Thursday, October 22, 2009
I take the good, I take the bad, and there I have the Comic Book Review Power Rankings for this week as we have an equal number of Avoid It books and Must Reads in this week’s Rankings—including one of the worst and several of the best single issues of the year. Of course, I also take a look at everything in between as I run down new issues of Elephantmen, Mighty Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, and more. Want to know what you issues you should run away from and which you should hunt down? Well then, you’ll just have to check out my reviews 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.
Not featured on the Rankings this week, but as awesome as every was Tiny Titans, which celebrated its 21st issue with an all-Pet Club issue that was full of the usual hilarious gags and awesome Easter Eggs for longtime fans that make this a Must Read series. You should do yourself a favor and check it out.
Written by James Robinson
Art by Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter, and Pete Pantazis
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Mark Bagley Rob Hunter, and Pete Pantazis
• Truth be told, I had very low expectations for this week’s Justice League of America. James Robinson’s writing has been disappointing as of late and if you’ve been reading the Rankings, you know my feelings on Mark Bagley’s output since joining DC, but I thought that I would give the new creative team a shot in hopes that the new blood might bring this title back up from the muck. That being said, even though I expected very little, I was still incredibly disappointed.
• The issue begins with Vixen calling together the lowest-level members of the Justice League (herself, Plastic Man, Dr. Light, and Red Tornado) together for a complain-fest only to find themselves attacked by Despero somewhere in the middle, and ends with the obligatory tie-in to Blackest Night.
• Things start off on a bad foot with the cast and the plot, but I can tell you that there is no worse way to build excitement for a company’s premiere superhero team than to have the members that really aren’t of the caliber to be joining it in the first place complaining about how there is no point in the team in the first place.
• From there things just get worse due to the fact that there are simply no personalities in this issue. It reads like one character complaining incessantly. If I couldn’t see the different characters, I wouldn’t know they were there.
• The utter failure of the writing puts a lot of pressure on Mark Bagley and, unfortunately, he doesn’t fair much better. Taking a cue from the dialogue, he draws nearly all of the women exactly alike and doesn’t bother much with expressions at all.
• Then there is the weird issue of eye placement—there are several panels where eyes are drawn on parts of the face where they probably shouldn’t be. This, oddly enough, makes Despero the most human looking character in a sizable chunk of the book.
Verdict: Avoid It. I really liked James Robinson’s work in the 90s, but since making his big comeback recently, I just can’t seem to get into his work. That being said, all of his recent work that I haven’t really liked read like Shakespeare in comparison to this issue. Things aren’t much better for Mark Bagley’s art. I really hate being this harsh, especially with a creative team that I know is talented, but this is probably the worst comic I’ve read in 2009.
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Marco Checchetto, Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, and Fabio D’Auria
Letters by Joe Caramagna
• Kaine and Raptor continue to cause all sorts of problems for Peter Parker in this issue, which sheds a bit of light on why both men are after Ben Reilly.
• Marc Guggenheim’s writing is competent and there aren’t many glaring issues with the writing, the biggest problem with this issue is just that the story is pretty boring. The mistaken identity bit can only go so far and the introduction of Kaine to the mix doesn’t add much oomph at all.
• There are also some weird moments in the dialogue that didn’t sit well with me and seemed oddly out of place for me. The most notable was the Kanye West-Taylor Swift joke that seemed incredibly forced.
• A dull plot with some bad jokes can be overcome with good art, but the duo of Marco Checchetto and Luke Ross do very little to save this one. The action sequences are muddy and stiff, while the quieter moments lose impact because of the poor expressions.
• The worst, though, is the design of Peter’s roommate Michelle. Is there a reason why she looks like such a strung out, potentially drugged-up lady of the evening? Seriously, aside from the in-poor-taste cheesecake, she looks likes she just woke up from a major bender. Yikes.
Verdict: Avoid It. If you are a huge fan of Kaine, you may enjoy his return here, but for the rest of us there isn’t much to like here. Guggenheim does his best, but his solid writing is undercut by the uninspired plot.
Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by S.L. Gallant and Andrew Crossley
Letters by Robbie Robins
Covers by Howard Chaykin with Edgar Delgado and Robert Atkins with Andrew Crossley
• After months of buildup, this week’s G.I. Joe finally unveils the arctic base of Cobra just as the Joe’s finally start putting together the purpose of Snake Eyes’s unauthorized mission.
• It’s great to see the story finally pushing forward in a big way, but too much of the issue is spent focused on the Joes chit-chatting about non-mission details and dull one-upsmanship between Destro and Dr. Mindbender. Big things are happening, but they seem pushed aside in favor of a lot of non-essential elements.
• Of course, there isn’t much time to elaborate when a big chunk of the issue is taken up by a silent action sequence as Snake Eyes takes on a host of Cobra agents as Mainframe attempts to steal important data (which is apparently housed in ooze…huh?).
• This could’ve been a good thing but there is almost no impact nor fluidity in S.L. Gallant’s art. His action sequences are clunky and weighed down by thick, murky inks.
• Of course, the art as a whole is pretty rough. Gallant’s character designs rarely look like they all belong in the same book and the general quality is not what I would expect from a title of this caliber.
Verdict: Avoid It. While I’m glad to see that this issue kick-started some of the action that has been slowly building since this title launched, the uneven pacing and poor art by S.L. Gallant completely kills any excitement that I should have gotten from Snake Eyes taking on a whole bunch of Cobra by himself and the first appearance of a major Cobra operative that wasn’t Baroness.
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Daniel Acuna
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Daniel Acuna
• Emplate continues his attack on Utopia, the new home of all the world’s mutants, in this week’s X-Men: Legacy while the titular team formulates a plot to track him down.
• There really isn’t a lot going on in this issue aside from some villain monologues and a super slow buildup to Rogue’s infiltration of Emplate’s hideout. There is about 3 or 4 pages worth of story here with the rest being major filler.
• Mike Carey does the best with the characters that he can, pushing some personality with Emplate and showcasing a good handle on Rogue. So, even if the characters really aren’t doing much, at least they aren’t doing it in character.
• Daniel Acuna puts in a solid effort that features some good story telling, though it still has hang-ups with consistency and stiffness. If you are a fan of Acuna’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this, but if you aren’t, it isn’t going to win you over.
Verdict: Read with Caution. This week’s issue of X-Men: Legacy is the epitome of a mixed-bag. The plot isn’t doing much for me, but Carey’s strong handle on the characters keeps it readable while artist Daniel Acuna continues to struggle with the same issues that have been plaguing him for years. There’s some to enjoy, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts
• This week’s Power Girl finds the titular heroine attempting to resolve the problems caused by the trio of space beauties that crash landed last issue with the help of their handler.
• As per usual with this title, the emphasis is on fun and the writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do a solid job of keeping things light through a combination of quickly-paced dialogue and gags. The characters are amusing and interact well with one another to help emphasize this focus.
• The problem is that Palmiotti and Gray are trying to do too much outside of the main plot and struggle to find the right balance between Power Girl’s heroic adventures, her gal-paling with the new Terra, and the duties of her secret identity.
• The whole shebang isn’t helped by the fact that the main plot ends incredibly abruptly and without much of a climax. One second we are getting tons of build-up and then suddenly the story just ends.
• I still stand by the fact that this series is worth buying for Amanda Conner’s art alone and this issue does nothing to argue otherwise. It’s her usual consistent, clean, energetic, and expressive awesomeness.
Verdict: Check It. Art-wise, this remains one of DC’s strongest titles as Conner continues to put out some of the crispest work in the industry, but unfortunately the writing just doesn’t back it up this week thanks to an abrupt plot and the writer’s continued struggle to find the right balance for the main character and her many roles.
Written by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu
Art by Stephen Segovia, Jay Leisten, Cam Smith, and Marte Garcia
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Greg Land and Justin Ponsor
• In this week’s Dark Wolverine, Norman Osborn’s plan to improve the public image of Daken backfires as Daken fails to manipulate the situation into his favor and the thugs he was after turn the tables on both men.
• Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu continue their very psychological approach with this title, though this time it is less about Daken and more about the criminals Osborn sent him after. While I’d say their side of the story is less interesting, it is still cool to see a story approached from the opposite end of the main character.
• It really isn’t clear how much of Daken’s failure to take down the villains is intentional and how much is simply him doing a crappy job. While something like this could be used to build intrigue, the lack of focus on Daken in general makes it more of a distraction than anything else.
• I did find myself really interested in Emmy Doolin (one of the thugs) and Daken’s odd reaction to her. I think there is real potential for the character, so I hope that she lasts beyond the conclusion of this story.
• There continues to be a weird disparagement between how Stephen Segovia draws female faces (very clean) and male faces (very craggy and full of excessive line work). This is really, really distracting.
• While Segovia does a good job with the expressions and his action sequences were well put-together, the limited color palette used by Marte Garcia made the book look very muddy. Everything seems to run together.
Verdict: Check It. Dark Wolverine remains one of the more intelligent and thought-provoking books on the stands with this issue, though the skipped details and muddy-looking art hold it back from jumping up any higher on the Rankings. This book has a ton of potential and some of that shows here, but too much of it just misses the mark.
Written by Sterling Gates and Greg Rucka
Art by Jamal Igle, Eduardo Pansica, John Sibal, Julio Ferreira, Nei Rufino, and Pete Pantazis
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Joshua Middleton
• After being totally lost on the last issue of Supergirl because I hadn’t been reading the Action Comics issues of the crossover, I was able to catch up on the storyline thanks to the moving sale at my local comic book shop ($0.75 back issues—yay!). Now that I know what is going on, I can honestly say I feel a lot better about this story.
• The issue picks up where last week’s Action Comics left off with the trio of Nightwing, Flamebird, and Supergirl being brutally attacked by Reactron at the behest of General Lane.
• This issue is a great mix of action and character interaction with the writing team of Sterling Gates and Greg Rucka working just as well with quips as they do with more involved conversations. At the center of this is their strong character work with everyone having clear personalities and good voices.
• The development of the relationship between Kara and Flamebird worked really well for me in this issue, especially after reading through Kara’s doubts in the issues leading up to this. The revelation about Flamebird’s true nature was extremely cool—even if it will remind of you a certain major Marvel character.
• The art on this issue is a mixed-bag at times. There are some pages where the fluidity of the movement and the strength of the expressions are top-notch, while there are others that seem unfinished with odd anatomies and poor facial expressions. I’m sure a lot of the blame can be placed upon the large art team.
Verdict: Buy It. I’d like to amend this by saying that it should be a Check It status if you haven’t read the Action Comics issues, but if you’ve been following the whole story, this is a great payoff that sends both Supergirl and Flamebird into interesting new directions. The strong character work carries this one, but runs into some snags with the art.
Lead Written by Chris Yost
Lead Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, and John Kalisz
Co-Feature Written by Marc Andreyko
Co-Feature Art by Jeremy Haun and Nick Filardi
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Dustin Nguyen
• Chris Yost steps in for Paul Dini in this week’s Streets of Gotham, which finds the Huntress hot on the tail of a crazed Man-Bat who is racing through Gotham.
• The plot in the lead story is fast and loose, so the success of the story is based solely on Chris Yost’s great take on Huntress. We get lots of thought boxes and interaction with Oracle, both of which develop Huntress’s hot-headed, but incredibly focused nature. It’s been a while since I’ve read a good Huntress story (probably Ivory Madison’s Huntress: Year One), so this is a good reminder of what the character is so much fun.
• I like how Yost intermittently builds the subplot of the faithful priest throughout the main story, only to sharply bring them together in a surprising way at the end of the story. That’s great plot structure there.
• Dustin Nguyen’s art is very strong with great consistency and impact, though I found the line work to be surprisingly flat—Nguyen relies heavily on the colors of John Kalisz to build depth in this issue.
• The Manhunter co-feature was incredibly dense, but strongly-paced as Marc Andreyko retells the origin of Dylan Battles, tying it into Kate’s war as District Attorney against Two-Face.
