Comic Book Pull-List: 'Zero', 'Battle Of The Atom', 'Century West' And Steranko's 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' Reviewed

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Welcome back to MTV Geek's New Comic Book Day Pull-List, where we look at the best new releases to hit comic shops, and point you at the books you should be reading.

It's a rather hectic time around Geek Review HQ, and as we brace ourselves for the onset of colder weather, we've been snowed under by a massive amount of incredible comics...  So in an attempt to catch up and point out some wonderful things you may have missed, we're taking a quick look at some books released over the last couple weeks by Marvel and Image Comics.

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Zero #1 (written by Ales Kot, illustrated by Michael Walsh, colored by Jordie Bellaire, published by Image Comics)

The first issue of Ales Kot and Michael Walsh's Zero opens with a single-page prelude, then accelerates headlong into a high-tension story of combat and espionage, piling on events and action without giving readers a moment to catch their breath.  The story is set in a near-future Middle East, where spy supreme Edward Zero is on an undercover mission to retrieve a top-secret weapon – but unfortunately, the weapon is implanted in the chest of a genetically enhanced terrorist, and said terrorist is wreaking havoc in the middle of a war zone.

Kot tells this tale in a direct and clear manner, keeping the tempo brisk and establishing characters in quick bursts of dialogue and action.  Walsh's lines are sparse, sketchy and precise, falling somewhere between Alex Toth's minimalism and Paul Pope's ink-crusted fluidity.  And Jordie Bellaire does her usual spectacular job of applying color, controlling the mood and adding form to the proceedings.  In all, it's a pretty spectacular debut issue; an energetic introduction to concepts and cast members, a thrillingly high-stakes cloak-and-dagger yarn, and a gripping tale of a world where technology has advanced, but military operations remain much the same.

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Uncanny X-Men #12 – 'Battle Of The Atom' Part 4 (written by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Chris Bachalo, published by Marvel Comics)

Battle Of The Atom is an immense time-twisting cast-of-thousands X-Men crossover, which makes it fairly review-proof to much of the comic-reading public: fans of Marvel's mutants will buy it no matter what people say about it, and any criticism I level will be disregarded.

However, I'm not writing this review for the people who are already buying the book.  I'm writing it for the casual comic readers, the people who, like myself, read reviews to discover if a story is any good and if they should go out of their way to check it out.

And this is a comic that's totally worth your time.  It's not just another X-event of diminishing returns, it's a genuine whirlwind of action, double-fake plot twists, and flat-out good storytelling.  This issue includes plenty of nods to past events, but doesn't hinge on knowledge of what's gone before – it simply builds off established history, and uses that foundation to create something new, making itself accessible to new and seasoned fans alike.  Four chapters into the crossover, I have no idea where the plot is going, and rather than trying to figure it out, I'm holding on tight and enjoying the ride.  Chris Bachalo's art is packed with detail and personality, Brian Bendis' dialogue is terse and clever as ever, and the story is smart, exciting, and packed with all the fun and energy that one could want in a superhero comic.

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Century West (by Howard Chaykin, published by Image Comics)

Century West is a graphic novel originally created for the European market,  a cowboy yarn set in an era when old met new, and the mythical world of the Wild West was met by the encroaching 'new west' of motor cars and motion pictures.  It's a story that, in typical Chaykin fashion, gleefully skewers all manner of sensitive issues, and torpedoes any trace of political correctness from the get-go – and coming from a creator with a reputation of pushing the envelope, it's transgressive in a safe, almost comforting way, firing off ethnic slurs and offensive language in all directions, slandering everyone equally.

It's not a perfect work by any means…  The subject is deep enough that it screams out for a wider canvas, and seems a bit cramped when condensed into a single slim volume.  The dialogue is a little stilted at times, the transitions somewhat choppy, and I had some trouble keeping characters straight (accentuated by some really lousy placement of dialogue balloons) – but Chaykin's idiosyncratic vision and unmatched visual sense are well in evidence.  This is not a book I'd recommend to everyone (and it's not for those who are easily offended), but even Chaykin's minor works are worth careful study – he's one of the true masters of the comic book form, and despite some small flaws, these pages are packed with compelling ideas and rough-hewn inspiration.

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S.H.I.E.L.D. By Steranko: The Complete Collection (by Jim Steranko, published by Marvel Comics)

Jim Steranko's Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories are held in high esteem by generations of comic fans, and it's easy to see why – in the three years he worked on the series, Steranko pulled techniques from advertising, pop art, print design, and film, invented an entirely new style of graphic storytelling and filled his stories with mind-blowing concepts, space-age technology, and nonstop globe-hopping action.  He made SHIELD into a major force in the Marvel Universe, introduced a number of vital characters, unveiled concepts that are still being explored today (in comics, film, and TV), and established a standard of innovation and excitement that has never been equalled.

And now, after being absent from the market for too long, Marvel has finally reprinted Steranko's entire run of super-spy yarns in a single handsome volume.  The art has been carefully restored, there's a healthy selection of bonus material included in the back (including covers, sketches, and other rarities), and the stories themselves are as vital and intoxicating as the day they were first published.  It's an essential purchase for anyone who loves astounding concepts, pulse-pounding action, and eye-popping visuals…in fact, anyone who loves comic books.

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