Is It Wednesday Yet?
18 September 2007
18 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 (19 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.
Irredeemable Ant-Man #12
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler: Phil Hester
Inker: Ande Parks
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: VC's Rus Wooton
Cover: Phil Hester
I really enjoyed the flippant approach to a "previously in" blurb that opened this issue, even if it was somewhat misleading. The more straightforward, business-like demeanor that fills the rest of the book seems to contrast the lighter tone of that introduction. As the final issue of the new Ant-Man's self-titled series, I guess the pressure was on to wrap up a lot of the book's loose ends and move him forward to life as a member of the Initiative, though, so that mood shift may just come with the territory.
The character himself is an interesting change of pace from your typical superheroic fare. Instead of using his powers to help those less fortunate and fight global threats, he incorporates them to better his own life. He's not a great guy — someone who shirks responsibility, runs from commitment and turns on his friends — but he's good enough at covering his tracks and fast-talking his way out of any situation. He's also managed to trick most of his peers into accepting him as one of their own.
I like that concept, the guy who fancies himself a hero but doesn't reinforce the idea through his actions, but it's a tricky thing to pull off. He has to be presented as someone the reader can root for, despite his downfalls and shortcomings, and I didn't get that in this issue. He feels more like a douchebag than an identifiable guy with problems. Maybe that'll make him a good match for Tony Stark's team of registered heroes, where he'll be part of a team effort rather than the only man in the spotlight, but that's neither here nor there. At the very least, the issue's parting shot works for him tremendously, and left me with the impression that writer Robert Kirkman has more than just a foggy idea of what he's created.
As the artist for several high-profile ongoing titles over the years, Phil Hester has done enough quality work to earn my respect, and he doesn't stray too far from that norm here. He's done better work, particularly during his runs on Green Arrow and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, but still provides a solid contribution. Even though his actual character detailing is kept very minimal and simplified, he knows how to differentiate one face from the other. That's particularly important when he's dealing with more than a handful of SHIELD agents, dressed in identical wardrobe with just their heads exposed. Nobody feels like a clone, which is something that really helps the reader connect with the human element of this kind of an operation. He doesn't knock my socks off anywhere in this issue, but the story didn't really give him any opportunities to.
This felt every bit like a farewell, a conclusion to the story — when I think the goal was to use it as a sort of handoff from one series to another. I'd expect a certain degree of closure, but a clean break like this makes it seem like the character is headed out to pasture. That string of goodbyes (seriously, he bids adieu to half a dozen different people) leads the story to feel very one-track and monotonous. I never felt like I was fully brought up to speed as a new reader, either, but now I'm starting to nitpick. I wanted to like this, but it never really came through. I'm recommending you flip through it, which is a shame because from all indications the previous issues told a much better story.
Marvel Illustrated: Treasure Island #4
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciler: Mario Gully
Inker: Pat Davidson
Colorist: A. Crossley
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Greg Hildebrandt
Review: Tim Glancy
Everyone who collected comics as a kid received at least one of those Classics Illustrated comic books as a Christmas or birthday gift. You know what these are: some third-rate publisher turns classics such as Moby Dick and The Last of the Mohicans into comic books, attempting to make them interesting for kids. Of course, kids didn't buy these. In fact, I would venture to guess that these companies were kept in business by grandparents who suck at giving presents (I think you can tell who used to get these every year).
And now, for some reason or another, Marvel is giving it another try with their Marvel Illustrated line. I honestly can't even remember ever seeing this title, or this line, on store shelves anywhere, which leads me to two trains of thought. Either these books are selling out immediately, or comic shops aren't ordering them in abundance. After reading this issue, I can soundly say it's the latter.
Treasure Island is a tremendous book, but so much is lost in trans... er, adaptation. Roy Thomas does an okay job of transferring the novel into comic format, but the original wasn't written for this form. So no matter how good a job Thomas does here, this still feels tremendously awkward. A lot of that has to do with pacing. Comic books are paced much differently than novels. A book has time to let things breathe, but comics are restricted to a set format. The average issue is 22 pages, so cramming this epic story into six monthly installments results in a rushed, choppy tale. Scenes that were laid out over several pages in the novel were confined to one or two pages here, and that really doesn't work.
The art, on the other hand, fits the story very well and actually does a good job of telling the story. This is a story that is extremely heavy on action and emotion, and the art team hits on both marks. Facial expressions are simply fantastic; it only takes one look to know what these characters are feeling and thinking. The inks blend together well with the pencils, and help to create a solid overall look to the art. If the art has one flaw, however, it's in the colors. They're dull and often blend into each other. It's unfortunate, because the rest of the art is very good.
