Thursday, August 13, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/12/09

This week's Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews, which it's hefty release list, sees the addition of a new format for reviews with some Quick Shot Reviews for select comics. What these are are simple plus (+)/minus (-) bullet point reviews for certain comics in an attempt to save me time while still reviewing all of the books I purchased. It's similar to Ryan's Power Rankings, but shorter and less in-depth than his bulletpoints. I've still got four or five standard length reviews for you, so let me know what you think of the new format. I'm still working out kinks in it and it will only really show up for weeks I have five or more comics to review.

Also of note, this is the last night to enter our Two Years Later anniversary contests. I was originally going to end it on Wednesday at 11: 59pm, but will let it run for the rest of the night and close the posts tomorrow morning when I wake up. Winners will be announced later this week once I've eliminated any duplicates and determined the winners. For those still not entered, follow this link for easy access to all of the contests.

Now, with announcements out of the way, hit the jump for reviews of Blackest Night, The Marvels Project, Ultimate Comics and more!

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert

Blackest Night #1 was allowed to focus heavily on the Black Lanterns, both introducing them to the reader and focusing on the wanton killings and gore factor to shock readers and kick off the event with a bang. Issue two, on the other hand, should have given us some plot or propelled the story forward in some tangible way. What it ended up being was an issue filled with little more than shock killings, gore on a Marvel Zombies level and little else.

Yes, yes, yes, a story about Black Lanterns that come back from the dead and which is focused entirely on the dead returning to life probably should clue me into the gorier parts of this story, but I was expecting some depth and reason behind it as well. It's only two issues into the eight part story, so I can forgive it for it for it's excess early on.

Another problem with the story is that it's becoming very Secret Invasion-esque in that it's a very wide view of the event in the main title with several ancillary titles either giving different perspectives or picking up strands of the story that do or do not deserve to be in the main book. For instance, the Green Lantern & Flash vs Martian Manhunter fight that continued into last month's Green Lantern "ends" here. If you didn't read Green Lantern, that fight is pretty oddly scripted, jumping from Hal and Barry meeting their undead Martian friend to the duo struggling to eek out a victory of sorts.

Reading it from a Blackest Night #1 to #2 standpoint, that's a weak subplot that left a lot of gaps for people to pick up in the tie-ins. On the other hand, it's not a major plot point, much like everything we've seen so far, which amounts to just fighting, reviving of dead heroes and those dead heroes killing other heroes.

The final problem I have with the book is the entire lack of a War of Light. What happened to the Blue Lantern homeworld being invaded by Larfleeze's constructs? Where's the attack on Zamaron by the Sinestro Corps? Where's the Green Lanterns vs Red Lanterns on Ysmault? All of these are supposedly going on while the dead are rising and were some of the things I was most excited about seeing, yet they've yet to be shown on anything other than random throwaway, one panel scenes or splashpages. In my opinion, these should have all been played up early on with the Black Lanterns as a menacing threat building up in cameos for the epic conclusion to the event. Just feels like everything the Green Lantern titles have been building to was kicked to the curb for DC's version of Marvel Zombies, which isn't a bad thing, but disappointing for a long time Green Lantern reader.

However, despite how over the top and focused on the excess violence this issue was, I actually found myself still enjoying it. It's beautifully rendered by Ivan Reis and, similar to how Martian Manhunter's been portrayed since returning as a Black Lantern, I've never seen an Aquaman as imposing and interesting as he was portrayed in this issue. They should have killed these characters off long ago if they were going to make them this interesting in undeath.

Other points of interest include the attempts of a Black Lantern ring to raise Don Hall, better known as Dove, who died in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The rings could not raise him due to the fact he was "at peace". He died saving a child if I recall, so maybe the way someone dies determines if they can be raised? I imagine it will have something to do with the emotional state of the character at death, too.

Similarly, there was a prose section in the back of the book that detailed some personal writings of Black Hand. It was written by Geoff Johns, but there were several simple mistakes in the writing that I hope are supposed to be attributed to the first person Black Hand narrative and not bad editing. Getting back to the content of the writing, it was mostly about how he had killed the two Hawks and how death could not claim their eternal love due to the constant resurrections. It ended by saying love was almost dead and that rage was next. Does this mean that certain characters are being targeted, such as the Hawks for their love, and that the mass resurrections and deaths are just to hide this agenda? Is Atrocitus next to die, being the leader of the rage filled Red Lanterns?

Verdict - Check It. Very little progression in terms of plot and a tad excessive in the violence and gore department, but an otherwise entertaining issue.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason and Rebecca Buchman

Disappointing is one way to describe this issue of Green Lantern Corps #39. It was not poorly written nor drawn, just disappointing in that it was the equivalent of a Secret Invasion tie-in with how it was set in the past and detailed events we already knew about from the main title, but from a different perspective.

