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Is It Wednesday Yet?

13 January 2009 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

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.

Cyblade #2
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Publisher: Top Cow
Released: 02 January 2009
Pencilers: Rick Mays and Lee Ferguson
Inker: Sal Regla
Colorist: Guru eFX
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Cover: Rick Mays

Review: drqshadow
The winner of 2007's Pilot Season continues its look back at the triumphs and tragedies that made Cyblade the person she is today. Robbed of her memories and inducted into a government program, Dominique has spent the first months of her new life blindly following her handler, Stephen Rashell. But when he's revealed as a double agent and flees the scene, the responsibility of furthering her education falls to Jocelyn, the woman who killed Cyblade's father and brother.

Series author Joshua Hale Fialkov draws repeatedly from the well of recycled ideas throughout the issue, rarely pausing to add something of his own. The characters fall flat, and fire off dialog that delivers a rare mix of clichés and vague presumptions. Since this is a retrospective origin tale, you have to assume that readers will know the lead character survives the ordeal, yet Fialkov constantly places her in desperate peril as a major plot device. It's even the cliffhanger for the end of this issue: Cyblade is in great danger, tune in next month to see if she survives! I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm betting she manages to pull through, and then goes on to become a key member of Cyberforce. Call it a hunch.

Of course, it's only natural to assume a book that's focused on a rivalry between two busty female characters would include a hearty helping of skin, and, on this front, Cyblade does not restrain itself. The sheer number of awkward camera angles and weak excuses to catch the ladies in the buff provides a certain degree of comedic brilliance, although I'm quite sure the comedy isn't intentional. Within the first six pages, we're treated to an array of gratuitous crotch shots, an ass-less battle suit and a wrestling match in the shower. If it weren't for the conveniently placed debris that surfaces throughout the latter scene, I'd be sure this was the storyboard for a late-night Cinemax original.

Rick Mays and Lee Ferguson provide artwork that suits the tone. Their work is similar in that they both employ a clean, spacey style that's generally attractive. The characters that fill this issue share a dumb, vacant stare that makes it difficult to believe they're actually saying what's written in the word balloons, but at least the rest of their bodies look good in doing so. As always seems to be the case with a Top Cow series, the real visual power here is in the colors. Guru eFX does a tremendous job of enhancing Mays and Ferguson's work, adding substantial depth and mood to the page and generally making the artists out to be better than they really are. Rather than merely enhancing the atmosphere that's already present in the artwork, the coloring brings almost everything to the page itself.

Not the best book I've read this month, but also not the worst. Cyblade has some serious issues, but it's light reading by design and at that it's successful. I blew through this issue so quickly, I felt like I'd been shortchanged a couple of pages, when in actuality it was just a combination of light dialog and constant action. It's nothing substantial; flip through it at the shop and put it back when you're finished three minutes later.

Doctor Who: The Forgotten #5
Publisher: IDW
Released: 02 January 2009
Writer: Tony Lee
Penciler: Pia Guerra
Inker: Kent Archer
Colorist: Charlie Kirchoff
Letterer: Comicraft's Richard Starkings
Cover: Nick Roche

Review: Damien Wilkens
Finding himself trapped in a space museum without the TARDIS, the Doctor is being manipulated by an unseen enemy that appears to have some connection to the Time Lords. After having his memory stolen from him, he's slowly been using items from regenerations past to recall old adventures, friends and poor wardrobe choices.

If that last paragraph read like Hebrew to you, it's probably in your best interest to move on. This issue, and every one proceeding it, is fully aware of its audience: Whovians, such as myself. The Forgotten is a buffet of fan service, not really pretending to be anything more. While the idea of doing a Doctors Who clip show may not sound too appealing, the truth is that this has been a damn fine story thus far, and things don't look to be changing much from this end.

