Is It Wednesday Yet?
18 December 2007
18 December 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 December 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.
Cable & Deadpool #48
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Reilly Brown
Inker: Jeremy Freeman
Colorist: Gotham Entertainment Group
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Skottie Young
Review: Tim Glancy
Can we please stop calling this book Cable & Deadpool? Bob & Deadpool would be an awesome name for a comic. Having "died," Cable is better now and he's in X-Men. Since it doesn't look like he's going to reappear in the pages of this book before it's cancelled, let's have some fun with the name.
Okay. With that out of the way, let's talk about zombies. Yes, another Marvel book with zombies.
No, please keep reading.
This isn't the same group of zombies that have been whored out to a majority of the Marvel Universe by this point. This is a more traditional group of zombies led by one of the original Marvel zombies, Brother Voodoo. I am going to be honest here, I do not read this book regularly, so I have no idea how or why Deadpool and Bob are involved with Brother Voodoo, Dr. Strange and some guy named T-Ray. I read the recap page and got the basics, but I still had no clue what was happening. And you know what? It doesn't matter at all.
This book is 100% fun. Deadpool is one of those characters that fans just love. He really has all the stereotypes of a terrible Rob Liefeld character — ninja skills, pouches, guns, knives, a mysterious background — but thankfully for Deadpool (and us) he was also given a sense of humor. Fabian Nicieza, who has deftly handled the character for a majority of his existence, is responsible for this bit of characterization. Deadpool has become pretty much a parody of what he was originally meant to be, but at the same time he has become one of the most interesting and popular characters of all-time. Often, those characters which are meant to be funny and / or edgy fall flat or seem forced. But not with Deadpool. With him it feels natural. I would compare him to Spider-Man in the sense: he's a naturally funny guy, not someone who's trying too hard to be funny.
Fabian Nicieza, as I mentioned above, has handled this character for years and you can see that in his writing. Everything is comfortable — polished even — and you feel like Nicieza is writing a character that he loves and cares for. There isn't a missed beat in this book. The action is tremendous, the dialog is funny, the twists and turns are handled quite well, every little nuance is treated as if this is the most important comic ever written — and that is about the greatest compliment I can give to a writer. Bob & Deadpool isn't a book that's going to rock the Marvel Universe, and you won't see it or Deadpool involved in major events. But that doesn't seem to matter to Nicieza. It's important to him, and, because that loves comes across on the page, it's important to us.
The art team understands that, too. All of their styles come together to make the book a very pleasing visual experience. The little details they add — such as Deadpool's custom grenades and weapons — make all the difference. It would be too easy to draw Deadpool with standard knives and guns, but by making them unique to him the character stands out from the pack.
Despite that fact that Whatever & Deadpool is coming to an end at issue #50, it's still an awesome book. Buy it. Let Marvel know we want more Deadpool comics and less Exiles books.
Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin #4
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Eric Canete
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Cover: Eric Canete
As a historic look back at the first-ever meeting between Iron Man and his arch-nemesis, Enter: The Mandarin has promised to reveal previously unknown details about the villain's relationship to ol' Shell-Head. Set in the early days of the Marvel Universe, this series tries to merge a harsher modern outlook with a more traditional scenario.
Joe Casey's writing here is hot and cold, and opens with a terrific fight / chase scene that would be equally at home in one of the Die Hard movies. But when the fight's over the story immediately changes gears, segueing into a stale, word-heavy conversation with SHIELD. It's become something of a Marvel cliché that any appearance by one of the agency's operatives leads almost immediately to an excess of dialog, stopping the tale dead in its tracks, and that holds true with this issue. Fortunately, Casey limits the conversation to just a few short pages before returning to more entertaining material. Stark's technological "test" in front of the agency's geeks midway through the issue is a particularly cool scene, though, as he transforms himself from a stiff corporate suit into someone with honest technological know-how in front of the grunts. It's nice to see Tony tested like this, because his modern character is treated with such instant reverie that he's rarely given the chance to prove whether he deserves that kind of respect or not.
