Is It Wednesday Yet?
22 April 2008
22 April 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 (23 April 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.
Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Collide
Writers: Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Artists: Khio Pham, Paul Neary and friends
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Review: Damien Wilkens
After being impressed by an earlier issue of Incredible Hercules, I was pretty excited for this book, expecting the same combination of great artwork, fun action and sharp humor. Instead, what I got was a book that contained none of these things, and I'm at a loss to understand why.
Here, were get two stories. One, a flashback tale based around a past encounter between Herc and Hulk. The second is a reprint of Tales to Astonish #79, also featuring the two big guys as the leads, but with an extra helping of Silver Age cheesiness and cornball dialog.
The Tales to Astonish reprint is pretty forgettable all around. Hulk smashes, Herc smashes, occasionally they smash into each other, the end. Outside of a few funny lines by Hercules ("By the zesty zither of Zeus!"), there isn't much to get from it — and you really can't be blamed if you skip it completely.
On the other hand, I'm trying hard to come up with a reason as to why you'll want to read the main story. Gone is the fun and excitement of previous issues, instead giving way for what is a pretty big downer of a tale, not to mention a huge mess of one, for that matter. It seemed as they were grasping at straws, desperately looking for a reason to have the two behemoths battle, causing the narrative to be completely dictated by the concept, instead of the need to tell a good story. While there's a clear focus at the end, there's no real reason they needed an entire issue.
Having a cavalcade of different artists only serves to make matters worse. There were multiple pencilers on each page, and none of them were particularly remarkable, with Hulk having completely different proportions throughout. And there's one scene in which Herc clearly has his hand in a character's mouth, but I can't decide if it was intentional or not. If I can't discern that on my own, then you have some bad artwork, my friends.
What else is there for me to say? It hurt me to have to dredge through so much meaninglessness. I wish I could articulate my utter boredom in a fancier manner, but I simply can't. The only scene of any value was a wrestling match between Herc and Ben Grimm that was so brief I almost forgot it happened by the end of the book. If the issue was so bad that it drove me to anger, like say, Cable, that's one thing, but I don't even have that kind of passion here. I just don't ever want to read through it again. Skip it.
Marvel Illustrated: The Picture of Dorian Gray #5
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciler: Sebastian Fiumara
Colorist: Giulia Brusco
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Gerald Parel
Review: Damien Wilkens
Oscar Wilde's beautifully disturbing classic has always been a favorite of mine, as it was one of those rare literary milestones that actually seemed to live up to the hype. So it was with great curiosity and a cautious optimism that I dove into Marvel's interpretation of the tale.
For those unaware, the story is about an artist's painted portrait of an alarmingly handsome young man by the name of Dorian Gray, who laments that he will one day age while the picture will remain forever young. From there he goes so far as to sell his soul for things to be the other way around. "Blessed" with eternal youth, Dorian soon courts an actress named Sibyl Vane, who he engages, then eventually dumps out of boredom, leading the poor girl to suicide. Soon after, he notices that the mouth on the painting has transformed and that it would soon reflect his age and his sins through the decades that passed. As expected, Dorian goes nuts, and eventually kills the artist for creating the reflective artwork, later blackmailing a friend to dispose of the corpse. Now nearly 40, Dorian looks of a man half his age, and there's still a lot more trouble for him to get into.
This is where the issue begins. As with most others in the Marvel Illustrated line, they weren't looking to make any radical changes. Dorian isn't suddenly a space cadet, or fighting dragons in a suit of armor. He's still the vain, utterly reprehensible prick in the appropriate Victorian setting, and everything more or less feels the way it should. The only real problem is that issue #5 covers what is probably the least essential part of the story. While Dorian's self-reflection, or at times, lack thereof is an important aspect to the overall theme, many of the best parts of the narrative have already occurred in past issues, and the gripping finale is still a month away.
The only real area open for interpretation was, obviously, the visual presentation. The artwork is rather simple, perhaps too simple. While the dull hues are tone-appropriate, the pencils form scenes that are quite a bit different than what one might imagine while reading the novel. It works for what it is, but, given the subject matter, there was potential for so much more.
