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Is It Wednesday Yet?

03 March 2010 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.

Daredevil #505
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 17 February 2010
Writer: Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston
Artist: Marco Checchetto
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Paolo Rivera
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Desmond Reddick
As we join Matt Murdock in this issue, he is leaving New York to go east for a meeting of the leaders of the Hand, an ancient ninja assassin guild that he has found himself the leader of. Accompanying him is his newly appointed American Daimyo (something about a finger), White Tiger. Bakuto, the South American Daimyo, is being a real jerk (I think he's the middle finger), and the other three Daimyos are plotting against him. Seems like a pretty shitty way to promote synergy to me.

Three issues have come out in the time since I've read an issue of Daredevil, and, after reading the recap page, it appears as if more has happened in those three issues than in Bendis and Brubaker's entire run. But considering that the last issue of this series I read (#501) followed on the heels of a single issue that I skipped and had me confused as hell, I'm not surprised. I had read the previous 100 issues and was in the dark after a one-shot. This issue was more jarring.

Getting beyond that, the creative team really should be commended for telling a Daredevil story in which Matt Murdock isn't the saddest, most pathetic piece of shit on Earth like he's been portrayed for a decade. Here, he's a confident and commanding badass. Antony Johnston has joined Andy Diggle and seems to have added some depth. The story actually gives equal time to Murdock and his five generals and even allows Murdock and White Tiger to fade into the background a little bit. While I have no clue who four of the Daimyos of the Hand are, there's just enough characterization to move them beyond the stereotypical ninja master-type character. Their motivations seep through, and the shady moral standpoint of every character involved in this story keeps them all in a neutral grey area. In fact, I would not be surprised if Murdock comes off as a more villainous character by the end of this arc.

The art finds an amazing balance between Andy Kubert, Michael Lark, and JH Williams III. The continuity of images is superb as well. In the span of three pages the story jumps from a secret underground ninja meeting in a cave, to a casino, to a full-scale assassination of a ninja master in a traditional dojo, and it never feels jumpy or stilted. There is a wonderful thin line to Checchetto's work that manages at times to be both lovely and harsh. Plus he draws an incredibly sexy White Tiger.

Like Daredevil comics of old, the coloring is the star; the stark imagery of the settings are set upon by the bright reds and whites in this issue, creating an almost surrealistic level of style. Almost like if a red ninja walked into a black and white Kurosawa film. Hollingsworth knocks it out of the park consistently on Daredevil, and has done so for almost a decade. The man knows colors better than just about everybody else in the business.

This books is a solid borrow, but only because it is confusing as hell if you aren't following it monthly.

Deadpool #19
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 17 February 2010
Writer: Daniel Way
Penciler: Carlo Barberi
Inkers: Juan Vlasco and Sandu Florea
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC's Joe Sabino
Cover: Jason Pearson
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Damien Wilkens
Dear Joe Quesada,

You win.

That's right. I'm done. Do whatever you want. I don't care anymore. I'm too old for this shit.

I'm writing you this letter not as a comic reviewer, but as a former Marvel Zombie. Over the past year or so, I've found myself making a rather sudden transition into DC fandom, to the point that I barely spend money on your company anymore. This is not because DC gives me rings when I buy their books. It's because they put out better comic books than you. DC gives me Blackest Night, you give me a teaser for whatever next week's event will be. DC gives me Geoff Johns, you give me Jeph Loeb. I don't care about variant covers or what "everything has been leading up to." I want to read good comic books that aren't going to insult my intelligence.

This brings us to Deadpool #19. I'm going to be honest. Deadpool was never my favorite character. I thought he was entertaining. Hell, I even have a few Cable & Deadpool trades, but I, as most, understood that he was always going to be a background character. And he should be. He's a walking joke. If you have any chance of lending weight or significance to your stories, he can't be important. It would defeat the purpose. But that didn't stop you, did it? He got some momentum behind him, and you did what you do with all of your popular characters: you crammed him down our throats. One ongoing wasn't enough. No, the fucker needs three. Hey, let's do a variant cover while we're at it! Deadpool's not in the book? Fuck it, make a variant cover anyway!

