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.
I’ve received a few messages about this, so I thought that I would address the question directly. Unfortunately, I will not be attending Wizard World Chicago this weekend. I’ve been going every year since 2006, but a series of other circumstances got in the way and so I’m sitting out the convention this year. I will, however, be attending the Windy City Comicon in Chicago in September, FallCon in Minneapolis/St. Paul in October, and potentially Iowa-Con in Des Moines in November. In addition to this, it’s fairly likely that I will be at the first ever C2E2 (Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo) in April 2010. If anyone does head to Wizard World this weekend, feel free to shoot me a message and let me know how it was!
08. THE BOYS #33
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by John McCrea, Keith Burns, and Tony Avina
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Darick Robertson
• This week’s exceptionally violent issue of The Boys focuses mainly on Butcher as he faces off against the super team Payback (an Avengers analogue), with a few small subplots all spinning out of the events of the concurrently running Herogasm miniseries.
• The writing in this issue isn’t too bad, but suffers from some major focus problems. It feels like a lot of the scenes and information is simply repeats from previous issues and from the issues of Herogasm, which really detracts from my enjoyment of this issue.
• While it was great to see Butcher finally live up to his name and I’m semi-itnterested in where they are going with the ex-Nazi Stormfront, the highlight of the issue for me was the small interlude with the Seven and the fact that Queen Maeve apparently stands up for Annie’s decision not to go along with the “rebranding” that Vought American is trying to force upon her.
• The focus issue and repetitive storytelling wouldn’t be that big of an issue of regular artist Darick Robertson gave us something to fall back on. Instead, Herogasm artists John McCrea and Keith Burns handle the art chores and, quite frankly, the results are not good.
• The issue is rife with lumpy, poorly designed bodies, incomprehensible expressions, poor shadow work and a completely lack of detail. To put it bluntly, this is an ugly book and it is really hard to get past that.
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. I was really hoping that The Boys could use this issue to turn around some of the unfortunate trends that have stricken the series in 2009. Unfortunately, the unfocused writing, rambling plot, and simply horrible art only make things worse. I really hate to say it, but unless something turns around for this series pretty quickly, I won’t be continuing on much longer. Unless you are a hardcore Boys completeist, you’ll want to stay away from this Burrito Book.
07. WAR OF KINGS: WARRIORS #2
Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Adriana Melo, Maria Benes, Nei Ruffino, Ramon Perez, and Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Paul Renaud
• With the main miniseries wrapping up this week, Marvel throws out one last tie-in for War of Kings this week with the second installment of its Warriors series. This issue follows Crystal’s attempts at assimilating with the Kree and tells a story of Lillandra’s childhood.
• This issue is a prime example of what can go majorly wrong with an anthology series. While the lead story (Crystal) is extremely strong and one of the better stories of the week, the backup is not very good at all. It is extremely hard to justify a purchase of an issue like this, as no matter how good the first story is, half of a solid issue really isn’t worth a $3.99 price point.
• Jay Faerber does a great job of tapping into the strength and resolve of Crystal that has been developed over the course of the War of Kings event with his compelling story that ehances everything that has been done with her thus far. This really explains why she appears to be so devoted to Ronan and is simply a joy to read.
• There is a lot to like about the art in the main story as well. Adriana Melo’s art has a great sense of design and motion. She does a great job of conveying tone with clear facial expressions, but could use a bit more variation in that regard. She’s got the basics, now it is time to refine.
• The biggest problem with Melo’s art was how ridiculously she drew Crystal’s chest. Seriously, it looks ridiculous. I know that big boobs are all the rage in comics, but this is pretty tacky.
• The backup on the other hand is a fluff story that adds very little to Lillandra’s character and suffers from poor timing of its release. Although Marvel’s digital readers would have read this prior to Lillandra’s demise midway through War of Kings, for readers who only read the actual printed comics, this story is rendered irrelevant by that fact.
• Ramon Perez’s art on this story has a good sense of motion, but his over-the-top expressions, unnecessarily thick lines, and overly simplistic character designs really didn’t sit well with me.
Verdict: Read with Caution. If this were a one-shot issue that only featured an expanded version of the Crystal story, it would be ranked much, much higher. Unfortunately, the weakness of the back up and the ridiculousness of Adriana Melo’s top-heavy artwork hold this one back.
06. CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN #2
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice, and Paul Mounts
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Covers by Various
• I will admit that I, like many other readers, really did not dig the “time displacement” concept fro bringing Steve Rogers back as Captain America and that was a major dark cloud hanging over the first issue of Captain America: Reborn. Now that we can somewhat put that behind us, things are looking up for the title with this week’s very dense issue, though it does still have a lot of problems that it needs to overcome.
• The biggest success of this issue comes from the fact that it brushes aside a lot of the explanation for how Rogers is displaced in time, instead focusing on how this affects him and how the potential for his return affects everyone else, including both heroes and villains. While it is nice that this plot point is put on the backburner, I do feel that its ridiculousness does need to be addressed at some point.
• This issue is extremely densely-packed and I think that actually hurts the issue. None of the scenes delve very deeply into anything more than surface issues and the brisk pace will have you forgetting a lot of what happened by the time you reach the end of the issue.
• The good news is that the tone of the issue and the dialogue are much stronger than they were in the previous issue. Brubaker has a great handle on all of the characters and skillfully moves them across the plot impressively. This issue has the feel of the Captain America issues during Marvel’s Civil War event—which were all can’t miss issues.
• I especially enjoyed the flashback to Cap’s origin and the death of Professor Erskine. While there have been plenty of retellings of Cap’s origin, I can’t think of many that included this particular scene. It was poignant and powerful.
• The flashback art by Bryan Hitch was a major strength of this issue. He has a great sense of motion and impact here that was incredibly effective. In the last issue, I really felt that he was aping Mitch Breitweiser’s style (and why not, Breitweiser has proven himself to be an iconic Cap artist), but here I felt that he channeling that style more than ripping it off.
• There are times when Hitch’s art gets too chaotic, though, which can be incredibly distracting. Having “organized chaos” can punch up an action scene, but when the disorder takes over the page, you’ve got a problem.
• Butch Guice’s “present day” art looks almost as good, but is considerably stiffer and more posed than Hitch’s work. His expressions are much better, though, so it events out.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. This is definitely a HUGE step up from the previous issue. The art is much stronger and the plot is much more fluid. There are some extraneous moments and some of the character dialogue is fairly interchangeable, but there is still a lot to like here. I’d recommend taking your time with it due to its densely-packed plot points. This is certainly not as strong as Brubaker’s best Captain America stories, but it does show that there is some hope for the story after all.
05. DYNAMO 5 #23
Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Matteo Scalera, Mahmud A. Asrar, and Ron Riley
Letters by Charles Pritchett
Cover by Mahmud A. Asrar and Ron Riley
• The titular team find themselves in the middle of a Whiptail onslaught in this issue as their de facto leader makes some tough decisions and has an interesting secret from her past come to light. All in all, it’s a lot of this issue to take on given its brisk pacing.
• I’m glad to see Jay Faerber returning to a strong character-focus, even if the issue is filled with big action. The character interactions here are considerable stronger and given more time to percolate. It helps to have Myriad’s addiction to a superpower enhancement drug be a major point in the issue’s plot and focusing a lot on the reaction of his half-siblings.
• Matteo Scalera helps out Mahmud Asrar with the art in this issue and the work of the two artists gels well. Scalera’s art lacks a lot of the consistency and attention to detail that you can find in Asrar’s work. It does mean that there is an upshift in aesthetic quality midway through the issue but the stylistic similarities keep it from being too jarring.
• I was a bit bothered by Scalera’s troubles with anatomy in the issue. For a fine example of this, check out how the length and thickness of Maddie’s neck changes throughout the issue.
• Biggest problem for this issue is how rushed it feels. The “threat” situation of the Whiptails is glossed over pretty quickly and really only serves as a incidental bridge to other story beats. The entire story would be more effective if this was spread out a bit more rather than jumping from the fight with Braintrust directly into the antidote for the Whiptail epidemic.
Verdict: Mildly Recommended. This could have jumped to “Strongly Recommended” were it not for the less than stellar art from Scalera and the plot moving far too quickly. This issue shows a lot of potential for Dynamo 5’s “comeback” in the realm of must-read books; I look forward to where Faerber and Arar take the series from this point forward.
04. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #601
Lead Written by Mark Waid
Lead Art by Mario Alberti and Andres Mossa
Lead Letters by Joe Caramagna
Backup Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Backup Art by Joe Quesada and Morry Hollowell
Backup Lettters by Chris Eliopoulos
Cover by J. Scott Campbell
• Coming off of the spectacular Amazing Spider-Man #600 last month, this week’s issue has a ton of momentum going for it and, given it marks the full return of Mary Jane Watson, it has also generated a ton of buzz amongst casual readers.
