recent traumas, is in no shape to come face to face with Bucky or the horrors that have been done to him. What begins with the surprising assassination of the Red Skull ends in a globe-trotting spy story of regret and redemption as Cap struggles to save his best friend from himself.

CaptainAmericaWS1Brubaker is a masterful storyteller and his gift for plotting really shows in Winter Soldier. His scripting throughout the arc is air-tight, settling into a compelling pace and never letting up as every component of the unfolding mystery seamlessly comes together. While certainly action-packed, the globe-trotting adventure is elegantly tempered by flashback sequences and downtime, slowing down to afford some truly poignant moments. The interlude, The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe from artists Leon and Palmer, chronicles the tragic last months of Jack Monroe’s life as his mind begins to slip as result of the Super Soldier Serum. Likewise, Cap’s flashbacks to the 1940s, as well as the development of Bucky’s experiences as the Winter Soldier, create a strong personal undercurrent to balance the story effectively.

However, while I enjoy Brubaker’s work, I find that his characterizations are often quite thin. Winter Soldier, unfortunately, is no exception. The somewhat generic dialogue feels a bit tired throughout, as Steve recycles uninspired lines plucked right from equally uninspiring action movies with a blandly flirtatious Sharon. This is a little irksome, but, compared to the rest of the compelling character drama, ultimately doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story. I just wish some of the emotional weight reserved for Bucky’s and Jack’s storylines could have been a little bit more equally distributed among the rest of the principle cast.

Epting, who handles the bulk of the artwork, brings the story to the page with energy and gravitas. His strong sense of narrative truly shines through the use of thoughtful page design and panel transition, expertly pacing each critical scene. The quality of his lines and dramatic use of shadow sets a somber tone that grounds the story in a real sense of weight and physicality. Overall his style meshes impeccably with Perkins and flashback artist Lark, making for a cohesive reading experience from start to finish. This is also due largely in part to the work of colorist Frank D’Armata. D’Armata’s dark and moody palettes affect a somber tone throughout, and the use of grayscale color schemes during the flashback sequences is a nice touch.

Overall Winter Soldier is a great story from a dynamic creative team. It’s fun, it’s compelling, and it’s wonderfully crafted from start to finish. This arc is required reading for Captain America fans but I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting superhero read. Oh, and be sure to see the movie. I hear it’s pretty good.

Magen Cubed  –  http://www.eonism.net

Retro Comics: Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown #4

With its fourth issue, this 80s action-adventure romp comes to a dramatic close, ending this enjoyable flashback on an overall high note. After Logan’s apparent death at Alex’s hands, the spy/mercenary Quark uses her blooming romantic relationship with Alex to lead him to India and directly into the clutches of General Meltdown. In this issue we learn that this globe-trotting journey has been a complex rouse created by Meltdown and Doctor Neutron, meant to pit Alex against Meltdown so that the general can absorb Alex’s devastating radioactive blast. Logan, however, has other plans.

After being buried in a shallow grave, Logan comes back as Alex predicted thanks to his healing factor. From there he follows the staged clues left behind by Quark to arrive in India, at the power plant meant to serve as the stage of General Meltdown’s ascension into untold levels of power. Led by Quark, Alex believes that he’s rushing into the plant to avoid an impending meltdown, and is instead met by Meltdown. Dramatic monologues ensue as Alex squares off against the power-hungry mutant, as Quark (still masquerading as Scarlett) is wounded in the skirmish. Fueled by heartbreak and rage, Alex unleashes a massive blast on Meltdown, playing right into Meltdown’s hands.

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Just when all seems lost, Logan arrives to stop Meltdown, piercing him with a slew of control rods as to dampen and wither his powers. Still channeling excessive levels of power, Alex redirects the radioactive onslaught up and into space, sparing the plant and everyone inside. With Meltdown dead and Scarlett seemingly lost in the crossfire, Logan and Alex make their escape to Bombay, taking a moment to breathe as their adventure comes to an end. In the epilogue we see Neutron plan for the future, quickly overcoming this setback to move onto the next big scheme at the expense of the world’s superhero community.

