Thursday, October 8, 2009
It’s Thursday afternoon and you know what that means—another fine installment of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings! This week I’ll be dissecting eight of this week’s releases including the hotly anticipated Haunt #1 from Image and the return of the best damn comic there is, Criminal. Plus, I take on a double dosage of both Batman and Spider-Man as I count down the week’s best releases (or at least the week’s best releases that I picked up). Want to know what makes it to #1? Well, if you’ve ever read any of my reviews of Criminal, you’ve probably figured that out already. Want to know to what makes it to #2? Well, to find you are going to have to make with the clicking and join me after the jump!
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.
I’ll be heading up to the Twin Cities in Minnesota on Saturday for the annual MNCBA FallCon Comic Book Convention. This small convention is a lot of fun and features a great crop of talent including the artists on both Green Lantern titles, Doug Mahnke and Pat Gleason, as well as a host of other great creators like Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Amy Hadley Reeder, Gene Ha, and more. If you are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area you should check it out!
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Marco Checchetto, Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, and Fabio D’Auria
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Adi Granov
• Following up from the recent Amazing Spider-Man Annual, this week’s ASM issue begins the final storyline for Spidey Brain-Trust member Marc Guggenhaim and follows Raptor’s harassment of Peter Parker and hunt for Ben Reilly.
• If you read Guggenheim’s story in said annual, you are going to get a sense of déjà vu reading this issue. This story repeats a lot of that story’s plot points but takes place in a different setting and sheds a very small amount of light on the history between Ben Reilly and Raptor.
• Raptor’s back story and history with Ben Reilly is eerily similar to some depictions of Peter Parker’s relationship with the Lizard, which is an interesting parallel.
• Guggenheim’s character work is decent as he clearly understands the characters well, but the lackluster plot and super thin conflict overshadows it.
• Sadly, the most interesting part of the issue was Spider-Man’s battle against Screwball, which only lasts a few pages.
• Just because this issue alludes to the events and characters of the 1990’s Clone Saga doesn’t mean that the art needs to ape that style. Unfortunately, the artwork, especially Marco Checchetto looks to be straight out of the mid-90s in terms of general style, stiffness, storytelling conventions, and designs (Seriously, Michelle’s hair looks incredibly ridiculous and dated).
Verdict: Avoid It. Guggenheim has generally been the strongest writing in the Amazing Spider-Man stable, but there is only so much his good character work can do with this issue’s completely uninspired plot. I suppose if you are totally into nostalgia comics and loved the Clone Saga, you might be able to get into this issue and enjoy its very dated-looking art, but for the rest of this us, it’s best to pass on this one and buy a delicious burrito instead. It’s been a while since we’ve had a definite Burrito Book, but this issue certainly earns the distinction.
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson and Tony Avina
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Tony Avina
• This week’s issue of The Boys explores the back story of Butcher’s right-hand man Mother’s Milk as he explains his past to Wee Hughie. Not surprisingly, the story involves all sorts of nastiness involving Vought-American.
• This is an interesting look at Mother’s Milk and his motivations, but I can’t help but feel that it is too little, too late. It’s really hard to get invested in a character’s history when he’s been mostly neglected for three years.
• The issue is almost devoid of dialogue, so we learn all of Mother’s Milk’s history through his eyes and we don’t get much input from Hughie except in the framing scenes. This makes it a little hard to get into the story.
• The art was serviceable, but nothing special. Darick Robertson makes no major mistakes, though his expressions were oddly crafted. At times, character’s faces are almost devoid of expression, looking stiff and lifeless, while at other times they look almost like characters from a Tex Avery cartoon.
Verdict: Read with Caution. My reaction to this issue is a perfect microcosm of my reaction to the series right now. The Boys is a lot like a veteran athlete that you’ve been cheering on for so long that you feel extreme loyalty to him, even though his better years are behind him and you aren’t all that interested in watching him play anymore. This series needs a big kick start and, honestly, revealing the back story of characters that have served as little more than panel dressing for the last 30-odd issues really isn’t going to cut it.
