The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: July 2013 releases

REVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: July 2013 releases
Published on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 by
It took a while but our reviews of select July 2013 trades and hardcovers are finally here! Check out our thoughts on  Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 2, Conan, Vol. 14: The Death, The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror, The Killer, Vol. 4: Unfair Competition, and more. [NOTE: Unless otherwise stated, all reviewed books were provided free-of-charge by their respective publishers, publicists, or creative teams.]
Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 2 (Dark Horse)
  • ATLBTSV2p0Story: Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
  • Art: Gurihiru
  • Format: 80 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $10.99
  • Sale date: 10 July 2013
  • Publisher’s description: In search of their long-lost mother, Fire Lord Zuko and his deadly and insane sister Azula have brought Avatar Aang and his friends into a mysterious forest, but what they discover within may be more than they can face. Will they too be lost in these woods forever?
  • Click here to read the preview.
  • Read the review of the previous volume here.
  • Read an Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise retrospective here.
  • Read a brief article explaining the link between Avatar: The Last Airbender and the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West here.

ATLBTSV2p2After a fast-paced and exciting start that surely left fans of the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series on the edges of their seats, Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search finds itself spinning its narrative wheels in the second installment. Granted, this was also the same problem seen in the second chapter of Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise, so the issue might not so much be with the writing per se as it is with how Dark Horse’s most recent long form Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels are divided and released as three separately published 80-page trade paperbacks. But while Avatar: The Last Airbender–The Promise, part 2 could fall back on the hijinks and humor of the Sokka-Toph pairing to tide readers over while waiting for the long-brewing climax, Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 2 doesn’t have a similar dynamic in place to buoy up the proceedings. What we get instead is an exceptionally hirsute shaggy dog story that reiterates many of the same points already made in Part 1. Gurihiru’s art, however, remains as strong as ever, maintaining a balance between the look of the animation and their own particular rendering style.

Devotees of the property will in all likelihood still pick this up because it serves as a bridge towards the big reveal about the ultimate fate of Zuko’s mother that’s coming in Part 3, but I can’t help but think that the overall work could probably have benefited from being trimmed down by a few dozen pages.

Glory, Vol. 2: War Torn (Image Comics) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • glory_vol2_coverStory: Joe Keatinge
  • Art: Ross Campbell with Ulises Farinas, Owen Gieni, Emi Lenox, Jed Dougherty, Sloane Leong, Roman Muradov, Charis Solis
  • Format: 144 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 17 July 2013
  • Publisher’s description: GLORY REACHES ITS SHOCKING CONCLUSION! Featuring the introduction of Glory’s ultra-violence prone sister, Nanaja, the truth behind their parents’ hidden alliance and a very special guest appearance by Ernest Hemingway! Collects GLORY #29-34.
  • Click here to read the preview.
  • Read our overview of the relaunched Glory series here.
  • NOTE: The following review is based on a reading of the compiled single issue review copies previously provided by the publisher.

Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell’s just-concluded “reboot” of Glory hasn’t received the plaudits that Brandon Graham and his rotating cadre of artist collaborators have on Prophet, but I’d contend that it stands as a very strong second place among the recent relaunches of various Extreme Studios properties. (Besides Prophet and Glory, other Rob Liefeld titles from the 1990s “Blood-Blood” era that have been revived in the last two years are Avengelyne, Supreme, Youngblood, and Bloodstrike.) Keatinge has managed to streamline the eponymous protagonist’s somewhat convoluted continuity and focused her narrative on exploring Glory’s character and her relationships as well as her role as a reluctant soldier from another world, forced by circumstances to become the Earth’s protector from a catastrophic alien menace. Ross Campell’s art is dynamic but never confusing, and he has a talent for rendering facial expressions and making even talking head sequences visually interesting. Campbell and guest artist Ulises Farinas—who contributes his line work in a number of key flashback sequences—turn in some impressively detailed action set pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in a Les Humanoids or Heavy Metal sci-fi epic.


glory33_p6In a December 2012 interview with Comics Alliance, Keatinge stated that the original intent was for his and Campbell’s run on Glory to last some 70 issues. For various reasons, that was truncated to 12 issues, leading to an abrupt climax and dénouement. All that being said, I wouldn’t have known from reading the comics alone that the creative team was caught somewhat by surprise at the radical abbreviation of their run. Whether by design or by accident, I found the ending to their run to be particularly poignant and satisfying. Keatinge and Campbell’s Glory run is an excellent read, a sterling example of quality work-for-hire comics in the “indie” milieu, and should be sought out (whether in singles or in trade paperback form) by those interested in both an excellently-realized, sci-fi-tinged revamp of a fringe super-character and a thoughtful interpretation of the tropes associated with the female superhero.

