This week The Comic Book Review Power Rankings cuts through the hype to review Captain America #600, tries to remember what happened in the last issue of Incognito, takes a look at yet another new Batman book in Streets of Gotham, and celebrates Josh Howard’s move to Image Comics with his Dead @17 franchise. Plus, if you act now, you can check out reviews of Mighty Avengers, Herogasm, Power Girl, and more! What are you waiting for?! Check out the full reviews and Rankings after the jump!
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.
I’ve also added a five point “Verdict” system to the Rankings. At the bottom of each review, I’ll give a synopsis of my thoughts and place the issue in one of five categories: 1) Permission to Avoid, 2) Read with Caution, 3) Mildly Recommended, 4) Strongly Recommended, and 5) Don’t Miss This Issue. I’ll be piloting the system starting this week, so I’d appreciate any and all feedback.
11. THE BOYS: HEROGASM #2
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by John McCrea, Keith Burns, and Tony Avina
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Darick Robertson
· The Boys’ first spin-off miniseries continues this week as we learn of Vought-American’s plans for Vic the Veep and the Boys locate their target on Herogasm Island.
· It is nice to see Garth Ennis finally revealing his plans for Vic, as this issue’s revelation has been hinted at since the earliest stages of the main series. It is moments like this where it is clear that Ennis really has plotted out the entire series.
· While that is a cool moment, the problem is that a lot of what we see in this issue is filler material (most notably the scenes between Jack from Jupiter and A-Train) or gags repeated from last issue. I can’t help but feel like I’ve read most of this issue before.
· This isn’t helped by Vought-American’s plans for Payback, which are currently playing out in the main series. With the two running concurrently, it doesn’t really matter when Payback’s actions were set into motion.
· The issue’s biggest problem, however, is the art. The work looks extremely rushed, with strange panel choices, horrible expressions, and ridiculously skewed anatomies. There are a few strong moments, but the vast majority of the issue looks amateurish and is nowhere near the level of quality I’d expect from John McCrea (I’m not familiar with Keith Burns, so I can’t speak to his work beyond this issue).
Verdict – Permission to Avoid. Between the simply abysmal art and the filler plot points, this issue is really the only candidate for the Burrito Book this week. Anything of substance from this issue will be reflected in the main series, so there is no reason for you to drop your $3 on this when you could get yourself some delicious beans, rice, and meat wrapped in a tortilla.
10. CABLE #15
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Ariel Olivetti
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Covers by Kaare Andrews and Ariel Olivetti
· The Cable installments of the Messiah War storyline have been considerably less interesting than their X-Force counterparts and this issue does very little to change that perception.
· I am pleased to see that the story is moving along a bit here, as the Cable issues have mostly regurgitated whatever happened in the previous installment. However, things do jump forward here a bit with Stryfe realizing Hope’s importance and Apocalypse getting his groove back.
· Unfortunately, these scenes take up just a few pages, with the rest of the issue featuring Swierczynski spinning his wheels with fluff moments, “gotcha” subplots (the type of subplot that is barely mentioned until it becomes a life-or-death issue for the characters involved), and more of Bishop pointing guns and whining (basically what he has done in every single moment he shows up during this storyline).
· Despite the plot issues, there are still some fun character moments, most of which center on Deadpool, though there is some fun back-and-forth between Hope and Stryfe as he invaded her mind.
· I really don’t enjoy Ariel Olivetti’s art and this issue seems to encapsulate all of the reasons why. His work here is incredibly stiff with exaggerated anatomies, shockingly bad facial expressions, and tremendous inconsistency.
· Also, remember Colorforms from when you were a kid? They were the vinyl-like cut out characters that you’d slap on a predesigned background that didn’t match the characters at all in terms of proportions or overall style? That’s what this looks like.
Verdict – Permission to Avoid. The best part of this issue is the fact that it isn’t The Boys: Herogasm #2. Beyond that, the poor art, repeated plot points, and glacial pace make this the runner-up for the Burrito Book, with the saving grace being the fun of Deadpool and few cool moments with Hope and Stryfe..
09. INCOGNITO #4
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Cover by Sean Phillips
· After a few-months delay, Incognito returns this week, picking up on the events of last issue with everything falling apart around Zack Overkill as he is attack on all sides by both his former criminal associates and the feds.
· Most comics can handle a few months delay, but this issue was really derailed by it. Folks waiting for the trade won’t be affected by it, but for single issue readers, its really hard to get back into the swing things because of the complex plot and large cast.
