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Is It Wednesday Yet?

21 October 2008 Once again, the focus this week isn't on forthcoming comics, but those that have been recently released. As noted in Earth-2.net: The Show 275, Marvel is currently reevaluating their early review policy. Once that's settled, we'll (hopefully) get back into the swing of things. As always, these reviews are spoiler-free, so feel free to read onward.

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.

100 Bullets #96
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 08 October 2008
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso
Colorist: Patricia Mulvilhill
Letterer: Clem Robins
Cover: Clem Robins

Review: drqshadow
100 Bullets is nearing its conclusion, and for longtime collaborators Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, that means it's time to stop setting up the dominos and sit back to watch them all fall down. What started as a simple premise (one gun, 100 bullets, no questions asked) has slowly ballooned into a lengthy examination of who and what it takes to piece together such an arrangement. But while all of the major players may have been on the same side in the past, years of wheeling and dealing have taken their toll. As the toy soldiers choose their sides, it's quickly become obvious that not everyone will survive to see how it all plays out.

The series has spent so much time on introductions and backgrounds that it's a bit overwhelming to see it all coming to fruition. Its cast a colorful arrangement of hitmen, madmen, businessmen and crime lords has benefited from that slow pace and careful attention to detail. Azzarello has spent so much time and effort sculpting these personalities that the ship may be steering itself at this point. He need only provide the final destination, and the personalities he's populated the series with can take care of the rest.

Having said that, I do think the comic struggles with the size and depth of its cast. There are so many names and faces within these pages, some of whom we haven't seen in years, that it's become hard to keep track of whose allegiances lie where and who's still breathing. With the exception of a few key characters, I couldn't tell you the names that go along with half of these faces, let alone the details of their background, because it's been literally years since their stories were told. I've followed this series since the 10th issue, and while it's remained astonishingly consistent throughout its run, each month I'm left with the sneaking suspicion that I've missed something important. Azzarello constantly refers to minutiae that were last covered ages ago, and while that attention to detail is commendable, I've a hunch it's also lost on the vast majority of the readers. Maybe I should reread the entire series before the big conclusion in issue 100.

Series co-creator Eduardo Risso is still working the gears in the art department, and I wouldn't have it any other way. With the exception of issue 50, which featured a variety of guest artists, Risso has been with 100 Bullets every step of the way. His shadowy, noir-influenced style is as precise a match for this saga as I can imagine. And while his work has struggled ever so slightly under a recently increased workload, his familiarity with the cast more than makes up for it. When he's on his game, Risso is one of the top visual storytellers in the industry. Like Mike Mignola, he can speak volumes with a single line, while many of his contemporaries struggle to do the same with an abundance of painstaking details and complicated shading. Even when he's not at full strength, the personality and cinematic framing of Risso's work is worth the price of admission.

If you're a new reader looking to climb on board in time for the final episode, don't bother. This series is hard enough for diehards to follow. Azzarello's dialog remains fascinatingly lifelike and he's taking some major risks with his series near its end, but complicated arcs and the sharp curves the current storyline is navigating make the book difficult to pick up and read. If you can catch up quickly and keep the finer points of the saga in your short-term memory, you might find this to be one of the best stories the medium has ever enjoyed. Otherwise, it merely comes off as a great atmosphere piece that doesn't always make a lot of sense. Borrow it and immerse yourself. The rewards are worth the risks.

Dead of Night Featuring Devil-Slayer #2
Publisher: Marvel / MAX
Released: 08 October 2008
Writer: Brian Keene
Artist: Chris Samnee
Colorist: June Chung
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Kaare Andrews

Review: Damien Wilkens
Oddly for a Marvel comic, there's no recap page, so I couldn't tell you much about what happened before this issue. From what I can gather, Danny, a US soldier in Iraq, has come upon some sort of satanic ritual headed up by a demon named Belathauzer. Besides being completely unpronounceable (as most evil things are), he's also ripping through Danny's friends like piðatas, and our hero must try to make sense of it.

Oh, and of course, he's the chosen one.