Conan, Vol. 14: The Death (Dark Horse) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • conanbarbarianvol14p0Story: Brian Wood
  • Illustrations: Becky Cloonan (Chapter 1), Vasilis Lolos (Chapters 2–3), Declan Shalvey (Chapters 4–6)
  • Colors: Dave Stewart
  • Cover: Massimo Carnevale
  • Format: 152 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $24.99
  • Sale date: 17 July 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Conan and Bêlit are the undisputed masters of the Western Ocean, their names whispered in fearful awe all along the Black Coast. But while fellow seafarers know better than to challenge their reign, other threats arrive from unexpected places. Conan returns to Cimmeria to track down an impostor destroying villages in his name, only to discover a tragic connection to his own past! Collects Conan the Barbarian #7–#12.
  • Click here to read the preview.
  • Read the review of the previous volume here.
  • Read a brief overview of the original Dark Horse Conan trade paperbacks published from 2005–2011 here.

conan2012no7p2Conan, Vol. 14: The Death actually comprises two three-issue story arcs. The book’s first-half, the three-part “Border Fury,” has Conan and Bêlit journeying north to the barbarian’s native land of Cimmeria to recover from their previous adventure. I had some reservations going into the volume that this portion of the book would do little more than echo elements of Timothy Truman’s “Cimmeria” storyline from Conan, Vol. 7 and serve as inessential filler between the series’ more canonical stories directly based on Robert E. Howard material. I needn’t have worried. Writer Brian Wood uses the opportunity to do an extended character study of Conan’s lover and captain, the pirate-queen Bêlit, taking the fearsome Queen of the Black Coast from her beloved Tigress and the warm waters of the Western Ocean and placing her in a frigid, landlocked foreign land where her skills as a corsair and her reputation as the Hyborian Age’s most infamous terror of the high seas mean little. Taking an established character and dropping her into unfamiliar environs to further clarify and crystallize what makes her tick should be a familiar trope to older readers, but Wood pulls it off flawlessly and by the end of “Border Fury,” readers will have gained a much greater appreciation of the similarities and the contrast between Bêlit and Conan. Wood also uses “Border Fury” to paint, somewhat subversively, an image of the young Conan not as a strong-willed and adventurous free spirit but as an insensitive and cruel bully—the story’s plot revolves around the pair tracking down a village outcast-turned-mass murderer who blames physical and emotional insults suffered at the hands of a teen Conan for his lot in life—while making the point that misfortune at the hands of others should not and cannot serve as justification for crimes against the innocent.

conan2012no12p6The book’s “title track,” so to speak, is the three-part story “The Death,” which picks up with Conan and Bêlit back on the Tigress. I won’t spoil the story here for those readers who follow the trade paperbacks (which come out several months after the hardcovers) but suffice it to say that the events in this installment, where Conan is faced with a threat and a foe against which his prodigious fighting talents are useless, go a long way towards filling in why, even though they are equals as adventurers and warriors and even with their seeming compatibility in temperament and passion, Conan eventually left his post as Bêlit’s “sword-arm” and settled down decades later in Aquilonia as seen in the very first published Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword. (The Dark Horse Comics adaptation of which, incidentally, we reviewed earlier this year.)

Despite having three different illustrators work across the volume’s six chapters, the art retains a reasonably consistent aesthetic—typified by a rough, expressive, and energetic rendering style—although I would definitely have preferred it if Becky Cloonan, who drew the bulk of the previous hardcover/trade paperback, had drawn a larger portion of this book as well (she is only credited with the line art in the first chapter). Still, it’s not as if Vasilis Lolos and Declan Shalvey represent a subjective step down from Cloonan, at least for my tastes.

Lapsed followers of the original Dark Horse Conan comics who may have lost interest after the competent but occasionally meandering Conan: Road of Kings are strongly encouraged to pick up the Brian Wood-penned Conan the Barbarian comics, in whatever format is most convenient. This is excellent stuff—Wood demonstrates in both “Border Fury” and “The Death” that even a property as genre-bound as Conan can be used to explore themes that readers wouldn’t readily associate with sword-and-sorcery comics—that has revived my enthusiasm for the original Dark Horse Conan material to levels that I haven’t experienced since the early years of the Kurt Busiek/Cary Nord era.

