Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 12/23/09


It’s the last Wednesday of 2009 and while many of your local comic book shops won’t be shilling new issues this week, your pal Ryan the Iowan is serving up a fresh crop of reviews in the final Comic Book Review Power Rankings of the year! We’ve got capes and criminals and cosmic adventures galore in this week’s Rankings, but we’ve only got one Book of the Week. What will it be? There’s only one way to find out!

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 ryanreviews@gmail.com.


10. CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHO WILL WIELD THE SHIELD?
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Butch Guice, Luke Ross, and Dean White
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Covers by Gerald Parel and Alan Davis with Mark Farmer and Javier Rodriguez
preRanking: 08

• The Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? one-shot is a follow-up to the delayed Captain America: Reborn miniseries and focuses on the dilemma of who will be Captain America now that Steve Rogers has returned.
• I really have to express disappointment at the fact that this issue was released before the end of Captain America: Reborn, especially since it recaps the final issue. I understand that this issue does lead directly into the Siege storyline, but the scheduling snafu here is really problematic to me.
• Even more problematic, though, is how loose this plot is. Steve uncharacteristically doubts himself as Captain America while Bucky and Black Widow attempt to stop some escaped villains. It’s very flimsy and has absolutely no meat to it. I can’t see why there had to be a one-shot for this story when the decision could have been tacked onto the end of Reborn.
• I really don’t like the way that Steve Rogers is presented here. It just doesn’t feel “right,” especially not in the context of Ed Brubaker’s previous experience with the character.
• There are a few panels of fun interaction between Bucky, Widow, and Luke Cage, but for the most part the supporting character work is just as bland as the plot.
• I’m really surprised by how the art in this issue turned out. As a huge fan of Butch Guice, I never would’ve expected this issue to have turned out the way that it did. It is a horrible mix of styles and designs that looks muddy, unfinished, unpolished, and spastic in its delivery.
• Truthfully, it looks like dozens of artists looked on this. That is how uneven and inconsistent it is.

Verdict: Avoid It. This issue is a strong contender for least successful issue of the year. Not only does it do a poor job of capping off Steve Rogers’s return thanks to very strange characterization, but it also leaves me less excited about Siege than I was before—despite the fact that the purpose of the issue is clearly to take care of these two items. It doesn’t help that this is perhaps the weakest issue from Brubaker in any book this year and, quite frankly, the worst issue I’ve ever seen from the usually awesome Butch Guice.


09. FANTASTIC FOUR #574
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie, and Paul Mounts
Letters by Rus Wooton
Cover by Alana Davis, Mark Farmer, and Javier Rodriguez
preRanking: 04

• This week’s Fantastic Four focuses on the Franklin Richards’s birthday party and its most unexpected guest who gives Val a very ominous warning.
• This issue is jam-packed with guest stars, but if you aren’t super well-versed in your Fantastic Four, you are going to be lost on some of them. There are some really obscure characters here.
• The vast majority of this issue is the fluff story of Franklin’s party, with only a few pages dedicated to actually setting up a storyline. So, unless you are a huge fan of Franklin and Val (personally, I hate them), this isn’t the issue for you.
• I found it really odd that Val would call Franklin a retard. That is vulgarity that is characteristic of kids their age, but it just doesn’t make sense that a child of her caliber of intelligence would stoop that low. It doesn’t sit well with me for a number of reasons, but that is probably the biggest.
• The art from Neil Edwards is really rough and definitely holds this one back a bit. The biggest problem is that his faces over really over-rendered with a distracting amount of unnecessary details that make some of the faces look deformed. It reminds me a lot of Jerry Ordway’s work in that regard, which isn’t a compliment.
• It doesn’t help that his art is also very, very stiff and that is expressions are weak.
• I was pleased with his designs for the Thing and Spider-Man, but nailing the more outrageous elements simply won’t cut it when 80% of the characters appearing in the issue are regular humans without masks.

Verdict: Byrne It. This is definitely a step down from the rest of Jonathan Hickman’s run thus far, though it isn’t without merit. The craft and plot are really disappointing, but if you plan on following the series, you’ll want to check this issue out for the warning from the future and the surprising return of Franklin’s ridiculously powerful abilities (he creates a universe here, which is an example of one of the reasons I can’t stand the character—he is simply too powerful).


08. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #616
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Javier Pulido and Javier Rodriguez
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Paolo River
preRanking: 10

• The brief Sandman installment of the Gauntlet storyline wraps up this week in a hurry as Spider-Man attempts to “save” young Keemia from her villainous “father” only to find that there is no happy ending to this story.
• This issue is pretty heavy-handed as it delivers its interesting tome on the difficult decisions that heroes need to make in their commitment to justice. It’s a cool idea, even if we are somewhat beaten over the head with it.
• The end of this issue was pretty predictable, with much of the “mysteries” from the playing out exactly as I had expected them to, though I was a bit surprised by Sandman’s “separate identities.”
• This pacing in this issue is very odd, which makes it hard to get invested into the story as I felt jerked around as a reader.
• Of course, it doesn’t help that Keemia is really annoying, Sandman is barely developed here, and Spider-Man is put into a position where you can’t really like him no matter what he does.
Javier Pulido’s art is a step up from the previous issue as he plays up the Silver Age sensibility in his art and sticks to very basic storytelling conventions.
• The biggest problem with the art is the inconsistent facial designs. Eyes, noses, and mouths seem to change shape throughout the issue, even over the course of a single page. Check out the filler page with Carlie and Peter for the best example of this.

Verdict: Byrne It. I will admit that this is a considerably stronger issue than the previous installment in this storyline thanks to more definition in the plot and a stronger effort from Javier Pulido on the art. Unfortunately, there are simply too many issues in the plotting and the art is simply too inconsistent to Rank this one any higher.


07. STAR WARS: LEGACY #43
Written by John Ostrander
Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons, and Brad Anderson
Letters by Michael Heisler
Cover by Jan Duursema and Brad Anderson
preRanking: 07

• Things heat up in this week’s Star Wars: Legacy as the Jedi prepare for a secret meeting with the displaced Imperials about taking down the Sith Empire while Cade Skywalker is lured into a dark place from past.
• This is a very densely packed issue as nearly ever running plot thread moves forward in this issue. The problem is that there is so much going on in this issue that its hard to get invested into some of the smaller storylines that get fewer pages than Cade’s story.
• It is very cool to see Cade’s past being explored some more, especially since we see more of him as a child here than we have in any issue previous. It’s interesting to see him without his trademark jaded edge.
• Cade and Syn’s former boss Rav comes calling for them in a very awkward scene that nearly derails this entire issue. Something isn’t gelling right between the writing and the art, which meant it took me several readings of the scene before it started to make sense.
• This is not Jan Duursema’s strongest issue by any means. Despite some solid action and passable expressions, she faces major consistency issues. Duursema has struggled with this in the past, but nothing like this.
• Even characters that she has been drawing since the series started, like Cade, look awkward here. It’s really unfortunate considering how strong her art can be.

Verdict: Check It. Despite some cool things going on in this story, it’s a bit of a rough read at times because there is too much going on and not enough pages to contain it. The story in this issue could easily be spread out over two or three issues without being spread to thin, but as it stands, it’s a bit messy and the uncharacteristically weak art from Jan Duursema doesn’t help the issue’s case.


06. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #21
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, Victor Olazaba, and Wil Quintana
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Dave Wilkins
preRanking: 02

• This week’s Guardians of the Galaxy find what is left of the team struggling to stop a threat from the fault and dealing with the Universal Church when Moondragon makes a bold decision to save Knowwhere.
• This issue is very fast-paced as it rushes through a number of conflicts. There are a lot of beats going on here and none of them warrant a full issue to themselves, but I can’t help but feel that the ending would have more oomph if the rest of the issue wasn’t so rushed.
• A lot of the success of this issue hinges on Moondragon, who has never been Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s strongest character. They make some headway here, but not enough.
• The Matriarch of the Universal Church’s attack on Drax, forcing him to relive all of the suffering he has caused, was pretty awesome. I really hope that we see Drax dealing with this for a while, as it’s a really fascinating premise for that character.
• We do get one very cool “mission debrief” page, but that’s the most personality we get out of the Guardians because there is so much going on. That really seems like a shame, truthfully.
Brad Walker does a decent job with the art. It’s nothing spectacular, but isn’t horrible either. It’s pretty middle of the road and does a good job with what it needs to do.
• The only major problem is that Moondragon’s forehead and the space between her eyes is drawn differently in nearly every panel. This is an odd complaint, but the inconsistency is really noticeable.

