Review: Daredevil #8

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Daredevil started a new arc this week, as the fabulously smart caption box on the front of the latest issue informed me. Of anything that Marvel has implemented over the last few months, the caption box on the front page which says “all-new story starts now!” has been the most useful, and the one which I desperately hope more publishers take advantage of. I know Image like to have you read every issue of a comic, but it’s nice to have a definitive point where you can start reading a book with relatively little background info and give the whole thing a try.

I’ve not heard much talk about Charles Soule’s turn writing Daredevil, unusually, given that his time with She-Hulk was so memorable. For those unaware, Soule is also a practising lawyer himself, and he brought that knowledge into his run writing Jennifer Walters in a convincing and arguably star-making performance as writer. Here, with Marvel’s other big lawyer, I’d not heard anything, to be honest. All had gone quiet.

Soule’s run has started with the gambit “he’s hidden his identity again” and is running from there, with the big reveal of how the character managed it looking to be the big hook of the overall narrative. This current arc though, seems like a deliberate step away from the standard type of Daredevil story and an attempt to try something different and new with the character – hurling him into a crime caper in China, where he’s participating in a poker tournament. It’s all fairly simple to keep up with, although the narrative breaks from Matt Murdock across to Daredevil slowly introduce a more confusing thread, as we reveal that Matt’s activities are just a bluff for his alter-ego to investigate something else.

Which is quite neat, bluffing the reader into thinking this was Matt Murdock trying to make some extra money when actually there’s some kind of villain in the hotel he’s actually trying to get closer to. It draws from the Waid/Samnee characterisation of Daredevil before pulling away into something different, and perhaps more in-line with whatever the Charles Soule iteration of Daredevil will be. As someone jumping on the issue with this arc, it was a little disappointing to realise that the Matt Murdock I’m reading about is actually lying to me, so I don’t get to see what his actual character is – but then hey, I suppose that’s character as much as anything.

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So I was fine with the story, which takes a few interesting detours although does feature a slightly dour, less appealing version of Matt Murdock than the last few years have gotten us all attuned to. With Goran Sudzuka presenting him as basically a blank slate for the entire issue as well, the comic doesn’t make him a particularly compelling protagonist, which slows the issue down and draws things out in order to make the bluff stronger. We’re holding to the interest of the game itself to pull us through the pages, tension building up because we want to see if he’ll win the tournament or not.

Sudzuka is a ridiculous artist who draws a face on every background character, merges the background into the foreground during fight scenes as a way to break panels apart, and generally does incredibly impressive work throughout. His take on the Casino captures the mix of shine, sleeze and dirt which you feel whenever you walk past a gambling table. There’s glamour and elegance, but at the same time everybody looks slightly discomforted by the experience and holds a slight grimace – when you transfer gaze from Daredevil to the people stood around him, things feel sinister and claustrophobic in a completely natural way. It’s not that everybody is out to get him here, it’s just that this is what casinos feel like.

The most noticeable aspect of the comic, though, is the colouring, which I’m not sure I enjoyed. Daredevil is not meant to be a bright comic, but this issue seemed surprisingly grim and dour for what was meant to be a high-stakes poker tournament. Matt Milla uses reds and blacks for the scenes set in the casino, mirroring the look of a roulette wheel but muddying and hiding quite a lot of Sudzuka’s work. Scenes outside the casino drop the red for a dark blue and dark green respectively, which means the whole issue feels less flashy than perhaps it could.

The casino loses sheen, the location work from Sudzuka doesn’t have much pop, and the fight scenes look grimy and harsh (which is the part of the colouring choice that really works nicely). Partway through the issue is a fight scene set in the astral plane, with Daredevil taking on a mind-reader, and it looks drab. Sudzuka does some really nice work on one panel in particular which has a snowy mountain as the backdrop. Daredevil and his assailant have a fight scene laid over the top of the mountain, their movements and swipes of swords throwing up snowy paths down the face of the slope and providing downward momentum which speeds up as the page reads onwards.