• The issue’s plot hinges on Peter’s somewhat out-of-character reaction to Mary Jane’s return, which includes get black-out drunk at Aunt May’s part and having a one night stand with his former-roommate Vin’s sister. Now, this hasn’t sat well with a lot of readers, but I think it works really well here. Mark Waid writes it as an extension of Peter’s hysteria over MJ’s return. Honestly, who hasn’t made a dumb choice because some whirlwind force showed up in his/her life unexpectedly? To me, this is a pretty human move because it is so out-of-character for him.
• I really enjoyed how Mark Waid found a strong balance between Peter as Peter and Peter as Spider-Man, with the problems of one bleeding into problems for the other. It really help set the tone for this issue and is a key reason why this is, by far, Waid’s best issue on the title.
• SPOILER ALERT!!!
• I love the twist with Mary Jane here. It is a brilliant stroke to have her know that Peter is Spider-Man. To me, this is a natural extension of the end of One More Day, as MJ whispered something to Mephisto that was never revealed. Could this be it? I certainly hope so. The only problem is that this is really cheapened by Spidey revealing his identity to the Fantastic Four and the New Avengers. It would be considerably more powerful had he not.
• END SPOILER ALERT!!!
• Mario Alberti’s art simply does not work for me. His facial designs run the gamut from annoyingly inconsistent to simply bad. His expressions are all over the place and, with the exception of one or two cool layouts, his storytelling isn’t up to snuff either.
• Given how huge of a story this is and how both the momentum from last issue and MJ’s return will bring in new readers and bring back lapsed readers, this issue should have had better art. It wouldn’t necessarily need to be a marquee name, as long as it was consistent and more fundamentally sound.
• The backup story is total fluff, but is sweet fluff. Bendis does a great job of strengthening the friendship between Jessica Jones and Spider-Man, though it really does seem like he is just setting up her return as a hero here.
• Despite a boneheaded decision here and there, I really have enjoyed Joe Quesada’s tenure as Editor-in-Chief for Marvel. I would trade it in a heartbeat, though, if we could see more interior work from him. This issue is a prime example of why he should just hand over the reins to Tom Breevort and come back to doing art full-time.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. I’ve been pretty hard on Mark Waid’s Spider-Man work as of late, but this issue shows that he still has it. This is a great reintroduction for Mary Jane and could have been a major contender for book of the week if it hadn’t been for the art in the main story. If you’ve been looking for a reason to come back to Amazing Spider-Man, this issue could be it.
03. AGENTS OF ATLAS #9
Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Dan Panosian and Elizabeth Dismang Breitweiser
Letters by Tom Orezechowski
Cover by Lenil Yu and Dave McCaig
• My shop didn’t order any copies of Avatar’s Absolution #1, so I decided to take my set-aside cash to another book and settled on Agents of Atlas. I loved the first miniseries and only avoided the ongoing because of the ever inflating costs of being a comics fan. Why didn’t any of you point out the error of my ways? I should’ve been picking up this book all along!
• Jeff Parker does a great job of balancing action and character moments here. His “ownership” of the characters is clear and he has the perfect formula for making their book work. Too much of any of the extreme quirks could be too much, but Parker dishes it out with a steady hand.
• The character interaction throughout the issue is just superb. From the Agents interacting with one another to Jimmy Woo confronting his ex/the issue’s villain, this issue is filled with superb dialogue.
• I really enjoy the fact that the Jade Claw has a history with Woo outside of his involvement with the Yellow Claw. It adds a lot of depth and intrigue to the story.
• I’m really impressed by how accessible this issue is, despite being several issues into the series. Parker does a great job of introducing who the characters are and what their roles/attributes are without being heavy-handed.
• Dan Panosian and Elizabeth Dismang (wife of artist Mitch Breitweiser) do a great job with the aret. There are some design inconsistencies (like the size of Woo’s head), but the top notch expressions, strong details, and great shading are all worth noting.
• I really dig Dismang’s “pulp-y” colors here. Everything looks a little worn and faded, which fits perfectly with both the tone of the story and the premise of the series.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended. I’m a fool. Knowing how much I loved the original Agents of Atlas miniseries and knowing how capable of a writer Jeff Parker is, I should’ve been reading this series all long. This issue is all about achieving balances and the creative really pulls it off. This one is pure fun.
