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Is It Wednesday Yet?

22 February 2011 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: Reborn #2
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 16 February 2011
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Davide Gianfelice
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Jock
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
Are you tired? Depressed? Just been taken over by a demonic entity and murdered your archenemy, compromising your already shaky moral code? Why not get away from it all and visit New Mexico?

"Aha," says Matt Murdock. "This sounds ideal. I've had a really intense few years, and this looks like the perfect place to get away from it all. No guns, no crime, just me, thousands of miles of empty desert, and simple towns without problems. Maybe I can finally settle down and get my head straight."

All of a sudden the wall of his cut-price motel begins to crumble, plaster and exposed wood cascading to the floor as large parts of it are ripped away, and his room is filled with heat, smoke, and, unbeknownst to Matt, a hellish red light. "Not so fast," a mighty voice booms from every direction.

"Oh god, no," Matt cries. "Marvel Editorial has found me! Why won't they leave me be?"

"Your service is not yet complete, Murdock!" The voice seems to cut through the air, as though it was etching its words directly onto Matt's psyche. "We still have uses for you."

Matt slumps to his knees. "Why?! What possible good could I be to you now?! How long must I serve you?"

"Until the end of days. You are ours to torment forever."

Matt lets out a piteous cry as the voice begins to chuckle, then cascades into full demonic laughter.

At least that's how I think this went. Anyone who has been reading Daredevil regularly for any length of time knows the deal with him: he gets his offices destroyed, his girlfriends killed, his wife driven insane, he get fired by his best friend, his best friend is murdered, and he gets thrown in jail. There is nothing that Marvel will not throw at this guy to make him the most depressed and miserable man in the whole of New York, and that's up against some stiff competition there. That's why they devised an event that would culminate this cycle of despair into something approximating an ending, because the story couldn't realistically go on any further. Shadowland may not have been a high point in DD's history, but it was a good way to take the character out of circulation for a while, just like they did with Thor and Captain America. So you can imagine my surprise to find that Matt's Cap-style Reborn series isn't even waiting for the dust to settle post-Shadowland; it follows directly on the heels of the event without missing a beat. That's the source of my fairly major gripe with this book.

In terms of the content, it's just fine. It's nothing remotely original, just Matt fighting corrupt cops in the middle of nowhere whilst whining about how much he wants to be left alone. You could throw The Hulk or Wolverine into this scenario and it wouldn't change much at all. So why are we reading it? What was so vital about this story that it had to be told straight away? There's nothing of consequence here. This is four issues to kill time so that they can build Matt back up before he goes back to being Daredevil.

This is an Andy Diggle story, through and through; it's one man against a mob in a mid-American setting. In truth, it actually feels like Diggle-lite, an homage to his style. It's not a story that was worth compromising a character who left on a very ambiguous note, and whose return could have been an actual big deal down the line.

The art is nice, though it's a little cartoony for what I thought this series should have been an intensely serious examination of Matt, his choices, and his place in the world. Since this is none of those things, it fits in just fine. Gianfelice has a good grip on action and character models, and his style is well suited to the sort of story we've come to expect from Diggle. I have zero complaints about the art team; they did their job well, and I look forward to seeing them do other stuff in the future.

If you're going to bring back a character from an event that ended like Shadowland, you'd better have a damn good reason. This is barely even a Daredevil story, and doesn't come close to justifying Matt's early return. If this book had been presented to me as a random adventure without outside context, I'd say flip through it. However, it's Daredevil, it's the wrong time, and it's the wrong story. Skip it.

Hellblazer #276
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Released: 16 February 2011
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Simon Bisley
Colorist: Brian Buccellato
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Simon Bisley
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
John Constantine can never be accused of standing still in one place for too long. At the helm of Vertigo's longest-running series, Hellblazer, John's been to prison on several continents, vacationed in a dozen different planes of existence, died of cancer, stared down the Devil, and lived in a cardboard box. Most recently, he's added a scarred brow, thumbless left hand, and raven-haired bride to his collection of odds and ends. It's business as usual for life to be unusual with Constantine, and this month's self-contained yarn is just another inebriated step down that rocky path.

My last on-again, off-again fling with this series came to a close before Peter Milligan's run began in issue #250, and under his eye it seems to be moving and shaking once again. No stranger to the strange, Milligan has imbued the book with a sense of unease, historically hinted mystery, and ongoing forward momentum. The writer seems to have a clear vision for his series, but not one that he's in a big hurry to press to the foreground. This month's single-issue story is a nice diversion, immersing John in familiar mists while keeping several longer-sighted threads stewing in the background. Though the primary story may be short, it's also surprisingly rich and established, with a past that covers centuries and a moderately timely point at its heart. An under-appreciated veteran of the industry, Milligan's still at the top of his game, quietly composing this short story with more depth than many of his contemporaries can manage with a six-issue arc.