Artist Eric Canete has a great flair for the dramatic, both for the poses his characters strike and the environments in which they strike them. He works a very loose, rough-around-the-edges style that is breathtaking during the spontaneous motion of an action scene, but can be every bit as attractive in slower, quieter situations. His choice in camera angles is frequently outstanding, and works to further emphasize the amazing range of motion that's present in almost all of his work. When Stark flees on foot from the Mandarin's brainwashed, gun-toting son, I could swear the panel itself is shaking around on the page. His style is righteously cinematic during these moments, both picturesque and explosive. He isn't afraid to allow negative space to eat up a third of the panel, if its presence will lead to a better composition and a more exciting pose.
But where Canete's general layouts are very strong, the same can't be said for many of the details of his contributions — his work on faces, Tony Stark's in particular, could use a lot of work. I guess something like that may not be such a big deal when the lead character is behind a mask for most of the series, but as a largely armor-less issue, it's quite evident here.
Despite the nitpicks and criticisms, this is a surprisingly entertaining tale. The Mandarin is treated with so much respect that the reader can't help but take his threats seriously. He's granted such a pompous, self-assured air that I was reminded of the conceded grace of some of the best Disney villains. And, though I'd forgotten in the year and a half since Civil War altered his public perception, it's still a lot of fun to pull for Iron Man in a battle. Enter: The Mandarin has a few wrinkles, but it's still a rewarding experience. Borrow this if you get the opportunity.
Mighty Avengers #6
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Frank Cho
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letterer: Artmonkeys' Dave Lanphear
Cover: Frank Cho
The pro-registration team of Avengers, consisting of Iron Man, Ms. Marvel and The Sentry, among others, has been struggling to deal with the latest version of Ultron for about six months now. And, while that's given the story an important sense of magnitude, a collision on a grand scale, it's also begun to drag on. What started as a high-impact threat to the heroes (the villainous robot has taken over Iron Man's armor, slaughtered the Sentry's wife and launched a series of nuclear warheads at the mainland United States) is now beginning to feel a month or two overripe.
Brian Michael Bendis has been using Mighty Avengers to explore and repurpose the concept of the thought bubble since the book's inception, and this has definitely worked to bring the series its own unique flavor. While these frequent peeks into the Avengers' psyches usually work as a gateway to deeper characterization, they do occasionally reach the point of oversaturation. In the heat of the battle that opens this issue, for instance, every single character on the page is given one, and they aren't always necessary. For every truly imaginative use of this practice, there are two or three cutesy one-liners that only serve to disrupt the story's flow. I appreciate his ingenuity, don't get me wrong, but when his gimmicks start to get in the way of good storytelling, Bendis needs to know how to reign them back in.
On the positive side, those relentless thought balloons are really one of the only flaws in this series. I would've rather seen the Ultron saga wrap up last month, but when it does finally reach its conclusion at the end of this issue it's a pretty good one. Bendis is outstanding when he's working with an ensemble cast such as this, and this issue in particular is a great example of that. He knows when and where to use each member of the team, how to capitalize on their strengths and uncover their weaknesses, and that makes for a wonderful team environment. No one character is overemphasized, nor is any face underused. Each hero has a distinct role to fill on this team, and at the end of the day no matter how much their survival may be thrown into question, they find a way to work together and get things done.
Frank Cho's artwork is one-of-a-kind. His characters have a tremendous amount of depth and weight to them, considering the very clean style he employs. His renderings are so carefully laid out and plotted, his Avengers so individualized and recognizable, that he really doesn't need any dynamic shadows, excessive speed lines or extra details. His linework is extremely minimal, but the legibility and appeal of the book never suffers as a result. He really is a huge part of what sets this series apart from its anti-registration sister, New Avengers, and I think readers are beginning to recognize that. His style may not be for everyone, but nobody can argue its consistency nor its legibility.
