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 email@example.com.
08. BLACKEST NIGHT: TALES OF THE CORPS #3
Written by Peter Tomasi and Geoff Johns
Art by Various
Letters by Pat Brousseau and Nick Napolitano
Cover by Ed Benes
• Despite the strengths of the main Blackest Night series and the first tie-in issues of Green Lantern, the Tales of the Corps miniseries hobbles to a close this week in an unsatisfying issue.
• Peter Tomasi does all fo the heavy lifting in this issue by providing two stories—the origin of Kilowog with Chris Samnee and the origin of Arisia with Mike Mayhew—while Geoff Johns’s contribution is an “annotated” copy of Blackest Night #0 from Free Comic Book Day.
• The Kilowog story is interesting, but really glosses over his personality and any deeper effects the story may have had on him as it rushes towards its conclusion. It is an interesting concept and a story that I think is worth telling, but the hurried execution undercuts any substance it may have in this issue.
• Likewise, the Arisia issue seems to gloss over a lot of her back story and offers very little other than the revelation that her family has a tragic history with the Green Lantern Corps. This beat could have been covered in one page and served as part of a much larger, more character-focused story.
• The art in the first story by Chris Samnee is clean and expressive, but there is a major lack of shadows and depth. As a fan of Samnee’s art, this made the issue harder to swallow for me considering how well he commands blacks in his other work.
• On the flipside, when he does find depth, such as the page depicting the death of Kilowog’s mentor, it looks amazing. Samnee is clearly channeling Alex Toth and the end result is easily the highlight of the issue.
• Mike Mayhew’s art is an equally mixed bag. There are panels where his art is very stiff and overly rendered—almost to the point that it looks traced; in others it is much more natural looking and free flowing. Were he to find some consistency in styles, the story could be great looking.
• The third story is a “director’s cut” pencil-only reprint of Blackest Night #0. The annotations offer very little insight into the issue other than surface notes. While it is interesting to see these, as well as Ivan Reis’s original penciled art, I’d rather have seen an original story than this.
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. There are a few momentary flashes of greatness, particularly in the opening story. Unfortunately, the overall lack of depth in the issue and the senseless reprint can’t be overcome. In the end, the bad simply outweighs the good, making this the Burrito Book for the week.
07. WONDER WOMAN #34
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan, and Brad Anderson
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Aaron Lopresti
• In the fallout from the recently completed Rise of the Olympian storyline, Wonder Woman finds herself in all sorts of messes with her renouncing Zeus, finding out that Genocide is still alive, and having to hunt down Doctor Psycho, who has taken over Sarge Steel’s body.
• The majority of this issue is taken up by interaction between Wonder Woman and Black Canary as they hunt down Doctor Psycho and find themselves involved in an arena fighting competition run by the villainous Roulette. Unfortunately, this interaction is incredibly uneven. At times it is fun and natural with a solid “gal pal” vibe, but for the majority of the time Canary’s personality is extremely visceral—almost the to the point of ridiculousness. It certainly does not seem to gel with Simone’s usual take on the character.
• The metahuman fighting league is a fun twist, but having seen mutlitple episodes of Justice League Unlimited with this same plot point, it feels a bit stale here.
• I did really enjoy the opening scenes of the issue, where Simone pulls back the “toughness” of Wonder Woman to have her reflect on recent events with a great deal of vulnerability. Its an excellent sequence that was easily the highlight of the book.
• Aaron Lopresti draws one of the best versions of Wonder Woman in the business. It is a perfect mix of strength, beauty, and grace—very iconic. Unfortunately, he can also draw one of the worst, with ill-defined features and awkward anatomy. In this issue, he manages to do both because of his major consistency issues.
• The lack of backgrounds is extremely distracting. I think it is just one more sign that Lopresti needs to take more time with his work. That may mean more fill-in artists to avoid delayed issues, but its something I’d be willing to put up with if it means that we’d see a more complete looking product with great consistency from Lopresti.
