Is It Wednesday Yet?
22 July 2008
22 July 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 July 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.
Writers: Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Artists: Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Review: Dan Toland
Dakota North (who apparently is not a Pierce Brosnan-era Bond girl, although you'd be forgiven for thinking so) is investigating whether Big Ben Donovan (who's sitting on death row) did in fact murder the three children he says he did. After she gets the crap beaten out of her by a mysterious someone warning her to drop the case, Matt takes Donovan on as a client. His investigation bring him to the docks, searching for the children's father, and finds himself running afoul of crime lord Eric Slaughter. Meanwhile, it turns out that after Dakota hammers on her attacker (a federal agent named Moss) with a baseball bat for a while, her father (a fed himself) shows up at her apartment, super pissed.
I always like an issue of Daredevil that has Matt wearing his lawyer hat. This is part three of a four-part story, so the setup is all out of the way, and the payoff isn't for another month. Therefore, the bulk of this issue is Matt doing his investigating shtick. It's a testament to the writers that these scenes are actually interesting.
I like the artwork a lot. When I first opened the book, the first thing I thought was, "I didn't think David Mazzucchelli did superheroes anymore." It's a sketchy, almost impressionistic style that's extremely reminiscent of Mazzucchelli's approach from the Born Again / Year One days. True, it's not the most detailed in the world, but it actually invites the reader to fill in the open spaces, and works extremely well with the dark and muted colors Hollingsworth provide. It's not especially pretty, but that's the point; this is a dark, drab world the characters inhabit.
Of all the books on the racks, Daredevil may be the one that best illustrates the concept of "writing for the trade." This is an excellent title, with one (or two, as the case may be) of the best writers working in comics today. The stories coming out are incredible, but they just don't work as monthly books. This issue serves to move the story along, but not enough happens to warrant a purchase. It is good, but on its own, it's a flip through.
Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #38
Writer: Chris Eliopoulos
Artist: Graham Nolan
Colorist: Guillem Mari
Letterer: Blambot's Nate Piekos
Cover: Carlo Pagulayan
Review: Dan Toland
Reed Richards is, by all accounts, a tremendously irritating person to be around. He's smarter than you, he's richer than you, he can't be bothered to explain himself to you (or even notice you're in the room half the time) and he has a rocketship in his kitchen — which is way cooler than the clock radio you have in yours. In a letter to his Aunt Petunia, as Ben relates the story of the time the FF used said rocket to get to the moon (and into a whole mess of trouble), he sheds some light on his friendship with Reed.
The Ben / Reed friendship always struck me as an interesting dynamic, and one that doesn't really get explored enough. Normally, Ben's reaction to Reed can basically be summed up as "Aw, jeez, he's in the lab again, usin' his three-dollar words and gettin' all sciency. I'm gonna go see what's on TV." Reed and Ben are best friends, and we know this because the comics tell us they are. By framing this issue as a letter, we get to actually see the awe Ben holds for Reed. It's great to see this once in a while, as the family dynamic has always been a huge part of the FF's appeal, and when that's explored, rather than just taken as a given, it makes for wonderful characterization.
In fact, characterization is the key to this issue. Eliopoulos' script succeeds on this level, as well as making the reader see that somewhere, deep down, Reed does have a personality buried under all the supergeniusness. We just see flashes of it, but that's enough to get across that this is Reed's personality. And because of this, we can see why the other three bother. He also does something that I haven't seen since Byrne, and even he didn't always do it very successfully: he demonstrates that Reed can kick some ass when he really needs to. Well he does this with the help of the artist, actually.
Who is Graham Nolan? Why have I not seen him before? And why is he not on a top book? This issue looks fantastic. The artwork is crystal clear and very simple; I'm seeing some Rude, some Allred and the big bad has more than a little Kirby in him. More importantly, though, is that the action looks good, and the storytelling is spot on. Is it a bit cartoony? Yeah, it is, but it's just so nice to look at.
Even the lettering caught my attention. The captions are made to look like notebook paper, blue lines and all. It's a neat touch.
