Thursday, November 5, 2009

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 11/04/09

It’s Thursday evening and you know what that means—it’s time to countdown the week’s best comics, or at least the comics that I picked up this week. Eight books made it home with me and I’ll be reviewing them all. All the way from A to Z…or more accurately although way from A (Amazing Spider-Man) to X (X-Men vs Agents of Atlas) and everywhere in between! But enough stalling—let’s get on to the Rankings!

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

Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Carlo Paguylayan, Gabriel Hardman, Chris Samnee, Carlos Rodriguez, Jason Paz, Terry Pallot, Wilfredo Quintana, and Veronica Gandini
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Adi Granov
preRanking: 05

• The brief battle between the X-Men and the Agents of Atlas wraps up in the second issue of the aptly-named X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas this week as Namor makes it clear to everyone that this was all just one big misunderstanding.
• This was really just a whirlwind of action and quipping, as the incredibly light story doesn’t offer room for much else—at least not until the surprise backup story that ties everything into the Assault on New Olympus storyline. This felt a bit forced, but I also haven’t been reading Agents of Atlas, so perhaps the seeds for this have been building for a while.
• I liked the “flashback” story from the previous issue, which seemed to be little more than a fluffy backup, actually tied-into the main story. The explanation for this is a bit hazy because of the unfocused nature of the writing, but it was still a cool swerve.
• I really liked seeing Namor showing off his authority. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen him written as such a commanding presence.
• There are simply too many artists working on this issue. I understanding having different artists on the “flashback” and the backup stories, but the main story becomes far too incoherent because there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
• That being said, Chris Samnee rocks pretty hard during the flashback sequence. His open line work is full of energy and personality, plus the coloring by Veronica Gandini is the perfect fit for this style.

Verdict: Read with Caution. Unless you are a huge fan of the Agents of Atlas or you plan on following Assault on New Olympus very closely, you can take a pass on this one. It’s fun for the action, but there really isn’t anything else here (other than the awesome art by Chris Samnee); and, quite frankly, there are better action books out there this week.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Tom Raney, Scott Hannah, Matt Milla, and Jean Paul Leon
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Adi Granov
preRanking: 07

• Just in time to start building hype for her appearance in the upcoming Iron Man 2 movie, Paul Cornell and Company take a look at Black Widow’s origins in this issue (bet you didn’t see that coming did you?).
• Widow’s origin story is framed with a present day story that follows the titular character as she reacts to her father figure, Ivan, is killed after something called the Ice Pick Protocol has been activated. Fro there its off to pre-World War II Russia where we see how she was raised and her first encounters with Wolverine and the Winter Soldier.
• The writing is fast and loose. There isn’t a ton of personality in the dialogue, as Cornell focuses more on building character through the situations that Black Widow faced during her childhood. This one is certainly more about plot than character.
• The briskness of how Natalia’s early years make them a bit hard to follow, especially when Russian politics and militaristic maneuvering is involved. It’s all interesting stuff, but Cornell doesn’t give it much time to develop.
• I did dig how Widow is linked early on to future allies Wolverine and Bucky—especially since it is very likely that the two will become embroiled in her search for answers about the Ice Pick Protocol.
Tom Raney and Jean Paul Leon share the art chores, focusing on the present day and flashbacks respectively. Both artists face a major problem with consistency.
• Raney’s take on Black Widow is all over the place. Her age, build, hair style, and facial features seem to shift from page to page. If you were to look at two scenes simultaneously, you’d never guess that it was supposed to be the same character in the same time period.
• Leon does some cool stuff with the flashbacks, as he mixes up styles from scene to scene. This seems to be a conscious shift as his 7 pages cover a large time frame, but unfortunately, because so little time is spent on each scene, the shifts are incredibly jarring and the effectiveness of this style never really takes hold.