• So, was the jester supposed to look like the elf from Bad Santa? If its just a coincidence, that’s fine. If it is intentional, that is pretty lame. That movie was horrible.
Verdict: Read with Caution. Gail Simone’s roller coaster run on this title continues to be a series of peaks and valleys. At times it is brilliant, while at others it is uncharacteristically weak. The incomplete looking and wildly inconsistent art from Lopresti doesn’t help things any. This book shows a ton of potential and we all know what Simone is capable of, I’m just not sure how much longer I’m willing to wait for it.
06. JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #29
Written by Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges
Art by Jesus Merino and Allen Passalaqua
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Jesus Merino
• Team Fables (Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges) debut as the writing team for Justice Society of America in an issue that finds the titular team being taken out by a group of Z-list villains (including Tapeworm) after finding out that teammate Obsidian is apparently an egg now. Wow, that sounds really weird when its all typed out like that.
• Despite being known for their character work, I was not tremendously impressed with the “voices” brought forth by Willingham and Sturgers. Very few characters, most notably Mr. Terrific, came across well, while the vast majority were devoid of personality and were completely interchangeable.
• I was really disappointed with the debut of the All-American Kid. His origin is a tad hokey and its delivery is completely unnatural due to its forced nature in his conversation with Mr. America. Plus, he is way too similar to a certain other American hero’s infamous sidekick. *cough* Bucky *cough* Yowch.
• I was a little put-off by Stargirl being so creeped out by Obsidian being part of the Brownstone and her thinking that he would watch her shower. Does she not know that he is gay? Do the writers not know that? His coming out in Manhunter was handled far too well to be ignored.
• I really liked how systematically the villains took out the JSA in this issue. They may have been nobodies, but it does show how overconfidence can hinder a hero. Given that almost every villain in the DCU has been defeated dozens or more times, its nice to show the lower-tier taking down a major team through ingenuity and become a legitimate threat.
• The art by Jesus Merino has a lot of energy and fun old-school designs that looked great during his action sequences. His action spread and full-team splash in the second half of the book were especially impressive.
• Unfortunately, his style is inconsistent throughout. On some pages, he seems to be channeling modern Howard Chaykin (stiff faces, gritty teeth, constipated expressions), while other pages have hints of Phil Jimenez. He really needs to tighten that up.
Verdict: Read with Caution. I’ve developed a real love-hate relationship with this issue. There are moments of greatness with both the writing and the art that had me really pleased with the creative team. Unfortunately, there are also interchangeable characters, unimpressive new characters, and an uneven delivery with the art that do not instill much confidence in the title’s new direction. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pick it up, but I am saying that you’ve been warned if you do.
05. STAR WARS: LEGACY #28
Written by John Ostrander
Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons, and Brad Anderson
Letters by Michael Heisler
Cover by Chris Warner and Brad Anderson
• Shipwrecked on Tatooine, Cade and his crew find themselves in all sorts of trouble when the assassins sent by the Black Sun and the Imperial agents tracking them both arrive on the scene and our “heroes” get caught in the crossfire.
• I’ve said this before, but my biggest problem with this series is the excessive use of “Star Wars slang.” It was used sparingly in the movies (except Episode I) and was exceptionally effective because of that moderation (except, of course, Episode I, where it sounded stupid). This has always been an issue with this series, but in this issue it is especially troubling.
• I really enjoyed the brotherhood that John Ostrander builds between Syn and Cade in this issue. Their interaction is extremely natural, especially when Syn recognizes but ultimately supports Cade’s bad decisions. I’ve had the exact same interaction and drunken conversations with my best friend. Great job by Ostrander in developing that relationship here.
• The parallels and contrasts between the Imperials and the assassins are fun here, but the I didn’t care for how over-the-top the assassins are. Their scenes broke pace too much and the tone of their dialogue did not match the overall tone of the issue. It causes their plot to be more ridiculous than compelling.