Now, it needs to be stated that I don't mind the "chosen one" thing as a whole, but at least try a little bit to cover it up. You can literally predict pieces of dialog before they occur. To call this "by the numbers" would be a massive understatement. Outside of some brief gunplay, this is pretty much exposition central, leading to a pretty flat ending, making you feel a bit cheated at the end. Everything happens exactly as you would expect, and the whole thing comes off as amateurish.

The story itself, while a bit rushed, isn't a bad one on paper. Evil threat emerges, a new Devil-Slayer needs to take his mantle, the kicking of asses ensues. But when your last few pages read like something out of a Legend of Zelda fanfic, you have some issues. One second Danny is a confused soldier, the next he's ready to take on Ganon. It's jarring, to say the least, and at no point does our hero feel like anything more than a blank avatar with which to satisfy our demon-slaying appetite.

The visual storytelling is quite a bit better though. While Chris Samnee naturally has the overly shadowed horror feel down, where he really shines are his facial expressions. There is a striking two-page spread that tells an impressive story in its own right, and it's the kind of work that really saves this book.

To be honest, I struggled to finish this one. I heard that the first issue was a standout, but I knew exactly where this was going, and you will too. Flip through it for the art. You'll have the entire plot figured out in that time, anyway.

Detective Comics #849
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 08 October 2008
Writer: Paul Dini
Penciler: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover: Dustin Nguyen

Review: drqshadow
Batman is angrily looking for Hush. Seeing as how more conventional sources have proven unreliable, he's shifted his focus to the inmates of Arkham Asylum. And while it's always a risky proposition to trust the word of a mental patient, let alone one whose imprisonment is a direct result of your own intervention, Bats has his ways of extracting the truth from the unlikeliest of subjects when he's motivated. Tonight? Yeah, he looks fairly inspired.

Under writer Paul Dini's watch, the latest arc of Detective Comics has enjoyed a variety of twists, turns and glances in unexpected directions. His take on Hush is intelligent if a bit erratic, which stays in line with the rest of his storytelling. Dini will reel you in with a great setup, only to suddenly change directions in favor of something that, while unexpected, doesn't always make a lot of sense. For example, last month Hush wounded Batman by perilously injuring Catwoman, actually removing her heart and keeping her alive with the aid of a complicated bit of machinery. I love the idea of getting into Bruce's head by striking those he's grown unexpectedly close to, but for me the whole heart removal thing throws the believability of the entire storyline into question.

I think Dini had many of the same reservations, because the last half of this issue is spent explaining in detail how a machine like this would actually work. The problem is, the feasibility of actually doing this isn't what's been bothering me; it's the question of where Hush found the time, how he managed to sneak up on Selina and how she's going to immediately return to form afterwards.

Dustin Nguyen's sharp, simplistic artwork accompanies Dini's writing this month. His style exaggerated and manga-inspired has its roots set in the right place, but isn't yet a complete package. His layouts and storytelling are strong, particularly when he's focusing on an action scene, but Dustin struggles to keep the reader's attention during slower, dialog-focused pages. While the two are stylistically about as similar as a grapefruit and a Honda, Nguyen often shows the influence of classic Batman artist Kelley Jones in the shadowy mood and horror-tinted grimness of many of this issue's characters and locales. In broad daylight, the denizens of Gotham are light, airy and handsome, but when the sun goes down and shadows creep into their faces, they each display a dark, chilling side that's usually kept hidden.

Reading this issue is like browsing Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbook; some of the ideas Paul Dini presents are outstanding, but they're mixed up with dozens of other concepts that aren't nearly as compelling. His jolting changes of direction and strange decisions make this story difficult to follow, and its characters' true motivations impossible to grasp. Flip through it to appreciate the impressive details of Hush's master plan, but don't think too much about the odd route he's taken to get there. Your brain might pop.