Of the two Avengers books on the market, this one is the more understated. Where New Avengers has the heavy hitters — Wolverine, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange — this series is much more of a classic lineup. Iron Man leads a set of characters who are more tailor-made to a team atmosphere, and so that collaboration and one-for-all attitude drives the series in the place of the marquee names. This first story arc has been a wild ride, even if it has taken its time in crossing the finish line, and while it isn't the greatest book on the market today, it's still some damn fine reading. I'm recommending it as a buy for the time being, although I do have some concerns about how long Bendis can keep me interested when I don't typically have a lot of time for its core characters.
Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Shawn Moll
Inker: Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Avalon's Rob Ro
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Mike Deodato
She-Hulk has left her legal career in the dust and embraced her more physical gifts, taking on a new career as a bounty hunter. Strangely enough, her employer has hedged his bets by pairing her up with a super-powered partner: Jazinda, a Skrull with a healing factor. The very concept of a major character cooperating with one of the shape-shifting aliens is interesting to me, especially considering the shit storm that seems to be brewing over in New Avengers and The Illuminati — but that's a story for another (not too distant) day.
Peter David's relationship with the character is evident from the first page. He has a firm grasp on Jen's personality — what frustrates her, what brightens her day — and that makes her a much more approachable, identifiable character from the outset. It's a pity that he doesn't bring that same devotion to much of the supporting cast. Jazinda, the aforementioned Skrull partner, is very cold and distant, but much of that can be written off to her alien nature — of which she reminds us almost every time she speaks. The same can't be said of the cardboard cutouts that populate the rest of this world. The characters directly involved in She-Hulk's life, especially those in the RV park where she lives, are parodies of a parody. About half of this issue is dedicated to their development, and I don't think they're any stronger at its conclusion than they were when they were first introduced. If anything, they're even more of a cliché.
Fortunately, her work environment is at least a little more entertaining. The day-to-day problems of a superpowered bounty hunter aren't as overdone a subject as those of her trailer park neighbors, and the story benefits when its attention is focused there. Still, the writing isn't rocket science, even in these scenes (nor did I expect it to be), and the series is such light fare that I don't think it would be out of place in the Marvel Adventures line of kid-focused books. It's like an after-school special with green skin and lots of puns.
Shawn Moll's pencils throughout this issue remind me a lot of Gary Frank, and that's not just because Frank shared a lengthy stint with Peter David on Marvel's other green-skinned ongoing series, The Incredible Hulk. Both artists have a mildly unsettling, excessively straightforward approach that I frequently find to be very stale. Both have the potential to prove me wrong, as Frank did during most of his run on Midnight Nation and Moll does in a few sporadic instances here, but neither is what I'd call a top-level artistic talent. They both tell the story they're given, but neither goes out of their way to specifically enhance or elaborate upon it.
This is a much slower-paced issue than those that preceded it, something of a break in the action, presumably to allow readers a chance to catch their breath. It's too bad, then, that there's really only one character in the book that's deserving of closer inspection. I can't fault Peter David for trying to elaborate a bit — expand the world around She-Hulk — but sometimes it just doesn't work. This is one of those times. Flip through this if you've got the time and the inclination, otherwise you aren't really missing anything.
Terror, Inc. #4
Writer: David Lapham
Artist: Patrick Zircher
Colorist: June Chung
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic
Review: Tim Glancy
A couple of years ago Marvel was putting out Marvel Team-Up. Written by Robert Kirkman, one of the joys that I found in the book was the usage of lesser-known characters. Towards the end of the run, there was a story involving a group of heroes titled "The League of Losers." As you might guess from my Darkhawk and Speedball love, I thought this was one of the best stories from Kirkman's run. To be honest, I wish Marvel would just scrap Exiles, replacing it with a time traveling Avengers 2099-like book featuring those characters from "The League of Losers." Aside from the characters I already loved, the character that really piqued my interest was Terror. I had heard of Terror before and remembered him starring in his own book during the 1990s (then again, who didn't?), but I had never been bothered to read the book. I knew the basics: character who could take body parts and replace his own with them, but at the cost of gaining the memories of the person who used to own that body part. Seems simple enough, and in itself a pretty good basis for a character.
