"Healing America by beating people up." That's what Nextwave #1 promises on its cover. Now that's my Warren Ellis! This is good fun high-octane superhero comix by Ellis, who takes assorted C-list Marvel heroes (the black female Captain Marvel, Machine Man, Boom-Boom) and tosses them together to fight a giant dragon this issue. Nextwave embraces the fundamental silliness of the medium, but in a non-contemptous way. It's a lot like Ellis's "Authority" work done with a lighter touch so far. It's good to see Ellis moving away from the standard dark, chain smoking loner against the system archetype he's been a little too reliant on lately (see: "Fell," "Desolation Jones," "Ocean," "Jack Cross"...). It's also helped by the highly colorful, animated art by Stuart Immonen and lots of wonderful one-liners, amusing narrative captions and a fine sense of walking the line between parody and action. This issue is mostly set-up and promise of impending battle, but it gets the job done. It's not quite revolutionary, and still a bit soon to judge the series, but a solid grade A-.
Continuing one of my favorite new series and even better than the first two issues. Another self-contained story (with a slight link to the first two), it's the tale of a band, Theories and Defenses, after it's broken up and returned home to Richmond, Va., after years of traveling and touring. Each of the band's four members look at picking up the pieces of their lives. Writer Brian Wood weaves all four stories around an interview the band's acerbic frontman is giving to a music magazine, and it's a real masterpiece of pacing, storytelling and setting. Each character is drawn with fine details in a tiny amount of space -- the weary, witty frontman, the sleazy drummer, the quiet professional. You get a feel for the nomadic life of a musician and how easy it is to get lost in it. Loving details by artist Ryan Kelly such as album cover art and a vivid imagined history for Theories and Defenses make this issue feel real and lived-in. Local #3 is just a great, compact and evocative little comic book, and one I'll pass on to people who think comics are all capes and spandex to show them otherwise. Local blog. Grade: A+
The All-New Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe A-Z #1
OK, first off, "A-Z" it ain't. I'm a geek for these fake encyclopedic looks at comic-book characters, where they combine art and prose to tell the history of four-color fellows from Hulk to Wolverine to Aunt May. Marvel's been putting out some nifty if pricey one-shots the last few years devoted to certain characters and cast like the Spider-Man books, X-Men, etc. Now they're making a companion for those with this A-to-Z 12-part series fitting in everyone else that wasn't included so far. While that's a nice idea, I was a little annoyed at the scattershot way they've categorized this whole project. This issue goes from Abraxas to Bastion and manages to include tons of totally obscure characters I've never even heard of. (I'm a geek, but who the hell are Akhenaten, Americop and Atleza?) It's trivia-packed and painstakingly detailed, yet there's something off about how they arrange these books so you have to hunt through a few dozen random issues to find, say, Ant-Man, who's in the "Avengers" book, not this one. This particular issue is so random in its inclusions (the only really well-known character in here is the D-list heroine, Alpha Flight's Aurora, to tell you something) that it all just leaves me a bit cold. By its very nature, it's a navel-gazing narrow-appeal project, but it could've been done better. It's aimed at getting you to spend more money picking up the many separate handbooks Marvel's published in the last few years, and that dilutes my appreciation despite the Handbook's overall fanboy inclusiveness and high quality. Grade: B-