The GeeksverseSecond Impressions | Daredevil: Dark Nights, Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus, Sheltered, and X-Men

Second Impressions | Daredevil: Dark Nights, Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus, Sheltered, and X-Men
Published on Sunday, September 8, 2013 by
Moira, Troy, and Zedric revisit titles whose first issues they previously reviewed and see how they’ve held up. On the docket: Daredevil: Dark Nights, Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus, Sheltered, and X-Men. NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed issues were digital copies provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers

Daredevil: Dark Nights #3 and #4 (of 8; Marvel, $2.99)

  • dd_darknights3Story & art: Lee Weeks (Daredevil: Dark Knights #3), David Lapham (Daredevil: Dark Knights #4)
  • Colors: Lee Loughridge
  • Lettering: Clayton Cowles for Virtual Calligraphy
  • Publisher’s summary (Daredevil: Dark Knights #3): Lee Weeks concludes his chapter in this special series of extraordinary creators celebrating the Man Without Fear! Everything may stand in his way but nothing will stop Daredevil from rescuing a young life! Will Matt Murdock survive the senses-shattering finale to ANGELS UNAWARE?!
  • Publisher’s summary (Daredevil: Dark Knights #4): The Man Without Fear’s life gets a voltage of violence from the Shocker! Matt Murdock must track a fugitive to protect his innocent client – while New York City and the Avengers must confront some massive monster mayhem! David Lapham returns to the gritty streets of the Mighty Marvel U in WHAT A DAY, WHAT A NIGHT – part one!
  • dd_darknights4What we wrote about Daredevil: Dark Nights #1: … long-time Daredevil artist Lee Weeks clearly sets out to tell “Angels Unaware” with storytelling devices and imagery inspired by Christian themes, such as an early sequence that takes its cues from the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This and other nods to the Christian influence are effectively interwoven in the narrative for the most part, augmenting the events on the page instead of distracting from them, although I can understand if some readers might find the regular in-panel insertion of Biblical verses to be lacking in subtlety. It is Weeks’ art that really grabs my attention in this issue, however. The artist has long been one of my favorite all-time Daredevil illustrators—he’s right up there with David Mazzucchelli and John Romita, Jr. in my personal top three list of DD artists—and he does not disappoint in the least with this outing, inking his own pencils in a manner reminiscent of Klaus Janson’s bold inkwork on the monthly Daredevil comic book back in the 1980s and employing a dynamic “camera” that doesn’t undermine, and in fact enhances, storytelling clarity. [Click here to read Zedric’s full review of the first issue.]
  • NOTE: These issues were personally purchased by the reviewer.

Zedric Dimalanta: Lee Weeks brings his “Angels Unaware” chapter to a close in Daredevil: Dark Nights #3 and I have to say—with all due respect to Mark Waid’s stellar work on the main Daredevil title—I haven’t enjoyed a tale featuring old Horn-Head this much in a long while. I will readily admit that part of this enjoyment is little more than giddy nostalgia. As I’d mentioned in my review of Daredevil: Dark Nights #1, Weeks is one of my top three all-time favorite Daredevil artists (alongside David Mazzucchelli and John Romita, Jr.), so I am absolutely thrilled to read a new Daredevil story that isn’t just illustrated by Weeks, but written by him as well. But here’s the thing: “Angels Unaware”—an atmospheric story that has Matt Murdock battling against injuries, gangs, and a blizzard to bring a waiting transplant patient a donated heart—is more than just a walk down memory lane for fans of Ann Nocenti/DanChichester-era Daredevil. It is also a solidly-crafted work that respectfully draws elements from the character’s history and the work of prior creators and not only reiterates them, but also puts them in the service of themes that we don’t see explored much in mainstream comics.

Despite all that it has going for it creatively, what will probably stand out to many readers with “Angels Unaware” is Weeks’ use of Christian inspiration in both the writing and the art. It’s a bold choice in an industry that encourages approaches more in line with commercially-safe secularism but it pays off creatively in that we get a very strong sense of Daredevil’s internal wiring, so to speak.

