Thursday, September 3, 2009

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 09/02/09

You may not have noticed amidst the shocking news of and outrageous reactions to Disney’s purchase of Marvel, but the industry did not come to a total standstill this week. While everyone was panicking about the Punisher teaming up with Miley Cyrus and Pluto joining the Pet Avengers, a slew of great books hit comic book shops this week. So, Mouseketeers and Marvelites and everyone in between, lets take a break from the speculation and check on new issues of Mice Templar: Destiny, Ultimate Comics; Spider-Man, The Boys, and more in the week’s Comic Book Review Power Rankings!

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

07. BATMAN #690
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter, Jack Purcell, and Pete Pantazis
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Tony Daniel
preRanking: 06

• This week’s Batman picks up where last issue left off with Batman facing off against Clayface and a super-powered mercenary as Two-Face, Black Mask, and Penguin all push their individual agendas in an attempt to become king of the Gotham underworld.
• The focus of the issue is mainly on the action sequence, which is dragged down by longwinded monologues by Batman that did more to make Dick seem incapable of handling the mantle than anything else.
• The issue’s other big movement follows Two-Face using an object-based teleporter to send him into the Batcave by following the “point of origin” for a batarang. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, it is just as ridiculous as it sounds. Even under comic book logic that is a silly idea and a lazy plot device.
• I’m really not sure where Judd Winick is going with the Two-Face as Batman (as seen in the Battle for the Cowl promo earlier this year), but I’m not tremendously impressed. It really seems forced given the direction of the story prior to this.
• While I’m still not digging Mark Bagley’s art on this series, this issue did have a lot more energy and consistency than his previous efforts. However, he is still having problems with panel progression during action sequences, giving the “choreography” a very jerky feel.
• Also, when characters are shown in-full standing up, his anatomy is pretty horrid with strange leg-to-torso-to-head ratios. This especially bad when Two-Face is meeting with his cronies.

Verdict: Permission to Avoid. This issue simply continues the downward spiral for Judd Winick and Mark Bagley’s run on this title. I’m beginning to think that I made the wrong decision in dropping Detective Comics last week when I could have let this title go. However, as such a long time reader of the title, its hard to let go no matter how bad it is. Tony Daniel’s run as writer and artist on this book simply cannot come soon enough.

Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Fernando Dagnino, Raul Fernandez, Blond
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Renato Guedes
preRanking: 04

• Spinning out of various events from the Supergirl series and the other Superman family of titles, this week’s Supergirl annual features two stories by Sterling Gates and Fernando Dagnino.
• The first story was an interesting exploration on the dilemma Kara faces with her sense of duty to protect the humans and her role as Kryptonian as she stops a robbery as Linda Lang which forces a mother-and-son duo of Kryptonians to come out of hiding.
• The character work here is strong though much of the story is filler as the only new concept here is the idea of hidden Kryptonian “immigrants.”
• The backup story followed the origin of Lucy Lane and her rise as Superwoman. It does a good job of establish her identity and motives, but the delivery (mostly thought boxes) is incredibly heavy-handed.
• Fernando Dagnino handles the art chores on both stories and does a decent job of it. His style is similar to regular series artist Jamal Igle, but with considerably less polish.
• My biggest problem with the art is that Supergirl as Linda Lang doesn’t look like she could ever be the same person as Supergirl in costume. I understand you have to draw them somewhat differently, but Dagnino over does it with his designs.
• I also thought that there were a lot similarities in how he drew Supergirl and Lucy Lane. If this is intentional, it’s an interesting move given the subject matter. If not, I’m not tremendously impressed. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt though.

Verdict: Mildly Recommended. The first story is mostly fluff and the second story is far too heavy-handed for my tastes. The two make for an interesting comic that is helped by a solid effort from the art team, but it is by no means an essential read as the issues most interesting concepts are likely to be explored with more depth and precision in the regular issues of the series.

05. THE BOYS #34
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra, Hector Ezquerra, and Tony Avina
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Darick Robertson
preRanking: 05

