Is It Wednesday Yet?
28 August 2007
28 August 2007 Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always the comics you're about to read about won't be released until tomorrow (29 August 2007), so these reviews are free of spoilers and should help inform your purchases on new comic book day.
Our grading scale is simple:
Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.
Avengers: The Initiative #5
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Stefano Caselli
Colorist: Daniele Rudoni
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Jim Cheung
The Initiative is Marvel's way of carrying over the ideas presented and established in Civil War; Tony Stark's plan of introducing a dedicated Avengers unit to every state in the union has come to fruition, and their various adventures are preserved right here. This month, the series throws in their two cents on World War Hulk, with the local teams getting involved in the fracas.
Dan Slott's storytelling is concise and interesting. He measures in a fair amount of action, characterization and conversation, although the introductions are kept a bit too brief for my taste. It's never too much of an action book or a drama and the pace is consistently good, both of which are major positives for a short, self-contained tale. He handles the issue's direct tie-in to World War Hulk #3 nicely, too, providing just enough information to educate casual readers (especially those who haven't been reading the big summer crossover) while telling a story that works both as an original and as a continuation of the Hulk's latest escapades. You don't need to buy six other books to understand what's happening here, but it'll lend a little more depth to the experience.
The team itself is masterminded by Henry Peter Gyrich, a longtime holdover from the old days of The Avengers, who's one of the more well-defined faceless government agents in comics. He's a living, breathing stereotype but at least it's an entertaining stereotype, and one that fits within the confines of the story Slott is trying to tell. As a reader, it's easy to see that Gyrich's patchwork unit of faux-Avengers isn't going to last that long. They have little chemistry, zero teamwork and a lack of meaningful dialog with one another. Whether that was an intentional misstep or a flaw on the part of writer I can't say, but in the end it leads to a tamer story than I'd expected.
Because the roster is filled with C-grade reformed villains and virtual unknowns, it's hard to get excited about their activities. Where Thunderbolts originally took the idea of reformed bad guys and made it interesting, these Avengers fail because they aren't granted the same level of respect. Kurt Busiek empowered his team of misfits and failed villains, immediately developed them into something worth investigating and put them into the public spotlight. Slott's pass at the same concept is lacking that charm and personality. He throws these guys together and hopes they'll work out on their own.
Stefano Caselli's artwork is strong, with just a few wrinkles. He's great with over-the-top facial expressions, and shows a deep understanding of how to display emotion. He can showcase the same sensation on a character's face dozens of times without repeating himself. He knows when and where to insert a dynamic backdrop, and when the characters should be the sole focus. He occasionally runs into some problems with consistent proportions (the Scarlet Spiders' arms shrink and grow a few times)) and he does occasionally take his love of expression a bit too far. Sometimes the characters barely look human, their faces are so distorted, but it's so infrequent that I hesitate to even mention it.
This isn't a great book, but it's not a bad one either. It's one of those issues that fills space in your collection. The story and artwork are both average perhaps a step or two above but do little to distinguish themselves from the masses. It's not a surefire hit, but it's at least worth borrowing. Though it didn't light my world on fire, it also didn't make me feel like an idiot for reading it cover to cover.
Black Panther #30
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artist: Francis Portela
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Arthur Suydam
This month's Black Panther may as well have carried the subhead "... and Friends," because for all intents and purposes this is a straight-up Fantastic Four story. T'Challa, a recent appointee to the team, has led the four into a parallel dimension, where they've inadvertently stumbled upon the Marvel Zombies.
The whole story reads like a bad dream sequence the new Fantastic Four (The Black Panther, Storm, Human Torch and Thing) jump between alternate realities and random locations by holding a statue of a golden frog and wishing for it to be so. While writer Reginald Hudlin has a few very creative takes on the idea of undead superhumans and zombified aliens, he often pushes the envelope beyond the point of good taste. The overlying rule of the day is disorder, and while that's a lot of fun for the first few lawless pages, it wears thin by the middle of the book. The concept of a zombie Hulk repeatedly shouting about his hunger pangs is highly entertaining until it's stretched over the course of a multipart storyline and overstays its welcome.
I haven't really been keeping up with the whole Marvel Zombies phenomenon, so there's a lot taken for granted in this story that I didn't quite follow. The zombies can evidently think for themselves, as they're routinely huddling up and discussing their plans, and that just serves to slow down an already-disjointed tale. I think I'd have much preferred a balls-out brawl between the new FF and a horde of hungry flesh-eaters to this.
