Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Archer and Armstrong: Overall (Classic Valiant)

Obadiah Archer is a young Buddhist monk who's recently returned to America from a monastery in Ladakh. Archer was the child of two devout preachers in Topeka, Kansas, and he was a happy, God-loving child, until one night when he walked in on his parents in the middle of raping and murdering a young teenage girl. Archer's parents knock him out, then set fire to the house, temporarily killing the boy, until medics arrive and revive him. When Archer wakes up, he knows his parents, who the authorities seem none the wiser to, will make sure this time time to finish the job, so he runs away, eventually ending up in Ladakh, near Tibet. He spends years of training at a monastery, so he can one day return to gain revenge on his parents, but when he returns to America, he finds that they were arrested shortly after he first ran away. Now purposeless, Archer roams around the streets of L.A., eventually bumping into an immortal drunkard named Armstrong...

Archer and Armstrong is a buddy comedy series from Valiant Comics, and has a popular reputation. Unfortunately, I've found this series to be nothing but a disappointment! It's not just that I don't like it, but rather that two issues of the series are brilliant, and the rest is pure mediocrity, at best!

Lets start with the writing. Archer and Armstrong started off strong with its first story, which was Issue #0 for some insane reason, but immediately following that was the Unity event comic, which took up the first two issues of A&A. This was a highly annoying move, as the last thing a new series needs is its first issues to be part of an unrelated crossover event! That completely kills the series' momentum, as well as takes completely away from the character introductions, and their journeys.

Following that, we get a dull road trip series that's devoid of anything interesting. The plots are boring, accomplish very little, and never have entertaining characters. The series' main story arc involves The Sect, a millennia old cult devoted solely to killing Armstrong. There are multiple problems with this arc. The first is how overpowered the Sect is. Armstrong says that practically every city in the world each has thousands of Sect members. First of all, that's way to overpowered, and second, how could that many people have so much trouble killing one guy? You can't even use the excuse that Armstrong is nearly invulnerable, because the Sect freely use automatic weapons. All they need to do is locate him, then have a sniper plant a bullet into his skull. Plant two more after he falls to the ground, then problem solved, Armstrong is dead. I know they could do this, because Armstrong's brother Gilad is a full-on powerhouse soldier, yet when he gets shot just once in the head in his own series, he dies for a bit, then comes back totally jumbled.

The other problem with the Sect storyline is that it's never advanced. It's a purely static plot. In fact, using the word 'plot' is excessive. The Sect is really only an excuse to have issue-long fight scenes, and that's it. There's not one issue of Archer and Armstrong where there's a genuine story involving the Sect. The just want Armstrong dead, and fail a lot.

The comedy in this series is either-non-present, weak, or downright unfunny, sometimes to the point of racism! The few times I did laugh were in Issue #0 and #12, which had genuine laughs on display. Nothing gut-busting, but nothing painful either.

Head writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith left the series following Issue #12, and it immediately took a downturn, both in artwork, and storytelling. It becomes a shadow of its former self, and I don't even know how that's possible, since the series was already pale enough!

Focus is a serious problem Archer and Armstrong has. In Issue #0, Archer swears to devote his life to fighting evil, yet he never does. He just goes cross-country palling around with Armstrong, and the duo often get unwittingly and unwillingly embroiled in brawls and 'hijinks'. Then, in Issue #18, we get a very unsubtle scene where a drowned Archer has a possible hallucination where God demands he renew fighting evil, which Archer vigilantly swears to. But then he goes and doesn't follow that purpose again! A couple of later issues have him actively striving to fight injustice, but the majority are just him sitting around and getting embroiled in 'hijinks'. You have to try to make a series have this little focus!

One particularly annoying early element to the series is Armstrong's satchel, which is full of magical trinkets. You'd think this would be important, but it isn't at all, and rarely plays a part in the stories. From Issue #3 to #11, we get an extremely drawn out and tedious subplot involving a kid who's stolen the satchel. This plot has very little to it, usually only making up a page or two every couple of issues, and only amounts to anything when the villainous Sect member Mahmud steals the satchel, leading into Issue #12. From then on, the satchel is literally never seen or mentioned ever again!

Ok, that's enough of the negatives for now. Let's get into what I like about Archer and Armstrong-Issues #0 and #12. Both are a great mix of comedy, and dark and mature subject matter. There isn't a whole lot to Armstrong in these issues, with the main focus being Archer. In all other issues, he's a young, polite, somewhat naive guy with little personality, but in these issues, he actually has legitimate character. He wants to lead a tranquil life as a monk, but no matter what he does, Archer can't overcome his rage. He wants to destroy his parents, and avenge both his life, as well as his parents' victims.

