No, the title here isn’t as punny as I thought it would be. It’s still the best way to advertise that things have aligned such that the newest volumes from this particular creator have wound up in my review pile. So it’s time to take them out at the same time.
The first volume of this series didn’t leave me very hopeful for its long-term prospects. What with an ending that left so many plot threads and questions open to the point where one of its characters threw up their hands because of it. Creator Rob Guillory has said that he wants this series to have a thirty-issue run and vol. 1 wasn’t the best case for that. Vol. 2, however, is a step in the right direction as we get a better idea of what to expect from “Farmhand” both in tone and story.
Things are still crazy on Jedediah Jenkins’ farm where he grows transplant-ready organs and limbs after the election saw his friend-turned-nemesis Monica Thorne installed as mayor. Now the EPA is wanting a much closer look at his operation and Jed has delegated things to his daughter Andrea to sort out. It’s about the worst time for him to do something like that because not only are the recipients of his transplants starting to experience some rather unpleasant side effects, but his crops are starting to escape the confinement of his farm as well. Meanwhile, Jed’s son Zeke is trying to mend fences with his dad, yet only seems to get sucked deeper into the mess his father has created.
Guillory’s wonderfully cartoonish and expressive art has always screamed “comedy” to me. However, it’s clear with this volume that “Farmhand” is trending more in the direction of a horror series. That’s not a dealbreaker for me as he’s able to deliver some impressively creepy scenes by pitching his style in a darker direction. There’s also more focus on the events that are happening within the context of this volume, which gives it some much needed focus. Guillory also gets points for having Zeke and his wife deal with their problems like adults. That leaves Thorne as the biggest… problem in this series as there’s a whole lot of mystery surrounding her and her motivations at this point. My feeling now is that this series will ultimately prove its worth once they’re revealed, so I’ll keep following “Farmhand” until that happens.
Or until my patience runs out. Whichever comes first.
(While the world of “Farmhand” may be one filling up with human/plant mutants, the best joke in the series lets us know it’s also one where “The Walking Dead” got to issue #500. So it’s not ALL bad.)
“Extremity” left me wanting to see creator Daniel Warren Johnson put his considerable artistic talents toward a more interesting story for his next series. That is EXACTLY what has wound up happening with “Murder Falcon!” A balls-to-the-wall celebration of the intensity, awesomeness, and ridiculousness of Metal, it shows that style really can triumph over substance. Only when style takes the form of an eight-foot talking falcon with a gigantic metal arm.
Three volumes in and “Justice League” finally decides to dial things back a bit with its main story. Instead of the fate of the Earth (again), it’s all about Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern John Stewart getting some answers about the secret history of the universe on Thanagar Prime. Getting said answers is going to involve going up against Empress Shayera Hol, her consort Katar “The Savage Hawkman” Hol, and breaking into the most secure vault in the galaxy. While their goal is crucial to the overarching story writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are telling, the stakes are more personal and the scope is more focused which leads to a more engaging story overall. Especially when you have Steven Segovia nailing the Thanagarian scenery and action and Jim Cheung pitching in on a few pages each issue to show us what’s going on with Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and Starman back on Earth.
Cheung also illustrates a whole issue in this volume, the only one written solely by Snyder. It’s a bittersweet story where J’onn J’onzz tells Lex Luthor about their secret history on Earth while they avoid big Martian burrowing dragons in the present. The craziness and sentimentality of that story is balanced out by the one in the middle of this volume, “Multiversal Meltdown,” where the creators decide to go big again. It involves the League leading the efforts of many cosmic superheroes to repair the Source Wall, only for Luthor and Brainiac to show up and ruin everything. I get that what happens here is meant to be a REALLY BIG DEAL. It’s just that I only have the exclamations of the characters to go by on this. The character they’ve unleashed is nothing more than a big plot device right now.
Aside from that, the villain-centric stuff works really well in the Tynion-written “Legion of Doom” stories which bookend the volume. The second one features the All-New Brainiac/Luthor team-up and it’s a great example of how to make a villain’s actions engaging by showing how he actually struggles to achieve them. Giving Luthor’s dad a very tragic backstory doesn’t hurt either, but it can’t quite top the opening story where the Joker finds out what Luthor’s been planning and decides to teach him a lesson. While Guillem March delivers some wonderfully exaggerated art -- especially when it comes to the Clown Prince of Crime -- the story really got me because I fully expected it to go one way. Right up until it didn’t. Sure, the stories involving the League are the best they’ve been in this series, but “Hawkworld’s” opening and closing chapters really make a great case for embracing Doom.
I blink for a minute and now I’ve got two volumes of “Thunderbolt” to review. That’s not a bad thing as vols. 11 & 12 represent a major turning point in the narrative. It’s clearly seen in vol. 11 which focuses exclusively on Darryl and his comrades as they defect from Zeon to Sojo Levan Fu and the Nanyang Alliance. It’s not a clean process, but it exposes enough weakness and rot within Zeon that the rightness of this choice is abundantly clear. That, along with the long-awaited restoration of Karla Mitchell’s mind, are enough to fully sway Darryl over to Sojo’s side. We also get to find out Sojo’s great plan and why he needs so many Psycho Zakus, their creator Karla, and pilots. It’s a very ambitious one that seems like it’s going to involve a whole lot of people dying in order for Sojo to bring about the age of peace that he’s been preaching about. Whether or not he’ll actually be able to pull it off likely depends on whatever’s hiding behind Karla’s smile on the last page.