For a group calling themselves the Fantastic Four, these guys really don't work together all that well. The Panther's relationship with Storm is acknowledged and comes into the proceedings nicely, but the rest of the team functions like a gathering of individuals, not a cohesive unit with years of experience together. Johnny comes off like a wide-eyed moron, the Thing vanishes from the battlefield altogether until it's convenient to reintroduce him and Storm just floats around and randomly sprinkles rain and / or lightning on stuff. They're familiar characters, but in name and appearance only.
Aside from a few unique perspectives (I loved the "in the zombie's mouth" angle), Francis Portela's artwork is dull and unsatisfying. He displays some real problems with the lead characters, who come off as more soulless than the zombies they're facing. Several of his pages are almost laughably bad, specifically the page-and-a-half the team spends running full-speed into the desert. Each of his zombified characters look the same, with the exception of their costumes dark, under-detailed faces, piercing eyes and bright white teeth that glisten in the absence of lips. At least they have a passion for what they're doing, their faces constantly painted with a blend of fury and confusion.
The heroes often appear almost disinterested in their own adventures. When the Thing smashes a zombie Skrull with a giant stone early in the issue, he looks like he's ready to take a nap. Sure, these guys have seen battles like this before, but it's hard to get emotionally involved when the main characters are so sullen and stuffy.
I couldn't get into this issue. The writing is substandard, never answering any questions or providing any sort of closure, which is odd for the third chapter in a three-part storyline. It comes off as a cheap way to tie a main universe book into the Zombies continuity, and ultimately feels really forced and unnatural. The artwork also leaves a lot to be desired, draining the life from four explosive characters. If you're heavily into the MZ thing, this might be just what you're looking for. I'm not, though, so I'm recommending you skip this and continue your search for greener pastures.
Fantastic Four #549
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Penciler: Paul Pelletier
Inker: Rick Magyar
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Cover: Michael Turner
Review: Tim Glancy
I guess complaining about the other Fantastic Four stories I was given has finally paid off, because the boss man bestowed Fantastic Four #549 upon me this week, and I am thrilled to be in this position. No matter how many times I give comics up and come back, Fantastic Four is always one of the first books I pick up. There's just something about a group of heroes who, above all else, are a family that speaks to me. Also, no matter how the team or creative team changes, it seems as though the theme and feel of the book is the same: adventure.
Dwayne McDuffie has managed to keep this book feeling familiar even through a huge change. After Civil War, we saw a new Fantastic Four formed when Reed and Sue took a sabbatical and Storm and Black Panther took their place on the team. To say I was skeptical would be a huge understatement. As I mentioned, the family dynamic is very important to this book, and throwing that dynamic out would be tragic. Much to my surprise and delight, McDuffie has managed to make Storm and Panther feel like a classic part of the team. I've actually reached a point with this new team where I enjoy them almost as much as the original, and I especially enjoy the moments in this issue when they are all together. Reed and T'Challa have always been great together, and the way they play off one another here is handled very well. McDuffie has also built up a very interesting relationship between Thing and Panther. There are times where Storm feels a little out of place, but I almost feel as though that is part of the story. All married people will tell you that hanging out with your spouse's friends is always a little weird, and that is essentially what is happening here.
The story that has been told here, tying into McDuffie's underrated Beyond mini-series and growing from there to be an all-out time and space adventure, has been classic Fantastic Four. We have seen the return of the Frightful Four and another classic Marvel villain, and this issue is the end of that battle. McDuffie handles the fight tremendously well, and does an all-time classic job with the Invisible Woman in the process. McDuffie has done a perfect job thus far, and this issue continues that trend. Great dialog, dynamic action and wonderful characterization have been the hallmarks of his run, and I hope that when his tenure ends these issues will be fondly remembered by readers.
The art here is stunning. What jumps out at me is the level of detail added to the characters from panel to panel. While it's easy for artists to render detail in the quieter / static panels, often that is lost during battle scenes. Pelletier and Magyar, however, manage to keep their art strong throughout the book from big action to talking heads. And it's not just the characters either. The backgrounds, structures and technology are all bestowed with the same craftsmanship.
The only minor issue I have with the art is that, at times, the colors don't fit the tone of the story. This wouldn't be an issue if the coloring was consistent from panel to panel or the mood dictated a darker pallet, but that's not the case here. Otherwise Paul Mounts does a solid job, and I admit that this nitpick doesn't ruin the book or pull you out of the story.