However, and I have only discovered this thanks to this new MAX series, Terror has a tremendous backstory that really helps to understand the character's motivations. What could have been a violent story told with no real point or passion is instead a story about not only violence and, well, terror, but about loss, love and what people will do to keep the one they love. After reading Terror, Inc. #4 I actually went back and read the first three issues as well, and found myself very impressed by David Lapham's storytelling.
Lapham brings the same crime and tragedy to this book that he brought to (or brings to if he ever gets back to it) his award-winning series Stray Bullets. Lapham has always done a wonderful job of making despicable characters noble; you understand their motivations, making it hard to dislike them. A week ago I had a passing knowledge of Terror, now I'm quite interested. That speaks volumes about the writer's abilities.
However, as much as I liked the characterization and dialog, the story itself was a little hard to follow at first. Reading those first three issues helped, but without those you might be a little lost. There's a gorge between Chris Claremontian exposition and leaving the reader with too many questions. Unfortunately Lapham expects us to know too much going in, and not much is done in the way of catching readers up.
Patrick Zircher makes Terror, Inc. a joy to look at, too. Every detail is highlighted: lines and wrinkles appear in clothing, Terror's face decays before our eyes, cars look at feel sleek. Realism is very important to Marvel MAX comics, and Inc. is no exception. It's really quite amazing how Zircher can make the beautiful look beautiful, but turn right around and make Terror into one of the most disgusting characters I have seen in years. The colors help the art along greatly, and, overall, fit the macabre tone of the book. June Chung is a name that keeps popping up in the books I review, so I think it's time to pay attention to this talented colorist. Her style works especially well in darker books like this, where realistic tones are called for.
This book is tremendous and worth a buy with one small word of caution: if you haven't read the rest of the series, read it first, otherwise you might feel a little lost.
Ultimate X-Men #89
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Stephane Peru
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Yanick Paquette
It's Ultimate Shadow King time! Storm's been having vivid dreams of late, which have captured enough of her imagination to inspire her to begin programming them into the team's Danger Room simulations. But when the dreams chase her from the subconscious realm and begin invading her mind while she's awake, the team starts to take notice.
Author Robert Kirkman is taking these characters to a place I'd rather he didn't. This issue is so convoluted, so full of revisionist history and needless elaboration that I actually began counting the pages until it was finished. This month's chapter has not one, but two battles with giant, repulsive, lumpy monsters with deep ties to major characters who had coincidentally forgotten all about them up until the moment they met. The supporting cast comes and goes at random, often giving every indication that they intend to help out, but then mysteriously vanishing when the action grows heated. I don't know how many ways I can say it: this is just a genuinely awful example of writing. Poor dialog, zero understanding of the characters, a villain so stereotypical that he's nearly cloned before the end of the issue — the list just goes on.
As an artist, Salvador Larroca has had far better days. When I followed his work with Warren Ellis on newuniversal, I found that the pedestrian qualities he gave to the lead characters worked perfectly with the story Ellis was putting together. He explored the effects that the sudden acquisition of intergalactic powers would have on an everyman, and Larroca's work served to further humanize those otherwise-normal individuals. On Ultimate X-Men, though, he brings that same approach and it fails miserably.
He wasn't asked to bring any enormous, power-enhanced fist fights to his previous work, and now I can see why. When the writer imagines an impressive display of mutant abilities unleashed, Larroca delivers an underwhelming, oddly positioned layout that draws more attention to the meager environment containing the action than the mutants participating. His work looks terribly rushed, his characters inconsistent and unfamiliar. Storm looks like she's been punched in the face a few times, and the Beast must be a poster boy for HGH because while he was big in the past, he was never this ridiculously muscular.