It's difficult for me to grade a book like this, because while I love the source material, and find no significant flaws with the issue, I can't fully recommend a purchase. The story is one that gives way to a flood of grim undertones, but at the same moment, brings a tale that's light on any real action, which makes this a book that's not for everyone. I'd say borrow this one, buy the original novel, then wait for the trade.
Ms. Marvel #26
Writer: Brian Reed
Penciler: Adriana Melo
Inker: Mariah Benes
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Greg Horn
Review: Dan Toland
Carol Danvers gets an early taste of Marvel's blockbuster summer event when she tussles with a Skrull who has the combined powers of the X-Men. Once she's done with this, she comes home to find a dead boyfriend on the bed. The laws of drama demand that you can't come home to a dead boyfriend without a cop coming in seconds later to find you standing over the body, so naturally SHIELD Agent David Sum is on hand to fill that role. Oh, and David Sum is actually an ancient Chinese warrior named Hui Lin. That may wind up being important. Or not. Anyway, Carol's already a little bit on David's shitlist, what with there having been a Skrull impersonating her for a while now, meaning that no one is actually sure which is the real Ms. Marvel. So, naturally, possible Skrull + standing over dead guy = a field trip to a SHIELD interrogation room.
Of course we get the "hero fighting the evil twin" story in this one. And you know how in every movie that's ever been made with this scenario, towards the end you have them both under arrest, and they both yell, "Don't shoot me! Shoot her!" Well, far be it for Brian Reed to disappoint. In fact, the writing in this one is underwhelming across the board. From a plot or storytelling standpoint, it's perfectly serviceable, if a little reliant on clichés: the previously mentioned "standing over the dead body" being the most blatant example. However, the chief complaint I have with the book is the dialog. It's extremely erratic, and feels like a first draft. There are bits that are perfectly fine, but others come across as placeholders. It's as if Reed wrote them to get the story where he wanted it, figuring he'd have time to fix it later, but then his chatty aunt dropped by unannounced to show him the vacation slides from the last time she and her friend Ronnie took that Carnival Cruise to the Turks and Caicos Islands and snapped hundreds of pictures of a guy who looked like, but in the end turned out not to be, James Garner. Suddenly, the whole day was lost and his deadline had passed. A little more polishing and this script might have been a lot better.
(Oh, and this isn't Reed's fault, but I want to take a minute to rant about Machine Man. Somewhere, creator Jack Kirby is rotating perpetually in his resting place, and artist Steve Ditko should be blanch with rage. In Nextwave, Warren Ellis took a gentle character finding his place in the world and learning to use his newfound emotions, and turned him into a psychopathic, alcoholic sadist. I think it's supposed to be funny. It isn't.)
The art isn't bad. Melo's pencils are fairly clean, she does action pretty well and her storytelling is reliable. This is a solidly rendered, if not eye-grabbing, book.
This issue is the definition of flip through.
New Exiles #5
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Roberto Castro
Inker: Scott Hanna
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Cover: Alan Davis
Review: Dan Toland
Previously in New Exiles, some stuff happened. I'd love to be able to tell you what that is, but the white lettering on the light-light-light-light blue background that the recap was printed on came up totally illegible on the preview copy. That's okay, though; it's not like Claremont's writing is famous for being convoluted.
As far as I can tell, Sage, Cat and Morph have been separated from the rest of the Exiles. That much I'm clear on. Cat is displaying a disturbing tendency to slide into alternate versions of herself. Okay, I think I have that. Also, there's a rift that sends them into another world. Maybe. And there's a dragon. Yeah. Oh, and Sage has the most confusing fight scene I've muddled through in quite some time. And a bath. And a tendency to talk to herself nonstop.
So that's what I'm dealing with here. There are certain constants in life. The sun will always rise in the east. Old Faithful will erupt several times per day. Every Crow movie will be worse than the one that preceded it. And Chris Claremont will always produce overwritten, needlessly complex and yet oddly wooden dialog. I mean, my God. If I talked to myself as relentlessly as Sage does throughout this issue, I would hope someone would pop their head in the room and remind me it's time to take my pills. I have to say that I've seen him produce far worse, but that's really not a selling point.
