Swamp Thing #1 (November – 2011 – DC)

Swam Thing #1

Alec Holland wants nothing to do with The Green, or Swamp Thing.  He died and for a while he was the Swamp Thing, but now that he has his humanity back he wants nothing to do with any of it.  So when Superman shows up at his new job (he has moved from botany into construction just to get away from plants), he is none to excited to help out.  He knows all about the birds falling out of the air dead, and the fish holocaust, and the cattle die off.  He still wants nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile at an archaeological dig a red tornado digs up the bones of a mastodon, which formulate a new creature that comes to attack the people that had been working at the dig.  Flies swarm into their ears and they twist their own heads backwards.  Doesn’t seem like a very pleasant way to go.

Skip to the bedroom of Alec Holland.  In a dream he is reliving his death, only to awaken to a room full of foliage.  Plants are crawling across the floor and filling the room.  He is about to give them the formula that he has created, in his time as a botanist, that accelerates the growth of plants, when Swamp Thing arrives to stop him.

That’s right Scott Snyder waits until the final page of this title reboot to reveal Swamp Thing.  Like all things that Scott Snyder works on everything from dialogue to exposition are spot on.  Even long passages of conversation between Holland and Superman feel natural instead of long.  That coupled with some truly beautiful, and horrific, artwork from Yanick Paquette makes this one of the best  New 52 first issues that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Swamp Thing is so important to so many people that love horror comics.  The directions that Alan Moore took the title showed a lot of people that an ongoing series could not only be exciting issue to issue but could also go into deep themes and ideas over the long haul of the title.  Birthed from Swamp Thing was Hellblazer which did much the same, and continues into Constantine (another New 52 title I’m really enjoying).  To see this treated with the seriousness and respect it deserves is nice because some of these New 52 sure don’t.

Next Time: The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft #2

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Constantine #1 (May – 2013 – DC)

Constantine #1

John Constantine is verbose, sarcastic, and awesome, or at least he was through the entire run of Hellblazer.  When a comic transitions into a new title I’m always a little afraid that they are going to change the main character in way that makes him or her really unrecognizable   I have no evidence of this ever really happening,  it is just an irrational fear that I have. It looks like John Constantine is going to be just fine through his title transition.

The first two pages are just Constantine being his verbose self, talking about the price of magic.  How for every bit you use up, something is taken from you.  When one of his psychic informants shows up wanting help.  Soon the two of them are on a plane to Norway to find Croydon’s Compass an artifact that will guide the one who possesses it to other magical artifacts.  A powerful thing that Constantine now knows he is racing to find the pieces of before others with nefarious plans find it.

Unfortunately he arrives just in time to face off with the scion of the Cult of The Cold Flame, Sargon the Sorceress (who I assume is a reincarnation of Sargon the Sorcerer).  She captures the psychic and refuses to let him go until Constantine hands over the needle of the compass.  Constantine lets the man die, because he can’t allow the needle to fall into the wrong hands (or maybe because he just desires to possess that power for himself, you never can quite tell with John Constantine).

Renato Guedes provides so really great art for this inaugural issue that suits the character and subject matter pretty well.  It is slick looking but it isn’t so slick that it looses its edginess.  Writers Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire also seem to have a good handle on the spirit and tone that Constantine should take.  This title excites me a lot more now that I’ve had a chance to read it than before it came out.

There is also an interesting little “newscast” on the last two pages of the book that seem to be alluding to the big Justice Leagues crossover that is coming up.  Should be cool.

Next Time:  Haunted Horror #3

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Sandman #8 (August – 1989 – DC)

Sandman #8

All the nerd cred I have attempted to rack up in my life will most likely be worth nothing when I tell you I have only started reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman this year.  I was recently gifted the unspeakably beautiful slipcase set and it is intimidating to say the least.To all of you hypothetical geeks judging me in my paranoid brain right now for my blatant humble brag I say, “Fuck you.  Do you have the Sandman slipcase set? “
I want to start the actual review off by saying the first seven parts to Master of Dreams are great and completely serviceable for horror comic aficionados, they are also undoubtedly less ambitious than the issues to come. The opening introduction and even the afterward of this first volume make it abundantly clear that the story is rough in comparison to the later arcs. The plot of the first issues are similar to video game objectives, the protagonist and ‘lord of dreams’ Morpheus loses all his dream equipment and he has to find each piece one by one. You can tell Neil was testing the waters of his concept, as a result he acted cautiously at the beginning when he threw in established DC characters like John Constantine. The final part of Master of Dreams is proof that his story and characters stand on their own.

