Is It Wednesday Yet?
19 February 2008
19 February 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 (20 February 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.
Incredible Hercules #114
Writers: Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Penciler: Khoi Pham
Inker: Paul Neary
Colorist: Stιphane Peru
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Art Adams
With the Hulk busied in his new monthly title and the stories found in The Incredible Hulk more closely focused on the actions of Hercules and Amadeus Cho than the green goliath, last month the book was appropriately re-christened Incredible Hercules. It's still a kind of companion piece to the Hulk's daily adventures, as the pair had worked feverishly to help Banner during the events of World War Hulk, but it's not really the green spotlight that it used to be. This month, after an infusion of hydra blood drove him into a mindless fury, Hercules has become little more than a weapon in Cho's plan to completely and utterly eliminate SHIELD. With the Mighty Avengers hot on their trail, the duo finally seems ready to show their hand.
As has typically been the case with Hercules, the greatest challenge is with his dialog, since he always speaks in this stilted, outdated verbiage. For the most part, that's handled nicely here, as he's kept out of his mind on a rampage for much of the issue, but he still gets a few chances to shout some nonsense about Greek gods and ancient times. Personally, I can't stand the way Herc, Ares and Thor speak, but the style has its fans and I can handle it in small doses like we're given here. So long as the "verily" count is kept low, I think I can deal.
Most of the issue involves a series of muddied flashbacks, as Hercules' mind bounces from one chapter of his history to another. It's actually a fun ride, especially once the Mighty Avengers pick up on that and start to use his delusions against him. The Black Widow looks like a genius with her effortless containment of the impervious Greek, and her subsequent rapport with her old teammate is a nice bit of characterization on both parts. This may not be Brian Michael Bendis writing the Mighty Avengers, but the team doesn't miss a step under Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente.
Khoi Pham's artwork was a nice surprise. A mixture of the Kuberts' outstanding compositions and Leinil Francis Yu's intense attention to detail, Pham still leaves room to make his own mark. Whether he's working in the past (the issue opens with a violent flashback to Homeric Troy) or the present, the artist briskly sets the locale with a series of backdrops that are detailed enough to tell the story, but not so overly rendered as to distract from the central characters. When he handles a moment of pure action, such as Herc's dismissal of a pair of charging chariots, it's both beautiful and exciting. At times, he closely toes the line between simplicity and recklessness, and I don't think he put everything he had into a few of these pages, but for the most part I was happy with Pham's contributions.
Hercules and Amadeus Cho have come a long way since I was first introduced to them during World War Hulk, as they've turned into a legitimately interesting tandem. Cho in particular is cast in just enough shadow to keep readers guessing about his true intentions, while Hercules provides him with the unquestioning muscle to achieve nearly anything. Pak and Van Lente have never been better, and Khoi Pham's artwork is largely very good, despite a few rough patches. If they can keep up this pace and iron out a few wrinkles, this could be a serious contender. Borrow it and release your expectations.
Iron Man #26
Writers: Daniel and Charles Knauf
Artist: Roberto De La Torre
Colorist: Dean White
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Gerard Parel
Review: Dan Toland
The story so far: Tony Stark is beginning to lose it. Experiencing visions of dead friends, he finds himself on forced psychiatric leave from SHIELD. Tony's also convinced that the Mandarin has weaponized the Extremis virus and is preparing to release it. Maria Hill doesn't believe a word of it, seeing as how the Mandarin is dead. In other news, the Mandarin isn't dead.
So, we find ourselves in mid-storyline. However, the recap does its job in catching readers up, and enough is explained in the issue itself to cover anything the recap missed. So, the issue can be enjoyed on its own merits.
Last week I went on a minor rant about Tony Stark's classic 70s-80s armor. This week he's wearing it. Marvel has obviously heard my demands and acceded to them. Well done. I know a lot of people really like Adi Granov's take on the suit, but I can't stand it. It's moving backwards; it's got all kinds of crap hanging off of it and hinges at the joints. It's getting clunkier and less streamlined as Stark keeps working on it. Bleh. (Okay. I promise that'll be the last time I talk about that for a while.)
So, the bulk of this issue is a fight between Iron Man and the Mandarin, interspersed with scenes of Maria Hill wrestling with whether or not she should follow Tony's orders seeing as how despite the fact that she's coming to believe him (being helped along by incessant badgering from Dum Dum Dugan), Washington thinks he's batshit crazy. Compounding this is the fact that Tony's orders are to fly to Omaha and be prepared to drop a nuclear weapon on it.