This is a Marvel Adventures book; that all by itself is going to turn some people off. Yes, it's a kid-friendly comic. But it's not dumbed down. This is a very good one-issue story with some art that I quite enjoyed. Buy this. And for God's sake, Marvel, put Nolan on an Avengers title.
Marvel Comics Presents #11
Writers: Marc Guggenheim, Ivan Brandon, B. Claymore, Rich Koslowski
Artists: Francis Tsai, Niko Henrighon, Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano, Marco Checchetto
Colorists: Tony Washington, Avalon's Matt Milla, Laura Villari
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Dave Wilkins
I found the original Marvel Comics Presents to be wildly inconsistent, and that's putting it mildly. While most of what you'd find between the covers was badly written, hideously illustrated leftovers that focused on a character you've never heard of, there was always that glimmering chance of a diamond in the rough. Joe Madureira made his big-league debut in an issue of MCP. Barry Windsor-Smith delivered an almost legendary arc with Wolverine. And Sam Kieth enjoyed a high-profile run on the book that brought him out of the shadows and into the spotlight. This new take on the series continues in that vein; it throws so much at the wall that something is bound to stick, but you've got some trials ahead if you hope to unearth any buried treasure.
Marc Guggenheim and Francis Tsai's "Vanguard" is a good example of a fine concept that doesn't work within the format. By all indications, their story would've made for an okay one-shot. Its cast is about as deep as possible, and the plot moves along briskly. So much so, in fact, that when its nine pages had passed me by, I was left with the impression that I'd missed something. This is an easy, visually impressive read that feels like it should have a bit more meat than it does. While it takes full advantage of one of the benefits of a lesser-known set of characters, switching allegiances and terminating faces at almost every turn, in the end I was left feeling empty.
With Ivan Brandon and Niko Henrighon at the helm, Machine Man has taken a playful new direction. Henrighon's light, manga-influenced artwork sets the tone early, and Brandon's odd concepts and offbeat pacing carry it the rest of the way. Yet I had a feeling that a lot of the time the story was just being weird for weirdness' sake, and while that makes for a nice change of pace, it isn't particularly easy to follow. When the storytelling and artwork manage to pull their act together for a beautiful two-page spread, the creative pairing shows a lot of potential. It's the rest of the story, when the writing leaps and lurches around the page and the visuals show their inconsistency, which concerns me.
B. Claymore and Lee Weeks are up next to introduce us to Stingray, former Avenger and full-time oceanographer. More than any other, this single-issue tale is a great example of what can be done with a short page count and a simple idea. The former Avenger's run-in with an undersea monster is just long enough to feel substantial, but short enough to maximize what it's got without any padding. I've been a critic of Weeks' artwork for years, but recently his style has matured and this tale is just more proof of that fact. He displays a knack for fantastic action scenes, shows a touch of grotesque creativity in imagining the villain and echoes the story's pacing with his compositions. This is the best work of the issue; it doesn't ask for more than five minutes of your day, and crams more into that confined space than many titles can manage in a three-issue arc.
Finally, Rich Koslowski and Marco Checchetto bring us the penultimate chapter of "Weapon Omega," which concerns itself with the Guardian, leader of Omega Flight. It's bad. Koslowski's writing is so verbose and stale; I was lost within just two pages. As the "great reveal" chapter, part 11 of 12, the dialog just doesn't quit; this is basically one long, breathless narrative from a brainy female scientist and little else. Checchetto's artwork is given two or three opportunities to steal the show, but is largely relegated to talking heads. He doesn't exactly shine under the circumstances.
The more things change, the more they stay the same — and that's especially true for Marvel Comics Presents. Although it's been more than a decade since the first series was discontinued, the new run is virtually identical. It still has those long, overreaching storylines that can't hope to hold your attention in such short bursts. It has its successes, but far too many failures. This book has one good story, two mediocre ones and a single wretched failure. I can't recommend you do more than flip through it, and even in saying that I feel like I'm being generous.