• After being so disgusted by the sloppiness craft of the spin-off miniseries Boys: Herogasm, I came into this issue with a lot of pent-up negativity. In addition to this, the quality of the series has been slipping as of late, so this really was a make-it-or-break-it issue for me. I’m glad to say that this issue is just the kick in the pants the book needed.
• As the Boys ambush the super-Nazi Stormfront, things devolve rather quickly into one of the most brutal beat-downs this book has ever seen. We’ve seen some insane stuff on this title, but Garth Ennis really pushes the envelope with the battle between Stormfront and the combined forces of the Boys and special guest Love Sausage.
• Spinning out of this, I found it really interesting that Wee Hughie begins to see the team as going too far in their attack—a surprising move for Ennis, who rarely uses a point-of-view character to lead the reader into thinking that the events of his books are being excessive.
• I also really dug the brief moment when Mother’s Milk asks Butcher if they should tell Hughie what they really are—the first major ounce of mystery the series has seen in sometime. It’s almost as if Ennis knew that I was personally finding the shtick of the series growing stale and needed something to suck me back in.
• Carlos and Hector Ezquerra fill-in for Darick Robertson on this issue and, unsurprisingly, fail to live up to Robertson’s standards. I will say, however, that their work is a breath of fresh air compared to the abysmal artwork by John McCrea in the aforementioned Herogasm spin-off.
• A big part of the problem is that Ezquerra’s inconsitent designs caused Butcher and Stormfront o actually look a like during their battle—something that simply isn’t acceptable in an issue like this.
• The real culprit, though, was the extremely poor expressions. Throughout the issue, almost no clear expressions are discernable through the art alone, making it really hard for the issue to carry a consistent tone.
• On a lighter note, I really dig the cover, which is an homage to All-Star Superman #1. Robertson does a good job of taking his own spin on Frank Quitely’s original cover, making it delightfully twisted.

Verdict: Mildly Recommended. In terms of writing and story, this is one of the best issues in some time for this struggling series. Unfortunately, the art simply does not live up the standards that Darick Robertson set for The Boys and the issue as a whole suffers for it.

Lead Written by Cullen Bunn
Lead Art by Dan Brereton, Tom Palmer, Stefano Gaudiano, Mark Pennington, and Paul Mounts
Backup Written by Duane Swierczynski
Backup Art by Travel Foreman, Stefano Gaudiano, and June Chung
Letters by Nate Piekos
Cover by David Aja
preRanking: 07

• The second done-in-one Immortal Weapons story focuses on the Bride of Nine Spiders, perhaps the least explored of the Immortal Weapons, which essentially gave Cullen Bunn a clean slate to take her story in any direction he saw fit.
• I was rather surprised, but pleased with Bunn’s decision to forgo a conventional origin story in favor of a straight-up horror tale that touches upon the history of the bride. Given that the recent history of the Iron Fist franchise has already covered chop-socky kung-fu, street crime, pulp adventure, samurai pirate, and mystical martial arts stories, it was fun to see Bunn add one more genre to the mix.
• The choice not to flesh out her origins allowed Bunn to focus on telling an actual interesting story rather than a droll history, unlike the previous issue’s Fat Cobra origin.
• In keeping with the conventions of the horror genre, there is little character work to speak of, but the end result does reinforce the Bride’s mysterious and utterly brutal nature. In that sense, I consider it a win.
Dan Brereton’s art is a good fit for the conventions of horror storytelling, thanks mostly to his great pacing and strong expressions. Unfortunately, the overall quality of the issue is plagued by multiple inkers working in multiple styles, giving the book an uneven look.
• The brief backup story continues Iron Fist’s “adventure” from last issue and does so in a relatively uninteresting manner. Given the strength of the lead story and the stiffness of the backup’s writing in contrast, I simply couldn’t get into this one and honestly wished it wouldn’t have been included (which would probably have dropped the price down to $2.99, making it a win-win for everyone).

Verdict: Strongly Recommended. I’ve always found that horror is a difficult genre for comic books to tackle due to its limited delivery. In this issue, however, the one-two punch combination of Cullen Bunn’s strong script and Ban Brereton’s atmospheric art does a great job of working the genre into the larger Iron Fist mythos. The end result is an enjoyable look at the mysterious Bride of Nine Spiders that certainly justifies purchase, but is held back from being a must read issue due to the weakness of the back up story.

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Letters Uncredited
Cover by Sean Phillips
preRanking: 03

• As a preface to my review on this issue, I do have to point out that, while I have been very hard on this series issue-by-issue, I did reread the full run previous to this issue recently and, I must say, it is a great read when taken as a whole.
• That being said, Ed Brubaker pulls the entire series together extremely well. He covers all of the outstanding plot points and throws out a few new unexpected twists that made this issue all the more compelling.
• As Zack finds out the truth behind his lineage and finds himself work to stop the ultimate plan to free the Black Death from prison, Brubaker puts together his pulpiest issue yet with wildly over-the-top characters and an awesome sense of high-concept, thrill-a-minute action and adventure.
• This issue did feature the best character writing in the entire series, especially with the development of Overkill’s personality finally coming full circle as evident in his interactions with the other characters.
• I would love to have seen a bit more development in interaction between Zoe Zeppelin and Overkill, as it heads into some interesting directions, despite never being fully developed before this issue. They have fun chemistry, but needed a bit more set up.
• The only real drawback for the issue is the art by Sean Phillips. Some of his pages have a decidedly more cartoonish look to them, while others are firmly planted in a sense of realism.
• Also, there is absolutely no reason for him to draw Eva Destruction’s waist and hips the way he does. It is unnatural and distracting.
• One the pages and panels where Phillips is on top of his game, however, it is some of his best work in recent years.
• I think that a load of credit is due to Val Staples for his coloring though. His rich choices add a ton of depth to the work and really control the mood and tone of the art. He really does deserve major billing on this series alongside Brubaker and Philips.