Verdict: Check It. While I’m very harsh on the specifics of this issue, I will say that it was still pretty enjoyable in the long run. The framing device and mystery surrounding Ivan’s death is a good choice for revisiting Black Widow’s origins and makes the character all the more intriguing. Unfortunately, the pacing is almost too brisk to be effective and the haphazard nature of the art keeps this issue from fulfilling its potential.

Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Marco Checchetto, Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, Fabio D’Auria, and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Adi Granov
preRanking: 06

Marc Guggenheim’s final story as part of the Amazing Spider-Man Brain Trust comes to a close this week with an all out brawl between Spider-Man, Raptor, and Kaine inside Aunt May’s house.
• If you are looking for lots of punching, then this is probably the issue for you. In both the main story and the flashbacks, there isn’t a lot more going on in this issue than the characters punching one another and causing all sorts of destruction.
• While I’m glad to see that Raptor’s irrationality is explained a bit more in the flashbacks, I still feel that the villains act far too one-dimensionally here. It would be different if the real Ben Reilly made an appearance, but in the end, I don’t feel that the mistaken identity end of this story can really serve as the backbone for the entire conflict.
Screwball’s appearance in the midst of the fight was a lot of fun. As annoyed as I was with the character when she was first introduced, she is really starting to grow on me. I think there is a lot of the opportunity for the character if she were to drop being strictly a villain and move more into being an opportunist that will take either side for the sake of web-ratings.
• The art was a big step up in this issue in terms of quality and consistency. Both artists did a much better job with the action, but still broke down a bit when things got really chaotic. Also, while I know that this story builds off of stories from the 90s, I see no reason that the art should look like it stepped out of 1994.
• I’m still a bit confused by the lack of damage to Aunt May’s house in the epilogue. After that huge battle, including Raptor lighting stuff on fire, shouldn’t it be a bit more beat up?

Verdict: Check It. I will give this story kudos for ending stronger than it started, with all involved stepping up their game. Unfortunately, between the lack of a real resolution, the major plot holes, and the dated looking art, the stronger effort can only carry this issue so far. It’s too bad considering Guggenheim has been the strongest member of the ASM writing team; I would have much rather seen him go out on a better story.

05. THE BOYS #36
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson and Tony Avina
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Darick Robertson
preRanking: 08

• Having revealed his earliest years last issue, The Boys continues its exploration of Mother’s Milk’s origin in this issue, focusing on an early outing between Milk and Butcher as the two attempt to retrieve Milk’s daughter from her mother and some crazy cracked out dudes.
• This issue answers a lot of questions about Milk that began developing in the earliest issues of the series and adds some depth to the character.
• I’m glad we are getting to see glimpses of a more “human” side to Butcher—both in his attempts to help Milk, but also in his bruised pride after the massive beatdown he faces here.
• The solid pacing adds a lot of weight to the story. Garth Ennis perfectly positions the scenes to maximize the emphasis on important points.
• The biggest problem is that the story completely breaks down in the final pages as Milk compares his disillusionment with the team to the Brooklyn Bridge (which, in The Boys’ universe was destroyed on 9/11). I get the overall idea for what he is trying to say, but the specifics of the comments simply don’t make that much sense.
• I like the strong relationship between the writing and the art in this issue. Ennis backs off when its best for Darick Robertson to be the main story teller. This is a refreshing change of pace, especially since there have been so many weak fill-ins on the art for this series lately.
• It seems like Robertson might be switching gears with his art a bit here. He is using smoother lines and drawing much rounder characters. It is a subtle change, but if are really used to his usual style, it can be a bit jarring.

Verdict: Check It. This is one of the strongest issues for The Boys this year and would have easily jumped into Buy It status if not for the poor execution of the last few pages. So much of the issue builds up to that moment that its failure reflects poorly on the issue as a whole. Still, it is a good reminder of how strong this series used to be and promises some interesting twists in the future for this once-great series.