One thing that I noticed that actually kind of snuck up on me is that at no point in this issue did Tony piss me off. He spent the issue doing what he was supposed to do. Can I really give points to a book for "it didn't piss me off"?
The art is
*squee* Tony Stark's wearing his cool armor!
Ahem. Sorry. The art is really not blowing me away whenever it has to depict normal people in relatively quiet moments. It's flat and listless, and everyone stands at a weird angle. The Iron Man / Mandarin battle, on the other hand, looks amazing. It's extremely dynamic and paced really well. The writing is a little on the schizophrenic side; the plot works, and it set up and hits certain beats, and in terms of story, it rolls right along and keeps ratcheting up the tension. The dialog, on the other hand, is awkward and heavy-handed. I was especially having a hard time with Dugan's speech to Hill; try as I might, I couldn't stop my eyes from rolling. I don't think it's a coincidence that the part of the issue I enjoyed the most was the part with almost no dialog whatsoever.
At the end of the day, this is a perfectly okay issue with perfectly okay art and a perfectly okay story. It took me about 10 minutes to read it. The fight is fun, and it ends on a note that makes me kinda curious to see what'll happen in issue 27. Whether I'm still thinking about it a month from now is up for debate. Flip through this one.
Jenna Jameson's Shadow Hunter #1
Writers: Jenna Jameson and Christina Z
Artist: Mukesh Singh
Letterers: Nilesh S. Mahadek and Nilesh P. Kudale
Cover: Greg Horn
I know what you're thinking: "Oh Christ, that's just what the world needs. An ongoing comic book focused on the globetrotting adventures of Jenna freaking Jameson." I thought it too, but my job here is to be impartial and to ignore those preconceived notions, so here we go.
Right from the opening page, Mukesh Singh's artwork steals the show. It's gorgeous, both in composition and in execution, and that's doubly impressive considering he evidently handled all facets of the book's visuals pencils, inks and colors. His layouts are strikingly beautiful, a great blend of darks and lights, and he clearly knows how to maximize the impact of that kind of a style. It's become too much of a gimmick for an artist to randomly slap a panel up against a plain white background, but Singh shows that when it's properly amplified, that treatment can still make an impact. He loses himself in the details of his backdrops, but allows the characters to stand their ground with a minimal amount of detail. And, when he's really allowed to cut loose with some darker, more disturbing imagery, he leaves nothing to the imagination. He's at his best when he's working with a vivid splash page or a sudden, jarring action scene, and this first issue gives him plenty of opportunities to flex both of those muscles.
Singh occasionally runs into some problems with the facial expressions of the central character, who's named Jezzerie Jaden, but is very obviously modeled after Jameson herself. I think she's meant to carry a sort of dreamy, introspective appearance, but she generally just seems confused and ditzy. That's not a good match for the wordy internal dialogs that accompany these sketches, but I guess you can only apply so much artistic license to a real-world subject that leaves something to be desired.
The storyline, concocted by Christina Z and Jameson herself, is a bit self-obsessed. It's all about a buxom blonde heroine (the aforementioned Jenna look-alike) who's dealt her entire life with ethereal visions of an invisible battle between good and evil. When she finally seeks professional help in adulthood, the experience only serves to make the visions even more vivid and dark-hinted. Jaden is a shallow character, one who I'm not really all that interested in learning much more about, but she's the only face who's given more than a page or two to define herself in this first issue, so I guess I don't really have a choice.
So much of the story occurs through internal monologs and hallucinations that it becomes more of an abstract exercise in metaphor than a real sequence of events. Jezzerie's thoughts are so disorganized that it's like taking a long walk in the shoes of somebody with a bad case of ADD. One minute, she's thinking about the dark, stringy, shadowy creatures who just attacked her in broad daylight, the next she's talking to herself about how she still doesn't know if she prefers men or women. That's not really appropriate here, but okay, thanks for sharing I guess.
At the end of the day, this is a meddling storyline set against an absolutely breathtaking backdrop. The writing seems to be so focused on guaranteeing the reader as to its authenticity that it doesn't make a lot of forward progress, and I really didn't give a crap about any of the characters, least of all the protagonist. The only redeeming factor of this book is Mukesh Singh's artwork, and that alone makes it worth flipping through. It really is fantastic, and if he could do this much to make a bad story sing, I can't wait to see how he reacts to something that's genuinely worthwhile.
