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.
10. RUNAWAYS #12
Written by Kathryn Immonen
Art by Sara Pichelli and Christina Strain
Letters by Joe Sabino
Cover by David LaFuente and Christina Strain
• The last issue of Runaways, the first for the new creative team of Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli, blew me away with its strong character-focused writing and great art. It was definitely the best issue of Runaways since Brian K. Vaughan left the title. This issue…well, it struggles to reach the levels that the last issue attained.
• The biggest problem with the issue is that there is almost no focus to the writing. The overall plot is clear, but the events that comprise it get lost within the characters bickering at one another. By the time you reach the next big story movement at the end of the issue, almost nothing of significance has happened except for the arguing.
• The saving grace in this is the fact that Immonen has such a good handle on the characters. She has their voices and personalities down, so they way they interact works well. The problem is that it seems like Immonen gets so wrapped up in the confrontations that she forgets to move forward until it is too late.
• I still don’t get the point of the Klara character. This is the first time she has really done anything integral to the story and she adds nothing to the team. Is there a chance we could trade Old Lace’s offing for hers?
• The strong point of the issue was Pichelli’s art. She seems to be using a more exaggerated style here, showing hints of Humberto Ramos’s influence. It is nowhere near as extreme as Ramos’s work, but has similar sensibilities.
• Pichelli’s expressions are a bit weaker and less discernable than they were last issue, but her strong consistency and storytelling make up for it.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. This week’s Runaways is a perfect example of “middle-of-the-road” quality. The character work is good, but is countered by an unfocused plot. The style and storytelling of the art are strong, but the expressions are not. It’s a lot of give-and-take that shows tremendous potential, but is a noticeable step down from last issue.
09. RED SONJA #46
Written by Brian Reed
Art by Walter Geovani and Vinicius Andrade
Letters by Simon Bowland
Covers by Mel Rubi, Fabiano Neves, and Adriano Batista
• In case you haven’t heard, Red Sonja will be ending later this year only to be relaunched as Queen Sonja. With that in mind, Brian Reed kicks things into high gear this week with the densest issue of his run on the title.
• The hunt for the Blood Dynasty heats up and the final pieces are put into place for Sonja’s inevitable confrontation with Lucan. What impresses me most about this is how quickly Reed sets things in motion and wraps up some other minor details without shortchanging any of the story beats.
• The character voices weren’t Reed’s strongest. I didn’t feel like any personalities were very prominent, which is surprising given his previous work.
• Walter Geovani’s art hits a wide range of quality in this one. His art definitely has a “pin-up” quality to it, which means great mid-action shots, strong single panels, etc. Taken at face value, it’s immediately a great book to look at it.
• Unfortunately, in terms of storytelling, this style makes for a stiff looking issue. Nothing flows tremendously well and his expressions are incredibly inconsistent.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. Brian Reed and Walter Geovani have had a great run thus far, but this issue really shows the potential that they have when they pick up the pace and start piliing on the story. There are some issues that come with this shift, but if they can iron out these wrinkles, this series will close out on a high note. This just barely missed being a “Strongly Recommended” issue.
08. SUPERGIRL #43
Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Jamal Igle, Jon SIbal, and Pete Pantazis
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Joshua Middleton
• In what can be described as “A Very Special Issue of Supergirl,” the titular character is forced to explore multiple guilds by means of menial tasks by her mother as secret preparation for her Guilding Day, at which time Kara can choose her profession on New Krypton.
• The entire issue is framed by a letter that Supergirl is writing to her deceased father. This is a simple but effective way to add depth to their relationship, provide insight into her thought process, and move the story along at a brisk pace without shortchanging any of the scenes.
• The dialogue was strong, but predictable. The interaction between Kara and her mother reminds me a lot of how my angsty nieces confront my sister, so I’d say that Gates nails that one. The problem is that you can see it all coming and in the end, it reads a lot like an afterschool special.
• I found it really interesting that Kara’s father would be an artist. It’s not something that you normally associate with Kryptonians, but it sets up a nice balance between her parents. Plus, you can see how she would take certain aspects of what we find out about her father’s personality and her mother’s. I hope this angle is explored more in the future.
