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.
After giving it some thought, I’ve decided to no longer include DC’s Wednesday Comics in the Rankings. I’ll still be picking up every issue and I wholeheartedly suggest that you do the same. Unfortunately, the large number of stories and creative teams is not very conducive to the format of this column. That being said, you should definitely pick up this week’s issue to see amazing art by Ryan Sook on Kamandi and the pulpy goodness of Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures, which are the highlights of the issue.
10. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #599
Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Stephen Segovia, Marco Checchetto, Paulo Siqueira, Amilton Santos, Chris Chuckry, and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Phil Jimenez
• The less-than-thrilling American Son storyline wraps up this week with tensions boiling over between Norman Osborn and his son Harry.
• Although this is a step-up from the previous issues in terms of scripting and pacing, I still can’t get past how haphazard this plot feels to me. Norman’s schemes don’t appear to have been thought through very well, the setup for the father-son battle was a bit thin (despite having lots to draw from), and the pregnancy angle really overshadowed most of the story.
• Norman impregnating Lily to have the son that Harry could never be left a bad taste in my mouth. Plus, it really downgrades Lily’s character from having some depth to being nothing more than a weak-willed vessel that fell prey to Norman’s schemes. The whole thing doesn’t sit well with me.
• I did, however, enjoy the way that Harry decided to be the bigger man and not unmask (or kill) Spider-Man. It was a small moment that spoke volumes for how they want to present Harry in this series.
• The multiple art teams on this issue really hurt this issue. It’s not that any of the art is bad (though I didn’t personally care for Steven Segovia’s work), but the shifts between creative teams every few pages was really jarring and distracting.
• This was the first time that I felt the series was hurt by the thrice-monthly scheduling. This issue was especially affected, but it honestly makes me wonder if this is the first sign of the title’s pace breaking down. I hope not, as Editor Steve Wacker has done a great job of coordinating the series thus far without any major issues.
Verdict: Read with Caution. The solid dialogue and character work (with the exception of the crushing of Lily’s character) kept this readable, but the plot didn’t work for me and kept me from really enjoying this issue. When you add the motley art execution, there is little hope of the issue Ranking any higher. I wouldn’t say that I wasted my money on this one though, so despite being ranked dead last, this issue escapes the fate of being labeled a Burrito Book.
09. INCOGNITO #5
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Cover by Sean Phillips
• Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s super-powered follow up to Criminal (pretty much the best comic in recent memory) continues this week and does its best rise out of the muck from the surprisingly disappointing previous issues.
• The most noticeable and enjoyable aspect of this issue is that Zack Overkill’s situation finally begins to take on a semblance of focus after several issues of miscues and rambling plot points.
• This makes me think that this series will read much better in trade format, but as it stands, this is the first issue where I felt the story was really beginning to take shape. As much as I hate to say it because this issue is so well written, I do feel that the effectiveness was hurt by the lack of clear direction from the title as a whole.
• That being said, the interaction between Overkill and Ava Destruction was a lot of fun and one of the highlights of the week for me. I can see why folks on the ‘net are clamoring for an Ava spin-off. After this issue, I’d buy it.
• As a huge fan of Sean Phillip’s work, I felt that this was one of his weakest issues of the last few years. His line work looked rushed, with inconsistent details and some extremely awkward anatomies. Depending on the “angle” of his panels, some characters looked vastly different at multiple points on the same page, particularly Ava.
• On the flipside, I thought that this was some of the best coloring I’ve seen from Val Staples in a while. He continues to use a limited, seedy palette, but does excellent shadow work through this issue, giving the entire issue a great sense of depth.
• The two artists combine to make some gorgeous panels here and there, but as a whole, the strong coloring can’t make up for the surprisingly subpar work by Phillips.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. This is definitely the strongest issue of the miniseries in terms of story, dialogue, and coloring, but the strong work by Brubaker and Staples cannot fully overcome plot issues and the unevenness of Sean Phillips’s art. My recommendation is to wait for trade and hope that this issue can help salvage the miniseries when taken as a whole.