Marvel Adventures The Avengers #21
Writer: Marc Sumerak
Penciler: Ig Guara
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Leonard Kirk
Review: Michael David Sims
Ever since the series launched, I've been a big fan of Marvel Adventures The Avengers. Though I haven't read every issue, nearly every issue I have read has been a blast. Each issue is an exhilarating adventure filled with funny quips and stirring action. Sure, they're simple stories that appear bubblegummy next to the more mature New and Mighty Avengers, but, really, the books in the Marvel Adventures line are meant for a young audience so of course they're not going to match the drama of their in-continuity counterparts. But what might appear "bubblegummy" on the surface is anything but.
In this issue, the Crimson Dynamo believes that Tony stole Russian designs to construct his Iron Man suits. For this he demands vengeance. Fearing an international incident, the Russian government sends Black Widow to "observe and gather data," but something far more sinister is going on. And though the adventure is wrapped up in this single issue, that doesn't mean the story is over. Clearly Widow will return, but whose side she'll be on is unclear. This sort of intrigue isn't something most readers would expect from a comic aimed at children, but it being there shows that writer Marc Sumerak respects his audience no matter their age.
Told from Widow's vantage point, we're treated to an Iron Man-centric issue. Here we have the daughter of Communism admiring the poster boy for capitalism. Younger readers won't appreciate the narration on that level, but I found it smart writing on Sumerak's part. When a story can be enjoyed on two levels, I respect that. What kids will enjoy are Spider-Man's gags, Wolverine and Storm teaming to teach the smart-mouthed Spider-Man a lesson, the pace at which the story is told, as well as the ominous cliffhanger. If I were a child reading this, I'd be drooling for Widow's next appearance. Hell, as an adult I'm drooling for her next appearance and that has nothing to do with the way Ig Guara draws her. (Okay, that's a lie. It has a lot to do with the way Ig Guara draws her. But more on that in a minute.) It's a testament to Sumerak's writing skills that he's able to make a calloused reader such as myself anticipate the next appearance of Black Widow in Marvel Adventures The Avengers. I know I can buy a back issue of The Champions, Daredevil or The Avengers to read more of Widow's adventures, but I don't want those. I want more of her here, in Sumerak-penned MATA comics.
Getting back to Ig Guara, this man will be a superstar in a short while. His characters are animated without feeling cartoony. The action is frenzied, yet never cluttered. His lines are slick and sleek. Each character is unique and on-model: Wolverine is stocky, Spider-Man is slender, Captain America is thick, the Iron Man armor is futuristic and Crimson Dynamo is downright menacing. Both Storm and Widow have distinct faces that fit their respective races, all without being clichιd or offensive. They're also sexy, but it's never overexposed or out of place. In fact, thanks to Guara's Black Widow, a whole new generation of young boys will grow up fawning over femmes fatales.
Inker Jay Leisten and colorist Ulises Arreola round out the art team, adding so much flavor to Guara's already beautiful pencils. Not once did I think a page was over-inked or the colors too gaudy. Every scene was just right, with each establishing the appropriate mood: Widow's introduction is set against a starry night, glowing computer monitors and a fully black backdrop, which plays perfectly into her sci-fi / spy role. Our first sighting of "Iron Man and his comrades" is bright and full of wonder. Dynamo greets us on a dirty, smoky page that highlights nothing but his presence. By the time Crimson Dynamo's dispatched, his armor no longer looks impressive instead it's an old, broken toy full of scuffs and bruises. It's so dynamic. Hopefully this team will stay together for a good long while.
This is easily a buy. If you're hankering for good, fun superhero action without all of the drama the core universe brings, this is your book.
Runaways # 29
Writer: Joss Whedon
Penciler: Michael Ryan
Inkers: Rick Ketcham and Andrew Hennessy
Colorist: Christina Strain
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Jo Chen
Review: Dan Toland
The story so far: well, it's Whedon, so a lot. Most of the Runaways (Chase isn't here) are trapped in 1907, where they meet various gangs of superhumans (RE: wonders) called the Street Arabs, the Upward Path and the Sinners (they're bad'uns), who are led by the time-traveling parents of deceased Runaway Gert Yorkes. While Victor and Lillie, a Street Arab, are trying to get the Runaways' time machine fixed, Nico has been taken captive by the Upward Path and delivered to be the Witchbreaker, and nothing in that sentence promises pleasant things for Nico. And, Karolina, Xavin and Molly meet with Klara, a wonder who is able to control plants, married to an abusive old guy and something like 11 years old. It's every bit as gross as it sounds.