One of Claremont's things is that he's really only as good as the artist he collaborates with. His stuff with John Byrne is rightly held as classic. The work he produced with Paul Smith and, to a lesser extent, Jim Lee, was also very good. Set him to work with a lesser artist, however, and the quality of the story tends to slope downwards proportionally. To this end, Roberto Castro is not going to do him any favors. His actual drawing ability is not in question; there are some gorgeous panels. His style is fairly cartoony, and in that vein his Morph is wonderful. There's a very Carl Barks / Jack Cole sensibility to his portrayal of the character, and it works really well. I'd love to see him do more of this kind of thing.
His work on regular, people-shaped people, on the other hand, is a little erratic; his anatomy is a smidge on the wonky side, although he seems to handle the extremely ample cheesecake scenes quite well. (There's one panel in which a strategically placed hummingbird in front of Sage's babymaker is the only thing preventing this book from being sealed in plastic and sold on the top shelf of the rack.) Cat, in particular, seems to give him some trouble; she doesn't look the same from one panel to the next. My biggest complaint, however, is in his storytelling. It needs a lot of work. Panels jump around with no indication made as to how one thing leads to the next; Cat is doing just fine in one panel and swirling headfirst into a portal in the next. Cat is phased hip-deep in rock at one point, asking for help to be hoisted out, and then one panel later is just fine — even though the dialog indicates that she's still in the rock. This is just sloppy, shoddy work. His use of perspective is off as well; there's a character introduced who I legitimately thought possessed the mutant power of having a left fist as big as a Yugo.
Also, I haven't counted them, but there are at least three times when I noticed that he signed individual panels, specifically ones that look like collector-bait (RE: hummingbird). I can't say for sure why that cheesed me, but it did.
The story is nonsensical and overwritten, at least in part because the substandard storytelling of the artist makes more exposition necessary. With that said, there are some very pretty pictures, which makes the book worth at least a quick flip through.
Power Pack: Day One #2
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
The eighth Power Pack miniseries since the team's return from hiatus (and the sixth featuring the artwork of GuriHiru), Day One looks back on the squad's origins and their first adventure. When the Power family unwittingly wandered into the path of a serpentine alien force, they were quickly scattered and disoriented. While the parents were taken captive aboard the alien ship, the four kids ran into a noble sorcerer who granted them each incredible abilities with his dying breath.
Fred Van Lente is the second writer to handle the Pack since their rebirth in 2005, but his familiarity with their personalities is evident right from the start. It's easy to lose sight of a young character's age when she starts dealing with globe-threatening intergalactic warfare, but Van Lente never allows the plot to progress too far without reminding us that these are just kids. They're constantly throwing jabs at each other — bickering like a real family — and never really speak beyond their age. While Alex, the eldest of the troupe and de facto leader, always seems to be putting on an unusually brave face for a preteen, his body language often betrays his uncertainty. These may be very bold, mature kids, but at the end of the day they are still children.
Van Lente does get a little carried away in a few spots, which gives the issue a borderline Saturday morning cartoon vibe, and will probably turn away much of the older audience as a result. The younger audience this line is targeted towards should love it, though. It's cheery and exciting without talking down to them, maintaining its dignity despite the presence of a walking, talking stallion with a magic wand. I've read a few stories where this writer has mailed it in, but I can't say that about his work on Power Pack: Day One. He's given us a tight cast, a firm plot and some interesting food for thought. While the issue certainly has its excesses and shortcomings, overall it's a solid package.
The artistic duo at GuriHiru Studios, in charge of pencils, inks and colors, has given the Power Pack a distinct visual punch for most of their comeback, treating the squad to a smooth, cartoony appearance. GuriHiru's efforts are simple and colorful enough to keep the attention of the youth, but stylized and handsome enough to catch the eye of more serious readers. The artistic team has become closely tied to the Pack's identity, and I don't know if I'd enjoy their adventures under anyone else's watch. Having said that, this isn't the studio's best offering. I was much more impressed with their contributions to the preceding Fantastic Four and Power Pack series. Their work feels less refined than before, a bit more hurried and humdrum. Their take on the kids themselves is still very good, a credit to their close association with the majority of the team's recent books, but their surroundings and the aliens they're interacting with aren't really all that imaginative.