08. STREETS OF GOTHAM #2
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, Dexter Vines, and Nick Filardi
Backup Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Dustin Nguyen
• In this issue’s lead story, Firefly’s unrelenting attack on Gotham continues as Hush escapes and causes all sorts of problems by pretending to be Bruce Wayne. In the backup, Kate continues to hunt down Jane Doe, who sounds more like a villain from Hack/Slash than your usual Manhunter fare.
• This is definitely a step-up from the first issue, though I’m still not sure how the gimmick of the title plays in. This doesn’t feel much different than Paul Dini’s Detective Comics run. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes you wonder why they didn’t just keep him on that title and give Greg Rucka Batwoman ongoing.
• The dialogue is pretty minimal in the lead story, but with solid voices. They key is what the characters say and when, which helps establish their situation more than their personality. Not Dini’s usual thicker dialogue style, but is still effective.
• The highlight of the lead is the action-oriented art by Dustin Nguyen. It’s energetic, full of life, and has a great sense of impact. In contrast, his quieter character-focused moments suffer with ill-defined expressions.
• The backup story is much darker than the lead and moves at a considerably brisker pace. Marc Andreyko does his best to full introduce the story’s villain and build character through asides within the plot-centric dialogue, but ultimately faces the same dilemma as almost all of the other co-features in DC’s books—there simply doesn’t seem to be enough time for the writer to accomplish everything he needs to do.
• Georges Jeanty may be the only artist I can think of whose work actually gets worse the larger the panel he uses. His anatomies, storytelling, and expressions are considerably weaker on the larger panels than they are in the smaller ones. It’s very odd, though part of it could be the fact that his “costumed” panels aren’t nearly as strong as his more realistic moments, but are larger.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. As a huge fan of Manhunter, it pains me to say that this issue would actually be higher on the Rankings if it weren’t for the co-feature. The disappointing art by Jeanty and the ill-effects of the page count keep the story from reaching the levels of quality achieved in the lead. Dini and Nguyen seem to have hit their stride with this issue and have convinced me to stick around for a while by simply mimicking what they were doing on Detective Comics before the post-RIP shift.
07. CAPTAIN AMERICA #601
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Gene Colan and Dean White
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Cover by Gene Colan
• This week we get yet another “detour” issue of Captain America that pulls away from Bucky’s current adventures as the titular character, which I’m afraid may become the norm until Captain America: Reborn finishes.
• That being said, I won’t argue with this course of action if it means Marvel kills times by giving us stuff like a WWII adventure with vampires drawn by Gene Colan.
• If you’ve seen any art from this week’s issue, you don’t need me to point out to you that the highlight of the issue is the art by Gene “The Dean” Colan, who still has it at 82 years of age. Some artists continue to draw well-past their prime and the quality suffers because of it, while others manage to defy age and continue to create amazing work in their later years—Colan proves here that he is in the latter category.
• I didn’t think to snag this one in black-and-white, but I recommend that you do. Color has always detracted from Colan’s “paint with a pencil” style. Kudos to Marvel for honor Colan by offering this one up in a colorless format.
• Unfortunately, this issue work’s best as a showcase for Colan’s art rather than as a whole story. Ed Brubaker is surprisingly long-winded here and his character work is a bit dull. Honestly, it’s almost like he only wrote the issue because he knew it would be great for Colan to draw (non-old school fans may not know that some of Colan’s most honored work was done on horror titles).
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. It may sound weird saying this about an Ed Brubaker book, but you really need to approach this issue with the mindset that the writing is secondary. The story is a bit messy and doesn’t really reflect the quality we expect from Bru. However, Colan’s unparalleled style and grace with his line work is something to behold, especially given his age. This isn’t the finest Captain America story by any means, nor is it the best example of Colan’s work, but its still worth your cash and an issue you should probably pick up.
06. DARK AVENGERS #7
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, Mark Pennington, and Rain Beredo
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Mike Deodato Jr.