Verdict: Must Read. Incognito wraps up in style with this excellent final issue that features some of the best writing Ed Brubaker has produced this year. This great character work and pulpy plot are accented well by the colors by Val Staples and could have easily earned the book top honors this week if Sean Phillips was just a bit more consistent in his output.

Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos and Veronica Gandini
Letters by James H. Glass
Covers by Michael Avon Oeming and Victor Santos with Veronica Gandini
preRanking: 01

• The monthly-shipping second volume of Mice Templar produces yet another incredibly ambitious issue this week as writer Bryan J.L. Glass focuses on Cassius and Karic working their way through the Bright Realm as Leito rallies his fellow mice for a daring escape attempt from the dungeons of the corrupt king.
• There is a ridiculous amount of story in this issue and Glasses uses extremely thick dialogue to push the story through at a rather quick pace. You’ll be amazed at exactly how much he can pack into the confines of one issue.
• In a single read, the brisk pace does betray the density of the issue, though, as it is easy to get lost in the plethora of concepts that Glass is introducing here.
• That being said, once you can get a swing of the issue’s pacing and dialogue, there is some great character work here. I was especially impressed with Glass’s handling of Leito, who is fleshed out more here than he has been since the first issue of the series.
• I also absolutely love the lush mythology being built here and the deftness by which Glass introduces it. He could easily force it upon the reader with little explanation, but instead uses Cassius’s instruction in the ways of the Templar to Karic to introduce these concepts.
• Unfortunately, this is artist Victor Santos’s weakest effort thus far. Some pages look extremely rushed, with unfinished-looking backgrounds, panels with less details, etc.
• Additionally, a lot of the “filler mice” looked extremely alike and were devoid of discernable design elements, which is a bit off putting.
• The saving grace of the art, though, was the brilliant colors by Veronica Gandini. The way she played with light in the Bright Realm scenes and the moody colors she used during the dungeon scenes were all nothing short of spectacular.

Verdict: Must Read. With yet another amazing issue, Mice Templar: Destiny continues to take everything that worked about the original miniseries—well-conceived world, fantastic characters, lush mythology, etc—and builds upon. It isn’t very often that you can say a comic has too many great ideas, but that is one problem this issue risks having. Were Victor Santos on his game here, this would have been the hands down winner for Book of the Week, but believe me, there is no shame in taking second for this amazing issue.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David Lefuente and Justin Ponsor
preRanking: 02

• I should preface this by reiterating that the last issue of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man was my first foray into the world of Ultimate Spider-Man, as it seems that longtime readers of the series have differing opinions on the merits of this issue than me. I believe it’s a matter of perspective.
• In much the same way that last issue was about establishing the world that Spider-Man lives in post-Ultimatum, this issue is about establishing the supporting cast and their new status quo.
• As such, Brian Michael Bendis’s superb character writing is front and center with this issue. Every character’s appearance, from Human Torch’s one page of dialogue to the longer scenes with Kitty Pryde and Gwen Stacy, is filled with personality and strong interaction.
• On the subject of Kitty, I really like this version of her. It’s interesting to see her as an outcast, filling in the role that has classically been Peter Parker’s. I also really dig that David Lafuente clearly drew her based on Ellen Page, but with a cartoony twist.
• Given that they were a cornerstone of the old Ultimate Universe, I found it interesting how the disappearance of the Fantastic Four was discussed fairly casually. However, that did allow Bendis to slide it into the dialogue naturally. That’s efficient writing.
• The new villains, the Bombshells, were a lot of fun and the foul-mouthed daughter was a nice foil for Spider-Man. I wasn’t quite as thrilled with the overly dramatic monologue by Mysterio, but I can handle one semi-lame villain if I also get two cool ones.
David Lafuente’s art was a top-notch. There wasn’t another issue that week that could match his energy or his expressions, all of which were executed with incredible consistency.
• I really enjoy the clear Japanese influence on the art, as it gives the style a very youthful look and allows for Lafuente to use some really great character designs. Plus, as long as we are talking about designs, Spider-Man’s head isn’t nearly as round as it was last issue—definitely a good thing.

Verdict: Must Read. The only real problem that I had with Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #2 is the cover, which I think speaks volumes about the level of quality of this issue. Of course, considering it beat out this week’s amazing issues of Mice Templar: Destiny and Incognito to be Book of the Week, you know it has to be one heck of an issue. As good as the first issue was, this issue really won me over and now has me clamoring for the next issue.