Ok, back to the negatives. Outside of #0 and #12, the characters in this series are dull. Archer is just boring, with little personality, while Armstrong is equally so. He has little character besides his being a drunk, and at times, he's unintentionally portrayed as a philandering dick, as the series totally forgets about his wife Andromeda, leading Armstrong to, among other things, start a relationship with his neighbour.

The first logo to this series was slablike and unappealing, in my opinion, while the second, which started come Issue #5, is nicer, and eye-catching.

Archer and Armstrong is a bad series, and while I wholeheartedly recommend the fantastic Issues #0 and #12, the rest are disposable...

Archer and Armstrong #26 (Classic Valiant)

A mysterious and devastating electromagnetic field has surrounded the entire Earth, and immortal drunkard Armstrong and his Buddhist sidekick Archer are smack dab in the middle of the a freeway as chaos breaks out, encountering all sorts of threats, from looters, to resurrected dinosaurs...

It's rather amusing that both the beginning and end of Archer and Armstrong were part of a crossover that by and large, had nothing to do with them.

This issue is very brief. The title duo's reactions and actions during the Chaos Effect are rushed, and the dinosaur plot is just a waste. It literally only lasts two pages! As a tie-in, this issue fails, as it tells us nothing about what the Chaos Effect is, not are the leads caught in any serious situation caused by it that tests their mettle and shows off their character. They just stumble around, acquire a jazz CD, then very briefly encounter a couple of dinosaurs, which they immediately incinerate.

The ending to this issue is pretty miserable, and a rather downer conclusion for the entire series, especially if you know what happens to Archer and Armstrong in the main Chaos Effect book. This ending isn't a bang, but a whimper.

The art here is mostly passable, with the worst problem being a printing error, where there's a blank speech bubble from Armstrong, and its text is on the page 'under' it! This happens again a bit later, but unfortunately the misplaced text is over a dark background, therefore unreadable. The cover is ok, but only shows action in the tiny strip in the middle. It also shows the characters as looking like their old selves, with the never-changing clothes, and Archer's shaved head, which are both long since absent qualities from the series.

This final issue of Archer and Armstrong isn't terrible, but merely very mediocre, and it ends the series on a low note...

Archer and Armstrong #25 and Eternal Warrior #25 (Classic Valiant)

Immortal drunk Armstrong is visiting a psychiatrist who's very interested by what she believes to be his delusions. Wondering about his constant stories of being hounded by a murderous sect, she asks Armstrong about how all of that started, leading into a tale from the Crusades, where the conniving King Phillip wishes his reluctant ally King Richard to fall from grace, and so starts a conspiracy to shame him in the eyes of Britain's Archbishop...

This two-parter, shared between Issues #25 of both Archer and Armstrong, and Eternal Warrior seeks to explain why the Sect want Armstrong dead. A little late, aren't you?

The psychiatric meeting with Dr. Gluck is the framing for this story from Armstrong's past. Despite the fact that this is some random woman who harassed him on an airplane, it does make sense why Armstrong's seeing her for professional advice, given his explanation in Issue #24, = except in one respect-She's a sex therapist! I have no doubt that even sex therapists are qualified in every respect to be both medical professionals, from being doctors, to regular psychiatrists, but it makes little sense what someone most interested in things along the lines of 'What causes Nymphomania?' is doing treating a seemingly delusional patient who thinks he's thousands of years old!

I guess to make up for the last two issues, Armstrong is purportedly the main focus of this story, and Archer is the one who barely appears. However, Armstrong himself is a rather peripheral character, and the majority of the story focuses on the political machinations of King Phillip!

It makes little sense why Phillip wants King Richard publicly disgraced and stripped of power, as he needs all the help he can to fight the Turks! Worse still, this 'fall from grace' plot ignores the fact that the King has more power than the Archbishop! The King can chop off the Archbishop's HEAD if he wanted to. I know this, because it's happened before. Many times! And those times it was in situations with just as much, if not more, political scandal, and they didn't end with the king deposed by a revolting public or anything!

On that note, while I can't speak for everything present, I can tell that at least some of this story is historically inaccurate.

Another thing this story fails to explain is why Armstrong and Gilad are even working for Cour de Lion. Do they want to slaughter people just for worshipping a different religion? And we should feel bad that a sect emerges from this wanting to kill them?

