Welcome to MTV Geek's New Comic Book Day Pull-List! Each week, we'll look at the best new releases hitting comic shops, and point you at the books you should be reading.
Lazarus #1 (written by Greg Rucka, art by Michael Lark, published by Image Comics)
In the near future, the world has become even more divided. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots grows ever wider. A few select families determine the fates of the masses, and each family has one specific defender appointed to handle security, protection, and various other dirty jobs. These defenders are given all the resources at the family's disposal: weapons, intelligence, physical training, and genetic enhancements. The title given to this position is 'Lazarus'.
As this issue begins, we see one of these Lazaruses in action. The violence depicted is brutal, vicious, and coldly effective. The Lazarus in question is named Forever. She works for one of the largest of the large families. They have many enemies, and it is her job to keep the danger at bay.
Greg Rucka and Michael Lark are pushing the pedal to the metal here, introducing multiple characters and an unfamiliar world at the same time as they set up a fast-paced, action-heavy story. Lark's art is lush and moody, drawing shadows across figures as they shoot, kick, and threaten their way through the panels. And Rucka is on top form, creating unease with terse dialogue and cautiously measured narration, building suspense, revealing just enough to make me anxious for more. Mysterious, sleek, and hard-hitting; this is a first-rate page-turner from two of the finest creators working today.
Age Of Ultron #10AI (written by Mark Waid, art by Andre Lima Araújo, published by Marvel Comics)
Right off the bat, I should let you know that this isn't really an Age Of Ultron book. While this issue builds on elements of Marvel's recent mini-series event, it's not dependent in any way on having read that story; new readers will be able to figure out everything they need within the first few pages.
Mark Waid and Andre Lima Araújo use this book to focus on the much-maligned Dr. Henry "Hank" Pym, and consider him from different angles: it's a look inside his damaged psyche, a refresher course on his superhero exploits (as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket), and story that, in one fell swoop, re-establishes him as a significant player in the Marvel Universe. Dr. Pym's portrayals have varied wildly over the years, and he's effectively been a blank slate and a convenient storytelling device – he's often been used as a catalyst for events, but no matter how many creative teams take a crack at him, he's rarely been given anything approaching a consistent personality. Misunderstood genius, machiavellian mad scientist, schizophrenic do-gooder, abusive spouse, understanding schoolteacher – he's been all these over the years, and this book nods to all those portrayals, while creating a coherent identity that can serve as the launchpad for any number of new stories.
Uncanny #1 (written by Andy Diggle, art by Aaron Campbell, published by Dynamite)
Uncanny is the story of a less-than-savory individual with the power to absorb the knowledge and thoughts of anyone he touches. Now, that's hardly an earth-shattering concept for a comic book, but creator Andy Diggle puts a hard-edged noir twist on the initial premise, creating a character that's immediately identifiable without being in any way likable, a man who uses his abilities not to help others, but simply to skate by and try to make a quick buck. Aaron Campbell's shadow-heavy drawing style is the perfect compliment to the text, lending weight and form to an introduction to this high-stakes world of gangsters, casinos, and cocktails. It's a fascinating tale of one man's life on the edge, and what happens when his casually-assembled world starts to lose balance and shake out of control.
The Wake #2 (written by Scott Snyder, art by Sean Murphy, published by Vertigo/DC Comics)
Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's epoch-spanning thriller looks to be expanding into something bigger and wilder than I anticipated. The genre-mashing of the first issue continues apace, but now there's even more elements in the mix: ancient mythology, evolutionary biology, and echoes of classic monster movies are added to the personal intrigue and undersea suspense that we saw before. Snyder brings the mystery, mind-bending concepts, and horror motifs; Murphy delineates claustrophobic confines, sweeping panoramas, and wild-eyed dream sequences with equal skill and inventiveness.
After Houdini #1 (written by Jeremy Holt, art by Kevin Zeigler, self-published/Challenger Comics)
Rising stars Jeremy Holt and Kevin Zeigler have created something special here, a historical espionage escape-artist fantasy that reframes Josef Houdini as something far more than a simple superstar magician. I'm loath to reveal many details in this review, as the twists and turns this issue takes are a particular joy; each new reveal points toward other mysteries hidden below, a multi-tiered sleight-of-hand creation spread across 22 pages of brilliant black-and-white storytelling. There's echoes of some of my favorite comics at play here: the archival revisionism of Mike Mignola's work, the period piece atmospherics of Jason Lutes' Berlin, the genre-mashing of League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen – but those elements are filtered into a cohesive burst of sequential adrenaline, a singular take on an imagined alternate history.
Larfleeze #1 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, art by Scott Kolins, published by DC Comics)
This new series from DC is nominally an expansion of their multi-colored family of Lantern titles – Larfleeze is the sole Orange Lantern of the DC Universe, an insatiable egocentric alien wolf/bear creature who wields a power ring fueled by avarice. Not exactly the most outstanding candidate for his own title, one would think…
Yet thanks to the creative team, this is one of the most entertaining launch issues I've run across in a while. Writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis have a long and storied history as collaborators, and they use their distinctive style of off-beat humor to spin a story of Larfleeze (and his ill-tempered assistant Stargrave) floating in space, trading barbs, and generally being entertainingly unlikeable. Most of the issue is occupied with Larfleeze's long-winded recounting of his origin and backstory, made all the more enjoyable by his self-admitted gift for exaggeration. Then toward the end, there's some sort of alien threat and an obligatory fight scene – but none of that matters. The plot isn't the point. This isn't a story about getting from point a to point b, it's about enjoying the ride and seeing what trouble can be gotten into along the way. (And Scott Kolins' exaggerated and angular art fits perfectly, matching the insanity of the script word-for-word.)
So yes, it's something of an aberration in DC's increasingly continuity-laden 'New 52' line, a book that enjoys itself without concern for (and occasionally at the expense of) others. It can be read on its own, with no knowledge of what's happening elsewhere in the DCU. And while that individuality may lead it to fall by the wayside eventually, in this cultural climate of crossovers and multi-title connections, it sure makes it a delight to dive into. Giffen and DeMatteis have done it yet again, taking a ridiculous concept and turning it into comic-book mayhem of the highest order.