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Flip The Page said...

-Brian Michael Bendis
-superb character writing

Okay I'll admit I haven't looked that far past his Avengers titles and the first issue of this has made me see he's competent, but all too often all I see from the man is 'Bendis voice' where all characters are the same

Fenris said...

Always hated those lazy homage covers. Swiping another artist's composition rubs me the wrong way.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Fenris, I thought it was actually a pretty clever cover homage.

Bryan J.L. said...

As a creator, I cannot convey adequately enough what an honor and privilege it has been to have my work acknowledged and ranked as favorably as has been done thus far.

Reviewers perhaps do not fully understand how there reviews can challenge and inspire the creators whose work they critique. As I have read every review by Ryan of my series MICE TEMPLAR, he has encouraged and inspired my entire team to produce the best work we can!

Ryan Schrodt said...

@Matt - I'm with you there. It's interesting to see something as "positive" as Superman being "homaged" with something as horrifying as a Super-Nazi. Although, I think it would have been more interesting to see Action #1 twisted--certainly would've been a more recognizable image.

@Bryan - Thank you so much for the kind words! It has been my pleasure to see Mice Templar grow and evolve over the last few years. You, Mike, and the crew definitely have something to be proud of!

Fenris said...

I don't think it's "clever" or "interesting" to picture Superman as evil, it's been done to death (but I guess that's fashionable in these Black Lantern times). And the world needs another Action Comics #1 homage like it needs a third Bush term.

david Miller said...

Thanks, as always for the reviews Ryan! Here's my list for the week:

4. Muppets: Treasure of Pegleg Wilson #2 - After 5 near perfect Muppets comics Roger L finally pulls a misstep. This episode just isn't as funny and is pulled down rather than lifted up by having an ongoing storyline. Strangely enough, it's the song and dance numbers (a rarity in comics) that are the best part. The art is, as always, top notch. I assume the series will pick up again next issue

3. Doctor Who #3 - I loved last issue. This issue is good, but not of the same caliber. The art isn't quite as interesting and the story, which involves a trial for the Doctor, doesn't have the same punch. At least they get the trial part over pretty quick (as the last time the Doctor was on trial went nowhere near so quick) and the set-up for the next issue is fantastic. I think when read as part of a four part story this issue will read better. On it's own, it's solid, filled with entertaining fan service (especially for us fans of Dr. Who audio drama) but not as stellar as the first two issues.

2. Wednesday Comics #9 - OK, this issue kicked into high gear! The Flash episode steals the leading feature crown from the always great Kamandi by being just painfully awesome. Paul Pope's Strange Adventures stays on its own course of comic book perfection. A lot of the other features benefit from the coming close of the series and take their stories into the climactic stages. Superman is much improved this issue as well and benefits from including actual, you know, Action!

1. Strange Tales #1 - Damn but I loved that issue! Easily the best book of the week. Seeing Johnny Ryan in an official Marvel book after the stuff he did in Comic Book Apocalypse is alone worth the price of admission. His juvenile Punisher story is just about the best thing ever. Paul Pope slays it on the Inhumans, Dr. Strange is awesome and Peter Bagge was born to write and draw the Hulk. The Hulk Squad was the only minor misfire, but dagnab it who cares if everything else is as good as it is. Everyone should buy this!

Daringd said...

3. Wednesday Comics #9: Various/Various DC $3.99
While an interesting issue it just doesn’t hold up to this small/strong of a week. The Flash issue stole the show…I mean just wow. The rest were solid besides the Wonder Woman story and The Superman one. Only 3 issues left of this and I hope we can get more after this series ends.

2. Incognito #6: Brubaker/Phillips Icon $3.99
Quite a strong ending, the only problem was I couldn’t remember what happened last issue. How ever after pulling at issue 5 and giving a it a quick flip I was read. I really enjoyed the issue, however I feel it will read much better if read in sequence. Which I plan to do soon, overall solid stuff.

1. Chew #4: Layman/Gilroy Image $2.99
I haven’t written a lot about any of the book this week partly cause I’m dying to tear into Arkham Asylum again but. I will say quite a bit about Chew. This series is a revelation. For a series to come out of the gate and be this damn good is shocking. Last issue was book of the week for me hell if I hadn’t had to by the reprints of 1-2 those probably would have been book of the week too. I think this might be the best issue yet, it really shows how strong the book is. If you aren’t picking this title up pick up the trade that hit stores this November. Its 10 bucks people. Gilroy also owns on art, great stuff.

Back to Arkham Asylum now!

Daringd said...

Edit it's GUILLORY not Gilroy

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