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This Week's Comics Rock #4: Super Dinosaur #2

Super Dinosaur #2
Vital Stats:
Publisher: Image
Release Date: 5-25-11
Author: Robert Kirkman
Artis & Colorist: Jason Howard
Cover Artist: Jason Howard
Cover Price: $2.99
Paul's Grade: B+
Some people just get why people love the comic book genre. These select few authors understand the melodrama, the supermorals and the four-color insanity that we shell out money monthly for. One of this small group is Robert Kirkman. The larger populace has been exposed to Mr. Kirkman due to the TV-adaptation of his original (and still ongoing) comic series the Walking Dead. But as awesome as Walking Dead is in my opinion his greatest work is his original (and still ongoing) series Invincible. It lives up to its tag-line "The Best Superhero Comic Book in the Universe". Robert Kirkman's latest foray into the world of Super Heroes is no less wonderful especially considering it stars a boy and his dinosaur!
Great cover, first of all. Super Dinosaur is in his newly-minted "Arctic Battle Gear" with some awesome, teeth-exposing battle damage. Super Dinosaur cradles his best friend Derek protectively as he wields his laser gatling gun at unseen foes behind the "camera". It's a classic comic tableau made that much better because it's a dinosaur. Last issue introduced us to Derek Dynamo and his best friend Super Dinosaur! He lives in an underground base under Mount Ranier with his father the world-famous Dr. Dynamo. They also just met Bruce and Sarah who are there to help maintain and build new Super Dinosaur armor. All of this is powered and made possible by Dynore, a mysterious and powerful mineral discovered by Dr. Dynamo in Inner-Earth where Dinosaurs still rule!
Look at his little arms on the video game-esque controls!
The relationship between Super Dinosaur ("SD") and Derek is really fun. It's part Lassie & Jeff, part Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn, part Jonny Quest & Race Bannon, and part Jimmy Olsen & Superman. SD is a pet, best friend, bodyguard, and hero idol all rolled into one. Their interplay is fancy free and fun-loving. It's replete with the kind of young teen banter that one would expect of Ben 10 or somesuch Cartoon Network toon with a young boy for a protagonist. But it's not bad. It's actually quite entertaining and refreshing. Superheroes tend not to be half as enthusiastic or excited about what they are doing as Derek.
Their relationship is already endearing
Derek also gets some relationship building in with his dear ol' dad. Last issue we found out that Dr. Dynamo is mentally slipping and that Derek has been secretly been finishing his father's projects at night so that he doesn't feel bad. Going through an elderly relative losing his memory I can completely relate to Derek and am a little touched at the sincerity Kirkman does it with (though this is not a major part of the book, it has been touched on each issue briefly). It also adds a beautiful and almost heart-breaking aspect to the story. I (as a seasoned comic reader) fear for Dr. Dynamo's safety in coming issues. I feel he is vulnerable and his death would be a turning point for Derek and SD. I hope I'm wrong and Derek gets many happy years with his dad but I don't have high hopes...
The lab is a great generic Super-Lab they use to study Dynore
In regards to Kirkman getting what comic readers want - Just look at Super Dinosaur! He is almost the embodiment of the Comic Book Genre. He's like Iron Man if he were a dinosaur and he's got a Robin-like sidekick. The shoulder cannons are classic and so are his big hulking arms (which are complimented so brilliantly with the little arms at the controls). We also get to see his "Arctic Attack Gear" when Derek and SD go to Antarctica following a tracking beacon in search of a villain. SD's new suit has a ski mask, goggles, and skis! It's ridiculous and so cool. Plus, they go to assault a secret Antarctic base complete with giant spacecraft and what looks like a reactor. This echoes tons of other franchises from Watchmen to James Bond but with a uniquely Kirkman twist.
The beautiful blues and whites and the enormity of what Derek and SD are racing towards is perfect
Jason Howard (artist and co-creator) does a beautiful job with the landscape and setting. He deserves a lot of credit for the character designs throughout the book as well. I especially like his take on Max Maximus the arch-villain of SD.