Unlike the Secret Invasion tie-ins, though, this issue actually managed to have some solid character moments that almost make up for the retread of old content, particularly in regards to the Guy Gardner/Kyle Rayner dynamic and with the discussion of Kyle's current and past girlfriends.

However, the problem with the issue was the content I spoke of. This issue is set during the events of Blackest Night #1 and features Guy and Kyle returning to Oa just as the Black Lantern rings arrive and begin resurrecting the fallen Green Lanterns in the crypts. It added more to the one or two pages where this was dealt with in Blackest Night #1, but nothing substantial. For instance, Morro, the keeper of the Green Lantern crypts, was given some face time without being summarily killed off either.

In the end, this issue boils down to a few pages of 'new' content - 1) a couple pages of Mongul being shown taken over Korugar and renaming the Sinestro Corps the Mongul Corps and 2) Kyle and Guy talking about Kyle's past girlfriends, which set up the return of Black Lantern Jade at the end of the issue.

Verdict - Check It. If this had come out the same week as Blackest Night #1, I'd probably be more enthusiastic about the issue, but a month later seeing the same content from the first issue of the event, on the same day as the second issue comes out, is a bit trying. Nothing was followed up on in issue two of Blackest Night either, so I assume we'll have to wait yet another month for the follow up.

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Carlos Pacheco

This is what Ultimates 3 should have been. In fact, I'm treating this series as if Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum never happened. As far as I'm concerned, this is just the fallout of the end of Ultimates 2. The only thing this fictional premise fails to explain is Hawkeye's hideous costume. However, Hawkeye is so, and I quote, "awesome" in this issue, I can forgive the Gunman Xtreme costume.

The most immediate thing most people will notice coming into this issue is the art. Pacheco is no realistic, widescreen action Bryan Hitch nor is he a manga for the masses Joe Madureira. His art is clean and tells a story, but, in my opinion, is fairly forgettable, being niether amazing nor terrible - just being, for lack of a descriptor. I'm not faulting him for it, either, as it's more a matter of taste I presume. I just dont' find anything unique or visually interesting or dynamic about his art.

Regarding the story of this issue, it would be unfair to call it a standard Mark Millar story. It has the hallmarks of a Millar story - widescreen storytelling, popcorn flick 'cool' moments and the occasional bit of snappy dialogue - but it's definitely one of his stronger executions of his typical style and it could be due to any number of factors, such as returning to the Ultimates or Marvel reining him in a little or anything in between.

As such, this led to a return to form for the Ultimate team in this issue. I particularly liked the opening sequence with the bit of meta commentary from Nick Fury about how he (Millar) has left for ten minutes and the place has gone to hell (LOEBBBB!!!!) and the focus on Captain America and Hawkeye, who, as I said, is "awesome" in this issue. Millar has a perfect grasp of each character in their Ultimate encarnations and it was a joy to see Hawkeye not moping around complaining about his dead family and how deep he is now with his new costume and outlook on life.

In fact, Hawkeye and Cap play off each other perfectly in this issue and the juxtoposition of Cap saving Hawkeye to start their story followed up by Hawkeye saving him from the Red Skull towards the end of the issue was about as good as it gets.

The revelation of the Red Skull's identity, which has been known for a while thanks to interviews, was still effective and seeing Cap get manhandled by his son (shouldn't he be 70+ though?) was a visually powerful scene.

Verdict - Must Read. Is this as good as Ultimates 1 and 2? I'm not sure, but I'm giving it a Must Read for the simple reason that the nightmare is finally over and we can have some good Ultimates style comics again.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by David Lafuente

The question as to how to review this comic is troubling. On the one hand, it's basically Ultimate Spider-Man #134 repackaged with a brand new number one. Same great taste, all new look. On the other hand, it's the exact same product with a shiny #1 and a new $3.99 pricetag.

With Ultimates Avengers, I didn't really have a problem with the pricing. The old books rarely came out and I don't honestly expect this one to be monthly either. With Ultimate Spider-Man, it's been a 133 straight issues of delay free comics that saw it bi-weekly for most of it's run. Upping it to $3.99 is a much tougher pill to swallow for me when the book, while consistently great, never really outright wows me anymore either.

Price woes aside, like I said, take Ultimate Spider-Man pre-Ultimatum and those Requiem issues, time skip 6 months into the future and you've got Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Reads as well as it did before and the art, while different than a Bagley or Immonen, is still top notch in terms of clearity and expressiveness.