With the help of the ever-yummy Martha Jones, the Tenth Doctor has been able to recall everything up to his Seventh incarnation, and it's this issue that we finally get to my two favorites: Eight and Nine. The Eighth Doctor portion gives us a terribly short adventure in which the Doctor and a Malmooth must escape prison. It shows this Doctor's resourcefulness, while giving us the smallest of glimpses into the events of the Time War. It also adds fuel to the "half human" fire. The Ninth Doctor story, on the other hand, is a shockingly lighthearted tale in which he gets two sides of a World War I battle to play soccer with each other. I'm not even kidding.

As strange as some of the choices made here are, it can't be disputed that these characters act exactly how you would expect them to. The Eighth Doctor is eccentric, risk-taking and maybe a little mad. The Ninth is a character more about encouraging those around him. And the Tenth is a ball of manic energy, ready with a second question before the first even exits his lips. It's details like these that not only make it clear that Tony Lee is a big Who fan, but someone that respects the history of the franchise.

If there's any real downside, it's Pia Guerra's art. Perhaps it's a rights issue, but the non-Tennant Doctors look nothing like the actors that played them. McGann is a generic man with long-ish hair, and Eccleston lacks the presence (and the ears) that you would expect. Rose doesn't fair much better, looking like she is of a mysterious nationality. Past issues had the same sort of problem, but were never this noticeable. It doesn't ruin what is still a great book, but it needs to be mentioned.

As much as I was into this, I can only give it a borrow. This is something that really should be read in trade format, especially if you're not terribly familiar with the source material.

Fantastic Four #562
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 02 January 2009
Writer: Mark Millar
Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Inkers: Cam Smith and Andrew Currie
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC's Rus Wooton
Cover: Bryan Hitch

Review: drqshadow
Our planet's best days are behind it. Well behind it, in fact, if you believe Reed's old flame (and intellectual equal) Alyssa Castle. She and her husband have been tasked with building a replacement Earth to be employed when ours finally bites the bullet, which they're estimating should take place within, say, the next two decades. Thing is, sometimes the best intentions have the worst consequences.

I've loved the premise and obvious social commentary behind this story arc, but I have to admit it hasn't been Mark Millar's most accessible work. It's perfectly in tune with everything the series has ever been about: brainy adventures into the unknown using Reed's mind, Sue's passion, Ben's fists and Johnny's impetuosity. All of the pieces are there, but like the writings of Philip K. Dick, it's not something that's for everybody. Because the subject matter is so big, the tone is so verbose and there's so much going on, this arc can be a real challenge to read. But the rewards of being enveloped in this world are so great that they're worth the effort it takes to get there.

This issue is little more than an epilogue, observations on what the team has learned during their latest adventure. Yet, even as a brief respite before the next onslaught, it's overfilled with little developments and big ideas. The story never stops moving, even when the adventures are on hiatus, which is odd for a team of superheroes. Millar's run on Fantastic Four should be adored by any hardcore sci-fi fan, for many of the same reasons it will likely be avoided by more casual readers. If Mark has produced better work in his career, I've never seen it, but it won't deliver the kind of accolades he's enjoyed on The Ultimates.

Millar's longtime collaborator, Bryan Hitch, isn't as sharp this month. His work feels more hurried and imprecise than I'm used to, and the story's heavy focus on details and mobs of characters hurts his compositions. There's a whole hell of a lot going on here, and Hitch is struggling to convey it all. If you remember his work on The Ultimates 2 #13, the end result here is very similar: same artist, same style, same strengths and weaknesses, but it's like he was working with an unsharpened pencil. That's not to say he doesn't still have his moments of brilliance, specifically during Doom's brief appearance this month, just that he's had better showings.

Millar and Hitch's Fantastic Four is adventurous, imaginative, genuinely surprising and brilliant. That said, it's not for everybody. If you've been following this story since the beginning and like what you've seen, you'll continue to do so this month. If you haven't, it's most certainly not the right place to try jumping on. You'll be lost in six seconds flat. It's still great stuff if you're in the target demographic. Borrow it to make sure.