Overall this was an enjoyable series, with plenty of twists and turns and amazing art to boot. In this closing issue Muth and Williams deliver a visually exciting story, with explosive action sequences in the Alex/Meltdown showdown and dramatic page design. The use of color was especially affective here, with lovely golds and earth tones against eerie blues and greens to explore the interior of the plant. This book is just unquestionably nice to read, providing a consistently engaging visual experience from start to finish. I wish I could say the same of Walter and Louise Simonsons’ scripting. While definitely fun, this issue in particular really suffers from the overuse of cliché dialogue and exchanges between Alex and Quark so sugary-sweet as to induce a diabetic episode. I have to give the Simonsons props for an entertaining plot for Muth and Williams to capitalize on, but the dialogue is often so bad that I had to laugh, and not in a good way. For all the soft spots, Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown is still a highly entertaining nostalgic trip to the comics of a bygone era.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Review: A Hard Day’s Work with She-Hulk #1

Fresh from the successes of female-led titles like Captain Marvel, Black Widow and Ms. Marvel, Marvel Comics finally brings one of its most enduring characters back to the page with She-Hulk #1. Since her first appearance in 1980’s Savage She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters has made numerous appearances in the pages of Fantastic Four, Avengers, and Incredible Hulk, as well as several separate runs of her solo Sensational She-Hulk. In that time, Jennifer has been around the block, not only as the hulking green hero but as a savvy New York attorney, offering legal counsel to many of her fellow heroes.

In February Jennifer finally came back to the shelves in her own anticipated ongoing solo title. Fresh off her recent major role in FF from Matt Fraction and Lee and Mike Allred, Jennifer is back to basics. This new book is helmed by the creative team of writer Charles Soule, artist Javier Pulido, and color artist Munsta Vicente, and offers a fun ride for readers new and old.

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An upbeat title that takes several cues from its predecessors, the opening issue follows Jennifer’s misadventures as she balances her life as a superhero with her career.  Realizing that she was only brought on for her connections in the superhero community, Jennifer quits her position at Paine and Luckberg, LLP. to find a more appreciative firm. After this incident she goes out to drown her sorrows at the nearby lawyer bar. There she runs into Holly Harlow, the widow of a recently deceased villain and inventor.

Holly, alone with two children to raise, has reason to believe that Tony Stark stole some of her husband’s patents before his death. She wants Jennifer to represent her in court, hoping to support her family on what little legacy her husband left behind. Although hesitant at first, Jennifer agrees to take the case, using her longstanding relationship with Stark to settle matters out of court. What seems like a simple case quickly takes a strange and frustrating turn for Jennifer, sending her into battle against lawyers, robots, and Stark’s very intimidating one-man legal department, Legal. Despite the obstacles thrown at her, Jennifer finds a way to solve Holly’s troubles and makes a pretty penny in the process, giving her enough capital (and confidence) to open her own practice.

A fun romp into the flipside of the superhero business, She-Hulk preserves the wit and charm of her earlier titles while still doing something new. Soule delivers a solid script here, maintaining a likeable playfulness in showing off Jennifer’s legal savvy as she maneuvers through Stark’s obnoxious corporate defenses. Pulido brings this quirky world to life with a strong sense of storytelling, buoyed by the retro sensibilities of his line work and several clever comedic flourishes throughout. Vicente’s clean bright color palettes help to develop this cool visual aesthetic, making for a fun visual experience from start to finish.

Overall this issue is just fun, reviving a character with a rich history and an eager readership. Longtime She-Hulk fans will love the playful writing and entertaining artwork, while new readers will find plenty of love in Jennifer’s continuing adventures. If you’re looking to a lighthearted and engaging superhero book, I highly recommend She-Hulk #1.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Indie Creators: Devin Kraft

Originally from Roswell, New Mexico, Devin Kraft is an indie comics artist and illustrator from Cheshire Cat Studios (http://cheshirecatart.com/index.html). A transplant from the desert, he is currently based out of Dallas, Texas, which is just down the highway from me here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. I first encountered Devin’s work while trawling the convention floor at Dallas Comic Con in 2012, grabbing a business card and heading home to follow his efforts online, keeping an eye on his projects and illustrations. Devin is currently hard at work on the third volume of his creator-owned comic Dragon Slayer, a dynamic blend of Eastern/Western fables and genre-mashing, resulting in an intriguing hunting epic. I had a chance to talk to Devin about comics, writing, the local indie comics scene, and a whole lot more.