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Greg Capullo, Ryan Ottley, Todd McFarlane, and FCO Plascencia
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Cover by Todd McFarlane
• Robert Kirkman and Todd McFarlane’s Haunt was finally released this week to a mixed chorus of cheers and boos from reading community. The issue couldn’t possibly live up to the massive amounts of hype that preceded it no matter how good it is. As expected, though, in the end it caters to its obvious audience and does little to win over anyone else.
• The issue follows the “origin” of Haunt, which is apparently a supernatural super-violent monster of sorts that comes about when an immoral priest named Daniel is haunted by his recently-killed mercenary brother Kurt.
• The plotting here is incredibly loose, with Kirkman relying a lot on clichés and tired story points to develop little more than the relationship between the two brothers. We get hints at future story points, but there isn’t much of a plot for the issue to build from in this issue.
• Unfortunately, its hard to get into the story when the characters are so unlikable. Kurt, the mercenary, appears to have some morals, but he is still a cocky mercenary; Daniel, on the other hand, is just a douche. Unless when there is a major personality overhaul that accompanies their transformation into Haunt, its going to be almost impossible to get invested in this one.
• Given the quality of the artists involved in this issue, I really expected much stronger and more consistent art. Instead, the final output looks like the three main artists are struggling for control of the page. Sometimes layout artist Greg Capullo’s style is dominant, while in others penciller Ryan Ottley takes the lead. In the final pages, it’s all inker Todd McFarlane.
• The end result is pages and panels that look good on their own, but are incredibly disjointed and distracting when taken as a whole.
Verdict: Read with Caution. This issue is going to sell like hot-cakes because of the creative team, though the numbers are going to dwindle quickly if this is any indication of the remaining issues in the miniseries. Kirkman’s write-by-numbers approach to the characters and dull plot undercuts the interesting premise for the characters, while the unevenness of the art takes what should be a gorgeous book and turns it into an unpolished mess. The series has potential, but it comes nowhere close to realizing it in this issue.
Lead Written by Fabian Nicieza
Lead Art by J. Calafiore, Mark McKenna, and Nathan Eyring
Backup #1 Written by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen
Backup #1 Art by Dustin Nguyen
Backup #2 Written by Mandy McMurray
Backup#2 Art by Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by J. Calafiore
• This week’s awfully pricey Batman Annual features three stories. The first follows Batman and Robin as they attempt to solve a series of interrelated crimes including murder, kidnapping and grave desecration while they run into problems with the new Azrael. The second story is a “Lil’ Gotham” tale of a street race between the dynamic duo and their villains while the final story follows Barbara Gordon as she attempts to help the GCPD with a case.
• Fabian Nicieza does a phenomenal job in the main story of developing relationships between characters, including writing the best interplay between the new Batman and Robin that I’ve seen thus far, and developing some cool new twists in how Dick Grayson works with the police in his role as Batman.
• I’m not quite as thrilled with the new Azrael, whose involvement is the crux of the story. I think he works well as a foil for Batman in this story as a guest star, but I’m not sure that I could get into an ongoing given how stiff the character comes across as.
• The issue ends with a cliffhanger leading to Batman and Azrael teaming with the Question in the next week's Detective Comics Annual and I’m actually pretty interested in seeing where the story goes from here, mostly because the crossover between the two books feels like a natural extension rather than a forced team-up.
• The art by J. Calafiore in the main story is amazing. It’s not the flashiest with Calafiore sticking with fairly standard layouts and designs, but his consistency and clarity are phenomenal. This issue is a fine example of why I’ve been saying since Gotham Underground that he is one of DC’s most underrated artists.
• The Lil’ Gotham backup story was fun but was way too chaotic to be held to just one page. If it could’ve been spread out a bit more so that Nguyen’s fun designs wouldn’t have been clumped together on the page, it would’ve been that much stronger.
• I really did not vare for the third story at all. Mandy McMurray’s character writing was incredibly wooden and lifeless while Kelley Jones’s art was wildly erratic and, at times, looked unfinished.
Verdict: Check It. I was really on the fence about picking this issue up but ultimately decided to because I’m such a huge fan of Fabian Nicieza’s writing. Not surprisingly, he does a great job of developing character and plot in his story, which was nicely complimented by the great art by J. Calafiore. Unfortunately, the Lil’ Gotham story was far too short and the final story was completely worthless, meaning that you are really paying $4.99 for just the lead story. While it is a fun read, it isn’t worth nearly double the price of a regular comic. If you were to dump the last story and lower the price, this issue would shoot up the Rankings on the strength of the main story.
