Is It Wednesday Yet?
11 September 2007
11 September 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 (13 September 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.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Marko Djurdjevic, John Romita Sr., Al Milgrom, Gene Colan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alex Maleev, Lee Bermejo
Colorists: Matt Hollingsworth, Dean White, Stefano Gaudiano, Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Chris Eliopoulos
Cover A: Marko Djurdjevic
Cover B: Michael Turner
Cover C: Lee Bermejo
Matt Murdock has been through a lot over the last few years. From the public revelation of his secret identity to his incarceration to the death and resurrection of his best friend to marital troubles to travels abroad, he's been through the ringer in almost every way imaginable. As fate would have it, the poor man isn't yet in the clear, either, as the storm clouds have gathered once again for this 100th issue.
One of the most endearing details of this character is his ability to grit his teeth and power through moments dark enough to blacken almost any soul. He's seen the violent murder of more than one lover, but each time resisted the urge to corrupt his own ideals and cross that moral line. He's had his life torn apart at the seams by more than one nefarious character, then stood tall in the end. But what's magical isn't his capacity to overcome those problems, rather his ability to convince the reader that this time he might not.
Ed Brubaker understands that element of Matt's personality, just like Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, Frank Miller and company did before. He knows how to push the character to new limits, introduce that thread of doubt into the mix and leave him beaten and bleeding at rock bottom. This issue is all the proof you'll need of that. While the main villain of the tale isn't a marquee name, he's familiar enough with Daredevil's strengths and weaknesses to really make things interesting. It's not quite the end all, be all conclusion I was expecting from this milestone (indeed, the conclusion is left open-ended), but it's a really good read with huge implications for the character's very near future.
The artistic chores, handled here by a half dozen pencil pushers with a hand in the hero's past, range from outstanding to passable. It's nice to see a lot of these guys working their magic with the character, and where there's always a risk of disjointing the story and losing the reader's concentration by filling the book with an all-star cast like this one, that wasn't even a concern thanks to some tricky writing. Each artist's work is introduced by a page from regular artist Michael Lark, coinciding with a "moment of clarity," as Matt flashes from a drug-induced hallucination to reality and back again. The concept gets a bit redundant after the first few instances, but it's always handled creatively and entertainingly, so the sin is forgivable.
The parade of historical artists is treated to a page or two of material apiece, which is almost always geared to suit their own style or era of work with the character. John Romita, Sr. for instance treats an imagined conversation between Matt and Karen Page in the bright, simplistic style you'd expect from a romance book. Bill Sienkiewicz, on the other hand, addresses Matt's troubled relationship with Elektra in a darker, fractured style. It's tough to imagine a scenario where two styles as vastly different as these can coexist, but Brubaker provides it with ease.
It's tough to go into a noteworthy issue of Daredevil without expecting the title character to get slapped around a little bit, be it physically or emotionally, and on both fronts this issue delivers. The artists play their roles well, if a few don't feel quite as comfortable as others, and the story accommodates them without distracting us from the ongoing plot. This book's been on a roll for years now and it doesn't look like the ride will be slowing down any time soon, so I'm recommending you buy it and enjoy.
Ghost Rider #15
Writer: Daniel Way
Artists: Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira
Colorist: Dan Brown
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Review: Tim Glancy
Ghost Rider is a character I have never been into. Nor do I understand the love for him. I hate comic books that involve demons, battling demons, demonic heroes and really anything to do with Heaven and Hell. The company doesn't matter; I've just never jumped into that genre. I don't mind the occasional appearance of a demon in a superhero book, but as a series about demons... I just can't get into them. No matter how good they are, I just can't. Not even Hellblazer, one of the most beloved comic books.
So it goes without saying that I have yet to read an issue of the current Ghost Rider. To be honest, aside from the movie, I really can't think of one logical reason to have re-launched this title. Is there a huge Ghost Rider fanbase out there? Were they deluging Marvel with e-mails? Was there some great Ghost Rider story that needed to be told? There are, literally, dozens of characters I can think of that I would find more interesting and be able to justify having a series aside from Ghost Rider. Where's my Darkhawk book? And Sleepwalker? Hell, bring back Superpro. I could at least understand that.
This issue details everything I hate about these books. First off all, by a stroke of genius, there is no real detail in the recap page, meaning that even though this is the second part of the "Revelations" storyline, there is no way for a new reader to jump in a pick up the story. Why is this girl pregnant? Who is the girl? Who is the demon on TV? How does he know Ghost Rider? It seems like I harp on this every damn week, but these books need to be accessible.