All in all, this story feels pointless. It accomplishes very little, and the conclusion is very rushed and unenjoyable. Meanwhile, the framing story accomplishes just as much, seeing as how it lacks a real ending!

The characters in this story are just boring. Armstrong barely makes an impression here, and he's just an unlikeable lout. Gilad is just as dull, and plays practically zero part in the story. This is especially annoying given this story is partially made up of an issue of his own series Eternal Warrior!

Dr. Gluck has nothing to her, but at least she's not a pushy bitch like she was in Issue #22.

Concerning the characters of Lockinbar (who's also totally dull) and Archer, the story tries to push some past life similarity crap on us, just like the last A&A/Eternal Warrior crossover Issue #8. It's as confusing and inconsequential as it was there. There's also a really confusing thread at the beginning and end of the story, concerning someone who seems to be a...reincarnation?...of antagonistic Brother Nicholas.

There's very little humour in this story, and what there is is weak, save for the amusing ending to A&A #25, where Dr. Gluck shows surprise at how detailed Armstrong's 'delusions' are-"The work you must have put into the research alone!". I like that kind of humour much better than lower, immature forms, although nothing like that is ever within these pages.

The art here isn't as bad as previous issues of Archer and Armstrong, but shares many of the same problems, such as the very poor crosshatch shading. The cover to Issue #25 of A&A is ok, while EW #25's is lazy. It's pretty much the exact same cover, but without Armstrong.

This two-parter of Archer and Armstrong and Eternal Warrior isn't terrible, but it is a total waste...

Archer and Armstrong #23 and #24 (Classic Valiant)

Young Buddhist Archer finds himself caught up in a gang war when he rescues Ethan, the son of local gangster Nate Rosen...

This is a decent Archer and Armstrong two-parter, but its trouble is that the story really has little to do with the lead characters, and neither contribute to taking down the villain. They knock out some of her goons, but the situation itself is resolved entirely by the antagonistic Pan.

Archer is the lead in this story, with Armstrong getting barely anything to do. He only has one scene in Issue #23! Archer is an ok protagonist here, but naive. I also have no idea why he's suddenly growing his hair out, even though he's been a bald monk for this whole series. There's no explanation given. It could be because his order was destroyed in another Valiant series, which was the instigator for the plot of the previous two issues, but one would think that would strengthen Archer's want to look monkly, rather than distance himself from it.

The two anti-villains Nate and Madeline and their dynamic is actually mildly interesting, but come the end, totally underused and underdeveloped. It's an extra shame seeing as how they have more to do with the plot than Archer.

Ethan is more of a plot device than a character, and doesn't get nearly enough scenes to flesh out his character.

The art in these issues is pretty terrible! We've got poor crosshatch shading, and Picasso-like faces, given how poorly drawn, angled, and structured they are. I like the wide shot of the sky in the story's final panel though. It hardly looks convincing, given its colouring, but I still like it.

The cover to Issue #23 is ok, but the lack of background hurts it. #24's cover is not only decent, but actually has a background, rather than crappy gradient speckles! The only problem is Armstrong's face, which looks pretty gremlin-y.

This Archer and Armstrong two-parter is mildly tolerable, but compared to the terrible previous story, it's a nice improvement!...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Archer and Armstrong #21 and #22 (Valiant Comics)

Young Buddhist Archer finds out that his former monastery has been besieged and destroyed by an evil necromancer named Darque. Swearing vengeance, Archer heads to Darque's home in New Orleans, and with the help of the city's vigilante Shadowman, he attempts to rid the world of Darque's evil...

While Issue #12 of Archer and Armstrong is a perfect example of light and dark genres mixed together well, #21 and #22 are the opposite! This story is a chore to read. It's a dull crossover that does nothing with the potential it could have had. While way too depressing for my tastes, Archer avenging his decimated monastery is a plot that has weight to it, and it could logically lead to a legitimate crossover. Unfortunately this falls flat, as there's no real story here. All this is is a few fight scenes, which conclude in a deus ex machina. Ultimately, the story accomplishes absolutely nothing. Archer hasn't avenged Ladakh, nor beaten Darque in any way. In fact, what he has done is successfully get himself planted directly onto Darque's shitlist!

The dialogue in these issues is often painfully bad, especially in its weak attempts at humour. The only bit of good dialogue comes in Issue #22, when Archer is backtalking Darque. There's almost a decent scene when we see Darque instructing his zombies to sing the Hearse song, which could be a darkly amusing scene if in the right story, but the tone of this one, along with the shoddy art, drags it down.

