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.
Finally, as a reminder, I will be at the Windy City Comic Convention in Chicago on Saturday. If any of y’all plan to attend, let me know. I’ve met readers of my reviews in the past and it is always a cool experience. If you are going to be in the Chicago-land area this weekend, I do recommend checking the convention out as it has one of the strongest lineups and programming I’ve ever seen from a convention of its side. You can get more info at their site http://www.windycitycomicon.com/.
10. BATMAN AND ROBIN #4
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Phillip Tan, Jonathan Glapion, and Pete Pantazis
Letters by Pat Brousseau
Cover by Frank Quitely
• Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin begins its second story arc on a very strange note as the tone and approach of the series shifts as the New Dynamic Duo find themselves face-to-face with the Red Hood and his sidekick Scarlet.
• Morrison really tones down his “eclectic” approach to writing in this issue, relying on relatively straightforward storytelling and abandoning his “high concept” (i.e. nonsense) dialogue. While this could potentially be a good thing, the problem is that what we do see here is rambling and surprisingly bland.
• There is almost no personality in this issue, with only Jason Todd having a distinctively unique voice and Morrison’s take on the character doesn’t really work for me. He’s written as an unfocused nearly-imbecilic character with an uneven speaking style. The best analogy I can think of is that he is being written like a stoned teenager that listens to too much of The Doors and thinks he has become a poet, occasionally slipping up into a child-like demeanor (like, totally uncool and junk).
• I do, however, really like the idea of Jason Todd resuming his Red Hood personality and becoming both Batman’s newest nemesis and his #1 competition in crime fighting. It’s a logical step for the character, especially with Dick being the new Batman.
• What isn’t a logical progression is the meeting of no-named villains (and the Penguin) coming together to introduce a shadowy new super-duper villain (El Penitente) and his hired gun (Flamingo-who first appeared in the incredibly horrible Batman #666 written by Morrison).
• The problem with this isn’t that Morrisno is introducing and revamping villains, its that he immediately introduces them as the greatest threat there is. This approach certainly did not work with The Black Glove storyline and it isn’t working here. It’s like bad fan fiction.
• As excited as I was to trade Frank “Bulgy-Bodies” Quitely for Phillip Tan in theory, the execution was way too uneven. Tan shows flashes of brilliance with extreme control at certain times in this issue, but the vast majority of the issue is weak kung-fu.
• A lot of the characters have super deformed faces (or in the case of Commissioner Gordon, deformed bodies); this is most prevalent during the rooftop party scene.
• Of course, a major problem doesn’t actually lie with Tan, but rather with the inks by Jonathan Glapion being much, much to heavy. There are a ton of lost details and muddy looking pages that can be attributed to the extreme blackness of the issue.
Verdict: Permission to Avoid. This is, by far, the weakest issue of this fledgling series. Philip Tan’s disappointing performance on the art and Morrison slipping back into horrible habits, combined with dull characterization leaves very little to like about this issue. This is the epitome of what I like to call a “Burrito Book”—a book so lacking merit that you should skip it entirely and use the money you saved to buy yourself a burrito, which you will most definitely enjoy more.
09. MIGHTY AVENGERS #29
Written by Christos Gage and Dan Slott
Art by Khoi Pham, Allen Martinez, and John Rauch
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Cover by Marko Djurdjevic
• After several issues of waiting, the Mighty Avengers finally catch on to Loki’s scheming impersonation of the Scarlet Witch in this issue, which finds the Young Avengers and Ronin teaming up to take on Loki as the Unspoken reveals his super weapon (the “Slave Engine” in China).
• This is a majorly disjointed issue. The plot jumps quickly from scene to scene with almost no transitions.
• A large number of story beats don’t really make that much sense and seem forced to push the story forward, including Ronin kissing Loki to determine she isn’t the Scarlet Witch, Cho nonchalantly chatting with Stature during the attack, and pretty much the entire scene with Hank Pym and Jocasta.
• Things aren’t helped by Christos Gage writing a large chunk of the characters without discernable personalities and loads of disposable dialogue. Only Stature comes out with much of a personality and she doesn’t even have that many lines.