DD_darknights003_16Worth noting is the fact that the use of religious imagery and ideals doesn’t detract from the entertainment, As a person who isn’t particularly religious (I’m quite the opposite of what could be described as “religious,” actually, although I do find the general idea of religion as a social construct fascinating), I found the delving into Daredevil’s guilt-ridden first-person digressions into questions of morality and spirituality a particularly effective technique for the tracing of the character arc in a story that doesn’t have a lot of direct and extended interaction between the lead and a supporting cast. And it’s not as if Weeks pulled this aspect of the character out of thin air and shoehorned it into the story—prior Daredevil writers such as Frank Miller, Nocenti, and Chichester have explored Matt Murdock’s complicated relationship with his faith before with varying degrees of success. “Angels Unaware” isn’t perfect—the writing does veer close to being uncomfortably pontifical in a few scenes, mostly featuring the supporting character of “Johnny Cruz” (also, the “JC” initials are probably a bit much)—but it’s a beautifully illustrated, tightly-plotted work that deconstructs and then reconstructs the hero against a backdrop informed by the character’s history and Weeks’ beliefs.

This brings us to David Lapham’s work on Daredevil: Dark Nights #4 (“What a day, what a night—Part One”), the first installment in the second standalone chapter in this non-canon miniseries. While Weeks’ take on Daredevil is obviously influenced by the brooding version of the character extant through the late 1970s into the mid-2000s, Lapham’s take on the blind lawyer-cum-superhero as a swashbuckling costumed do-gooder is more in line with lighthearted Silver Age and current depictions of Daredevil. I like the contrast of having Lapham follow Weeks on the book—if nothing else, it demonstrates that the same character, with roughly the same superficial attributes, can work equally well despite different interpretations by talented creators. “There’s no single ‘right way’ to write Daredevil,” is what the juxtaposition suggests.

DD_darknights004_16Lapham’s story has Daredevil running, jumping, and swinging around Manhattan, chasing after an elusive gnome-like figure who has stolen key evidence in a murder case. At least in this initial installment, the plot seems to be little more than a linear structure to hang on a shaggy dog story that is as much about showcasing the wonder and spectacle of the Marvel Universe version of New York—you’ve got the Avengers battling monsters downtown, subway riders inured to the sight of a superhero riding the A Train, Daredevil flirting with a cute bystander while he clambers up the wall of a brownstone. It can be argued that the city is as much a character in the story as Daredevil himself. Oh, there are problems with the issue, including what seems like an oversight involving the depiction of Shocker’s superpowers that might be Lapham poking fun at the character’s code name (he’s shown here with electricity-based powers à la Electro, but long-time Marvel readers know that the “shock” in his code name refers to his “vibrational air blast” powers), but it’s difficult to complain about a comic that isn’t trying to do anything much more than tell a good old fashioned superhero story steeped in the sensibilities and imagination of an earlier era.

Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #2 (of 2; Dark Horse, $3.50)

  • lobsjohnscentoflotus2Story: Mike Mignola, John Arcudi
  • Art: Sebastian Fiumara
  • Colors: Dave Stewart
  • Letters: Clem Robins
  • Cover: Tonci Zonjic
  • Publisher’s summary: After a brutal attack by an army of gun-blazing monkeys in a burning brothel, Lobster Johnson confronts the supernatural Japanese spy known as the Crimson Lotus!
  • What we wrote about Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1: The art is very well suited to the 1930s setting and pulp atmosphere of the book. The criminal underworld is sufficiently seedy without going overboard. That terrific gun battle only lost me in one place, but as I re-read those pages to get a better feel for the flow of action, I think that it was deliberately done that way. Where were those shots coming from? (I don’t like monkeys enough that I’m just going to pin the blame on them for the time-being.) [Click here to read Moira’s full review of the first issue.]

