Is It Wednesday Yet?
15 January 2008
15 January 2008 — 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 (16 January 2008), 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.
2 Guns #5
Writer: Steven Grant
Artist: Mat Santolouco
Colorist: Amanda Grazini
Letterer: Marshall Dillon and Terri Delgado
Cover: Rafael Albuquerque
2 Guns is your prototypical heist tale. It's the story of a pair of thieves with high expectations, brass balls and complicated histories. When they target a mafia money-laundering operation, this duo thinks they've found the perfect crime: big money, a single location, next to no police presence. Naturally, things don't exactly go according to plan.
Writer Steven Grant has created a complicated plot here, but he hasn't done a great job of catching new readers up on the proceedings. I'm sure if I had the whole story (or even part of it), the long conversation around the midway point of this issue would have meant a lot more, or the peril that the main characters find themselves in moments before that would have been a bit more strenuous of a read. Without the assistance of so much as a "previously in" blurb, I had to resort to the Boom! website to catch up — albeit fleetingly.
Grant's characters are nicely developed and relatable, although I don't think they're quite as charming as he intends them to be. He's dropped them into a fine mess, but I'd take issue with the intelligence of anyone who'd find a heist from the mafia to be a safe bet, and once I filled in some blanks it was interesting to see their attempts to work their way out of it. While his pacing is a bit off (the story constantly jumps from pure action with zero dialog to lengthy monologs without an inch of movement and back again), at least he's never boring. And when the action scenes get moving, they really bring the goods.
Artist Mat Santolouco brings a flavor to the table that's completely his own, which is something that's becoming increasingly hard to find in an artist. His work is clearly animation-influenced, in that it's excessively simplistic and leaves much of the shading and depth of the visuals to the colorist, but he also doesn't shy away from detail when it's necessary. When it isn't, which is more often than not, he almost always takes the opportunity to tell the story through negative space. I'm not sure if it was Santolouco's artistic choices or the remarkable shortage of word balloons at the outset of this issue, but that constant presence of dead space quickly becomes a big part of the book's identity.
Naturally, when a significant portion of the story is told without narration, the weight on the artist's shoulders increases twofold. Santolouco flourishes in the spotlight, and his contribution during those nearly silent first few pages is the best of the issue. He can tell a fine story through artwork alone, through both the natural progression of the scene and the facial expressions and natural reactions of the cast. When he's stuck with talking heads, though, as he is for a few pages in the middle of the issue, all of that vanishes. I guess there are only so many ways you can draw two guys in a minivan having a heart-to-heart.
As far as conclusions go, this one is pretty brisk. When the shit starts to hit the fan, it makes a mess pretty quickly and before I knew it, things had coincidentally sorted themselves out. Maybe in trade paperback, this would be a better experience — but as an individual issue, you won't know heads from tails without a pretty lengthy explanation. The artwork ranges from pretty good to outstanding, but the story is a bit too complicated for my taste. Borrow this from a friend if possible, but don't be in any kind of a rush. It's good, but not great.
Amazing Spider-Girl #16
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Ron Frenz
Inker: Sal Buscema
Colorist: Bruno Hang and Impacto Studios
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Ron Frenz
Spider-Girl has been delving a bit into the mob scene lately, although that isn't necessarily by her own choice. While Black Tarantula and Hobgoblin have been making bold moves to take and maintain control of the underworld, a mysterious disc containing the secrets of the legendary Wilson Fisk has been floating around, eventually winding up in the arms of the Spider-Girl herself. With recent adventures introducing a version of the Carnage symbiote and the Mindworm somehow mixed up in the struggle for criminal control of the city, there's no shortage of superpowered beings in May's life at the moment.
The storytelling is quite a bit dated, but it's not really all that bad. Tom DeFalco has been around for years, and while that's tripped him up in some of his more recent books (like Fantastic Five, which I reviewed a few months ago), it's a good enough fit here. Spider-Girl has been his highest-profile book, attracting a loyal following that's brought the title back from cancellation (or the brink thereof) on more than one occasion, so it's no surprise that it's where his style of writing fits best. This isn't something that's going to go blow-for-blow with the best, but as a small scale, not-so-serious ongoing series it meets the criteria. Sure, at the moment Spider-Girl is being tailed by an invisible killer, but that doesn't mean everything has to be grim and dreary.
DeFalco knows these characters well, as he should since he's been writing them for close to a decade. That familiarity opens a lot of doors, and though his approach is often heavy-handed (May's constant internal monologs, for example), he has a large, well-developed cast of characters to bounce his ideas around. The story is slow-moving, but not dull.
