For the uninitiated, the Comic Book Review Power Rankings is a countdown from worst-to-best of my weekly comic book haul. Before reading the issues, I preRank them based on the creative team, previous issues, solicitations, and gut instinct. The final Ranking number is based upon how the issues actually turned out. I attempt to keep everything as spoiler free as possible, but keep in mind that there may be the occasional minor spoiler that I overlook. As always, I can be reached via responses to this thread or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
20. IMMORTAL IRON FIST #27
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Travel Formean, David Lapham, Juan Doe, Tomothy Green II, and Javier Rodriguez
Letters by Nate Piekos
Cover by Kaare Andrews
• One of Marvel’s most unique and offbeat series comes to a close with this issue…in an incredibly un-unique and clichéd manner, leaving me scratching my head and wishing for better days.
• The issue finds Iron Fist dealing with the closing of his company, being attacked by familiar enemies, and proposing to Misty, who is apparently pregnant. Yes, I know that’s a spoiler, but you should know it before I go into my next rant.
• Is the Marvel Universe completely devoid of birth control? The number of out of wedlock pregnancies in the 616 is staggering. Plus, this is super cliché and adds nothing to the character, who really didn’t need anything to begin with. Also, remember when Joe Quesada pitched a fit for years about how marriage aged Peter Parker too much? Guess what, it does the same thing to other characters and babies make it even worse. This is simply a dumb move and a ridiculous ending to what was an awesome series.
• The plot isn’t helped by the writing, as it is filled with heavy-handed narration and stiff dialogue. This is not Swierczynski A-game by any means.
• The art doesn’t fare any better, both in the main story where the inks are so heavy that the linkwork is completely lost or in the sketchy, unfinished flashbacks. This is probably the week’s worst art, which pains me considering the title has been known for strong art throughout most of its previous 26 issues.
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. There is really no reason to pick up this simply horrible book, even if you are a major Iron Fist fan. The lackluster and uninspired writing combines with the even more lackluster and uninspired art to do nothing to help the simply ill-advised plot. This is the definition of Burrito Book.
19. BARACK THE BARBARIAN #1
Written by Larry Hama
Art by Christopher Schons and Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by Crank!
Covers by Tim Seeley and Rachelle Rosenberg
• Despite my better judgment, I picked up Barack the Barbarian out of sheer curiosity on what the legendary Larry Hama could do with the premise, which is both intriguing and baffling. I can’t say that I didn’t warn myself.
• The issue does exactly what it sets out to do, create an analogue for President Obama’s rise to power set in a Conan-esque setting and featuring all of the major political players of the last few years (all stemming from Obama stating that he is a fan of Conan comics in a recent interview).
• The problem is that the issue is simply too “in-your-face” about its satire. The premise is interesting enough and the political landscape is rife with situations and characters to fit the book, but nothing comes together here because you don’t really have to think about what is being said. The analogues are simply force fed to the reader through a mix of recycled jokes and cringe-worthy dialogue.
• Now, I wear my super-liberal political leanings proudly, but I was shocked that there was so little redemption for Republicans in this issue. John McCain gets the best treatment, which is a little off-putting considering he is presented as a once-great warrior turned into a bumbling puppet for Sarah Palin (I didn’t say it was off-base, I just said that it’s one-sided). Basically, unless you are a fan of Obama, you’ll want to steer clear of this one.
• The art has a loose feel that is reminiscent of the average political cartoon that you’d find in your local newspaper, which works fine on some levels. Unfortunately, when the book turns towards action, the art falls apart due to its stiffness and lack of impact.
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. I can’t help but view this as a wasted opportunity. You can see the potential in the issue, but the lack of depth and insight in the satire, as well as the ill-fitting art, keep this one from being anymore than a surface gag that couldn’t even keep my interest (and I’m a ridiculously huge Obama supporter).
18. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #598
Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Paolo Siqueira, Marco Checchetto, Amilton Santos, Jeromy Cox, and Chris Chuckry
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Cover by Phil Jimenez
• American Son trudges along this week with a head-scratcher of an issue that left me way more confused and disappointed than satisfied.
• After being shot in the head last issue, the titular hero is okay due to “scientific” cloth made by Reed Richards that could save millions of lives if it were mass produced, but instead serves as a cop-out of a cheap plot device from last issue. Honestly, if you are going to render a shot to the head pointless, you might as well not even bother. Osborne capturing Spider-Man would be just as effective if the Dark Avengers beat him down and we wouldn’t have to deal with ridiculous plot points like this.
• On the subject of ridiculous plot points, it turns out that Harry Osborne is not the father of Menace’s baby. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it was just as stupid when this person impregnated Gwen Stacy a few years back.
