Thursday, October 15, 2009
Just in case you haven’t had enough reviews from the Weekly Crisis Crew with our double-dose of Spider-Man reviews earlier today, I’m here to once again countdown the best release of the week (that I picked up) in this week’s Comic Book Review Power Rankings! This week features some of my personal favorite comics including the always-amazing Secret Six and the new Batgirl series that has been off to a great start, plus a big chunk of new releases from DC, a handful of Marvel books, and the debut of Phil Hester’s The Anchor. As always, only one comic can walk away at #1 and the only way you can find out is to checking out the reviews and Rankings 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Greg Land
• This week’s Uncanny X-Men kicks off the first major Nation X storyline as a group of anti-mutant terrorists use Scalphunter to sneak a plane-load of Predator X clones onto Utopia to kill all of its mutants at the same time that Magneto requests sanctuary and renounces his war against humanity.
• The Magneto business is marginally interesting, but feels like the many other times that he claims to have been reformed. The only really interesting thing is the High Evolutionary stuff, but that feels like a forced explanation of plot points that were dropped months and months ago.
• The characterization is extremely stiff, with nearly everyone appearing as a depthless shell of themselves. Xavier is a reactionary, Magneto is a broken man, and Scott is the righteous but ultimately confused leader. Meh.
• Greg Land’s artwork is hitting an all-time low and the fact that he couldn’t trace anything for the High Evolutionary and the Sentinels in this issue show just how lazy of an artist he has become. Seriously, if he bothered to draw people like he does these things, this would be a wholly different story.
• Unfortunately, this is more of the same and I mean that literally. This issue features the same faces that Land has traced countless other times, whether it be repeated panels of Cyclops from different issues or the same models and porn actresses that Land has been reusing for years now.
Verdict: Avoid It. I’ve been threatening to drop this series for some time now, but it always sucks me back in with a decent issue with art by Terry and Rachel Dodson. However, now that I’m back on board with the vastly superior X-Men: Legacy, I see no reason to continue reading this in hopes that it will get good again. In all likelihood, the horribleness of this issue may mean that it’s the last issue of Uncanny X-Men that I pick up until the Second Coming crossover in 2010.
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter, and Pete Pantazis
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Tony Daniel
• Picking up from the end of last issue, Dick Grayson fights Two-Face, who isn’t really the Two-Bat (or Bat-Face) that he appeared to be—it was a hallucination—and as a result decides to restructure the Bat-Cave.
• The only thing I took from this issue is that Judd Winick isn’t tremendously happy with Dick Grayson being Batman. There is no other reason I can think of that would cause him to write Dick as so bumbling and horrible at being Bruce Wayne’s temporary replacement.
• The fake-out of Two-Face as Batman is seriously one of the worst plot points of 2009, though it is still beat out by the ridiculousness of the teleporter that Two-Face employs to break into the Bat-Cave.
• Also, I’m getting really sick of prison transports being blown-up on their way to Arkham. It was a neat plot point the first time we saw it, but I feel like it has happened way too many times in the last few months. Blech.
• I haven’t exactly been impressed with Mark Bagley during his run on this title, but had I known that this issue was coming down the pipe, I would’ve been a bit softer on him. His anatomy is tremendously inconsistent, his expressions are limited and don’t always match the scripts, and the cluttered storytelling is doing no favors to the disappointing story.
Verdict: Avoid It. The best thing about this week’s issue of Batman is that it isn’t this week’s issue of Uncanny X-Men. I loved Judd Winick’s run on Batman a few years back and I had liked what I’ve seen of Mark Bagley’s art prior to his jump to DC, so, in theory, this should be a great run. Unfortunately for us, the execution hasn’t really come together and this issue is really a culmination of everything that has been wrong with the run thus far.
Written by Various
Art by Various
Letters by Joe Sabino
Cover by Dave Johnson
• In all honesty, as hard as I’ve tried, I’ve never been a big fan of Deadpool. He’s just one character whose popularity never made much sense to me (other than the fact that he looks like a badass). I really only picked up this issue to see if I could find something to like about him and to uncover the mystery behind his huge increase in popularity as of late.
• I will admit that I found myself amused by Deadpool and his antics throughout the first third or so of this issue. Its chock full of humor of various forms and gave me a good idea of why people dig him. I was sold.