• The art on the back-up was great in the larger panels with superb anatomy and strong storytelling, but lost focus in the smaller panels when lots of detail was lost.
Verdict: Buy It. This week’s Streets of Gotham featured not one, but two strong stories. Chris Yost makes a strong case for him to write more Bat-related stories in the lead while Marc Andreyko continues to show more comfort with the shorter page count in the co-feature.
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Sean Chen, Mark Morales, and John Rauch
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Cover by Marko Djurdjevic
• Avengers of all sorts join together this week as the battle against the Unspoken intensifies and Hank Pym learns something very interesting from the living embodiment of the Universe.
• This issue was pure, old-school superhero fun. You get great action, over the top characters, amazing pacing, and a huge dose of the unexpected.
• Dan Slott and Christos Gage do a great job of balancing out the huge threat of the Unspoken and the simply weird adventures of Hank Pym with a healthy dose of humor. Between pretty much everything that comes out of Hercules’s mouth and the awesome cameo by the Dark Avengers, this is also one of the funniest books of the week.
• I really like the developments with Hank Pym here. The concept is a bit weird, but I think that this is a natural progression for the character and it should provide Slott and Gage with the focus needed to bring Pym back into being one of the most important characters in the Marvel Universe.
• The only major issue I found with the writing is that the Avengers get together in a huge rush to take down the Unspoken, but there doesn’t seem to be a real rush to get out there once the threat has been established. It seemed to downplay the threat towards the middle of the issue.
• Sean Chen’s artwork was impressive. There really weren’t any characters he didn’t do a great job with and he brought a ton of life and energy to the book.
• Expressions weren’t exactly his strong suit and not because he couldn’t draw them well, but mostly because they didn’t seem to always correlate with the script. He could draw a great looking surprised Hercules, but it would be at a time when Herc should be angry.
Verdict: Buy It. This issue is a great reminder of why superhero comic books can be so fun. You get amazing characters, strong art, insurmountable odds, and a bevy of unexpected twists and turns. Too often major threats lead to a superhero comic being a major bummer, but this one will have you excited to see what comes next and cheering as the Avengers head into battle.
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Andre Szymanowicz and Gregory Wright
Letters by Comicraft
Cover by Boo Cook
• This week’s Elephantmen takes on a number of plots including some grave desecration, the return of Simm from a few issues back, and the aftermath of Ebony’s sleeper-cell freak out last issue. Its one of the more complex issues of the series, but it doesn’t let that get in the way of its usual awesomeness.
• The pacing of this issue is very quick as the focus jumps from scene to scene and, in the case of the Vanity and Simm subplot, the story itself rushes forward at an unusually fast pace. This does put the opening grave digging scene at a slight disadvantage as it isn’t addressed after the first few pages; looking back, it gets a bit lost in the other stories.
• I was very impressed by how efficient Richard Starkings’s characterization is in this issue. The dialogue is light and fast-paced, but Starkings manages to pack loads of personality into each line without wasting any time on filler dialogue.
• I really enjoyed the contrast between Miki and Hip in this issue as they react to finding Ebony a total wreck. Miki’s bubbly irreverence and humor is a nice foil to the gruff seriousness of Hip, though the combination of both proves to be very insightful as to the true nature of Ebony’s situation.
• Andrew Szymanowicz does a good job with the art. His open style was complimented well by the scratchy colors by Gregory Wright, though the overall look of the issue lacked sharpness and clarity at times.
• I really enjoyed the interpretation and expressions from Szymanowicz, especially in regards to Hip and Ebony, though his facial designs for Vanity and Miki seemed “in progress” throughout the issue and shifted a bit too much for my liking.
• The sketchbook materials in the back of the issue were a nice introduction to Szymanowicz’s art and showed a nice progression from his early work on the characters to the final form. It certainly gave me a better appreciation for the work that he did in the issue.