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Q. Your big project right now is your comic Dragon Slayer. What do you want people to know about it?

A. How much of a labor of love this comic is! It has been one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever done, and not just in terms of writing or illustrating, but promotion and distribution as well.  Minus some much appreciated editorial help from my cousin Brooks and some graphic design help from his brother Matt, I’ve done Dragon Slayer primarily alone, which means I have to field every job at some point or another.

First I have to write, pencil, ink, tone and letter each issue, then I have to design the book, promote it, and distribute it.  I self-publish, so I have to hand mail every copy sold through the Kickstarter, or sell them via comic conventions.  It’s definitely a lot of work, but I love it.

I came up with the concept for the book in 2009, and I started working on the book late 2012.  Usually I just sell comics at conventions, but I wanted to use Kickstarter hoping it would help get people interested in the comic.  Kickstarter has been huge for me, as I have been able to engage my audience as well as get immediate feedback from issue to issue.  Dragon Slayer is definitely a product of that collaboration with fans of the book, and that’s what I’ve always wanted from comicking.

Q. I’ve read a bit of Dragon Slayer so far and I really enjoy visual blend of Eastern fable with Western sci-fi/fantasy. That’s an aesthetic that I often see but isn’t always integrated successfully. What are some of your influences for this comic? Any particular homages?

A. I hope I pull the aesthetic off successfully!  My favorite stories and art styles are hybrids of Eastern and Western culture.  I love Japanese artists who pay attention to anatomy, and American or European artists who know when to let anatomy slide in favor of more expressionistic storytelling.

As far as specific examples go, the three biggest spiritual influences have been Katsuhiro Otomo (primarily in how lavishly he portrays destroyed cities in his work), Matsumoto Taiyou (for pacing, and allowing his stories to breathe), and Terada Katsuya (for his brilliant sense of design).  All three were heavily influenced by Moebius, but I’d be hard pressed to think of any artists who have a more distinctly “Japanese” style.

DevinKraft1As far as storytelling goes, my main influences for Dragon Slayer are Neil Gaiman, Aesop’s Fables, the Coen Brothers, and Quentin Tarantino. I’m hoping the end product will be a viable mix of traditional and contemporary storytelling resulting in something fresh and original.

Q. I know a lot of creators across many fields have mixed feelings about crowdfunding projects. Some love it, some despise it, and it always seem to be a well-debated topic all over the web. Having Kickstarted your comic twice now, how have your experiences with crowdfunding been so far?

A. I personally love crowdfunding, as that is what has allowed me to continue writing/drawing/producing Dragon Slayer. When I first went to the Dallas Comic Con in 2012, I printed up five comics I had drawn thinking I would sell through my stock.  I quickly found out how difficult it is to pitch an original idea to people at a crowded convention, so I was worried about getting the comics I did finish into an audience’s hands.

Kickstarter was a great platform to present the idea to an audience as well as interact with people interested in the concept.  There’s always a point in each issue where I burn out a bit because I’m fielding three people’s jobs or so, and having people who care about the story and are excited for the next issue is what keeps me going sometimes.  I hang on to all the fanart people send me and I decorate my room with it as a reminder that people do actually care about what I’m doing.

Q. How long do you plan for Dragon Slayer to run? Will it just be three volumes, or is there more story to tell?

Dragon Slayer is going to wrap up with the third issue, which will be about the size of the first two issues combined.  I always thought of it as a self-contained story, but the more I played around in that world the more short stories I came up with.  I might base a future comic in the same world as Dragon Slayer, for sure.  If I could pass off the art duties to someone else, I’d love to do write some shorts fleshing out the world a little bit more.