Archer is tolerable here, but rather useless, and one scene at the story's beginning really pisses me off! The fact that Archere here feels that that his life needed revenge to give it direction is a slap in the face to the character's Buddhist beliefs.

Armstrong is a dick, who's more than happy leaving Archer to fight the incredibly powerful and evil necromancer Darque on his own! All he does is give Jack a ring, but fat lot of good that does! He does show up to bail Archer out in Issue #22, but his contribution means practically nothing.

Jack Boniface is a confusing character for anyone who hasn't read other Valiant series Shadowman, and he acts like a dick for how he abandons Archer in Darque's dungeon at the end of Issue #21. He has a legit reason to do so, but he could've just explained that to Archer before he just ran off! The whole 'curse' plotline basically ensures that Jack has next to no real involvement in this story.

Darque is a dull and overpowered villain. There are also more than a few plot holes concerning both him, and Jack, but I'll be sure to discuss those when they come up withing the pages of Shadowman itself.

Sandria is pretty confusing and underused. Story of her life, really. She was only ever decently written in The Second Life of Doctor Mirage, and even there, things were inconsistent.

The art here is terrible! We've got odd angles (especially with mouths), overly visible and red gums, extremely poor colouring and lighting, and The T-shirt and pants problem I mentioned last issue has gotten worse. Not only is it drawn worse, but we see the terrifying evil force of scariness that is Master Darque in an ill-fitting T-shirt and baggy pants! I wish I was joking! For some reason, this artist drew lots of characters like this in a few issues of A&A. It's really lazy, and takes away from the antagonist's intimidation factor.

Issue #21's cover is decent, although the red filter is pretty overused  Issue #22's cover, on the other hand, is crap! The background is lazy, and as a bright green colour almost resembling sunlit grass, it's ill-fitting for this story's tone. It also looks like Armstrong is punching Archer in the back of the head, rather than attacking Darque!

These two issues are possibly the worst in this entire series, and that is saying something!...

Archer and Armstrong #20 (Classic Valiant)

Young Buddhist Archer has joined up with a local vigilante group, in an effort to keep the streets of L.A. safe. As he attempts to find the source of a recent spate of brutal attacks, Archer's immortal friend Armstrong dresses up as Santa for charity, earning the ire of some gangsters...

This is a rather decent issue of Archer and Armstrong. It's not great, but the main characters are actually likeable for a change, and the series has finally dispensed of that insanely long 'Armstrong's paintings' arc, which ate up six issues and never did anything but waste time and money.

This issue's story is pretty simple, but it's entertaining enough, and follows a distinctive 3-act structure. Unfortunately the climax feels like it comes too soon, and is wrapped up too abruptly, which is due in part thanks to their being three splash pages in this comic! I love the final splash page though! It's a neat group shot, positive, and has Christmas cheer!

There's not really all that much humour in this issue, and what there is is pretty weak, like having 'Expletives Deleted' boxes over swearing. Stuff like that feels lazy, while genuine humour comes when the Santa-suited Armstrong gets shot up by gangsters, then gets back up to beat the tar out of them-I find the dialogue between Jamaladeen and Armstrong at the scene's end to be quite amusing.

The characters here are mixed. Archer is a likeable lead, as is Armstrong. Neither are characterised a whole lot, but they get their moments here and there, especially Archer. His scene with the battered prostitute he comes across is his best, and really makes the character a likeable guy.

This issue re-introduces the character of Amy, but we never see her and Archer talk. They've clearly reconnected, given their appearance together on the last page, but we never saw them rekindle their relationship, or even be on the same page together until the end. This is especially annoying as Amy never appears again! I know the two never had any chemistry to begin with, but if you've already gone to the trouble of re-introducing the character, you could at least write her better!

The young 'tough' street kid Jamaladeen is a decent addition to the story, while Pamela is completely underused.

The artwork here isn't great. It's not terrible, but it bears the early warning signs of the problems with this art style that end up rearing their ugly head tenfold over the next four issues, such as oddly angled mouths, overly visible and red gums, crosshatching to an absurd degree, extremely poor colouring and lighting, and the fact that this artist is seemingly unable to draw characters in any type of clothes other than a baggy T-shirt and shorts! He even draws the malevolent necromancer Master Darque like that come next issues #21 and #22!