"I'll burn the ocean to the ground!" - These are the rants we need more of in comics!
Now, on to the villains! Kirkman serves up a trio of villains in this book and hints at even more. Since the book starts with SD and Derek already having spent years adventuring they have a rogues gallery in place. The primary one is Max Maximus who helped create SD, created the Dino-men, and betrayed Dr. Dynamo when he went evil. He's got a great tattered green labcoat/cloak and an evil-looking robot arm. Classic bald head with a goatee (evil-Spock style) sells the look to the nines. He does villain rants, he's got a room full of viewscreens, and he's got Dino-Henchmen. This guy has been in two issues and already he's got the makings of a great. Seriously, all he needs to do is murder Dr. Dynamo and this guy will be in my top 25. Knowing Kirkman, no matter what Max Maximus will make a huge impression!
He's got a spear made of Dynore
The new villain who is introduced this issue is the Exile and he too knows how to give a villainous rant! He enters with his energy spear crackling and introduces himself in textbook style. His costume is cool (I like his halfcape and his cyclops look) but I could do with some more color. That's just me though. Plus they have Tricerachops (she wields an axe) who Maximus created and now works for the Exile.
There is a lot of character building, Dino Action, and a great fight scene. Super Dinosaur #2 does not fail to impress in the least. I give it a very strong "B" only because Kirkman is obviously still getting the players in place and he's still got lots of exposition to get through. I'm sure by issue #10 this book will be running on all cylinders and will be one of my monthly favorites. That being said this issue never feels slow or too expository. It is fun, exciting, and engaging throughout and is paving the way to yet another entry in the Image hall of fame for Robert Kirkman! Get on board now so that when Showtime makes the Super Dinosaur series in five years you can say "That book's awesome! I've been reading that since issue #2; You should check out the trades!"


This Week's Comics Rock #3: Batman Incorporated #6

Batman Incorporated #6
Vital Stats:
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: 5-11-11
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Cover Artist: Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn
Cover Price: $2.99
Paul's Grade: A
The cover is nice. It's pretty straight-forward but it's a great collection of heroes from the Bat-o-verse and a lot of them are new. I saw this at C2E2 at the artist's booth and admit that I stopped to take it in for a moment. I like his style and think it's a good cover but I must say that I have enjoyed the earlier, more visually complex covers that have hitherto been a staple of this title.
Dark Avenger, Nightrunner, El Gaucho, Blackbat, Red Robin, Batman, Dark Ranger, and Batman (again)
Red Robin fighting the Voodoo villains in the ruins of Port-au-Prince is my favorite panel
First, please take a moment to look at that picture up close and personal (click for larger version). Look how the thugs make a continuous scene with Batman fighting them all across the world. Beautiful, right? Nyktomorph is the title of this tale and it's a nice little double-entendre. Nyktomorph means to transform the night or "the changing night". And with Batman's plan to go global with an army of Batmen will the night ever be the same again? The issue is about Batman expanding the ranks of Batman Incorporated. This splash page features a number of the new recruits as they wage their war on crime. I like that Batman (the original Bruce Wayne) is seen in two of the panels above because it enforces the theme of the issue: Batman is Everywhere.
For those who aren't up to date, Batman recently had an epiphany. He realized that though he has long been considered (even by himself) to be a loner, he has in fact always had help. Robin joined him early on but even before that he had the help of Commissioner Gordon. Even more prominent is Alfred Pennyworth who raised him and acts as tailor, medic, confidante, and assistant (in addition to a myriad of other responsibilities). With this in mind Batman decided to embrace the concept and recruit other Batmen across the globe. Bruce Wayne came out to the public that he has been secretly financing Batman for years and he founds Batman Inc in order to fund other deputized Batman similarly.
I love the way Nathan Fairbairn colors Bruce's clear mad blue eyes. Also the Kingdom Come-esque Robo Bats
Bruce holds a press conference (while foiling Emoticon Man with new Batmaned-out Jet-Suits) and lays out the central motif. While all this is going on he is also continuing his worldwide Bat-crusade. Batman is ranging far and wide to find new Batmen and to help his new associates in their battle against Leviathan (the big evil organization Morrison's been building up for the last six issues).