Verdict: Must Read. Elephantmen tends to jump directly into plot points and develop back story parallel to the main narrative, so I was a bit off put at first by the fact that this issue is mostly setup to looming larger conflicts. However, upon further reflection, I really enjoyed how controlled the pace of the issue was and absolutely loved the character interaction. Andrew Szymanowicz puts forth a strong effort here and shows great potential, though his work lacks the polish that fans of Elephantmen may be used to from the work of previous artists like Moritat and Marian Churchland. Despite some flaws, its business as usual for Elephantmen—another new issue, another Must Read.
Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III, Jon Conkling, and Michael DeVito
Cover by Charles Paul Wilson III
• The Stuff of Legend #1 caused quite a stir when it was released earlier this year, setting the bar extremely high for this week’s release; thankfully, the second issue does not disappoint and actually outshines the first issue on a number of levels.
• The misfit band of toys continue their search for their boy, who was kidnapped by the Boogeyman last issue, and find themselves in the mysterious town of Hopscotch and are forced to play a deadly game run by the town’s mayor.
• The writing team of Mike Raicht and Brian Smith do a superb job developing the characters in this issue—something that fell by the wayside in favor of plot development last issue. The characters are heavily based on archetypes, but the relationships and interaction between do a great job of fleshing them out.
• I’m also impressed with how well the writers utilize the length of this volume—considerably longer than a standard comic—to focus on developing the characters and building towards plot twists. There isn’t much more story in this issue than there is in a standard 22-page comic, but the development of that story is considerably stronger.
• I think this issue will really resonate with fans of Fables, especially considering how dark the tone of the story is despite the relatively whimsical concepts it spins out of.
• The highly detailed art shows amazing depth, though the lack of colors and heavy blacks does cause some panels to run together.
• The art, although simply beautiful, is a bit stiff. The panels look more like storybook illustrations than comic book art, which fits the tone, but is a bit off putting considering the nature of the medium.
Verdict: Must Read. The Stuff of Legend began on a very strong foot, but this issue elevates the story to new heights thanks to the simply amazing craftsmanship behind it. Brilliant character writing and gorgeous art bring this Toy Story-meets-Fables story alive and make it one of the absolute can’t miss books of the year. The only problem? We have to wait until 2010 for the next chapter in this story!
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos and Vernoica Gandini
Letters by James H. Glass
Covers by Michael Avon Oeming and Victor Santos with Veronica Gandini
• This week’s Mice Templar: Destiny marks a strong turn for the series as the downfall of the Templar is revealed and the failure of Leito’s insurrection has dire consequences.
• There are subtle shifts in the character interaction here, most notably between the female mice and Leito, as well as between Cassius and Karic. Bryan Glass does a great job of moving these relationships in a new direction without being too bold, which I think is a testament to his strength as a character writer.
• I’ve always loved the depth of the mythology and history of this series, so this issue’s exploration of these really worked well for me. In past issues like this, the revelations could be a bit forced and harder to trudge through, but the revelations here are very clear and naturally unfold out of the story.
• This is definitely one of the darkest and most violent issues of the series, which really pushes forward how grim the situation is, which makes the hope of Karic’s ascension all the more powerful (kind of like Luke’s Jedi training in Empire Strikes Back).
• This issue features one of the most powerful moments of the entire series, in which we see Karic fully accepting his role as a warrior. It comes suddenly and with great impact—a great payoff for longtime fans of the series that is bittersweet in that it appears to be the final nail in the coffin for Karic’s innocence and naïveté.
• The art team of Victor Santos and Veronica Gandini are getting better and better with each issue. There is really no facet of the art in this issue that isn’t fantastic, from the energy to the expressions to the layout and to the depth—it’s all just stellar work.
• I loved the way that Santos uses larger panels in this issue, not necessarily for pacing, as the pace is largely dictated by the script, but to actually present major moments in the issue as literally bigger.
Verdict: Must Read. I think this might actually be my favorite issue of Mice Templar yet, which says a lot considering how much I’ve been loving the series since it began in 2006. The shift in tone and strong mix of action and character work, along with simply amazing art makes this the most well-rounded issue of the week and one of the finer issues of the year. The bar is always set high for this series, but next issue really has big shoes to fill!