The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series Book One—Air (Dark Horse)
  • lokarts1p0Text and captions: Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino with Joaquim Dos Santos
  • Art: Joaquim Dos Santos, Bryan Konietzko, Ki-Hyun Ryu, Frederic Stewart, Jung-Su Lee, Emily Tetri, Eun-Sang Yang, Il-Kwang Kim, Sylvia Filcak-Blackwolf, Jin-Sun Kim, Christie Tseng, Joshua Middleton, Jevon Bue, Jonard Soriano, Ki-Tak Moon, and others
  • Book design: Stephen Reichert
  • Cover: Joaquim Dos Santos (line art), Brian Konietzko (painting), Frederic Stewart (background)
  • Art asset manager: Ariana Brill
  • Format: 184 pages, full color, hardcover art book
  • List price: $34.99
  • Sale date: 17 July 2013
  • Publisher’s description: This handsome hardcover contains hundreds of pieces of never-before-seen artwork created during the development of Season 1 of The Legend of Korra. With captions from Mike and Bryan throughout, this is an intimate look inside the creative process that brought the mystical world of bending and a new generation of heroes to life!
  • Click here to read the preview.

lokarts1p1A perfect companion to the recently issued The Legend of Korra, Book One: Air DVD/Blu-Ray, Dark Horse Books’ The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series Book One—Air provides fans of the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender spin-off a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at the art development and design process of the series, showcasing not just the expected character sheets and turnarounds at various stages of the show’s evolution, but also featuring a detailed examination of the architecture, props, and technology of the setting. The captions and short articles do a good job explaining the basic rationale behind many of the show’s design decisions. Obviously, only fans of the show will extract the most enjoyment out of this volume, but budding and experienced character/prop designers and animation background artists should find this art book interesting and informative reading as well.


The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror (IDW) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • Rocketeer_HH-pr-001Story: Roger Langridge
  • Illustrations: J. Bone
  • Colors: Jordie Bellaire
  • Cover: Walt Simonson
  • Format: 104 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $21.99
  • Sale date: 17 July 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Missing scientists! Plucky girl reporters! Betty and Cliff on the rocks! The mysterious Church of Cosmicism! And who is the sinister Otto Rune? Pulp thrills the way you like them as the Rocketeer comes up against a brand-new adversary in… “The Hollywood Horror!”
  • Click here to read the preview.
  • Read our review of The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom here.

Like Mark Waid and Chris Samnee on The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom before them, humor comics writer Roger Langridge and Super Friends artist J. Bone manage to respect the source material whilst playing to their strengths as creators in The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror. The neo-pulp styling of the late Dave Stevens original Rocketeer comics is clearly in play in Hollywood Horror, but Langridge’s take on the property is definitely weighted towards playing up its more comedic elements.

Rocketeer_HH-pr-011The book’s plot is appropriately uncomplicated: The arrival of the charismatic Church of Cosmicism founder Otto Rune in Los Angeles coincides with the disappearance of a scientist specializing in robots. Betty and her journalist roommate get drawn into an investigation into a link between the two incidents while Cliff has his hands full fending off attempts by returning antagonists from the original Stevens’ books to acquire his vaunted jetpack, and soon enough, both running storylines coalesce in a high-action climax. Worth noting are Langridge’s thinly-veiled parody of the Church of Scientology in the Church of Cosmicism—a quasi-mystical movement that preys on the Hollywood elite and comes with its own Lovecraft-inspired Xenu pastiche—as well as the writer’s attempts at turning Rocketeer gal-pal Betty into more than just a self-absorbed love interest and balancing her traditional role as the damsel-in-distress with an earnest effort to make her a worthy co-lead. Overall however, this is classic straight-ahead pulp adventure, albeit one in a decidedly lighthearted vein and one that succeeds for the most part in updating the genre to fit modern sensibilities even as it remains true to its spirit.

Rocketeer_HH-pr-014J. Bone’s art on the title calls to mind fellow Canadian Darwyn Cooke’s work. It’s heavily stylized, but not at the cost of clarity—the bold linework and graphic design actually makes for panels and pages that scan very readily, even in the most busy fight scenes. He also does a thoughtful job of translating the cheesecake aspects associated with Stevens’ original Rocketeer artwork to fit the style and tone of the book.

While not an ideal introduction to the Rocketeer property given that it draws multiple supporting characters and story elements from the original comics with little overt explanation for their ties to the primary cast, The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror isn’t so steeped in prior continuity so as to render it inaccessible to readers with minimal prior experience with Stevens’ signature creation. As for those even remotely familiar with The Rocketeer, I give this book a wholly unreserved recommendation.

