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.
Before we get into this week’s Rankings, I do want to spotlight a new webcomic that launched today, THE FUTURISTS by acclaimed artist Mitch Breitweiser and his partner-in-crime Patrick Stiles. The creators promise to tell an epic tale of a quest for eternal life gone horribly wrong and the first episode looks promising. Breitweiser is one of the best artists in the industry today and brings the same level of quality to the webcomic that he does to his work with Marvel. If you’ve got a minute, I’d highly recommend checking The Futurists out at http://www.whoarethefuturists.com/.
08. THE BOYS #32
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra and Tony Avina
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Darick Robertson
• The Boys, once one of the best comics on the market, has been on a downward spiral as of late, with a few disappointing issues in a row and the incredibly disappointing Herogasm spin-off. This week’s issue shows some signs of life, but ultimately succumbs to a lot of the issues the book has been facing over the last few issues.
• The issue follows up on the vicious attack by Payback on the Female from last month, focusing mainly on Payback’s attempt at making a final blow against the Boys.
• The story itself is brief, with more action than substance and, being an issue of The Boys, the violence is over-the-top and excessive. The problem is that it really serves little purpose. While it is interesting to see how “capable” Butcher is at taking down “capes,” even this loses its impact by the end of the issue.
• The subplots focuses on an ill-fated attempt to “retcon” Annie’s origin and darken her image, which is an interesting commentary on certain aspects of modern comments, but it’s nothing new nor is it very insightful. While it’s always great to see Annie get the spotlight and the moment she stands up for herself is fantastic, the overall act is getting a bit stale.
• The good news is that, even though the plot is a bit much the jokes are getting stale, Ennis continues to write all of the characters well and does a great job of throwing in moments of development amidst the excess.
• When Darick Robertson has been handling the art chores for most of the book, fill-ins like this are simply disappointing. Carlos Ezquerra’s art lacks the strong anatomy that Ennis brings and is riddled with design and style inconsistencies. It’s a poor fit for the issue and generally unimpressive. Plus there are a few weird moments where it looks like Hughie is traced from pictures of Stalin and that doesn’t really work for me.
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. There are some interesting and well-done moments here-and-there in this book, including some strong character development for Annie and the first time we really see what Butcher is capable of, but ultimately the issue’s excessiveness feels stale and the poor art destroys all hope for the issue to rise above Burrito Book statues.
07. CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN #1
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice, and Paul Mounts
Letters by Jor Caramagna
Covers by Various
• Launching out of the misfired hype (but strong execution) of Captain America #600, Captain America: Reborn #1 is pure setup for the return of Steve Rogers, who apparently didn’t die in Captain America #25 after all.
• Despite lots of statements and interviews stating otherwise, I can’t help but feel that the return of Steve Rogers was haphazardly put together based upon the events of this issue. It’s full of deus ex machina twists and a bit of time travel nonsense that is entirely too convoluted to be effective.
• Ed Brubaker’s character work isn’t bad, but strong character voices can’t overcome the absurdity of the plot; plus, most of the dialogue is used as exposition, which takes away from the fact that Bru has a good handle on the character voices.
• I was a bit surprised to see that Butch Guice was co-illustrating this issue given the hype surrounding Bryan Hitch being the artist. That being said, I didn’t feel like either artist lived up to their abilities here.
• The character designs and amounts of details presented are wildly inconsistent. Some pages look incredibly unfinished, which is never a good thing. Plus, there are a few moments early on in the issue where the star on Cap’s uniform is so poorly rendered that I’m shocked the panels would ever be allowed to see print. Yikes.
• The best thing I can say about the art is that it looks like both men are borrowing some style points from Mitch Breitweiser; but then again, if both men are going to depart from their usual styles to imitate Breitweiser, why not just hire him?
Verdict: Read with Caution. I’m going to hold off saying that you should avoid this issue because there are seeds planted that could bear interesting fruit and I’m a bit intrigued by the predicament that Steve Rogers finds himself in at the end of the issue. It’s all setup, so there is still the possibility that the next issue could redeem this one. However, you should approach the issue knowing that the plot device to bring Steve back is unnecessarily complicated and doesn’t appear to be as well-thought out as recent interviews with the creative team would have you believe. Plus, if you are expecting Ultimates-level Hitch, you are going to be disappointed.
