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Hot Ink — Daredevil #500, Atomic Robo, Ash Saves Obama

ComicsAlliance’s Chris Murphy reviews the biggest — and best — books coming out this week.

LEAVING ALREADY? Daredevil #500

If tomorrow I were to be crowned high king of all comics, given the royal scepter made from rolled up issues of “Action Comics” #1 printed on solid gold, had Stan Lee himself place upon my brow the crown sculpted from dried ink taken from Will Eisner’s inkwell, then my first decree, once I was properly seated upon a throne with cushions stuffed full of Alan Moore’s beard shavings, would be to order Ed Brubaker’s legs chained to a desk, where he would be forced to write “Daredevil” forevermore.

Brubaker’s inclination towards hard-boiled, gritty mystery tales has always matched well with the character of Daredevil, and although this week’s issue #500 is a satisfying conclusion to both the current arc and to Brubaker’s run on the title, I’m certainly sad to see him go — to say nothing of the artists who’ve gotten the look just right. The last issue is full of twists and great moments for the entire cast, notably the Kingpin, Master Izo and Daredevil himself. The way Brubaker’s time as writer concludes — with an ending where hero succeeds, but does so with a tremendous sense of what was lost to make that possible — gives it a degree of closure rarely seen in an ongoing series. And even though this sort of melancholy ending happens to Daredevil just about all the time, it feels deserved and appropriate in this case.

Where to next for the Man Without Fear? The conclusion and the included preview of Andy Diggle and Billy Tan’s run starts setting up a major showdown between Daredevil and Norman “The Incredible Nixon” Osborn that’ll be playing out over Marvel’s “Dark Reign: The List.” It might be the right direction to go for the new creative team, switching from the close, personal touch of a noir-influenced atmosphere to a bigger setting with entire organizations being pitted against one another should make it easy for the next team to establish its own tone for the character. Still, I’m going to miss the version we’re saying farewell to this week.EVERY PROBLEM CAN BE SOLVED BY THROWING MORE SCIENCE AT IT — Atomic Robo: The Shadow from Beyond Time #4

Of all the mighty figures of the nerd pantheon, there are few I admire and respect more than Carl Sagan. The astronomer and author’s ability to connect a wide variety of human pursuits in the arts and sciences is sorely missed in a world where academia is often content to see people hole up in one particular field and turn a blind eye to everything else.

His humility about the limits of what we know and his championing of the scientific method as a way to explore our universe and ourselves were both refreshing and sadly far too rare. And his ability to inspire passion and imagination in those interested in the sciences would be almost enough to make me believe he was magical, if not for the fact that he’d be frustrated with anyone who believed in magic. “Cosmos,” the documentary series he hosted on PBS, not only still holds up some thirty years after it aired, but frankly puts most current documentary programs to shame. What I’m saying is, I’m a fan of the guy.

In the latest issue of “Atomic Robo,” Sagan teams up with the book’s title character to fight a Lovecraftian monster that exists outside of time and space as we understand it. You could stuff free ten dollar bills into comics and it wouldn’t grab my attention as much as the previous sentence did. But putting such a respected cultural figure into a major role in a sci-fi action comedy series is no small task. Thankfully Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener do a great job with it, and their admiration for Sagan is clear in how easily they fit him into the world they’ve created and still find a way to stay true to the man’s beliefs. It helps that it’s not a great stretch to make that fit.

Issue 4 finds Robo once more facing off against a bizarre creature that he’d previously fought in the 20s and the 50s, one that blinks in and out of existence, doesn’t follow a linear path through time, and is threatening to go back to the beginning of the universe and wipe out all of existence. Now it’s the 70s, and Robo seeks Sagan’s help to study the creature’s next predicted appearance. Sagan’s belief that there are many things in the universe we don’t yet understand but possess the capability to is a perfect counter to the idea of the unknowable Lovecraftian demon that drives men mad. And there’s a wonderful moment when, as the monster escapes from its containment unit, Sagan says “Our intelligence is the machinery of the cosmos discovering itself. Our science will be its candle in the dark” just as he’s taking a lightning gun out of a crate labeled “DANGER SCIENCE!”

The creators’ skill with the series’ hero is also clear, as the robot comes off more human and well-developed than many actual humans in comics. In everything from the period clothing he chooses to wear during each era to the acute phobia of insects on display here in issue 4, Robo’s character jumps right off the page in every panel. The end of issue 4 ties up a few loose ends that have built up over the series so far and leaves me greatly looking forward to the fifth and final issue of the current volume. And while I know that, in comparison to the great span of all time dating back to the dawn of the universe, the next month or so before it hits stands is going to be nothing more than the merest blip, it’s still going to feel like a star could be born, grow, flare out and then die while I’m waiting.

MAYBE NATIONAL HEALTH CARE WOULD BE CHEAPER IF ZOMBIES WERE LESS COMMONPLACE — Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama #1

I told myself I was finished with Obama comics. He’s already fought zombies, aliens and wizards. So what else, I thought, could be done that would stand out enough from the ever increasing Presidential tie-ins and make me take notice? Well, it appears I spoke to soon, as evidenced by this week’s release of the first issue of “Army of Darkness: Ash Saves Obama” by Dynamite. The hero of the “Evil Dead” films finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time once again and now the President of the United States is there with him.

Did I mention, by the way, that this all happens not at Washington, nor in some spooky cabin in the middle of the woods, but at a comic book convention? In Detroit? Yes, while Obama’s in town to visit an auto factory he makes a stopover at the con to pick up a few books for his kids. And Ash? He’s working an S-Mart run concession stand in the convention hall (which is engaging in flagrant price-gouging, but that should go without saying) and spends most of the first half of the issue simply trying to muscle his way through the crowds to get where he wants to go. That’s right, for a comic in which a cult favorite action movie hero protects the actual U.S. President from zombies, there’s a surprising level of reality on display.

One of the wonderful things about writing a book starring a figure prominent in current events is the changes in context that can happen in between the time the script gets written and the time the book hits shelves. Take, for example, the scene where the outbreak of the u
ndead really starts to get out of hand. Here’s what happens: there’s a panel underway. One of the panel guests is the actual writer of the comic, Elliot Serrano. He and another writer are announcing they’re about to write a crossover issue that teams up their character with… Barack Obama.

Serrano looks ashamed of this, because that’s kind of the level of self-awareness at how ridiculous Obama comics are that pervades this comic about Barack Obama. When the floor opens to questions, a possessed man steps up, speaks those magic words “Klatu Barada Nikto,” and half the room turns to zombies at starts eating the other half. All told, not the most uncomfortable Q&A ever to be witnessed at a con, but certainly up there. Getting back to my first point, had the script been written today there would undoubtedly have been a “Death Panel” or two joke thrown in. Since that didn’t happen feel free play “topical comedian” at home and add one yourself.

This all happens because Ash is too late in discovering a graphic novel adaptation of the Necronomicon two kids found sitting in a discount trade bin, which goes to show that if you want kids to read just about anything, make a comic book version of it. The situation’s only starting to become desperate as issue 1 draws to a close, but considering what Obama’s had to deal with recently I don’t think an angry crowd incoherently shouting about doing terrible things to his soul should faze him that much. Although I’m starting to become uncomfortable with the idea of this book finding its way into the hands of conservative grassroots strategists.

Oh, I should mention the one completely unbelievable thing about the comic. At no point in time is anyone at the convention shown to be in a Stormtrooper costume. Not even something similar but legally distinct. But if you can suspend your disbelief enough to get past that, some refreshingly fun moments can be found here as long as you don’t bring anything approaching high expectations to the book.

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