• After the first installment of this crossover, Uncanny X-Men #513, simply rehashed the X-Men/Dark Avengers: Utopia one-shot, this issue kicks things into high-gear with the Dark X-Men making their in-action debut, Norman Osborn’s plan coming to fruition, and Emma Frost’s true intentions possibly being revealed.
• The biggest reason why this issue is so enjoyable is Matt Fraction’s character work. Almost every character’s voice is clear and unique, showing strong range from Fraction. I was especially impressed with his Cyclops, who came across as a true leader here.
• On the flipside, I was really surprised by the positive light that was cast on Norman Osborn here, especially in his dealings with Dark Beast. While this makes the X-Men vs. Avengers angle more compelling, it was incredibly surprising. The only exception to this was his interaction with Cyclops, where he showed his true jerk-ish colors.
• It still blows my mind how much I like the character of Daken (Dark Wolverine), who has some great scenes with “Hawkeye.”
• I didn’t realize that Luke Ross was the artist on this issue until I was reading the credits; this shows how much of an effect colorists have on art. I’m really only familiar with his Captain America work, colored by Frank D’Aramata, where his style takes on a more realistic tone than it does here.
• There were some really cool panel choices in this issue. Ross does a great job of keeping things fresh during the more talkative scenes with varied angles and perspectives.
• The main problem is that Ross’s anatomy is all over the place, with extra-extended torsos, impossible movements, etc. It doesn’t help that his action has a “pin-up” quality to it. Stiff, poor anatomy is an easy way to distract readers.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. Fraction puts on a show here with great character writing and a very compelling plot. I had my doubts about this crossover after the last installment, but this has me excited moving forward. The art was hard to take at times, but the strength of the dialogue and character work kept the issue from derailing.
05. DEAD @17: AFTERBIRTH #2
Written by Josh Howard
Art by Josh Howard
Cover by Josh Howard
• As a “debut” issue, last issue was very problematic for me because it was completely inaccessible to readers not familiar with the Dead @17 franchise. However, I feel we can put that behind us and focus on this issue as a standalone and, in that sense, this issue really excels.
• While it may not be tremendously friendly to new readers, it is a great gift to long time fans. The lines of morality begin to blur as the war between the forces of good and those serving various demons intensifies. In the midst of this, there are numerous nods to the previous minis, the return of quite a few characters and concepts, and a shocking ending that has me excited for the next issue.
• I love how deep the mythology of the issue goes. It’s presented in a very “surface action” manner, with everyone acting in the now, but Howard continuously piles on layers and layers so that the scope is considerably more epic when taken as a whole.
• This is some of Howard’s stronger character writing, with the interaction showing variance in tone and unique voices at a greater level than I’ve seen previously.
• The art is exactly what you’d expect from Howard—beautiful girls, clean lines, and strong expressions. Howard is a perfectionist with his art and this issue is a fine example of that.
• I am glad to see that Howard is playing around a bit more with his layouts. This keeps things fresh and should help Howard grow as a sequential artist (he is already a great pin-up style artist and has a ton of potential with his storytelling).
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. Howard is starting to hit his stride here, with a strong sense of cohesive mythology and better character work. It’s still not that accessible to new readers, but the context clues are stronger and the plot is beginning to take its own independent shape.
04. THE MIGHTY AVENGERS #27
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Khoi Pham, Allen Martinez, and John Rauch
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Cover by Marko Djurdjevic
• Mighty Avengers #27 is one of the week’s densest comics, with Dan Slott and Christos Gage teaming up to introduce a new villain, reveal some “untold” history of the Inhumans, debut the new Avengers Mansion, and set the wheels in motion for a number of future plots and subplots. It almost makes you wonder of Slott brought in Gage for scripting simply because he didn’t want to tackle such a packed issue himself.