06. UNCANNY X-MEN #513
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson
• Spinning out of last week’s Utopia one-shot, this week’s Uncanny X-Men kicks off the title’s crossover with Dark Avengers that finds Norman Osborn and Emma Frost attempting to take control of the war between human protestors and the nearly-extinct mutant population by starting their own version of the X-Men.
• This issue is a solid introduction to the new Dark X-Men team thanks to strong character work by Matt Fraction. I’m especially impressed with how he introduces this team in the midst of developing other offshoots of the human/mutant conflict, giving clout to both sides of the argument. Clearly Norman Osborn is meant to be the villain, but its cool to see Fraction develop strong arguments both for and against what he is doing.
• While it is great to see Fraction fleshing out the argument, I am a bit shocked to see that he doesn’t do that much with the fact that Emma has clearly sold out her students and peers. There are a few lines of anger from Mercury, but most of it seems to be directed at the situation; should someone, especially Cyclops, be pissed about this?
• The biggest problem for the issue, however, is the fact that too much of the issue is simply rehashing what we saw last week in the one-shot. With the exception of the introduction of the Dark X-Men, there isn’t much new here at all. This issue could’ve added three or four pages of setup and completely negated the need for the one-shot.
• The art by Terry and Rachel Dodson shows flashes of brilliance and is solid throughout most of the issue. Unfortunately, there are some pages towards the end that look nothing like the style they employ through most of the issue. I was actually shocked to find out that there were no credited fill-in artists here. That’s not a good thing.
Verdict: Read with Caution. If you read last week’s Utopia one-shot, there isn’t much of a need to read this issue. You can look at the cover and see who the members of the Dark X-Men are, which will fill you in on the only info of relevance that hasn’t already been covered. If you didn’t read the one-shot, then you will probably enjoy this issue a bit more. Fraction’s character writing is solid, but his storytelling is a bit iffy, which is about how things go for the art by the Dodsons as well.
05. MARVEL DIVAS #1
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Tonci Zonjic, Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, and June Chung
Letters by Cory Petit and Chris Eliopoulos
Cover by J. Scott Campbell
• I will openly admit that the only reason I picked up Marvel Divas is because a lot of other comic bloggers seemed really interested in the issue based upon the previews; I didn’t get what all the buzz was about at the time, so I thought I’d pick up the issue to see if maybe they were on to something.
• The good news is that the issue is far more complex and interesting than the dreadfully insulting solicitations and cover would have you believe. The bad news is that my gut feeling that this would be the superheroine version of Sex and the City wasn’t very far off base.
• The issue follows Patsy Walker, Photon, Firestar, and Black Cat as they dish about their love lives and their careers in an attempt to make themselves feel better about the fact that the Invisible Woman and She-Hulk are more glamorous than they are. That’s an oversimplification of the plot, but only slightly.
• Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa does a good job of selling each character’s personality and setting up the interaction, provided that you can stomach the saccharine and catty approach that he takes. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Sex and the City you’ll know what to expect. I suspect that is what Aguirre-Sacasa is going for, so I applaud him for nailing that.
• It’s interesting how Aguirre-Sacasa attempts to find just the right balance between sassy, materialistic stereotypes (again, writing to the genre) and stronger proto-feminist portrayals with the characters. I can’t quite put my finger on which side is dominate, but I will give him credit for trying to hit both.
• Tonci Zonjic’s art has a lot of strong qualities. I dig the fluidity of the art and the linework is extremely clean. There are subtleties in the expressions that simply floored me. The problem is, when you look at the lead character’s side by side, the only major difference in how they are drawn is the color of their skin and the shape of their hair. Excellence in style and a lack of variety battle it out with no clear victor.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. Marvel Divas is considerably better than it really has any right to be. The story is asinine and the style is a rip-off of what I consider to be the least interesting original programming in HBO’s history, but Aguirre-Sacasa seems to achieve everything he is working towards both in terms of plotting and execution. I’d love to see more variety of Tonci Zonjic, but as it stands the art is pretty solid. This issue really isn’t my thing and so it’s unlikely that I’ll pick up #2, but if you are the target audience, you are probably going to love it.
04. BATMAN AND ROBIN #2
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Pat Brousseau
Cover by Frank Quitely
• I’ve been extremely vocal in the last few years about my feelings towards Grant Morrison’s recent work, especially his simply abysmal take on Batman; that makes it all the more surprisingly that I found myself really enjoying this week’s Batman & Robin, even more than I did with the first issue of the series.