However, the colouring mutes absolutely everything, reducing the impact of the sequence dramatically. Perhaps not every superhero comic should have a bright shine to it, but this issue of Daredevil absolutely feels like it needed a pick-up. With everything muted (even the whites don’t have the gleam you’d see in, say, Moon Knight) there’s nothing to grab your immediate attention, and it’s easy to lose tracking on which panel to read at what time. I don’t have any of those pages to show you, though, so uh, just take my word on that one I guess. The preview pages are slick.

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Letterer Clayton Cowles picks up for the reader and offers a route through some of the more dull pages, but it shouldn’t have to be presented like that – with a more dynamic colouring style, like as seen once Daredevil appears on the pages at the end of the issue, the artwork would fit the style of the script in a more convincing manner.

As things are, a reasonably solid comic trades in style for a moody atmosphere which doesn’t quite feel right for what we’re being shown. I found Daredevil #8 to be a mostly fine comic which just feels dull, slowed down, and less effective than it could have been. It’s certainly not Sudzuka holding the issue back, as he sets up the pages in sterling fashion, with a series of brilliantly constructed moments scattered liberally throughout the pages. And whilst Soule’s narrative gambit does hold back on Matt Murdock’s personality, he does offer an interesting story. But the colouring choice really feels like it holds things back, here. I still think the issue was decent, but it loses a lot of razzle-dazzle in an Boardwalk Empire-style palette of dour dullness.

 

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Goran Sudzuka

Colourist: Matt Milla

Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Publisher: Marvel Comics

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Ten Comics Published in 2014 What Were Right Good

CBR’s Top 100 Comics List has now finished, and they asked me to send in my top ten picks as a part of the compilation. Some of my choices made it into the top 100, and some didn’t – so I thought I may as well share my list on here, give a look at my thoughts on the year in comics. I’m also over at Comics Alliance during ‘best of’ season this year, and should appear on The Beat soon too.

This is a slightly off-centre list – I weighted the list on purpose to try and force in a few comics I wanted in particular to make a surprise appearance on CBR, like Everstar and Moose Kid Comics. Which! Worked out quite nicely, actually. This was a year where I was away from the comic shop itself for a long time, and was more catching up on trades of old comics – like Manhattan Projects and Hellboy – than in reading new comics, and I think you can get that sense from this list. It’s perhaps not as imaginative a list as it could have been.

I do have a sensibility that leans towards fantastical stories, which also explains why some books – like This One Summer – aren’t in this final list. I genuinely do enjoy slapstick and superheroes, which is why both are so heavily represented in the list. Also: three books here are run by female writers/artists, which isn’t particularly balanced but at least does signal a slight opening up of the comics industry over the year. Again – some books haven’t hit trade yet, which is why Lumberjanes or Bitch Planet and so on haven’t appeared here

This year I’ll try to do more reading! But, y’know, it’s impossible to know what I’ll actually be doing in the year. Here’s my top ten choices:

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10: Quantum and Woody

It had a little artistic wobble right at the end, but James Asmus really managed to stick the landing as Quantum & Woody came to a temporary end this year. The most intimidating job in comics must be following Priest and Bright on their cult favourite, but Valiant’s relaunch of the series proved to be a winner from start to end. It tackled some rather close to home issues with grace and absolutely no dignity, proudly streaking through the comics industry, as Asmus showed himself off as possibly the funniest writer in comics today.

 

9: The Manhattan Projects

The sheer amount of imagination in The Manhattan Projects makes it worth a look, and artist Nick Pitarra’s storytelling took Jonathan Hickman’s insane plotting and brought it to the highest level. Eclectic and unpredictable, the characters continually throw the reader for a loop, establishing something strangely dignified with even the most ridiculous ideas. Dogs went into space and came back… changed, mental civil wars came to a bloody conclusion, Albert Einstein gave himself a totally bitchin’ makeover – 2014 saw The Manhattan Projects throw everything at the reader, then duplicate it through a wormhole so it could throw everything back at them a second time too.