The Goon #31
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 02 January 2009
Writer: Eric Powell
Artist: Eric Powell
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Cover: Eric Powell

Review: Damien Wilkens
Here's a word problem for you to figure out: if DW reads a comic that he's never read before, one that doesn't have a recap page and barely any dialog, how does he not hate it?

It took me a while to figure that one out myself. Don't get me wrong. If you don't read The Goon on a regular basis, this issue makes zero sense. It's bright and abrasive, and it consists mostly of things getting punched, tackled, shot, stabbed, crushed and stomped. To cap things off, the word count of this entire issue is probably less than what's spent on one Bendis panel. So if you're expecting me to outline the ins and outs, I can't. I simply don't know.

This is what I do know. The Goon, who looks just like a zombie Joe Fixit, is the protector of a small town that apparently has a tendency to be attacked by multi-limbed beasts and the like. He doesn't appreciate this very much, and thus kicks a substantial amount of ass all over town while a mass of others join the battle, and there's a lot of screaming before we get to a very sudden and somber ending.

Usually, when this sort of thing comes my way, I'm the first to dismiss it. So I have to ask again: why didn't I hate this? The answer is that unlike all of those other books in the past, this is the very first time I've seen a tornado of fists and limbs and actually wanted to know why it was happening. There are points where I felt like I was reading callbacks and smiled despite not even knowing what they were calling back to. It's a weird web this book has weaved upon me, but amazingly enough, I want to buy some back issues now.

Powell picks up the art duties as well here, and it really works to his advantage, since he clearly knows how he wants his story to be told. It's very stylized, and the man can draw a monster like nobody else.

This is the strangest reasoning for a score I've probably ever given, but this book makes no sense to me, and that's why you should borrow it. If that doesn't work for you, there's a character named the Zombie Priest. How can you not love that?

Incognito #1
Publisher: Marvel / Icon
Released: 02 January 2009
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Val Staples
Cover: Sean Phillips

Review: drqshadow
The dynamic duo behind Icon's Criminal is back with Incognito, an imaginative examination of a different kind of crook. With a huge body count and dozens of heists to his name, Zack Overkill was one of the most famous supervillains of his day. But such rampages always seem to carry a giant-sized price tag, and for Zack, the time has come to pay the piper. When we're first introduced, Zack has adopted a new surname, a new location and a new job as a lowly paper-pusher, all thanks to his spot in the witness protection program. But how will he react when many of those same old urges begin surfacing once again, threatening the very foundations of his new life?

Ed Brubaker spends much of this premiere issue laying the groundwork for what's to come. He's introducing us to the cast, walking us through Zack's history and establishing just how big a lifestyle change this is for the former villain. Like many of Brubaker's leads, Overkill isn't an extremely likeable guy. He's shady, conniving and spoiled. Because he had it so good before the abrupt ending of his previous life, he's never going to be happy as a mere cog in the grand machine of modern society. And though he is such an irritating individual, it's Zack's unhappiness with an average existence that connects him with the reader. While most of us can cloud our minds and expectations enough to accept our roles as worker bees, I'd imagine none are truly content with their post in life. We want to be special, to do what we want rather than what we're told, and though he goes about it in objectionable ways, that's all Zack is after, too.

Incognito is just the latest in a long line of superb contributions from artist Sean Phillips. Where Criminal offered a fairly singular tone of grit, shadows and grime, the new series provides him the chance to showcase his versatility. Zack's life supplies a good mix of flavors, from the sterile, repetitive confines of his day job, to the sad, desperate décor of the singles bars he frequents and the filthy, grimy alleyways he visited as a supervillain. Phillips provides solid visuals in each scenario, subtly shifting his style to match the tone set by Brubaker's story. I also remain constantly impressed by how much Phillips can do with so few lines. Like Mike Mignola, he's developed that perfect eye for the very point where simplicity meets legibility. His work is no more complicated than it needs to be, but at the same time lacks neither depth nor description. It's just right.