The End League #5
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 08 October 2008
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Eric Canete
Colorist: Naomi Baker
Letterer: Russ Wooten
Cover: Eric Canete and Naomi Baker

Review: Preston Nelson
I'm not entirely sure what I just read. I mean, I think I know, but I'm not sure. Because, if someone wasn't paying close attention, it would come off as a really poor pastiche of about a dozen different things. Of course, I'm talking about Dark Horse's End League. It's early enough in the run that things should still be relatively simple, since we're only on issue five, right?

Oh, sweet lord, that is wrong.

We've got insanely complicated story arcs, with very little exposition. The main character only gets his name mentioned once three-quarters of the way through the issue. And the biggest problem, for a fanboy like me, is that I can't look at a page in this comic without thinking that something is blatantly lifted from a much more established comic. The villain is quite literally a redheaded Joker. I wish I was kidding. The design, the way he talks, the fact that he leaves his victims with a smile frozen on their dead lips everything. Smiling Man is the Joker, and this crew is terribly unimaginative.

But, wait, you say! This Joker has found the hammer of Thor! And he's fighting a poor pastiche of Magneto, who was raised by the Nazis to be a weapon! And for some reason a dude that looks like Red Skull's bastard child with a gila monster is doing experiments on pregnant ladies with help from his trusty Awesome Android! And there's a Captain Marvel look-alike flying around, tossing a shield that looks like Steve Rogers', but gold.

I think you're beginning to get the picture.

The art is free flowing and imaginative, but can get a bit sloppy. The artist has a lot of really good ideas, but doesn't exactly execute them. There's a sequence in which the main character, Black, is strapped to a roller coaster by "Not Joker," and where it should be a dizzying and horrifying experience, we're instead treated to close-ups of Black's helmet and distant shots of the whole coaster.

Of course, I could be missing something. This might all be occurring with a wink and a nod to the reader, laughing while it reassures them that it's just delightfully razzing these ideas. In which case, I'm grading the book down for something it meant to do ironically. But, frankly, it's taking itself way too seriously for that sort of satire to work. This book is needlessly complicated, terribly unoriginal and worthy of the lovely rating of skip.

Green Arrow / Black Canary #13
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 08 October 2008
Writer: Judd Winick
Penciler: Mike Norton
Inker: Wayne Faucher
Colorist: David Baron
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Cliff Chiang

Review: Damien Wilkens
Of all the books I've reviewed, this is the only one that I buy on a regular basis, and while the last arc wasn't fantastic (though it did include everyone's favorite ninja rapist, Shado), this is yet another one of those times that I feel the need to warn you of my bias going in.

So Ollie and Dinah have recovered Connor from Dr. Sivana the most obscure archenemy in all of comics and are in the midst of nursing him back to health when some surprises develop. Meanwhile, Speedy is having a grand old time with Gambit Dodger, and something resembling love might very well be in the air.

This is the kickoff to a whole new arc, so aside from waiting for that inevitable awkward moment when Mia has to tell Dodger that she has HIV, not much happens here. If this were any other book, I'd probably be rolling my eyes at the inherent WB-style goofiness of the love story, but again, bias and all. Ollie is the grizzled old fart that you've come to expect, and Dinah is there to balance him out. Connor, by design, is the most interesting character, as the mystery of what exactly happened in his two month exile is starting to unfold. And seeing as there's no real villain in this issue, it's quite possible that we're about to get an entire storyline featuring flashbacks.

Winick isn't trying to break new ground here, and it may be more a testament to the characters than anything else that they're able to stand so well on their own. But to put out a book that is almost completely devoid of action and still be fairly entertaining is an accomplishment. It's a brisk, fun read, and there are no holes to speak of.

Norton is a good fit for the comic, and while his pencils are simplistic enough to lend a real cartoonish look to the proceedings, he can pull off expressions just as well, especially when it comes to comedy. There's a particular panel in which Ollie is shaking his fists into the air with a hilarious mix of distorting rage and wide-eyed senility that brought a hearty chuckle to this reviewer.

There are a lot of different directions the book can go from here, and as a Green Arrow fan, I'm naturally interested. But understandably, most people probably won't share my enthusiasm, which is why I'm giving this a borrow. Nothing of the narrative stands out as a must-read, but it's pretty light fare in general. And that's just fine. You see so many epic battles and bloody wars that sometimes you just need to read some talking heads and look at some epic Robin Hood-esque facial hair.