This isn't anything special, but Issue #20 of Archer and Armstrong is the first one I can honestly say I'd recommend since the fantastic #12...

Archer and Armstrong #17, #18, #19 (Classic Valiant)

Immortal drunk Armstrong and his young Buddhist sidekick Archer are seraching for the former's missing paintings. Meanwhile, a 124-year old man, Duerst, is hooked up to various life support systems, and desperate to learn the secrets behind Armstrong's immortality, at any cost...

This three-part story is another dud for Valiant comedy Archer and Armstrong.

Issue #17 isn't too bad. It's not funny, and there's minimal plot, but it's not terrible, and showing the titular duo doing all sorts of odd jobs for cash is at least some effort in showing off their character. Not very successfully, but effort nonetheless. Following that, the story starts meandering, before abrutly switching gears in Issue #19. Then the story just stops, with nothing really having been resolved besides the villain's plans being slightly waylaid once more.

Archer drowning seems to only happen in order to pad out the story, and the Macrobiotic cult section (that is, the entirety of Issue #19) only serves to bring the plot to a complete stop. In Issue #18, we get an exchange between Archer and a figure who is God, assuming this isn't a hallucination (which given Valiant continuity, it is), but all this does to serve the plot is remind Archer that he should be fighting evil. You know, the thing the series was already meant to be about! I also don't like this scene because it's very unsubtle. For example, in Archer and Armstrong #0, there's no dialogue from any god needed for Archer to realize that he's headed for heaven, and that he needs to go back to Earth to bring his parents to justice. I also don't like that this God is the brimstone dick type.

The worst thing about this story is that it continues the story arc from Issues #13, #14, and #15, and doesn't even conclude it! Was 'Armstrong looks for his old paintings' really a plot worth a 12-issue epic?!

The leads here are bland. Armstrong is rather boring, and while he does get some drama when Archer drowns, it's over quickly, and has no further weight on any events. As for Archer, he's pretty naive, and his morals are really poorly thought-out. In one scene after he's entered a boxing competition for quick cash, Archer's asked why he didn't like Armstrong's gator wrestling, yet is fine with knocking a guy out in the ring. Archer's answer is that he 'only hurts people who deserve it'. So, what, those boxers deserve to get bashed?! Next comes when Archer 'comes back to life', and he belittles Armstrong for having paid the hospital to save his life, claiming it was only God who was responsible for saving his life, and the hospital contributed nothing. What a sanctimonious jerk!

Duerst continues to be a boring villain, with very little personality to him. He's damn near annoying in how much he prattles on about jazz! If only he actually did stuff instead of repeating old tidbits, and maybe we'd have more of a real story!

The rest of the characters are wasted. Naomi is mildly likeable, but underused, and plays no real role in the story. Pan is an ok antagonist, but also extremely underused. Pamela gets a bigger role, in Issue #19, and she's pretty proactive, but acts as a deus ex machina.

Toyo Harada, the villain of other Valiant series Harbinger, briefly shows up in this story, and his appearance is forced 'crossover', and totally pointless. He shows up for one scene, and seems to be playing an important role in the story, but he and his Foundation just phase out of the proceedings for no reason. His part in the story doesn't even make much sense, as Harada is good friends with Armstrong's brother Gilad, the Eternal Warrior. If Harada wants to learn the secrets of immortality, all he has to do it give Gil a ring. Sure, he may need to fudge over a few details about his secretly being a supervillain, but he could get it accomplished easily enough, with no subterfuge necessary. After all, Gilad is an idiot! Why else would he be good friends with Toyo Harada and not know he's a mass-murdering lunatic?!

The humour in this story is barely there, and what there is is either gross, or unfunny. 'Do-Don't' exchanges are one of the lowest forms of humour when done poorly! The humour coming from the character of Pamela is borderline racist, as her German-accented dialogue is written phonetically, and we get lines like "Donkey shine, mine hair".

The art in these issues is barely passable, and very mediocre in places, especially concerning skin textures. The covers are better though. #17's is decent, while I particularly dig #18's. It's not great, but I like the imagery used. It makes the use of the Creation of Adam imitation actually seem necessary. Issue #19's cover is ok to, although your mileage may vary on if you find the Indiana Jones joke tagline amusing or not.

This storyline is nothing more than a waste, and it reduces Archer and Armstrong even further into a shadow of its former self...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The H.A.R.D. Corps: Overall (Classic Valiant)

The H.A.R.D. Corps #27, #28, #29, and #30 (Classic Valiant)

The reason why I don't mind that it's just an issue-long fight scene is partially because of the vast amount of story leading up to this, not only with the previous three parts, but the entire series has been leading to this final confrontation. I also don't mind because this battle is pretty epic and awesome, and because this is the final issue.