• Unfortunately, by the time I reached the end of the issue, I was simply worn out and the gimmicks were getting old. It doesn’t help that issue ends with its two weakest stories (Charlie Huston/Kyle Baker’s story and the full size issue by James Felder and Pete Woods).
• Before that though, I was especially pleased with the “silent” story by Fred Van Lente and Dalibor Talajic and the over-the-top but well-played story by Joe Kelly and Rob Liefeld. Seriously, if this was $2.99 for just the Kelly and Liefeld story, this would be a Must Read.
Verdict: Read with Caution. If you are a big Deadpool fan, this issue will probably be a little bit like Christmas for you; after all, it is 104 pages of non-stop jokes and action featuring a wide range of talent and a good mix of approaches to the character for a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the quality ranges from simply abysmal to pretty good, so if you aren’t 100% vested in the character, it’s probably not worth your time and money.
Written by Phil Hester
Art by Brian Churilla and Matthew Wilson
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Covers by Brian Churilla with Dave Stewart and Rafael Albuquerque
• This new series introduces “God’s leg-breaker,” the Anchor (or “Clem” to his friends), the gatekeeper to Hell who finds himself simultaneously battling demons in Hell and in Finland.
• The issue moves at an incredibly brisk pace, introducing the titular character and his supporting cast in rather short order before immediately getting into the punching. Phil Hester doesn’t waste a single page in the story, pounding in details at a break-neck pace.
• The concept of the series is pretty cool, but we don’t get to know enough about what the meat of the story is going to be about. At this point, it reminds me a lot of Hellboy and the differences aren’t really compelling enough to have me clamoring for more.
• I think I would find myself more excited for future issues if the art were stronger. Brian Churilla has a good handle on storytelling, with decent layouts and a good grasp on matching the pace of Hester’s script.
• Unfortunately, the actual execution really isn’t that great. His designs remind me a lot of Hester’s actually, which just disappoints me that Hester isn’t drawing the book himself. In addition to this, there are a lot of moments where faces looking incredibly deformed, the female lead’s nose changes structure several times, and the overall look of the issue is just too unpolished.
Verdict: Read with Caution. I think that Phil Hester has a cool concept here that could be really interesting once it is fleshed out a bit more. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough specifics of the plot of the series in this issue to really suck the reader in and, quite frankly, the art just isn’t that good. This book has potential, but it just isn’t living up to it in this issue.
Written by Andrew Kreisberg
Lead Art by Mike Norton, Bill Sienkiewicz, and David Baron
Backup Art by Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson Magalhaes, and David Curiel
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Ladronn
• The lead story of this week’s Green Arrow and Black Canary is lousy with Green Arrows as it follows one apparently actual Green Arrow (Green Arrow #1) who tries to regain his bearings after waking up naked in the gutter, Cupid as she looks to find fulfillment by dressing up random dudes as Green Arrow, and features a surprise appearance by a second apparently actual Green Arrow (Green Arrow #2).
• This story is a fun continuation of the story Andrew Kreisberg has been spinning around the idea of Green Arrow “losing” his identity and is quite effective long before the cliffhanger, which really seals the deal.
• It’s a simple story that works extremely well thanks to how great of a character writer Kreisberg is. Even when Green Arrow #1 is doing something as simple as interacting with hobos, it’s engaging.
• The art by Mike Norton and Bill Sienkiewicz is solid, though not their best effort. The main problem is that the level of “scratchiness” in Sienkiewicz’s finishes varies greatly throughout the story, giving it very, very uneven look.
• The backup story is considerably lighter, showcasing Speedy telling a bedtime story about Black Canary to Lian Harper, the daughter of Red Arrow.
• The story seems to build around the twist ending featuring a cop telling his son a similar story, but there the buildup never really comes together and, quite frankly, the twist isn’t tremendously interesting.
• Of course, the story isn’t helped much by the art by Renato Guedes, whose anatomy is as poor as usual. At times his character’s bodies look entirely too long, though it’s hard to notice that over the never-consistent facial designs. Honestly, it looks like he never draws the same person twice.