• There is potential in the Loki scenes, but the majority of the issue is taken up by US Agent, Quicksilver, and Marvel’s version of DC’s Great Ten taking on the Unspoken, which is considerably less interesting.
• This is an unusually weak outing for artist Khoi Pham. His details are inconsistent and his expressions aren’t very clear. The vast majority of the issue looks really rushed, with some of the wider-angled panels looking almost unfinished.
Verdict: Read with Caution. There are a lot of the hang-ups with the execution of this issue, but it does features some of the most important developments in the “return” of the Scarlet Witch, which could potentially have ramifications for all of the Marvel Universe. The issue also features a really strong cliffhanger that implies that taking on Loki and the Unspoken could mean a team-up of ALL Avengers teams, so it is worth checking this one out to get on the ground floor of these events. Otherwise, this one can definitely be avoided.
08. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #605
Written by Fred Van Lente and Brian Reed
Art by Javier Pulido, Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, Yanick Paquette, Mark Farmer, Javier Rodriguez, Rob Schwager, and Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Mike Mayhew
• Spinning out of last week’s conclusion to the Red-Headed Stranger arc, this issue focuses on the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker’s love life through three stories, a look at why Mary Jane is back in New York, the return of Raptor and his hunt for Ben Reilly, and Harry’s attempts to hook Peter up with a date through an internet dating service.
• This issue is pure fluff through-and-through. There are some important developments with Mary Jane, including a look at why she and Peter broke up, but the majority of the issue is simply filling in minor story gaps or setting up potential new stories (such as the return of Black Cat next issue, which is hinted at here).
• Interestingly enough, the most impressive story is actually the least important. The third story, written by Brian Reed, features some of the strongest characterization for Harry and Peter that we’ve seen in some time as well as one of the funniest and yet most heartbreaking stories of Peter’s poor luck that I’ve read in a long, long time.
• The quality of the art matches the quality of the writing, with the first two stories falling flat in comparison to the third.
• Javier Pulido’s work in the first story is the most inconsistent art outing of the week and looks a lot like a botched attempt at aping Mike Allred. The second story features work by Luke Ross that is neither offensive nor remarkable, with the most memorable part of the art being that Mary Jane is drawn to look inexplicably Asian. I’m not sure what was up with that, but it was pretty distracting.
• The third story featured the strongest art. Yanick Paquette works his usual magic on the expressions, accepted with very open designs and extremely clean line work.
Verdict: Read with Caution. There is a lot of story in this issue and normally I have no problem ponying up $3.99 for an expanded page count, but too much of the issue was fluff. It is interesting to see exactly why Peter and MJ broke up and the last story was forgettable fun, but the vast majority of this issue is “Avoid It” worthy and the strength of these better moments can only carry the issue so far.
07. DARK WOLVERINE #78
Written by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Way
Art by Stephen Segovia and Marte Gracia
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Greg Land and Morry Hollowell
• This week’s Dark Wolverine finds the titular character faced with a PR crisis as an internet video surfaces of him doing all sorts of nastiness, which forces Norman Osborn to do even nastier things to improve Daken’s image.
• The plot of this issue is incredibly loose, with the public image problem never being full realized as the story pushes along, leaving a lot of gaps in the narrative.
• The trademark cerebral-focused storytelling is still prominent as Marjorie Liu and Daniel Way continue to deconstruct the characters through their incredibly dark, but interesting actions. So, even if the plot doesn’t gel, the character work is interesting.
• Unfortunately, the character writing can only go so far, especially when it isn’t 100% clear exactly what the characters are doing. I found it very hard to pay attention to everything by the end of the issue because the plotting was haphazard at times.
• Stephen Seogiva’s art work is moody and atmospheric, capturing the tone of the script well.
• Segovia’s take on Daken is especially impressive. I like how grand and stoic he is; its hard to get a read on him. At times he looks animalistic while at other times, regal. Segovia’s art perfectly syncs up with the writing team’s characterization in that regard.