I think most people will be immediately sold on this "new" comic when they read the first few pages of the issue which show Peter flipping burgers for his new job. The dialogue and narration here is top notch and, much like the entire issue, is Bendis bringing his A game to the book.

One thing of interest is that Peter is now dating Gwen Stacy, aka, the Carnage clone. It's an interesting twist, especially since they are living in the same house, but is also one of those time skip cliches that leaves you asking what happened between him and Mary Jane and why does Gwen now like Peter, who she thought of as a brother previously (I'm guessing Carnage symbiote influencing her personality to 'want' Peter)?

There's also the Ultimate Hood, as I'm calling him, mystery character that stopped a crime here. He didn't set of Peter's spider sense when he was watching Peter and the cops at the scene of the crime, so I'm not sure what to think. Maybe a clone? He didn't display any powers other than super strength and maybe agility. Smart mouthed as well with a sense of justice.

Verdict - Check It. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it's mostly same old, same old for Ultimate Spider-Man. Sorry, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Add a $1 increase in price to the book and I'm almost tempted to switch to trades for it. However, it's still the same, consistently good Ultimate Spider-Man we loved prior to Ultimatum, so feel free to jump back on with no worries.

Quick Shot Reviews

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Francis Manapul
Co-feature Art by Clayton Henry

+ Solid debut issue for Adventure Comics.
+ Hit all the right notes regarding reintroducing Superboy to everyone without going into too much detail about being a clone of Lex Luthor, etc.
+ Manapul's art was fantastic. Really sold me on an otherwise slow paced intro issue.
+ Backup was better than the main issue. Loved Starman and the promise/teaser of future installments of the Legion back-up.
- Boo-urns. Can't recall Superboy mentioning his tactile telekinesis once.
- Nothing happened. Superboy helped out on farm, went to school, saved a girl and chatted with Superman.
- Backup was better than the main issue. An 8 page backup shouldn't outshine the main story.

Verdict - Check It. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. While a tad slow for a first issue, if you have the slightest interest in Superboy or the Legion, you should probably be buying this first issue.

Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Barry Kitson

+ Chameleon. Good to see Spidey's first villain back in action. Pretty creepy reintroduction for him as well that adds some credibility back to the character after he's lost to Aunt May and been beaten half to death by MJ in previous engagements (or, at least, the last time I've seen him).
+ Slyde! (ok, ok, I'm probably alone on that one)
+ Hard to imagine how Peter escapes the acid bath Chameleon put him in with how it was presented to us.
+ Should be interesting to see how MJ reacts around Chameleon, who has taken Peter's identity, on their date next issue. Will this finally reveal just how much MJ knows about Peter?
- Second part of Red-Headed Stranger, but features new writer and direction to the story. Very jarring if you are looking at it from a trade or actual storyline perspective.
- Kitson's art fails to impress me. Maybe he's just too rushed on Amazing Spider-Man. It has flashes of his regular self, but looks sloppy in many instances.

Verdict - Check It. Odd transition from last issue to this Chameleon centric arc. Was hoping for more Mary Jane/Peter interaction (or, at least some interaction). Was actually one of the better Brand New Day issues I've read for the simple fact it didn't feel like a BND issue. It was just a Spider-Man comic to me, which was the first time it's felt like that in a long time.

Written by Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art by Reilly Brown

+ Thor origin 'recap' page, as edited by Hercules.
+ Reilly Brown on art. The book, while great, had been suffering in the art department for the past six or so issues. His expressive art was a huge improvement in my eyes.
+ Baby Zeus was great throughout and dialogue was hilarious.
- "Balder" is in his pre-Ragnarok costume. Forgot how much I hated that costume. Odd since they put Herc in the current Thor costume.

Verdict - Must Read. Last few issues had been average fair, but this was a return to form for one of my favourite titles.

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Tonci Zonjic

+ Cancer subplot isn't just a joke. Handled fairly seriously, too.
+ Still managed to have some comedy and solid dialogue mixed in.
+ Excellent use of continuity. Addressed past Avengers affiliation and 'cancer suit' that Firestar wore during her time there. Nice use of Dr Strange and Night Nurse, plus addressing current status quo of Strange and Brother Voodoo.
+ Zonjic's art is the major draw of the book for me right now. He's very expressive and has unique style, not completely unlike David Aja's.
- Cancer subplot kills the fun tone of the book and pulls me out of it. Cancer seems too serious a topic for a light hearted book like this. It's definitley no Death of Captain Marvel in that regard.

Verdict - Check It. I'm not hating this book, but I'm not completely enthralled by it either. Will stick with it for the duration, as it hasn't gone off the rails and is treating the cancer subplot with some respect.