LobsterJohnson_A ScentOfLotus002_016Moira Hunger: And the creepy, mask-wearing monkeys are back, and this time they are indeed toting guns! I’m not entirely sure what my problem is with monkeys doing things that people normally do, but these guys are seriously freaking me out… This issue picks up right where the last issue ended—Lobster Johnson is trapped in a burning building, facing the mysterious Crimson Lotus and her troop of monkey minions. He escapes the fire and meets up with with mob boss, Sai Wong, who explains the small… personnel issue that they’ve been having. (“Personnel issue” here meaning “our couriers keep getting killed,” if you remember from last time.)

It turns out that the Chinese mob has been trying to fund uprisings in Manchuria, which the Japanese invaded and occupied in 1931. Every plan that they’ve come up with for getting money to the fighters has been thwarted, with the violence escalating quickly to killing the couriers landing with the money in China. Now, it appears that Japan has sent the Crimson Lotus to keep the Tong’s couriers from leaving the US at all. Lobster Johnson’s team seizes on that and hatch their plan… Acting as a dupe and meeting up once again with the Creepy Monkey Brigade, Lobster Johnson faces down the Crimson Lotus. She escapes with what appears to be a bit of sorcery (and a monkey hurled straight at Johnson) but not before our heroes get a nice snapshot of her.

i_throw_scary_monkey

The next morning’s front page headline reads “Notorious Japanese Spy Caught on Camera in NYC. Lobster Vigilante Battles for America” and with the accompanying photograph, the Crimson Lotus stands revealed to all of New York. The Tong couriers survive their latest money-running mission, Lobster Johnson looks like a hero and all is good in the world. … well, except that the local police have found a dead Creepy Monkey in an alley, the FBI apparently read the newspaper story about a foreign spy operating on US soil and, since he was written up in the story as solving the mystery of the murdered gang couriers and exposing the involvement of the Japanese in the case, have confiscated all evidence and files regarding Lobster Johnson, declaring him part of the federal investigation.

On my first read-through of this issue, I was a little disappointed. I felt like it ended rather abruptly and without a lot happening. Lobster Johnson’s team didn’t get a whole lot of panel time, and it just felt incomplete. After I read it again and let it settle in my brain for a bit, I realized that there was a little more to it. Johnson’s team doesn’t have a lot of panel time, but the time they do have is used effectively. Just like last issue, enough information was handed out for a new reader to feel like they had a grip on who the characters are and how they relate to each other. Bearing in mind that I am not too familiar with the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe, the ending does leave me wondering where Lobster Johnson is going to fit in with the larger world, now that the FBI is actively interested in him. Creepy monkeys in masks aside, these were a fun two issues and they definitely made me want to delve deeper into this universe.

Sheltered #3 (of 5; Image, $2.99)

  • sheltered03_coverCreated by: Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas
  • Story: Ed Brisson
  • Art: Johnnie Christmas
  • Colors: Shari Chankhamma
  • Lettering: Ed Brisson
  • Publisher’s summary: What has the kids of Safe Haven so terrified? Their fears are revealed as Lucas and Victoria square off against one another.
  • What we wrote about Sheltered #1: Without giving too much of the story away, part of the philosophical thrust of Sheltered seems to be thus: What are the implications for our traditional notions of community and family when survival is to be held as the highest good above all else? It’s an intriguing question that Brisson seems intent to answer in a most entertaining and thrilling way given the nail-biter ending of the first issue. Definitely a miniseries worth following in the coming months. [Click here to read Zedric’s full review of the first issue.]

sheltered03_p3Zedric Dimalanta: It’s tempting to reductively parse Sheltered‘s story as simply a modern retelling of The Lord of the Flies both on its surface and in its metaphorical underpinnings, the William Golding classic updated for the era of 21st century paranoia and xenophobia. Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas show that they are interested in doing more than just going over well-trod themes in this third issue of their “pre-apocalyptic tale,” however. The revelation that the mass murder of Safe Haven’s adults—intended to be a culling of the community’s population to increase the odds of survival of the younger generation—was triggered by the survivalist community’s teen ringleaders mistakenly assuming that a local volcanic eruption was imminent doubles as an indictment of the both the extreme reactions by individuals, communities, and governments to alleged existential threats in the contemporary real-world space, and the dangers of taking drastic action with incomplete situational information. It’s chilling to see a clearly sociopathic teen like Lucas justify murder with such cold-blooded and faulty logic, but the real horror comes after reading the comic book, when one realizes that the same “it’s either us or them” attitudes and poorly considered approaches to the task of intelligence-gathering satirized in the book is in play all around us.