Ron Frenz has also been with the series since its inception, and brings a casual, clean, distinctly Marvel flavor to Spider-Girl — which won't exactly knock your socks off but won't drive you mad, either. His work reminds me of Ron Garney's in that it's easy to read, but not exceptionally dynamic. His characters are easy to identify and despite a few scattered errors, his style is solid enough. He doesn't crowd a scene with excessive details, and the characters themselves never seem out of place or awkward in their environment. He's just missing that "it" factor, that knack for the dynamic that sets the superstars apart from the fill-in artists, which is where the similarity with Garney ends. When he's given a chance to open the book with an impressive splash page, Frenz stumbles and never quite regains the reader's trust.
If you miss the innocence and simplicity of comics from the Silver Age, Amazing Spider-Girl is right up your alley. Tom DeFalco's storytelling is a strange blend, in that he's telling a retro story that's set several years in the future. It definitely isn't for everybody and I'm not entirely sure it was for me, but for what it sets out to be, Spider-Girl is largely successful. Flip through this in the store; chances are that's all you'll need to determine if this is worth your time.
Cable & Deadpool #49
Writers: Reilly Brown and Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Reilly Brown
Inker: Jeremy Freeman
Colorist: Gotham with Sotocolor
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Skottie Young
Review: Dan Toland
The story so far: Cable is dead (but not if you're reading "Messiah Complex"), and Bob (Agent of HYDRA) may or may not eat poop.
Quick caveat: when I was first given this issue to review, before I even opened the book, my first thought was, "I've just started, and already Mike hates me." Cable is a character that represents everything that went wrong with comics — and specifically at Marvel — in the 1990s. You may disagree, but I assure you you'd be wrong. I haven't followed Cable closely — or at all — of late, and I can acknowledge that for all I know, he may have completely turned around, may be the best written character in all of Western literature and may be drawn in such a way that his waist doesn't look like it will snap under the sheer pressure his gargantuan upper torso creates.
Obviously I was predisposed to dislike this issue. That I came away from it fairly entertained was a surprise, and perhaps will lead me on the road to self-discovery and, perhaps, becoming a better person.
"Sabertooth Serenade" gives us Deadpool, along with Weasel and Bob, tooling around the Savage Land in search of whatever random piece of machinery Magneto left laying around the last time he was there. I could explain what it is and what it does, but it's not terribly important; it's just the reason needed to get our heroes to the Savage Land. It could be a sandwich toaster for all the difference it makes to the story. (It's not, though. Damn, now I want a sandwich.)
Along the way, they face the Mutates, run from dinosaurs and get their collective ass briefly handed to them by Ka-Zar. Also, Shanna the She-Devil's chained to the wall, in case that does anything for you.
Unlike the other book I reviewed this week (Wolverine: Origins #21), which also featured Deadpool, this time everyone gets to play along with the goofiness inherent in a Deadpool story. There's a lot of genuinely funny stuff happening in this book; Nicieza is clearly having a ball writing this. It's a fairly lightweight story as a result, though. It's pleasant enough — causing me to chuckle — and I was reasonably entertained by it. But when I sat down to write this review the next evening, I couldn't remember anything that happened.
The art is a little on the rough and cartoony side, but Brown has some good action scenes here, and his facial expressions are great. There's more than a little John Romita, Jr. influence in his work, and that's not a bad thing.
For the most part, it's a one-and-done, until the last couple of pages, which make the whole issue suddenly feel like an excuse to get us to that out-of-left-field last page, which (admittedly) in turn does its job by making the reader feel obligated to return in a month's time to find out just how this thing turns out. By and large, this is a fun story, but you're better off borrowing it. It's not a story you're going to return to again and again, but you'll enjoy it for the 15 minutes you spend reading it.
Marvel Adventures The Avengers #20
Writer: Marc Sumerak
Penciler: Ig Guara
Inker: Norman Lee
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Leonard Kirk
Ultimately, this is a team book, but the way Marc Sumerak writes many of the central characters seems just a little bit off — Wolverine cracks a bad joke, Spider-Man opts for a ride in a limousine and the Hulk has no problem with slowing his rage when the battle ends. They're little things, but they were enough to momentarily take me out of the story and sometimes that makes all the difference. Fortunately, those characters' inclusion in this issue were little more than guest spots, since the real story is focused on Hank Pym's disappearance from his lab and Giant Girl's search for his immediate whereabouts.
