Thursday, May 7, 2009

Trade Waiting - Witchblade Vol 1 and Wanted

Recently, Top Cow has been having something of a readership drive, trying things like pledging to keep their books priced at $2.99 through 2009 and giving away 60,000 free comics. Normally, I could really care less about anything Top Cow would make, even though Marc Silvestri, owner of Top Cow, is an artist whose work I enjoy. Aside from the fact that their comics are mostly know for the half-naked women on the covers of their books, they are something of a reminder, for me, of the "Bad Times" from the 90s. Things like style over substance, enough variant covers to fill in the Grand Canyon, not quite naked women all over the place, etc., etc., etc.

Eventually, after reading about their new initiatives (morbid curiosity) and Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik asking readers to give them a fair chance I decided "why not"? I decided that, for the rest of the year, I'd try buying some of Top Cows' trades and doing reviews of books that I picked up. Top Cow has a good number of creator owned projects from writers I like, so those are going to a big focus for me, but I am also going to check out some of their ongoing properties. Feel free to suggest any books you might think are worth a look.

Today, I am taking a look at the first trade for Ron Marz's Witchblade run, which is currently ongoing and generally receiving positive reviews, and, arguably, Top Cow's most famous book and recent movie, Wanted, by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. Hit the jump for my reviews.

Written by Ron Marz
Art by Mike Choi
Collects Witchblade #80-85

Witch Hunt is the first arc from current Witchblade writer Ron Marz, of Green Lantern fame. The story is basically an introduction to the characters and the concept of the Witchblade title and it works very well in that regard, which is one of the books main strengths.

The story is about Sara Pezzini, current wielder of the Witchblade, and her attempts to unravel a conspiracy that put her in a coma. Marz does a good job with the story sequence by having it begin with Pezzini in her coma, for the entire first issue in fact. After she wakes up from her coma, she investigates what happened to her, which leads to her uncovering a conspiracy, which forms the basis of the story. It is actually a rather low key story with Marz mostly focusing on introducing everything to the reader. This is not say that there is a bunch of exposition and info dumping, but the story does focus around all of the introductions, so there is a tad bit more talking than fighting, if that isn't your thing.

One of the odd things about certain aspects of the story was just how cliched they were. They didn't really ruin the story, but it was disappointing to see Marz use them. There also isn't a lot of action either, with what few fights there are lasting only a few pages. The story isn't boring but, rather, just not overly compelling. The story is solid, paced well and it is not bad, just a little underwhelming. In fact, that is the best way to describe the whole thing, underwhelming. Even the fight where Pezzini saves the world is underwhelming.

One thing that could have helped make up for the story was also lackluster - that being the characters. The various characters that show up throughout the story are surprisingly similar. They all function as characters just fine, but there is nothing really unique about them to differentiate them from one another. I do not really have that much of a problem with it in this arc since it is an introductory arc to the whole series and I wasn't actually expecting these characters to have that much personality to begin with.

The art by Mike Choi, while good, is something of a disappointment as well. If you have read any of his current output from Marvel, you can tell that it's his artwork, but, unlike his Marvel work, there is a heavy Marc Silvestri influence, almost like it's trying to mimic Silvestri's art and it looks a little off at times to me. It also has the same problem a lot of comic book art has, everyone looks too fit and good looking, but it is a lot more pronounced, like looking at a magazine or image where everyone is blatantly photoshopped or airbrushed. Again, not bad but not up to his current standards. Also, every character is fully clothed throughout the story, not that you would guess that from the covers. The only reason I mention this is because I was honestly surprised by it based on my preconceived notions going in.

Verdict - Check It. Despite the fact I have not sounded too positive about the book, it is not a bad book. It is a solid and perfectly fine by-the-numbers story that is designed as an introduction to new readers, which it does a good job at. Worth a look if you are at all interesting in the Witchblade series.

Written by Mark Millar
Art by J. G. Jones
Collects Wanted #1-6

Mark Millar tends to divide comic readers into two groups - those that like his work and those who don't. I typically fall into the former category. Ultimates was one of the series that got me back into comics and I loved it and its sequel. However, I don't like all of Millar's output and Wanted definitely falls into the "don't like" category.