· This is one of the few comics I’ve read by Ed Brubaker that I would consider to be “overwritten.” There is lots of “as-it-happens” description and filler in the narration and dialogue, both of which give the issue a clunky pace.
· Part of my problem with getting back into this story is that the art runs together a bit. The characters are all distinct to a point, but Sean Phillips’s heavy-inked style and the monotone coloring by Val Staples muddies it up. I found this to be really distracting while trying to piece together who did what to whom and when.
· The art does a great job of matching the tone, however. The seedy color palette by Staples and grim expressions by Phillips accent the tone of the narration well.
Verdict – Mildly Recommended. It’s hard to look at this issue objectively because the shipping delay does make it hard to connect with the story. I’d recommend reading the last few issues before jumping into this one and you’ll probably feel much better about it than I did. Despite this and a few other minor hang-ups, however, the story does become a thrill-ride in the second half of the issue and is still a solidly enjoyable issue.
08. DEAD @17: AFTERBIRTH #1
Written by Josh Howard
Art by Josh Howard
Cover by Josh Howard
· With this issue, Josh Howard’s Dead @17 franchise makes the jump from small publisher Viper Comics to Image Comics.
· Longtime fans of the series will be happy to see fan-favorite characters Nara, Hazy, and Asia all making appearances here in a story that focuses on a surge of demons popping up and causing trouble for the main characters.
· It’s also nice to see Howard sticking with his tried-and-true formula of complex concepts being explored with straight-forward storytelling as this issue touches upon all sorts of mysticism and religious concepts while focusing very closely on the actions of just a few characters in a relatively short span.
· This issue should please longtime fans of Howard’s work and of the franchise, as it features exactly what you’d expect from Howard. The problem is that it is simply not meant for new readers, which I believe is a wasted opportunity given that the jump to image opens up Howard’s work to an all-new audience.
· There is little background on the characters offered up, the pace is extremely quick, and the entire plot hinges upon the idea that the reader has at least a passing familiarity with the four previous miniseries.
· New readers are going to be lost on the story, but also will be a bit confused on the opening scene with Hazy and Nara about their bodies, which appears to be a humorous meta-commentary from Howard on his own art style (at least that’s how I took it). These same readers will have absolutely no hope of catching the super-awesome fact that the titular character from Howard’s Lost Books of Eve makes a cameo appearance.
Verdict – Mildly Recommended. As someone who has followed Howard’s career for several years and is a major fan of the Dead @17 franchise, I absolutely loved this issue. Unfortunately, if you haven’t read the other stories, you are going to be lost; it’s simply inaccessible for new readers. My recommendation is that you drop whatever you are doing and pick up the recently released Dead @17: Ultimate Edition and read it before picking up this issue. Once you’ve done so or if you’ve already read them, then I say do not miss this issue.
07. STREETS OF GOTHAM #1
Lead Written by Paul Dini
Lead Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, and John Kalisz
Lead Letters by Steve Wands
Backup Written by Marc Andreyko
Backup Art by Georges Jeanty, Karl Story, and Nick Filardi
Backup Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Dustin Nguyen
· The next launch title coming out of Batman RIP kicks off this week with Streets of Gotham, a strange little “catch-all” title that apparently gives Paul Dini free reign to write Batman stories from whatever point of view he feels like (plus it has Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter as it’s co-feature).
· The lead story plays it fast-and-loose with Dini cutting from scene to scene quickly setting up interconnected plot points from a variety of positions, all the while focusing on a main plot featuring Firefly attempting to make a spectacular return to the world of villainy.
· This is an interesting approach to the Bat-mythos and Paul Dini’s general expertise with all of the involved characters and overall ability to write captivating stories turns it into an enjoyable read. The question with this isn’t so much whether or not the story is good, but rather whether or not it is necessary, as the market is getting flooded this month with Bat-books.
· This problem is really highlighted by a few “filler” scenes including one with Harley Quinn that only serves to setup the Gotham City Sirens series (launching next week) and a one-on-one with Damien and Hush in Hush’s prison cell. Both are interesting moments, but they seemed to sway from the main story and took focus off of the “street level” characters like the GCPD. It makes me wonder how long this premise can hold if Dini is already losing focus.
· Dustin Nguyen’s art is sharp, though he switches between clean, contoured lines and a scratchier style. The two don’t mix that well, but both look great on their own. If he stuck with either of the styles, I’d recommend this story based upon the art alone, but the inconsistency is really distracting.