X-Men #4 (Marvel, $3.99)

  • xmen004Story: Brian Wood
  • Art: David Lopez
  • Colors: Cris Peter
  • Cover: Terry Dodson
  • Publisher’s summary: After the game-changing events of PRIMER, the women of the X-Men must contemplate the future of their makeshift team. Are the X-women ready for the BATTLE OF THE ATOM that’s right around the corner? Meanwhile: Jubilee may still look like a kid, but she finds herself burdened with some very adult responsibilities. What kind of plans can a mutant vampire teen mom make for her own future?
  • What we wrote about X-Men #1: All the characters, aside from Jubilee, are in other books already. Now I really don’t mind that as I am a fan of all the characters on this “team” but it would have been nice to use this opportunity to show some of the other X-Women (Dazzler, Blink, Dr. Reyes, Magma, Karma, Aurora) and/or their associates. The idea of the all-female team is a hard concept to pull off. It never comes across as organic. The exception is the recent Fearless Defenders because the point of the book is for Valkyrie to create a new team of shieldmaidens. That mission statement means it’s going to be all women. But with this X-Men book, even though Wood does a decent job, it still comes across as forced that this particular group came together and there are no male X-Men around. How will it work in the future? [Click here to read Troy’s full review of the first issue.]
  • NOTE: This issue was personally purchased by the reviewer.

Troy Osgood: When this title came out, I had my reservations. The idea of an all-female squad of X-Men seemed forced. I understand the motivation in doing it, and with Wood at the helm I knew it would likely be decent at the very least. But still, the idea felt a little contrived, whatever creative, editorial, and marketing intentions we might ascribe to the decision to have this particular group of characters band together. The first three-issue arc worked because of the way Wood set up the main plot. It made sense that this specific group of X-Men would be thrown together for that mission. But now the first arc is over and it’s time to see if the internal logic that dictated the creation of an X-Men task force composed of Storm, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Psylocke, Rachel Grey, and vampire Jubilee holds up.

It doesn’t.

Four issues in, we still haven’t been shown a firm in-universe reason as to why this particular group of characters is a distinct “team” apart from the X-teams we have in Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men, and Wolverine & the X-Men. There’s really no motivation given for why the team stayed together as its own independent unit after the threat they faced in the first story arc had been negated. The mix of team member abilities and personalities work well together, though, even if the character conflict between Storm and Rachel Grey is inconsistent with portrayals in the other X-books: In Wolverine & The X-Men, Ororo and Rachel have a smooth working and personal relationship but now Rachel suddenly has a problem with Storm’s leadership? Sure, there would be some tension because of the Sublime/Arkea thing from the opening arc, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to explain what happens between them in this issue.

Still, there’s a lot to love about this issue. The team saving the airplane is fun. There are the creative uses of Rogue’s and Psylocke’s abilities as seen in the sequence below:

And the scenes with Jubilee and Wolverine just spending the day together away from adventuring and fighting are tender and heartfelt—it’s nice to see a writer reconnect the two, since they had such an impact on each other before Jubilee went away from the X-Men proper in the mid-1990s to go adventuring with a succession of “teen-themed” teams.

shogowolviejubileexmen004

I’m still not entirely sold on X-Men and with the next issue (or two) being tie-ins of the X-Men: Battle of the Atom (yawn) event, it will be a couple months before we get another look at the series proper. We’ll see how I feel after Wood’s next non-event arc.

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