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.
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
• 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.
06. SUPERGIRL ANNUAL #1
Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Fernando Dagnino, Raul Fernandez, Blond
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Renato Guedes
• 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
• 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.
04. IMMORTAL WEAPONS #2
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
• 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.
03. INCOGNITO #6
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Cover by Sean Phillips
• 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.
02. MICE TEMPLAR: DESTINY #3
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
• 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.
01. ULTIMATE COMICS: SPIDER-MAN #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David Lefuente and Justin Ponsor
• 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.