· The “co-feature” (backup) is a great introduction to Manhunter that should also please long time fans. You really get into the head of Kate thanks to the great narration. We get a good grasp on who she is while setting up her new status quo.
· Georges Jeanty’s art is a great fit tone-wise for Manhunter, as it’s very realistic and atmospheric, but its terribly inconsistent. His facial designs (most notably Kate’s jaw) are all over the place, as is his level of detail.
Verdict – Mildly Recommended. This main story features strong writing and art, but the premise feels forced at times and Nguyen really needs to tighten up his style. The backup has extremely strong writing with subpar art. Overall, it’s a stronger balance than Booster Gold with Blue Beetle was last week, but I’m not sure if the premise of Streets of Gotham is worth sticking around for, making it feel like I’m paying $4 just for Manhunter.
06. SUPERGIRL #42
Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal, and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Joshua Middleton
· “Who is Superwoman?” comes to a close this week as Supergirl tells Lois about her sister Lucy Lanes’s death while General Lane plots his revenge on Kara for the death of his daughter.
· This issue features great character writing by Sterling Gates. He does a great job of selling the emotions the characters are feeling with great dialogue that was solidly paced. You feel Kara’s remorse and confusion, which played nicely against Lois’s hurt and anger.
· The only problem with the dialogue is that it felt like Gates repeated a lot of information between Kara’s retelling, Lois’s responses, and General Lane’s recount of what happened to Lucy.
· I also felt that Kara’s leaving Earth for New Krypton was a little heavy-handed. I know that the plot dictates that she leaves, but it happens very suddenly and her closing monologue was just a bit over-dramatic, especially compared to her more organic dialogue with Lois earlier.
· This is easily amongst Jamal Igle’s best issues during his run on this title. His expressions are simply amazing, as he perfectly captures the tone of the script. At first glance, these appear to be a bit stiff because of his tendency to focus solely on the character the moment, but I’ll take a slightly stiff character any day if you can nail the facial expressions that perfectly.
· Of course, a big part of the art’s success is because of the great inks by Jon Sibal—one of the best inkers in the industry—and Nei Ruffino, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite colorists—she is simply phenomenal and has a great range.
Verdict – Strongly Recommended. Supergirl has wavered a bit over the course of this storyline, but this issue brings it back to the levels it reached prior to the New Krypton storyline. This is a fine example of why this book is capable of being one of DC’s top titles.
05. POWER GIRL #2
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts
Letters by John J. Hill
Covers by Adam Hughes and Amanda Conner with Paul Mounts
· After a strong debut issue last month, Power Girl continues this week with a second issue that capitalizes on the previous issue’s successes and moves away from its few drawbacks.
· I think that this issue might be the first time that this expanded version of Ultra Humanite’s “origin” has been told and it is considerably more interesting than him just being some random mad scientist. This is one of those “good retcons.”
· Palmiotti and Gray do a splendid job with the dialogue in this issue, especially with the interaction between Power Girl and Ultra Humanite. I’m glad to see that they kept the tone light through the quipping, but not to the point it discounted the sense of urgency and danger that Power Girl faces.
· The cameo by the Justice Society and the scenes at Power Girl’s company (Starrware Industries) weren’t quite as polished, but they did a good job of showcasing that the danger is on a much larger scale than just what is going on with the titular character.
· My only real problem with the writing is that the origin of Ultra Humanite takes up too much of the issue and isn’t set up tremendously well. Flashing back to his origin in between his taunting of Power Girl would have worked much better than having him begin to “monologue” (to steal a term from The Incredibles) inexplicably. This is a majorly awkward moment that resonated with me throughout the rest of the issue.
· The highlight of the issue, of course, is the stunning artwork by Amanda Conner. Her work has so much energy and is incredibly expressive. Plus, she is one of the most consistent artists in the industry, which also makes her one of the hardest artists to review. All I can really say is that she brings the goods and that alone is worth your $3.
Verdict – Strongly Recommended. This issue nearly jumped into the “Don’t Miss This Issue” category thanks the fun dialogue and amazing art. Unfortunately the pacing issues and the lazy setup for Ultra Humanite’s origin just didn’t sit well with me and just barely held this one back.