• There are several places, particularly in the rigged convict escape scene where the script seems to rely solely on the art to tell the story. Unfortunately, some of the minor storytelling gaps left out of the script aren’t conveyed any better in the art, further reinforcing the disjointed feel of the issue.
Verdict: Check It. This is a fun read, even with the plot holes. While this issue is a step down from those previous, it does set up a lot of great beats to be picked up next time. Plus, it features one of my favorite scenes in the week in which Daken causes a girl to run in front of a moving bus, only then to help an elderly bystander. That alone is worth checking out.
06. X-MEN: LEGACY ANNUAL #1
Written by Mike Carey
Lead Art by Daniel Acuna
Backup Art by Mirco Pierfederici
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Daniel Acuna
• This week’s X-Men: Legacy Annual marks the kick-off of the title’s new focus through two stories; the first introduces Rogue’s new role while the team is attacked by Emplate, while the second story follows Gambit destroying Norman Osborn’s anti-mutant machine from the recent Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men crossover.
• Mike Carey’s writing in both stories is pretty average. The personalities of the characters are clear and the stories move in a straightforward manner. The only major problem with the writing is that there is a lot of exposition explaining the issue’s conflicts and problems. It helps introduce Emplate to unaware readers (like myself), but gets to be a bit excessive.
• Emplate isn’t the most interesting villain since we’ve already been dealing with mutant haters a lot lately, so a mutant eater isn’t too fresh, but the idea of him “starving” due to the lack of mutants is a cool twist on him as a threat.
• Since Rogue is going to be front-and-center to this series, it would’ve been nice to see more of here, especially since both Carey and artist Daniel Acuna do a good job with her here.
• Daniel Acuna and Mirco Pierfederici’s styles compliment one another well, so I have to hand it to the X-franchise editors for pairing them on this issue.
• Acuna’s work is the most memorable aspect of this issue. His style is as bold as ever and, as per usual, is a war of extremes in terms of quality and storytelling. His thick lines and rigid character outlines don’t always mesh with the faces and body details, which is a bit distracting.
• I will say that I really dig his redesign of Rogue, though. He brings a lot of personality to her and freshens up her look considerably. While I’m not 100% sold on him being the new ongoing artist for the series, at least I know she’ll look good.
Verdict: Check it. Mike Carey and the artists do a serviceable job on this issue which effectively begins to set up the new direction for the series. As a huge fan of Rogue, I’m glad to see how well she is portrayed here, though I have my doubts about some of the other aspects of the series that are presented here—most notably the choice of villain and Daniel Acuna’s ability to carry the book as the regular artist. However, the good does outweigh the bad here, making it worth a look.
05. BATGIRL #2
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Lee Garbett, Trevor Scott, Sandra Hope, and Guy Major
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Phil Noto
• Coming off of a stellar first issue, Batgirl returns this week, picking up with Barbara Gordon’s confrontation over Stephanie Brown’s choice to become the new Batgirl and the unlikely alliance they begin to develop when Stephanie refuses to give up the cowl.
• Bryan Q. Miller’s superb character work is the key to this issue’s success. He has an amazing take on Babs and Stephanie, both as individuals and in their interactions with one another.
• What really impressed me is how well-rounded he presents them in the argument over Stephanie becoming Batgirl. Barbara’s stance is a nice mix of jealousy, authority, and genuine concern while Stephanie is a balance of recklessness, stubborn pride, and a natural compulsion to be a hero. Neither character is presented as being in the right or in the wrong, which is a testament to Miller’s effectiveness.
• It’s great to see Miller do some world building here, particularly with the seeds he is planting for the series to have a supporting cast for Stephanie and for Batgirl.
• The plot does jump around a bit at times with some weak transitions, leaving occasional holes in the plot. This is most evident in how things progress at the harvest festival/college party and in Babs’s reluctant acceptance of Stephanie towards the end of the issue.
• I’m not terribly familiar with the work of Lee Garbett or Trevor Scott, but I am impressed with how well their work blended together. There are no clear shifts in the artwork so unless Scott was only doing backgrounds or something, kudos to them for coming together so well.