A joke, no matter how well told, is no longer funny if repeated too often. It makes sense that you put Daniel Way on the book, seeing that he has plenty of experience in writing overexposed characters. His work here is pretty much par for the course. I was ready to give it a fair shake, but then I was treated to a murder plot involving a simian hitman and Spider-Man. Graphic, violent murder played for laughs. This isn't 1995. I get it; it's Deadpool, it's going to be silly. But that just goes back to my previous point. I've seen so much of this character lately that I would be perfectly content with him disappearing for 10 years. This should not be the intended effect of reading one of your "marquee" titles.

This book is a waste of Carlo Barberi who's a decent enough artist and I could really go on and on about the writing or the direction you think you guys are taking the character, but that's just a fraction of the bigger picture here. Books like this are why I don't read Marvel anymore. This is more than me simply giving a comic a skip. It's about creatively bankrupting a company that nearly died once already. I know you have Disney to fall back on now, and I'm happy that you and the people working for you are able to put food on the table and make a comfortable living. But I want you to remember that you took someone that used to vehemently (and often irrationally) defend your company and you made him hate it.

Sincerely,
Damien Wilkens

Hellblazer #264
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 17 February 2010
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artists: Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini
Colorist: Trish Mulvihill
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Simon Bisley
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
Trouble just seems to hang around certain people. This month's adventure with John Constantine is a great example. Skipping out on England to avoid a jail sentence, John's arrived in India on something of a crazy personal errand. All he's after is a taste of purity and a resurrected love, but somewhere along the way he stumbled on a murder mystery, an old enemy, and an angry local demonic presence. Just a magnet for drama, this guy.

As the conclusion to writer Peter Milligan's latest arc with Hellblazer, the storyline doesn't take too many risks. It's a rather continuity-free saga, so you won't need to carry an armload of knowledge into this one. Lapsed readers will have no trouble catching up without the aid of a summary page, while new followers should be able to slide into the proceedings with similar ease

The plot's finer points might seem familiar to those older readers I just mentioned: a mysterious supernatural entity, long held in check by local mystics, has broken free and cut a swath of carnage through the heart of Mumbai. If you guessed the name of the only man in the world who can help, you get a gold star. It's familiar territory for old John, who actually dealt with something very similar in his very first story arc all those years ago. Milligan does enough differently this time around to grant the story the fresh modern edge it needs, but this isn't exactly breaking new ground. It's written well enough, with perhaps fewer appearances from the headliner than I'd like, but it won't promise to turn the character on his head or anything like that. It's good, but it's very safe.

Giuseppe Camuncoli delivers another nice showing with this issue's visuals. If you're a cross-publisher reader, you might remember Camuncoli's recent work from Dark Wolverine or Incredible Hulk, which is where he made an impression on me. Camuncoli is no stranger to the Vertigo concept, though, nor is he a rookie on Hellblazer. With more than a dozen Constantine-centric issues to his credit, this actually represents something of a homecoming for the Italian artist, and he really makes it shine.

Camuncoli's nationality may not match the Indian setting of the story itself, but the faintly exotic, unconventional style of his artwork does provide a nice partner for the story's international scenery. He peppers the issue's crowded backdrops with adaptations of Bollywood movie posters, filthy strip mall marquees, and pushcart vendors, but the artwork, strangely enough, never gets overcrowded. Giuseppe primarily deals with sharp restraint and subtlety, but his illustrations are trembling with life and rich with atmosphere. There's no uncertainty in his work, just like there's no question he has a bright future ahead of him. Vertigo is probably a better home for his technique than a mainstream Marvel superhero book, but he can pull off either style when necessary.

I lost interest in this series when it embraced weirdness for weirdness' sake, and lost sight of any sort of underlying plot threads or historical significance. That was about six years ago, and I think it's had plenty of time for a fresh start. Despite a somewhat light touch, the current iteration is a big improvement from where I'd left it. It's well written, with knowledge and respect for the source material, and the artwork is gorgeous. Hellblazer isn't about to make a return appearance on my pull list, but it's on the right track. Borrow it.