Q. While digging through your older comics, I found myself very much intrigued by the imagery of many of your one-offs, specifically Devil and Dr. John. Do you find yourself drawn to one-offs more than serialized work, or vice versa? Do you prefer one format over another?

A. Being an independent comic artist, I don’t have the infrastructure that the average comic has.  It takes a lot of work just to finish a single issue, and I usually do the short comics for myself keeping in mind they potentially may never reach an audience.  Devil and Dr. John, for example, was written and illustrated while I was an exchange student in Japan when I was 21.  I didn’t print it up until 2012, roughly five years after I had finished it.  I put the pages up for free on Deviantart and Facebook, and I even had it translated into Japanese to submit to some manga contests when I was job hunting in Japan in 2009, but even with all of that I’d be surprised if more than ten people read it before it was physically printed.

In college I would draw comics instead of doodling in class, figuring it would be better (and more focused) practice than aimless scribbles.  By drawing a page or so a day, I ended up completing twenty comics that I had no clue how to get to an audience.  My first comic was a Chinese noir inspired riff on Alice in Wonderland that I finished about five issues of, and towards the end of college I finished five issues of a comic called Paradise about an omniscient horticulturist fighting an omnipresent murderer (trust me, it’s cooler than it sounds, and it had zombies before zombies got played to death).

I think you have so much more room to play with and subvert tropes with serialized storytelling, so as a writer I much prefer that, but it takes a colossal amount of effort to wear both hats, and without any audience backing you up drawing serialized stories can feel like a lot of effort for a potentially empty room, so that’s why I did one-offs back in the day.

I really just want stories to have a solid thesis statement and to stick to that, and sometimes serialized media can lose the plot over time.  Alternatively, sometimes you need more room to properly explore your concept, so it becomes essential to tell it over several episodes.

Q. I noticed on your site you have a nicely cataloged visual resources page, which spares from me having to ask you where you draw inspiration from. I have to ask (as someone who’s far less fastidious in keeping track of her own resources): do you find that it helps to have all of your influential material organized and within reach? And where else do you mine for art-fuel?

A. I once heard that a good way to engage your audience was to create a learning environment, and that was one of the concepts behind my website.  I wanted to educate fans and future artists about artists who they might not hear about anywhere else.  There are widely known artists who work on Marvel and DC’s flagship titles, then there are the artist’s artists who have never gained mainstream attention for whatever reason.  My goal was to at least present people with these artist’s works in hopes they would serve as an inspiration to aspiring artists as well.

Case in point it took me years to find out how awesome Moebius was.  I actually had come across his book DevinKraft340 Days in the Desert in a Japanese bookstore, but I never knew how influential he was to my favorite artists. I also spent the majority of my time in Japan hunting down obscure artbooks, and this exposed me to a lot of alternative Japanese illustrators, and I wanted to pass this knowledge on to any budding artists who were looking for something new.

For art fuel I find myself checking my Tumblr a lot. I’m really picky about who and what I follow on Tumblr, so my feed has become a great mix of comic illustration tips, fashion, high art, and photography that always serves to plow through any artists’ block I may be struggling with.  Beyond that, I love going to Half Price Books or to comic shops and just checking through every single book on the shelf that I haven’t seen before.  I can kill a good hour or two at a decent bookstore.

Q. You’re based out of Dallas, which is just down the highway from me. Most of the American indie creators I keep up with these days are stationed on either coast or in Austin. They all have unique communities that they engage with, unique venues, things like that. (Obviously the internet and social networking opens up the indie community as a whole, so it doesn’t even need mentioning anymore.) But, from one local to another, how would you describe the indie comics world for us here in north-central Texas?

A. I’m from Roswell, New Mexico, originally, and it’s such a small town that it’d be really difficult to live solely off of such a niche form of art (comicking).  Coming to Dallas, I started attending conventions having only read about them in magazines when I was a kid.  It wasn’t long before I decided I was ready to exhibit at some of these conventions, and doing that has allowed me to connect with a bunch of awesome and talented people, both in the form of peers and in the form of fans.