This is just another chapter in what's sure to be a long and fruitful collaboration between Brubaker and Phillips. Incognito provides a cast that's instantly identifiable, a conflicted lead character and a fresh scenario, but at times it feels like Brubaker is straddling too many genres at the same time. I'm sure the series will really grow wings by the end of its first arc, and even at the moment it's quality reading, but it's not entirely sure of its identity just yet. Borrow it at the very least; it's very good material but doesn't quite match the intensity of their preceding work.

Proof #15
Publisher: Image
Released: 02 January 2009
Writer: Alex Grecian
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colorist: Adam Guzowski
Cover: Riley Rossmo

Review: drqshadow
Proof follows the adventures of a government-employed Sasquatch, John "Proof" Prufrock, as he hunts mythological beasts and unknown monsters around the globe. What better agent for that line of work than Bigfoot himself, right? Paired with a young agent named Ginger Brown, the Scully to his Mulder, Proof has already run into el Chupacabra, the Kraken, the Loch Ness Monster and a pack of dinosaurs. So why is he convinced he's hallucinating when he randomly bumps elbows with the Savage Dragon?

Alex Grecian's writing is playful and entertaining, reminding me of why I found tall tales and mythology so fascinating when I was younger. His enthusiasm for the subject is unquestionable; within the first dozen pages he's scattered more fantasy-housed creatures than I can count, and that's before the action really starts to pick up. These critters are so common, in fact, I had to wonder whether their existence could really be in question to begin with. Why would the government invest time and money in a department dedicated to finding and cataloging such beasts if the lead characters are basically tripping over them with every step?

Nevertheless, Proof doesn't bother itself with such details. The name of the game is imagination, in excess, mixed with a heaping helping of adventure and a splash of action. While this issue does have an awful lot going on from time to time, and a cast that's nearly large enough to fill a football team, I didn't find it confusing or unwieldy. The narrative jumps around a lot, with little regard paid to smooth transitions, but it's still understandable. Grecian's craft needs a lot of work, but his ideas are so original, so numerous, that many of his sins are forgivable. I look forward to the day this writer can combine his overactive imagination with a stronger grasp of good storytelling.

I had a lot of trouble adapting to Riley Rossmo's manic, scatterbrained artwork. His style is so loose and playful that at times it felt like I'd been browsing the artist's sketchbook, rather than his contributions to the finished page. His camera often dips and sways drunkenly, which left me disoriented. It's not that Rossmo's artwork isn't without its merits; his energy jumps right off the page, he's clearly embraced the storyline and he's original. Nothing else on the shelves today looks quite like this; it's as if Bill Plympton, Sam Kieth and Peter Chung were thrown into the same jar and shoved in a high-velocity paint mixer. So Rossmo deserves high marks for originality, but the craziness of his work demands all of the reader's attention when it should be splitting time with the story.

This is a series that appears to be in the midst of a shared set of growing pains. Both Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo have the skills to really make some waves in the industry, but both are so raw and unbridled at this point that they're flying way under the radar. As a straight-up mind dump, Proof is second to none. It's playing with ideas and concepts that many creators can only dream about, and moving at such a breakneck pace that I can't imagine how it's survived for 15 issues. As a coherent narrative, however, it struggles. Flip through it to enjoy the positives, but pause to consider the negatives before you take it home.

Scalped #24
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 02 January 2009
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: RM Guera
Colorist: Giulla Brusco
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover: Jock

Review: Damien Wilkens
When I first opened Scalped, I had a bad feeling in my stomach. It's one I've gotten many times in the past; the dreaded feeling of expectation that comes with reading a book so acclaimed as this one. I can't count on both hands how many books have come my way that were critically lauded but, for whatever reason, let me down. Maybe it's the awkward feeling of jumping into the middle of storylines, maybe I just didn't get the appeal or maybe I underrate books as a rule. Whatever the reasoning, the fact is, I've reached a point where hype is meaningless to me, and I was fully prepared to be disappointed by this issue.