1st App: Blackbat
Blackbat is (to the best of my knowledge) a brand new character and the Bat(wo)man of Hong Kong. She looks awesome. Her mask is something like Nightshade's or Black Canary's but distinctly Batman. I like the open flowing hair and the Batgirl (Kassandra Kane) bat symbol but that's not what makes the look. The coolest aspect is her fluttering, almost tattered cape. It's an homage to the classic crenelated ending of Batman's cape while being something that I don't think I've ever seen in a cape before. Well done!
There's a three panel sequence of Batman and Dark Ranger chasing down a truck, then capturing the crooks who were driving it. It ends with a phenomenal panel of Batman delivering the oath.
The oath scene mimics the famous panel of Robin swearing his oath
The action is obvious, even cliche. That's why it only gets two panels. The whole of the scene is silent (the expository dialogue is from an outside narrator) because we all understand the events. This makes the Batman imagery that much more potent as well as giving the sense (to me at least) that this is becoming the routine for Batman and that this is one of many oaths he's given in the weeks since the founding of Batman Inc.
Here we see Nightrunner, the Batman of France (what happened to the Musketeer?!)
Also, the common crime that Batman Inc is cracking down on is human trafficking. The secret evil organization is stealing children and turning them into little murder machines who keep heiling "Leviathan!" (not the most subtle strategy). The sheer number of Batman featured in this book is great but it's also got Batman (Bruce Wayne) being cool on his own. He is thinking outside the box in a lot of ways, including keeping his identity safe now that Wayne is Batman's public backer.
There's something timeless about Batman sitting at the Batcomputer and typing "Batman is Bruce Wayne". It's been teased on covers and been the fodder of dreams and imaginary stories but Morrison is best at taking everything old and making it new again. Plus, the idea that Batman trolls conspiracy theory websites is really funny.
Grant Morrison is very probably my favorite writer. He rocks my world and I am never less than impressed by his work but what he has been doing with Batman these past few years has been nothing short of visionary and transformative. He revels in all the classic aspects of the character while keeping him the height of the modern Super-Crime fighter. I don't know if it's just this issue or something subconscious but I have been really taken with Nathan Fairbairn's colors as well. The big splash page shows that well with the scintillating array of colors in each scene. Also, look at Bruce Wayne's shirt and tie in his press conference scene. Fairbairn brings a dynamic and lively quality to the detailed and complex art of Chris Burnham. Burnham has a style that brings me in mind of Frank Quitely (one of Morrison's most frequent collaborators) but the faces of the characters are less scowling and brutal. He brings an energy to Bruce Wayne that is undeniable. When is the last time you saw Batman smile? He's doing it a lot in this. It's exciting because Batman is clearly excited about what he is doing and the challenge that Leviathan presents. When he first discovered this evil secret organization and their machinations he sat back in his batchair in the Batcave and said "Game on" and he really meant it. It's a new direction for the character in so many ways while not ever being out of character.
This book rates a solid "A" and well it should as it is one of the best titles that DC is currently publishing. This issue did not have a moment that made me jump out of my socks or gasp so I cannot give it an "A+" but it's still the best book of the week.
For $2.99 this is a great Batman story and the beauty of it is you can pick it up and read it and not need to know too much about what's happened before or what's going to happen next. It enforces and expands on things from earlier in the series and is clearly getting pieces in place for what's to come but this issue is stand alone enough that I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Batman. Cheers!


This Week's Comics Rock #2: Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #1

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #1
Vital Stats:
Publisher: Image
Release Date: 5-4-11
Author: Mark Andrew Smith
Artist: Armand Villavert
Colors: Carlos Carrasco
Cover Artist: Armand Villavert
Cover Price: $2.99
Paul's Grade: B
The first issue of this new ongoing series is clever and lots of fun. It opens with a brief and rather silly prologue describing the eponymous Gladstone and how he and his school got started. It sets the tone for the rest of the issue: Lighthearted genre-parody rife with supervillains and supervillainy. After the nine-page introduction the scene jumps to the here and now and the introduction of the first principal character.