Dallas has some phenomenal local talent that would be snatched up by the bigger companies immediately if they had headquarters here.  The artists I know here all employ vastly different styles from each other based on vastly different influences, so there’s a lot of diversity. It’s always a lot of fun at the big conventions to browse the booths, as every booth has such a totally different style from the next.

I’m guaranteed to forget someone in this list, but a few of my local favorites are: The Space Gun Studios guys, Robert Wilson IV, Chad Thomas, Evan Bryce Cranston, the Ghostwerks comics crew, Sho-Nuff Studios, Jose Ramirez, Jose Esquivel, and Kristian Donaldson, among others.

Q. Outside of comics, you do a lot of illustrations and commission work. I know you’ve had some success with your Studio Ghibli series in particular. Are there any favorites or highlights you’d like to share?

A. When I need to take a break from creator owned stuff, I do fanart, and I always try to have fun with it.  Until recently, I never really designed posters for conventions specifically-I’d draw them more for myself than anything.  It’s always fun to see which prints con goers gravitate towards at a convention, and at Sci-Fi Expo people really seemed to love my recent Sherlock print.  My Tardis design usually sells out pretty quickly, so I suspect people just love the BBC (as they should).

When I’m not working on sequentials, I’ll usually have one or two new poster concepts to post on my Etsy store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/cheshirecatart) each week.  I’ve been focusing on finishing off Dragon Slayer, but once that’s finished I’ll probably relax with some fanart for a few weeks.

Q. Your work draws from and incorporates a lot of different genres, which makes for some fun comics. Is there a particular genre you love more than the others? Is there a genre you’d like to tackle but haven’t yet?

A. It’s really tough for me because I love slice of life alternative comics as well as deep philosophical comics, but my art style is kinetic and lends itself to action, so I always feel like there’s a gulf between the stories I would like to write and the stories I would like to draw.  I’d love to write personal pensive stories like Craig Thompson, Daniel Clowes, or Adrian Tomine, but I would go nuts drawing talking heads all the time.  Maybe when I’m older and more comfortable with my style as well as more versatile I’ll grow up into the storyteller I want to be.

I’d love to dabble in each genre.  I think horror would be a blast to do. Junji Ito’s Uzumaki got me really inspired to do something in that vein.  I’d also love to write stories about relationships, but again, I’d hate drawing them.  I could probably have a field day with the action genre since I grew up on Chinese noir films when I was a kid.

Q. Before we wrap this up, are there any other projects coming up that you’d like to plug? Any upcoming convention appearances you want to highlight?

A. The collected edition of Dragon Slayer will be available on Kickstarter either April or May, depending on when I get all the pages wrapped up and the book designed.  The Space Gun Studios team is coloring the book, so it’s going to look amazing once all is said and done.  I’m already working on the comic after Dragon Slayer mentally, so that’s going to be fun to dive into.

As far as conventions, I’ll be doing Staple! March 1st-2nd in Austin, and then I’ll be doing The Heart of Texas Comicon in Waco March 7th-8th. I’ll definitely be at Dallas Comicon in May as well, hopefully with finished copies of Dragon Slayer!

As far as social media goes, I’m on just about everything. I kind of have to be, but I’m pretty active on each platform, so if anyone messages I’ll catch it pretty fast.

Thanks so much to Devin for talking the time to talk to me. Be sure to follow his work at Cheshire Cat Studios (http://cheshirecatart.com/index.html) and stop by his Etsy store for more (https://www.etsy.com/shop/cheshirecatart). I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Magen Cubed  –  http://www.eonism.net

Retro Comics: Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown #3

By far the most interesting issue in the series up to this point, Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown #3 follows Logan as he tracks down Alex and Quark. Incorporating horror elements into the book’s already impressive visual narrative, this issue continues to play with genre conventions to satisfying ends. It’s an 80s flashback worth having as Quark leads Alex into General Meltdown’s clutches, and Logan fights to survive Doctor Neutron’s experimentation.