The Killer, Vol. 4: Unfair Competition (BOOM!/Archaia)
  • The Killer v4 HC CoverStory: Matz
  • Art: Luc Jacamon
  • Format: 128 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $19.95
  • Sale date: 17 July 2013 (comic book shops); 30 July 2013 (bookstores)
  • Publisher’s description: After his misadventures in Venezuela, our Killer retires to Mexico, but his Colombian cartel friend Mariano and the Cuban agent Katia are not far behind. Soon he finds himself drawn back into the great geopolitical game between Cuba, Venezuela, and the United States, with oil revenues and political independence at stake. Even when he finds himself in unusual territory as the shadow owner of an oil company developing Cuba’s off-shore deposits, the need for his usual skill-set is never far away.
  • Click here to read the preview.

The Killer V4 Preview-PG6It’s been over two years since Archaia Entertainment (still an independent publisher back then, and not the BOOM! Studios imprint it is now) released the English edition of The Killer, Vol. 3: Modus Vivendi by bande dessinée writer Alexis “Matz” Nolent (Bullet to the Head, Cyclops) and artist Luc Jacamon (Cyclops). I had forgotten that Modus Vivendi ended on a bit of a cliffhanger with the nameless French hitman lead and his drug dealer pal Mariano talking about going (at least partially) legit and breaking into the oil industry by brokering an oil exploration and drilling deal involving Venezuala, Colombia, and Cuba: A move that would shut out the Chinese and the United States and deal a blow for the cause of Latin American solidarity in the process. This fourth volume sees  that scheme finally unfold, but even as “The Killer” cloaks himself in the corporate trappings of Big Oil, he just can’t leave his old trade behind—not that he’s eager to—and his skills as an assassin ultimately prove useful in the cutthroat world of business, where they are a valuable and unique asset when it comes to the negotiation table.

As with the previous volumes, the narrative in The Killer, Vol. 4: Unfair Competition largely serves as a forum for the protagonist’s first-person musings and amateur philosophizing on a variety of topics including Latin American geopolitics, ethics, family, morality, Western consumerism, and more. It can get terribly self-indulgent and solipsistic, but it’s in-character. “The Killer” has been established in previous volumes as a sociopath, after all, and his cynical, amoral, nihilistic, reductionist, and even contradictory views square with how Matz has developed his character. It can be a lot to wade through, though, and it would be wearying if not for the excellently choreographed action sequences that bookend the narrator’s extended digressions, Jacamon’s highly detailed renderings of various and diverse locales in the Americas and Europe, and the biting, sardonic observations about human nature and the hypocrisy of First World governments and their policies.


The Killer, Vol. 4: Unfair Competition doesn’t really work as a standalone volume—readers who’ve never sampled The Killer before and are intrigued by the premise and art seen here and in the preview should really start with the first volume and trace the character’s growth from a sociopathic freelance contract killer to a sociopathic oil exec-cum-contract killer—but those who’ve been waiting all these months for the conclusion to the story that began in Modus Vivendi will find this book ultimately satisfying and thoroughly entertaining.

The Reason for Dragons (BOOM!/Archaia)
  • Front Cover-The Reason for DragonsStory: Chris Northrop, with assistance by Jeff Stokely
  • Illustrations: Jeff Stokely
  • Colors: Chris Northrop, Andrew Elder
  • Bonus stories and art by: Chris Northrop, Kevin Castaniero, Charlie Kirchoff, Julia Fung, Zoe Chevat, Josh Trujillo, Ben Bishop, Mark Ashmore, Michael Dialynas, Tom Pinchuk, Zack Turner, Yehudi Mercado, Tom Brown, Jon Rea, Marvin Mann
  • Format: 128 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $19.95
  • Sale date: 24 July 2013 (comic book shops); 06 August 2013 (book stores)
  • Publisher’s description: Wendell lives a lonely, suburban existence, losing himself in books in order to avoid his motorcycle-driving stepfather, Ted. When the school bullies convince Wendell to venture into the forest around their neighborhood and explore the long-abandoned Renaissance Fair grounds they all believe to be haunted, Wendell is surprised to find a man living in the barn—and even more surprised by the man himself. Believing himself to be comics is clearly in play in lia medieval knight named Sir Habaersham tasked with the duty of slaying the dragon he insists is wandering the woods, Wendell’s new acquaintance seems the definition of crackpot. But when Wendell starts hearing rumblings—and listening to Habaersham’s stories—he starts to wonder if perhaps it could all be true. In a heartfelt coming-of-age story, Wendell must defy logic in order to follow his heart…and face the dragon of the forest!
  • Click here to read the preview.