This wasn't my cup of tea, but to be fair it was never intended to be. Unlike the preceding Power Pack minis, I felt kind of silly reading much of this issue; in the past, it was childish but still entertaining to adults. Day One is almost exclusively for kids, overflowing with rainbows, talking, smiling, walking animals and glitzy superpowers. Fred Van Lente's writing is technically quite good, but his imagination has taken the Power Pack to a place that I'd rather leave unexplored, and GuriHiru's contributions aren't up to their usual standards. Just flip through this if you aren't seven years old or really, really want to know what's going on with a discarded team from the 1980s.
Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Val Semeiks
Inkers: Dave Meikis with Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Mike Deodato
Never one to let the grass grow beneath her feet, She-Hulk has remained quite active of late. Shifting away from her career as an attorney, Jen has embraced her adventurous side, launching a new life as a bounty hunter and taking on a partner in Jazinda, a Skrull with an overactive healing factor. On the trail of a mad bomber, the pair has been sidetracked more than once, and now they're finally ready to cut to the chase.
While I've never been much of a fan of either She-Hulk or the Skrulls in general, Peter David has granted them both enough personality to pique my curiosity. While the bulk of the issue is spent pursuing Bran, their bounty, it's the pages in between the action that are the book's most successful. Jazinda constantly reminds the reader of her alien origins, but not in a way that comes across as forced. While Jennifer is constantly trying to form a bond with her, whether that's due to compassion or just the sheer boredom of being out on the road, Jaz seems oblivious. They make a great odd couple, with Jen offering an olive branch and the Skrull responding with an unintentionally conversation-halting comment.
I didn't care so much about their search for the big bounty, but I found Jen and Jaz's off-the-cuff conversations to be very easy reading. On the whole, David's writing has been better, and there were a few little details that really pulled me out of the story (the Browns weren't 4-12 last year, but something tells me this issue was plotted long before the 2007 NFL season). Still, for an inconsequential middle-of-the-pack superhero book, it's not a bad read whatsoever.
Artist Val Semeiks has been around a while, but his work is still inconsistent. When he's working with backgrounds or incidental characters, he's at his best. When Jennifer enters a prison at the issue's outset, he perfectly captures the dilapidation and desperation of a small, isolated cell. His rendition of She-Hulk herself, though, is not good. I'd almost call it unsettling. It's like he wants to simultaneously accentuate her build, sex appeal and physical size, but when it all comes together it's a terrible mess. She barely looks human, let alone female; the only things that give it away are her lipstick and enormous tits, which sit on her chest like a pair of speed bags. Jen is a character that requires a lot of care, and Semeiks doesn't even get close. His work with Jazinda isn't much better. Semeiks shines in the backdrops, but shrivels in the foreground.
This isn't a bad book, but it has too many problems to call it a good book. Its successes are nice, but they're often immediately canceled by its failures. The storytelling lacks consequence, but the characterization is tremendous. What do you get when you pair inconsistent writing with inconsistent artwork? Surprise! An inconsistent read. It has its moments, but they're few and far enough between to keep this issue from being worth your while. It gets a recommendation to flip through.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciler: Marko Djurdjevic
Inkers: Danny Miki and Crimelab Studios
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopolous
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Review: Dan Toland
In which the credits conspire to make Dan's spell checker cry.
As the God of Thunder sleeps, he finds himself in the underworld with his father who has been saddled with quite possibly the worst job that doesn't involve pushing a giant broom at the circus. Meanwhile, his human counterpart, Donald Blake, travels to New York, looking to touch base with former girlfriend Jane Foster for the first time since he disappeared, so that he can play a rousing game of Insensitive Jackass with her.
Thor is a tricky character. He's tailor-made for The Avengers, where he can fill the role of the tank. Point him at Ultron and Thor is perfect. Where his solo book is concerned, however, it's a tough balancing act; he's a god who also stops bank robberies. You have to have the delicate mix of awesome cosmic, mind-tripping wonder and goofy superheroics. It's so easy to get it totally wrong and have either an incomprehensible mess or 32 pages of uninteresting cheese. When Thor's done right, however, there's no other character like him. No other character even comes close.
We're only eight issues in, but this really seems like Thor done right.
