Is It Wednesday Yet?
23 October 2007
23 October 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 (24 October 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.
Black Panther #31
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artist: Francis Portela
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Billy Tan
This is as much a Black Panther solo book as it is an extra Fantastic Four monthly. T'Challa and Storm, already regulars in the Panther's regular ongoing, are once again joined this month by their FF teammates, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. When the team was faced with a threat they didn't understand and couldn't overcome, team leader T'Challa unleashed an unfamiliar power in a desperate bid to contain the beast. Good news: it worked. The monster is no longer on Earth. It now roams a variety of bizarre landscapes, alternate realities and parallel planes of existence. Bad news: the Fantastic Four are along for the ride, with no clue how to return to the Baxter Building.
After a dull fray alongside the cast and crew of Marvel Zombies, author Reginald Hudlin has shifted the team into a different locale with this issue. The team has been traveling between realities via a magical, gold-skinned toad, and after abstaining from its use during their stay in the Zombies universe, their hand was finally forced at the end of issue #30. With their backs up against the wall, they chose to employ the frog's powers once again and take their chances with another reality.
Aside from a few additional examples of the frog's eccentric powers, this issue has no real purpose it's one needless twist after another, with the story failing to make any progress from first page to last, just a series of soft transitions from one oddball fantasy to the next. More than half the issue is thrown away on a crazed, page-turning imaginary sequence involving Storm and her teammates with the X-Men. The lead characters float mindlessly through the story, occasionally forced to remind one another of where they are and what they should be doing. When T'Challa and Ororo suddenly embrace in one panel, the Thing quickly reminds them that Johnny is unconscious, and the story casually shifts its focus to that plot development for a few minutes before something else steals its attention.
It's like a creative writing assignment from a kid with ADD: imaginative, but so utterly random and lacking in circumstance that it downright refuses to connect with its readers. Where Grant Morrison took a similarly twisted concept in JLA: Earth 2 a few years back, he was successful in grounding it with a compelling story set in reality. Hudlin does nothing of the sort, and seems to be using this heretofore unheard of golden frog to turn Black Panther into his own personal sandbox within the Marvel Universe.
Artist Francis Portela produces a few bright moments, but is also largely unfocused and visually disinteresting. The Panther himself frequently appears to be staring vacantly off the corner of the panel under Portela's watch, and the artist's take on the Thing seems all wrong like he's merely wrapped a rocky texture around a vaguely humanoid blob. Storm never looks comfortable, always posing in an awkward position, but in the artist's defense, she really is a difficult character to illustrate. Few have successfully captured the kind of grace and personality that's been developed in her character without also giving her a glazed-over, snobby appearance. Within the few panels that he's given a distinct backdrop to fill in, Portela does fine work (I especially loved the cityscapes that filled the book's final pages), but the majority of his contributions here are in the foreground... and universally sub-par.
This wasn't a tough book to read, and it certainly wasn't without creativity. Most of the dialog is kept noticeably brief, and the imaginary voyages these characters take in just 22 short pages cover a broad range of scenery. In the end, though, it was all flash with no substance. At the beginning of the issue, the cast was walking disoriented into a new reality with no clue how to return home. At the end of the issue, they're in exactly the same situation. Nothing was accomplished, aside from a few crazy imaginary voyages and another fresh setting. I'm suggesting you skip this and look for something a bit more grounded in reality.
Cable & Deadpool #46
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Reilly Brown
Inker: Jeremy Freeman
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Skottie Young
With the recent events surrounding Cable (he's having one of those "almost dead" moments), this book has recently been much more Deadpool-dominated than usual. Fortunately, it's avoided any status as a straight-up solo book, as 'Pool has kidnapped "Bob," a masked HYDRA Agent, and drug him into an adventure in Cable's stead. Last issue the two were fired through time, emerging in the 1940s and interacting with Captain America and Bucky before a series of strange aftereffects jolted them forward on the timeline once again. Now the two are producing temporal shifts, with occasional flashes of light resulting in short-term memory loss to those directly surrounding them. Not a great time for the duo to spontaneously materialize on the Fantastic Four's front doorstep somewhere in the late 80s aboard Doctor Doom's Time Platform, no less.