Green Lantern #35
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 08 October 2008
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: Ivan Reis
Inker: Oclair Albert
Colorist: Ramov Mayor
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Ivan Reis and Dave McCaig

Review: Preston Nelson
As a young comic nerd, I was raised on a steady diet of Stan Lee's creations. I never crossed the line into that scary area known as DC, because they weren't Marvel, and were, thus, bound to be inferior. Of course, I've since learned that I was totally wrong and both companies have good and bad books. But, even then, Green Lantern intrigued me. He was what every kid wanted to be: a superhero only limited by his imagination. And, as I've never really sat down and read the origin of Hal Jordan, this was an excellent opportunity to finally get to know a character that I've always liked without really knowing.

I know some people aren't fans of the origin story, but this book is honestly about Sinestro as much as it's about Hal. The first major point in the book's favor is that it has some great dialog. That's to be expected when Geoff Johns is writing, but I honestly think that this is even a cut above his usual high standard of work. Sinestro and the freshly recruited Jordan are brought before the Guardians and just in the way they speak, you completely understand both Hal and Sinestro. Hal is new to this whole game, but he's brash and headstrong, willing to mouth off to the Guardians, because he doesn't care what they think. Sinestro, on the other hand, is just as dissatisfied with the Guardians, but has learned how to play their game much more effectively, and while he disagrees with them, he maintains a level head.

There's a real duality about Jordan and Sinestro that lends itself very well toward what's to come for them. They're tremendously similar men, and when they find themselves in conflict, it's going to be worth it.

The art is inoffensive. Nothing blew my mind, which, is kind of a shame, since this is a Green Lantern comic. GL comics have the potential for some of the coolest visuals possible in the comic book world, just due to the alien settings and the very nature of the ring. But don't expect that in this issue, as high action isn't the goal. This issue is in the midst of a character study, and a very good one at that. Some of the character designs on the alien Lanterns are quite original, but they're likely nothing new to longtime fans of the series.

It's a really cool piece that explores who Hal Jordan is and who Sinestro is going to become. Borrow it.

Witchblade #121
Publisher: Top Cow
Released: 01 October 2008
Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Stjepan Sejic
Cover: Stjepan Sejic

Review: Preston Nelson
The biggest problem with Witchblade is, well, the Witchblade. For the unfamiliar, it's some sort of magical technology that bonds with a woman and makes her the bastard child of Cable and that chick from the Species movies. It's apparently sentient too, but there was no evidence of that in this issue.

Now, I'm a sucker for supernatural stores. Especially when it's the tried and true method of "hardboiled city cops investigate something, only to learn it's something terrifically messed up." Frankly, if it worked for Mulder and Scully, it can work here. And it has a realistic, gritty atmosphere. The only times it really strays are when the Witchblade is used for purely mundane purposes, such as a toweling off while on the phone. And oddly enough, that is the only appearance of the Witchblade in the whole issue. There's a subplot between Detective Sara Pezzini and her partner, and there's a reporter trying to prove that the Witchblade exists. While the subplots take nothing away from the issue, I really didn't care about either of them.

The dialog is snappy and mostly believable, but I was infuriated by the Joss Whedon-like exchanges between the reporter and her editor. The characters have a real sarcastic edge, but not to the point of parody. These are real people that have been hurt and put through the grind, but are still holding it together mostly by shielding themselves from even more hurt. However, every character being a sardonic fountain of one-liners is a bit much.

Oh, the art. I freaking love the art in this issue! Soft lines contrast with hard angles and muted colors to make a gorgeous book. Lighting is used economically, but very realistically. Figures and forms are so honest that the fanciful shapes the Witchblade takes on are weird alien even.

Honestly, I think that this book would be better off if it was a supernatural crime thriller, one without the added gimmick of RoboChick. But that doesn't mean it's a bad book by any stretch. It's a borrow at worst.


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