A Pulp Review – Just a Day at the Office

TITLE: Pulp
AUTHOR: Ed Brubaker
ARTISTS: Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips
PUBLISHER:
Image Comics
RATED:
T
PRICE:
$16.99
RELEASE DATE:
August 4, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Prefers no pulp. But will still drink it.

Everybody loves a good comeback story. It’s inspiring. It’s hopeful. Lord knows we could use a good comeback story right about now. Like the old gunslinger who picks up his pistol one last time to do right, in the process reliving the glory days of his youth. Perhaps he even goes down swinging, fighting valiantly until the very end.

Pulp is like that. Sort of. Maybe. Much of it depends on how you see good guys and bad guys, and what the difference is between them.

Set in the ’30s with World War II in full swing, our main character Max Winters is an elderly man writing Western stories for the pulp magazines, barely making ends meet for he and his wife in the process. It’s a far cry from his youth, lived much like the characters he writes about. Max Winters was an outlaw. But the world has changed, it’s leaving him behind. Until a face from his past abruptly re-enters his life. After all this time, Max Winters might have to become an outlaw one last time…

The most interesting aspect of this book is the two very distinct eras it takes place in, separated by the Second Industrial Revolution. One one end, you’ve got the late 1800s in the American West. Cowboys, horses, six-shooters, stagecoach robberies, etc. On the other, you have New York City circa World War II. The effect is almost like time travel, as we see this cowboy simply trying to adjust and keep up in a big city. Heck, space travel, as it feels like a different world altogether.

On top of everything else, Max has a heart condition. So you can more or less see where Pulp is going. Combine that with all the lamenting, the bitterness, and the urge to pull one last job, and we get something very Brubaker-ish. Fans of Criminal and Kill or Be Killed will feel right at home here.

At this point, Brubaker and Sean Phillips have done so much together they’re almost their own noirish, pulpy, crime-ridden sub-genre. As with any highly established creative force, that works both for and against them. Readers know what to expect and are happy when you give it to them. But at the same time, how does Pulp make itself stand out among such an extensive catalog?

The answer, ultimately, is it doesn’t. Yes, there’s a certain novelty to seeing Phillips draw cowboys, and I like this twist on the “old gunslinger” story. But other than that, there’s nothing here that’s necessarily outside their usual wheelhouse.

If they’d stayed in the old west, perhaps it would be a different story. We’d get to see the Brubaker/Phillips give their gritty, moody spin on a Western. But it’s hard to say what we might have gotten there, as Pulp becomes a different book altogether. It definitely loses its old gunslinger hook.

If you’re new to the Brubaker/Phillips world, then I’d absolutely recommend Pulp. Almost like a starter story or an appetizer. Let this wet your appetite, then look for one of the tentpoles. But for those of us who’ve been here before, it’s largely business is usual. Which is to say business is good. Nothing too surprising. Just a day at the office.

Special Thanks to Edelweiss for providing an advance review copy of Pulp.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Catwoman 100-Page Super Spectacular Deep Dive – Aliens and Feminism

TITLE: Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular
AUTHORS: Paul Dini, Ann Nocenti, Tom King, Mindy Newell, Jeff Parker, Liam Sharpe, Mindy Newell, Chuck Dixon, Will Pfiefer, Ram V, Ed Brubaker.
ARTISTS: Emanuela Lupaccino, Robson Rocha, Mikel Janin, Jonathan Case, Sharpe, Lee Garbett, Kelley Jones, Pia Guerra, Fernando Blanco, Cameron Stewart. 1940s variant cover by Adam Hughes.
INKERS: Mick Gray, Daniel Henriques, Danny Miki
COLORISTS:
Laura Allred, Alejandro Sanchez, Jordie Bellaire, Alex Sinclair, Steve Oliff, FCD Plascencia
LETTERERS:
Wes Abbott, Saida Temofonte, Clayton Cowles, Tom Napolitano, Tom Orzechowski, Gabriela Downe
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED: June 3, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

She’s undoubtedly the hottest 80-year-old woman you’ll ever see.

That’s right, folks. Like several other pillar characters in the DC Universe, Catwoman turns 80 this year. So like those characters, she got her own 100-page celebration. I can’t say she doesn’t deserve it. In terms of feminist icons, there are some who would place her in Wonder Woman’s orbit. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but one simply can’t dispute how iconic she is. Thus, DC assembled a brilliant assortment of talent for her big birthday celebration.