Bob and Deadpool make for an entertaining pairing, with Bob wanting little more than some peace and quiet (he only joined HYDRA "for the dental plan") and Deadpool providing nothing but firefights, frequent leaps through time and quick puns. They share a similar outlook on life and stick together through some tough situations like a pair of old friends, and that makes them endearing as lead characters, if nothing else.
This book never takes itself too seriously (it actually borders more than once on not taking things seriously enough), and the random memory losses the pair keeps uncontrollably handing out provide for some truly funny moments. I legitimately snorted aloud when Reed Richards suddenly transitioned from a calm scientific discussion with Bob to an action-ready state of shock, declaring, "There is a HYDRA agent at our breakfast table," within a single panel. It could've been overdone, but Nicieza kept the device under control and the issue benefited for it. For all of the doubletalk about time travel, untimely ramifications upon the future and twenty-dollar words this issue contains, the story provides a nice blend of drama, action and comedy, and its conclusion is fairly easy to understand and satisfying.
Reilly Brown's artwork bounces around a lot in this issue. Within the opening pages, he's just butchering the original Fantastic Four lineup, granting Sue an enormous pair of tits and a ditzy blonde expression. Midway through the issue, when the narrative momentarily returns to the present, he does an about-face and renders Black Panther and Storm beautifully, accenting the feline aspects of the Panther's costume and giving Storm a more natural, inquisitive appearance. He does great work with dramatic lighting when the situation calls for it, but he's tasked with a few large-scale splash pages in this issue and his composition in those instances is less than stellar. He's the kind of artist that takes one step forward, then immediately follows it with one step back.
This is everything you'd expect from a Deadpool book, which means it's not for everyone. Actually, chances are good that if this is your style of comic, this series already resides in your pull list. It's an offbeat, joke-heavy story set against the backdrop of a bigger picture and a more serious set of circumstances. If you've never given the series a try, you'll want to flip through this and see what all the fuss is about. It's a good enough issue, but certainly not a great one.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Michael Lark
Inker: Stefano Gaudino
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Review: Tim Glancy
Even though this has been one of the most critically successful titles in years, I have not read a single issue of Daredevil in over two years. No real reason, but it was just a book that was not high up on my "to-read" list. I didn't even keep up with the book, so reading this issue was akin to someone walking into a comic book store, seeing this as a staff selection or liking the cover and picking it up. That's a feeling I don't get too often thanks to my limited budget, so this was an exciting book for me to review.
Right from the start, the recap page is tremendous. The main plot points are all hit on and conveyed very clearly without going into a lot of unnecessary details. Most other Marvel comics drop the "previously in..." page ball, but not here. After reading it I knew exactly what was happening on the first story page, and I never needed to look back or felt lost.
Ed Brubaker, whose work I reviewed on Uncanny X-Men, is on a book that fits his style a hell of a lot better. Brubaker is, arguably, the best drama / conspiracy writer in the industry right now. His work on Captain America demonstrates that, and his writing here backs that up. Ed has designed a story that takes Daredevil to a new level. For years, Marvel has tried to make Daredevil someone like Batman: a street level hero who can also mix it up with the big guns. For years, I have hated that aspect of the book. I don't really mind Daredevil facing off with superpowered guys, because he has powers himself, but I always hated him turning up in other books. He just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Brubaker makes sure that isn't a problem by writing a very personal, hard-hitting story that anyone with a spouse can relate to. You can feel Matt's pain, especially in a touching slow moment with his wife, and you want him to get his revenge.
Brubaker's dialog is very "real" as well. There is never a moment when a character says something that feels out of place, and every line fits the moment. There is an especially great exchange between Matt and Dakota North that really helps put Matt's situation in perspective. And finally, Brubaker nails the surprise ending, and manages to tie his little crime story into the goings on of the larger Marvel Universe without having to turn this into a huge event or anything. You won't find many books better written than this.
And the art team more than keeps pace. Drawing Daredevil is always going to be a challenge, because he is a graceful character who also has to appear intimidating at the same time. You can't go too much in one direction, because if you do you lose a lot of what makes the character interesting in the first place. Thankfully, the art team manages to understand this. The fight scenes, while not very in-depth, show this grace and anger in great detail. In one panel DD is flying through the air to deliver a kick, and in the next he's staring someone down and they both work.