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice, and Paul Mounts
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Covers by Various
preRanking: 02

• The story in Captain America: Reborn picks up in a HUGE way this week as Sharon Carter’s role in returning Steve Rogers from his time displacement is revealed and the villainous team of Zola, Dr. Doom, and the Red Skull make a major power play.
• It still isn’t really clear to me how this time displacement stuff works, especially in regards to Steve’s body and it continues to get glossed over in a lot ways here. While I would like more answers, I think it is best just not to focus on it.
• The interaction between the villains was a lot of fun, especially when the Red Skull and his crew arrive in Latveria. It was a lot of fun seeing him and Dr. Doom attempt to one-up one another.
• Really, though, all of Ed Brubaker’s character work is just phenomenal. There isn’t a single character in this issue that isn’t fantastically written.
Bryan Hitch seems to be playing around with his art styles a lot in this issue. Each scene brings something different, which has varying degrees of success. I’d much rather have seem him stick to just a few styles like he had in the last few issues—one for Cap in the past and one for the present. I think it would have made the issue that much more coherent.
• I did absolutely love the amazing spread of Cap’s time displacement, which features him surrounded by memories and past events. It is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen Hitch draw.

Verdict: Buy It. This series was off to a very, very rocky start, but the last two issues have been great. This issue features the biggest advancement in the plot and answers a lot of questions that have been lingering since Steve was “killed” a few years back. If you’ve been following the Captain America saga since then, this is building up to be a great payoff and, this issue in particular, features some of Ed Brubaker’s best superhero character work.

03. NOVA #31
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Andrea Divito and Bruno Hang
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Brandon Peterson
preRanking: 04

• Just in case you didn’t get enough Nova last week (and really, who can ever get enough Nova?), another issue dropped this week, this time following the titular hero as he tracks down his fugitive friend Darkhawk, who is wanted for the murder of Lilandra during War of Kings. Meanwhile, the members of the Nova Corps don’t too kindly to being knocked down the ranks for retraining under the new Nova Corps drill sergeant.
• I would probably been even more excited about this had I read War of Kings: Ascension, which explains Darkhawk’s relationship to the Raptors (not to be confused with the lame villain from this week’s Spider-Man or the lame basketball team from Toronto).
• As it stands though, I still really dug this one thanks to the awesome character work from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Every character is a joy to read and the interaction between everyone is phenomenal, whether it be Nova and Darkhawk dealing with their past or the cadets attempting to cope with their new status quo.
• The pacing in this issue worked really well to build up towards the shocking ending. You can sense something big about to happen, but it’s so easy to get wrapped up in Nova’s chase after Darkhawk that you forget about how unstable their location is.
• I’m glad to see the writers tying this story not only to the War of Kings events, but also to Darkhawk and Nova’s involvement in Secret Invasion. It makes the issue feel like the story has been building for a long time and adds some weight to the conflict.
Andrea Divito does a wonderful job here. The art works especially well during action sequences thanks to the fluidity, strong layouts, and varied perspectives. Divito also does a great job at handling the various races and species present in the issue.
• The only complain I have about the art is the lack of depth. Everything looks really flat at times, which is partially due to the limited backgrounds. More work done on this aspect would really elevate the look of the issue.

Verdict: Must Read. Even without having a ton of knowledge about Darkhawk’s situation, I found myself completely enthralled by this issue. The strong character work sucks you, while the fast paced action and interesting twists keeps you begging for more. Andrea Divito tops it off with a strong effort with the art. After slightly disappointing me last week, this series bounces back in a big way here.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
preRanking: 01

