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.
11. BATMAN #688
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter, and Ian Hannin
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Tony Daniel
• In this week’s issue of Batman, Judd Winick continues his exploration of Gotham’s response to the new Batman, focusing mostly on how Commissioner Gordon and the criminal underworld are reacting in this issue.
• I was really disappointed by the dialogue in this issue. There are no clear voices from any of the characters, except Commissioner Gordon, whose longwinded rambling is completely unfocused and makes little sense at times. I get what Winick is going for, but he makes Gordon more senile than anything else.
• Winick really pushes the idea that Dick is trying to be a more prominent Batman by having him not take out security cameras before taking down crooks. This is interesting, but when you think about it, how would Bruce have had time to dismantle cameras while fighting crime and why on Earth would he put people’s security at risk by doing so? After all, they are SECURITY cameras. I’m not sure why Winick didn’t think this one through, especially since a lot of this issue hinges on this idea.
• With all of the other writers taking on the post-RIP Bat-titles are going with something fresh, the war between Two-Face and Penguin feels incredibly stale. We’ve seen it before, so let’s move on to something fresh.
• I don’t have a ton of exposure to Mark Bagley’s work recently (never read Ultimate Spider-Man, dropped Trinity three issues in), I’m not tremendously familiar with his style. That being said, this issue really makes me wonder if he is always so inconsistent? His anatomies and facial constructions vary from page to page, with characters looking incredibly dissimilar to themselves throughout the book.
• It also doesn’t help that his range of detail is so wide. On some pages, he clearly put a lot of care and thought into every line he put down, while in others it looks like he rushed through just to get it done and the detail work suffers because of it.
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. This was really the only book this week that I would consider to be “bad.” Winick’s spotty dialogue, illogical story beats, and stale overall plot keeps me from getting interested, while Mark Bagley fails to live up to the hype with equally as disappointing work. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a completist with this title, I’d consider dropping it after this one. Do yourself a favor and be smarter than me; avoid this week’s Burrito Book like the plague.
10. WAR OF KINGS: WARRIORS #1
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Mahmud A. Asrar, Jeffery Huet, Val Staples, Carlos Magno, Norman Lee, Andy Troy, and Sotocolors
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Cover by Paul Renaud
• Apparently this issue is just reprinting stories from Marvel’s digital subscript service. So, if you have access to that, you should probably just check this one out there.
• The issue contains two stories. In the first, Christos Gage retells Gladiator’s origin, while in the second he lets us know what Blastaar has been up to since we last saw him rampaging through the Negative Zone in Guardians of the Galaxy.
• The stories themselves are enjoyable, but are ultimately fluff that add little to the main War of Kings story, but do a decent enough job of adding to the atmosphere of the event.
• While the storytelling itself was rather heavy-handed, I liked how the Gladiator story explains why he is so fiercely loyal to the Shi’ar rulers. On the flipside, the Blastaar story is less informative but is good mindless fun that reminds me a lot of old Lobo stories by Keith Giffen.
• The art on both stories really dragged the issue down. Jeffery Huet’s inks really hurt Mahmud Asrar’s already uncharacteristically weak work on the Gladiator story, which featured overly rounded faces, stiff characters, and almost no backgrounds. In the second story Carlos Magno’s overall line work was marginally stronger, but was held back by the muddy colors and the unfocused, highly chaotic panel choices.
Verdict: Read with Caution. This issue is completely unnecessary unless you are a die-hard War of Kings fan, in which case it is a fun, but ultimately pointless read. This is certainly not Christos Gage’s best effort and the art was surprisingly disappointing given the high caliber of pencillers working on it.
09. DRAFTED: ONE HUNDRED DAYS
Written by Mark Powers
Art by Chris Lie, Junaidi, Faisal, and Jotter Production
Letters by Crank!
Cover by Chris Lie, Lius Lasahido, and Crut
• While nowhere near as good as the original miniseries, this one-shot helped remind me of how awesome Drafted was. If you’ve never checked out that miniseries, I highly suggest that you do.
• The issue follows the exploits of Senator Barack Obama, having never become President because of the alien invasion, as he and a team of recruits attempt to salvage what is left of Chicago in the latter days of the original story.