• On the surface, the issue is a solid action-oriented comic that finds the new Dynamic Duo (Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne) taking on the mysterious Cirque D’Etrange, who have attacked the GCPD headquarters. Digging deeper, it is an interesting character-focused look at how Dick Grayson is dealing with being Batman, especially in regards to training a new Robin.
• I really, really enjoyed the interaction between Dick and Damian. Morrison really nails it when Dick is imitating Bruce throughout the issue, so much so that he really doesn’t need to beat the reader over the head with it towards the end of the issue. This serves as a nice parallel to Damian’s attempts at filling in as Robin, especially with his take on Robin being that the Boy Wonder should be a shorter version of the Dark Knight.
• I wasn’t quite as thrilled with the way that Morrison pushes the “newness” of the team throughout the issue. It’s clear that this isn’t the previous Batman and Robin and a few comments on that is enough, but Morrison brings it up too much throughout the issue. We can get the point without having it dumbed down over and over again (then again, had he taken this approach with Final Crisis, it would probably have been readable).
• Frank Quitely’s art in this issue is a majorly mixed bag. On one hand, his fluidity and expressions are top notch. He nails the tone and the pacing of Morrison’s script; the chemistry between the two is undeniable.
• On the other hand, I hate how bulgy his designs are and how wavy his lines are. It looks bad, to be quite honest. I simply don’t get what he is going for. Plus, his design for Damian’s face seems to change with every subsequent page.
• Also, there is no need for fancy layouts when the storytelling choices are so baffling. First, present me with a logical sequence of action, then worry about crazy panel borders.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. I know that Frank Quietly is a fan favorite, but his lack of artistic discipline on a number of levels kept this issue from being a “must-read” book. That being said, Grant Morrison is does an amazing job of character development here, showcasing skills that have been completely missing from his work over the last few years. This one is a ton of fun, despite some fairly major flaws.
03. GREEN LANTERN CORPS #38
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Pat Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen, Randy Mayor, and Gabe Eltaeb
Letters by Steve Wands
Cover by Pat Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, and Pete Pantazis
• Emerald Eclipse comes to a shocking conclusion this week as Green Lantern Corps completes its buildup towards this summer’s Blackest Night event.
• If for nothing else, you have to applaud Peter Tomasi for the massive scope of this issue. This one has a majorly epic feel with Tomasi covering a lot of ground in such a short amount of space; he does a great job of wrapping up all of the current storylines, introducing new elements, and setting up a very interesting status quo for the title as we head into the upcoming event.
• I love Tomasi’s use of Guy Gardner here, as it feels like a culmination of the last few years for the character. His oafish veneer is dropped in the face of serious issues and he emerges as a major leader, while still retaining his hot-headed nature and ferocious loyalty. This characterization is the key to the effectiveness of this issue.
• On the flipside, I’m really beginning to think that Tomasi simply has no clue on what to do with Kyle Rayner. We’ve seen him be forced into an unnecessary relationship (with fellow Lantern Soranik Natu), fall back on tired stories (the artist gig), and now reduced to being Guy’s toady. Yikes.
• Between the events of this issue and the events of the last Green Lantern issue, I’m really interested in seeing how they redeem the Guardians following Blackest Night. This is getting ridiculous.
• Speaking of ridiculous, the biggest low-point in this issue for me was the two-page spread that “wraps” up the Arisia/Ion/Daxamite/Mongul story. This was majorly disappointing.
• Although I’m still confused as to why he changed things up, Pat Gleason’s rounder, more open designs really started to grow on me in this issue. I still prefer his more detailed style that he had been using up until recently, but he’s showing better control with the new style here.
• Then again, I knew Gleason would come around. He is one of the best artists in the industry and deserving of far more recognition than he gets. This issue is another solid example of why I believe that.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. This issue features extremely solid art and an insanely epic scope that makes it the perfect lead-in to Blackest Night. The poor conclusion to the Ion vs. Mongul subplot left a bad taste in my mouth, as did the usage of Kyle Rayner, but the rest of the issue was fantastic. Green Lantern Corps is amongst DC’s strongest titles and this issue is yet another fine example of the quality you can come to expect from it.
02. WAR OF KINGS #5
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier, Rick Magyar, and Wil Quintana
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Brandon Peterson
• With just one issue left in this amazing miniseries, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning kick things into high-gear as the Inhumans unleash their endgame on the Shi’ar Empire, who stumble into all sorts of trouble following the death of former-Empress Lilandra last issue.