So unless you are a relative of a young comic fan and want to ruin their birthday, skip this one and buy the actual novel. That's the only way to enjoy this classic story.
Wolverine: Origins #17
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Steve Dillon
Colorist: Matt Milla
Letterer: Cory Petit
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Review: Tim Glancy
Often, comic book companies kill characters with little forethought. Deaths have little reverberations across the company. When Superman passed, aside from characters wearing armbands for one month, no one really mourned him outside of his own titles and the Justice League books. When Colossus died, even though he died to save a whole species, there was little made of it in books outside of the X-titles — even then it was quickly forgotten. However, when Marvel killed Captain America, they obviously had a plan, because the impact of his death has reverberated throughout the Marvel Universe for months now. Both Avengers books, Iron Man and even Punisher War Journal have all shown how the death of an icon forever changed the world.
We are now seeing how his life and death touched Wolverine — a man Steve Rogers knew since World War II. Wolverine is used too much; he's seemingly interacted with anyone who's ever donned a pair of tights. But a relationship with Captain America makes sense. Both men are, at their hearts, soldiers before heroes, and both men are extremely noble. And both men, either due to memory loss or time loss, can often be written or looked upon as men out of place. In part one of this storyline, we saw Captain America and Wolverine meet for the first time, with Cap asking Wolverine to be his partner.
Normally Wolverine is written as a stone cold killer or as an unstoppable fighting machine (or as a stone cold, unstoppable killing machine); writers too often drop the human aspect of the character, leaving him to feel like a shell. With this storyline, however, Way has injected Wolverine with a strong dose of humanity. We are seeing a man deal with loss; Wolverine has to cope with the death of someone he respected tremendously. In that regard (and others which I mentioned during my review of Wolverine: Origins #16 last month), Way is doing a great job with this series. Everything he touches turns to gold, and I hope Marvel keeps him on this book for a good, long time.
Dillon's art, once again, fits nicely. In the flashbacks the characters are considerably younger but still recognizable. The colors are bright when they need to be, but there's a wonderful darkness cast over the WWII battle scenes. Creatively, from the writing to the art, everything in this book is spot on.
For anyone interested in seeing a different side of Wolverine — a man with regrets, issues, a past and remorse — pick this book up. For anyone still missing Captain America, pick this book up. For anyone who wants to see pieces of Marvel's untold history, pick this book up. Basically, if you like comic books, buy this book. There are plenty of books to get your Wolverine fix in, this just happens to be the best.
World War Hulk #4
Writer: Greg Pak
Penciler: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colorist: Christina Strain
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: David Finch
Each issue of this summer's big World War Hulk crossover has carried something of a theme within its pages. The first explored Hulk's sudden, violent arrival and the shockwaves it sent throughout the community. The second examined the majority of the battle — Earth's heroes throwing everything they had at the invading forces, ultimately in vain. Issue three displayed the last gasp of the resistance, as the military joined the fray and Dr. Strange took a desperate gamble to finish the fight. In issue number four, it's time for the heroes to take their medicine. The entire miniseries has been building to this moment, or at least the revelation of how far the Hulk is willing to go for justice... so buckle your seatbelts.
Much of what I've loved about Greg Pak's story so far is the way he's managed to maintain a certain degree of balance and rationality within each side of the battle. This isn't a blind fight between the forces of good and evil; it's two sides of the same coin. Neither group is without blame, nor are they without justification. The Hulk has a natural need to blame someone for what he's been through, while the Illuminati never intended for their actions to result in innocent deaths.
This story is a good continuation of the groundwork laid by Civil War, the concept that nobody is without fault and ultimately even the best of friends wind up disagreeing from time to time. Of course, when they take place during such stressful, dramatic circumstances, the consequences of these differences in opinion will typically take place on a very large scale, potentially spoiling lifelong friendships. The Hulk feels deeply betrayed by his comrades, just like the members of the resistance felt during the Civil War, and the betrayal of a close friend is often twice as painful as that of a hated enemy.
Much like the three issues that came before, this chapter of World War Hulk feels like a segment of a good summer blockbuster. There's an awful lot of action, but it's backed up by a story that sufficiently provides motivation for these battle scenes. It's not swords, laser blasts and shouting just for the sake of a good visual. And, even though there's a lot going on throughout the tale, I never felt overwhelmed by detail. It's a nicely refined story, every aside serving a purpose, never lingering on any scene for too long, and when the last page rolled around I felt like I'd got my money's worth.