• Given the fact that he seems to be guest starring in nearly every book on the stands, this is the first time that I felt that Obama was being used as more than just a selling point. This issue actually focuses on him as a character and Mark Powers does a superb job of treating him with a level of respect and dignity while absolutely nailing his personality. It’s solid characterization and something I wish other creators would attempt while they try to cash in on the Obama-comics craze.
• There is a serious Lost vibe going on in this issue, which was fun. That reminds me, please try to keep Lost spoilers to a minimum in the comments, please. I’m almost done with season 2, so I’m totally in the dark on a lot of the mysteries.
• The biggest drawback of the story is that it is entirely too long and tends to repeat itself too much. You could have easily removed 10 pages or so and dropped the price a bit, making this a much, much stronger comic.
• Aside from the high price tag and somewhat rambling story, the art really holds this issue back. I’m unfamiliar with Junaidi and Faisal, but their finishes give Chris Lie’s layouts a very stiff, lifeless look with really poor expressions. It doesn’t help that the unnatural colors made everyone look like they were made of clay and didn’t seem to take lighting into account at any point in time during the issue.
Verdict: Read with Caution. I really wish that this issue wasn’t so expensive ($5.99) and didn’t feature such horrible art. This is easily the best use of Obama in a comic that I’ve seen and an interesting story in general, but the overall execution betrays all of the things that could make this one a must read.
08. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: ANNUAL #36
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Pat Olliffe, Andy Lanning, and Antonio Fabela
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Olivier Coipel
• I know there are some of you out there at that really loved the Clone Saga; if you are one of those folks, it’s a good time to be you right now, as this issue heralds the return of Ben Reilly.
• Marc Guggenheim does his best to pump up this relatively bland plot (basically Peter is attacked by someone thinking he is Ben Reilly while attending the Aunt May’s engagement party). I really dug the interaction between Peter and J. Jonah Jameson, as well as Peter’s inner monologues throughout the issue.
• The bits with May’s family were especially great. It remind me a lot of the awkwardness of my own extended family reunions, minus the “hot for your cousin” bit (which was hilarious).
• The problem is that there is only so much you can do with a plot point that is quickly growing stale (May’s wedding) and a super lame “villain.” The issue itself is conspiring against Guggenheim here. It doesn’t help that the issue goes on for far too long, with the fight scene growing tiring long before it is finished.
• While I though the Boston accent jokes were funny at first, Guggenheim really overdid it. Like most accents, subtlety is key and this is far from subtle (plus, we got the point about Jeter the first time, thanks).
• Pat Olliffe shows flashes of brilliance in the issue with a few strong panels and a superb design for Peter. Plus there is a great sense of movement in his action. Unfortunately, his poor facial expressions and strangely thin characters were too distracting and far more prevalent in the issue than the stronger aspects of his art.
Verdict: Read with Caution. This one just barely missed out on a “Mildly Recommended” rating. To me, Annuals should be stories that can’t be told in the flow of the regular series or offer some sort of extras. Story-wise, we get nothing more here than a rehash of the Aunt May wedding stuff and the implied return of a character that I’m just not that into. There are a few cool moments that keep this one fairly enjoyable, but in the end, the disappointing aspects outweigh the good.
07. BOOSTER GOLD #22
Lead Story Written by Dan Jurgens
Lead Story Art by Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, and Hi-Fi
Backup Story Written by Matthew Sturges
Backup Story Art by Mike Norton, Norm Rapmund, and Guy Major
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund
• As I mentioned last month, I dropped this title shortly after Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz left the title as I felt that it lost a lot of its charm after their departure and I only returned to the book because of the Blue Beetle back-ups. Thankfully, I can say that this issue is an improvement over where it was when I dropped the book, but the writing still needs some fixing before I’ll be totally happy with the investment.
• The plot of the lead story is al ot of fun, with Booster Gold cleverly teaming up with the Wolfman/Perez-era Teen Titans against the combined forces of the first Ravager, Deathstroke, and the Black Beetle. It is a cool concept and I totally dig Booster’s “S.T.A.R. Labs Security Guard” gag to fool the Titans.
• Unfortunately, the characters in this story were really lacking in personality. Other than a few stray moments of Booster reacting to first meeting the Titans, I felt that everyone’s lines were pretty interchangeable and lifeless. Given the great array of characters here, that was a major disappointment.
