Is It Wednesday Yet?
05 October 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.
Avengers Academy #4
Released: 22 September 2010
Writer: Christos Gage
Penciler: Mike McKone
Inkers: Rick Ketchum and Cam Smith
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Mike McKone
Cover price: $2.99
Review: Sean Lemberg
Among Norman Osborn's many misdeeds during his brief reign atop the global superhuman community, perhaps the most farsighted was his constant recruitment of young heroes to mold and misshape. Osborn would use his political clout to discover and enlist these undiscovered prospects, then his charisma to convince them to see the world from his own warped perspective. Though he's been removed from power and quarantined aboard The Raft, Norman's recruits are still a point of concern for the reunited Avengers. Quicksilver, Tigra, and Henry Pym have taken a personal interest in the reeducation of a select few: the six teens who star in this book.
This month's continued crossover with Thunderbolts — and several team members' eventual reunion with their disgraced former leader — leads to revealing character moments. Osborn's such a perfect corruptor — a politician with a background in bright spandex — that his mere presence forces both hero and reader to second-guess the line they've been fed from the new establishment. Christos Gage is the latest in a long line of writers to take advantage of the character's inherently conniving, convincing nature, with nearly each chapter adding a fresh layer to the scale of the man's mystique. The way he not only turns away a small squad set on his murder but actually takes on the role of their beloved mentor, without throwing the reading audience for an eyeball-rolling loop, is all the proof you'll need of his value as an instigator. This level of brainwashing used to require some sort of fantastic crutch, like telepathy or a mind-control wand. The modern Osborn merely needs a few words and the smallest shred of doubt to do his work.
Unfortunately, Osborn is really the cornerstone of this story, and once he's out of the picture things get awfully generic in a hurry. Though Gage has a firm grasp of the megalomaniac's bold personality, the rest of the cast feels whitewashed and redundant by comparison. Even Mettle, who gets a sympathetic mini-origin right inside the front cover, is just one of the gang without a unique angle by the time we reach the last page. Avengers Academy has set the stage for some serious questions, but hasn't given me enough faith in its players to think they'll ever have the balls to ask them.
Joining Gage is artist Mike McKone, whose clean, organized pencils keep the page easy to navigate, if not terribly explosive. He lends the primary cast exactly the kind of wide-eyed, uncertain expressions one would expect a story's younger contingent to be wearing. His two-panel rendition of Man-Thing is sufficiently haunting, but I'm afraid the positives end there. The rest of the cast comes off as bland, generic, and flavorless. McKone's most disappointing work appears in the one big splash page he's given to really showcase his skills. It's a disorganized mess; it's confusing and static, like a roomful of mannequins were stiffly postured and tossed haphazardly into zero gravity. It's all composition, a poor one at that, and no emotion.
This new ongoing series has some very deep roots, but at the moment they're only being glanced at, not properly explored. The few moments we get to enjoy between Osborn and his former pages are enough to convince me there's something substantive here, but the weak follow-through has me questioning if the Academy will ever recognize it. Keep an eye on it, but for the time being it's not worth more than a brisk flip through.
Fantastic Four #583
Released: 22 September 2010
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC's Rus Wooton
Cover: Alan Davis
Cover price: $2.99
Review: Tom Hemmings
During the 1980s and 90s, Marvel had an ongoing obsession with Franklin Richards and his potential for the future. He was often aged or corrupted into some titanic threat or ultimate power, until they finally had the good sense to rid him of his overwhelming abilities and let him be a kid for a while. Around the same time the couple gave birth to their second child: Valeria. If this book is any indication, she is all set to make a bigger and more lasting impact than her brother ever did. This isn't a case of history repeating itself, however; Valeria is not a cosmically powered toddler. In fact, the precocious tot has only one remarkable trait: she's smarter than her father.
This issue isn't always clear on the finer details. There are unanswered questions relating to Doctor Doom's current situation. The portion of this issue featuring the inter-dimensional council of Reeds is simplified to the point that stylized punctuation is all the dialog that is employed, so there are questions to be answered there, too. However, that's not the focus of this story. This issue is all about Valeria exploring her father's work, coming to her own conclusions, and facing the man who named her: "Uncle Doom." Much like fellow Marvel junior genius Amadeus Cho, Valeria is quite clearly not going to follow the guidelines or example of those who came before her. She's going to make her own choices and judgments about everything she comes across. Through her journey in this issue we see not only how similar she is to Reed, but also how different she is without his experience. Hickman characterizes her as a person not only coming to terms with her abilities, but understanding the responsibilities that go along with them.