Reason for Dragons Preview-PG1Beautifully illustrated by Jeff Stokely, Chris Northrop’s The Reason for Dragons is a fairly straightforward all-ages tale that takes some measure of inspiration from Don Quixote and is a little reminiscent of the 1984 fan-favorite film Cloak & Dagger in certain respects. As with the latter, the adolescent protagonist is in a strained relationship with his father (stepfather in The Reason for Dragons’ case) whilst displacing his feelings and expectations onto a quasi-fantastical, older male figure. Northrop clearly outlines for his young readers the importance of imagination and fantasy as a mechanism for coping with the real world, but ultimately, after a series of adventures, has his lead realize that fantasy, no matter how well-realized, is no substitute for reality, and that he need not look very far to find real-world heroes in his life.

The book’s cover indicates that the volume is best suited for readers 12 years and up, although parents, teachers, and librarians should be advised that there are a couple of scenes in the book that feature strong language, but that said, it’s nothing today’s sixth graders likely haven’t heard before in a schoolyard or in a headset-enabled online game. The main story itself takes up a little less than three-quarters of the book, with the rest being filled with bonus short stories, pin-ups, as well as creator notes and sketches. The shorts are of variable quality and don’t really add much to the main narrative despite featuring many of the same characters, but they’re a welcome addition just the same. At least one of the bonus stories features a couple of egregious spelling/grammatical errors however, which is always disappointing to see in a title explicitly intended for younger readers. Still, the hardcover package is solid value all-around, and young readers and their parents will likely find themselves thumbing though the book over and over for the well-executed art.

Joe Palooka (IDW)
  • JoePalooka-pr-001Story: Mike Bullock with Joe Antonacci, Matt Triano, and Ivan Cohen
  • Illustrations: Fernando Peniche
  • Colors: Bob Pedroza
  • Cover: Jace McTier
  • Format: 148 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 31 July 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Set in the violent and dangerous world of top-tier mixed martial arts, this series will get you in its grip and not let go until you tap out. Accused of a murder he didn’t commit, Nick Davis flees a police manhunt, picks up the name Joe Palooka in a Tijuana tough-man contest and then travels the world seeking to clear his name while making a name for himself at the same time.
  • Click here to read the preview.

JoePalooka-pr-006There was a time when Joe Palooka was one of the most widely-read syndicated comics strips in the United States and the rest of the world. At its peak, Ham Fisher’s boxing-themed creation was carried by 900 newspapers to go with Joe Palooka radio serials, film serials, 12 feature-length movies (the first of which, 1934’s Joe Palooka starring Stuart Erwin and Jimmy Durante, has entered the public domain and can be viewed in its entirety here), and all sorts of licensed merchandise like tin lunchboxes, trading cards, toys, and yes, comics.

It’s been a while since Joe Palooka has been in the mainstream pop culture consciousness however, and if this comic from IDW Publishing and boxing announcer Joe Antonacci’s VJIB, LLC (which currently holds the rights to the Joe Palooka IP) is to be any indication of its prospects, it might be a while still.

JoePalooka-pr-007The decision to switch Joe Palooka from a boxing-based strip to a mixed martial arts (MMA)-based comic has probably closed off this title from old-school Palooka fans, but I do understand the thinking behind the move. In American sports media (particularly outlets that specialize in “screaming pundit” TV shows like ESPN), the popular perception is that MMA has supplanted boxing as the favored combat sport of the 21st century, never mind that the highest earning and arguably most popular combat sports athletes in the world today, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (who cashed a check for $41.5 million in his last fight) and Manny Pacquiao (who ranks behind only Mayweather in the 2012 list of highest-paid athletes), are boxers. As the Comixverse’s resident boxing and MMA wonk, I figured I would be predisposed to liking this trade, despite the changes to the property. Unfortunately, the hackneyed plot, cardboard characterizations, acquired-taste art style, and iffy visual storytelling—Fernando Peniche needs to lay off the gratuitous dutch angles—taken all together were just too much to gloss over for even this lifelong fan of comics and the combat sports. You could say that it made me tap out.

It’s not all bad. Bringing in professional MMA trainer Phil Ross as a technical consultant means that the various MMA techniques portrayed in the book are varied and fairly accurate, the artist’s liberal interpretation of human anatomy and tenuous grasp on perspective notwithstanding. If nothing else, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an omoplata and a D’Arce choke depicted in a comic book before. But that’s the book’s only real saving grace. Readers looking for an MMA-themed comic would be better served picking up the trade paperback of Heart from Blair Butler and Image Comics.

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