This is revealed to be Monologue-ing 101
It's a great splash page. The ruins are almost uncomfortably 9/11 but they don't dwell on it and I do like the defeated Batman-knockoff in the lower right of the frame. Kid Nefarious is the talented kid but is spoiled by his supervillain parents and has a sense of entitlement. Still, for a book about young Mad Scientists and Magical Aberrations he fits nicely as a central protagonist along with his cohort/partner-in-supercrime Martian Jones. He isn't riveting but he is someone I want to continue watching.
The book is shaping up to feature a large ensemble cast much like most classic teenage/high school dramas. Unfortunately the two female characters in this issue left me pretty flat. Mummy Girl with her puppy love for Kid Nefarious has a couple pages of in-class daydreaming by way of an introduction. It seemed to me a tired and overdone motif even with the supercriminal element.
Their dialogue just seems to retread the same familiar High School Girl story
Her BFF Ghost Girl is equally uninspiring thus far and both of them seem just a touch too Manga for my tastes. Actually, up to this point, the smaller and background characters have been more compelling and intriguing than the principal protagonists.
This book needs more scenes like THIS
Recess kicks off with a gigantic two-page fracas of kid supercriminals battering one another and getting up to general schoolyard roughhousing on a whole new level. Great costumes and a really engrossing palette of powers being displayed. I especially like the kid para-trooper and the one riding the flying pink jellyfish.
The Metal City Gang and the Skull Brothers taunt one another on the playground
This schoolyard fight is pretty great. First off, the villainous parodies are a lot of fun. I like the Rogues/Fatal Five-type team of the Metal City Gang. They seem like a bunch of villains who have teamed up for mutual protection/pooling resources. They've got a good, wacky balance and characters that both fit neatly into understandable archetypes while at the same time looking pretty unique. The Skull Brothers take it up another level still, caricatures of both the brooding ultra-violent street killers (like Bullseye or Deadshot) as well as the perfect set of goth kids. These are the characters that I want to pick up the next issue to see more of (and I hope they deliver).
Again, the art gets very Manga-like at times
The staff of Gladstones hasn't really been explored except for the Groundskeeper who is the retired villain Greensleeves. When he freaks out and uses his powers in nicely emphasizes that the adult villains are on another level than the kids. In my opinion the teaching staff at such a school should be just as awesome if not more cool than the kids (look at Hogwarts) so I hope we get to see much more of them in the future.
The issue also ends with three pages of dialogue between a hero and a villain that sets up a tantalizing mystery for next issue. Their talk also potentially casts the Skull Brothers' rant from earlier in the issue in a much different light.
The two fighting on the TV are the Hero and Villain we meet at the end of this issue
Mark Andrew Smith seems to have some very interesting ideas that he's playing with in this book. It's obvious he loves the tropes of supervillainy as well and that shines through consistently. It even makes up for some of the more heavy-handed story elements and the sometimes prattling dialogue (jury is still out on whether he is just writing high schoolers accurately or his dialogue lilts into the inane at times). Overall he does a good job though and if I like coming issues I think I will check out Amazing Joy Buzzards (one of his other Image titles). Armand Villavert's art is, as I've said, a little too Manga for my tastes but that is not consistent throughout the book. Also, I dig his costume designs for the villains (especially the initials at the end of Kid Nefarious' scarf). It is quite a challenge to stock an entire school with brightly clad fiends and he rises to the challenge beautifully. The coloring is bold and engaging. It puts me in mind of something Vince Colletta would do if he were working with digital coloring (for those of you who don't know Vince, this is a HUGE compliment). It puts me in mind of a by-gone era of comics when many backgrounds were simply bright colors that help to accentuate the mood of the scene or the drama of the panel. Very nicely done.
Gladstone's #2 will be on my pull list and I am hoping that the quality only improves from here. I especially hope that the main characters will become more endearing with more exposure (though I feel they could just as easily become increasingly aggravating). But this issue is bright and fun and well worth the $2.99 cover price.