 

8: Ms Marvel

Everybody seemed to be expecting some kind of brooding, CNN-approved tome when Ms Marvel was first announced – but with Adrian Alphona on art and G. Willow Wilson writing, this was never going to be a “woe is me” sort of comic. People went crazy about the concept, apparently having never heard of Muslim people before, but the actual comic we got once the presses locked themselves into solitary was bouncy, silly, and springy – just like Kamala Khan herself. Let’s stop pretending we’re reading Ms Marvel for the idea it provides high-intensity social commentary, and instead just accept that Kamala Khan is REALLY GOOD FUN TO READ ABOUT. Alphona was clearly having a ball throughout 2014, and Wilson’s script quickly seized on those quirks, as the creative team raced off and told some of the most bizarre and wonderful superhero stories of the year.

 

7: Dungeon Fun

With two more issues out this year, Dungeon Fun settled itself in 2014. Taking the madcap fun and energy of the first issue and layering it out into a more consistent longer narrative, the series proved that it had a whole lot of heart beneath the (very funny) jokes. Marked by delightful work from artist Neil Slorance and a brilliantly gung-ho script from Colin Bell, Dungeon Fun avoided the sophomore slump and was one of my favourite reads of the year.

 

6: Trillium

Jeff Lemire sure does like to make comics about sad little people, and Trillium was no exception to that rule. Wrapping up at the top of the year, Lemire’s Vertigo miniseries was unflinching in the portrayal of two rather messed up people, separated by thousands of years but finding a remarkable bond to one another. It was a romance, of sorts? But filtered through Lemire’s incredibly specific, honed-in style. He took a high concept, shook it constantly, and created something singularly his own.

 

5: Pretty Deadly

It came out in 2014! Don’t forget! Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire – proving to be probably the strongest creative team of any comic put out in 2014 – wove a many-layered tale of death, and what comes next, set in the wild west. Unpredictable and beautifully told, this is a story which merits repeat reading. On every page, Rios showed herself to be one of the finest storytellers in comics today – creating a balletic sense of poise in the characters even as they put each other to the sword. It’s a stunning piece of work, brought vividly to life by the artistic team.

 

4: She Hulk

We’re all onboard with She-Hulk, aren’t we?

 

3: Everstar

The story of a young girl who accidentally beams herself and her best friend onto an alien spaceship, and then decides she may as well designate herself captain and go off for some adventures now she’s there, Everstar proved that Thrillbent could offer something for everybody. From Becky Tinder and Joie Brown, the comic takes advantage of the digital format to really involve the reader in the story – and get them cheering on as their protagonist Ainslie takes the helm. Charming and with a pitch-perfect sense of humour, Everstar was a complete surprise to me this year – but proved to be one of the most purely enjoyable comics of 2014.

 

2: Moose Kid Comics

A digital comics anthology masterminded by UK comics hero Jamie Smart, Moose Kid Comics assembled a fine collection of the very best comic makers and invited them to make the very best kids comic they could. And, happily, their work proved to be absolutely up to the challenge – Moose Kid Comics #1 was masterful. Silly, dippy, subversive and very very funny, there’s an unbelievable consistency between all the stories here. Some of the most wonderful cartoonists in comics today work on all-ages books, and this proved to be a superb showcase that proved comics *can* still be for kids!

 

1: All New Ghost Rider

For all that people might mention She Hulk or Moon Knight, All-New Ghost Rider proved to my favourite comic of the year. Felipe Smith jumped on and immediately put together a book bursting with charm, charisma, and personality. Lead character Robbie Reyes (modelled on Zayn Malik from One Direction, swoon) proved himself to be a magnetic presence on the page, in part because of the heart invested in him by Smith and in part because of the astounding work done by artist Tradd Moore and colorist Val Staples. All New Ghost Rider looks unlike any other comic on the shelves, with a pure vibrancy that pulses out from every page. With Damion Scott now on the book for the second arc, the energy level hasn’t dipped for a moment. Heartfelt, powerful, genuine and really entertaining, it’s a dynamite series.

NYCC’14: Wolverines, G.Willow Wilson Takes Over X-Men; and the Iffy-Sounding ‘Black Vortex’

Let’s take a quick look at the X-Men announcements and pieces from this year’s New York Comic Con.