We kick things off with Paul Dini, who is always welcome in the Batman universe. Though I can’t say this is one of his most memorable outings. He uses his eight pages to introduce is to a villain called the Taxidermist. That, as Selina herself says in the story, is very “Gotham.” The Taxidermist seems like the kind of idea that was good on paper, but in actual execution…meh. I wouldn’t expect to see him on a best villains list anytime soon.

On the plus side, what little the Taxidermist offers looks absolutely gorgeous. Emanuela Lupaccino, Mick Gray, and Laura Allred give us something truly worthy of Catwoman’s 80th. It’s funny, I wondered why I was so reminded of Mike Allred, despite him not being credited. Once Laura Allred’s name popped up, it was all quite clear.

We dive into Batman Returns territory for “Now You See Me,” as Robson Rocha quite obviously draws Selina in her stitched black leather costume. We even get a brief appearance from the Penguin. Thankfully it all looks pretty. Though the story itself, about Catwoman duking it out with a dirty security guard, is pretty forgettable.

Much less forgettable is Tom King’s follow-up to his “Some of These Days” story from Batman Annual #2. It presents a scenario where a (presumably) married Selina and Bruce Wayne get pregnant and have a baby. Ironically, Selina once had a canonical daughter, though not with Bruce. Poor kid got retconned out of existence by the New 52.

It’s a pretty story that puts King back with Mikel Janin. That chemistry between Bruce and Selina was always his greatest strength during his Batman run. That two-issue “Rooftops” story from issues #13 and #14 will go down as one of the best Batman/Catwoman stories ever published.

My only complaint? We get at least one night of a pregnant Catwoman fighting crime with Batman, costume and all. Ladies? If you happen to be expecting, please don’t try this at home. (As if you needed me to tell you that…)

Our old Batman ’66 friends Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case return for a story about Catwoman and…aliens? I’m sure it’s happened before. But it’s still such an odd match-up. Which, of course, is the point.

Parker and Case take full advantage of the absurd premise, giving us absurd aliens with absurd names and looks that could easily have come from the original Star Trek series. Not to mention the absurdity that the world gets saved by a villainess. Because wouldn’t ya know it, aliens just happened to land when Batman was out of town. Don’t cha hate when that happens?

Things get surprisingly bloody for “A Cat of Nine Tales,” written and drawn by Liam Sharpe. Once again, we have Catwoman and a security guard. When confronted, Selina proceeds to tell the poor guy about nine ways this scenario can end. Most of which involve somebody dying.

I’m not sure the Selina Kyle of 2020 would be this chatty. But I can’t find it in my heart to sling too much mud at this. Aside from Wes Abbott on the lettering, what we see here is all Sharpe. And he manages to tell a coherent story in only three pages. So while by no means perfect, this story is still an achievement.

“Little Bird” is written by Mindy Newell and drawn by…LEE GARBETT!!!! When was the last time he was in Gotham? I’ve still got such fond memories of his work on the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series from…what was it, a decade ago?!? And the man hasn’t lost a step since, as he turns in some fine work here. He and colorist Alex Sinclair do a fine job channeling Batman: Year One. We get a scene where Selina is in similar…er, we’ll call “escort gear” as we see in that story. They also do a hell of a job on the gray David Mazzucchelli Catwoman costume, tail and all.

I was, however, initially confused. The story involves Selina stealing an old mezuzah that belonged to a woman who cared for her as a child. It took me a moment or two to figure out what a mezuzah is, and the identity of this elderly woman in a nursing home. I initially thought we might have jumped into another alternate future for Selina…

Still, they stick the landing. The story speaks to the idea that underneath all the theft and crime, Catwoman has a heart of gold. A great destination, even if the road to get there was a little rocky.

Chuck Dixon, one of the unsung heroes of modern Batman lore, returns alongside Kelley Jones for a Clayface story. Though I hate to say it, this isn’t one of his better outings. Not much to this one. I assume they went with Clayface to suit Jones’ horror strengths. Catwoman finds him, a confrontation ensues, rinse and repeat. I get the sense the only real purpose for this story was to have Selina be in the purple costume from the ’90s.

I know Kelley Jones has his crowd. I’ve just never really been one of them. I will say, though, that his Catwoman is very expressive here. I was pleasantly surprised to see that from him.

Things get downright meta for author Will Pfiefer’s return to the book, as he takes Selina to a comic book convention. He creates a world where the characters themselves are the autograph-signing, question-answering celebrities.

As someone who’s been to a number of these conventions, I found this story charming. Once I got the hang of it, that is. I initially found it difficult to get my bearings. But its a nice little anniversary story, and Pia Guerra’s art is very accessible.