• I will say that Joe Kelly does his best with the characters and writes some fun interaction, especially any time that Bullseye is involved. Unfortunately, sometimes strong character writing can’t overcome bad plotting.
• I wasn’t very pleased with the art either. Paolo Siqueira and Marco Checchetto are both capable artists, but make some baffling moves in terms of perspective and storytelling choices here. The art simply doesn’t flow and that doesn’t even include the shocking moment when Menace goes from being in street clothes to being in her villain outfit in just seconds (seriously, it’s one page street clothes, next page villain suit, with no transition).
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. Technically, the writing isn’t so bad and the art is more subpar than terrible, but the plot was horrendous. The tension comes cheap and the swerves have no build-up whatsoever. This is not the type of book that Joe Kelly or this title are known for and certainly not the type of book I enjoy. The only reason this one is Ranked as high as it is because the Bullseye/Hawkeye stuff made me chuckle. Yikes.
17. X-FORCE #16
Written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost with Duane Swierczynski
Art by Clayton Crain
Letters by Cory Petit
Covers by Clayton Crain and Kaare Andrews
• The Messiah War crossover wraps up in this issue where an awful lot happens and yet the pre-crossover status quo is maintained.
• Writing-wise, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost deliver exactly what you’d expect from them. The character work is superb, as everyone has a unique voice and interacts organically. Even characters I consider to be uninteresting (like Apocalypse—never been a fan) come across well.
• They also do a great job at building the tension with solid pacing and reactions. As the issue rockets towards the conclusion, I felt completely sucked in.
• The problem is that there is simply no payoff. Almost all of the problems are resolved and the main characters are precisely where they were when the crossover started. For the most part I’ve enjoyed the ride (the X-Force issues more than the Cable issues), but in the end, I found myself asking why I bothered when all of this buildup ended with little actually happening.
• I’m a firm believer that some artists are meant to be cover artists. Their work is eye-catching and looks great at a first glance, but falls apart when taken over the course of a full issue. This issue really reinforces that belief.
• Clayton Crain’s art is simply too stiff, too dark, and too ill-defined to be effective on the interiors of this issue. He captures the tone well, but quickly becomes more distracting than anything else.
Verdict: Read with Caution. There is a lot to like about this issue. The character writing is solid and it’s incredibly intense. Unfortunately, I just can’t get over the fact the poor art and the fact that I left the issue feeling like nothing happened over the course of this storyline.
16. GREEN LANTERN #42
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Philip Tan, Eddy Barrows, Jonathan Glapion, Ruy Jose, Nei Ruffino, and Rod Reis
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Philip Tan, Jonathan Glapion, and Nei Ruffino
• Agent Orange has been excellent thus far, so I was incredibly shocked how much the story derailed in this final issue. This is certainly not what I expected.
• The issue focuses mostly on Hal’s battle against Larfleeze and has quite a few interesting moments, including Hal taking on the Orange Lantern ring and stealing a page from Larfleeze’s book by creating his own “Construct Corps” with his ring. Unfortunately, these cool moments are fleeting and stick between long bouts of uninteresting dialogue and disjointed storytelling.
• Part of the problem is that Hal’s quipping does not fit with the tone of the story at all. He’s always been cocky, but I felt like his verbal baiting of Larfleeze strayed too far from the moment, really taking away from the immediate danger he is in.
• Also, are we really supposed to be hating the Guardians this much? They’ve made some horrible decisions as of late, but until the end of this issue, they’ve always felt like they were for the greater good. Their final action in the issue goes too far though. I felt sick reading it and I’m not sure that is what Geoff Johns meant to be going for (and if he did, I feel that they’ve become irredeemable at this point).
• The big problem here though was the art. Philip Tan and Eddy Barrows have a few strong pages of action, but the vast majority of the issues is muddy and terrible inconsistent, especially in regards to the heaviness of the inks.
• Also, what is the deal with the “painted” panels and why do they appear as singular panels on top of vastly different pages? This is distracting and simply a poor, poor choice.
Verdict: Read with Caution. I’ve loved this storyline thus far and was really looking forward to Hal’s showdown with Larfleeze. Unfortunately, some odd bits of dialogue and mind-bogglingly disappointing art completely threw me for a loop. It’s just good enough to pick up, but be warned.
15. DETECTIVE COMICS #854
Written by Greg Rucka
Lead Story Art by JH Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lead Story Letters by Todd Klein
Backup Story Art by Cully Hamner and Laura Martin
Backup Story Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by JH Williams III
• The long awaited debut of Batwoman’s “ongoing series” drops this week as Greg Rucka introduces her new status quo and sets her up against a new villain in the main story of Detective Comics while he does nearly the exact same thing in the back up with the Question.