• The art is extremely expressive, but there were some consistency issues in regards to panel progression, perspective, and depth. It’s not a major issue on a quick-read, but if you take it slow, its extremely distracting.
• I was really impressed with one panel in particular in this issue. When all hell breaks loose at the party, there is a great 3/4-page panel of Stephanie pulling her Batgirl costume from her bag that is really well done. It’s a nice iconic shot that really stood out to me.
Verdict: Buy It. While there are some occasional missteps for both the writing and the art, Batgirl continues to be an impressive series in its second issue. Miller is doing a good job of building some credibility and depth for Stephanie, which is something she drastically needs and will be the lynchpin to the success of this series long term. However, as it stands now, the future looks bright for this series.
04. GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY #24
Written by Andrew Kreisberg
Art by Mike Norton, Joe Rubenstein, Bill Sienkiewicz, and David Baron
Letters by Pat Brousseau
Cover by Ladronn
• The lead role in the title passes on to Black Canary this week as Andrew Kreisberg’s fluid approach to the co-feature initiative allows him to put the prominent focus on Black Canary’s unlikely team-up with Cupid in the lead story, with the back-up “kinda” focusing on Green Arrow but mostly focusing on the return of a major supporting character for the book.
• Kreisberg does a great job with Black Canary and Cupid’s “alliance” in this issue, playing the two off of one another well, though I felt that he went a bit overboard with Cupid’s manic personality at times. There were a few moments where you’d swear she was Harley Quinn in a red wig.
• There is a weird filler scene at the beginning of the issue between two lesbians on a first date that leads into the Canary and Cupid chasing down Big Game. I’m not really sure what the point of this scene was, unless the duo stealing the women’s car is meant to signify some sort of unexpected twist in Cupid’s obsession with Green Arrow. No matter what, this scene felt really forced.
• The return of Mia a.k.a. Speedy worked out really well. I dig how Kreisberg builds to a shock moment with Speedy’s return, but then uses the co-feature story to explain why she comes back and to then setup the next movement in the story.
• I’m really glad that Kreisberg is getting the opportunity to use the co-feature initiative as an expanded page count for more experimental storytelling rather than DC forcing an unrelated character into the back of the book.
• I am a bit confused on how Speedy was able to tie-up Big Game so quickly, though, with the strangeness of that undercutting the surprise of her return a bit.
• Mike Norton’s strong layouts continue to be finished well by Bill Sienkiewicz and Joe Rubenstein, especially with the tight inks and clearer storytelling from Rubenstein in the lead story.
• The Sienkiewicz work looks good, but he is a bit more manic than usual. Occasionally—and most notably in the opening pages of the second story—the sketchiness of his line work gets a bit too chaotic and begins to look sloppy, especially around characters’ faces.
Verdict: Buy It. This is another fine example of why this is one of the best books DC is currently putting out, as Kreisberg’s inventive approaches to the co-feature and the strong work by the art team are incredibly impressive. The plot holes and uneven work from Sienkiewicz hold it back slightly. As a fan of Mia, her return was a highlight of the week for me and it really helped propel this issue into a strong showing this week.
03. BLACKEST NIGHT #3
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, Joe Prado, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Nick J. Napolitano
Cover by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, and Alex Sinclair
• I’ve been fairly open about the premise of Blackest Night wearing thin as the over abundance of Black Lanterns is desensitizing readers to the significance of former hero, villains, and loved ones coming back from the dead to rip out the hearts of those closest to them. Thankfully, just when the series needed it most, this week’s issue kicks things into high gear by ratcheting up the intensity and introducing key elements in pushing the plot forward.
• This is easily the most intense issue of the miniseries thus far, thanks mostly to Geoff Johns focusing his storytelling on just two major plot threads—the attack on Flash, Green Lantern, and the Atom by the Black Lantern Justice League and face off between Firestorm and the Black Lantern original Firestorm.
• In the first plot, we finally get to meet the Indigo Tribe who arrive to dispatch of some Black Lanterns and to reveal that its not the dead wearing Black Lantern rings, but rather the Black Lantern rings wearing the dead. They also allude to the combining of the various ring lights, specifically under Hal Jordan, can bet he key to stopping the invasion.