02. WAR OF KINGS #6
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier, Rick Magyar, Andrew Hennessy, and Wil Quintana
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Brandon Peterson
• Marvel last big “event” of the summer rockets towards its conclusion with the final issue of the main War of Kings miniseries, which pits the two intergalactic leaders Black Bolt of the Kree and Vulcan of the Shi’ar into a battle for control of a huge chunk of the universe.
• The brawl between the two characters takes up the majority of the issues and rightfully so, this series was all build up to this moment and thankfully, the creative does not disappoint at all.
• I really enjoyed the back-and-forth between Black Bolt and Vulcan. Their position as polar opposites in nearly every regard really fuels the battle. Their means of rule, their fighting styles, their dialogue (or lack their of), etc—all put the two at odds with one another.
• I’m glad to see that Crystal remains central to this story. As I had mentioned in my review of War of Kings: Warriors #2, her character has seen tremendous growth over the course of this story and so it is only fitting that she plays a major part in its conclusion.
• The crowning of the new Shi’ar leader was simply brilliant. I won’t give it away, but I will say that it is someone I’d never expect, but another character who has come a long way over the course of the story.
• I really like how well Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning bring the story to a close with an ending that is simultaneously conclusive and yet open ended. There are dozens of small details that could be followed up, including Medusa’s declaration that Black Bolt never speaks to her (what a powerful line) and the mysterious hole in the universe that ties-into Adam Warlock’s warnings in Guardians of the Galaxy.
• This is, without question, Paul Pelletier’s best issue of the miniseries and perhaps one of his best issues ever. It is full of energy with a great sense of detail, incredibly evocative expressions, and tremendous consistency.
• The great spread of Black Bolt finally unleashing his power on Vulcan was simply stellar and will go down as one of the most powerful images of the entire series.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. I can’t remember the last time there wasn’t any letdown whatsoever in the conclusion of an event. There is really nothing to dislike about this issue and, by proxy, this event. Kudos to all involved with War of Kings, just one more sign why the best facet of the superhero genre is Marvel’s cosmic line.
01. SECRET SIX #12
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood, Mark McKenna, and Jason Wright
Letters by Swands
• As longtime readers know, I have kept track of every “Book of the Week” winner since I began writing the Power Rankings in 2007 (and before then from when I was just writing regular reviews). Prior to this week, the highest number of honors any title has ever received in a calendar year is 5 (Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal held the record). Well, in just 8 short months, Secret Six has toppled the record with its 6th Book of the Week honor.
• This issue picks up where last issue left off with Wonder Woman confronting the Secret Six over the brutal attack on Artemis, which leads directly to the bizarre battle between the Amazon Princess and Jeanette.
• I can honestly say that Jeanette’s “power” is one of the bizarre and disturbing things I’ve read all year. It takes a sick, sick mind to come with stuff. It really amazes me how dark Gail Simone is willing to go in her display of disgusting creativity. You know something is truly insane when the titular characters think it goes too far.
• I’m glad to see Artemis is alive and kicking in this issue. I think she would make a great addition to the team, especially since there seems to be a growing undercurrent in this story that at least one member of the team won’t make it out alive.
• As always, the highlight of the issue is the character interaction. I cannot think of any series in recent memory and very few all time in which such a motley group of characters gel so well. Simone is putting together a clinic on character writing with every issue of this book.
• Nicola Scott’s natural chemistry with Gail Simone continues to lead to gorgeous art that perfectly captures the tone of the story. There isn’t a single panel in this issue that isn’t dead-on in terms of tone. Plus, you’ve got Scott’s great pacing and expressions as well.
• I absolutely loved the second page of this issue, which showcases the Secret Six facing off against Wonder Woman, but does so in a 2 x 6 panel grid of alternating body parts. It simply an awesome layout. In fact, I loved it so much that the moment I put the issue down, I email Scott about purchasing the issue the moment it comes back to her from DC.
Verdict: Don’t Miss This Issue. At this point, I’m really not sure how Gail Simone and Nicola Scott can continue to top themselves on this series. Every issue is an amazing example of quality craftsmanship and this one is no different. This is, hands down, the single best superhero book on the stands and a real front runner for the best comic in general.