Whew. That, right there, took up about a quarter of my word count.
I have never read more than an occasional issue of Runaways before. I have a familiarity with the storyline, but I'm pretty much jumping right in. The recap (which was three full paragraphs long) was very extensive, and I was generally able to pick it up and run. Even so, there was a lot of "What?" and "Huh?" and "Wait, who's this now?" I'm reminded of when I tried to jump into Buffy the Vampire Slayer about three years into its run: the episodes were enjoyable and exciting, and the writing was really clever, but I was hopelessly lost because I hadn't spent the previous two years watching the show, and it had a very dense mythology that didn't really take the time to explain things to newcomers. That's what's happening here. The writing is great Whedon's dialog absolutely sparkles but I really think I'm gonna have to go back and read some prior issues to make sense of it. Which I will, because what I was able to follow was really good. (And because Joss is boss.)
The art by Michael Ryan is interesting. He's clearly influenced by Steve Dillon, to the point of being a clone. There are worse artists to slavishly imitate, but he needs to come up with his own style. He could also stand to work on things like anatomy and perspective. However, it's clean, clear artwork that looks damned good. And his storytelling is spot on. His kids look like kids, and that's something a lot of artists have trouble with.
This felt like what it was: the middle of a well-crafted storyline. There's no beginning and no end; however, it's good enough that it does have some enjoyment value on its own, as complex as it is. I'm going to be looking for the trade when it becomes available. In the meantime, I would encourage you to borrow this issue it's just too dense to be flipped through, and too dependent on other issues to buy on its own.
Terror, Inc. #5
Writer: Dave Lapham
Artist: Patrick Zircher
Colorist: June Chung
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Cover: Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic
Review: Damien Wilkens
We've all had that crazy ex-girlfriend, the one that always had something to complain about. You know the type: "You never take me out anymore!" "Why don't you like my parents?" And of course, the classic, "You took my arm and buried me hundreds of years ago, and now I've risen from the dead to lead a suicide bombing cult!" Unfortunately for our protagonist, Terror, who up to this point has been blown up, shot, stabbed, dismembered and boiled by his jilted ex, it doesn't appear that the simple act of asking for his CDs back is going to supply enough closure for this relationship.
As indicated by its MAX labeling, Terror, Inc. has no qualms about being in your face from the first page, and due to its highly kinetic pacing, there is rarely a moment to blink between each drop of viscera. That said, it's a book that clearly isn't for everyone, but is still a promising and fairly original comic at its core.
It's apparent that writer Dave Lapham had a strong sense of vision in his creation of this miniseries, and crafted a conclusion that, while impactful, was clearly begging for more time for its epic third act, as you almost wish the characters would hang on their words for just one more second. Also, despite the synopsis of the four previous issues, the dialog and action flows with the assumption that you've read every issue, referencing plot points and characters that weren't previously detailed which is acceptable for a final issue, but at the same time is a hindrance to anyone jumping into the series cold.
Despite the interesting concept, the main reason to give this book a look is Patrick Zircher's artwork. In a genre that lends itself rather easily to an unrealistic, though gritty esthetic, his work here is not only tone-appropriate (due to June Chung's colors), but also surprisingly detailed as well. Every dismembered body part has the appropriate anatomy flailing behind as it flies from its once-owner, and the human characters actually look like human beings, which is to say, most of them aren't very attractive at all. With another artist at the helm, it's not hard to imagine that the jilted ex would be drawn as your standard hip-swiveling, bouncy haired vixen, but she's instead portrayed as, well, kinda ugly with a sort of psycho butch lesbian vibe that can be hard to put into words. Imagine Sinead O'Conner trying to cut you in half with a broadsword and you get the idea.
As for the final encounter, everything works together rather well to make sure that you feel each and every hit, and despite the otherworldly origins of the characters, you also get a pronounced sense of their pain. But it still goes by too quickly for you to really care. I maintain that this last battle could have encompassed a single issue on its own, with more time and space to heighten the drama of the encounter, but such is a curse of a limited series and they definitely made the most with what they had.
Terror is a fairly old Marvel character that is grossly underused, in my opinion, and here's hoping that we see him in other books (if not another miniseries) in the near future. But as far as this one goes, unless you've invested time in this run previously, I can't recommend more than a borrow. The art is eye-catching and spectacular, but the story, while creative in concept, can be rather hard to follow if you pay too much attention to detail. And the emotional investment, despite their best efforts, is marginal at best.