I confess budget constraints caused me to fall off the monthly Catwoman series, so I’m not sure if her sister Maggie has been a regular or not. I have to assume she is, as “Addicted to Trouble” is about the sisters road tripping back to Gotham from Villa Hermosa. Naturally, it’s got a cool car in it. Hijinks ensue.

Thanks to the actions of Black Mask in an early 2000s story by Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart (who oddly enough are on the next story), Maggie is unable to speak. But she still makes a nice road-trip buddy for Selina, and we even focus a little bit on that inability. I wish they would have at least mentioned Black Mask in passing, as he wound up being one of Catwoman’s most-hated rivals.

Brubaker and Stewart evoke memories of 2000s Catwoman the same way Kelley Jones does 90s Batman. So their closing story, “The Art of Picking a Lock,” is an automatic sentimental favorite for yours truly. This book wasn’t cheap, but seeing Stewart draw Selina, Holly, and Slam Bradley again is almost worth the price of admission by itself. And as you’d expect, Brubaker’s pulpy writing style is right at home in Gotham City. God damn I miss him being on a Bat-book.

I wouldn’t call this collection memorable. But it’s a nice little tribute to Catwoman with some A-listers contributing, and a couple of nice nostalgia trips to boot. If nothing else, it should make Selina’s fans smile. I certainly did.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

An Avengers vs. X-Men Review – Cyclops Did WHAT????

Avengers vs. X-Men coverTITLE: Avengers vs. X-Men

AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction
PENCILLERS: John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel, Adam Kubert.
COLLECTS: Avengers vs. X-Men #0-12
PUBLISHER: Marvel
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $52.87
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: November 2012

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Avengers vs. X-Men was one of the more inviting event comics I’ve seen in several years. The title alone tells you a lot. You read it and you immediately know the premise, and that almost all of Marvel’s big name heroes will be front and center. Toss in the fact that it revolves around the Phoenix Force, one of the most recognizable pieces of Marvel’s mythology, and we’ve got ourselves yet another Avengers-themed money vacuum. I wish I had one of those…

When the Phoenix Force returns to Earth, the heroes fear it has come for Hope Summers, Cyclops’ granddaughter from the future (don’t ask). Fearing for the safety of the entire world, the Avengers, led by Captain America, try to peacefully take Hope into protective custody. But Cyclops, now the leader of his own team of X-Men, won’t allow it. After Scarlet Witch reduced the mutant population to roughly 200 in House of M, Cyclops sees Phoenix’s return as Hope’s chance to fulfill her destiny as the savior of mutantkind. His refusal to cooperate leads to a battle between the Avengers and the X-Men. Ultimately, this conflict among the heroes will place everyone in even greater jeopardy as the X-Men are granted a power greater than they can possibly imagine…

Avengers vs. X-Men #1, John Romita Jr., face offSo you’re going to put these two teams against one another, and not have mind control be a factor (at least not initially). The first thing you need to be worried about is making sure neither team looks like the bad guys. Avengers vs. X-Men accomplishes this by having both teams fight for control of the situation, rather than work together to solve it. Captain America shows up on Utopia, and essentially tells Cyclops they’re taking Hope into protective custody. Feeling threatened, and with the mindset that the Phoenix could help reignite the mutant race, Cyclops lashes out. Thus, the fight begins.

So what we have here is a situation that both sides came into looking for a fight. Captain America secretly brought the entire Avengers roster to Utopia as back up. On the other hand Cyclops, who’s kind of been acting like a dick lately, thinks that the Phoenix Force, a destroyer of worlds that once possessed and killed his wife Jean Grey, is only concerned about the welfare of the mutants. But Earth’s entire population will ultimately be endangered here. Throw in the way Captain America cheap shots Wolverine in issue #3 for no real reason, and for the first half of the story both teams are essentially having a dick measuring contest with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. That doesn’t exactly reflect well on anyone, does it? But we have to have a fight, right? Otherwise we can’t sell comics…

Just before the halfway point, Marvel does play the mind control card by having the Phoenix possess Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor the Submariner, Colossus and Magik. The “Phoenix Five” then begin to remake the world as they see fit, telling world leaders that the time for peace has come…whether they like it or not. This turn of events is about Cyclops more than the other four. Avengers vs. X-Men marks the culmination of the slow fall from grace we’ve seen him go through in recent years, the apex of it all being what happens with Charles Xavier.

