ComicsAlliance's Chris Murphy reviews the biggest -- and best -- comic books hitting the shelves this week.
MAYBE RIDING IN A CAR TRUNK ISN'T AS UNCOMFORTABLE AS IT LOOKS. PERSONALLY, I DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT -- Stumptown 1
Private investigators in fiction usually come in two varieties. First, there are the masterminds. The ones who are always in control of the situation and always know what's going on before any of the other characters do, before you do, and possibly even before the writer does. Their days are usually over by the early evening when, after they've gathered all the suspects together in a room and watched the guilty party dragged away by the police, they enjoy an expensive drink and get to sleep in their comfortable bed at a reasonable hour.
Then there are the down on their luck P.I.s. The ones whose days consist of figuring out how to successfully put one foot in front of the other without getting punched, stabbed or shot. And assuming they can pull that off, they'll bother worrying about piecing together the barest slivers of information to work their way to the next clue in the hopes that eventually they'll reach the end of the case, earn their fee, and avoid eviction for another month. Dexedrine Parios is entirely of the second type. The protagonist of the new series "Stumptown" by writer Greg Rucka and artist Matthew Southworth manages to get in entirely over her head while at the same time radiating total competence, and it's an instantly endearing combination.
Issue 1 of "Stumptown" introduces us to Dex as she takes on a missing person case. Or rather, as she's informed that taking said missing person case is her only hope of erasing some sizable gambling debts she's been running up. It's not the kind of first impression that makes you believe this is an especially responsible individual. But mere pages later you're left with the exact opposite feeling when you first meet Ansel, Dex's developmentally disabled little brother whom she seems to be looking after pretty well. And over the course of the next day, even though she's attacked, kidnapped by a crime boss, held at gunpoint, and stuffed in a trunk, Dex is somehow always able to keep a cool head and even make some progress on the case. She may be just scraping by, but she acts like someone who's managed to work "just scraping by" into an exact science, and now it's merely how she happens to conduct business every day of her life.
Overall, it's an enjoyable start to the series. Rucka's modern, noir-influenced detective tale grabs your attention, and both he and artist Southworth have done an admirable job of turning the city of Portland, Oregon into one of the story's characters. That being said, this is the first issue of a mystery and there's much yet to be revealed, so it's difficult to make any kind of educated guess on just how good the book's going to turn out. I can't say I was as blown away by this one as I've been by a few standout series openers I've read this year, but there's enough to make me want to know just how much trouble Dex is in with this case and whether she's going to start really worrying before it's over. YOU HAVE ADDED HERCULES AS A FRIEND -- Assault on New Olympus Prologue One-Shot/Deadpool Team-Up 899
After spending several years making cameos and being "that other Hercules" behind Kevin Sorbo and a middle-rate Disney film, Marvel's Hercules has been a rising star for the company ever since Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente took over writing duties for the character. And this week is a sure indication that he's one of the company's hottest characters, as he's featured in two crossovers with other high profile Marvel heroes. In the "Assault on New Olympus Prologue: One-Shot by Pak and Van Lente with art by Rodney Buchemi he teams up with Spider-Man.
All right, to be more accurate he teams with several fairly heavy objects, both mobile and immobile, against Spider-Man, but they do work things out by the end. Meanwhile over in "Deadpool Team-Up" 899 Van Lente and artist Dalibor Talajic team up Hercules and Deadpool for a somber examination of the psychological consequences that come from invulnerability and a reliance on violence to solve all disputes. Okay, but seriously now, what actually happens is they get stuck in a totally sweet M.C. Escher-inspired labyrinth and spend most of their time smashing, stabbing and shooting whatever happens to be around. If you're a fan of body hair and a sworn enemy of walls that don't have gaping holes knocked through them, this is a good week for you to be reading comics.
Both of these issues are a lot of fun. You've got Hercules, who, and let's be honest now, isn't one of the most serious characters in the Marvel Universe to begin with, and then you're teaming him up with two of Marvel's most highly regarded combat wise-crackers. The outcome is unsurprisingly entertaining. "Assault on New Olympus" does a great job of setting the stage for the upcoming mini-event in which the Avengers, Agents of Atlas and others will be helping Hercules stop Hera from wiping the planet clean of all mortal life.
First though, there is the small matter of Hercules looking for his separated wife, Hebe, and discovering her making out with Peter Parker, which inevitably leads to an extended fight scene between Herc and Spider-Man as the demigod demands to know where Parker's hiding. I'd have to say the moment where Spidey manages to get out a four sentence-long quip while being smashed through two concrete walls in the course of a single panel is pretty impressive.
But the "Deadpool Team-Up" story might have just a little bit more pure insane fun in it. After the two are lured into a bizarre maze, that's beautifully designed by Talajic, there's some great hero-bonding banter as they attempt to find a way out. It all culminates in a beautifully written and drawn fight scene between Deadpool and a mystery opponent he's been having nightmares about. I really don't want to spoil it, but I will say that it's near-perfect.
And while Deadpool's moving on to make new friends as his team-up series continues with its run of one-shots, Hercules will have more new buddies arriving as "Assault on New Olympus" continues. The prologue issue ends with Spider-Man bringing in additional reinforcements to help Herc out, including the required Wolverine participation. So at the very least before the world is saved we can expect scenes of teeth-gritting and facial hair on a scale unlike any that have been previously witnessed in the pages of comics.
THERE'D BETTER BE A SHOE PHONE BEFORE THIS IS OVER -- Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love 1
Most classic fairy tales have undergone some revisions over the years in order to make them less objectionable. All sorts of wonderful violence and cruelty have been removed so as not to warp impressionable young minds. And although I doubt there was ever a version of "Cinderella" in which the heroine was a super spy who left a trail of bodies in her wake, I think we can all agree that there probably should have been.
The "Fables" series, created by Bill Willingham, has since corrected this unfortunate error on the part of history. And now with the first issue of the six issue "Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love," writer Chris Roberson and artist Shawn McManus are moving her from a supporting character within the universe to the star of her own book.
Cinderella's reintroduced for new readers as a spy working in secret for the leaders of Fabletown, establishing her as something of a female James Bond who appears to the outside world as a harmless fashion-obsessed shoe store owner. Recurring Fables characters Beast and Frau Totenkinder show up as her M and Q, respectively. But the character I smirked the most at is one of Cinderella's three animal assistants, Dickory. He's a mouse with the ability to alter the flow of time around himself. It's little references like that which always bring me back to the "Fables" books, and I'm really interested to see how he's used as the series continues.
As for the plot, Cinderella's sent to Dubai on a mission to track down magical artifacts being smuggled into the world from the other worlds the Fables cast originate from. They're afraid that the discovery of such an object by the mundane world could blow their cover and ruin the secret of their existence they've been able to keep for centuries. There's an effort made to help new readers catch up, but to be honest some basic familiarity with the series is probably necessary in order to not feel a little lost as to what's going on. But "From Fabletown with Love" feels familiar, and if you're already a fan of the series you shouldn't be frightened off by the fact that this one isn't written by its original creator. If you enjoyed them, you'll likely enjoy this. DON'T MISS -
I've mentioned that I'm a big fan of Gail Simone's current run on "Secret Six." This week's "Secret Six" 15 marks a solo Deadshot story written by John Ostrander. Now, in case any of you were thinking of taking this issue off, don't. It continues to do what this series is best at: presenting a compelling story about a man who's an utter bastard. The trip into Floyd Lawton's head is revealing, at times disturbing, and completely worth it if you've got even the smallest passing interest in the character.