Verdict: Check It. The main story on this issue is a definite winner with Kreisberg doing a great job of spinning out of his previous arc into a new story in a very natural way with great art by Norton and Sienkeiwicz. Unfortunately, the backup story completely derails the issue with a nonsensical narrative and simply disappointing art. If it were just a “bad” back-up story, I wouldn’t mind as much, but this one is horrible enough that by the time I was finished, I forgot how good the lead was. That’s not a good thing.
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Ramon Bachs and Guy Major
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Francis Manapul
• After being brutally attacked by the mysterious assassin from the Council of Spiders last issue, Red Robin finds himself at the mercy of the League of Assassins that wants him to track down and destroy the Council of Spiders.
• Chris Yost is still primarily pushing the story forward in this title through Tim’s inner monologues, though I’m pleased to say that he is rounding the corner from talking about how much edgier he is to providing insight into the action.
• Tam Fox’s role is expanded in this issue as she stumbles into the plot surrounding the warring assassin clans and she makes for a fun foil to Tim, especially since she hasn’t put it together yet that he is a hero.
• I’m still just very, very pleased with Yost’s take on the character. He is doing a tremendous job of evolving the character without changing the core. This is a unique take on Tim, but one that feels incredibly natural.
• Ramon Bachs’s art is once again the weak link for the issue, perhaps moreso than usual. There is just something really weird going on with his work here as all of his lines look incredibly shaky and some of his characters have the weirdest bugged-out eyes I’ve ever seen. Yikes.
Verdict: Check It. The story and character work in this issue are simply awesome as Chris Yost continues to write one of the best interpretations of Robin that I’ve ever read. The greatness of the writing is really thrown off by the art though. Honestly, as rough as Bachs’s work is here, I consider it a testament to the strength of the writing that the issue is even ranked this high.
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Pat Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Randy Mayor, and Gabe Eltaeb
Letters by Steve Wands
Cover by Pat Gleason and Rebecca Buchman
• It’s another whirlwind issue for Green Lantern Corps this week, as the Green Lanterns continue to struggle against the attacks of the Black Lanterns.
• There really isn’t a lot of story in this issue, as it mostly focuses on pushing the action from the previous issues forward. There are a few new developments, but most of them come at the end of the issue.
• While he isn’t doing a lot with the story, Peter Tomasi does a good job of working with the characters in this issue, using strong clear personalities as the characters quip and react.
• If you are going to have an all-action issue, there aren’t many active artists out there today that could bring more energy to the battle than Pat Gleason, who doesn’t disappoint with his lively artwork and strong storytelling. Gleason brings a lot of life to each page with strong expressions and great impact.
• The art is a bit problematic at times thanks to the differing styles of the inkers and colorists. The changes aren’t tremendously noticeable, though the line thickness and depth does vary from page to page, which gets distracting if you take your time while reading the issue.
Verdict: Buy It. There’s not a lot going on in this issue besides the hitting, so it certainly isn’t required reading if you’ve been following the title for the last few issues. For what it is, though, it’s a fun romp with strong character voices and good art. Sometimes all you really need out of a comic is good action and it works well for this one.
Lead Written by Dan Jurgens
Lead Art by Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, and Hi-Fi
Backup Written by Matthew Sturges
Backup Art by Mike Norton, Nrom Rapmund, and Guy Major
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund
• The lead story in this week’s Booster Gold is a nice pause for reflection on the last few storylines as the titular character takes a moment to connect with the new Batman, Dick Grayson, on what his mission is and why it is important.
• The biggest thing that impressed me about the writing in this story is how well Dan Jurgens wrote Dick Grayson. While other writers have done a good job with the character recently, this is really the first time that I felt like someone was writing Dick as Dick and not Dick trying to be Batman.
• There isn’t a whole lot going on in this story, but Jurgens makes up for it by showcasing just how well-rounded Booster Gold has become since 52. We see everything from Booster’s pompous arrogance to his strong sense of heroics here and everything in between.
• The co-feature wraps up the Blue Beetle vs. Black Beetle storyline…sort of. The story ends but there isn’t a clear conclusion as the identity of the Black Beetle remains in question after their confrontation.
• It’s a fun character study in seeing how Jaime reacts to the claims that the Black Beetle makes, though I wish there would’ve been a bit more meat on the story. There really isn’t much to go off of here other than hints at things that may or may not actually happen.