There's a whole niche of artists employing a dirty, semi-serious style similar to that seen in Hellblazer #276, but Simon Bisley still manages to pull it off with a sense of legitimacy that's lost on many of the imitators. Bisley's artwork is constantly grappling with inner demons, warped and conflicted by some sort of terrible inner duality. It can't settle on precision or embellishment, dark sarcasm or sick sincerity. Look closely and you can see his influence on everyone from Darick Robertson to Chris Bachalo, but I've yet to find another who can match his bizarre feel for unkempt menace and hopelessly chaotic order.

That anarchic sensibility made him a good stylistic choice for Lobo, and it translates over nicely to the broad range of personalities evident in Constantine's world, too. Bisley gives John himself the look of a man who's been prematurely raised from a badly needed rest, disgusted with the civilizations both above and below the Earth's crust while still maintaining a sharp eye and a self-absorbed, bitter sense of humor. The land he walks has an unsettling character all its own, backed by the sensation that any shadow could be hiding something hairy and tentacled. It's been a long time since this series has looked and felt so sincerely unnerving, and I can only hope Bisley sticks with it for a while.

Hellblazer looks to be on another upswing, so fans and newcomers alike should take note. While John Constantine's world may be a bit too rancid for mainstream readers, any fan of the long-standing Vertigo tradition of magic and dark hearts should really think about giving this one a look again. Milligan and Bisley have bottled a certain chemistry that could ultimately have them listed alongside the best the series has seen. Buy it.

Uncanny X-Force #5
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 16 February 2011
Writer: Rick Remender
Penciler: Esad Ribic
Inker: John Lucas
Colorist: Matt Wilson
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Esad Ribic
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
Though it is but five issues old, already Uncanny X-Force has asked a series of morally vexing questions refined enough to distance it from the other titles in Xavier's family. By its very definition an unusually dark wing of the school, the latest revision of this team features a roster that's united by the residue of evil on their soul. Archangel, Deadpool, Wolverine, Psylocke, Fantomex these characters have more in common than marketability; they've each been tampered with by a dark third party, emerging from their personal trial a profoundly different individual than they were before. Unsurprisingly, that experience has given them each a very different take on the world at large, and as a result they're much better equipped to deal with problems that fall into the grey area between right and wrong.

Beneath this month's gorgeous cover is an equally stunning set of compositions from the pencil of Esad Ribic. It's been some time since I've been so impressed by my first encounter with an artist. Ribic's work has magnificent flow, streamlining every action no matter how varied into a beautifully choreographed ballet. His cast strikes original poses at every turn, the camera deciding on novel angles to catch them in the act. His pages are as clean as a restrained animation cel, but also bursting with hidden secrets. When the story moves in its most unexpected directions, Ribic hands in his best work. Rick Remender opens this issue with a set of theories, hints, and metaphors that even the best in the business would have a hard time hammering out into a coherent visual, where Uncanny X-Force's artwork only shines more brightly. It could carry this series by himself if it had to.

When he's knee-deep in the shit, I love every bit of Rick Remender's writing. He's opening doors nobody knew existed, exploring the limits of what a Marvel mutant story can be, and coming back with answers to questions I didn't know I had about the X-Men. Those opening pages I mentioned above are breathless material, an exploration of abstract concepts that veers so far in the direction of science fiction that I wasn't sure if the cover should bear an X or an FF.

It's great stuff, so wonderful that the jarring shift into standard material bickering teammates, dissenting opinions about the last mission, etc. was as unexpected and unwanted as a landmine. There are enough books on the market that delve into that kind of material, and they do so much more effectively than Remender manages in this issue. As well crafted as his left-field, right-brained dalliances into Warren Ellis territory might be, this writer has a severe disconnect with most of his book's cast, but it's most obvious with Deadpool. Granted, the moral quandaries that define this series wouldn't carry much weight without a bit of debate, but of all the characters to take the clear, coherent, ethical high ground in an argument, Remender chose Wade freaking Wilson? The author's unfamiliar approach to most of the cast is a real problem that's going to plague his writing until it's addressed, but only in Deadpool's case does he completely jump the rails. Wilson is the chaotic wild card, not the steady voice of reason.

This issue's best moments provide a compelling argument in favor of a sci-fi angle to the X-Men family. Remender and Ribic each blossom in the cerebral world that's explored in the majority of this issue, but while the artwork remains constant throughout, the writing is quickly bogged down when the scene shifts to more generic territory. There's a lot of hope to be found in this series, but also a lot of uncertainty. If Remender can manage to get a handle on the rest of his cast like he has Fantomex, he'll be in business. Until then, it'll just be worth borrowing for the artwork.


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