Another area in which Way seems to miss the mark is the way he jumps from place to place with no real explanation for what the characters are doing or why they are doing them. There are two stories running throughout this issue, but there is no mention of how they tie together, if they do at all and no explanation as to why they are taking place. There is no reason to care about the characters, no reason to fear for these people or to worry about their wellbeing. So there is really no emotion involved in the story. It's just a very dry writing job by Way. Aside from the villain, who is handled well, everyone else feels as if they came from How to Write Comic Books For Dummies. The whole thing just reads really bush-league.
Though nothing really sticks out as being memorable, the art is nice. Ghost Rider is filled with a lot of tight close-ups, requiring an attention to detail, and that's handled well. But most people will look at this book, read it once and forget about it right away. And the art is partially to blame. There aren't any memorable moments that make you sit up and take notice. The dull colors don't help either; they lack life. It's almost as if the Gap colored the book, because it feels very beige and boring.
As a whole, this is a book you should skip. Ghost Rider fans and lovers of all things demons, they'll gobble this one up. Me? Not so much.
Marvel Adventures Hulk #3
Writer: Paul Benjamin
Penciler: David Nakayama
Inker: Gary Martin
Colorist: Michelle Madsen
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: David Williams
Review: Athena Miles
Last week I had a Marvel Adventures Spider-Man book, this week I get Marvel Adventures Hulk. Last week I was surprised; this week I have a giant headache. As I said last week, these stories seem to be retellings of the characters' beginnings, but with a theme or lesson dropped in for good measure. By the end, the characters and readers come to learn / understand something new, but more entertaining re-imaginings can be found over in the Ultimate titles.
These Marvel Adventures books are good in small doses. Really small doses. These quick, standalone stories filled with life lessons wind up feeling like something out of Full House, Family Matters or any other TGIF show. Watching one episode of Full House may be slightly annoying, but there's still fun to be had. Watching a marathon, however, will make you go insane with all the cheesy, candy goodness. Frankly, these comics aren't directed at an audience older than 12. They're best left for your nephew, niece, son, daughter or any child that's too young to understand the complexities of the core Marvel Universe.
This month in Marvel Adventures Hulk the theme is friendship. Read that again: this is a Hulk book centered on friendship. That's just strange. Bruce Banner's friend, Rick Jones, narrates this issue — which works to a point. This book fails when it comes to understanding the title character. Hulk has no friends. That's the point of the character. He always wants to be left alone. So this whole book came off as out of character for me. It's also limited by its black and white look at the world. While that's done to make it readable for the intended audience, I don't know if handholding is the right way to go. Kids aren't stupid. Playing the story a little loose won't hurt the overall message, plus it will give kids something to think about without having a lesson crammed down their throats.
The characters are designed well enough, but in comparison to Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, this isn't as vibrant. And outside of the Hulk, nothing is really eye catching. The backgrounds, especially, are dry and drab.
Although it would be a fun book for the young ones, I'm calling this a skip for anybody over 12 years of age.
New Avengers / Transformers #3
Writer: Stuart Moore
Penciler: Tyler Kirkham
Inker: Sal Regla
Colorist: Annette Kwok
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: Ed McGuinness
Review: Athena Miles
So this is the third issue in a four-part miniseries that teams the Transformers with the (old) New Avengers, which, of course, was only published to cash in on the Transformers movie hype. What's odd, though, is that these aren't the movie Transformers. Bumblebee is the VW Beetle, not the movie Camaro. So while it is a money grab, it's also a throwback to the 1980s cartoon and comic book series. Hence the crossover with the Avengers.
But to be honest, this issue didn't accomplish its goal: after reading it, I'm not compelled to buy either comic. This issue drops us right in the middle of the action, which, you can guess, is a fight between the Decepticons, Avengers and Autobots. It's a big action book with little depth, not unlike summer blockbusters. While many blockbusters (we're talking about movies and comics here) have been able to handle characterization and exciting action, this book fails at that. In this book there are just too many characters, too many lasers and too much going on. Things explode (including Transformers), Wolverine tears shit up, planes and heroes are flying, cars are driving and everybody's seemingly shooting at somebody else. But all of it's meaningless; there's simply no substance. It just feels like your typical (RE: bland) superhero action story.
Though I might not understand the Transformers franchise, I do understand bad dialogue. And it's all over the place here. Unlike action movies (the good ones), New Avengers / Transformers doesn't have that balance between action and funny one-liners. It tries but fails. I mean, this is "Do you know what happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning?" bad. From Captain America singing to Wolverine and Luke Cage having a "touching" moment, this is just awful! To make things worse, nobody has a voice of their own. Characters are interchangeable.