New Avengers #43
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Billy Tan
Inker: Danny Miki
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letterers: RS & Comicraft's Albert Deschesne
Cover: Aleksi Briclot
With the Skrull invasion at its climax, both New Avengers and Mighty Avengers had ceased their ongoing narrative to focus on the events that led so many of their friends and partners to be replaced by the shape-shifters. This month, our attention returns to the present. Picking up where Secret Invasion #2 left us, both squads of Avengers have faced "themselves." When a Skrull ship landed in the Savage Land, members of both teams expected a confrontation with the real enemy. But when mirror images of themselves emerged from the ship, wearing costumes from ages ago and proclaiming themselves liberated from a long captivity in outer space, nobody was quite sure how to react. I guess that means it's time for a brawl!
With just about every other member's stories fully explored, we've finally come back to what has to be the most compelling confrontation: the Skrull Captain America versus Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and half of the Savage Land's resident population. Writer Brian Michael Bendis presents this as an appropriate conflict of interests for the "real" heroes, playing up Spidey's emotional attachment to Cap and emphasizing just how hard it must be to fight the man he just buried. Spider-Man provides the reader's perspective in this issue. His reluctance to commit wholeheartedly to the fight is understandable: he wants to believe more than anything that this is the real Steve Rogers, that the one who was murdered in the wake of Civil War was the imposter, but deep down inside he knows that the chances of that fall somewhere between slim and none.
Around its midway point, the story changes gears to cover even more of the Skrulls' planning sessions. And that's where the issue takes a turn for the worse, from which it never recovers. As a reader of both regular Avengers books and the primary Secret Invasion miniseries, I've already seen enough backstory. I understand that the aliens drape some sort of mystical cloth over their heads and suddenly believe without hesitation that they're human, specifically a member of the superhero community. I must've seen it half a dozen times already, but Bendis insists we trudge through it yet again right here. It's something that I don't think the issue needed, but it's there all the same. And it eats up the majority of the issue. Which is a shame, because it started off on such a strong foot.
I didn't particularly care for Billy Tan's artwork here. While much of it is focused on an emotional, explosive conflict, his artwork never reflected the excitement of those moments. It felt like he was merely documenting the moment, not collaborating with the writing to take the whole package to the next level. When Cap flings Ka-Zar over his shoulder and into a crowd, Tan treats it so nonchalantly that it nearly lost my attention. Where I'm prone to enjoying a good action page much longer than I should, Tan's work led me to have precisely the opposite reaction. I rushed to the end of the fight, which left me feeling somewhat robbed. If this is Marvel's premiere book, they need to routinely feature premiere talent. And, despite a good page or two here and there, Tan just isn't on the right level for this kind of work.
This month's New Avengers provides little more than a footnote in the big picture of the invasion. It answers your questions about the Captain America that emerged from the spaceship, but that turns out to be short on substance and the rest of the issue offers little else. Flip through this to get the gist of it, but stop short of bringing it home with you. It's not a high point.
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Artist: Fernando Blanco
Colorist: Frank Martin
Letterer: Comicraft's Albert Deschesne
Cover: Billy Tan
It was bound to happen. When Tony Stark was assembling the new Thunderbolts, a team of "reformed" supervillains dedicated to capturing and detaining unregistered superhumans, he had to know that they'd eventually have a relapse or two. Well, last month that came to pass. Songbird went after the team's psychologist, Doc Samson. Norman Osborn donned a green mask and threw down with his own team. Bullseye cleared the prison of a handful of telepaths who'd been pushing his buttons since their arrival. And then it all boiled over. Now the entire team is licking their wounds and harboring a grudge against one another. Not exactly what I'd call a stable working environment.
The team's first action since their little disagreement provides a good starting point for new readers. With Songbird settling into her new post as team leader, she takes the opportunity to loudly proclaim each team member's motivations and specific powers in the midst of the fray. It's not exactly the subtlest way to get new readers up to speed, but it gets the job done without holding the story back and gives each member a moment in the sun. The Thunderbolts' quarry this month, a giant, sentient mass of killer bees named Swarm, provides little more than window-dressing as the team takes turns throwing weapons at him in a virtual merry-go-round of ineffectual superpowers. It's only once the story has defined its players and their powers that the threat is squashed (almost effortlessly) and forgotten. Although the focus is clearly on familiarizing new readers with the cast, even from that perspective it's difficult to ignore the cliché.