As expected, I heavily recommend that you buy this book. Fantastic Four is a classic title, and it's nice to see that Marvel has found a creative team that can keep the book fun and exciting after all these years.
The Last Fantastic Four Story
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colorist: Morry Hollowell
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: John Romita, Jr.
Stan Lee and John Romita, Jr. are working together on Marvel's first family this month, with the out-of-continuity Last Fantastic Four Story. When a cosmic power beyond our understanding threatens all of humanity (there's a familiar concept), there's just one team we can trust. So what happens when Reed Richards doesn't have the answer?
Stan Lee's actual writing is beginning to show its age, but his creativity has never been brighter. For every exclamation-laden Reed Richards scientific monologue, there's a narrative like, "In less time than it takes to read these words, the adjudicator (an invading alien force) flashes past entire universes!" Lee has an incredible gift for simplifying his message without losing touch with his audience, and this issue is just further fuel for that fire. He's never overly wordy, always trusting his artists to tell their side of the story, and the reader never feels confused or out of the loop. I mean, interstellar transportation powered by the strength of sheer thought? In any other writer's words the idea would be preposterous, but when told by Stan Lee you accept it as reality without hesitation. He presents his ideas so simply, yet believably, that you don't even give it a second thought.
Lee's greatest challenge is in his dialog, which hasn't aged well in the slightest. While his imagination still blows me away, the conversations his characters share feel like they've been clich้d to death. It's more like they speak just to verbalize their internal monologues, never to actually communicate with anyone. If they see something happening, they'll make sure to observe it through word balloons, presumably in case someone nearby hasn't been paying attention. It happened frequently enough to disturb me, and really hurts what would otherwise be a surefire classic.
This tale raises a lot of questions about superheroes in general, how their first reaction is always to attack the unknown, and how they'd be lost if that strategy were ever defeated. It's a great concept, even if the ending is a bit of a copout without a definitive answer. When it's going full-steam, this is a great read with lots of depth, but it feels like its promise was never fully realized.
I'm constantly amazed by both the quality and the quantity of John Romita, Jr.'s artwork, and he holds true to form throughout this double-sized issue. How the man finds time to fire off a monthly mega-crossover in World War Hulk and still entertains himself with a random book such as this one, without any noticeable drop in quality, is one of life's greatest mysteries. I'll just gladly enjoy it for as long as he's able to keep it up.
His work with both alien and terrestrial situations is astounding, especially the former. He brings such life and style to an interplanetary setting that it becomes thoroughly fascinating, reminding me constantly of the finest efforts of Moebius. While Romita does occasionally show some wrinkles with his style (the Watcher looks more like a giant, muscle-bound Buddha than a big-headed alien sponge of information, and his rendition of the Silver Surfer is very disappointing), for the most part his stuff is dead on whether he's tasked with a gigantic fight scene or a simple strategic conversation. He treats these characters with respect and familiarity; it's amazingly easy to find yourself absorbed in the experience.
If just for the sake of the two legendary creators working together, this book is worth a long look. Ultimately I was hoping for a bit more closure than I got, but when it's good, it's quite good. This is worth borrowing, but don't expect too much from it.
Silver Surfer: Requiem #4
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Esad Ribic
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Esad Ribic
Review: Tim Glancy
Few characters have made as much of a name for themselves as the Silver Surfer. Often mentioned in movies, TV and music, the Surfer has become something of a pop culture icon. And this has all been done without what anyone would consider a successful ongoing series or even a really great, defining mini in the last 30 years. Unlike Wolverine or Spider-Man, who have all gone on to have tremendous stories and long-running series, Surfer's original story still remains among his best. The original 18-issue run by Stan Lee is considered by many (myself included) to be the must-own Surfer work and the character's definitive story. We saw a man who was alone, on a planet that he didn't understand, and we also saw how those around him viewed such a creature. It was such a departure from the normal Stan Lee "tights and fights" approach that the character became a cult classic almost instantly.
Over the years there have been dozens of attempts to redefine the Surfer and turn him into a classic Marvel-type hero, but more often than not those attempts have failed. What the creators failed to realize is that Surfer was at his best when he was a man out of place. No one really wanted to see Surfer sail across the galaxy and fight aliens nonstop. There is no intrigue in that. Anyone can go through space and shoot lasers out of his hands while fighting aliens. Quasar, Nova and the entire Guardians of the Galaxy spring to mind. But being a man out of his element and viewing humanity from an outsiders view is a story that can capture people and draw readers into the character.