• Fans of Rucka won’t be surprised that his character work is strong here, developing each character’s voice from the get-go. Since Rucka has taken charge of both of these characters since 52, they come across exactly as expected.
• Unfortunately, the burden of setting up the world’s of both characters makes this issue a fairly dull read. It’s nice to see that there is a plan for both of them, but the plot for both stories takes a backseat to the setup. Considering this happens for both stories, it’s really hard to trudge through the issue without losing interest.
• JH Williams III is one of DC’s most critically acclaimed artists and I believe it’s with good reason. This issue shows off everything there is to love about his work, including amazing panel layouts, impressive anatomy, and a strong ability to draw the reader’s eyes to certain places on the page. This is the style that he uses during the “Batwoman” sequences and its really impressive.
• Unfortunately, when Batwoman ditches the costume and becomes Kate Kane the art style switches to a very bland grid system with very standard comic book art. Based upon the level of detail (or lack there of) and strange design choices (like Kate’s hair), it honestly looks like Williams put a lot less effort into these scenes. Although it is cool that he slowly fades in between styles when Kate becomes Batwoman or takes off her mask, it’s still a jarring shift and makes me wonder why he doesn’t just use the far superior style that he is known for rather than forcing both.
• Cully Hamner’s art in the co-feature is considerable more consistent than Williams and showcases a great attention to line widths and shadow-work, which I think shows a lot of growth from Hamner since his Blue Beetle days. Beyond that his work is satisfactory, if not a tad bland.
Verdict: Read with Caution. Greg Rucka has the unenviable task of setting up new status quos for two main characters in this issue and he does his best to keep things interesting, but it’s hard to stay focused after reading two stories with nearly identical plots. The story is really going to have to pick up in the next few issues to keep me on board (or Williams will need to stick with the one art style that really works for him rather than do what he is doing in this issue).
14. WONDER WOMAN #33
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, and Brad Anderson
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Aaron Lopresti and Hi-Fi
• The very strange and very disjointed Rise of the Olympian concludes with this week’s issue of Wonder Woman, which sees the Amazons fighting sea-monsters, some interesting “God-war,” and a major shift in Diana’s status quo.
• There is a ton going on here, but the action completely overshadows the plot. I suppose that wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the setup for this issue worked better. There was so much attention paid to Genocide in the early parts of this arc that it was far too easy to overlook Zeus’s machinations. To tell you the truth, based upon all of the “payoff” in this issue, I’m really not sure that I realized half of the subplots in this story were actually happening.
• That being said, this issue works really well as an action comic. The pace is extremely brisk and builds up towards the final battle; the problem is that these aspects don’t work quite as well for the more personal stories going on here. The issue doesn’t slowdown when it needs to, lessening the impact of the issue’s revelations.
• Aaron Lopresti’s art remains a mixed-bag, reinforcing my long-held belief that he simply needs to take more time with each issue. This may mean that he stops being a “monthly artist,” but I’d love to see the amount of detail, the cool panel borders, and the fun layouts appear on every page, not just two or three pages per issue.
• In the midst of this, while some pages are crazy dynamic and filled with details, other pages look incredibly stiff and some of his wider panels are devoid of expressions. An artist as good as Lopresti should not have comics this uneven.
Verdict: Read with Caution. Wonder Woman #33 is not necessarily a bad comic, but it does have to carry the burden of a poorly executed story arc that culminates into some very major problems for this particular issue. The writing is solid and Lopresti has some great pages, but the issue is ultimately ineffective due to these lingering problems.
13. GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #1
Written by Paul Dini
Art by Guillem March and Jose Villarrubia
Letters by steve Wands
Covers by Guillem March and JG Jones
• The final June launching post-Batman RIP (and probably the most surprising of the bunch) drops this week with Gotham City Sirens, an issue that is pure set-up from beginning to end with a few hints of what is to come, but very little depth or any sort of subplot.
• While I really enjoyed the interplay between the book’s three main characters (Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy), the “right place, right time” premise for the three living and working together felt really forced, which puts the book at an immediate disadvantage.
• That being said, I’m glad to see that Paul Dini is using this as an opportunity to expand on story beats left hanging from his Heart of Hush storyline earlier this year, including a very clever way of putting Catwoman in a disadvantageous position (which makes her need her compatriots more than they need her).
• The best part of the issue is the way that Dini plays the three very different characters off of one another, though I was surprised to see that he uses Poison Ivy as the “straight man” to Harley’s “nut case” personality and Catwoman’s more cautious and calculating personality. It’s a fun dynamic that works really well.
• I’m glad to se Guillem March moving away from the pure cheesecake art that he is known for. Unfortunately, he’s developing a new problem of severely drawn-out anatomies that are incredibly unnatural looking. We aren’t seeing quite as many butt shots, but instead we see Catwoman with a 6-foot torso. Yikes.