• I really enjoy the depth of this issue, which the writers develop by setting up cues for minor stories within the character interaction. The best example is Cassie’s anger at the Scarlet Witch while the team is exploring their new headquarters. It’s only two or three panels, but it lays the groundwork for so much more.
• I really liked the history of the Inhumans’ disposed leader, but felt that this section was a bit longwinded. It doesn’t help that there is very little setup of this and no framing sequence, readers are simply thrown in from the beginning.
• Gage’s handle on the characters here is great, especially with Pym. His dialogue style is similar enough to Slott’s that this still feels familiar, but distinct enough that differences in pacing are noticeable.
• The inclusion of USAgent still isn’t working for me. His cookie-cutter role and stiff dialogue aren’t helping the situation any. I’m hope he doesn’t make it past the inevitable first “shake up” for the title under this creative team.
• Khoi Pham’s artwork is, surprisingly, a mixed bag. There are moments of extremely strong expressions and fluidity, which are what I’ve come to expect from him. In others, the anatomies are skewed and the lack of detail is jarring.
• Part of these problems comes from the tight inks by Allen Martinez. If Martinez branched out a bit more to fill in some gaps and add additional details, the art would be that much stronger and some of the flaws in the pencil work wouldn’t be as noticeable.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. This is yet another fun read for the Slott-era Mighty Avengers. The addition of Christos Gage as scripter has a smooth transition here, thanks to the solid plot and strong characterization. The issue is almost too dense at times and the art is a mixed bag, just barely keeping this one from jumping up a level to “Don’t Miss…” territory.
03. BLACKEST NIGHT: TALES OF THE CORPS #1
Written by Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi
Art by Various
Letters by Various
Cover by Ed Benes
• With the internet comics community at large all a-buzz about the first issue of Blackest Night (more on that later), I feel like this gem of an issue isn’t getting the due it deserves. While certainly not required reading for the event, this issue showcases some of the week’s best characterization and does a great job of adding depth to the larger story.
• The issue is broken down into three stories. In the first, Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway explore the origin of Blue Lantern Saint Walker, while the second issue teams Peter Tomasi and Chris Samnee in a tale from Mongul’s childhood, and the final story finds Geoff Johns introducing the mysterious Indigo Tribe with art by Rags Morales.
• The first two stories show just how good Johns and Tomasi are at developing characters. Despite being fairly simple tales with very direct execution, they go a long way at helping flesh out Walker and Mongul and developing their motivations.
• The parallels between Walker’s story and the Book of Job from the Old Testament are a bit heavy-handed, but are still effective. Choosing such a widely known tale helps build sympathy for Walker’s plight and enhances the idea that his character is so based upon faith and hope.
• I was not as impressed with Jerry Ordway’s art, which is a bit too busy for my tastes. I’ve never been a huge fan of his work though, so I’m probably a tad biased.
• It’s great to see Chris Samnee lighten up his style for the Mongul story. It’s much looser than his usual output, but that helps with the playfulness of the stories tone.
• The main storyteller in the final story is Rags Morales, especially given that the language of the Indigo Tribe isn’t translated. Thankfully his clean lines and strong expressions are powerful enough to carry the tone—an especially impressive feat considering that none of the characters are human.
• As a bonus, the issue also reprints the “informative pinups” by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke that debuted on DC’s website a few weeks back.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. The superb character studies and powerful art nearly carried this issue to the top of the Rankings this week. Ordway’s artwork is underwhelming and the main story is a bit heavy-handed, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this issue. Blackest Night #1 may be getting all the attention this week, but this issue is still worth your time and money.
02. SUPERMAN/BATMAN #62
Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Art by Rafael Albuquerque and David Baron
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Rafael Albuquerque
• This is only the third issue of Superman/Batman that I’ve picked up and I only did so because I’ve been missing the work of Rafael Albuquerque as of late. His work on Blue Beetle was too phenomenal for me not to give his work here a try.