• There is a great sense of movement and action in Jan Duursema’s art. He expressions are equally as strong, though the fluctuating level of detail from page to page was frustrating.
• I found her use of shadow to be surprisingly poor in this issue. It distorted the designs and anatomy, plus it never looked natural. I’m not sure if this is the fault of Duursema or inker Dan Parsons. I’d love to see a side-by-side comparison of the pencils to the finished product to determine that. Regardless, its distracting and detracted from the overall quality of the art.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. Star Wars: Legacy is like that old friend that is never your first choice to hang out with, but is always there when you need something to do and are only looking for a marginally god time. It rarely escalates towards legendary fun status, but also rarely disappoints. This issue is a fine example of why that analogy holds true. You won’t have a great time, but you won’t regret it either.
04. DETECTIVE COMICS #855
Written by Greg Rucka
Lead Art by JH Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lead Letters by Todd Klein
Co-Feature Art by Cully Hamner and Laura Martin
Co-Feature Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by JH Williams III
• I received a lot of grief from readers over my disliking of the last issue of Detective Comics. Thankfully, this issue is a major improvement over the last, though it does still fall prey to many of the issues that I commented on last time—especially in regards to the art by JH Williams III.
• After disappointing me last issue with some bland character writing, Greg Rucka is back in a big way, breathing a lot of personality into Batwoman and her Alice-inspired villain in the lead story. After reading all of Rucka’s Kodiak novels and this, I’m starting to get worried by how well he writes captor-abductee interactions.
• That being said, I wasn’t quite as thrilled by the villain once she broke away from Batwoman. There was a major personality shift and no real reason given for it. That was off-putting.
• In terms of writing, Rucka hit his stride in the backup. It is great to see Renee as the Question going back to her 52-era persona. She comes across much more likable and natural here (like she did in 52) than she did in the Crime Bible and Final Crisis: Revelations minis.
• I really dig that her hotheaded nature and rusty detective skills got her into trouble here. It is a fun twist that is more character-based than plot-based. Kudos to Rucka for going that route.
• Cully Hamner does a great job with the Question in the backup. His skill with body language is fully on display here, which is a good thing considering that, while in costume, Question has no face. I would like to see some more depth and stronger backgrounds from Hamner, but as a whole, I’m just pleased with his great designs and sense of energy.
• In my review last issue, my biggest hang-up was the art by JH Williams III. That hasn’t changed. I am glad to see that there were no scenes of Batwoman out costume, so we don’t have to deal much with Williams’ “dual art styles” that were problematic last issue.
• While I’m glad that he did stick to just one approach, he is still putting flashy style above substance. His inventive layouts look great at first glance, but they are done at the expense of quality storytelling and solid panel choices. It’s a great collection of beautiful moments, but the flow simply isn’t there.
• There are also major problems with consistency in terms of line width and overall depth. Some issues look considerably less rendered than others. Interestingly enough, the thinner lines and flatter images can all be found on pages with standard layouts. Coincidence?
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. This is much, much better than the first issue of this era in almost every single aspect. Cully Hamner especially steps up his game here. JH Williams III is a great artist with a gorgeous, eye-catching style, but I think he is a long way to go before he is a great comic book artist. He needs to rein in his storytelling and stop putting style above all else; being flashy is one thing, but being effective is something else entirely.
03. TEEN TITANS #73
Lead Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Lead Art by Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, and Rod Reis
Co-Feature Written by Sean McKeever
Co-Feature Art by Yildiray Cinar, Julio Ferrera, and Rod Reis
Letters by Sal Cirpiano
Cover by Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, and Rod Reis
• Bryan Q. Miller continues to show a great handle on the Teen Titans with the lead story in this issue, which finds the titular characters having trouble finding leadership as they attempt to save Wonder Girl from the Alcatraz riot/escape setup by the new Fearsome Five.