• Art in both stories is strong with all of the artists involved doing as good of a job as ever. Norm Rapmund does a solid job of finishing the work of both Jurgens and Mike Norton, leaving me with little complaints.
Verdict: Buy It. Both stories in Booster Gold are a bit light on plot, but feature strong character writing. For once, the lead is actually the stronger story as Dan Jurgens does a wonderful job of reflecting on his run thus far and makes me wish that he’d have more chances to write Dick Grayson as Batman. The co-feature is a fun little romp, but ends far too quickly for my liking.
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
• This week’s issue of Batgirl solidifies Stephanie Brown’s role as the titular character as she faces off against the Scarecrow and shows that Barbara Gordon will have a bigger role than originally anticipated in the series.
• Bryan Q. Miller’s superb character writing is front-and-center with this issue as he fully develops not only Stephanie’s motivations for being a superhero, but also Barbara’s reasons for accepting Stephanie as the new Batgirl.
• To develop this, specifically Stephanie’s end of it, I was really pleased with how Miller used a fear toxin-induced hallucination of Tim Drake and herself to push Stephanie into building the confidence necessary to proclaim herself as Batgirl.
• The “candle oath” was easily the best moment of the issue, adding credibility to Stephanie as Batgirl, but more importantly, showing Barbara take ownership of the title for the first time. In the past, Batman has given out the role, but here Barbara makes it hers to give, which is long overdue and incredibly fitting to Barbara’s headstrong nature and her reluctance to have the Batgirl legacy pass on.
• The only problem with this scene is that it really isn’t given the weight that it deserves. It is shoehorned into the last few pages and done mostly in small panels interspersed with other story moments when it really should have been given its own time with much larger panels. Honestly, in my opinion, Stephanie swearing an oath is much more deserving of a full page splash than the debut of her new costume.
• Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott’s art was serviceable with good energy. It gets the point across, but suffers from some consistency issues and isn’t tremendously strong in its expressions.
• The art works best during the fight scene with Scarecrow and Batgirl, which finds the art team using some good angles to setup Batgirl as the underdog early in the fight, but then to show her prowess as she wills herself into defeating the villain.
Verdict: Buy It. Despite a few missteps here and there, Batgirl #3 is a very solid issue and does a great job of cementing Stephanie into the role of Batgirl. There is a lot of grumbling amongst fans that she is replacing Cassandra Cain, but Bryan Q. Miller does an amazing job of creating an argument for the replacement that reinforces the choice for Stephanie while evolving both Stephanie and Barbara Gordon as characters.
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Nicola Scott, Carlos Rodriguez, Doug Hazlewood, Mark McKenna, and Jason Wright
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Daniel LuVisi
• This week’s installment of the always amazing Secret Six wraps up the incredibly depraved (and awesome) “The Depths” storyline as the titular team and the Amazons fight back against the slavers that originally hired the team.
• This issue features the Secret Six in a bit too deep and, not surprisingly, their way out is through sheer violence, making this one of the most action-packed issues of the series. Of course, just as she did in both Villains United and the original Secret Six miniseries, Gail Simone balances this nicely with fun quips and strong dialogue.
• As per usual, the character work here is front-and-center. Simone’s ability to write eccentric personalities makes this one incredibly enjoyable.
• I’m glad to see the Bane/Scandal friendship turning into an interesting new direction in this issue. It has been fun thus far, but a bit too one-dimensional. The twists here work perfectly with what we have seen before, but also kick-off what is clearly going to be the next major movement for the two (Bane assuming leadership and removing Scandal from the team).
• Deadshot steals the show, though, with his twisted sense of “chivalry” and his ridiculously fun sadism. Simone has him in full-on badass mode, which puts him in a fun position for next issue where he takes center stage in a story written by special guest John Ostrander.
• The art, as per usual, is great despite the number of cooks in the kitchen. Nicola Scott and Carlos Rodriguez gel very well together, so there aren’t many jarring transitions. Neither artist really brought their A-game, but Scott in particular is better than most even at her worst.
• I wasn’t totally thrilled with some of the coloring choices, as the tones often made everything look oddly round. I’m not sure why this was done, but it was really distracting, especially in the opening pages.