The same goes for John Romita, Jr.'s artwork. While I did find a few panels that felt a bit more hurried than usual, his compositions are strong enough to pick up the slack. Romita tells a story like few of his peers — his understanding of a writer's methods and a reader's needs is topnotch, no doubt enhanced by his years and years of constant production. His renderings are detailed when they need to be, clean and simple when they don't. I've never been much of a Dr. Strange fan, but when Romita shows his ultimate power and Pak emphasizes its effect on his enemies, it really opened my eyes to the character's potential.
Marvel's really done a good job of tickling their fans' imaginations and shaking up the status quo over the last year or two. They're beginning to understand and exploit the potential of a more wide-open, anything goes universe. No longer do these stories need to wrap up into neat little packages and reset the players when they're finished. As the latest major tale to enjoy that kind of liberty, World War Hulk is a great example of how much power this kind of story can truly convey. I don't know how any of the major characters involved in these proceedings can ever go back to the way they were before, and I don't know that I'd be interested in seeing it, either. This is a rarity, a major summer crossover that's definitely worth buying.
World War Hulk: Front Line #4
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: Ramon Bachs, Shawn Martinbrough, Chris Moreno
Colorist: Matt Milla
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: John Watson
Unlike its Civil War precursor, World War Hulk: Front Line feels more like the personal story of two journalists set against the backdrop of an alien invasion of New York City. Where Paul Jenkins took the opportunity to explore the civilian ramifications of the heroes' war against one another in CW: FL, a lot of that element has been lost in this follow-up. But honestly, I think that angle had been abandoned by the later issues of the first series, as well. I definitely noticed a drop-off in quality towards the tail end of its run.
Yet, strangely, the storytelling isn't the problem here, so much as the vague association with this summer's big crossover is. Sure, the Hulk's return to the Earth is the big story that Sally and Ben are chasing, but it always feels like window dressing. Sally strolls by decimated tanks and overturned cars on her way to a bar, but the story's emphasis is more on the mysterious identity of her wealthy benefactor than on the ramifications of what she's documenting. It feels like a missed opportunity, as even when they're right in the heart of a crucial moment (as Ben is in this issue), the journalists are too hung up on their own internal monologues to take in what's happening around them.
Ramon Bachs has an artistic style that's tough to put a label on. He's typically at his best working with civilians, which makes him a good fit for the more pedestrian story presented here. His characters have a lot of personality, but they aren't always that consistent. He's great when working with a crowd, but his cityscapes, heroes and animals could use a lot of work. When he's illustrating a battle between a lion and an alien monster, the lion looks all wrong — like he's got a human body. Every time the artist begins to draw you in, he'll illustrate something so glaringly incorrect that it pulls you right back out again.
One of the unique things about the format presented by the Front Line books is a shorter main story in favor of a rotating cast of brief back-ups, each written by Jenkins. It gives the book a lighter feel, and ideally allows for a few different perspectives on the big picture. This month, for instance, we get a chapter in the ongoing investigation over what happened to the Hulk's robotic spacecraft pilot (who was found at the center of an explosion downtown) and a comedic two-page fluff piece. The comedy piece isn't much to write home about, but the detective story is much more in-line with what I was expecting out of the book.
Shawn Martinbrough is the artist for that tale, and brings a very clean, simplistic style that provides a nice contrast to Ramon Bachs's more line-heavy approach. His lighthearted approach works nicely with the "odd couple' story Jenkins has laid out: detective Danny Granville teams up with one of the Hulk's more outlandish warriors, Korg (think of the Fantastic Four's Thing as a Conehead), in a tale that works as a non-vital expansion of the main World War Hulk story. At the end of the day, it's not really going to make a difference what happened to the Hulk's cybernetic pilot, but that's not the real selling point of this story. While they're constantly working to solve that riddle, the main focus of the story is the cultural differences between Korg's species and our own. As a front-and-center story, I don't think this would fly. It's lacking the depth I'd expect from a full-price title and doesn't have much in the way of consequence. As a supporting story, though, it feels just right.
This book just doesn't feel all that necessary any more. While it's nice to see some attention paid to a newspaper that isn't the Daily Bugle for a change, the subject doesn't captivate me enough to justify its own monthly title, even if it is for a limited time. Both tales would make for an interesting side-story in a monthly Spider-Man or Hulk book, but I can't recommend you do more than just flip through it as a standalone.