• The interaction between the Titans in this issue really makes me wish that Miller was sticking around longer than one more issue. He builds a great dynamic between the characters here through excellent dialogue, strong asides, and a load of fun one-liners. I especially dig the “boys club” he builds with Static, Blue Beetle, and Kid Devil—simply an awesome dynamic.
• Kid Devil becoming the Titans’ makeshift Oracle for a lack of better things to do is a lot of fun. I hope that the next writer picks up on this concept.
• While the interaction between the Titans, the rambling interaction between the villains makes their purpose too unclear. I get what Calculator is up to and the actions of the Fearsome Five make sense, but the specifics of Jinx and Shimmer were doing dwindled into nonsense at times.
• The art team on the lead story put together some of the best looking work of the week. Joe Bennett does a great job of presenting the characters as teen and absolutely nails their expressions. The strong ink work by Jack Jadson makes it that much more effective. The dark coloring did run together a bit at times, but for the most part, Rod Reis does a great job of developing the mood with his work. Overall, an awesome effort.
• I was shocked at the weakness of Sean McKeever’s first Ravager co-feature, but he makes up for it here. This is the strong-character focused work I was hoping for.
• I’m glad to see that he is using the plot (Ravage is trapped in a small Canadian frontier town and finds out that her ephedrine addiction could killer) to flesh our Rose’s character. Without the drugs to jump start her powers, she is left without her edge, making her naïve, confused, and vulnerable. It adds an awesome amount of depth to the character. McKeever might not have created her, but it is with stories like this that he proves that he owns her right now.
• I really hope that work on this co-feature will lead to bigger things for Yildiray Cinar. His anatomy needs to be improved on a bit, but his strong, basic storytelling and great sense of energy show a ton of potential. He isn’t there yet, but it is clear that we can expect big things from him.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. This issue is a fine example of how to treat teen superhero characters without resorting to tired clichés or simply crafting them as shorter adults. Both Miller and McKeever have a great handle on their characters and are accepted by fantastic art. At this point, I’m willing to say that it is a shame that Miller only has one more issue on the title as his arrival has led to great things.
02. THE STUFF OF LEGEND #1
Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III, John Conkling, and Michael DeVito
Cover by Charles Paul Wilson III
• Sadly, I would not have had a chance to read this issue, were it not for the review copy sent to the Weekly Crisis crew by writer Mike Raicht. While I’m glad that I was able to check it out, I’m sad that other folks at my local comic book shop will miss out on this beautiful issue, as my shop didn’t order it.
• For those unfamiliar with this WWII-era story, Stuff of Legend follows the toys of a young child who set out into a world of darkness (his closet) to save him after he is abducted in the night by the Boogeyman. When the toys cross into the world of the closet, they become “real” (for example, the boy’s teddy bear becomes a real grizzly) and face the very real consequences of a battle against the Boogeyman followers.
• The issue is filled to the brim with simply wonderful character writing. Mike Raicht and Brian Smith begin with simple archetypes, but follow them up with a series of interesting twists and quirks. The end result is Toy Story meets Fables, with the superb character development of each.
• From the beginning, the story has a twisted fairy tale sensibility in the vein of CS Lewis. The further the story progresses, however, the veil of the fairy tale is pulled back, only to reveal a surprisingly violent and dark story. This comes as a shock and was clearly meant to—the writer’s masterfully build up to that twist.
• The story presents an interesting take on the concept of friendship and the duty that comes with that. When the toys decide to venture forth to save the boy, the debate whether or not they should. Taken into account are how often they’ve been played with, the risks of being caught, and additional factors. It is a simple tale of bravery, so much as it is an exploration of the power of friendship and what one is willing to sacrifice for that (which all leads up to the climactic twist that I won’t spoil for you).