• It’s great to see the Indigo Tribe introduced, but their wooden personalities and status as an all-powerful helper is just a bit too convenient. I’m hoping there is a major twist with them in the future of this story.
• The interaction between Barry and Hal worked really well for me. I enjoy seeing the two having to own up to their own neuroses in this. It helps round out the characters and develop the close bond the two have.
• I was really blown away by Ivan Reis’s art here. He really rocks it with his supremely macabre work here that effectively mixes horror and superhero storytelling conventions into one massively disturbing issue.
• Of course, specifically, his strong expressions, great sense of atmosphere, and careful pacing are the reasons behind the effectiveness in his art. This is one of his best ever issues in terms of craftsmanship.
• As a longtime Firestorm fan, I’m really torn about how things played out in his scenes for a number of reasons.
• First of all, it’s really, really well done. Johns shows a strong understanding of the characters and their relationships. He gets the differences in how the old and new Firestorms think, act, relate to Martin Stein, etc. He even nails the relationship between new Firestorm and his girlfriend Gehenna. As someone totally bummed by the cancellation of that series, this was a welcome breath of fresh air and a major reason why the shocking death of Gehenna was so incredibly heart wrenching. Johns builds up the characters and then tears them down in the most horrifying way possible—having old Firestorm absorb new Firestorm into the Firestorm Matrix so that he must unwillingly participate in the murder of his girlfriend. It’s masterful storytelling. I hate the choice that was made, but I can’t help but relish in how it plays out.
• There are two major problems with this. For one, its purely a shock-ending death. It serves little purpose other than to show how horrifying the Black Lantern threat is and to shock readers. There is no greater consequence and its only done because Gehenna is a character that DC Editorial clearly has no use for at this time. She can be added to the long list of character deaths in this story that become meaningless and only happen because DC isn’t doing anything else with the character at this moment (just like Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Tempest in this story and on a related note Martian Manhunter in Final Crisis). This is getting old.
• Even more problematic is the fact that the death really is meaningless because Gehenna is such a niche character. Unless you were one of the very few people who were reading the last 15-20 issues of Firestorm, you aren’t going to care. It becomes of a distraction that a story point to the average reader, but to the faithful fans of the character, its more of a punishment for having cared in the first place. It’s stuff like this that causes readers to become jaded about character deaths.
Verdict: Must Read. Aside from the all-powerful nature of the Indigo Tribe and the principle behind Gehenna’s death, this is a ridiculously well-put together comic. Johns does some of his best writing of 2009 and Ivan Reis’s artwork is amongst the best work of his career. Under normal circumstances, a comic that hinges on a cheap shock death like this would be condemned on the Rankings, but Johns does such a great job writing the characters and their raw emotions that even I can’t fault him and I am probably the single biggest fan of this version of Firestorm on the internet.
02. BATMAN: STREETS OF GOTHAM #4
Lead Written by Paul Dini
Lead Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, and John Kalisz
Lead Letters by Steve Wands
Co-Feature Written by Marc Andreyko
Co-Feature Art by Jeremy Haun and Nick Filardi
Co-Feature Letters by Sal Cipriano
• Have you ever wondered how, exactly, all these villains end up with their perfectly customized villain hideouts? Clearly someone has to be selling them these, right? Well, this week’s issue of Batman: Streets of Gotham answers that question in its lead story, while Manhunter declares war on Two-Face in the co-feature.
• Paul Dini’s brilliant real estate agent for super villains, the Broker, is an ingenious character that he does a great job of developing and deconstructing in this issue. Dini writes him with surprising depth, balancing a nice amount of camp, ruthlessness, and unexpected humanity that makes his story incredibly compelling.
• In a similar fashion, Dini’s update to Zsasz is a great mix of the character’s classic personality with a much darker, more sinister vision that seems to be natural development for the character given his circumstances. This is Dini’s best character makeover since the Riddler took on a new enterprise as a detective a few years back.