Although he's relinquished a bit of authority after last month's romp, Norman Osborn is still the heart and soul of this team, and the only character with an even remotely interesting personality. Without his cutthroat decision-making and volatile, harshly honest personality, the series would be lukewarm at best. Writer Christos Gage seems to acknowledge this, as he gives Osborn the focus on almost every single page. While that approach is working on the short-term, at some point its time is going to run short. The real money in this story is in the team finally rebelling against the controlling former Green Goblin, and unless the rest of the cast develops strong personalities by then, the book will flounder. Osborn really is the only thing keeping this legible.
Fernando Blanco's artwork begins strong, but slowly deteriorates as the issue carries on. He shows a distinctive style, effectively spotlighting the contrast between the calm, businesslike demeanor of Norman Osborn and the more flamboyant, outlandish personalities of his underlings in the heat of the moment. However, Blanco has a recurring problem with depth and perspective, which is especially pronounced when he's tasked with rendering the lumpy, disproportionate Venom. His compositions are generally solid and he brings a certain degree of enthusiasm to the fight scene at the story's outset — though his work isn't especially exciting. Slower, story-driven moments give him trouble, but those are infrequent this month and as such aren't a very big deal.
The cliffhanger is probably its sole redeeming moment. As such, I'm hopeful that the series will take a step back up next month, because this issue was one big, long letdown. It's not something I'd go out of my way for, but it's not offensive, either; it's worth flipping through at best.
Ultimate X-Men #96
Writer: Aron E. Coleite
Pencilers: Clay Mann and Brandon Peterson
Inkers: Carlos Cuevas and Brandon Peterson
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: Comicraft's Albert Deschesne
Cover: Gabriele Dell'Otto
Review: Dan Toland
Ultimate Alpha Flight (I shouldn't laugh when I type that, but I can't help it) kicked the X-Men's collective ass, kidnapping Northstar in the process. Colossus has recruited a team to rescue his boyfriend, injecting them all with Banshee, a drug that makes mutants more powerful, and which is what allowed Alpha Flight to win in the first place. However, all the Banshee in the world couldn't help them, because they still couldn't take down Alpha Flight. (Seriously. Not that I don't think they have the potential to be a great team, but, well, I've never seen it.)
Meanwhile, Jean Grey and Wolverine have been trying to shut down the Banshee trade. As Jean tests other mutants for the drug, Wolverine produces a positive result, despite his insistence that he's never used it.
That's what happened before. It's also, to a great extent, what happens this month. This issue felt like so much filler. Everything I don't like about the X-Men is right here in one, easy-to-use 32-page booklet. It's overwritten nonsense in which nothing happens. Well, I mean, there's a minor revelation that failed to engage my interest. The only time the book ever perked up was during a four-page sequence that focused on a guest star helping Wolverine figure out how the Banshee got in his system. It's the only time the writer tries to inject any personality into the script, and it still comes off a little flat because he's aping the style of the character's regular writer. Otherwise, it's more of "Life is hard! But still I persevere!" and "Aaaaarrrggghhhh!!!!" that have been dragging down the X-books forever.
The art? Peterson's pages are better than Mann's, but that's not great praise. Mann's pages are right out of the 1990s: faces manage to be underdeveloped and over-rendered at the same time, anatomy is weird and poses are not humanly possible. Peterson's pages manage not to hit this depth, but they're still not great. There are so many lines of some faces they look like road maps.
Word is at least one of the Ultimate books is going away. I can't imagine Marvel getting rid of this one. But they should. I honestly don't understand the appeal. Every time I look at this comic, it's badly written, it's badly drawn, it has no plot to speak of and it's just rehashing old stories. And I think it's haunted. This book poisons everything it touches. The last time I reviewed Ultimate X-Men, its star creative team did a mediocre job. I beseech you, Joe Quesada: kill this book before it destroys us all.
In the meantime, skip this.