However, the battle scenes pale in comparison to the work that is done in the quiet character moments. This is a very tough thing to do in a superhero book, because the emphasis will always be on action and speed, but this team manages to deliver these moments tremendously well. The court room and hospital scenes in particular, you almost don't want to go back to the action. In a book like this where a man, not a hero is dealing with his life being torn asunder, these quiet moments are needed and have to be handled with care. From the pencils to the inks to the colors, the art perfectly captures the mood Brubaker intends the book to have.
As you can probably guess, this is an easy buy. I already went out and picked up some trades to get caught up, as well as issue 100, and I can't recommend this book enough.
Marvel Adventures Iron Man #6
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Penciler: James Cordeiro
Inker: J. Gary Erskine
Colorist: Martegod Garcia
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Skottie Young
Like its peers, Marvel Adventures Iron Man provides an excuse for its creators to tell a straightforward story featuring one of the Marvel Universe's heavy hitters, sans the decades of continuity and storyline ramifications that usually come along with the character. It's a straightforward adventure book without any ties to the latest mega-crossover or epic multipart storyline, which is a nice concept. If you're sick of the whole "Tony Stark is the asshole leader of SHIELD who keeps trying to intimidate his peers" angle that's been running in the other books, and just want to see a genius strap on a robotic suit of armor and fire a few laser beams, this is your book.
Unfortunately, this return to the simpler times of a self contained story and a lack of weighty continuity also drags along its own set of clichιs and stereotypical plot devices. After blasting himself into orbit in a joint effort with NASA, Stark spends most of the opening pages dictating the story's premise, via radio, to the technicians in Houston. Sure, that's one way to quickly bring the readers up to speed, but wouldn't the scientists on the ground already realize the point of their mission? Later, he casually explains the physics behind his decision to use booster rockets in zero gravity... while in a firefight with the Living Laser. While a lot of this book's charm lies with its attempts to deliver a continuity-free retro storytelling experience, that's also where I found many of its drawbacks. Comics may have taken a few steps backwards over the last few years in their repeated attempts to tell lengthier stories with more consequences, but they've also taken just as many steps forward with the quality of that storytelling.
Even overlooking these more traditional flaws, the story is pretty rough around the edges. The Living Laser succumbs to the most basic of supervillain shortcomings, explaining his master plan to Iron Man and then giving his enemy time to thwart it. Writer Fred Van Lente's take on the Laser's powers is tough to follow and largely without reason. While the story takes a few interesting twists and turns, it's very B-grade stuff. Even the surprise conclusion comes out of nowhere, spoiling what could have been a much more impactful moment by failing to give it the proper amount of build. In a way, the noble concept of a series built entirely on single-issue arcs is eventually its own downfall.
James Cordeiro's artistic offerings fall in line with Van Lente's storytelling. His work is there it tells the story and puts the right characters in the right places as dictated by the plot, but never takes any risks or delivers anything unexpected. Iron Man seems quite pedestrian under Cordeiro's supervision not nearly the scientific marvel one would expect him to be. Shellhead should be a constant visual delight, with the textures and paneling of his armor affording the artist dozens of opportunities to play with reflections, lighting and posturing. Here, he's just a guy with a weird mask and a vaguely robotic appearance in outer space. This artwork is barely average, if it's even that.
Rather than focusing on the things it can do, Marvel Adventures Iron Man seems to highlight the things that it can't. This book should not only be something that casual fans can pick up, but something they'll want to. The kind of story Fred Van Lente wants to tell in this issue needed several issues to reach a proper conclusion, and crammed into such a tiny package it repeatedly stumbles. Where the major appeal of the series is its lack of deep continuity, the writer introduces new continuity to stand in its place. He fills the issue with needless explanation and a page-long introduction covering the Living Laser's origin, when all he really needed was a setting, a villain and a firefight. Skip this.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Mike Deodato, Jr.
Colorist: Rain Beredo
Letterer: RS & Comicraft's Albert Deschesne
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Under the watchful eye of Norman Osborn, formerly known to a select few as the Green Goblin, the Thunderbolts have found new life and new membership. As Tony Stark's enforcers, the team has seen its ranks filled with an odd mix of forcibly reformed villains (e.g. Venom, Bullseye), original members (e.g. Moonstone) and unstable head cases (e.g. Penance). As the overly violent crew responsible for restraining and capturing unregistered powers, the team has developed something of a notorious reputation after Penance went ballistic and Venom ripped off an unregistered hero's arm during a recent mission.