04. MIGHTY AVENGERS #26
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Steephen Segovia, Noah Salonga, Paco Diaz, Harvey Tolibao, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and June Chung
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Cover by my Mark Djurdjevic
· After dropping quite a few titles from my pull list this week, I placed Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers on “probation,” making this issue a do-or-die last chance for me to continue picking it up. I’m glad that I decided to give it this one last shot, as this is probably the best issue this title has seen since #1.
· Following the events of last issue, the focus here is on the Mighty Avengers “assault” on the Fantastic Four and Hank Pym’s attempts to steal one of his inventions from Reed Richards to keep his secret laboratory from imploding..
· I totally dig how capable the team comes across here. They’ve been pretty rag-tag up to this point, but they really come together here under Hank’s leadership. The only problem is that Quicksilver, US Agent, and Scarlet Witch are nowhere to be found. This furthers my point that there is simply no reason for US Agent to be in this book (or any book for that matter—I’m sorry, he’s lame).
· I’m glad that Slott addresses how creepy Pym’s “relationship” with Jocasta is. I know I’m not the only person who has been disturbed this. I also have to give slot credit for Jocasta’s “kissing God” line, which was probably the best bit of dialogue for the entire week.
· Slott’s excellent character writing really cares this issue. He has a good handle on all of the characters, giving each a distinct “voice.” He also does a great job of balancing the immediacy of the threat with a great sense of humor.
· The art is a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s amazing that four artists and two colorists can create something so cohesive and consistent. On the other hand, it’s really not that great to begin with.
· The tight line work is a good style for the story, but the awkward anatomy and cluttered panels is a problem throughout. On the flip side, the cluttered panels do reinforce the chaos of the issue, albeit inadvertently.
Verdict: Don't Miss This Issue. Considering the fact that the art isn’t tremendously good, the fact that this issue jumped to #4 on the Rankings based upon the sheer awesomeness of Slott’s writing alone is that much more impressive. I was on the verge of dropping this title, but the great character interaction, intriguing subplots, and strong setup for future stories has hooked me in. As long as Slott is at the helm, I’ll be sticking with this title for the time being.
03. ELEPHANTMEN #20
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Marian Churchland
Letters by Comicraft
Covers by Marian Churchland and Ladronn
· Elephantmen has dominated the Comic Book Review Power Rankings this year, picking up three Book of the Week honors and never straying from the top few books; although this issue doesn’t quite reach #1, it does deliver the same amazing quality story that this can’t miss title is known for.
· This issue continues the “Dangerous Liaisons” series of one-off stories, this time being a very light, closely-focused exploration of Vanity Case’s relationship with Hip Flask.
· Richard Starkings keeps it simple here. The dialogue is very direct, but organic. He builds the sweet, heartfelt sentiments naturally and doesn’t overdo it. It doesn’t feel like comic book writing and that is probably the biggest compliment I can give.
· The only part of the writing that didn’t work as well with me is Hip “testing” Vanity, mostly because I felt the explanation of this was rushed. I get the gist of this and the entire moment adds depth to characters, but the execution fell flat.
· Marian Churchland’s art perfectly matches the tone of this issue. Her clean, rounded line work and soft color tones help emphasize the sweetness and beauty of the moment, while her strong sense of realism keeps everything grounded, despite the fact that she is dealing with very “fantastic” elements.
· The biggest weakness of the issue is that it is far too brief. The minimal dialogue and large panels push things forward at a brisk pace, so the issue finishes long before I wanted it to.
Verdict – Do Not Miss This Issue. Elephantmen is once again a front runner for all of my year end awards and this is another fine example of why. Starkings is a master scripter and has amazing chemistry with up-and-comer Churchland and the duo delivers once again with this deceptively simple (with this series, there is always more going on than it seems), but incredibly sweet story.
02. GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY #21
Written by Andrew Kreisberg
Art by Mike Norton, Josef Rubenstein, and David Baron
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Ladronn
· Picking up where last issue left off, Andrew Kreisberg continues his “silent” (there is no sound, so there is no dialogue, but there is inner-monologues) story with the titular heroes doing their best to control the chaos in their soundless city while we learn more about the history of Dinah’s “Canary-Cry.”
· Kreisberg absolutely nails the interconnected monologues in this issue. Jumping from thought to thought is a risky move, as this device can feel hokey or forced, but he pulls it off organically. When one characters thought’s “respond” to another’s or completes another’s, it feels natural and perfectly in the moment.