We get back to Io and his comrades in the Federation at the start of vol. 12 as they prepare for the assault on the Nanyang base at Taal Volcano. There’s some comic relief at the beginning as Bianca breaks Io’s tattoo cherry, but the drama ramps up quickly as the preparations for the battle begin and we find out that Sojo isn’t going to be the only Newtype in this series. Then, when the fighting starts, it’s a pretty spectacular reminder of how no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Even if the Nanyang Alliance was prepared for a fight, the Federation troops show that they’re resourceful enough to handle everything that’s thrown at them. Which is a good thing because, in order to have that final showdown with Darryl, he’s got a psychically-bestowed objective to complete: Kill Karla Mitchell.
I don’t know if we’re heading into the endgame of “Thunderbolt” but it sure feels like it after reading these two volumes. Sometimes they can get a bit expository when the characters start talking about their motivations, but there’s a real feeling that everything’s coming together which really drives the plot. Throw in some clever twists which upend expectations and create uncertainty about what happens next and you’ve got a couple of volumes that serve to make what’s coming next -- whether it’s the end of the arc or the series -- awfully exciting.
THE HUNT IS ON! Kraven the Hunter has been lurking around the margins of “Amazing Spider-Man” since the start of latest relaunch, having Taskmaster and Black Ant gather animal-themed supervillains, and now we find out why. The story Kraven gives us is that he believes it’s time for them to truly learn what it means to embody the creature whose name they’ve taken. To that end he’s also rounded up a bunch of one-percenters, given them some heavily armed android avatars, and set everyone loose inside a Central Park that’s been shielded from outside intervention. Not from Spider-Man, though. No, Kraven wants the Spider in the thick of all this so that he can give the Hunter what he’s really wanted after all these years.
As the climax to what Spencer has been building up over these past three volumes, “Hunted” is… alright. It’s not the series-ending faceplant that “Superman: Black Dawn” was to me, but it still feels like a middle-of-the-road event. That’s mainly down to the fact that many of the story’s twists and surprises feel expected more than anything else. I’ll admit that some of them do feel earned by the end of things -- like the stuff involving the Lizard and his son -- and Spencer writes everything with all the energy and wit he can muster. It’s just not quite enough to sustain eight issues of the main event and four tie-in issues. I mean, we REALLY didn’t need a whole issue about the sad, lonely death of the Gibbon. The man who gave us “The Superior Foes of Spider-Man” should’ve been able to turn something like that into the pitch-black comedy it was meant to be.
The many artists involved in this volume also do their best to turn “Hunted” into the high-octane action spectacle it wants to be. That’s actually a fairly easy task for its main artists, Humberto Ramos and Gerardo Sandoval, whose exaggerated and lively styles are perfect for a story where animal-themed supervillains are being hunted by robots. Ryan Ottley also shows up (with Alberto Albuquerque for a bit) to give some style to the introduction and the reshuffling of the status quo that closes out the volume. Iban Coello, Ken Lashley, Chris Bachalo, and Cory Smith also go above-and-beyond for their tie-in issues, giving these mostly filler stories better art than they arguably deserve. All this leads me to say that “Hunted” isn’t a bad story overall, just one that could’ve benefitted from some judicious editing (and a lower price point than the sticker-shock inducing $40 this twelve-issue comes with).
Out of all the crazy power moves Robert Kirkman has made over the years -- launching “Oblivion Song” with a trade paperback to retailers, surprise-ending “The Walking Dead” -- the one behind this series has to be the craziest. The first issue of “DIE!DIE!DIE!” showed up to retailers completely unannounced last year as part of a regular shipping order. Having a comic from a (mostly) A-list creative team show up out of the blue without any hint that it existed prior to showing up on comic book store shelves and digital storefronts is quite frankly unheard of. That Kirkman was able to pull it off is a testament to his overall power level.
So the arrival of “DIE!DIE!DIE!” was a really neat surprise. How’s the actual comic, you say? It depends on the kind of story you’re looking for. As well as your political leanings...
After reading this volume the action-packed start to the new era of “Robo” in the previous volume makes more sense. Rather than go with a slow build, writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener, decided to go big and have Robo face off some old antagonists to kick things off with a bang. Now that the dust is settling after that start it’s a lot easier to see where the creators are heading. That place looks to be “Something Good.”
The cliffhanger development from the previous volume is immediately followed up on and dominates much of this volume’s discourse. It’s not the only new development as Tesladyne is preparing to welcome three young, creative, and mischievous scientists -- Ben, Olivia, and Margot -- under Foley’s supervision. Meanwhile, Vik and Lang are preparing to head off on a well-deserved vacation and Bernard is gearing up to explore the extinct volcano next to the base. These will lead to plot threads that are important to the short-term and long-term, and the return of an old cast member. (Spoiler Warning: He’s on the cover.)
The new scientists are fun enough for me to want to see them developed further while Robo’s ongoing “project” is fascinating in the way that Clevinger addresses all of the issues relating to it in ways both smart and silly. It also leads to some (not unjustifiable) major drama with the established cast while Bernard’s story is off on a weird tangent of its own. While I haven’t mentioned the imminent assault from the Vampire Dimension, I do want to say that this volume never feels like it’s throwing a lot of plot at the reader. Vol. 13 is a lot of setup in the, “Before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this one,” variety and it happens to be full of fun characters, intelligent discussion, and weird rocks that can sing the song of spacetime. The best kind of setup, in other words.