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Scott Carney: With a first page that leaves two-thirds of We3 in pieces on lab tables, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #0 skulks its way toward a violent origin, one that plays out–thanks to the way Frank is depicted–like the birth of a pre-Atomic Age Hulk.  What a fun book!  Just turn to page 11.  I know what you’re hearing while looking at that scurvy bunch: you’re hearing a salty Obi-Wan Kenobi say forcefully: “Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”  Glorious!  The rest of the story reads well enough.  Necessary comment: Kindt’s father-son showdown–an expected but wholly appropriate climax–makes the mutant patricide of AvX look pedestrian in execution.  Just sayin’.  And, come on: a Nazi robot spider?  That’s right up there with gorillas with guns.  I’d like to also celebrate Ponticelli’s cover, which is my favorite of the zeroes.  Every time I look at the damn thing, I feel like that sword’s gonna come down and cut off something I might need.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #0 Cover

Derek Mainhart: Yeah that cover is really something. Best use of the whole “tearing through the page” conceit. For a book that initially seemed like it was going to be DC’s version of the Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D., this title has really established itself as one of the most fun corners of the DCU. Jeff Lemire’s initial run was characterized  by  a wanton sense of absurdity, grounded (well, semi-grounded) by Frankenstein’s grave demeanor (pun intended!). Frank’s unwavering character anchored the stories allowing Lemire to introduce whatever wild sci-fi / horror tropes he could come up with. Matt Kindt’s run has continued in that vein but, in exploring the monster’s past, has introduced a level of pathos to the proceedings. This extra wrinkle, combined with Kindt’s refined appreciation of the ridiculous, have produced stories that thrill on a level that I would call epic, if “epics” didn’t take themselves so seriously. (To wit: your apt contrast of this with the “epic” AvX, which is simply awful. But that is perhaps grist for another discussion.) Alberto Ponticelli has visually really made this book his own. Some standout scenes, in addition to the ones you mentioned: page 6 as the freed mental inmates tear through the mansion past the Doctor’s poor sainted wife; and the palpable, kinetic action of the big fight scene in pages 17-20. I’ll be sad to see him go, as he moves over to Dial H (I’m also sorry to see Mateus Santoluoco leave that book). My one quibble about this issue was that it really should have ended at page 26, with the line “You can call me Father”. How apropos, no? The final two pages seemed tacked on for the benefit of new readers, I guess. Still, I’ll forgive it since those last pages include the aforementioned GIANT NAZI SPIDERS! Book of the Week.

A close second however was Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #2 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee (IDW). After a shaky first issue, Waid really seems to have found his footing here. There isn’t a wasted moment as the story propels from one improbable action scene to the next. Samnee draws a particularly effective sequence right away on pages 2-3 as the villain of the book is shown incapacitating the dangerous cargo of the title without revealing what the cargo actually is; a neat visual trick. Samnee’s visuals perfectly complement Waid’s retro tone, which is a gleeful combination of Indiana Jones, King Kong and perhaps a touch of Looney Tunes. Like Indy, its an homage to the propulsive movie serials of old, complete with the requisite, exquisitely unbelievable cliffhanger. Don’t miss it.

SC: I liked Winter Soldier #10, too.  Loved Guice’s layouts from the get-go; he gives stunning and shadowy life to the Widow’s unexpected awakening and to Jasper’s selfless final act.  Brubaker brings Captain America, Wolverine, and Hawkeye to Bucky’s side, creating a formidable cavalry to face down an increasingly formidable foe.  The romantic Parisian flashback, juxtaposing the rain and the pain, is tenderly rendered, and rounds out a seriously solid issue.  If this storyline  is Brubaker’s kiss goodbye to Marvel, it’s a French kiss, indeed.

DM: Big fan of Butch Guice’s artwork as well (this book has been blessed with some stellar artists), but this issue just seemed to be treading water to me. Brubaker spends the first nine pages rehashing events that the reader could have surmised from last issue (including a beloved SHEILD agent getting killed a la The Avengers movie). Then some expository dialogue explaining her brainwashing in more detail than is needed. And then the guest stars show up. (Wolverine seems kinda forced. Doesn’t he have enough to do?) It even ended on an awkward beat. Hopefully things will pick up next issue.

SC: Wouldn’t you know, with Wolverine and the X-Men #16, Aaron has pulled another one out of the Phoenix fire.  This time, he’s out of the damn crossover frying pan and into the Hellfire.  This Kilgore kid is bad-ass and has a killer back story to prove it–specifically a black and white one that Bachalo just absolutely blows up.  This is wicked fun that seems to be headed in the right direction–back to where it all started; back to what drew me to the book in the first place.

DM: Glad AvX didn’t ruin this book for you. (Did I mention it was awful?)