The H.A.R.D. Corps #25 and #26 (Classic Valiant)

Sigmund Heydrich, the director of superpowered paramilitary group The HARD Corps, has insidious plans afoot. He's imbued himself with the Omega power, which has made him akin to a god, and his first act is to order the HARD Corps to execute their one-time enemy Earl Simkus before he can build another device that can block their powers, or worse, fatally set off the failsafes in their brains. While the team leaves to find Simkus, Heydrich has dark intentions for the Corps rookies...

This story is the game-changer for the series, where the HARD Corps realize the true circumstances of their comas, and turn against Omen Enterprises, leading into the climactic events of the last four issues.

Prior to that revelation, the team are sent on a 'locate and execute' mission in regards to Earl, and while while some members are reluctant with the idea, specifically Hotshot (who's had the most connection with Earl), it makes sense why they decide to go through with their execution orders. The events of Issue #25 definitively convince them that he's an extreme danger to the Corps if he's alive. Though of course, they don't kill Earl when he tells them the truth about Heydrich, and that leads into the final storyline of the series.

The remaining parts of this plot concern Heydrich's machinations for the HARD Corps rookies, who he grooms into his own personal army, manipulating them into killing 'dangerous Harbinger Foundation higher-ups'-Really Omen Enterprises board members who want Heydrich to resign.

The writing here is very good, and there's one pretty hilarious line that comes from a thug when Wipeout raids a gang's hideout-"Whoa! Flying man! I'm gone!"

The characters here are very well-handled, from the main HARD Corps team to the Rookies, and Earl Simkus is made rather sympathetic. The guy's whole life has been brought down around him, and the only people left he thought he could depend (the Harbinger Foundation) on attempt to murder him. The guy's been an arrogant and narcissistic self-titled genius, and this story is a huge reality check for him.

Heydrich's turn to villainy is very well-handled, and fits in perfectly with his character. He was never quite evil up until this point, but he's always been enough of an amoral scumbag that such a development isn't out of nowhere.

Grasshopper has appeared before, but she never got much of an introduction. Despite that, she's likeable, and her character arc is compelling, and very well-written! It's just a shame that it never gets a conclusion due to the series ending.

The art in these issues is decent, but suffer a few problems, specifically concerning Heydrich, who's positions and expressions are so over-the-top cartoon-villainous that it's almost hard to take seriously at times. Elsewhere, faces are sometimes a bit off, eyes are buggy here and there, and there's one moment where the HARD Corps approach some cops to gain custody of Earl, and Hammerhead is civilly talking to a police officer, but the art bafflingly shows him firing an arc charge at them! This is a pretty big artist-to-writer miscommunication!

Another problem is the lack of vomit when Grasshopper throws up after killing her target. This would be fine, as I don't wanna see puke in a comic, but the problem is that this shot is a rear-view one, behind a bannister balcony, so we can plainly see that despite her throwing up, there's nothing coming out!

The covers here are both quite good! Issue #25's is stylish, and Heydrich looks amusingly over the top! #26's is good too, but the somewhat blocky artwork for the guy pulls it down a smidge. Otherwise, it's pretty neat in how the cover uses a more minimalistic tone.

This two-parter of The HARD Corps is great stuff, and we're in the home stretch now. Only one more story from this series left before the end...

The H.A.R.D. Corps #24 (Classic Valiant)

Eddie 'Ironhead' Abdul is a tough boxer who takes no crap, and certainly doesn't want to take a dive for mobster Joey Pinetti. Unfortunately, in response to this, Pinetti has Ironhead's drinking water drugged, and that, couple with the severe beating he gets in the ring, ensures that the boxer falls into an irreversible coma. Ironhead gets a second chance when Omen Enterprises use their technology to revive him, under the stipulation that he become a member of their paramilitary team the HARD Corps. He slowly starts to fit in, but once he learns of Pinetti's involvement with his 'death', Ironhead wants nothing more then vengeance...