• I was happy to see that the story recounts the first impromptu team-up for Robin and Supergirl as they do their best to stop a riot in Arkham. Personally, I’m surprised that it took someone so long to team these characters up; if I’m not mistaken, this is their first World’s (Future) Finest outing as duo since Supergirl was brought back by Loeb and Turner several years ago.
• Despite the fact that this is clearly a fluff story, writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson make the best of it by filling it to the brim with personality. The large casts of characters all have strong moments with great dialogue.
• Not surprisingly, given the subject matter, the highlight of the writing is the interaction between Supergirl and Robin. It’s fun to see the parallels in their teaming and that of their mentors, which helps their scenes together work organically. Nothing is forced here.
• Of course, the highlight of the issue as a whole is the art by Rafael Albuquerque. As per usual for him, the artwork in this issue is full of iconic shots, incredible expressions, a great sense of motion, and very strong storytelling. He puts all of the skills he developed during his tenure on Blue Beetle to good use here.
• In particular, he absolutely nails the climax of the issue, which finds Supergirl and Robin confronting Mr. Zsasz. The great layouts and expressions were—particularly Supergirl’s horror at Zsasz’s actions—make this scene especially powerful.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. In a week that is full of heavy-continuity and event comics, it’s great to see an issue that is just plain fun to read. The great character interaction, strong pacing, and good plot make this a good read, but it is the art by Albuquerque that makes it a can’t miss issue.
01. BLACKEST NIGHT #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Nick J. Napolitiano
Cover by Ivan Reis
• With the event-a-year approach that the Big Two comics companies have been taking, it is actually pretty rare that an “event” comic actually lives up to the immense amount of hype surrounding them. No matter how great the comics are, they fail to reach the levels that the countless interviews, previews, etc want you to believe. This is not the case with Blackest Night. Not only does this issue live up to the hype, it destroys it the most gruesome manner possible.
• The issue starts off on a slow, contemplative note with most of the DCU reflecting on their dead colleagues and friends, but kicks into high gear when the fallen Guardian Scar’s endgame begins and the Black Lanterns are introduced.
• I totally dig the fact that Johns doesn’t waste any time in introducing the Lanterns. By the end of the issue, there are loads of them, each more menacing than the last. The introduction of Ralph and Sue Dibny, takes the cake as the most memorable. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say much more, expect that Johns somehow manages to make them the most vile and disgusting characters of the week and yet still retains their trademark charm.
• You have to give credit to Johns for approaching this issue through the filter of Barry Allen’s return, which is considered a joyous event for the most part. It serves as a nice contrast for the vicious return of the multitudes of other dead heroes who come back as Black Lanterns.
• I could go on for hours talking about the other great concepts that are introduced here, including the idea of a “Heroes Rememberance Day,” a secret cemetery for the Flash Rogues, the villains morgue, the developments in the Hawkman/Hawkgirl relationship, and the way in which the Black Lantern rings “recharge.” This issue is overflowing with great moments and is a cornucopia of concepts for Johns and the tie-in writers to pull from.
• Plus, I’m giving this one bonus points for an awesome scene featuring Jason “Firestorm II” Rusch, the best character that you probably didn’t give a chance.
• Of course, the issue would not be nearly as effective were it not for the great work by Ivan Reis. He has been great in the past, but if this issue is any indication of the rest of the miniseries, this will be the work that propels him to a higher level. This is simply the best work I’ve seen from Reis.
• The issue is full of incredible details, clean and powerful designs, and, most importantly, stellar expressions. The ton of this issue is sold through the facial expressions and body language of the characters—including the zombie-esque Black Lanterns.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. This issue is a clinic on how to pull off an event comic. It has a massive scope yet doesn’t alienate the characters. It builds tension immaculately. It wastes no time in disrupting the status quo. It even manages to make character deaths not feel cheap, even though those same dead characters come back just moments later. This is the perfect setup for the event and features some of the best character writing and most gorgeous art of the week. We are only one issue in and already Blackest Night is worth the wait and has exceeded the immense amount of hype that surrounded it. This is sick brilliance and I cannot wait to see where they go from here.