• Dustin Nguyen’s clean lines and iconic approach works really well with the heavy shadow work by inker Derek Fridolfs in this issue. The two combine to create some great looking panels that appear to be strongly influenced by Mike Mignola, which is a great fit for the tone of this series.
• Just as the lead story is the best one yet for this young title, the Manhunter co-feature also enjoys its finest outing as writer Marc Andreyko finally finds the perfect amount of story for the format. The story doesn’t feel like it is missing anything, nor does it feel like everything is cramped together; it runs at just the right pace.
• I really enjoy how Andreyko is developing Manhunter’s non-heroic identity, with Kate Spencer developing in an interesting parallel as District Attorney to former Gotham DA Harvey Dent, especially since his villainous alter ego of Two-Face is her target.
• Jeremy Haun impresses me with his first Manhunter story; so much so that I hope he sticks around as his semi-realistic style is nice fit for the tone of the character.
• The only major problem I had with the art is that characters and details in the background look incredibly unfinished and clearly get less of a focus from Haun. The best example of this is the misshapen body and lack of facial details on the Huntress during her team-up with Manhunter.
Verdict: Must Read. Much like Blackest Night, Streets of Gotham was in desperate need of a pick-me-up this week after a few interesting, but ultimately mediocre issues. If this issue is any indication of what’s to come, this won’t be a problem this series will see again anytime soon. Paul Dini’s amazing character development, Andreyko finally finding the right pace for writing a co-feature, and great work from both art teams came extremely close to propelling this issue to the top spot on the Rankings and helped make this a book you absolutely should not miss.
01. CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN #3
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice, and Paul Mounts
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Covers by Various
• After two lackluster issues that nearly caused me to drop this series, Captain America: Reborn came back with a vengeance this week, achieving something that only one other book has ever done on the Comic Book Review Power Rankings. This is only the second issue to be preRanked dead last only to end up taking the Book of the Week honor (the first/last was Final Crisis: Requiem in July 2008—one of my all time favorite single issues).
• This issue features extremely dense storytelling. Ed Brubaker fits in a ton of story beats here while still having room for two extended action sequences. The most impressive part of this is absolutely nothing is shortchanged thanks to Brubaker’s incredibly efficient storytelling.
• This issue has a ridiculously huge cast and Brubaker does a brilliant job of effectively utilizing and giving unique voices to each character. This book is overflowing with personality to the point that even the Z-listers on the current lineup for the Thunderbolts are impressive.
• The battle between Bucky and Falcon against Ghost and the Thunderbolts was the highlight of the issue for me. Great quipping, superb pacing, and an awesome payoff as the battle raged. Plus, kudos to Brubaker for making Ant-Man cool again. The Kirkman/Hester/Parks Ant-Man series was one of the best comics you probably weren’t reading a few years back.
• I do have to apologize for a mix-up on my previous reviews as I had stated that Butch Guice was drawing some of the scenes when in actuality he was only inking Bryan Hitch, who was using multiple art styles.
• In this issue, it becomes more apparent that Guice is actually inking as Hitch is more consistent throughout and more of his nuances become apparent. That being said, this is probably my favorite issue of Hitch’s. I don’t ever remember him drawing charaters with such energy while still maintaining such a strong sense of detail work and not skimping out on high-quality character designs.
• Hitch uses a style very similar to Mitch Breitweiser’s in the flashback sequences. It looks great and uncannily similar, whether it is meant to or not. As a huge fan of Breitweiser's, it would have been neat to see him take on these sequences, as it would have really elevated his status to tag-team on such a high-profile project as this. As it stands, though, it does look great and features some of the best work in an already gorgeous book.
Verdict: Must Read. This issue is so incredibly well put together that it does more than enough good to salvage was turning to be a really, really disappointing story. Ed Brubaker returns to form by reminding us why his Captain America run was so addictive. When you combine some of the strongest work ever to come out of Bryan Hitch, you have a book that excels on all levels and really should not be missed. Captain America: Reborn just sent from teetering on the edge of epic failure to mind-blowing-success-thus-far in just one issue.