• The art was solid, but not spectacular. The chemistry between Jurgens and Rapmund is clear, but they do little to spice things up in terms of pacing, panel choices, layouts, etc. It’s just hum-drum art from a quality art team.
• In the backup, Matt Sturges really seems constrained by the shorter page count for his Blue Beetle story. He is trying to fit a lot into very few pages and because of that, he resorts to “telling” more than “showing,” which lessens the impact of what he is trying to do, especially with the Brenda/Paco subplot.
• Mike Norton continues his excellence with highly expressive and energetic art. I like the slightly more cartoony style here, with more exaggerated anatomies and expressions. It’s a subtle change, but it is effective in terms of matching the tone of the book and varying his style compared to his other books.
• You can’t discount the effect that Norm Rapmund’s inks have on Norton’s art though, as he is amongst the best finishers in the business. The two do a great job here and both deserve the praise.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. I think this book would benefit from swapping the lead and the backup. Sturges, Norton, and Rapmund put together the much stronger story, but clearly need more space to do everything they are trying to accomplish. The lead story was interesting and had a lot of potential, but ultimately falls flat in comparison to the “second feature.”
06. GREEN ARROW/BLACK CANARY #22
Written by Andrew Kreisberg
Lead Story Art by Mike Norton, Josef Rubinstein, and Allan Passalaqua
Backup Story Art by Mike Norton, Bill Sienkiewicz, and David Baron
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Ladronn
• This issue marks the official “split” of the title characters, with Black Canary taking the lead story and Green Arrow being moved into the “second feature” slot in the second half of the book. As much as I hate splitting up the two characters, I really dig the innovative use of the backup story system. Through this, Andrew Kreisberg is able to tell two sides of one story, while being able to take each down a different path and to vary the styles in which he does so. It’s crafty and well-executed.
• I like the balance between the origins of Discord and Black Canary in the lead story. They have similar themes and both lead up to the same point well. Discord’s had considerably less impact given that he is a new character, but Kreisberg really nailed the Canary scenes thanks to his awesome dialogue and character interaction between Dinah, her mother, and Wildcat.
• While he balanced the two retellings well, his transitions between the two were a bit rougher, making the cuts a bit jarring at times. This could have been helped if he gave more attention to the framing sequence of the lead story, which had considerably less focus than the flashbacks.
• The backup was an interesting look at the depths to which Green Arrow seems to be sinking and featured some really great character work. I really cannot emphasize enough how strong of a character-writer Kreisberg is.
• Unfortunately, I can’t say that this story was tremendously effective because of how misplaced Canary’s anger towards Ollie seemed to be. Despite Green Arrow’s recent penchant for violence, he comes across like a puppy dog compared to Cupid, whom he “teams up” with in this story. When Dinah’s anger culminates in the final pages, it’s not as powerful because the development of the situation falls flat.
• The highlight of the issue, though, is the work by Mike Norton and his two great finishers, Josef Rubinstein and Bill Sienkiewicz. Each of the inkers brings their own style to Norton’s layouts, which perfectly matches to tone of their respective stories. The distinction between the two stories is very clear thanks to the contrasting styles, but Norton’s strong storytelling skills unifies the book. This is a great example of artistic collaboration and the number one reason why you should check out this book.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. This one has two strong stories, a unique take on the DC’s new co features, and superb art with two amazing inkers finishing up great work by Norton. There are some shortcomings in the stories that held the issue back a bit, but the talent of the entire creative team still manages to shine through and make this one a great read.
05. RED ROBIN #2
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Ramon Bachs, Art Thibert, and Guy Major
Letters by Sal Cirpiano
Cover by Francis Manapul
• Red Robin had a very strong debut and the creative team followed that up with a superb second issue. Of all the post-RIP Bat-books, this is quickly becoming my favorite and has earned a strong place on my pull list (along with Batman and Robin, while the others are still up in the air).
• Chris Yost’s character work here is phenomenal. Through strong inner monologues and solid dialogue, he really sells the torment that Tim is going through over Bruce’s disappearance and makes it seem believable. This is a great direction for the character that honors all that has come before.