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Philip Tan, Jonathan Glapion, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Patrick Brosseau
Cover by Frank Quietly
• The battle between the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin and their new foils Red Hood and Scarlet rages on in this issue as we find out more of Jason’s plan to destroy Dick Grayson’s reign as Batman by marketing his own brand of ultraviolent justice.
• I really enjoy the interaction between the two duos, especially in how well they foil one another in almost every regard. Jason Todd is, quite simply, the perfect Joker-style nemesis for Dick and I’m glad to see Grant Morrison running with that.
• While ultraviolent vigilantes are nothing new to comics, I do like the creativity behind Red Hood “marketing” his approach to crime fighting as an alternative to Batman’s. As long as Morrison doesn’t go too high-concept with this and destroy the simplicity of the premise, he’s onto a great idea here.
• I’ve still got a major problem with how Morrison is hyping his “creations” (i.e. reinventions). His insistence on telling readers over and over again how dangerous the Flamingo will be is simply ridiculous. It screams of a “my dad can beat up your dad” creative mentality that is incredibly ineffective at actually building up the character as a badass. As I’ve said before, it reads like bad fan fiction suffering from a major “Mary Sue” syndrome.
• What is even more ludicrous and insulting to readers, though, is his retooling of Jason Todd with the character claiming that Batman forced him to dye his hair when he was Robin. The scene flirts with implications of emotional abuse at the hands of Bruce Wayne. It’s bad enough of that Morrison wrote the character off as an unstable whack-job before RIP, but now he has to bury the character by making him an abusive father figure? Seriously?
• This completely derails what is an otherwise fantastic issue. If you cut this moment out, you’ve got one of the strongest issues of the week. Instead, we get an extremely self-important and unnecessary retcon from Morrison that does absolutely nothing to move the story forward.
• Philip Tan’s artwork is considerably stronger and tighter than it was in the last issue. There are some odd expressions here and there, but for the most part his gritty, movement-oriented work looks fantastic.
• Of course, kudos must be paid to Jonathan Glapion’s inks which do a great job of setting the mood for the art and enhancing the details of Tan’s line work.
• The only part of the art that I didn’t care for was the design of Scarlet, which was inconsistent throughout the issue. Oddly enough, I actually like Frank Quitely’s design better—of course, all of Quitely’s characters look bloated and deformed already, so it makes sense that I would prefer his take on the one character that is actually supposed to look that way.
Verdict: Check It. This issue could have easily jumped into Buy It or Must Read status if Morrison would focus more on continuing to tell a good story that making unnecessary retcons and describing how awesome his pet characters are. He does a great job with the rest of the issue and Philip Tan really steps up his game here. If you can overlook the ridiculousness of these moments, this is a great issue; unfortunately, I can’t.
Written by Jeff Parker
Lead Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, and Wil Quintana
Backup Art by Chris Samnee and Veronica Gandini
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, and Justin Ponsor
• Marvel attempts to breathe some life into the struggling Agents of Atlas series with this special two-part miniseries that finds the Agents facing off against the X-Men over some stolen goods in not just one, but two stories.
• These stories are just fun, action-oriented storytelling. Jeff Parker has a great handle on all of the characters and writes their interactions well in a very fun, loose manner. This is definitely a reminder of why Parker’s Agents are so much fun and has me kicking myself for giving up so easily on the ongoing series.
• The opening explanation of the ongoing conflict between Wolverine and the Agents’ killer robot M-11 was one of the funniest things I read this week and was a great way to kick off the issue.
• The only major problem with the story is that there isn’t much—the issue jumps immediately into the action and never lets up. There is the loose structure of Venus going missing, but that is quickly pushed to the background.
• Carlo Pagulayan does a solid job with the main story art. His work is full of energy and he handles the action well because of it. He does skimp a bit on details in favor of movement, though, but in an action-focused story you can’t really blame him.