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First up is the news that Charles Soule, Fay Fawkes and Nick Bradshaw will be the team for a weekly series called ‘Wolverines’. As you’ll know by now, Wolverine is due to die this week – after which he’ll start appearing in more comics than ever before, it appears. First he’ll die, then there’ll be funerals and flashback scenes, and several different one-shot comics all about his legacy, and I don’t even know what else.

Wolverines will be the next pick-up point, as far as I can tell, as the creative team follow a cast including X-23, Mystique and Sabretooth while they investigate a few loose ends which come to their attention once the Crazy Canuck carks it. Daken will also be involved, and upcoming covers suggest – oh dear – that Mr Sinister plays a role in the book. There’s no other details I can spot – so presumably the book will just continue to come out, every week, until the end of time. It starts in 2015

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Adjectiveless X-Men, which launched to much grandstanding and an all-female team only to quickly completely lose the fanbase once allegations about Brian Wood’s behaviour at conventions came to light, will be getting a new writer next year in the form of G.Willow Wilson. With the current arc by Marc Guggenheim, this’ll mark the first time the book has had a female writer since it began. It also means she’ll have now written both of the most prominent Muslim characters at Marvel, so expect her to relaunch MI:13 next.

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Black Vortex – who is not the name of a 1980s Justice League member, but sounds like it should be – will see Brian Michael Bendis and Sam Humphries cross over the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy a second time. This’ll be a grander event, however, dragging in other titles like Nova and Star-Lord into its path.

It’ll see a mystical ‘thing’ come into being which can alter the existence of anybody who handles it – and will then get thrown into the hands of people like Kitty Pryde and Carol Danvers. A lot of characters are in space at the moment, so along with core books All-New X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, expect to see Captain Marvel, Cyclops, and several other titles get pulled into the way of this one.

The storyline – in true tradition – will have an Alpha and Omega issue bookend, each drawn by Ed McGuinness. The story is set to start in February.

Reviewer’s End: Wonder Woman and Superman/Wonder Woman

Here’s a two-part storyline which wasn’t advertised and isn’t mentioned on the covers. Hurray! Charles Soule takes on a Wonder Woman storyline which tags into a Wonder Woman/Superman team-up, as the characters fight a villain I’d never heard of before and take several unexpected and unnecessary detours along the way.

DC’s refusal to use a recap page certainly doesn’t help. Let’s start with Wonder Woman first.

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Wonder Woman has had an identity problem since the New 52 began – one which she hasn’t had before. This time round she’s been so well-defined by mainstay creative team Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson that every other take on her (which has followed the age-old tradition of ‘ignoring all prior characterisation) has suffered as a result. Unless the core creative team are at the wheel for this take on Wonder Woman, it seems, DC flounder with the character. So it is again here, with Charles Soule jettisoning the current storylines for the character in order to take her in a completely different trajectory.

Five years into her future, she’s teamed up with a load of dead soldiers in order to fight off some shadow demon things which are taking over the world. As the shadow demon things can cause doubt and manipulation in the living, her tactic has been to plunder Hades’ army, and use them to wage war instead.

Rags Morales comes onboard so readers can play another enjoyable game of “guess how many pages Rags Morales can draw before he runs out of time”, and benefits hugely from colourist Andrew Dalhouse’s pastel-heavy work. Dalhouse creates an effect on the page which mutes everything, giving it a slight sense of sepia and enhancing the feel that this is a mythological, classically-focused comic. Morales, in turn, offers several strong sequences in a row before vanishing halfway through the book. This is the strongest half of the issue as a whole, actually, as the story heads off in a single solid direction.

However, the back half of the book quickly starts to throw in extra ideas which throw the reader off-track, and Soule loses sense of the pacing. Having effectively established a siege situation for Wonder Woman and random members of her supporting cast, she eventually just jumps off the top of her besieged battlement and charges at her enemies for no particularly understandable reason. But, no sooner than she does so, guest star Superman shows up to stop things. It’s a hasty, ineffective sequence, which seems put in place purely so there’s some sense of structure to the cliffhanger hitting the reader.