• Jamal Igle’s strong layouts and expressions continue to impress me in this issue. It’s amazing how much he has honed his skills in these two aspects since joining this title. He is only getting better and its great to watch him grow in that regard.
• The biggest problem with the art is that the line work runs together in wider-shots. Unless it is a close up or unless a character is in the foreground, details muddle together and faces begin to look awkward and inconsistent. A lighter touch with the inks by Jon Sibal would help, but I think it is something Igle needs to tight up as well.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. This issue is a bit hokey and a bit heavy-handed at times, but is ultimately a sweet tale that is an interesting character study. Given how “damaged” and downright unlikable Supergirl’s personality became over the last few runs prior to the Gates/Igle-era. The one could use a bit of polish, but is still a great read.
07. POWER GIRL #3
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts
Letters by John J. Hill
Covers by Amanda Conner and Guillem March
• Power Girl’s battle against the Ultra Humanite comes to a conclusion this week with a strong issue that features Terra and the Justice Society as guest stars.
• I’m really enjoying how Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are presenting Power Girl as a capable hero. Here she takes down a big name villain and uses her connections to save New York—no easy feats by any means. She does so with a great sense of purpose and without it coming across as gimmicky. It’s great to see her finally being treated seriously.
• Terra is used very well here. Her role in the events is a nice follow-up to her miniseries earlier this year and her interaction with Power Girl is strong. She makes a great “sidekick” character and I hope that is something the writing team continues to run with.
• The JSA guest appearance wasn’t quite as effective, however. Their appearance is fleeting and does very little to add to the story, other than to conveniently wrap up the plot.
• The supporting cast on this book needs a lot of work. Having them interact for a page or two in each issue without any background or much introduction simply won’t cut it. I like the general idea of where the writers are going with this, but it’s not working out right now.
• Amanda Conner’s art is simply gorgeous…as always. Her incredibly strong expressions are amongst the week’s best. Other artists really need to take a cue from her on how to involve the entire face when conveying an emotion rather than just the mouth or the mouth and occasionally the eyes.
• A lot of Conner’s femail characters had similar facial features in this issue though, which was a bit off-putting. There is no reason that Power Girl should look so much like Liberty Belle in her own book.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. Amanda Conner continues to steal the show with this series with her gorgeous designs, strong layouts, and manic energy. If for no other reason, its worth $3 just to see her stuff. The writing is fun with good plotting and a lot of respect for the titular character, but it can’t stand as an ongoing without more attention paid to and interaction with the supporting cast.
06. NOVA #27
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Andrea Divito and Bruno Hang
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Daniel Acuna
• This week’s issue of Nova picks up right where the last issue left off, with the titular character racing out into hostile territory to save his brother. Since nothing is ever easy in Nova’s life, he is confronted by “King” Blastaar and his crew, who have arrived from the Negative Zone with the intention of cracking some skulls.
• This issue really excels with the character writing. The interaction between Blastaar and Nova was simply fantastic. I really enjoyed the way that they played off of one another and Abnett and Lanning did a great job of establishing their relationship quickly.
• When Blastaar turns on Nova (as you’d expect him to do), it’s a nice twist, but it would have been more effective if this story had played out for more than a few pages. The interaction is sound, but the pacing could’ve been slowed.
• I also really enjoyed the contrast between Nova’s head-first superheroics and his brother’s more reserved, less confident ways. This is the first issue where the comparison is so evident and its extremely well played.
• I wasn’t as big of a fan of the quipping from the Shi’ar Imperial Guardswoman, though. It was too cliché and lacked any real personality.
• Andrea Divito’s art is solid. The designs are good and I liked the expressions. There really aren’t very many noticeable flaws.
• The biggest drawback for the entire issue was the pacing. Some pages were overflowing with details, thick dialogue, and lots of panels while others were extremely open with almost no dialogue and oddly placed extreme close-ups. None of these shifts seemed to specifically geared towards controlling the pace, so it makes the issue a clunky, awkward read.