• The art in the backup made the issue for me, though. Chris Samnee’s approach to the characters was simply awesome. I love his mix of old-school designs and storytelling with a more modern flair. The colors by Veronica Gandini in this story were clean and bold, adding lots of depth and doing some very cool things by blending colors.
Verdict: Buy It. Sometimes it is fun to just cut loose with big mindless action and that is precisely why this issue works so well. Jeff Parker keeps it simple, focusing mostly on quick character interaction in between punches, which works well because of the fantastic art in both stories. It may not been deepest or most meaningful issue of the week, but its well worth picking up so you can check out the work of rising stars Chris Samnee and Veronica Gandini as they continue their ascension through the ranks.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David LaFuente and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David LaFuente and Justin Ponsor
• It’s more teen turmoil in this week’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, which focuses on all sorts of angst in Mary Jane’s life, the Human Torch moving in with the Parkers, and for just a brief moment Spider-Man stopping a Mysterio in a botched robbery.
• Normally I’d turn my nose up at such dramatics, but Brian Michael Bendis does such a ridiculously good job at writing teen characters in this issue that I’m perfectly willing to call this one of the best character-driven issues of the week.
• I absolutely loved the sincerity and absurdity of the MJ/Peter confrontation. Bendis absolutely nails how ludicrous and yet still heartbreaking teenage romance can be. Plus, he puts a fun spin on MJ in this issue that fits with the core of the character, but gives her more depth than you’d ever seen in any regular Marvel Universe interpretation of the character.
• Considering how “overly talkative” Bendis’s scripts tend to be, I was really impressed with his minimal approach to Sue Storm’s guest appearance as Johnny Storm decides to stay with Peter, Aunt May, and Gwen. The script doesn’t say much, but the scene itself speaks volumes.
• I’m still on the fence about Mysterio as a villain, though I liked the contrast between the bravado of his manifesto and how quickly he becomes dejected when being stopped by Spider-Man.
• David LaFuente’s art continues to shine on this issue with loads of energy and great expressions from his lively designs. His work may look nothing like the classic Spider-Man designs of old, but it taps into the same iconic feel despite its decidedly modern twists.
• The “inking” (I believe LaFuente works digitally) was a bit problematic at times, with LaFuente using incredibly thick lines on some panels and much thinner lines on others without much explanation.
Verdict: Must Read. While I do enjoy the regular Amazing Spider-Man title and will always have a soft-spot for the original Peter Parker, the Ultimate version of the character by Bendis and LaFuente is simply blowing the 616 title out of the water. This issue is just another fine example of why this is one of the most enjoyable comics on the stands.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Cover by Sean Phillips
• Finally, Criminal has returned! While Incognito was a fun little break, I’m incredibly glad that Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Val Staples have brought back this incredible franchise, even if it is no longer an ongoing, but rather a series of miniseries (much like Hellboy).
• This new story picks up after the events of the amazing “Lawless” story arc, with main character Tracy Lawless finding himself forced to pay off the debts of his late-brother to a very powerful criminal. This leads to him investigating the murders of various other mobsters.
• The creative team has not missed a beat since the last issue as Criminal immediately jumps back to its usual, simply awesome form.
• Ed Brubaker sets up the story through strong detached narration, while building the characters and their relationships through well-planned, minimal dialogue.
• I simply love the subtlety of the character work in a story that really beats you over the main structure of its plot; this just shows how great of a handle that Brubaker has on the noir genre.
• I’m glad to see that this issue follows up on one of the previous stories in a way that rewards longtime readers but doesn’t alienate new readers.
• As per usual, the art by Sean Phillips is simply stellar—great character designs, strong expressions, good use of shadow, and fantastic storytelling.
• Once again, though, the unsung hero of the series is Val Staples whose bold color choices set the mood for each scene and cause the art from Phillips to pop. Staples may not get marquee billing on the series, but he certainly deserves it.
Verdict: Must Read. Criminal is one of my favorite comics to read but one of my least favorite comics to review. There are only so many ways that you can call Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Val Staples geniuses before you start repeating yourself. The only way I can really get my point across is to simply beg all of you fools who aren’t reading this book to pick it up immediately. This issue is just one more example of how Criminal isn’t just a comic, it’s art—dark, gritty, ruthless art that rubs our noses in the filthy flaws of humanity and leaves us begging for more.