Avengers vs. X-Men, Phoenix FiveReaders are always looking for long term consequences from their event comics. In terms of AvX, they need look no further than Cyclops, who truly becomes a tragic figure in this book. Like so many other characters in mythology and popular culture, he was only trying to do the right thing. But he went to such terrible lengths to do so that he literally became the kind of force he originally set out to stop. In the end, not only did he murder his surrogate father, but he lost everything. He lost the family, his friends, his camaraderie with his peers, even his freedom. while these five characters are being influenced by the Phoenix, their choices are still their own. All of this was his doing. He did it. Him. And now he has to live with that for the rest of his life. Pretty heavy stuff, huh? In terms of long term effects, the added depth and dimension this story brought to the Cyclops character will likely be its enduring legacy outside of being an event comic where a bunch of heroes fought each other. And let’s be honest, Charles Xavier will be back eventually.

In terms of structure, things grew a little stagnant during the second half of the story, as we knew we were simply waiting for the Avengers to take the Phoenix Five down one by one. They give Spider-Man the spotlight for an issue, as we see him persevere while Colossus and Magik beat him within an inch of his life. That provides a nice character moment for him to break up a bit of the staleness. But it’s an unavoidable valley in the story. The writers do what they can with it, and very capably I might add. But it is what it is.

Avengers vs. X-Men, Spider-Man, Colossus, MagikJohn Romita Jr. does some fine work here, despite some awkward depictions of Cyclops early in the story. Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert are also very strong. One person I took special note of in issue #11 was Laura Martin, whose reds, oranges and yellows made for a great sunset metaphor during the Cyclops/Xavier confrontation.

Avengers vs. X-Men was an easy pitch for readers new and old, it had some of the best talent in the industry attached to it, and it did some great fan service. Could we have asked more from it? I suppose there’s always someplace you can ask for more. But I can honestly say that the main story was worth the money I spent on it. And at the end of the day, can we really ask for much more than that?

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from heroes4hire.com. Image 2 from gamespot.com. Image 3 from ign.com. 

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A Captain America #1 – A New Beginning…Again

Captain America #1 (2011)TITLE: Captain America #1
AUTHOR: Ed Brubaker
PENCILLER: Steve McNiven
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: July 11, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“That’s right, folks. This is it. The FIRST issue of Captain America! The very first! And when we say first, we MEAN first! That’s why we put the big number one on the cover, so that you you know didn’t miss anything. We at Marvel have heard your cries over the big numbers on all of our issues, and we sincerely apologize for assaulting your brains with double digits, and tea-bagging them with triples. That’s why we’ve brought your ol’ pal Cap back to #1! Because of all the numbers out there, 1 is the most accessible! It’s the most fresh! It’s the most hip! It’s an apple pie straight out of the oven, a new crayon out of the box, a fresh page in the notebook! One is the friendliest number that you ever did see! One is marketable! That’s why Thor was renumbered this year, and X-Men was renumbered last year! And if you think THAT’S groovy, did you hear about our friends over at DC? They’re renumbering EVERYTHING! That’s not just fresh, it’s funky fresh! They know what readers want! They’re fly! They’re dope! They’re way cool, man! And next month, be sure and come back for a NEW Captain America #1! We gotta keep it fresh, ya’ll!”

Captain America #1 (2011), Steve McNivenWhew. Okay, I’m done…

We start the issue with Steve Rogers, Nick Fury, Sharon Carter and Dum Dum Dugan (whose identities are never explained to the reader, which seems odd, as this is supposed to be a jumping-on point for new readers) at the funeral of Peggy Carter, Sharon’s aunt and an old flame/partner of Captain America’s from World War II. While at the funeral, the group comes under attack from a mystery assailant, who Steve recognizes as an old ally from the war. Little does he know that his old friend is now working with one of his worst enemies.

Ed Brubaker rarely gives you much to complain about. This issue is no exception, and that shouldn’t be a surprise, as he’s been writing Cap for quite some time. The only complaint I have regards (forgive the repetition) new reader accessibility. We get Steve’s backstory, and obviously that’s the most important one. But we don’t know how Fury and Dugan can look the virtually same in 1944 as they do today. Also, new readers likely won’t know who the villain revealed on the final page is. Thank God for Wikipedia.

Captain America #1, 2011, Steve McNivenSteve McNiven hits this issue out of the park. There’s a moment in this issue where Cap does one of his trademark shield throws, and the way he frames it from release to return is simply beautiful. You can almost feel the impact. The issue is almost worth it for that moment alone.

This certainly isn’t the best first issue I’ve ever read, but it’s nice. Hopefully it’ll do well, what with all the press for Captain America: The First Avenger. If it doesn’t, it should certainly be good enough to impress Cap’s current fan base.

Image 1 from comicbookmovie.com. Image 2 from scansdaily.dreamwidth.org.

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