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Steve Epting

+ Ultimate Origin for the 616 Marvel Universe.
+ Steve Epting's art. I've missed him on Captain America. Good to see he's still as amazing as I remember.
+ Silver Age wankery. These random 70th anniversary one-shots aside, you don't see much of Marvel's Golden/early Silver Age origins. Probably due to their sliding timeline and lack of reboots.
+ Reminds me of Marvels with its narration and focus on Marvel's past, but without the wide eyed civilian perspective.
- Slow, densely packed first issue that mostly sets up future conflicts, such as with Nick Fury off to extract Dr Erskine from Europe for use in the Super Soldier Program.

Verdict - Check It. While not a perfect issue, I quite enjoyed it and recommend it to everyone. It's a tad slow and dense, but never completely overwhelming and will reward future reads, especially when the series is complete. Trade wait it might be a better recommendation, but I think it will read well in singles, too.

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Andrenn said...

I myself was disapointed with Ultimate Avengers. Found it to be a boring issue that really didn't go anywhere. It gave us the bare essentials and for 3.99 I'm going to need a lot more than that.

I agree with your review of Ultimate Spider-man, really annoyed at the time skip cliche rahter than just telling us. I don't mind that Peter/Gwen are together, it's a good twist, but for god's sakes tell us why or don't even bother!

Also liked ASM a bit, despite it's flaws. Some great reviews, Kirk.

wirehead4ever said...

Regarding Red Skulls age, remember that he has super soldier serum running through him and judging by the way Nick Fury looks, I'd say it prolongs your life span or at least keeps you looking young. And to be honest I liked the way he looked here more than those Wizard images leaked online.

Daringd said...

odd my LCS got Marvel Project #1 2 weeks ago.
Blackest Night is without a doubt book of the week. As for Spidey...I might actually drop the book.....again

Matt Ampersand said...

Did they explain how Slyde came back to life or was it like a flashback?

Quantum said...

@ matt

just a cop in the costume as part of a sting.

Anonymous said...

Actually , Superboy's "tactile Tk" as been around since his first appearance. They used it to explain everything from his super strength to flight , etc... You probably haven't heard it before since they pretty much stopped mentionning it when they started making Connor more of a generic Superman type "strong" guy. It's too bad. His TK gave him some abilities that really differentiated him from Supes.

Prime Minister Whaley said...

I was a big fan of The Marvels Project. It surprised me. The art was pretty good, and even though it was basically a setup issue, it worked for me since I don't have a lot of knowledge of any of the characters. My only contact with Halloway was in X-men Noir, in fact. I've never read a single thing about the original Human Torch. It gave me the same feeling I got when I read JSA Presents: Green Lantern. It was good to get to know more about the original namesake. I'll definitely be keeping up with this series.

Blackest Night was awesome, but to be honest, Blackest Night: Batman #1 was my favorite issue this week. The way Deadman was just a really cool story that I wasn't expecting.

Steven R. Stahl said...

MARVEL DIVAS #2 was terrible, unfortunately, mainly because writer Aguirre-Sacasa decided to make breast cancer central to the story without knowing much about breast cancer. Jones has a lump, and has supposedly been told she has breast cancer, stage two, but the lump could be a number of things. An oncologist wouldn’t have Jones get X-rays -- the term should have been “mammogram” -- because mammograms are screening tools. She would have an MRI, followed by a biopsy, cellular analysis, and, if the lump was cancerous, further tests, staging, and recommendations for treatment. That’s not like the story, in which Jones gets a diagnosis without tests (Stage II is worse than a pea-sized lump), then asks for a second opinion on a breast lump.

If Jones’s use of her power without shielding threatened to make her infertile, then the physical threat was localized to her reproductive organs. Supposing that her power caused breast cancer doesn’t make sense.

Strange shouldn’t have used magic to detect cancer if magic couldn’t treat it; the two subjects are related. If a writer wanted to use magic, he could have supposed that magic would boost the effectiveness of alternative therapies or supposed the existence of a healing spring. Having Walker consider giving up her soul to save Jones before they even know how treatable the cancer is makes the situation upside down.

Aguirre-Sacasa might have remembered the monkey’s paw from high school English classes, but bringing it into the Marvel Universe doesn’t make sense because the paw isn’t innately powerful. The power comes from someone.

So, in terms of plot, the miniseries has a fatal plot flaw. Aguirre-Sacasa might be able to write “slice of life” stories that don’t upset people, but he doesn’t seem to know enough about superhero fiction to construct a working plot. When Marvel Editorial decided that DIVAS needed a plot, they should have gotten a different writer.


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