21st Mar2014

Panel Discussion #30

by Phil Wheat

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I’m flying solo again for this installment of Panel Discussion, taking a look at one of my most-anticipated mini-series in years, Revolutionary War, as well as a couple of new Titan Comics releases – Batman: Arkham #2 and Arrow #3; as well as the independent Irish sci-fi comic Leap.

Revolutionary War is split into a number of different one-shot issues, which tell the over-arching story from a number of perspectives, building into one big-picture of the return of the Marvel UK villains Mys-Tech. Yes, I did say Marvel UK. For those that haven’t been following the announcements regarding this series, Revolutionary War brings back the classic UK-created characters from the 80s and 90s (a number of which were in Marvel’s superb mini-series, Captain Britain and MI-13) and pits them against their long-time foes – all with a little help from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fans of Marvel UK’s books should be in hog-heaven with this new mini, which kicks off with Revolutionary War: Alpha #1, the first of 8(?) issues which re-introduces the Marvel UK universe to audiences who were unfamiliar with the events this side of the pond and brings those casual Marvel UK readers, like me, bang up to date with events. Alpha #1 focuses on the resurfacing of Mys-Tech and reintroduces the Marvel UK characters (including Captain Britain, Death’s Head, Motormouth, Killpower, the Warheads and, of course, the Knights of Pendragon) who we will see going forward in this mini – who appear either in this story or in flashback, and completely integrates MI:13 and the Marvel UK universe, via a team-up with the much-more well known S.H.I.E.L.D.

Dark Angel #1 doesn’t exactly pick up where Alpha left off (a trait that will become all-too familiar with this “mini series”) instead writer Kieron Gillen spends most of the issue introducing the character and her back story: the deal with Mephisto that her father made, the things she has to do in order to pay off the debt, etc. The issue feels more like the first in a new Dark Angel series, not part of the larger Revolutionary War story – not that I’m complaining, Dark Angel is a fantastic character and couldn’t be in better hands. Kieron Gillen’s writing feels like that of a fan who really wants new readers to love the character as much as he does, and by the end of this issue – which thankfully DOES tie the book into the overall story arc – I was gagging to read more of Gillen’s take on this classic Marvel UK character. Knights of Pendragon #1 is the next book in the Revolutionary War series and is easily the issue that will turn off most newcomers to the Marvel UK universe, featuring some truly goofy plot developments – including zombie King Arthur and the appearance of the Green Knight as a giant Mo Farah! But for fans of the original Knights of the Pendragon this one-shot is pretty much spot on: touching on all the classic themes of the book and bringing back the very “British” look at superheroes. Then of course there’s the humour. The very dry British humour… Brilliant.

There couldn’t be a UK-centric mini series without touching on what I believe is our greatest super”hero” – Death’s Head. So of course the book I was most excited about reading was the Death’s Head II #1 one-shot, which didn’t disappoint. To be honest, Kieron Gillen has already laid a lot of the groundwork for the re-appearance of Death’s Head, having already featured the character in both S.W.O.R.D. and his Iron Man run. But this one-shot takes things back to beginning of sorts, as writers and Andy Lanning and Alan Cowsill almost “re-introduce” the iterations of this long-running character, successfully capturing the fun and humour of the titular hero and his cast of supporting characters. As a fan, I can safely say the characterisation in Death’s Head II #1 is spot on. Both Death’s Head and Death’s Head II are written as similar characters yet there’s a clear delineation between the pair, showing how the two differ despite their resemblances. But it’s the witty banter of Death’s Head(s) which really make this issue, easily pleasing fans old and new.

If there’s one thing that frustrates about the Revolutionary War books so far it’s the fact that they all feel like they’re building to something, not telling one long story. I do hope that’s not the case and some of this storytelling pays off before the final issue… More on this mini-series in the next Panel Discussion.

Batman: Arkham #2 continues the video game tie in from the last issue, once again collecting a few of the already-available digital comics in paperback form. Continuing the “Batman vs Hugo Strange” storyline began last issue, Arkham Unhinged sees Batman turning to his old friend Commissioner Gordon for help, telling him exactly whats happening in Gotham and asking for help in tracking down the elusive Hugo Strange. Much like the previous book, this issue seems very much like filler rather than thriller – heavy on the exposition and light on action. Hopefully these early issues are building into some action-packed storytelling down the line – for now though it’s a stick with it and see… Backup stories this issue include Mad, a Mad Hatter tale from the team of Gregg Hurwitz and Ethan Van Sciver; and Targeting The Shield, a reprint from Detective Comics which i actually the highlight of this issue, featuring superb art from Jason Fabok and colorist Emilio Lopez – which together give this new backup series a much darker tone to the rest of the book (more on a par with the darkness of the Nolan-verse).

Despite being a huge fan of the show I missed the first two issues of Titan’s new Arrow comic magazine so jumping in with issue #3 I was expecting to feel a little out of place. How wrong I was. Titan’s comic succeed’s because, at least currently, it’s telling individual stories centred around the TV universe, focussing on the titular character and his supporting cast – be they on TV or not. Arrow #3 features three stories that expand upon the Arrow universe without feeling like essential reading – instead the stories expand on characters and relationships already seen in the show. The main focus of this issue is The Huntress as writers Beth Schwartz and Katherine Walczak craft a tale that focuses on Helena Bertinelli’s past and the events that led to her becoming Huntress – the same story we “heard” on the TV show but now we get to see it in visual form. Of the other two tales (one of which is a take it or leave it story about Oliver balancing his two lives) Wendy Mericle and Mary Iacono’s “found footage” tale, which sees a group of Starling City residents seek to record visual proof of the vigilante’s existence, deserves to be re-created on the show – the format doesn’t quite work on the page but an a stand-alone episode it would be a great addition to the series… Again, you don’t need to read these comics to enjoy the show but the title does work well to create a richer, more expanded Arrow universe.

Inspired by the sci-fi shows that used to proliferate the 6pm slot on UK television (those were the good old days), Leap #0 plays out very much like a TV pilot, laying the groundwork for what looks to be a cross between Alien, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. The story sees a group of space-faring astronauts (dubbed Project Leap) awakened from a deep space slumber, tasked with surveying the nearest planet – which just happens to have its own “alien” life. However that’s not the whole story – it turns out the planned mission was scrapped just after the Project Leap crew left Earth., and there may be someone, or something, aboard their ship. And it’s that story that is the best thing about Leap #0. It’s certainly the kind of tale that keeps you both intrigued and enthralled from the very first page. It’s just a shame then that the art lets the book down – seemingly an entirely digital creation you can’t fault the look of the aliens and the tech, but the human cast look oddly deformed, especially the Vanguard crew’s leader, “Prime.” Plus there’s the serious overuse of digital filters…

More next time.

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