Verdict: Must Read. There were a few extremely minor issues with the writing and the art, but all-in-all this is yet another simply amazing issue of Secret Six, which remains one of the top two or three ongoing books being put out right now. In most weeks, this issue could easily have taken the Top Spot, so don’t let the #3 Ranking fool you—it has a lot more to do with the #1 and #2 books being exceptionally awesome than it does with any problems this issue had.
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Pasqual Ferry and Frank D’Armata
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Pasqual Ferry and Frank D’Armata
• Chris Yost packs in the story with this week’s installment of Ender’s Game: Command School, covering a lot of ground in the story as Ender’s Dragon Army finds themselves in non-stop battles against other armies far too early in their training and far too often.
• I’m really blown away by how much story Chris Yost stuff into this issue. Not only does it cover a lot of ground in terms of sheer plot points from the novel, but Yost also does a great job of subtly conveying the shift in Ender’s attitude and understanding of the Battle School during this issue.
• Yost’s handle on the characters perfectly captures the spirit of Orson Scott Card’s original work, which is done by closely adapting the dialogue, at times taking actual lines out of the book. Through this Yost develops at tremendous amount of depth for characters like Bean and Ender in this issue.
• As a huge fan of the original novel, it was awesome to me that major characters received “spotlight” panels during the battle, allowing characters like Crazy Tom and Hot Soup to make a definite appearance despite not being essential to the plot of the book.
• Pasqual Ferry does a great job yet again with the art, making bold storytelling choices in his detail-filled panels. As per usual, his designs are simply amazing, mixing old-school sci-fi elements with a new modern sleekness.
• At first, I was a bit put off by Ferry’s expressions as they all seemed to be very similar, but upon closer inspection, I realized that he was just being ridiculously subtle with how he presents them. On one hand, this is very, very impressive, but on the flipside, you have to be a bit more “in-your-face” with expressions due to the limitations of the medium, otherwise things are going to get lost on readers who don’t scrutinize every page.
Verdict: Must Read. This is probably my favorite issue thus far in Marvel’s adaptation of Ender’s Game, including both this miniseries and the Battle School series from earlier this year. Chris Yost has found the perfect storytelling rhythm and is packing in the plot elements in a way that rewards longtime fans of the story while remaining accessible to first-timers. When you add in the finely-crafted art by Pasqual Ferry and Frank D’Armata, you’ve got a simply superb adaptation that shouldn’t be missed.
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Facundo Percio and Digikore Studios
Covers by Various
• After a four month gap from the release of the last issue, Anna Mercury 2 returns this week with one of the best high-concept, action-packed, incredibly fun pulpy sci-fi issues of the year.
• Picking up directly after her capture last issue, this week’s installment follows Anna Mercury as she fights her way out of imprisonment to confront the leaders of semi-alternate planet only to be then attacked by the Ultraspacial Dreadnaught Vanaheim—or, in layman’s terms, Space Vikings.
• Yes, I said Space Vikings. You get lots of awesome fast-paced action in this issue and it ends with Space Vikings. That alone propelled this issue up the Rankings. Having never run across them before, I now know that you can never go wrong with Space Vikings.
• On top of that, Warren Ellis writes the most personality-filled issue of the series as we get more fun quips and humor from Anna than we have in any other issue. The bits with the ray gun had me cracking up.
• What impresses me most about the writing in this issue are the layers that Ellis builds throughout the narrative. You get action, you get pulp-style adventure, sci-fi goofiness, high-concept science fiction (totally different from the goofiness), good character work, and though provoking analogues to modern day concerns on security vs. privacy.
• The art by Facundo Percio is filled with energy with super b designs and great expressions. I can’t think of any work this week that was as lively as this issue.
• I also really dug the layouts by Percio which were inventive—he never does anything simple or normal with the layouts—much like the series itself.
Verdict: Must Read. As grumpy as I was regarding the massive delay between issues prior to picking this up, I walked away not caring. Seriously, if this is the level of quality that I can expect, Ellis and Percio can take all the time that they need. This one is great fun on a purely visceral level if that is what you are looking for, but a closer read will reveal a multitude of layers and though-provoking concepts if you are looking for something a bit meatier. In that sense and in terms of sheer quality, I’d compare this issue to Image Comics’ Elephantmen series, which is about as big of a compliment as I can give a comic. Anna Mercury may not be an easy series to track down, but believe me, it is well worth it.