The Pull List Comic Reviews: ‘The Marvels Project’, ‘Blackest Night: Batman’ & ‘Escape from Wonderland’

For yesterday’s The Pull List, go here.

1250034830_cvrThe Marvels Project #1 – Marvel – $3.99

Score: 7.5

Retroactively changing continuity, or “retconning”, can be a tricky feat. And trying to recon an entire universe’s continuity from the start can be an even bigger feat. This is what the focus of The Marvels Project is. Going all the way back to the very first days of the Marvel Universe to the creation of the first Human Torch, this story looks to bring readers an insight in to the relationships that helped forge the current Marvel world. The issue begins with Dr. Halloway, the man destined to become The Angel (though it isn’t mentioned yet in this series) working with a dementia patient known as Matt Hawk back in 1938.

Hawk tells Halloween about the heroes, villains, gods and monsters that will soon rise and how it all begins in New York City. Coming in one morning, Halloway finds out that Hawk died in his sleep but before he passed on, he had left something for the doctor. Upon opening it, Halloway sees a gun and a note that reads, “From One Hero to Another-” only to realize that Matt Hawk was the Two-Gun Kid, a masked western hero that the doctor had read about for years.

He wonders if the future that Matt told him about could be real. From there, the story examines the origins of Namor’s appearance to surface dwellers as Nazis begin to drop depth charges to acquire Atlantean “samples” and FDR’s involvement in the funding of the first Human Torch. When the Torch is first revealed to the public, there is a huge backlash of man made monsters on American soil. Knowing that the American government will need all the support they can garner with the upcoming hostilities with Germany, the President orders the Human Torch disposed of.

But news of the Torch still made its way overseas, specifically to the man who would ultimately create Captain America, Dr. Erkskine. Over in England, a young Nick Fury and Red Hargrove are offered a job to try to extract the defecting scientist from Germany. Finally, back in America all hell breaks loose on the streets of New York as the Human Torch broke free of his cement prison, igniting for the whole city to see. During the chaos, Halloway steps up and helps defend those he can from the riots taking over parts of the city.

Steve Epting’s somewhat classic style is a great fit on this title. His images focus on realism of the characters in this world that hasn’t quite turned to fantasy yet. His take on an America on the brink of war could be placed next to actual photographs of the time and be completely believable as well. The only thing missing was classic style advertisements instead of the 3D video game and flashy car ads that do fill the issue. Overall, The Marvel Projects is a great 70th Anniversary project for Marvel, trying to bring forward the history of the company to many who may not understand how it got from the days of the Human Torch and Namor to what it is now. It also seems like it’ll do a great job of promoting the upcoming Torch series scheduled to come out in the coming months.

913885-1_superBlackest Night: Batman #1 – DC – $2.99

Score: 7.0

Blackest Night: Batman #1 opens right around the events of Blackest Night #1 following the attack of Martian Manhunter on Hal Jordan and the Flash at the graves of Bruce, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Dick Grayson, the new Batman, investigates the unearthed graves with Damien Wayne, the new Robin. Despite his normally tough exterior, Damien is visibly troubled by his first encounter with his grandparents being with their unearthed bodies. Up in the skies above Gotham, a group of villainous corpses are being transported to the Justice League for safe keeping when a barrage of Black rings fly in through the cockpit in to the coffins, unleashing another group of Black Lanterns.

Once back in the Batmobile, Dick and Damien have a heart to heart before Deadman appears and inhabits Dick’s body as he is driving the Batmobile. Damien resorts to his usual strategy of violence before thinking it through and decides to try to punch whatever is inhabiting Dick out of him. This leads Deadman to switch bodies to Damien after a small crash where he is able to talk to Dick about what has happened and what he sees happening. After finding out what Deadman knows about bodies resurrecting, Dick heads to the closest graves, the parents of Tim Drake, the Red Robin.

Peter Tomasi tackles in this book what a good tie-in title should be. It features pieces of the main story of Blackest Night but neither requires the reader to read this title in order to understand Blackest Night nor does it require the reader to read Blackest Night to enjoy this issue. All the important details are brought out so that it can be self contained or a compliment to the full Blackest Night story. Much like Grant Morrison, Tomasi does a great job with the characters of Dick Grayson still new to his role as Batman and the rebellious attitude of Damien. He also gives a reminder that Damien is still a child and as tough as he wants to be, he cannot avoid being troubled at the sight of his grandparents’ graves desecrated and his father’s skull being removed from his grave as well.