• When the art does shift to these large panels, I don’t think it would have been such an issue if Divito had chosen to use wider shots with more background and a greater sense of action, rather than choosing to smoosh the panel against Nova’s face inexplicably.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. Despite the major issue with the pacing and strange panel choices, this is still a fun read with a great plot and amazing character interaction. The scenes between Blastaar and Nova were fantastic. The ending was a major shock and played out well enough that I can’t wait for next month to see what happens next.
05. GI JOE #7
Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by SL Galant and Andrew Crossley
Letters by Chris Mowry
Covers by Howard Chaykin and Robert Atkins
• GI Joe continues to pickup steam this week with another big issue, this time following Scarlett’s court-martial for her secret work with Snake Eyes and the debut of Cover Girl.
• Chuck Dixon’s world building here is extremely subtle and extremely strong. Through Scarlett’s court martial, we get to see more of the inner-workings of the organization, a better sense of how the team interacts, and what the status quo is for the characters in this relaunch. This is the first time we see the Joes as an entity rather than as a collection of characters.
• I like the way that Cover Girl is introduced as someone who is extremely capable. In her first appearance here, Dixon begins by giving us her credentials and then has her save a few other Joe’s from their arrogance—only then to have her appearance fully revealed and to have the guys oogle here. I’m hoping Dixon keeps this up, with the Joes having trouble taking her seriously and her continually proving herself to be more than just good looks. It’ll make for some intriguing storytelling.
• SL Galant shows off some strong layouts and a good sense of storytelling. This the first instance of his work that I’ve seen and, “in theory,” I think he has a ton of talent.
• The problem is that his execution is off. He uses “emotion lines” around faces to show exclamation (think of how Spider-Man’s spider-sense is drawn) that is a major break from the semi-realism of the book’s tone.
• In addition to this, his line work is really jagged and his designs were too bulgy. A strong inker should really have been brought into to tighten it up.
• I did, however, love the coloring. Andrew Crossley did a great job of using subtle tones to add shadow and play with light. This added a great amount of depth to the issue.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. This series keeps getting stronger and is getting close to the level of awesomeness that Devil’s Due’s GI Joe: America’s Elite reached before they lost the franchise. Dixon’s doing super strong character work here and, were it not for the art, it would be a must read issue. Easily the best issue of this series since the relaunch.
04. INCREDIBLE HERCULES #131
Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Art by Ryan Stegman, Terry Pallot, Raul Treviro, and Chris Sotomayor
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by David Williams and Guru eFX
• My temporary adventure as a reader of Incredible Hercules concludes (or does it?) with this week’s issue as everything from the past few issues comes to a close—Hercules’s battle against his Heracles (his mortal self) for the fate of Zeus, Hades’s hates it when a plan comes together, and Cho gets some shocking news about his family.
• I’ve been on the fence with this story over the last few issues, but Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente close it out strong here. As the stories come together, the parallels between the plots became more clear, making the ending that much more satisfying.
• This is highlighted by strong interaction, especially between Hercules and Heracles, which came off as surprisingly natural for a deity fighting essentially his jaded mortal clone. If Pak and Van Lente can make that work, they’ve got skills.
• A big part of this issue’s success is that it wasn’t bogged down with unnecessary mythical details and longwinded introductions, which is one of the main reasons I dropped this series a few issues into its launch. Everything has a better flow, with the only introduction being the hilarious “fight card” for the Hercules/Heracles battle.
• Amadeus Cho’s story was gripping and I was really moved by the twist regarding Cho’s sister—especially with the implication that the “Heaven” presented here is essentially living in ignorance of the affairs of mortals. It’s a smart, smart move that is likely to get overlooked.
• Cho’s anger didn’t work quite as well for me. I suppose it would be more powerful if I had been reading the series more than I have, but as it stands, Cho came across more as a whiner than someone with a legitimate gripe. More cues on why he should be mad at Athena should be given; otherwise you’ll be scratching your head wondering why isn’t ready to hunt down is his sister with the help of his demigod best buddy.