SC: The Shade #12 isn’t bad for a final issue.  Too often exceptional story arcs fall apart at the all-too-crucial end; but not this one.  Robinson mixes up some magic with an Oliver twist.  The art’s no joke: when the Scrooge-lookin’ Simon summons Scathach, Ha hits a high note driving the darkness into Dick.  Oh, I’m sure–well, I hope I’m sure–this isn’t the last we’ll see of the good Mr. Swift.  I mean, where else is Robinson going to shine but in The Shade?

DM: I’m going to miss The Shade. If the final two issues weren’t completely satisfying, it’s only because Robinson set the bar so high with the first ten. The roster of artists has been stellar, but the star of this series was the writing. Something about playing in the Starman universe seems to bring out the best in Mr. Robinson, and here we were treated to roguish imaginings in various eras filtered through the arched eyebrow of an Oscar Wilde dandy. Interesting that for this last issue the Shade’s teamed up with Charles Dickens. (It brought to mind the final issue of Sandman featuring William Shakespeare, right down to the lush period illustrations of Gene Ha.) My main quibble is that this didn’t feel like a last issue. The reintroduction of Simon Culp as his arch-nemesis, the mystery of why the goddess chose the Shade to receive his powers, the friendship with Dickens; all of these seem like plot threads of a series in mid-stride, not one that is winding down. Let’s hope you’re right and Robinson returns to this material soon. It’s the best stuff he’s written in years.

SC: The Valiant books were all right.  I wasn’t too impressed by the introduction of Ninjak in X-O Manowar #5.  But I did enjoy Aric’s arrogance; it reminds me so much of myself.  Harbinger #4 was a bit better with Pete’s almost losing Faith and then his really losing it over Joe.

DM: As someone who was, shall we say, less than enthused about the whole Valiant relaunch, I gotta say X-O is growing on me. I’m enjoying the artwork by Lee Garbett and Stefano Gaudiano (a touch of Hal Foster, no? A little Prince Valiant in Valiant?  Have I taken things too far?). And Robert Venditti’s tale of Roman slaves, time travel and pseudo-religious space invaders has never been less than a good time. (The grenade bit on page 12 alone was worth the price of admission)

SC: I may be done with Comedian after #3.  I may be nuts, too, but is there any doubt that Azzarello’s been dropping little hints about how he feels about this whole Before Watchmen venture.  The first hint pops up in Rorschach #1, when “Crime” tells Rorschach that he doesn’t quite live up to the myth.  Here, it’s not-so-hidden on pages 22-23, where Blake watches a dog take a dump on the sidewalk and then tosses a piece of crap at a police chief’s face.  Is it possible Azzarello’s not doing this on purpose?  Is it?  No, really, is it?

DM: Comedian was a bit of a letdown for me as well, though I think I liked it a little more than you. I enjoyed his moral ambivalence as he played all sides against each other simply because, well, he could. (And the art by J.G. Jones certainly doesn’t hurt.)  Having said that, I was disappointed that this is starting to read like an overly comprehensive flashback – “this happened, then this happened, then this, and so on” – an aspect that has been endemic in all of the Before Watchmen books. How about focusing in on just one compelling story and seeing what it reveals about the character?

SC: I am done with Suicide Squad after #0.  My soft spot for the book killed itself a few pages in.  That’s right: the Glass has finally cracked.  What a disaster.

Re: Batman #0: When does #13 come out?

DM: Yeah, what was the point of this issue again? After the laser-like focus and highwire tension of the Court of the Owls arc, this issue and the last one (which was better, a little) have meandered into territory that seems trivial at best. A lost opportunity for a zero issue.

To end on a high note I’d like to show some love to the following:

Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1. (Oni Press) The title alone grabbed my attention. In his end piece, writer Greg Rucka extols the pleasures of the 70’s PI show, highlighting The Rockford Files. This first issue shares that show’s laconic tone and wry humor. No end-of-the-world stakes here. Just a seemingly routine mystery that begins with a missing guitar. Solid art by Matthew Southworth and Rico Renzi. Fans of detective fiction should check it out.

Dark Shadows #7. Speaking of the 70’s, Guiu Vilanova’s art, with it’s shaggy hair, handlebar mustaches and big-honkin’ police cars, captures the era of this book perfectly (This is a compliment. Really). Unlike the recent Tim Burton movie, writer Mike Raight, focuses less on the camp (which is inherent) and more on the horror. Fans of Dark Horse’s line of arcane horror books (Hellboy, et al.) should give this a try. Another solid book from Dynamite.

And finally, Punk Rock Jesus #3, the story of Christ’s second coming via cloning (story and art by Sean Murphy.) The art features a harsh, expressionistic (but never unreadable) line well-suited to its punk rock ethos. The character development and pacing may be a tad forced (I think this is Murphy’s first crack at writing), but this is more than made up for by the anarchic energy and send-up of modern society that the title so ably suggests. Definitely worth a look.

SC: Hmm.  You’re inspiring me to think outside my bag.  (I could hate you for it; but I don’t.  Not yet, anyway.)  Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the comic shop.

Turning pages,

Scott & Derek