It’s a rather messy way to tell a story, especially as the final page is the only page of the issue which lets readers know that this is a two-part storyline. Wonder Woman seems to be heading in a certain particular direction from Soule before quickly turning abruptly into something entirely different, and the character seriously suffers as a result. Here is a character being pulled along by the requirements of an overly-mechanical script, which crushes any ability she has to be dynamic or unexpected in her own right.

It’s better than the second part of the story, however, as I’d go so far as to say that Superman/Wonder Woman is a complete mess.

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Bart Sears handles this story, bringing a scrappy style similar to something you’d see from Howard Porter. It’s house style, with everybody having rippling muscles and dead eyes. Sears does have a fun sense of storytelling, and puts together some interesting and impressive action sequences and poses throughout the issue – but the characters themselves are over-drawn, I suppose you could say. Superman in particular looks to have a doughy, inexpressive face, whilst his body is filled with so many creepy-looking muscles that it’s an effort just to look at him. The storytelling is strong – the actual character work is poor.

But then, the issue doesn’t give much definition to the characters either. Soule makes a lot of really strange choices here which dilute the story for no understandable reason. It’s an aimless, difficult to piece together story, which suggests that the whole of the Wonder Woman issue may not actually have taken place. The villain – whom we never see at any point, I don’t believe – now has reality warping powers, and apparently used them to make Wonder Woman walk into a labyrinth and get lost. Superman goes in to get her out. Something like that? I’ve read it a few times, but the exposition places emphasis on all the wrong points, so the reader remains fairly lost by what’s going on.

With a stronger artist, readers could probably wave off some of the leaps in logic which take place, but Sears’ character design is leaden from the start. As a result, focus heads towards Soule’s script, which weaves a decent handful of reasonable ideas into a convoluted mess of a narrative. The storyline jumps around in consistency, with the characters looking about as lost as the reader surely will be.

Two poor issues, then, although I should mention that Soule at least provides a nice capper to the piece. His take on Wonder Woman doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one readers have seen over the last few years – but seasoned Wonder Woman fans are probably used to that by now, as no writer ever seems to have any idea how to write her consistently to the writers before. Overall – skip this one. It’s messy, scrappy storytelling, with no internal continuity as a narrative.

Every Panel Ever: Panel Fourteen

What’s the best way to get people interested in comics? Show them some comics. Every weekday The Spire posts a comics panel, with the ultimate goal of one day having posted every single panel which has ever been written, drawn, edited, inked, coloured, and lettered. It’s, y’know, obviously going to happen.

I can’t believe Peter David never used this pun:

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Properly loving She-Hulk at the moment, with Charles Soule getting to have fun (something his other comics haven’t highlighted so much is his sense of humour, which is dad-jokey in She-Hulk but consistently funny) and Ron Wimberley bemusing Jennifer Walters every chance he gets.

Charles Soule Signs Marvel-Exclusive Contract; Letter 44 Will Continue

News came through last night that Charles Soule has signed a Marvel-exclusive contract which will begin in 2015. This means that as of next year, his only ‘for-hire’ books will be with Marvel. In a post on his blog explaining the contract, he notes that Letter 44, his creator-owned book at Oni Press, will continue onwards, unaffected by this decision.

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So this means that the era of Charles Soule writing seventy (approximate figure) comics a month is over. He’s been putting out, in seriousness, around eight or nine comics a month for the last year or so, and the Marvel exclusive contract will see an end to that. Instead, he’ll be guaranteed a set amount of work by the company per month – currently in the form of a She-Hulk ongoing series, the Inhuman book, and ‘The Death of Wolverine’ storyline – which will reduce his workload but give him a certain level of work – and money, therefore – every month. That means he’ll have more time freed up to focus on the comics he’s got, and pursue other interests if he so wishes.

In fact, he does so wish, and that wish is expressly mentioned in the blog post. Having fewer books to work on per month – he’s dropping, what? I think Red Lanterns, Swamp Thing and Superman/Wonder Woman over at DC, are the three titles he’ll be dropping as a result of this contract. He also won’t be picking up any other ‘for-hire’ work for the duration of the contract. That means he’ll have four books every month from now on, as things stand – three for hire, and one creator-owned.

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