Not only that, but the visual originalities that set the Ultimate squad apart from their 616 counterparts have been almost completely eradicated. There's nothing that, at a glance, would clue me in that this Wolverine is any different from the one I see every month in New Avengers. He's a short, stocky, hairy old war veteran again, not the youthful warrior with questionable allegiances that he was when the series began. That's a shame, too, because if there's one thing the world doesn't need right now, it's another incomprehensible continuity of X-Men with nothing to set them apart from their peers.
That last sentence really says it all. Ultimate X-Men was once counted among my favorite books, since it was initially bucking against each of the trends that had handicapped the main continuity X-books. It was a fresh take on characters that I'd enjoyed in the past — a clean slate, a chance to do it all over again and get it right. It's maddening that the series has spiraled downward to the point that it's repeating the mistakes of its forefathers before it's even reached its one hundredth issue. This is terrible. Skip it at all costs.
Writers: Mike Carey and Macon Blair
Artists: Scott Kolins and Vasilis Loslos
Colorists: Moose Baumann and Nestor Perevra
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Cover: Scott Kolins
Review: Tim Glancy
Oh boy. Was there really a need for this? Between his appearances in his two monthly books, New Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, Marvel Adventures The Avengers and whatever other monthly books he might appear in, isn't there already enough Wolverine out there? Do you people sit around thinking, "Hey, you know what? Those eight other books starring Wolverine aren't enough. I really wish they would make a special featuring a blinded Wolverine running through the wilderness during a wildfire."
Well, you go your wish.
Yes, that is the premise for the body of this story. Wolverine is blind and has to use some random family as his eyes. (I would have titled this story "What If Wolverine Lost One of his Senses and Had To Run Through the Woods?," but what do I know?) The premise for this does make me wonder what's next. A leg-less Wolverine leading a family of midgets through a hurricane? Wolverine's prostate won't stop acting up so he needs to stop and pee every five minutes while trying to get a family of lepers out of an area being bombarded by dust storms? Wolverine's nipples have been stolen by El Pezón Ladrón, now he must team with a gang of nipple-less hookers to find the villain, but the raging blizzard might prove to be too much. The possibilities are endless.
Once you get past the stupid premise... well, it's just as stupid as it sounds. Oh, then they run into HYDRA troopers. Honestly, I think the best part about this book is that the details on Marvel's website clearly state, "Things get more complicated, however, with a visit from Advanced Idea Mechanics." It's as if they can't even be bothered by this shit to get it right. Someone sat down and said, "Fuck it, no one knows the difference between HYDRA and AIM. This book means shit. Just use whichever group you want." (Do you think an AIM fanboy will cause a stink when he realizes he's been duped into reading a HYDRA story?)
The sad thing is that Mike Carey is usually awesome. His work on X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four has been tremendous. I think this book just shows that every idea isn't a good one. Even Stan Lee wrote Rampage 2099 for Christ's sake. Carey did, however, do a pretty good job with the dialog, as you feel that this family is in way over their head, and you also pick up some slight annoyance from Wolverine. Aside from that, this is just bad.
The art, however, makes a pretty good appearance. Scott Kolins is extremely talented, and I have enjoyed his work since first seeing it in the Beyond miniseries. (As an aside, pick that collection up if you see it. What an underrated story.) Kolins' pencils really hold their own against everything else on the shelf today. Everything looks good: the fire, action and people all come together to create a visual experience.
There's also a nice little back-up story that I found pretty interesting. The art is okay, but it's the story that stands out. It's much better than the main story, that's for sure. Long story short, Wolverine is sent to recover a strung-out rich kid. On paper (or screen) it doesn't sound like much, but it comes together well.
Those few pages don't save this one, however. Skip it! Please.