• Just when it seems like things couldn’t get any weirder for Ultimate Spider-Man, Mary Jane makes a very interesting confession to our hero, Johnny Storm makes an equally as interesting decision, and Mysterio keeps things interesting with an attack on New York.
• It’s great to see Brian Michael Bendis branching away from the 616 storylines and taking the characters into new directions here with fun twists like Johnny Storm wanting a secret identity or the Gwen/MJ/Peter love triangle.
• The dialogue in this issue is amazing. It’s clean, fast-paced, and full of personality. Bendis really understands the mindset of the characters and, despite the extraordinary circumstances, writes them convincingly well.
• The balance between Spider-Man’s adventures and Peter’s personal life works really well and I’m glad to see that neither one overpowers the other. Both are really interesting and at no time do I wish that one side was shown more often than the other.
• As much as I was on the fence about Mysterio before, his involvement in this issue was top-notched. It was telegraphed a bit, but still played out great to help elevate the character.
David Lafuente’s art is so perfect for this series. He brings so much life and energy to the characters, with a crisp, modern flair that simply fits. I can’t imagine any artists that would do a better job (except perhaps Adrian Alphona, maybe?).
• Lafuente utilizes some very interesting layouts in the issue. Everything is grid-based, so there aren’t any overlapping panels, but he sets them up interesting ways, especially on his spreads. It’s very cool, very inventive, but, most importantly, very readable.

Verdict: Must Read. I’ll keep it simple with this one. The worse part about Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man is that it isn’t the Spidey book that is released thrice monthly—once a month simply isn’t enough for this spectacular series.

01. SECRET SIX #15
Written by John Ostrander
Art by Jim Calafiore and Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Daniel Luvisi
preRanking: 03

Gail Simone has done such a brilliant job with this series that I approached this issue with some hesitation. Yes, Deadshot is the character that John Ostrander is perhaps best known for, but I was still cautious with my favorite mainstream monthly book being in the hands of another writer. This was very, very, very foolish of me.
• This issue is an awesome look into the mind of Deadshot, who reaches out to the former clergyman of Belle Reve after he feels that he is out of control with his homicidal tendencies.
• Ostrander does an amazing job of fleshing out and adding more depth to Deadshot without alienating his cold-blooded core.
• I love the parallels that Ostrander makes between Deadshot and Batman, including their origins and their early connections. That is a very cool move that isn’t excessively heavy-handed.
• This issue shows a great approach to retcons. Ostrander isn’t necessarily reinventing or reinterpreting the character, but rather just reevaluating him. He is breaking down what makes Deadshot tick, then building from there.
Jim Calafiore has been one of my favorite underrated artists for some time now and he does not let me down here. His anatomy has a touch of realism that fuses well with the standard superhero conventions. Its more of the same here.
• Calafiore’s panel progression is always strong and this issue is no different with great layouts and strong storytelling.
• How awesome was the “Deadshot vision” that allowed for the art to unveil bits of Deadshot’s psyche without having to rely on the writing?
• I like the sense of depth that Jason Wright adds with the colors. His shadows are impressive and keep Calafiore from having to use heavy blacks, which wouldn’t work well with this style.

Verdict: Must Read. John Ostrander proves that he hasn’t lost a beat with his signature character in this excellent story that does wonders at getting into Deadshot’s psyche. Ostrander builds a perfect bridge from his classic interpretation of the character to Gail Simone’s current take while adding more depth to Deadshot than I think has ever been presented before. When you add in the stellar work by Jim Calafiore, you’ve got not only the best book of the week, but also one of the stronger issues of the year and Secret Six’s unprecedented 7th Book of the Week honor for 2009.

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brandon said...

I picked up Secret Six solely because of Ostrander and it was outstanding. I've never read an issue of this series before and I was sucked in immediately. Worthy of picking up even for the casual fan.

Anonymous said...

Nice rankings. Fuck you for saying the Toronto Raptors are lame

Anonymous said...

Ryan, you really ought to make it your business to check out War of Kings: Acension. The two-part Darkhawk mini written by CB Cebulski was lame, but Acension picked up where that left off and was DnA goodness all the way.

Radlum said...

This week's issue of Ultimate Spider-Man was the best so far; I really liked the Gwen/Peter/MJ and Peter/Johnny/Aunt May dynamics; the art is great, except for Peter's hair (sometimes he looks like an ugly woman instead of a long haired teenager) and Spider-Man's body. I just hope they don't drag the mistery of the Shroud's identity for too long.

JP said...