· The “origin” exploration for Black Canary works really well with the current plot on a number of levels. It obviously works well with the villain with the ear damage, but is also highlights some of Canary’s insecurities and trust issues that have been major underlying themes in this story.
· I like how tension is built between the Dinah and Ollie here, building towards their implied split (the two become “co-featured” in the book this summer). Green Arrow is trying to be on his best behavior while “teaming-up” with Cupid, which is foiled by Black Canary’s focus on solving the problem. Even without dialogue or without them interacting, you can see the problems coming thanks to the crafty plotting.
· Mike Norton is getting better and better with every issue. His clean designs and use of larger panels in this issue gives him room to carry the story with great expressions and awesome action. In an issue no dialogue, characters have to communicate with body language and Norton meets this challenge head on.
· It’s great to see Norton using varied layouts with overlapping panels here, especially since he does so to control the pace and help reinforce the story.
· Even though we only see a bit of him here, Wildcat’s appearance has me chomping at the bit for a Wildcat ongoing drawn by Norton. DC totally needs to get on that right away.
Verdict – Do Not Miss This Issue. Andrew Kreisberg takes some storytelling risks in this story and it pays off huge. The lack of dialogue could’ve backfired, but I can’t blame him for giving it a shot when he’s got Mike Norton to back him up. This issue was incredibly close to taking the top spot and I can’t emphasize enough the fact that you’re a fool if you aren’t reading this series right now.
01. CAPTAIN AMERICA #600
Written by Ed Brubaker and Guests
Art by Various
Letters by Various
Covers by Alex Ross and Steve Epting
· After loads of hype and a really weird PR stunt, Captain America #600 dropped this week and did so in a big way. The much anticipated issue comes with a hefty price tag ($4.99), but is worth every penny thanks to three original stories, two classic reprints, and a few other great extras.
· The main story follows the lives of those affected by Captain America on the anniversary of his death, covering the lives of the New Avengers, Bucky from Heroes Reborn, Sharon Carter, Crossbones and Sin, etc.
· Ed Brubaker gives each story its chance to shine thanks to strong characterization, and superb dialogue. Thanks to the strong pacing, none of the stories feel shortchanged, though as a warning it make take you a while to work your way through each individual tale. I also have to commend Bru for giving each tale a strong conclusion that makes it feel like a standalone and yet leaves the door open for future tales. Clearly the “big thread” (I’m sure you’ve all read the spoilers by now) will be followed up on when Cap returns later this year, but I hope that the other stories get picked up as well, especially with the Heroes Reborn Bucky, who has a ton of potential now that she is in the 616 (My fingers are crossed that she becomes the real Bucky’s sidekick).
· Of course none of these stories would be as effective if it weren’t for the art and there is an impressive lineup on this story, including the quintessential modern Cap artist Mitch Breitweiser and Rafael Albuquerque (whose work here is simply phenomenal, blowing away even some of his best Blue Beetle work).
· The only downside to this main story was the art of David Aja, who drew the Crossbones and Sin portion. His work lacks the polish of the other artists, with indefinite lines that run together and some really stiff character work.
· I felt a bit lost in the second story by Roger Stern, as I’m not tremendously familiar with Bernie Rosenthal, but Stern writes it with conviction and the art by Kalman Andrasofszky pushes the bittersweet tone quite well. The end result is a heartfelt story that should really speak to Cap fans of Stern’s era that follows the same general theme as the main story.
· I was most surprised by the third story by Mark Waid and Dale Eaglesham that tells the tale of Captain America memorabilia collectors at an auction of Cap’s goods. As a collector this story really spoke to me and the final scenes (showing how Cap touched the lives of all of the collectors) were incredibly powerful. It was the books hokiest story, but it works.
· The extras include a gallery two great reprints (a classic Simon/Kirby Cap story and Cap’s origin by Paul Dini and Alex Ross), a retrospective by Joe Simon, and a gallery of all 600 “Captain America” covers (they weren’t all Captain America books, technically).
Verdict – Don’t Miss This Issue. I know the ridiculous hype (Epic Fail, Marvel, Epic Fail) may mean this is a letdown for some and the price tag is a little high, but I can tell you that this is worth every penny. There aren’t many major revelations or big action, but this is powerfully emotional storytelling that is a great celebration of Captain America’s legacy and a great way to kick of Steve Rogers return. With this many heavy-hitters working on one book and all bringing their A-game, is there any doubt it would be Book of the Week?