I've had a love-hate relationship with Warren Ellis's work over the years. When he's on, writing science fiction adventures with his limitless imagination and incredible knack for believability, he's among the industry's finest. When he goes off on a tangent, gets stuck on a subject or gets overly political, I've got no time for him. In Thunderbolts, thankfully, his writing is much closer to the former than the latter. The bulk of this issue features Doc Samson, superpowered therapist to the stars, and his conversation with Robbie "Penance" Baldwin of the Thunderbolts.
Samson is the kind of character that, when treated properly, can single-handedly make a story. Peter David handled him beautifully in an issue of X-Factor years and years ago, and Ellis treats him likewise in this issue. Even though he's not a regular member of the book, the writer covers him as one, granting him a great ability to read people and respond accordingly. He's the voice of reason in this tale, a welcome breath of fresh air from the thick scent of darkness that's invaded the rest of the team's operations.
By giving that kind of respect to Samson, Ellis gives the character the kind of control he needs to transform Penance from a cheap joke of a concept into a genuinely interesting, conflicted personality. When Doc Samson is exploring his psyche, Baldwin is a tremendously developed individual which came as a shock to me as a reader, after observing his (mis)treatment elsewhere. Penance and Samson are the centerpieces of this issue, and when they have a breakthrough during their brief therapy session, it's exciting both visually and mentally. Penance's outburst, coupled with Samson's reaction, is a phenomenal moment that I won't soon forget.
I mentally tripped over myself when I realized that the artwork in this issue belonged to Mike Deodato, Jr. This is some genuinely refined, mature work, completely in tune with the dialog-heavy story Ellis has provided. There's very little giant, explosive action in this issue, just a lot of talking heads and some weighty conversations. For many artists, that would be the kiss of death, but for Deodato it's an excuse to display the depth of his capabilities. Something as subtle as the slow clench of Robbie's fist as Doc Samson unravels his personality... that would be lost on the reader under the watch of almost any other artist.
And the power of the artwork isn't just limited to its basic execution. Deodato's trying new things throughout this issue with his paneling, his heavy use of shadows, the textures on his character's clothing, the facial expressions and without exception, they're all hitting their mark. His artwork is a perfect fit for the tone and mood Warren Ellis is setting with the story, and gives the issue exactly the kind of honesty and realism it needed.
Every once in a while you'll stumble upon a single issue that works so well on its own that it immediately enhances the stock of the surrounding issues and the series as a whole. This is one of those comics. The storytelling is profound and intelligent without feeling stilted or overly wordy. The artwork does its job and then some, giving the tale a dose of style and a great personality. It's firing on all cylinders, and truly a sight to behold. Buy this, even if it's just for one issue. It's a phenomenal read.
Ultimate Spider-Man #115
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: Cory Petit
Cover: Stuart Immonen
Review: Tim Glancy
Sometimes, words just fail. I think this is the second time I have reviewed Ultimate Spider-Man here for Earth-2.net (the world's finest comic, cartoon, video game and all around geek site), and thankfully I am going to be able to repeat a lot of the same praises I gave last time. For those who might have missed it, I basically came clean and admitted that for the last five years, or ever since I have gotten back into comics, Ultimate Spider-Man has been my favorite book. I think that I could more accurately describe it as my favorite book of all time.
However, since this is an objective review, I am not going to sit here and spout the books praises. No, you, the fans, the readers of Earth-2.net deserve better. Even those of you who might have stumbled by this site while searching for less than savory activities having to do with creatures of the lycanthropic variety. No matter what, you deserve a hard-hitting, unbiased look at Ultimate Spider-Man. The spin stops here, because it is time for some fair and balanced comic book coverage. I can't really think of anything flawed with this book, so I needed to get a second opinion. However, everyone I asked seemed to love the book as well. Hell, what else can really be said about this book that hasn't been said in the last eight years? Wait. That's it. I needed to find someone who has never read this book before.
So I built a time machine and brought myself to the future from 1993 to review this. Enjoy.