The Sound of Her Wings is often regarded as the issue in which Gaiman came out of his shell and it marks the first time we see fan favorite Death. It is not only the end of an 8 issue story arc but the end of the first volume Preludes & Nocturnes. This is where the usual warnings of the early issues being rough stop, for good reason because The Sound of Her Wings is one of the best single stories I have ever read.

We start with Dream feeding pigeons in a city park, he is feeling down in the dumps because his quest to retrieve his stuff is over and now there is little to keep him preoccupied.  His quirky and spontaneous sister Death arrives to call him on his shit and cheer her brother up by taking him along on her daily duties as the end of life.

The pages of Death doing her job and guiding souls to the end after witnessing their last moments are beautiful and horrifying. Gaiman intentionally starts her and Dream’s journey off with the spectacle of a natural and peaceful death, gradually working towards the more untimely fates of each individual. Overdose, suicide, murder, accident. The circle of life doesn’t stop for anyone. At one point an infant asks “is that all I get?” before death inevitably has to take the child away. Your mood will change throughout the issue, a happy page turns into a sad page and sadness becomes enlightenment for both the reader and our protagonist. Dream notices how his sister carries on her duty with diligence, dying is as natural as dreaming. When the siblings return to the location they started at, Dream learns to embrace his purpose.

There are not enough good things in the world to say about the crafting of this story. Neil engages the reader with interesting and subtly realistic characters, he makes us understand the importance of every person having a function and his descriptive writing fits perfectly with the tone the artist creates. Gaiman doesn’t waste any potential here, for example, the namesake of this issue in particular comes from the sound Death makes when she takes spirits away with her. Dream hears the beating of wings every time she does this, and in the last page when the pigeons he was feeding earlier at the park fly away he hears the sound of her wings again. This issue is a good example of Sandman transcending its genre, and it comes close to transcending the medium of comics all together.

Next Time: Golgotha TPB

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The Spectre #21 (December – 1988 – DC)

The Spectre #21

I got a bunch of comics off of e-bay a few months ago and slipped into the middle of the stack was a copy of The Spectre #21.  I am completely unfamiliar with the title.  There is something really fun about going into a title blind.  If you don’t really know what is going on you get to be introduced to something new and special.

That is exactly what I got reading issue #21 of The Spectre.  The Spectre is James Corrigan, Private Investigator, but he is so much more.  Inside of him dwells a creature that is sworn to vengeance.  He hunts and finds people that have done evil and dispatches them.  In this particular issue he is finding who murdered Jenny Dean.

Her husband has come to Corrigan to find out who the killer is, even though all the evidence points to him murdering his girlfriend.  Once Corrigan has exhausted all of the  corporeal investigation techniques that he can, The Spectre takes over to find the spirit of Jenny Dean.  Find her he does, tied to a tree and tortured in Hell, and she is more than willing to tell The Specter who her murder is.  Because she misses him, her boyfriend is the killer, and all she wants is for him to join her in Hell, because she is lonely, and understands that the PCP that her boyfriend took turned him into something that wasn’t the man she loved.

The Spectre returns and informs Corrigan that the killer must be killed.  That revenge must be acted upon, something that Corrigan doesn’t agree with, but has no ability to stop.

The spirit of The Spectre in a lot of ways reminds me of The Ghost Rider, driven by vengeance with no mercy, and it is a testament to the writing ability of Doug Moench that the internal argument between Corrigan and The Spectre isn’t cheesy at all.  It really fells like two sides of one man.  The writing is bolstered by Vince Giarrano and Mark Badger who provide art that is dark and sinister.  It plays a lot with the imagery of film noir (which is fitting as Corrigan is a private detective), and the scenes that take place in Hell have a dirty and unnerving feel.  While The Spectre is in a lot of ways a super hero book, it is dark and brooding in a way that I love my supernatural superheroes to be.  This is a great surprise for me, and I can’t wait to pick up more issues.

Next Time:  Revival #2

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