That said, there have always been huge problems with how both FF kids are depicted. Valeria cannot be more than three based on info from recent storylines, but physically she is constantly depicted as being between five and eight. There is a scene in this where she's required to lower herself down a rope to get into Reed's lab, and presumably at some point climb out again. Show me a toddler who can pull their own bodyweight up or down a rope. This isn't a problem with Epting's art; this is how he has to draw her in order to make any of this plausible. They are so desperate to do something with Valeria at such a young age that they may be overstretching what is reasonable.
Speaking of Epting, his art matches up well with the huge variety of environments he has to create in this book. From his slightly terrifying Doom in a Latverian castle to cosmic inter-dimensional conflict, he maintains a consistent high quality whilst colorist Paul Mounts does a superb job setting the mood for each scenario so that it remains authentic. There are a couple of panels where Valeria's face seems a little off, but given the hugely variable quality of the depiction of children in comics these days, you can forgive minor differences when the overall product is this solid.
This is one of those issues that should have big consequences, but Marvel has had trouble in the past following up on the events of the Fantastic Four, especially events involving Doom. That being said, Marvel's greater editorial issues should not reflect on the strength of this book or its potential implications. Hickman has crafted a breakout issue for a character that just demands to be read. So much of the future of Fantastic Four — both short- and long-term — is going to stem from this issue. Whilst it's not the ideal jumping on point, I think reading it will make you want to go back and find out what lead up to this moment.
Buy this. It's one of the most significant comics you'll read this year.
Superman / Batman #76
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 22 September 2010
Writer: Judd Winick
Penciler: Marco Rudy
Inkers: Oclair Albert and Julio Ferrera
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover: Nic Klein
Cover price: $2.99
Review: Sean Lemberg
This may not come as a surprise to you, but Bruce Wayne has died. In fact, he's actually been that way for almost two years and recently made an entirely unsurprising return from the grave. Try to forget that last part, though, because the out-of-place continuity of Superman / Batman is just now beginning to deal with the fallout from Wayne's doom.
Judd Winick may as well have dedicated this issue a memorial, because the story he's delivered is basically a behind-closed-doors look at the Justice League's intimate reactions to the (at the time) finality of Bruce's heroic death in Final Crisis. In certain cases, it makes for a nice addendum, geared to more invasive-minded readers. We're along for the ride as Superman delivers the news to Alfred, Tim, and Dick. We see Doctor Mid-Nite examine the body, compare dental records and historic bone breaks, and determine it couldn't be anyone else. We see the entire league struggle with the realization of such a loss, each member handling the grief in his or her own way. And, ultimately, we're left with the sense that this would've made for a fine capitalization on the shock readers were certainly feeling themselves — 19 months ago, when the event was still fresh in their minds.
The issue's still somewhat worthwhile, if just for the historic perspective and the sometimes unexpected ways Bruce's closest friends deal with his death. Dick's initial disbelief takes the same shape as many readers: he won't believe it until he sees the body. Wonder Woman hangs quietly around the fringes, afraid to say the wrong thing. Clark's reaction is the most surprising. His quiet, spaced-out initial reaction to Bruce's death is followed by a sharp turn into hostility toward Dick Grayson, of all people, none of which seems to be in-character for one of the DCU's most balanced, rational personalities. Grief can have strange effects on a personality, and it's somewhat humanizing to see Supes in this light. It doesn't feel entirely right, but I'm not sure what would.
Artist Marco Rudy is difficult to get a handle on. In some pages, he bears more than a passing similarity to Tim Sale, himself a veteran with both characters in Superman For All Seasons and Batman: The Long Halloween. Rudy's style bears a bit more detail than his contemporary on these occasions, but his ultra-simplistic lighting effects and unusual panel structures had me thinking of Sale with some regularity. On other pages, though, Rudy's work moves in the opposite direction, overloading the scene with jagged details and dozens of clunky, oddly shaped overlapping panels. Typically I'd credit this to the influence of two different inkers, taking turns with the artwork on every other page. These shifts in style are so fundamental, though, that I can't imagine that's the culprit. Rudy's simply changing styles from page to page like a Tour de France rider shifts gears from incline to straightaway.
This "Batman's dead" issue of Superman / Batman is a confusing creation. It's mistimed, completely missing the Caped Crusader's prolonged absence. It jumps all over the place, sailing from Clark's outraged reaction to Dick's decision to don the cape and cowl to his acceptance of the necessity within just a couple panels. It tries really hard to be a touching, tear-jerking remembrance, but ultimately feels hollow, insincere, and borderline exploitative. It's the wrong story at the wrong time, a chapter in both characters' lives that doesn't work for a variety of reasons. The tragically curious-minded will find something to dig into, but the rest of us would be better off giving it a flip through and walking away.