Great rankings as usual.

However, I have to admitt that I was disappointed that there was no mention of of the "Doom Patrol" Blackest Night tie-in issue.

Now I will admitt that I did not read the previous issues and that my only exposure to Doom Patrol was their appearence in the Teen Titans animated series. That and I only bought the issue to get the Sinestro Corps promo ring. However, I am pleased to say I don't feel cheated out of 3.99.

Believe it or not the Blackest Night crossover really helped this issue out. Old members come back and give the current team a great foil to react to. This issue introduces some real action and conflict for its developing characters. Definitely an upswing in quality and hopefully a sign of things to come. The Metal Men feature maintained its usual high quality as well.

P.S.>>Yes the Chief is a bastard, but a glorious bastard as this issue showed.

P.S.S.>>Secret Six definitely earned that number one spot, my only problem with “Deadshot vision” was that Paul Dini did the same kind of vision with Mr. Zsasz in an issue of "Streets of Gotham" a couple months ago. (just an observation.)

Daryll B. said...

My problem with the X-Men/AoA story wasn't the story, it was in how it was marketed. Marvel might have wanted to let fans of Hercules know that this contained a pretty big plot point leading into Assault.

And with the delays on Astonishing X-Men, you think this latest plot point mirroring a major crossover was just coincidence? Anyway, I still liked the read for this: A flesh sentinel, created from a dead x-man, shooting broodlings from its fingers...Ellis is amazing...I think that tops anything X-Necrosha will hit us

For all the grief I have given Herogasm (I am not a McCrea fan), they left fans with a lot of interesting questions about key characters. And the intrigue got heavy.

What more can be said about Ostrander and the members of the original Suicide Squad? The man gets these characters and makes that the only Blackest Night one shot I would want to pick up. Deadshot and Catman need an animated buddy movie along with the rest of the Secret Six. (Yeah we know DC will get right on that)

Nathan Aaron said...

"The worse part about Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man is that it isn’t the Spidey book that is released thrice monthly—once a month simply isn’t enough for this spectacular series." Actually this is probably the reason it IS a better series (well, actually there are a LOT of reasons, but for my point here...) bi-weekly books obviously can't maintain their quality level for a long duration, as is becoming evident with Amazing. I really really think they need to just return it to monthly status. I've been buying this book without a single drop since John Bryne rebooted it, but I'm getting close to giving it a rest.

Ryan Schrodt said...

@Brandon - If you dig Deadshot, you really should hunt down the back issues of Secret Six. It is by far the best comic being put out by the Big Two.

@Anonymous1 - Sorry, dude. I hereby retract my comment about the Toronto Raptors.

@Anonymous2 - I'll see if I can snag the Ascension mini sometime.

@Radlum - I'm thinking Shroud is going to end up being Kitty. I'm not sure why, just a gut feeling.

@JP - I picked it up to get the Sinestro Corps ring, but I haven't read it yet. Glad to here it is good!

@DaryllB - You make a lot of interesting points, but none better than the awesome idea of a Secret Six DCU Animated movie. How awesome would that be?

@Nathan - You are probably right, but its just wishful thinking. I was fine with the up-down-up-down level of quality from ASM until I started reading Ultimate Spidey. The former just can't compare anymore. Was Ultimate Spidey this good before the relaunch? I didn't pick it up until it started over at #1.

Steve said...

Ryan: Yes, Ultimate Spider-Man has always been this good. There have been a few disappointing arcs (Deadpool comes to mind) but on the whole, Bendis has consistently written the teen drama and angst better than anyone. The supporting cast has always been a huge draw, and there's always been a perfect balance of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Since you've been liking the relaunch, you should definitely go and try to catch up on the series (no small feat considering there are over 130 issues).

Chris said...

Holy crap, a review that doesn't completely trash Amazing Spider-man!

Daryll B. said...

LOL Ryan. Unfortunately the closest we will get to that animated movie is the JLU episode.

But we can dream....

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