• Tim’s analytic breakdown of the assassins is a great example of how Yost is writing Tim as Batman, which is a major reason why this book is so compelling.
• The Robin/Spoiler interaction didn’t sit as well with me, but mostly because it’s not tremendously clear what DC is trying to do with her and the way they seem to be burying her lately doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m hoping Yost can turn that around.
• The only major problem in the issue is the art by Ramon Bachs. He has improved since last issue in terms of making Tim sans costume look like a late teenager, but while in costume, he still doesn’t seem to draw Tim’s body style in a way that feels “right.” It’s too bulky and too late adult. I don’t feel like we are seeing Tim when we see Red Robin and that takes a lot away from the book.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. Chris Yost is doing some stellar things with Tim Drake in this issue with some of the best character development of the week. I like Ramon Bachs style and I think his tone matches what is going on in the script, but he needs to solidify his design work to take this book to another level. Still, the strength of the writing and the compelling plot (can’t wait for next issue’s Red Robin/Ra’s al Ghul team-up) win out.
04. X-MEN: LEGACY #226
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Dustin Weaver, Ed Tadeo, and Brian Reber
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Terry Dodson
• After dropping the series a while back due to its reliance on heavy continuity, I jumped back on as the series shifts focus to Rogue. I’m glad that I did.
• This issue, which ties Rogue’s return to the X-Men to the current Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men crossover, “Utopia,” a very fun read with lots of great action, strong characterization, and solid pacing.
• I really like how accessible this issue is for new and returning readers. Carey uses the crossover as a backdrop while he sets up Rogue’s new status quo, the changes to her powers, and solidifies her support cast.
• This issue ranks amongst Mike Carey’s best character work. He nails every character’s unique voice, from the leads to the villains to the support cast—everyone gets a moment to shine.
• Dustin Weaver’s art is very strong and a great fit for the issue. I was especially impressed with how well he captured the tone in his facial expressions. There were a few moments of awkward anatomy, though, which became distracting at times.
• I was especially impressed with how he varied his layouts without every really breaking the standard grid. He occasionally broke into diagonal and vertical panels that helped break up the pace of the issue and add to the excitement of certain scenes. This is a great example of how you can spice up the look of an issue without going overboard on crazy layouts.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. This is the perfect jumping on point for readers who felt alienated by the very dense and continuity-heavy start to X-Men: Legacy when it was rebranded last year. Mike Carey’s handle on the characters was top-notch and has me very excited about the new direction for the title. When you add in the strong art by Dustin Weaver, you’ve got one fantastic issue that shouldn’t be missed.
03. WEDNESDAY COMICS #1
Written by Various
Art by Various
Letters by Various
Cover by Various
• There is so much going on in Wednesday Comics that it is probably the hardest book to review that I have ever come across. We’d be here for hours if I tried to address each story and creative team, so I’ll do my best to give an general overview of this one.
• In the simplist of terms, DC’s newest weekly experiment is a hit. I may sound like a fanboy when I say this, but the combination of high profile creators and eccentric character choices is simply awesome and definitely worth the $4 a week.
• The biggest complain I’ve heard about the series is the high cost ($3.99 x 12 weekly issues equals just under $50 in 3 months), but I can tell you that it is worth the experience of reading the book in this format rather than in trade.
• The newsprint stock provides a great atmosphere and the unique size allows the artists to be experimental in their delivery. If this is collected in trade, you are also going to miss out on seeing the art in a larger size.
• As with all anthologies, there are some stories that fair better than others. Busiek/Quinones on Green Lantern, Kyle Baker on Hawkman, the Kuberts on Sgt. Rock, Gaimain/Allred on Metamorpho, and Kerschl/Fletcher on the Flash all stand out as the highlights, with the only disappointment being the horrible Wonder Woman page by Ben Caldwell. The remainder are all a lot of fun and show a lot of promise.
• It is really great to see each creative team approach this one differently. Some take on a throw-back style to fit the unusual medium, while others take advantage of the larger pages to be more inventive with their art.
• The biggest problem is that the stories are all set-up, but almost all of them end on good cliffhangers and show tons of potential.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. I am so glad that the unusual format for this series isn’t being treated as a gimmick to help shill the same old stories we are used to. All of the creative teams do an excellent job of putting artistry and craft first, even in the less spectacular stories. This is pure fun and a great love-letter to the medium of comics, much like DC’s criminally under read Solo artistic spotlight series a few years back. Kudos to Editor Mark Chiarello for putting together such a phenomenal title.