This is a very mixed issue of HARD Corps. Let's discuss the positives first. The character of Ironhead is well-written, and his journey is an interesting one, in both how his character grows, and in his eventual quest for vengeance. At first I didn't like the issue's ending, which I thought was depressing, but it's actually really good, and I felt it complemented the story perfectly with its themes! Also, Ironhead isn't dead, so things aren't a complete downer

Onto the negatives. This issue feels very out-of-place in context with the rest of the series, not only because of the radically different art style, and how the issue focuses entirely on a new viewpoint character, but also because of the story's chronology. Practically every page is a new scene, and this twenty page story takes place over either weeks or months, which is a bit disorienting.

Like I said, this issue focuses entirely on Ironhead, with the only other character being Softcore, who has a much bigger role here than she does in all her other appearances. While it's a shame the rest of the cast get pretty shafted, it's a testament to how well-written this story is that we're able to care so much about a new character who's taking all the attention away from the regulars!

While very different to what's come before and what comes after, the artwork here is still pretty good, although too liney/crosshatchy in places, and Ironhead being constantly coloured golden instead of black is a baffling colouring and lighting oddity!

While it has some problems, Issue #24 of The HARD Corps is still very good reading!...

Harbinger: Overall-Part 2 (Classic Valiant)

Superpowered young adult Faith Herbert has recently been enrolled in the sinister Harbinger Foundation's school for similarly gifted teenagers. While Faith is instantly suspicious of the school especially thanks to her missing memories of her past, it takes a while longer before the friends she makes come to the same conclusion...

In Part 1 of my overall post for Valiant series Harbinger, I discussed at length how much of a misogynistic and unfocused series it is. It's poorly written, poorly characterised, and is a pain to read. After Issue #25, the series was basically over, but it still kept going post-#26, with an almost completely new cast. It was even briefly retitled The New Harbingers before instantly reverting back to the original title come Issue #27. I wish it would've kept the new one, as this is basically a different series. It focuses on the same villains, but Issue #25 felt like the conclusion to that series, and continuing on would be unnecessary.

The writing in Issues #26 to #41 of Harbinger is mediocre at best, but is thankfully rarely terrible, and almost never misogynistic.

Harbinger's main story meanders for several issues, and doesn't start advancing the main story arc until Issue #35! By then, it was too late, and there were only seven issues (making up only two-and-a-half stories) left in the series' life before it was cancelled. All in all, the only way it advanced the story arc was by having Faith and her friends realize Harada's evil, eventually starting up a team of Renegades. The Foundation try to kidnap them, fail a couple of times, and then the series just ends, on a miserable note with the pointless death of one of the leads. This is the biggest problem Harbinger ever had-The story never advanced! Ever! The series is always at Square 1, and when it finally moves mere inches forward in Issue #25, it gets scared and friggin' backpedals, restarting the Renegades plot from scratch, which is a plot you'll recall we already read 26 previous issues about! This is lazy recycling, and the series suffered for it. The reason nothing ever moved forward can be traced to one problem-Rai #0, Basically the Valiant Universe bible, it spoiled everything of what was yet to come in Valiant's future, including the state of Toyo Harada, who survives basically unimpeded all the way to the 2900's, where he's torn apart the world for nearly a thousand years before he's stopped once and for all. This comic was dreadful in so many ways, the worst being how it set each Valiant series on an unshakeable predetermined course, none getting less free will than Harbinger. So what's the point of even having a Harbinger series if nothing ever can come from it?!

The characters in these issues are mixed. The leads are certainly a likeable bunch, thankfully, but they don't have enough to them, never get enough development, and what little they do get feels rushed, as there was so little lead-up to it.

Faith, the only returning character from the first half of Harbinger, is completely out-of-character here. All the happiness, and lighthearted joy she once had is gone, and her personality is all wrong. This doesn't come across as character development, but rather that this is a completely different person who just happens to also be named Faith Herbert

My favourite character in this whole bunch is Amazon, the tall and super strong, yet meek student. Just like with Stronghold and Livewire, I more like her as a character based on her potential rather than what little we actually got with her.

The villains over these issues are boring. At first, there's a mildly interesting turn of events when a schism starts to happen in the higher echelon of the Harbinger Foundation, but unfortunately Harada wakes up from his coma, just over five issues after he fell into the damn thing, which totally invalidates the climactic events of Issue #25, and renders this schism storyline null and void! As for his character, Harada is just the same as before. He's a murderous cackling (figuratively) madman who has zero personality. His character never advances, because Rai #0 ensured that it never can.

A new villain, lazily named The Harbinger, is introduced in the final few issues, but this amounts to little story, as the series is over by that point, which I bet must have gotten the writers really scared, as that meant they'd have no more stories to develop this new villain until the 'shocking' reveal of his secret identity. Luckily for them, they got that chance in later Valiant series The Visitor.