JMS has done something really interesting. He's brought back Don Blake (this isn't anything new; they may have called him Eric Masterson or Jake Olson, but come on) and made him a separate personality from Thor altogether, rather than the suit Thor puts on when he doesn't want to be able to throw a truck over a house. Which, of course, makes no sense. Unless you're in an origami class and you can't seem to stop ripping the paper, there aren't many circumstances when having unearthly power is a big inconvenience. Which is why Don Blake went away to begin with.
But now, having Blake be his own person, with his own advantages over Thor, gives a valid reason for there to be a secret identity in this book. It also opens the book up to a more grounded, human element that offsets all the Asgard stuff quite nicely.
I have to admit to preferring Olivier Copiel's work in the first six issues, but Marko Djurdjevic does a damn fine job here. The grounded New York scenes are quiet, and the Asgard pages look amazing. Page 19 would make a hell of a poster. Or a painting on the side of someone's van. And while there are some striking images here, they never overwhelm the story. This issue is more about the characters rather than the action, and things are progressing nicely for the overall storyline without sacrificing the entertainment to be had in this one particular issue. This is a wholehearted buy.
Ultimate Fantastic Four #53
Writer: Mike Carey
Penciler: Tyler Kirkham
Inker: Sal Regla
Letterer: VC's Rus Wooton
Cover: Gabriele Dell'Otto
A lot of what I loved about the first few arcs of Ultimate Fantastic Four was the fresh, youthful take those stories offered on these old characters. In the 616 Universe, Reed, Ben, Johnny and Sue have been hashed and rehashed so many times over the years that they've become stagnant. Their personalities have been written into a corner, every last inch of their psyche explored twice over. Their Ultimate counterparts, on the other hand, had loads of potential. They were inexperienced and unfamiliar, young but brainy. They retained elements of what I once loved about their predecessors, but left enough undocumented to ensure plenty of material for hundreds of issues' worth of storytelling.
Somewhere along the line, all that changed. It's been a year or two since I regularly read this series, but I can't even imagine these are the same characters that were there at the outset. They've fallen into the same ruts as their older counterparts, taken the status quo of the main universe as far too rigorous a guideline. Reed isn't the starry-eyed kid that awkwardly entered the Baxter Building in UFF #1, he's the disconnected uber-brainy old spirit that occupies the main universe. His teammates have grown accustomed to their travels quickly, and in so doing they've become that which they were created to counterbalance. Even their adventures follow the same old path as the original series. Whether you demanded it or not, Thanos has arrived in the Ultimate Universe; although this interpretation has a few subtle differences, he's largely the same guy that's existed in the main Marvel U since the 70s.
Mike Carey has been at the helm for the majority of this book's slide from grace. Taking over from Mark Millar following the series co-creator's second run with the team, Carey has taken the Four further and further away from what made them special. His writing here just stinks, filled to the brim with clichés (two characters died last month, only to be revived a few pages into this issue) and endless pseudo-scientific explanations, often bordering on the illegible. I'm trying to understand how Reed survived a filthy death at Thanos's hands, but I don't quite have my doctorate in astrophysics yet. The plot is hard to follow, the characters are too caught up in their scientific babble to move things along and, really, I have no reason to care if a single one of them lives or dies. It's an ugly, convoluted mess.
Tyler Kirkham's accompanying artwork is detailed to a fault, and is only worsened by an over-the-top coloring job. While his imaginative scenery is far and away the best part of the issue, most readers will be too distracted by his weak character models to notice. Kirkham goes way overboard with his use of crosshatching, and spends far too much time obsessing over the little details in his work. He also can't tell a story without the aid of a word balloon. Not to mention his Ben Grimm is among the worst I've ever seen. This really isn't good.
Ultimate Fantastic Four has fallen a long way since its inception, and issue 53 only further emphasizes that fact. Both the storytelling and the artwork are lost somewhere in the mid 90s, filling the page with directionless battles, weak dialog and a heavy excess of linework. The characters try nothing new, and a guest shot from the Ultimates only serves to sully that team's reputation. This sucks. Skip it.
Uncanny X-Men #497
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Mike Choi
Colorist: Sonia Oback
Letterer: Cory Petit
Cover: Mike Choi
Review: Damien Wilkens
Some people would say I'm an expert when it comes to the X-Men. Those people would be wrong, but I was definitely an avid reader of Uncanny back in the 1990s. So I was happy to see this in my stack this week. Then I saw that Mike Choi was drawing it, and I became really happy.