Not only are the characters interchangeable when it comes to voice, so are they in design and action. Often they're just flying or driving around without any real purpose. We're not given a sense of who they are. If you're new to the Transformers franchise, this isn't the place to start: skip it.
Punisher War Journal #11
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Leo Fernandez
Inker: Francisco Paronzini
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Ariel Olivetti
Review: Tim Glancy
Every so often the argument will arise as to whether or not the Punisher has a place in the mainstream Marvel Universe. Given his MO, weapons and violent disposition, it's easy to make a case that the Punisher should stay in the MAX line. However, there is also the historic aspect of the character and his interactions with these characters that makes having him around somewhat important. Frank Castle has a great history with Spider-Man, Daredevil, Wolverine and Captain America. That's why a book like Punisher War Journal is so important.
War Journal has allowed the Punisher to keep his edge, but a lot of the killing and madness is kept off panel. By restraining the gore, Matt Fraction has managed to create a book that can take place in the Marvel Universe. The reason this is integral is because we are allowed to see where Frank Castle fits into the new (RE: post-Civil War) Marvel Universe. Now the rest of the Marvel Universe knows how Castle feels; the Punisher has always been hunted by the law for doing what he believes is right. This creates an interesting new look at Castle. Hero, villain — however you may see him, he's no longer alone in his outlaw status.
In issue #11 a lot of loose ends are tied up and new stories are hinted at. We find out what happened to the cop from the fifth issue, we learn Bridge's fate, a major villain returns and we see Castle's plans for his Captain America costume. If Fraction handles the Punisher with care, he does an even better job with G.W. Bridge. For the first time in years he's an important character.
The art chores are handled by a fill-in team this month, and they do a good job of handling the material that is presented to them. Aside from one brief fight scene, this book lacks action, so a fine understanding of facial expressions is needed to sell the book. Thankfully, Leo Fernandez does a tremendous job at this. The inks and colors add a lot to the story. Dark shading techniques are used here to set the mood. While I look forward to Ariel Olivetti's return, Leo Fernandez has some tremendous talent which will hopefully be showcased elsewhere.
Whether you've been reading Punisher War Journal since day one or have never picked it up, go ahead and buy this issue, because it's a great jumping on point.
Ultimate Spider-Man #113
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Stuart Immonen and Richard Isanove
As the flagship of Marvel's Ultimate line, Ultimate Spider-Man is something of a trendsetter. It's by far the most consistent of the imprint, with far more issues than launch-mate Ultimate X-Men, and has only recently shifted creative teams, whereas UXM is on its fourth writer and umpteenth artist. The storytelling has had its peaks and valleys, but has never skimped on character development or action, and is always reaching to connect its world with that of the rest of the Ultimate Universe.
Brian Michael Bendis uses this issue almost exclusively for that final purpose. Spider-Man never appears in the book, and Peter Parker only makes a cameo — but you barely notice. The title's supporting cast and antagonists are so deep and well developed that they can support an entire issue by themselves, and this story is all the proof you need.
Even since the first issue, Bendis has had a major hard-on for Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin. He's missed with a few storylines here and there, introduced a few awkward personalities, but when he's dealt with the elder Osborn it's been consistent quality. That trend continues throughout this story, which focuses almost exclusively on the Goblin. He blends intense action with intricate scheming and manipulation, but the issue doesn't feel jerky or overly complex. It's smart, the pacing is top notch and it left me immediately craving more. Bendis has frequently stated that he likes to develop a character, drop them into a situation and allow their personalities to take over from there, and that's exactly what he does with Norman here. He's a great character, he's in a great environment and he's in the zone throughout this story.
I took major issue with Mark Bagley leaving this title, which he helped Bendis get off the ground over a hundred issues prior. He'd invested so much of himself into the characters, the storytelling and the world, that I had an extremely hard time imagining anyone who could fill his shoes. Fortunately, Stuart Immonen is doing everything in his power to make me forget about the past and look forward to the future. In his first two (and a half) issues on USM, he's repeatedly knocked the ball out of the park — retaining much of the simplicity and innocence that Bagley had developed, but adding a twinge of reality and combustibility to the mix.
Immonen's artwork in this issue is staggeringly good. He offers an ability to combine the mundane with the extraordinary, which grounds his tales in reality without sacrificing the over-the-top action that is typical of a good superhero book. His compositions are incredible, almost photographic — a panel on page four displays a simple explosion in a large government building, and nearly leaps right off the page into the reader's lap. He knows when to detail a backdrop and when to simplify it, when to paint a panel with shadows and when to bathe it in light. He's a marvelous replacement, and I can only dream he'll have a run half as long as Bagley's.