Something else interesting in this issue is the way Dick handles what’s going on around him. It is obvious he is trying to figure things out and strategize while others give meaningless observations or emotionally charged statements that don’t help lead to a solution only for Dick to shut them down quickly. It may also be Dick’s way of dealing with the awful thing he had just seen of his father figure’s grave corrupted. Something else touched upon in the story is Deadman’s reaction to jumping in to Batman’s body to find out it isn’t Bruce. This shows how well kept the secret of Bruce’s death during Final Crisis has been and is a great nod to how people would really react upon finding out something as big as that.

Like much of the rest of Blackest Night, this is a dark book. Taking place at night, and at points during a storm, shadows play a huge role in the storytelling. Between the shadow of death the characters must all deal with and the pieces literally hidden under shadow, the ghostly story unfolds. This feels somewhat of a detriment in the artwork, however as the shadows are sometimes represented by tight parallel lines instead of darker colors or just black and grays. While a stylistic choice, it can be a little bit distracting when going through the panels. Apart from that, there are some tremendous visuals in the book. One particularly that stands out is the swarm of Black rings ripping through the pilots and soldiers on the plane transporting the villains’ remains.

As said before, Blackest Night: Batman is a great tie-in event book. It has kept itself simple enough that it can be read alone but also adds a lot to the overall story of the Blackest Night series itself. Seeing things tie-in directly and explained further like Deadman’s involvement makes it feel worth reading for the complete Blackest Night experience. Though only three issues in total length, this miniseries looks like it will add not only to Blackest Night but also the story of the new Batman and Robin and their relationship with each other.

Wonderland_Escape_1_cover-02Grimm Fairy Tales presents: Escape from Wonderland – Zenoscope – $2.99

Score: 7.5

So it is possible for a book aesthetically designed to focus on T & A to be a good story too. Kind of a shocker. Back in June, the Pull List reviewed Tales from Wonderland: The Cheshire Cat. After enjoying it, it only made sense to take a look at the next piece of the Wonderland mythos as Calie (an anagram for Alice) heads to back to Wonderland, that she once escaped, in hopes of finding her daughter. As she emerges from the pool in front of the Red Queen’s castle, she clothes quickly change along with her hair and weapons into a badass Heavy Metal -worthy heroine. When she confronts the Queen, Calie demands her daughter back only to find out off panel that the child is actually in the lair of the Jabberwocky. After Calie leaves, the Queen and King hint at some underhanded doings in the Queen’s advice to Alice.

Back at the Jabberwocky’s lair, Johnny Liddle, Calie’s brother, arrives with the child. After a brief encounter with the Caterpillar, Johnny deliver’s the child to the grotesque and gigantic Jabberwocky. As she continues searching for her daughter, Calie sees the world around her hasn’t passed changed with time as it should have as she encounters again the rotting corpses of Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum before she has a brief but satisfyingly violent battle with the Carpenter. Back in the real world, there is a brief interlude with a man named Charles Dodgson (who may have been in the original Return to Wonderland, but not sure since I haven’t had the chance to read the trade yet) as he waits to enter the Red Queen’s fun house with the Cheshire Cat influencing him. The final pages set up Calie for a battle with a strange white creature with a black cloak in the next issue.

As often as I’d be ready to rip apart a book like the cheesecake T & A focus of the Grimm Fairy Tales line, this is actually a good book. The dialogue feels legitimate and it has an actual story behind it that takes some clever pieces of the original source material with it. Unlike the Disney version, it explores to an extreme the darker side of Wonderland including the terrifying entity like the Jabberwocky. It also takes the mythos further by adding in the dark interaction between members of Wonderland crossing back and forth with the real world. The book starts out with an unknown narrator in a crypt as the “classic” Alice white and blue dress floats by in the wind as various playing cards sit in the ground near lumps of dirt, looking like miniature graves. Daniel Leister’s art is pretty tremendous throughout the book. While it is obvious he had spent a lot, and I mean a LOT, of time studying the female form, he also knows his stuff when it comes to storytelling in comics. His transitions and panel layouts are great through the book and he has some great full page and two page spreads, most notably Calie’s first appearance in front of the Queen of Hearts, the Caterpillar with the Mad Hatter and the appearance of the Jabberwocky.

As surprising as it sounds coming from me, it’s realistic to say that Escape from Wonderland has earned its way on to my monthly Pull List. The characters have enough meat behind them to draw the reader in and even forget any past knowledge of Alice in Wonderland and appreciate the new take on it that has been laid out before them. Being without the traditional “Alice”, the world of Wonderland being shown this way makes it a lot more interesting and without a doubt a lot more adult. Comic reviewers are often asked what is a good comic to read if you don’t like superheroes. If you are looking for an extreme take on a classic fairy tale, Escape From Wonderland may be for you.

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