• This is easily the best character writing Abnett and Lanning have displayed in this entire miniseries, rivaling even some of their best work from Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy. Every single major player from this story gets a least a line or two of solid dialogue with unique voices.
• I loved the interaction between Crystal and Medusa here, which is a great culmination of Crystal’s development through the series. Likewise, I’m glad to see DnA doing a bit more with Rachel Grey, who has been criminal underused in this event.
• While the pacing and character writing was simply superb, I had two major stumbling blocks with the writing. First, I didn’t read War of Kings: Ascension, so I was totally lost on the stuff with Talon; DnA definitely should’ve done more to clear that up. Secondly, the T-Bomb concept is cool, but I refuse to believe that anyone would be dumb enough to think that would end the war. Stupid move, Inhumans, stupid move.
• Paul Pelletier has shown tremendous growth over the course of this miniseries and this issue is a fine showcase of that. In particular, I’m really digging his expressions here. The connection between body language and facial expressions is top notch and he is doing a great job of being subtle, but effective.
• Plus, as per usual with Pelletier, the action is stellar. He has a great sense of motion and impact, which brings a ton of excitement to the table in the few scenes were the battles start picking up. Plus, he absolutely nails the final page standoff between Vulcan and Black Bolt. I can’t wait to see what he brings to the table when they fight it out next issue.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. Once again, the creative team behind War of Kings delivers an amazingly well-executed issue that does a great job of balancing a huge cosmic war with personal character issues. Despite some logical missteps and an assumption that I read all of the tie-in issues, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning continue to prove they belong with the elites of the comic book writing world while Paul Pelletier’s growth as an artist is on full display here. It may not have taken the Top Spot this week, but this issue is still a book you shouldn’t miss under any circumstances.
01. SECRET SIX #11
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood, Mark McKenna, and Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Daniel Luvisi
• Another month, another win for Secret Six, which has now pulled in an unprecedented five Book of the Week honors in 2009, tying the record of most #1’s in one year set in 2008 by Criminal—but doing so in just over half a year.
• This issue sees a lot of problems developing for the titular team as they squabble over the ethics of their current contract while learning more about their simply insane employers.
• As per usual with this series, the character voices and interaction is paramount to the success of this issue. There is more personality in one page of this issue than there is in nearly every other issue on this week’s Rankings combined.
• I love the twisted sense of honor and duty that Gail Simone develops throughout this issue. Every single character, both good and bad, has their own spin on these concepts in this issue. From Bane’s protectiveness of Scandal to Deadshot’s insistence on honoring the dead to the villains’ attempts at saving the world through slavery, this entire issue centers on these concepts and the individual perversions thereof.
• That being said, this issue is a virtual clinic on how tight plotting and effective characterization can be used to have an entire issue reinforce a singular theme. This allows Simone to create a complex story that moves as smoothly a simpler one and showcases exactly why she is a master storyteller.
• It should come as no surprise that the art by Nicola Scott with assists from Doug Hazlewood and Mark McKenna is nothing short of spectacular; after all, this art team rarely has even so much as an off page. The expressions are great; the art is fluid; the consistency is impeccable—it’s simply a great looking comic.
• I was really impressed, however, with how clean the storytelling is. Scott uses very simple grids effectively, occasionally mixing up the number of panels, but never straying from basic layouts. Because her panel choices are so great and follow such logical sequences, she doesn’t need to do anything fancy. This is something some “big name” artists should be taking notes on (I’m looking at you, Frank Quietly).
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. It is simply ridiculous how good this title is month-in-and-month-out. Once again Gail Simone and the talented duo of Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood (with help from Mark McKenna and Jason Wright) produce an amazing issue with loads of personality. It’s sick, twisted, depraved, shocking, and ludicrously charming. This issue excels on all levels and was an easy pick for the week’s best book. Do not miss out!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Things slow down a bit this week for the Comic Book Review Power Rankings. After checking out 20 books last week (Part 1 and Part 2), I took it easy with only 8 titles to kick of July. While the Rankings might be a bit smaller this week, you can still expect big things with such high profile releases as the long-awaited Captain America: Reborn #1, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin #2, the newest issues from the always great War of Kings and Secret Six, and more. You can check out the full reviews and Rankings after the jump!