I wasn't.

Lincoln Red Crow is a complex man. A stout, older gentleman that looks at home in tailored white suits, but has no qualms about staining that very garb with the blood of those that have wronged him. For years he has looked to bring his own brand of order and piece to the reservation through his casino, but time hasn't been kind to him, and he's finding some of the more questionable decisions of his past hard to live with.

This issue is less the conclusion of a story and more the character study of a man that is a slave to his past. Every time he tries to curb the violence, he finds himself once again playing to the mob mentality, the idea of being pulled back in. He is a man so obsessed with his vision of order that he will kill anyone that looks to disturb it, and he hates himself more and more with each passing moment.

And the most insane part? This man is the villain of the series.

I had never understood the appeal of Jason Aaron before, as none of his mainstream work with Marvel did much to blow me away, but this issue alone has made me understand why he's considered one of the best writers in comics today. The way he was able to mesh Indian culture with crime noir and not have it just resort to a parody of itself is astounding. He has crafted characters that are able to resonate with a sort of believability that you wouldn't expect from a comic.

The artwork is strong. There's a certain inky quality to every dark page. Lot's of browns and reds are at work here, and they make for a grounded, emotive look. There's one panel in particular when Red Crow is just sitting in his car in the dark. There are no words, but you can just see the torment on his face. It's a thing of beauty.

This is a fantastic book, and worth every bit of praise that it receives. Buy it.

Ultimate Hulk Annual #1
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 02 January 2009
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Marko Djurdjevic and Danny Miki
Colorist: Guru eFX
Letterer: Comicraft's Richard Starkings and Albert Deschesne
Cover: Brandon Peterson

Review: Damien Wilkens
Something is very wrong here. I'm now four books in and I haven't lost it once. I haven't called for the blood of a comic creator or said unflattering things about their mothers. In fact, I haven't given a book anything less than a borrow so far. Is this some strange alternate dimension where all the books are good and everyone remembers to floss? Oh please, Ultimate Hulk Annual, give me something to work with here. Give me some bad artwork, a stupid plot, a chest baby, something I can rant about. I don't think I can handle one more quality book this week.

Oh thank the stars, it sucks.

So one of the Zardas (the crazy one, if that helps) has decided to stick around the Ultimate Universe, and in true goddess fashion, she's taking her holier-than-thou attitude to a nearly murderous level. So Captain America sends her across the country — unsupervised — and tells her to discover the greatness of the human race, or something. Great plan, Cap!

There's nothing to spoil here because nothing important occurs. Eventually Zarda happens upon a diner where a naked Hulk stomps inside demanding pancakes. This leads to a long fight between a goddess in black leather and a naked Hulk. (I assure you, this is not as awesome as it sounds.) When "you will put on pants" is the most intense exclamation of the entire battle, you know there's a problem, especially when it's immediately followed by two straight punches to the junk.

To cap things off, after the fight, they share a dinner and go fuck. The end. Yes, I can hear the $3.99 just flying out of your pocket at this very moment.

The art is very good from all involved, but can't save this nothing of a story. I'm all for lighthearted fun, but this is not something you put a $3.99 price tag on. This is back-up story made for cheap laughs. I can't fathom the sort of person that finds this sort of book necessary. Did you seriously not have anything else for McGuinness or Djurdjevic to do?

And Jeph Loeb? Clearly that's a misprint. The writer of some of the best Batman stories wrote this? I truly am in an alternate dimension, and I don't think I like it. Books like this are the reason comics shouldn't be $3.99. Skip it.

I'm glad after all of the cool mystery, deep character development and fun action of the other books this week, I was able to end on something that had no real merit to speak of. Thank you, Ultimate Hulk Annual. This is just what I needed. I knew you wouldn't let me down.


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