While he's prone to inconsistency, when Choi's on, he's on. This is definitely one of those times when he's on. All of the characters are beautifully illustrated, and the action sequences, what I would regard as his strong point, are a definite joy to see, displaying a sense of movement and emotion that can be hard to capture. It's upsetting to learn that there is only one more issue left with him at the helm, but one can only hope that he moves on to several other high-profile Marvel books in the future.
As for the story, you know the deal at this point. The X-Men are no more, but they're still chumming around: Nightcrawler, Colossus and Wolverine are trekking through Russia for some unknown reason, Scott and Emma are playing dress up and there's an evil psychedelic hippy cult reigning over San Francisco.
The story is pretty easy to follow in the scale of the single issue, though trying to make sense of the arc as a whole is a different story. As part three of a five-issue story, there's an odd balance between advancing the story and not advancing it to any sort of climax. Scott and Emma sort of run in place while the boys in Russia take care of their own issues, and it's hard to figure out exactly how the two stories correlate — or if they're even meant to. There's a mysterious evil "goddess" character, but her motivations are shaky at best, and we're not yet near the point where we need to see her and Emma in a hot oil death match. Brubaker is a talented writer, and his dialog is very sharp.
Despite the brief zaniness of the hippy setting, there's not much here that hasn't been seen before. This is an issue that suffers from the "writing for the trade" syndrome that we often see in our monthly comics. It's not essential reading, but flip through it for Choi's great artwork.
Wolverine: First Class #2
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Andrea Di Vito
Colorist: Laura Cillari
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Leonard Kirk
I'm getting a little tired of the trend that's been developing around this style of "forgotten adventure" storytelling, but First Class is a bit different in that it's not trying to reinvent the wheel, nor is it concerning itself with a very weighty subject. Naturally, it's not all fun and games, but the majority of the issue is a rare glimpse at happier times, which is a welcome change from the doom and gloom that typically follows the team. On a few occasions the tone of the book seems inappropriate for its characters (I can't imagine anyone throwing a surprise birthday party for Logan), but writer Fred Van Lente makes up for it by adding a little depth to these familiar faces. I'd never really thought about it, but it makes sense that Storm wouldn't have a need for a driver's license; if you can propel yourself through the air with just a thought, the wait at the DMV starts to seem a bit unnecessary.
Occasionally, the writer takes these gimmicks a bit too far, especially with the ridiculously themed restaurant that Logan visits, but these excesses are kept in short doses so they never become more than a momentary interruption. And every so often, the writer surprises you when one of those gimmicks really pays off. When Sabretooth shoved a fistful of wasabi up Logan's nose, I thought he was just being an asshole. But then he snickered and hid, reveling in the knowledge that he'd stolen his enemy's powerful sense of smell.
I'm happy to note that the writer takes great care to maintain the setting of the story in the 80s, too. While I've seen a flashback sequence that features modern technology more times than I'd like to admit, Van Lente takes every opportunity to remind us that this story took place decades ago. Kitty's computer is a clunky old tower with a fat CRT monitor. Logan's wardrobe is yellow and brown-dominated. Mariko's cell phone looks like a brick. Everything fits, and that does a lot to immerse readers.
Andrea Di Vito's artwork is a good pairing for the lighter tone of Van Lente's story. It's smooth and stylistic, with a minimal amount of linework but a big emphasis on personality. Di Vito gives each character a unique identity through body language and clothing alone, and works through some borderline cheesy material in a way that keeps the book upbeat and enticing. His work benefits tremendously from Laura Cillari's beautiful colors and textures, which enhance his minimal backdrops just enough to give them depth without losing the minimal approach of the surrounding artwork.
I was pleasantly surprised by First Class. What looked at first glance to be a frilly, needlessly upbeat look at an over-documented era is actually an entertaining ride down memory lane. It's not going to blow your socks off, but it's at least a pleasant diversion. Borrow it if you've got the chance.