Joe the Barbarian #2
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 17 February 2010
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Sean Murphy
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: Sean Murphy
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Damien Wilkens
The scene. The local supermarket. Damien pushes his cart full of sundries down the aisle, eyeballing the frozen pizzas. Surely, this would be a four cheese evening, courtesy of the Red Baron. There is one remaining in the freezer. He smiles at his luck and opens the door, reaching for his thin-crust destiny.

But another hand reaches at the same time. Damien retracts, as does the stranger. He looks up to apologize, but then quickly looks away. They know each other.

Damien: Grant.
Grant: Damien.

They stand ineptly for a moment, the seconds feeling like hours.

Damien: Funny seeing you here.
Grant: Yeah. Just came by to grab a few things.

More silence.

Grant: You look well.
Damien: Yeah... been doing some running. You know, trying to get out of the house. Don't wanna be cooped up all day reading com... novels. Lots of novels, yeah.
Grant: I see. Read anything good lately?
Damien: Oh... well, you know. There's just so many. I...

Damien lowers his head for a moment in regret, then quickly back up to eye level with the sad Scottish man in front of him.

Damien: Look, about the Batman and Robin review
Grant: Don't. Just... don't.
Damien: They made me read it. I was trying to let things go, but
Grant: No. I understand. It's fine. We've all got to move on sometime. I heard you read Joe the Barbarian. You know, it's been getting a lot of great reviews.
Damien: Yeah. I'm happy for you. Glad it's working out.
Grant: So... what'd you think of it?
Damien: It... it was fine, I guess. I really didn't see what all the fuss was about.

Grant shakes his head, disappointed.

Grant: Ah, I see.
Damien: Hey, I tried. I really did. It's not you, it's me. Really. It just didn't do anything for me. I find your storytelling style to be unnecessarily cryptic, and a lot of the tropes you use to be annoying and predictable. The art was good, though! And honestly, I could follow what was happening pretty well. It's just... I have no compulsion to read the next issue, you know? But that's okay. You writing and me reading, it just wasn't meant to be. There are plenty of people out there for you that love your stories. Good people. I know you're going to make them all very happy. Just 'cause I gave it a flip through, that doesn't mean you're a bad writer. I know you work very hard, and put a lot of thought into what you do. But I'm just not ready for that kind of comic right now.

Grant: I... appreciate your honesty. Enjoy your pizza.

Grant turns his cart and slowly beings to saunter away.

Damien: Hey.

He stops, looking back for a second.

Damien: We'll always have Arkham Asylum.

Grant smiles, nodding.

Grant: Aye. That we will.

He then walks off into the frozen yogurt section, a strange little bald man, for sure. But most importantly, he was a man with closure.

End scene.

Outsiders #27
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 17 February 2010
Writer: Dan DiDio
Penciler: Don Kramer
Inker: Michael Babinski
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Philip Tan
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Desmond Reddick
In this issue, Geo-Force, leader of the Outsiders, has further distanced himself from his team thanks to his alliance with the new Eradicator and the world of New Krypton. No one takes more offense to this than Black Lightning who really has a bug up his ass while Markovia's head of state acts, well, like a head of state. A group of villains mount an attack, and when the Outsiders respond, the pot boils and it's time for everyone to show their true colors.

Where to start with the story? Something positive! I like, no, love the idea of a member of royalty being the leader of a superhero team who withdraws himself from the team when they aren't punching people in spiky armor to do his royal duties. It works a lot and it is Gasp! rather new. I understand that can lead to tension, especially if said member of royalty used to just be a regular grunt on the team when it didn't operate out of his home country. But the tension in this book is so forced and our entry point character, Black Lightning, just looks like a complete douchebag.

Owlman. What the fuck? Here's a guy dressed like a villain from another plane of existence who walks around just acting like a dude, talking to everybody, being a peacemaker, and is the kind of guy you'd like to hang with. And yet no one I know has half a fucking clue who the guy under the mask is. Please, seriously. Someone explain this to me.

