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Is It Wednesday Yet?

09 June 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.

Dark Avengers #5
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 03 June 2009
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mike Deodato
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Rain Beredo
Cover: Mike Deodato

Review: drqshadow
Norman Osborn's crew of evildoers masquerading as heroes seems to have achieved its ultimate goal of unconditional public acceptance. While the old Avengers are out on the streets, struggling to evade arrest, Osborn and company are thriving under the public spotlight, taking credit for their good deeds and living the high life in their old headquarters. It's funny how much good a little well-timed PR can do for a team's image.

Although it's certainly a dangerous proposition, I love that Brian Michael Bendis has such creative freedom at Marvel. He seems unbound to try just about any idea that floats into his mind, for better or for worse, with this issue providing no exception. If he wants to explore the seedy underbelly of crime in the Savage Land, we're headed straight for the land of the lost. If he suddenly decides he'd like to spend an entire issue on Norman Osborn's live TV interview with Katie Couric, by God, we're getting a full issue of talking heads. And that's just the kind of indulgence this month brings us, with a few very brief glances around at the rest of the squad for completion's sake.

Compared to the last few months, when the former Goblin single-handedly carried the narrative to its conclusion, this wasn't a great issue. Norman had plenty of time in the spotlight, which is always a good thing, but his dialog wasn't nearly as revealing, nor was it as charming. Rather than finding a new respect for the character via another introspective peek into his psyche and a few well-placed compliments, I just saw him as a conniving snake and that's nothing new. He did a decent enough job deflecting Hawkeye's public criticisms, which was basically the point of this out-of-armor appearance on the evening news I especially loved his calling out the fact that Clint himself was a reformed felon. But his points weren't convincing enough that I could see anyone buying into him as America's new white knight. Instead of giving the majority of our population something to blindly throw their faith behind, he went on the offensive, attacking Barton's past but not his criticisms. It's like Bill O'Reilly has been given the keys to our nuclear arsenal.

After five issues, the jury's still out on the work of Bendis' artistic partner, industry veteran Mike Deodato. While his style has changed markedly since the mid 90s, when he was just another wave in the sea of Jim Lee clones, I can still see a lot of that era's influences in his pencils. He's worked diligently to minimize the amount of detail in his illustrations, but it still has a tendency to feel overworked and excessively meticulous. Although he's nailed Osborn as the smarmy, arrogant leader of the pack, he still hasn't quite come to grips with most of the rest of the cast. His male characters seem lumpy and heavy, his females uncomfortable and awkward. With his continuous use of deep shadows painting the entire team in a suspicious light, I can see why he was chosen for this series and Deodato could still prove to be the definitive Dark Avengers artist. He just isn't there yet.

Conceptually, this has become one of my favorite mainstream comics. There's plenty of embedded social commentary in the prospect that most Americans wouldn't know or care if the men in charge of their well-being were violent repeat offenders, and Bendis seems as content to delve into that as I am to buy it right up. Dark Avengers is still going strong, but its pace has slowed. And during the down time I've noticed a few cracks in the veneer. Borrow it.

Ultimate Spider-Man #133
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 03 June 2009
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Cover: Stuart Immonen

Review: drqshadow
In case you missed the update like I did, this would be a wrap for Ultimate Spider-Man. Yes, despite Marvel's assurances that the series was safe from the kind of extinction that seemed inescapable for Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four, the current run of USM ends with number 133. Following two issues of Requiem, the festivities will resume in August with a new number one, a new artist and (perhaps) a new Spider-Man.

I suppose if the current run had to end, this would be the right way to do it. In light of the book's conclusion, writer Brian Michael Bendis chose to publish its final issue without a single line of dialog. That lack of diction could've made for a very quick, disappointing read. But between Bendis' thrilling plot and Stuart Immonen's fantastic visual storytelling, it never felt short on substance. In fact, the silence played into the story brilliantly. When the issue opened moments after an enormous explosion had rocked the concrete beneath Spider-Man and the Hulk's feet it produced a shell-shocked / white noise sort of sensation. I felt like my ears were ringing as everything fell into slow motion, surrounded by a faint light haze. As the issue progressed, that effect transformed to embody more of a stunned, speechless disbelief while it became less and less likely that Kitty and Spider-Woman would find Peter's body. No words could have delivered a stronger impact.

In Stuart Immonen's swan song with the character, he's delivered what is likely his strongest performance. Naturally, a wordless episode seems tailor-made to showcase the skills of the artist above and beyond those of the writer, but that sword has blades on both sides of its hilt. Under such circumstances, a bad artistic showing could be amplified just as much as a good one if not more so. And despite my general love for his work, I must confess that I've seen some slack in Immonen's Ultimate Spider-Man efforts lately.

In this issue, though, that's all a distant memory. This is Stuart Immonen taking over the show, pulling every last tool out of his box and putting it all on display right there on the page. Nobody delivers a sense of staggering perspective like Immonen, as evidenced by the fireball-engulfed two-page cityscape that opens this issue. Few show restraint as effectively as he does mere pages later, during the fight scene between an enraged (and, literally, inflamed) Hulk and a fleet of military helicopters. And, perhaps most impressive of all, he has few rivals when it comes to the kind of complicated emotions that flood the faces of Spider-Man's supporting cast as the tale goes through its paces. From the unrestrained fury of the Hulk to the heartbroken concern in the face of Kitty Pryde, there's nary an expression that goes untouched in this issue's pages and Immonen nails every last one. David Lafuente has some humongous shoes to fill when he takes over later this summer.

After finding myself terribly disappointed by last month's story, this provided a nice rebound that left me upset about the impending relaunch. Why screw around with something that can still work this well? Buy this one and enjoy it, because who knows what twists and turns the future might hold.


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