Sumerak's story is pretty bare bones, but he somehow manages to make it work. As the focal point of this story, Giant Girl gets a lot of time to define herself as a character and standout from the pack, which is an opportunity the writer doesn't waste. He grants her a great series of personality quirks, and ultimately the process makes her a much more identifiable, appealing character. By the end of the issue, I was pulling for her to win the big fight, where before I didn't have a lot of time for her, so Sumerak must have done something right along the way. His work has a lot of holes, such as his knack for writing awful dialog, but he's covered those up here about as well as can be expected.
Ig Guara's artwork, on the other hand, was nearly a constant highlight — which was a real surprise considering the quality of work I've come to expect from the Marvel Adventures line. His art has a lot of depth and personality, and while he doesn't seem to be completely at ease with the all-star cast of the Avengers, his take on Giant Girl is terrific, ditto for Hank Pym, and he really excels when he's illustrating normal civilians. For an issue that's largely focused on Giant Girl, Hank Pym and an array of normal civilians, that's pretty important.
His best work is late in the issue, when the story climaxes in a giant-sized throw down in downtown New York. His storytelling during that action scene is top-notch, and more than makes up for the cheesy dialog it accompanies. When Giant Girl hits the floor, knocking cars into the air and snapping trees as though they were twigs, it's great stuff. Guara seems to have a gift for moments like that, and he made a fan out of me with this issue.
The thing that struck me the most about Marvel Adventures The Avengers is how it's treated with a lot more respect than the other titles in the youth-oriented line. While Marc Sumerak's writing frequently bordered on the smiley-happy, it never felt like it was talking down to the audience. He didn't tread on any iffy subject matter, but he also didn't pull any punches; this was a simple story, but it had just enough substance to make it worthwhile. It's just about a perfect fit for the format of a single, self-contained story outside of the mainstream continuity. Borrow this one — admire the artwork, snicker at some of the dialog and enjoy the ride. It's a fun little story.
Wolverine: Origins #21
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Steve Dillon
Colorist: Avalon's Matt Milla
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Simone Bianchi
Review: Dan Toland
So according to the recap page of the most recent issue of Wolverine: Origins, a hundred years ago some stuff happened. Wolvie now remembers said stuff, and is out to kick ass and take names. Incidentally, someone hired Deadpool to kill Wolverine.
Yeah, it's about that descriptive.
Now, I haven't been following weekly comics for a while now, after having been burned by them once too often; the 90s could be a difficult time to be a Marvel fan. So when I open the issue and this almost totally uninformative recap is the first thing that hits me in the face, I think to myself, "Ohhhhhhh, right." And I settle in and prepare to be underwhelmed.
And... I'm not.
Virtually no explanation is given for the giant 22-page fight that starts immediately on the second page; none is really needed. In fact, at this point, it would probably just distract. This is just part one of the five-part "The Deep End," and there's plenty of time to flesh out Wade's motivation. For now, it's all about hitting things. And shooting things. And blowing things up. And hot dammit, this thing is fun!
Deadpool is a character that hits and misses with me. Well, this was a hit. Way and Dillon understand that Wade Wilson is a living Looney Tunes character and portray him as such (almost literally, at one point). But the important thing, the thing that makes the whole issue work, is that as tempting as it must be to make the whole issue a laugh-filled romp, no one else is in on this joke.
This leads directly into the real star of this story, which is Steve Dillon's art. Dillon is a tremendous storyteller, and the characterization, the pacing and the bizarre sense of humor never let you forget that this is the man who co-created Preacher. There's a two-page spread which manages to simultaneously display just how far gone Deadpool is — going so far as to give the reader a very funny glimpse into how he views the world — and give us the most unrelentingly badass Wolverine that Marvel has produced since he cut a swath through the Hellfire Club in Uncanny X-Men #133 (that's right, kicking it old school), and he does it with a glare. Much has been written elsewhere of Dillon's unparalleled ability to convey characters' emotions through his artwork, to the extent that a reader can almost tell what a character is thinking without help from any word balloons, thought bubbles or captions, so I'll chime in with a quick "Me, too!" and leave it at that.
Full-book fistfights are a staple of comics, and in my opinion, are usually pretty tiresome. Someone gets hit. Someone flies through the air. Someone yells, "Yeearrgh!" You can breeze though these things in about two minutes and get back to your rock polishing. When I finished Wolverine: Origins # 21, I had to go back and double check that this wasn't an extended issue. A lot of stuff gets crammed into these 32 pages. Needless to say, I'm recommending that you buy this one.