Don Kramer is an artist I respect. The guy is solid and has a Bronze Age look to the construction of his faces that I just plain dig. But this issue, and the last issue which I was lucky enough to read as well, seems to have been rushed. Panel layout is, at times, sloppy and the characters are inconsistent. And then there will be the occasional page that has a flash of brilliance in its storytelling. It pains me to see him work like that.

I may have been talking shit about this issue, but really all that needs to be fixed is Black Lightning being dialed back a little bit. And maybe his overt aggression is a plot point that will be attacked later when the rest of his team tells him he's an asshole. But as a piece of fiction on its own, this issue just doesn't cut it. Flip through it and give it a chance, if only to help me figure out who the hell Owlman is. Whoooo, I ask?

Psylocke #4
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 17 February 2010
Writer: Chris Yost
Penciler: Harvey Tolibao
Inker: Sandu Floria
Colorist: Jay David Ramos
Letterer: VC's Joe Sabino
Cover: David Finch
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
Amongst a squad rife with strange origins and unusual life stories, Betsy Braddock the X-Men's Psylocke may own the weirdest. Already a purple-haired mutant with world-class psychic abilities, Betsy's consciousness was unwillingly transferred into the body of an Asian supermodel ninja with no understanding of the difference between a ribbon and a full-on wardrobe. But that was a long time ago, the wounds have scabbed over, and Betsy's ready to move on with her life. Too bad fate and a number of forces beyond her control have other ideas.

One of those forces, as I'm sure you might suspect from the cover, is Wolverine. Strangely, this issue is more concerned about Logan's well-publicized history and personal demons than it is about Psylocke's. A weird choice, considering Braddock barely gets more than a nod in the regular X-Men series, while Doctor Adamantium Claws seems to have his fingers in no less than 20 ongoing titles. It seems tacked on and cheap, like the bigwigs felt the story wouldn't sell on its own and the solution was to throw in a long fight scene with their most marketable character. It's more than that, though. Logan's tied into the single driving purpose behind this miniseries, but despite the constant flashbacks to memorable scenes in his past, it doesn't seem like everything fits together. I realize that impossible coincidences and dumb luck are the cornerstones of modern superheroics, but I think this issue stands as proof that there is such a thing as too much of both. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief a lot longer than most, but this was enough for even me to step back and think, "Enough."

Plot issues aside, Chris Yost's writing isn't particularly good. The aforementioned fight scene doesn't even serve its purpose as a visceral escape, constantly interrupted by jerky internal monologues and inconsequential high spots that don't seem to affect the combatants a few panels later. Perhaps the best thing I can say about the story is that its conclusion is framed nicely and works. But what's the point in a good finale without a relevant lead-in? It's like Yost figured out what he wanted the issue's waning pages to look like, tried writing backwards to get us there, and lost patience somewhere along the way.

Yost's teammate on this adventure, artist Harvey Tolibao, is like a poor man's Joe Quesada which isn't intended as a slight, really. Tolibao does decent enough work, but the natural comparisons to Marvel's current EIC and fleeting similarities to Bart Sears don't do him many favors. Under Harvey's watch the occupants of this story pop off the page. Heaping bags of muscle, their tendons pulse and squirm under a paper-thin layer of skin. They circle and stalk one another like tense, furious anatomical models. He doesn't bring anything new to Psylocke, though, and many of the characters look like they were separated at birth, differentiated only by the color of their jackets and the stylistic decisions of their hairdressers. Tolibao has some work to do; although he's far from the worst Marvel has to offer.

If it looks and reads like filler material, it probably is filler material. And Psylocke looks and reads like filler material. It's a tale that was probably supposed to expand Betsy's personality, but in the end only reinforces the idea that there isn't all that much to her. Despite the wild origin story, she's always been treated as eye candy without much to add to the team in terms of personality. That hasn't changed with this mini. It doesn't stink, but it doesn't sing either. If you aren't an X-Men fanatic, you'll be safe skipping it.


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