• Ryan Stegman really steps it up here. His work on this series has been the best of his career, but he destroys his old standards here. The most notable difference is his use of spot blacks, commanding shadows and adding depth with this subtle shift. This causes his details to pop and gives his style a great flair.
• The expressions here are phenomenal. Unlike most artists, he leads with the eyes and uses the mouth secondary. This allows his expressions to be more subtle and much, much more natural. It may take a long glance at a page to notice the difference, but once you do, you’ll be blown away.
• I really dig the yellowish-brownish rain during the fight scene, but it was far too uniform and that took away from the effect. Still, it’s awesome to see the tone actually match the color of the rest of the page rather than be stark white like most rain is presented.
• Normally I don’t comment much on covers unless they really blow me away or greatly offend me. This one has me confused, so I thought I would mention it. Why on Earth did David Williams draw Amadeus Cho to look like a young version of the actor who played Lo Pan? What gives?
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. I told myself that I was only picking up this series to check out Ryan Stegman’s art, but this issue has me convinced that the series has improved enough to warrant becoming a full time reader again. Well played, Pak and Van Lente. Plus, the art by Ryan Stegman is simply phenomenal. I know I’ve been gushing about it for the last few issues, but he brings his A-game here and the end result is fantastic. It’s not about potential anymore, its simply about Stegman getting the recognition he deserves—there are big things in his future and I can’t wait to see someone give him that shot he needs.
03. GREEN LANTERN #44
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen, Rodney Ramos, and Randy Mayor
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, and Sinc
• Green Lantern hits the ground running this week, picking up Hal Jordan’s adventures directly out of last week’s Blackest Night, which found the titular character and Barry “Flash” Allen being confronted by Black Lantern Martian Manhunter.
• The Barry and Hal interaction here is great. It’s great to see how Barry is acclimating himself to the modern world and how Hal is helping him with that. More importantly, its great to see the old-school team-up the moment they are attacked by Martian Manhunter.
• We get a better look at the Black Lantern powers here and the “spectrum analysis” was easily the coolest part. It is great to see Martian Manhunter breaking down each character by where they fit on the “emotional/drive” spectrum—i.e. what type of Lantern they would be. That is a really cool concept.
• I’ve said it before and I’m glad others are fianally starting to take notice; Dough Mahnke is the man. This is his biggest gig to date and he holds nothing back with gorgeous, detailed-filled pages. He brings a lot of edge mixed with an old-school superhero sensibility that is a perfect fit for this issue. Few others could capture the Silver Age glory of the characters and the viciousness of the Black Lantern.
• The spread of Barry hitting Hal is the best looking pages of the entire week. Simply amazing. I’d pay $2.99 just for that spread.
• The biggest problem with this issue is that there is almost no time set aside for the subplots. There are two pages that check in on the other Lanterns, which is hardly enough to set them up and the few pages at the end for the “cliffhanger” featuring Fatality and John Stewart is laughable. If you want me to care enough for it to be the cliffhanger, you have to commit to the plot.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. If this issue was only comprised of the main plot, it would’ve been a major contender (if not winner) of the Book of the Week honors. Instead, the haphazard subplots and ineffective cliffhanger left a bad taste in my mouth. Thankfully Martian Manhunter and Doug Mahnke finally getting the attention they deserve evened things out a bit. Although, it is really sad that it took his death and subsequent return as a zombie before someone finally got J’onn J’onzz right.
02. DARK WOLVERINE #76
Written by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu
Art by Giuseppe Camuncolli, Onofrio Catacchio, and Marte Gracia
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Lenil Yu and Laura Martin
• The most surprising thus far of 2009 continues its winning ways this week. I cannot get over how much I enjoy this issue, considering how I initially thought that Dark Wolverine was amongst the worst ideas Marvel has had in years.
• In this issue, Daken continues to manipulate anyone and everyone as he sets up conflicts within the Dark Avengers and between the Dark Avengers and the Fantastic Four.