What we see with Silver Surfer: Requiem is seemingly a combination of the two elements. Surfer is losing his power, he is dying, and he is on his final journey through space. We see, possibly for the last time, Surfer on his adopted homeworld. And we watch on as Surfer imparts a tremendous gift on the people of Earth. After stopping a centuries-long war, Surfer's journey brings him closer and closer to his home planet of Zenn-La, and that is where we pick up the story here.
J. Michael Straczynski has done an admirable job of taking a character with a lot of garbage in his history and breaking him down to his rawest form: a wanderer. For all his power and abilities, he is a man without a home, a man who left all he loved to save it, and JMS handles this tremendously. It would make sense for a man who is on death's door to return home. Once home, we see a story unfold that is touching and tragic at the same time. JMS has been criticized a lot, but this is one story that he smacks out of the park. You feel the pain and suffering of the people who love Surfer, and you see that his sacrifice, made years ago, was not in vain.
The humanity that JMS has managed to breathe into this series, and in this issue in particular, is amazing. I felt for this character and could relate to the feelings that were on display in this story. The pacing is another highpoint as well, because there is never a dull moment. Every page, every panel has a purpose. There was no wasted space, not at all.
The art is a tremendous compliment to the story. Esad Ribic has does a marvelous job painting this series, making it standout from everything else on the shelves. The backgrounds are not as detailed as one might like, but his characters and the main points of focus are so glorious that any flaws of his are easy to forgive.
My only worry, as is the case whenever Marvel puts out a miniseries, is whether or not these events will be reflected in the rest of the universe. Too often a powerful miniseries will be released, only to have its events wiped clean shortly thereafter and / or never mentioned again. Considering the outcome of Silver Surfer: Requiem, that would be a dreadful shame.
This nets a very solid buy regardless of your feelings for JMS and / or Surfer. Hell, even if you've missed the first three issues in this four-issue mini, this is still a buy. And if that's the case, when you hit the shop this week, buy all four issues.
World War Hulk: X-Men #3
Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Andrea Di Vito
Colorist: Laura Villari
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Ed McGuinness
Review: Tim Glancy
Another week, another World War Hulk tie-in. I'm not going to waste any time this week: this comic is average in just about every way possible. For those living under the proverbial rock, Dr. Strange, Black Bolt, Reed Richards and Tony Stark all decided to dupe Hulk into space and sent him to another planet. As if that weren't enough, the ship they sent him in blew up and killed the woman he loved who was carrying his unborn child. Hulk came back with a posse: he plans to kill those four members of Marvel's Illuminati. However, what of Xavier who wasn't present when his friends voted to exile Hulk? What would he have voted? That's what Hulk aims to find out.
Despite the fact that Xavier clearly wasn't present (the video Hulk shows the world proves this), Marvel still opted to include the X-Men in their latest crossover. Why? Greed, clearly. While not surprising, it is very disappointing because the logic shown throughout the three-issue series numbs the brain.
Christos Gage handles the material well enough, but he doesn't bring anything new to the World War Hulk battlefield. This isn't an intricate or crucial part of WWH; it's a random X-Men book featuring a prolonged battle with the Hulk. While Gage does an okay job with some of the characters (especially Juggernaut, who's entered a new phase of his life thanks to this little series), with so many characters involved, it's really difficult to get a feeling for any of them. That said, the fight scenes and dialog are handled well, it's just that the characterization could have been stronger.
However, much like most other big event tie-ins, you feel like the writer is just spinning his wheels because, no matter what, most of what happens here won't be reflected in the main books. I am willing to bet that, within a month, the rest of the Marvel Universe will forget what happened here.
Was it Marvel or Gage's decision to script a three-issue fight sequence? That's the big question. World War Hulk: X-Men could have been used to change the status quo of the various books; if World War Hulk is going to alter the Marvel Universe, it might as well start right here. Since it appears that only one character has suffered a change, it's sad to know that my previous statements about greed and the rest of the MU overlooking these issues will come to pass. Worse still is the Hulk's decision at the end of this issue. It's as if the writer wasn't made aware of the Hulk's characterization in the other / main WWH issues.
Once again, Marvel has decided to publish a completely average tie-in book, and it's about time they get the message. So do us all a favor: vote with your wallet and flip through this one.