• Charles Paul Wilson III’s lush artwork looks nothing like your standard comic book art, instead being more reminiscent of a pencil portrait or a novel illustration. As such, it does succumb to the pitfalls of the style, including massive stiffness and stilted expressions.
• Thankfully, there is an amazing sense of detail, a great use of space, and a superb exploration of depth to offset the less-than-stellar qualities.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. Simply put, Stuff of Legend is superb storytelling through and through. It is a wonderful exploration of the imagination, with gorgeous artwork and splendid character work. This issue is sure to avoid the radars of most readers, but I can assure you that it is worth hunting down. Personally, I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the next issue (hint, hint).
01. MICE TEMPLAR: DESTINY #1
Story by Bryan J.L. Glass and Michael Avon Oeming
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Michael Avon Oeming, Victor Santos, and Veronica Gandini
Letters by James H. Glass
Covers by Michael Avon Oeming and Victory Santos with Veronica Gandini
• It is has been a while since the end of the first volume of Mice Templar and, quite frankly, that was pretty upsetting. We should never go this long without its mousey goodness. However, having now read the first new issue since the end of volume one, I can tell you that it was, without a doubt, totally worth the wait.
• The first story picks up right where the last volume left off; Templar Knight Cassius has been commissioned to train young Karic in the ways of the Templar and is unhappy in doing so. Simple enough, right? Well that is where the simplicity of this issue ends.
• I’m amazed at how much story is packed into this issue. Bryan Glass and Michael Oeming take every possible opportunity in this issue to add depth to the characters and to the story as whole. Through a series of flashbacks and hallucinations, a ton of ground is covered with the overall story, while only a few events happen in the actual plot. This is balanced extremely well thanks to smart storytelling and exceptional pacing.
• Glass does a stellar job with the interaction between Karic and Cassius, with their relationship changing throughout the issue as Cassius begins to let his guard down and Karic begins building himself up—all coming to head in the issue’s most shocking and powerful scene.
• Of course, the success off this scene is built off of the character development throughout the issue. What impresses me most about this is that Glass primarily builds the characters by showcasing their fears, doubts, and guilt. Rather than using long-winded narration or forced dialogue, Glass creatively unleashes this information through a scene that also adds a level to the mysticism and magic of the series. It’s a very crafty and well played move.
• What really pushed the issue that extra mile, however, was the artwork by Victor Santos. The issue is full of inventive layouts, impactful action, fantastic pacing, a ton of energy, and some of the strongest expressions of the week—which is surprising given that most of the characters are, in fact, mice.
• Santos perfectly captures the spirit of Oeming’s work on the previous volume and runs with it. As much as I hate to see Oeming off of the interiors, Santos is a fine replacement.
• The bold colors by Veronica Gandini are the perfect accent. She sets the tone perfectly and does great work with the lighting and shadows. There is excellent chemistry between her work and Santos’s.
• I was a bit surprised by the amount of violence in this issue. The creative team pulls no punches in this issue and with good reason. This is a dark, dark tale and to gloss over the violence or shy away from the occasional gore would not do the story justice.
• The original volume of Mice Templar, although brilliant, had the unfortunate timing of being launched in the shadow the runaway hit, Mouse Guard. The comparisons were inevitable and, sadly, many readers brought their Mouse Guard baggage to the Mice Templar table. With this issue, however, the creative team makes it perfectly clear where Templar stands in relation and never looks back. There is no room for comparison at this point and, quite frankly, I think that is to the advantage of Mouse Guard as the “shadow” is now shifting.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. I had very high expectations for this issue due to the great work that Glass and Oeming did on the first volume. Not only did this issue meet those expectations, it exceeded them on all levels. The creative team brings the goods and then some. With amazing character work, an engaging story, and simply gorgeous art, this issue really has it all. The Stuff of Legend made choosing the week's best book very difficult, but the brilliant debut of Victor Santos and the incredibly smart storytelling by Bryan J.L. Glass won the day…and the Book of the Week honors.