X-Men: First Class #11
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Nick Dragotta and Colleen Coover
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: Blambot's Nate Piekos
Cover: Carlo Pagulayan
Review: Damien Wilkens
Only Marvel could make a book poking fun at continuity while being more confusing than the continuity it's referencing.
Oftentimes comics are designed with the full understanding that every issue is potentially someone's first foray into the medium. X-Men: First Class, which seems like the ninth retelling of the early years of Xavier's mutants, is a run of simple one- or two-shot stories that presumably are designed for the very purpose of being an introductory read. From that perspective, this issue is an epic fail.
The city is being overrun by various baddies such as Dr. Doom, Green Goblin and even Galactus for some strange reason, and the only team available to help is the X-Men. Well, three of them anyway, as Cyclops and Angel are missing from this issue and their absence is never really explained. While dealing with the threat, the team runs into a group of kids that are somehow protectors of comic book continuity and are reading the book that we're reading right now. Or something. It's like the end of New Nightmare when Nancy was reading the script of the movie she was in as it was happening. Yeah, it didn't make any sense then, and it makes even less sense now. It's not that important anyway, as the only purpose the story appeared to serve was to drop as many obscure in-jokes as possible within the 32 pages they were given.
Don't get me wrong, some of it's legitimately funny, and a much more astute Marvel reader may appreciate the jokes even more, but it still begs the question as to why they had to tell this story in this book. The narrative had absolutely no ties to the X-Men or the timeline in which this series is supposed to be taking place. This could have been an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, The Mighty Avengers or any of the comics that are already mired in the continuity this book so often makes reference to. I can fully appreciate the team's ability to poke fun at themselves, but there's a time and a place for it, and in this case, the sacrifice was made in exchange for readability.
The artwork is bright and vibrant, again giving implication that this book would be a lighter, youth-focused read. There's the ever-common anime influence and at no period do the villains look to be anything more than the big gaudy punch lines that they are. In that sense, I guess you can say it matches the tone of the book pretty well.
Older readers of Marvel might have a reason to pick this up, as they're the clear target audience for an issue like this, but for everyone else, there are better books to spend your money on. A quick flip through is all you'll need to digest the story, and that's all the time you should really spend on it.
Young Avengers Presents #4
Writer: Paul Cornell
Penciler: Mark Brooks
Inker: Jaime Mendoza
Colorist: Christina Strain
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Jim Cheung
Review: Dan Toland
The crux of this story is that the Vision appears to Cassie "I need a much better superhero codename than 'Stature'" Lang, who in turn tries to get the Vision to register and join the Initiative while she eats scrambled eggs. That actually makes this sound like the most boring comic ever written. It's certainly not the most exciting issue I've ever read. It's a very talky issue. It's actually written fairly well for what it is: a long conversation between two characters that I personally have little enthusiasm for, although being Ant-Man's daughter certainly helps Cassie's cause. It was written by Paul Cornell, an excellent writer who's worked on the recent Doctor Who relaunch, and he's much better than this. Again, maybe I'm colored by the fact that I don't read Young Avengers and am not really into these characters, but this issue did nothing to change my mind. This sort of story makes for a good breather issue between story arcs, but when you have a book that focuses on a different character every month, this is a huge mistake.
The artwork is really uneven. The first couple of pages have some beautiful panels featuring Stature that Brooks clearly took his time on. However, a lot of the art looks really rushed and awkward, and the characters had so many lines on their faces, I wondered if everyone had just gotten out of the greatest fistfight in the history of comics; it's like everyone is covered in bruises and lacerations. Also (and I fully acknowledge that this is a weird thing to notice, but notice it I did), Cassie's lip color changes from a very dark, almost black color in the first couple of pages, to a much brighter shade for the rest of the issue. The fact that this is what I decided to take note of should give you an indication of what the rest of the issue did for me. On that basis, I have to advise you to skip it. Not because it's a bad comic. It's just a very dull one. Which is unfortunate. If Marvel is looking to interest new readers in Young Avengers, this is not the way to do it.
(Something's weird. I can't quite put my finger on it. I feel like there's something missing here. Like there's something that someone forgot. There's an important, irreplaceable element of all Marvel comics, and it just hasn't turned up. Oh, wait! I have it! I've reviewed four Marvel books this week, and Iron Man doesn't appear in any of them! Creepy!)