• Marjorie Liu and Daniel Way do a superb job of keeping the reader guessing all the way through this issue. You never know what is coming up next or what angle Daken is playing. Is he working in tandem with Osborn? Is he a lone wolf? Is he supposed to be likeable? Is he supposed to be deplorable? None of this is clear at this at this point. The only that is for sure is that he is the most intriguing character to pop up in years.
• This issue is incredibly dense, but moves at a great pace that keeps it from being bogged down by its numerous twists and turns.
• The dialogue and character interaction is fantastic, especially in the “one off” moments at the edges of major scenes, such as Daken’s confrontation with “Ms. Marvel” after the Avengers meeting.
• I really liked the art by Giuseppe Camuncolli, especially with his vibrant expressions and logical storytelling. His panel choices were the right mix of action and introspection, which helped control the tone and pace of the issue.
• The only thing I didn’t care for as much is the strange design choice of having all of the men’s faces so jagged looking. It is only a major issue when the softer, crag-less women are sharing the scene; then it looks extremely awkward.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. If you told me that I could love Daken (the whole reason I dropped Wolverine: Origins a few years back), I would never have believed you. His scheming and completely ambiguous nature makes this one of the most compelling “new” titles of the year. Liu and Way blow me away here with their great character writing. If you were like me and you scoffed at the idea of Daken getting his own book, you need to give this one a chance. You will not regret it.
01. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600
Lead Written by Dan Slott
Lead Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, and Dean White
Lead Letters by Joe Caramagna
Backups Written by Various
Backups Art by Various
Covers by Alex Ross and John Romita Jr.
• Usually, unless a lower book really gets me ranting, the #1 book of the week gets the longest and most detailed of my reviews on the Rankings. I’m sorry to say that probably won’t happen simply because there is so much going on in this issue that it is hard to process it in detail.
• First off, there are like thirty stories in this issue. You get the return of Doctor Octopus, Aunt May’s wedding, the return of Mary Jane, Stan Lee writing a funny look at Spidey’s identity problems, a great look at the Peter/Uncle Ben relationship, a jab at the Spider-Mobile, a heartwarming tale of Aunt May’s love for Ben, kids realizing how much it would suck to be Spider-Man, and a handful of simply hilarious “covers that you’ll never see” from some of Marvel’s top-name talent. You can see now why I have to deal in generalizations.
• Marvel is known for packing its “anniversary” issues to the brim, but this is ridiculous. Books like Captain America #600 and Thor #600 look like chumps next to this behemoth and the best part is that it is all original material. $4.99 is a lot to pay for a comic, but the value of awesomeness per volume is staggering.
• The main story runs on a bit long and is eerily similar to an episode of Spectacular Spider-Man from a few weeks back (at least Doc Oc’s involvement), but has a great build to the “surprise” return of Mary Jane. Yes, the solicits may have ruined it for us ahead of time, but I was so enveloped in what was going on that I honestly did not see it coming when it did.
• What makes this issue so great, though, is that everyone brings their a-game. The writing and art is strong throughout, with very few down moments. That’s incredibly impressive.
• My hat goes off to Mitch Breitweiser and Marc Guggenheim for their story though. Normally I’m not one to love the real sappy stuff, especially when they have clichéd endings, but the lushness of Breitweiser’s art (with a HUGE assist from his colorist/wife, Elizabeth).
• I know this isn’t much of a review, but you just have to trust me on this one. This book is awesome. I’ve never steered you down the wrong path before and I swear I’m not starting now.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. This book is just plain awesome. It’s so awesome that I almost feel ridiculous giving Captain America #600 the Top Spot a few weeks back because it was packed full of awesomeness; it’s nothing compared to this issue. This issue has it all. It is a great jumping on point for new readers, a great payoff for longtime readers, a strong launching point for future stories, and a stunning showcase of quality talent. This is an “amazing” love letter to ol’ Web Head and a book that should not be missed under any circumstances. In a stacked week full of great books, this is the easy choice for Book of the Week and the third week in a row that the top book is a major contender for single issue of the year.