02. GREEN LANTERN #43
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, and Randy Mayor
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, and Alex Sinclair
• First of all, I have to say, it’s about time that Doug Mahnke returned to a high-profile monthly gig and boy does he take advantage of the opportunity by putting together an amazing first issue on Green Lantern.
• This issue kicks off Blackest Night by retelling the origin of Black Hand in gruesome detail, connecting it as much as possible to the Green Lantern mythos before introducing Hand as the first Black Lantern (which should come as no surprise, so I don’t consider it a spoiler).
• Once again, Geoff Johns excels with strong character writing and interaction, this time balancing the dialogue against very creepy narration as the story unfolds. Through his he manages to make one of Green Lantern’s least interesting foes into an incredibly compelling monster to be reckoned with.
• As great as Johns writing is, Mahnke steals the show with his gritty, highly detailed art. He nails the creepiness of the issue, but still excels with the more dynamic action shots.
• I consider Mahnke the lynchpin to this issue’s success. He does such a great job capturing the tone of the script that the issue feels like a complete package; you stop focusing on the art and the writing as separate entities, but instead are enveloped by the issue as a whole. There are very few artist who have showcased this ability (the artist on this week’s #1 book is another example) and through it, Mahnke lifts this issue to a higher level than it would have otherwise been capable of reaching.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. This issue is the perfect way to kick-off Blackest Night. Not only does it give us a good foundation for the formation of the Black Lantern Corps, it also sets a very dark tone for the event thanks to the well-executed, incredibly creepy plot by Geoff Johns and the haunting, atmospheric art by Doug Mahnke.
01. ELEPHANTMEN: WAR TOYS – YVETTE
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Moritat and Gregory Wright
Letters by Comiccraft
Covers by Moritat and Marian Churchland
• This one-shot focuses on the character of Yvette, a major player in 2008’s Elephantmen: War Toys miniseries, which I declared as my choice for “Best in Comics” last year.
• Despite the issue’s fairly straightforward plot, which finds Yvette on the run during the French resistance against the MAPPO forces, this issue is an incredibly complex look at the horrors of war.
• The issue works on so many levels—it has engaging action, an interesting take on morality during war time, and is, above all else, a powerful and compelling character study.
• Richard Starkings abilities as a master storyteller are full on display here. His narration (or rather, Yvette’s) has a strong clear voice, presented without filters. Through this, we see her at her most noble and at her most horrifying worst, without being led to any clear conclusions. It’s a unique approach to character development that is incredibly thought provoking.
• In a similar vein, I thought that the extended metaphor of the nightingale worked really well throughout the issue. Starkings offers up a clear interpretation at the beginning of the issue, but leaves it open-ended by the end for the reader to take over (despite having a very definitive end for the bird itself).
• I absolutely love how Starkings juxtaposes her realization that the Elephantmen have a sense of “humanity” (or rather a series of human qualities), just as she gives in to her more animalistic nature. This continues the theme of humans discovering their bestial nature just as the beasts discover their humanity that runs throughout the franchise.
• I’m glad to see Moritat returning to Elephantmen for this issue. His work with Gregory Wright here is incredibly powerful and effective. The strong layouts, superb pacing, sharp expressions, and great coloring makes it the total package. There is almost nothing bad about the art in this issue.
• In particular, I loved the clear focus on storytelling. Everything in this issue is placed with a reason. There are no filler panels or unnecessary distractions and the panel choices themselves move fluidly with a strong sense of logic.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. I’m probably running out ways to praise Elephantmen and its spin-offs, but until all of you start reading the books, I’m not going to stop rambling about its awesomeness. The original War Toys miniseries set the bar extremely high for this franchise, but Richard Starkings and Company refuse to back down from the challenge of their own standards. This is a perfect follow-up to that story that excels in all aspects of the craft. The cover, the plotting, the character work, the illustrations, the lettering, the overall design—they all work in perfect sync to earn this issue the honor of Book of the Week and to make it a frontrunner for Single Issue of the Year.