Fleeing across Mexico from their alleged CIA pursuers, Alex and Quark fly into Merida, where Quark checks in with Meltdown while Alex rests. Still posing as the nurse Scarlett, Quark finds her persona beginning to slip as she develops feelings for Alex. It is a cliché for the femme fatale to fall for the flawed hero, but this scene leads to one of the loveliest sequences in the book as Quark goes into the women’s room to change. Five wordless panels against a red-smeared watercolor background invoke a sense of sad resignation far more profound than the Simonsons’ fun but cheesy script. It’s pages like this that make the work of Muth and Williams the real stars of this series.

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Meanwhile, Logan’s hunt for Alex puts him in danger when he brought down in an ambush and captured by Meltdown’s thugs. His mind wiped in a series of experiments, he’s dropped off in a castle in a Soviet-controlled region of the Carpathian Mountains, where Quark leads Alex. The castle, right out of Dracula, is where Meltdown and Neutron arrange for Alex to encounter Logan, now a mindless beast bent on tearing Alex to shreds. Alex, wanting to save his friend, has no choice but to fight back or be killed. In the skirmish he accidentally kills Logan, just in time for the cliffhanger ending, and swears revenge on whoever is behind this.

I have to say, I don’t think I’ve never read a superhero book quite like this before. It has pulp aspirations with a revenge story on the side. The buddy comedy set-up of the first issue has turned into a cool globe-trotting adventure, with plenty of brutal action, mysterious locales, and a dash of horror for good measure. To their credit, Walter and Louise Simonson deliver a story that is both fun and interesting, and manages to hold up today with its many twists and turns. It’s so 80s that it hurts sometimes, but in an increasingly endearing way.

Brought to the page by the amazing collaboration of Muth and Williams, with their strong sense of storytelling and compatible styles, this series just gets better as it goes along. I found this to be the most visually pleasing issue so far, from the inventive panel construction of Meltdown’s underground hideout sequence to the sumptuous color palettes throughout. For a world so dark and gritty, there is a real beauty in the soft, gauzy whites and blues of Alex’s scenes with Quark, and a raw, earthy vitality to the reds and blacks of Logan’s pages. This is one of the most visually unified collaborative superhero books I’ve seen to date, which makes it one of the most satisfying.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Review: More Mythos, Mystery and Death with Pretty Deadly #4

Picking up after issue #3’s unsettling revelation of Sissy’s birth, Pretty Deadly #4 immediately kicks into gear as the rogues and not-quite-heroes of this haunting western tale unite to save Sissy.  Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick delivers another air-tight script with this issue, brought to the page by artist Emily Rios and her beautiful sense of energy and space. Jordie Bellaire returns to round out this impressive creative team with her subtle color palettes, lending depth and softness to Rios’ otherworldly locales and delicate, fine-featured characters.

Opening the issue with Bones Bunny and Butterfly, Johnny and Molly arrive at the river’s edge to pull Sissy from the water. In a scene that continues to play with the idea of animal forms, switching back and forth between Molly and Johnny’s respective namesakes, he explains (in part) the story behind Death’s binder. As they set off, we see Alice return to the underworld in her butterfly form, finding Death none too pleased with her. She promises to ally herself with Ginny to deliver Sissy, the Ascendant, to him, and he warns her not to disappoint him again as he restores her body. Alone again, Ginny’s mother, Fox’s wife and Death’s prisoner in the underworld, appeals to him for her release. Too in love to let her go, he promises he will free the both of them instead once he has Sissy.

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Washing up after the flood, Fox wakes to find Ginny waiting for him, Sarah at her side. Ginny prepares to kill Fox, still seeking to avenge her mother, but Fox won’t die until he tells her of Death’s plans for Sissy. Accepting his fate at the end of her sword, he appeals to her to protect Sissy from her father. This emotional confrontation comes to brutal blows but Ginny agrees to Fox’s final request, and in the ends spares his life for Sissy’s sake. As the issue closes, Johnny and Molly deliver Sissy to them. Fox and Sissy are reunited as the cast bands together to stop Death, with Alice appearing on the horizon for her final showdown with Ginny.