Well that does it for Harbinger. While this second 'half' of the series was better that the first, it's still a wasteful sixteen issues, and amounts to nothing. Harbinger is a terrible series, through and through...

Friday, January 30, 2015

Harbinger #39, #40, and #41 (Classic Valiant)

The renegade superpowered Harbinger B-Team are on the run from the Harbinger Foundation, who have sent their new top agent The Harbinger (Really? Imaginative title, guys!) after them. The team have to try and tell of the Foundation's evil to the authorities before they're killed by the seemingly malevolent Harbinger...

Here we are. We've finally reached the final issues of Harbinger. They're ok. Not terrible, and certainly not a good finale, but this story is mostly tolerable.

The writing here is ok for the most part, minus moments like one really unsubtle bit of political commentary, that's right up there with Nukie! One thing I did appreciate though was that there was an authority figure who actually believes the 'teens-in-peril' story the leads tell him, which I appreciate, as it's so cliched to have the opposite happen, not to mention overused.

If you thought Faith's been completely out-of-character ever since Issue #26, then you ain't seen nothing yet! The Faith here is like one of those crazy deep south doomsday prepping NRA fanatics! Jesus, Faith, if you're this pipe-bomb happy to take down Harada, just join the damn HARD Corps! It'll save you a lot of time!

The rest of the cast don't have much to them, and there even a few idiotic moments, like when they knock an innocent security guard unconscious, and bury him in snow, including his head, to cover their tracks! Um, Faith, do you and you friends realize that you just possibly killed that man?!

Another dumb moment is when Sam has had enough of fighting and running away, so he splits away from the rest of the group to run away on his own. Newsflash, dumbass. The Harbinger Foundation is responsible for this, not your friends! By breaking away from them, all you're doing is ensuring that you're on your own when The Harbinger inevitably comes for you! Idiot!

The big draw to this issue is that a main character is killed off (I won't say who, but that'll hardly help when the cover spoils it!), and while the characters' emotions at this are decently written, the death itself is completely pointless, as well as depressing! It only serves to end the series on a totally miserable note.

The Harbinger is a pretty boring villain, and his name is lazy, as well as confusing when trying to talk about him, Harbingers, and the Harbinger Foundation in the same sentence. He looks cool enough, but he has zero character to him. Also, his last scene is kinda confusing. If you read summaries for the issue, regarding this scene, they'll say that he's throwing up out of disgust at having to murder someone, and later series The Visitor does prove that description accurate, but in the context of the story, it looks more like he's having hernia pains moreso than a moral dilemma.

The at here is tolerable, but at times, the poor scale makes Faith look like a midget! The covers are ok, but nothing special.

And that's the end of Harbinger. It ends on a depressing whimper, having accomplished nothing but a multiple issue chase scene...

Harbinger #38 (Classic Valiant)

The superpowered Harbinger School B-Team students are relaxing in New York, but soon have another battle on their hands when Butch tries helping an battered woman away from her abusive Harbinger boyfriend Spikeman...

To make up for the complete lack of the B-Team over the last three issues, this issue focuses entirely on them,  and that's a decent move, although now that the series finally has a definitive arc, this standalone story feels a little superfluous sandwiched in-between these big cataclysmic events.

Regardless of how superfluous this story feels, it's quite decent, so I'll give it all the credit it deserves. It develops some of its characters rather decently, but unfortunately there's very little in the way of a proper ending.

While Simon is at this point a completely different character to the institutionalized mentally unstable kid h was all the way back in Issue #17, I suppose I could give this series the benefit of the doubt in this case and assume it's character development. As for Sam, he has reason to be sad, but unfortunately his dialogue can really sound emo at times.

I hesitate to say the that returning characters Spikeman and Roxy are out-of-character here, as it's been chronologically over two years since they last appeared, but it's definitely hard to get used to seeing them both act so differently. They're both decent characters if you can get over that, and Spikeman is an effective villain, moreso than he ever was before, now that he has a more distinctive identity. Unfortunately, Roxy abruptly vanishes from the action, never getting any onscreen resolution.

The art here is decent, but with some slightly odd moments, like bugged-out eyes. The cover is decent, although oddly angled, and Butch and Spikeman meld together a bit, causing confusion. Also, why is Mira in on the action? She's nowhere near the rest of the B-Team this issue!

This is another decent issue of Harbinger, but I still don't recommend it...