• March’s storytelling also needs a lot of work. His panel choices don’t always make the most sense, with character’s positions in rooms, the way they are facing, and their sequential actions not always gelling with the panels before. This is extremely distracting, especially with such a master storyteller handling the script.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. For an issue with a weak premise to begin with, too much time is given to setting up why the characters are together rather than having them do something interesting with their team-up. That being said, the character interaction itself is solid. Given a bit more polish on some very basic storytelling skills from Guillem March and this could become a very entertaining series once the plot picks up a bit.
12. STAR WARS: LEGACY #37 (11)
Written by John Ostrander
Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons, and Brad Anderson
Letters by Michael Heisler
Cover by Jan Duursema
• Following the whirlwind of status quo-rocking events of the last few stories, Cade and and his crew go back to their pirating ways and find themselves in a heap of trouble on Tattooine as they get caught in the dirty deaths of Sith Imperials and the Black Sun
• You’d think I’d be used to it after 37 issues, but John Ostrander’s reliance on Star Wars slang still grates on me and it’s especially bad here. I’m glad that they are including translations in the back of the issue, but every time I come across one of these slang words, I completely lose focus. This is a case where moderation should be exercised and simply isn’t.
• I dig the seediness of this issue, especially in terms the dialogue and character interaction. This is a perfect tone for the story and a fine example of how Ostrander isn’t just a master of character voices, but also of making those voices work ambiance with the larger story.
• Unfortunately, the story seems to lose focus at times and repeats itself unnecessarily. After a while, the double-crosses and back-stabbing loses its flair. By the end of it, I stopped caring who was going to turn on who; I just wanted them to get on with the inevitable confrontations.
• Another strong issue from Jan Duursema, but at this point her work is becoming formulaic. It’s almost always good, but there is little variation. It’s probably a bit odd of me to be complaining about something being good, but Duursema is so consistent that her art is becoming just the background for the story rather than part of the story itself. I want to see her mix it up a bit.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. There is really nothing technically wrong with this issue. John Ostrander’s character writing is sharp and Jan Duuresema’s art is exactly what you’d expect. Unfortunately, the plot is a bit hum-drum and neither creator is doing anything spectacular here. It’s a solid effort, but don’t expect to be wowed.
11. DARK AVENGERS/UNCANNY X-MEN: UTOPIA
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Marc Silvestri, Michael Broussard, Eric Basaluda, Tyler Kirkham, Sheldon Mitchell, Joe Weems, Marco Galli, Rick Basaluda, Jason Gorder, Jay Leisten, Sal Regla, Jon Sibal, Ryan Winn, and Frank D’Armata
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Cover by Marc Silvestri
• This one-shot, setting up the upcoming Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men crossover was a “make it-or-break it” issue for me, as I’ve been comtemplating dropping Uncanny for sometime. Despite some hang-ups, this issue was enjoyable enough to keep my attention and intriguing enough to have me wanting more. I just hope that the series stops floundering and picks up on some of the momentum coming out of this issue.
• The plot in this issue is simple, but effective and putting all of the character’s into place for the crossover. Things starting heating up in San Francisco with the anti-mutant movement gaining steam and causing riots, leading to Norman Osborne to clamp down on the X-Men and enact a back-up plan that ties into Emma Frost’s involvement with his Cabal.
• The success of the issue stems mostly from Matt Fraction's ability to build tension by balancing the more chaotic and quieter moments of the issue, selling the escalation towards the issues final pages extremely well. The story does drag a bit towards the middle due to the expanded page count, but the pay off in the end is worth it.
• This is highlighted by some very strong character work, especially with some of the lesser-known characters in the X-Men universe having a chance to shine with the more established names.
• While Marc Silvestri is credited as the main artist on the issue, the credits (and overall look of the issue) reveal that apparently every artist employed by Top Cow got a shot at drawing or inking something in the book.
• That being said, I’m impressed that the general style is kept consistent throughout the issue. Each artist brings something different to the table and alters the look of the page slightly, but you have to applaud whomever directed the creative process on this (which had to be insane).
• The problem is that the art is pretty uninspired and stiff, plus most of the women look too much alike. These are all problems that I’d say are over-arching problems with Top Cow’s artwork as a whole, but its especially prevalent here.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. This was a fun issue that showed that Matt Fraction still has some interesting things up his sleeves with the X-Men. The art was more of a distraction than an enhancement, but it was still good enough overall to keep me interested in at least one or two issues of the crossover. Very little of the plot is given away due to the slow burn nature of the issue, so don’t consider this one required reading if you plan on sticking around for the crossover.
Be sure to check back tomorrow night for the remaining Rankings as I countdown to this week’s #1 issue!