When it's on target, this is one of the best books in the industry, and it's currently delivering one of the strongest stories of its entire run. Bendis's writing has been invigorated by the change in artists, Immonen is producing the greatest work of his career and the cast of characters has never been better. You need to buy this; it's seriously some of the best stuff I've read this year.
Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Pablo Raimondi
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Pablo Raimondo
Review: Tim Glancy
When Marvel announced that they were relaunching X-Factor as some sort of detective agency, I was ecstatic. I thought that the idea of a mutant / superpowered detective agency was pretty creative, and would be a very welcome change of pace to the X-universe. And for the most part, this book has fit that bill. Not only is it fun to read yet still extremely serious and emotional, it's showcased where mutants stand since M-Day. The key to its success was its separation from the other mutant-filled titles; it doesn't feature Wolverine and Cyclops on some space adventure. Thus far Peter David has been allowed to take a quirky team of characters and write them the way they need to be written. This is really a street level X-book.
So there was no surprise when I found myself extremely jaded towards this issue of X-Factor thanks to the high profile guests that showed up: the X-Men. More specifically, Beast and Cyclops. One might suspect this to lead to a big dust up, but Peter David handled this intrusion very well. They're mainly background players here, allowing X-Factor the spotlight. Better still is how he deftly handles the two other storylines. The jumps from one story to another never feel forced.
Though many writers who were popular in the 80s and 90s have stalled creatively, with their voices trapped in the past, David has managed to keep his fresh. He should be celebrated for that.
David also does an excellent job of making new readers feel right at home — despite the fact that this is the third issue in a storyline. Anyone can pick this up and enjoy it without wondering, "Who did what to who, now?" This is a very important aspect of any comic book, and David nails it.
Art wise, this book is equally solid. This team brings emotion to the faces of every character, without over-rendering them as most artists do nowadays. Everything is perfectly clear. The colors are clear and crisp, adding to the overall tone.
Really, I can't recommend this book enough. It's so very rare to find a book that's filled with smart storytelling, awesome characterization, great art and keeps a low-key tone. This is a easy buy. You won't regret it.
X-Men: Emperor Vulcan #1
Writer: Christopher Yost
Penciler: Paco Diaz
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
The X-Men universe has a long history of complicated, convoluted family relationships. Whether it's the multitude of schemes surrounding Scott and Jean's offspring, the issues between Charles Xavier and the Juggernaut or the origins of Wolverine's long and troubled past, it seems they can't go too long without delving into deeply personal matters. With X-Men: Emperor Vulcan, that trend continues as the story focuses primarily on Vulcan, younger brother to both Havok and Cyclops. Having unseated Shi'ar empress Lilandra from her throne, Vulcan named himself her successor and now determines the fate of an entire alien culture.
Even though it was spelled out on the first page, I never really felt the importance of the relationship between Havok (who appears in this story as the leader of the reformed Starjammers) and his younger brother. They never meet face to face in this first issue, but each spend time discussing one another and they never relate as siblings, only as rivals. Much of the reason these stories have worked for as long as they have is exactly that conflict of emotions, that struggle between love and hate, and when one isn't a part of the picture it's no longer unique. It just seems like business as usual, and an unnecessarily complicated business at that.
A lot of what I didn't like about Star Wars: Episode I when it was first released was the way the story traded in the youthful action that dominated the first trilogy for a much more political, slow-moving slant. Was the military action more interesting when Luke took out the Death Star in a desperate all-out attack, or when the Trade Federation formed a galactic blockade to slow economic relations between Naboo and the rest of the universe? Emperor Vulcan focuses on a tale more similar to the latter than the former, with an emphasis on wordy military strategy rather than action. The behind-the-scenes maneuverings are an important part of the story, no doubt about it, they're just not an extremely interesting one.
Accompanying Christopher Yost's rather tame storytelling is Paco Diaz's equally vanilla artwork. There's nothing particularly wrong with the way he renders this tale, but there's nothing exceptional about it either. He knows the characters, but he never gives them his own unique spin. Rather than playing a part in the storytelling, he's merely documenting the event. He's given a dozen chances to play with and the extravagant decoration that surrounds the Shi'ar culture, but treats it as such a mundane, lifeless environment that the action nearly grinds to a halt. He's a bad match for the story Yost is trying to tell with this series.
Combine this story with a stronger artist, or this artist with a better story, and their individual flaws may have been a bit easier to overlook. Together, though, they're tough to forgive. I know the characters, I know the scenario and I know the backstory, but after half a dozen pages I was lost, overwhelmed by detail and bored. If you're particularly taken by the constant evolution of the Shi'ar people, you may want to give this a glance on a purely historical note. If you're just looking for a good read, I'd skip this and continue your search.