First off, though, let's talk about what's good in Wanted. Millar does have a solid foundation for the book. It's about a supervillain cabal that secretly rules the world after defeating all of the world's superheroes many years earlier. The first issue actually does a lot in setting up the idea and is a pretty good read on its own while hinting at great things to come, much like the first issue of Civil War did. A lot of the characters are generally solid, even if they are extreme versions of classic Marvel and DC characters, but that is obviously intentional.

Millar does a good job creating the world of Wanted. He provides some nice details and history about how things are and I wouldn't be adverse to reading a prequel for the book. While Millar does have some interesting ideas and starts off with a solid base to build, he fails to capitalize on what he has set up.

The biggest problem with Wanted is that after the first issue it turns into a juvenile, even childish, mess. I could go one listing a lot of examples but, honestly, I don't really want to have to go through the book again to get specifics and would end up ranting over what would more than likely come off as minor things to some people. Basically, Millar was going for cool and edgy and metatextual commentary about comics, but missed the mark by a million miles. Everything comes off as absurdly stupid or as some juvenile power trip and the rare moments of brilliance are outweighed by this over the top style.

Another huge problem is the main character, Wesley Gibson. He goes from being an unlikable loser to being an unlikable asshole, which makes reading about his exploits less than enjoyable. I am not unopposed to reading villain centric book. Ellis's Thunderbolts is one of my favorite books from the past few years. But Millar also takes some of the villains to their logical extremes and it's as unappealing as it sounds.

The same thing applies with cursing. I think it can help to add to the tone and mood of a book when used appropriately, but Millar, again, takes it too far and it becomes unintentionally bad. And not in a hilariously bad kind of way either. Same goes for the villains behavior at times. I'm not expecting nice people, but some restraint on Millar's part would have been nice and made these characters less than the mere characitures that they are.

Verdict - Avoid It (like the plague). All of the good ideas that Millar introduces are swamped by the juvenile, well, crap, quite frankly. Just a horrible, horrible book. Also, if you were thinking this was anything like the movie (I knew it wasn't going in, for reference), don't even bother as it's nothing like it and only related by some mild themes and the odd scene making it into that "adaptation".

Like these reviews? Interested in these books? Purchase Witchblade Vol 1: Witch Hunt or Wanted from and help support The Weekly Crisis.

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Andrenn said...

I jumped on board with Witchblade as of #116 last year and haven't regretted it at all. I've been wanting to get the trades of Marz' first run on the series but just haven't gotten around to it. If you where to stick with the Witchblade trades, definitely check out the volume that starts with #116, it's got some enjoyable stuff. Also about the half naked women of Top Cow, Stjepan Sejic, the current artist of Witchblade, doesn't do that half naked thing, he always fully clothes Sara with the Witchblade which I thought was a nice turn because it's honestly hard to read a comic and take it seriously with a characters half naked. Also you may want to check out First Born, I picked up the TPB and found it to be a really cool read and I'd really like to hear your thoughts on it one day.

Wanted was...exactly what you said it was, juvenile and way to over the top. I like over the top in some cases but when I sat down in my bookstore and tried to read it, a few chapters in I just put it back. I can't really see the appeal of that book.

Eric Rupe said...

Andrenn - I'm probably done with Witchblade. I've got way too much other stuff to read, I probably have somewhere around a 100 comics, or more, bookmarked or on a wishlist and it didn't really grab my attention.

I looked at a couple of previews for some recent Witchblade issues and I can't say I like Sejic's art. I don't if its the coloring or what, but all of the characters look like they are made out of plastic.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you about Wanted but there's still tones of stuff you left out; Millar's hatred of his audience, endorsement of fascism, hypocrisy, homophobia, racism, and sexism. It's like he read 1984 and decided he wanted to be the inner party.

muppet1962 said...

If you're going to be checking out Top Cow's stuff, I would HIGHLY recommend "Impaler" by William Harms. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Volume 1 is out in trade and the latest series is publishing on a bi-monthly(ish) basis.

Also, the three part miniseries-crossover Avengers/Thunderbolts/Hunter-Killer/Cyberforce (aka "Fusion") is due out this month. A name like that does not inspire my confidence--BUT--it is written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning! What the heck? ...I'll bite.

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