Review: Tim Glancy, age 12
Let's start with the writing. Surely that hack Brian Michael Bendis has to be doing something wrong. Certainly the way that he has managed to tell the same story for close to eight years is a downfall. I mean, who wants to pick up issue 115 of a book and see a lot of the plot points and issues that have been lingering since the first book came out? Let alone the fact that, with the possible exception of having Wolverine and Spider-Man swap minds, everything that has happened in this book has led to something else, or has tied into something else. I mean, who does Brian Michael Bendis think he is, telling a cohesive story and never losing track of what he is trying to create.
Also, just pick this issue up for a disgusting example of a writer who really understands his characters. For a man in full-blown adulthood, Bendis writes teenagers better than anyone. And it's not just the main two or three characters either. Every character in this book, from Spider-Man to his villains to his classmates, acts not only how you would expect them to, but consistently from issue to issue. Why would a writer do that? Why create a book with a compelling story, witty dialog, great characters and just all around enjoyable writing? Yeah, the writing in this book sure leaves a lot to be desired. God! Where's Tom DeFalco when we need him most?
Now, as far as the art is concerned, well you can tell that this art was not handled by Rob Liefield. No, like so many other young artists, this Stuart Immonen feared the tremendous success that "the comic book bad boy" experienced and is opting to go for a simpler, less impressive style. His characters are rendered in a manner that is anatomically correct and realistic. The characters all look different and are easy to tell from one another. And the way that the characters don't always look like they are in tremendous pain and screaming? I don't get it. I don't understand why the characters moods seem to reflect the action on the panel. And the way the action is handled should be criminal. I can make everything out, see what is going on and never feel lost at all. And there's feet! Who the hell wants to see feet?
The colors, at the same time, are bright and full of life, which is another atrocity in what is quickly becoming a huge list. All told, the art team takes these characters and makes them look realistic, fluid, believable and easy on the eyes. Give me bulky, overly muscular and anatomically incorrect characters any day over this stuff. (And hide the feet!)
All in all, this book features a story that makes sense and characters that are superbly written, art that is easy on the eyes and realistic, and a total package that is among the best on the shelves today. I guess if you are into that type of thing, go ahead and buy this. Me? I'm getting back in this time machine I built for me and heading right to the comic book store to pick up Team Youngblood and Bloodstrike... where I don't have to look at feet.
X-Men: Die by the Sword #2
Penciler: Juan Santacruz
Inker: Raul Fernandez
Colorist: Rob Ro
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic
Review: Tim Glancy
First of all, Marvel is lying to us. This is not an X-Men miniseries. This is an Exiles / Excalibur miniseries. Of course, since Marvel has to know that an Exiles / Excalibur mini would sell roughly three copies, they decided to slap the X-word on the cover to inflate sales. Fine. At least the characters involved are mutants, I think, and some have even been X-Men. In order to make sure that even less copies are sold, this miniseries is being written by Chris Claremont. Once a legend in the comic industry and responsible for some of the most iconic X-stories of all time, Claremont has actually become one of the most hated and maligned writers in the business. I myself even heaped some scorn on him a few months ago in this very space with my review of Exiles #98. His writing is, to be kind, dated when compared to the best of today.
And this story is honestly no exception. First of all, if Claremont designed the villains in this story, it really says a lot. The female villain, who was seen at the end of the last issue, is a mix of Iron Man and the nanny from Magneto's volcano back in the 70s. Lord, if that isn't the example of what is wrong here, I don't know what is. And the unnamed villain at the end of this issue is even worse.
Furthermore, Claremont tries to shove entirely too many characters into the book. There were times when I just did not know who was talking. Is this a character from Exiles or New Excalibur? There were times I didn't know if a character was a man or a woman. There are no less than 15 characters with dialog. And with Claremont's dialogue, you know how much reading that means. There were so many characters and so much dialog, I really couldn't tell you what was going on. All I know is this: someone got shot, a bunch of people walked around a building, two people in some sort of space building did some stuff. That is honestly what I got from this book.
As for the art, it's there, but pretty much nondescript. Of course, it's hard to get a feel for the art when there are world balloons covering half of every panel. The blur filter in Photoshop was used too much to illustrate movement. And, really, the pencils are completely bland with little redeeming qualities, so it fits in with the rest of the book.
I will say that the colors are tremendous, very bright and well defined.
There, I found one redeeming quality in this whole book. The colors. So, if you are a fan of colors, like my infant son, go ahead and pick up Die by the Sword. For anyone over the age of one, not only should you skip this book, you should write Marvel, reminding them of the year in which we live.