With another strong issue under its belt, Pretty Deadly continues to be my favorite book on the shelf. The slow development of the last three issues pays off here as we approach the conclusion of the first arc, with tensions coming to a head in dramatic confrontations and bittersweet reunions. If you’ve been a little lost with the structure of the last three issues, rest assured the pacing and structure of the book has settled into something a little more linear, even as DeConnick still maintains that initial sense of magic and sorrow throughout the series. With the mythology of Ginny, Sissy and Death firmly rooted in this ghostly western world, this book continues to gain forward momentum toward the inevitable confrontation with Death himself. It’s all headed for a showdown, but we have to wait and see how it all shakes out for this surprising cast of characters.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Books You Should Be Reading: Black Widow

It’s not often that I find myself unashamedly praising a mainstream superhero comic book, at least not outside of the safe and comfy perimeters of a superhero comic book blog. In a sea of creator-owned titles and indie comics more than worth the cover price, superhero books are mostly comfort food. While many titles out there are challenging genre convention, narrative structure, and the limitations of commercial art, superheroes, by and large, mostly stay the same. That’s okay: they’re supposed to stick with the standards, because that’s their function. The pages of the average cape book spill over with modern hero mythology, archetypes of classical fiction and folklore dusted off and repurposed every few years to have one more go around.

But sometimes you get a superhero book that does a little more, goes just a little bit further, and pulls off something great. Black Widow from Marvel Comics, helmed by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto, is one of those books. Fresh from the publisher’s successes with solo titles such as Hawkeye and Captain Marvel, Marvel’s applying a similar formula to this book. While Captain Marvel is a traditional hero book with a strong emotional center, about air force pilot turned crime fighter Carol Danvers, the offbeat Hawkeye, following the oft-depressing daily exploits of Avenger Clint Barton, is a little more genre-bending. Black Widow, to its advantage, follows the core principles of these titles with great effectiveness. It’s a superhero book, yes, but in name only, as this title firmly grounds itself in action, espionage, and one woman’s quest for atonement in the face of a blood and tragic past.

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Noto and his stellar artwork and his soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts.

The title follows Natasha Romanov, known to even the most casual fans as Black Widow, a ruthless ex-KGB assassin, an efficient SHIELD agent, and a cool-as-ice Avenger. She is currently on a meteoric rise into the upper echelon of well-known Marvel properties, thanks to Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal in Iron Man 2, Avengers, and the upcoming Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Natasha can also be found in numerous Marvel animated shows and films, and makes notable appearances in recent video games as well. While this book could have tried to play off of the character’s recent mainstream exposure, instead Edmondson and Noto craft a tighter, more personal narrative, focusing on Natasha and her very small circle of associates. If you’re looking for a star-studded supporting cast of Avengers alum, you’re not likely to find it anytime soon. This is actually one of the best parts about the book, as it is small and self-contained, and is carried by the strong partnership between Edmondson and Noto to some visually pleasing results.

There is no shortage of action and adventure in this series, in the same vein as The Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible, with slick and exciting fight sequences, daring escapes, and plenty of spy gadgets. This is the main draw, but I find Edmondson is most successful in that he still keeps the story grounded in Natasha’s personal quest. A former killer with a checkered past, Natasha spends her off-time making up for it, one job at a time. In the first issue she makes a point of telling her manager/accountant Isaiah that she’s not doing contract work for the money, insisting that he transfers her compensation to her network of trusts. Natasha never compromises her ideals in the pursuit of her cause, and is never portrayed as anything but a compelling and capable spy, remaining a very relatable and human character throughout.

As I’ve stated in my reviews of the first two issues, the real star of this book is Noto and his stellar artwork. His soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts. Moody palettes and lighting techniques establish locales with an effectiveness I don’t often see, creating a distinctive visual tone for the series. The softened filter that Noto applies throughout gives a delicate, gauzy emphasis to key panels, contrasting the brutal efficiency of the character with her inherent femininity. Black Widow is as beautiful as she is deadly, and Noto explores that through graphic narrative without coming off as patronizing or obvious, a feat I rarely see done effectively.

While it’s still early days for this title, Black Widow is a cool book that packs a punch. It’s visually pleasing and fun to read, successfully blending genre conventions to satisfying ends. If you’re not already following this book, I highly recommend that you start.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net