Verdict: Check It. This is a fun little action comic that is by no means an offensive read, but also isn’t that exciting of one either. There are a few bits of fun personality and good action with serviceable art, but in the end, this is a pretty underwhelming issue. In the end though, I’d rather be underwhelmed than disappointed, so I can’t complain too much, I suppose.

05. GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #7
Written by Paul Dini
Art by David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez, and Tomeu Moret
Letters by Steve Wands
Cover by Guillem March
preRanking: 06

• This week’s Gotham City Sirens is a Christmas issue that follows the titular ladies as they pass the time waiting for their headquarters to be rebuilt—Catwoman assists the new Batman, Poison Ivy vacations in Central America, and Harley Quinn makes a surprise visit to her family.
• This is a very cool slice-of-life story that shows how strong of a character writer Paul Dini is and does a good job of establishing exactly what his take on the characters is.
• I really did not expect to learn so much about Harley’s family, but I think it is very cool to see how they helped shape the reasons behind her decisions, including her inspiration for getting into psychiatry. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen much depth added to Harley.
• Dini also ties this story into the current arc in Streets of Gotham, which was a very cool move, despite the fact that the Batman-Catwoman-Robin scene was very awkward and the weakest scene of the issue.
• The art really derails what the writing has going for it though. I’m just not sure what is up with the designs and overall quality of the art here. This is, in no way, up to par for the duo of David and Alvaro Lopez.
• There are a handful of pages that look really good, but the vast majority of the issue is filled with uneven designs, sloppy expressions, and very strange textures from colorist Tomeu Moret.

Verdict: Check It. This is a really, really fun issue that is full of charm and life thanks to the superb character writing from Paul Dini. Unfortunately, the art is a major misstep and distraction for what would otherwise be one of the best books of the week. I strongly suggest that you pick it up for the writing, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the art!


04. GREEN LANTERN #49
Written by Geoff Johns
Lead Story Art by Ed Benes, Marcos Marz, Luciana del Negro, and Hi-Fi
Backup Story Art by Jerry Ordway and Hi-Fi
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Ed Benes and Hi-Fi
preRanking: 09

• Truthfully, I’ve been dreading this issue since all the business with John Stewart returning to Xanshi began, as I’ve never really been a fan of the character. That being said, I was really surprised by how much I liked this issue.
• The issue is split into two stories, the first of which follows Stewart to the dead planet Xanshi as he faces a horde of Black Lanterns from his past and the second explores the origins of Nekron and the Black Lanterns.
• While I was expecting the worst, I was surprised to find that this issue is a pretty cool character study of who John Stewart is on a deeper level and what his motivations are. The end result is a take on the character that is considerably more interesting than anything we’ve seen before.
Geoff Johns finds a solid balance between payoff for longtime Stewart followers and recap for newbies, making this issue pretty heavy on continuity, but not in a way that readers will get lost.
• Its clear after this issue that John Stewart is going to be a major player for the Green Lanterns post-Blackest Night, especially with the sheer amount of will he exhibits here. I’m smelling a new Guardian.
• I absolutely love what they do with the planet Xanshi here, making it the Black Lantern answer to Mogo and Ranx the Sentient City.
• Both Ed Benes and Marco Marz put in solid efforts throughout this issue, though the pages don’t always gel from one to the next. I’m not sure if this is an issue with just one of the artists or if its due to switches in pencillers, but the result is a really uneven look.
• I will say, though, that both men do a tremendous job of capturing the intensity of the story with solid expressions and great layouts that reinforce the tone.
• The back up story is pretty unnecessary. A lot of what is covered here has been covered in other places just as well, if not better. Plus there is a line in there where Atom’s late-wife talks about how she wanted death for him, which doesn’t work for me at all nor does it go well with the actual events of Identity Crisis.
• The art in the backup doesn’t fair much better thanks to some very odd design choices, both in terms of character designs and the overall look of the scenes. It doesn’t help that the art as a whole looks rushed.

Verdict: Check It. This issue nearly jumped into Buy It range, but the thin plot in the main story and the unnecessary back-up story drag it down. I will say, however, that this is the best John Stewart has been written in a very long time and that this issue is worth a read for that reason alone.


03. CRIMINAL: THE SINNERS #3
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Letters Uncredited
Cover by Sean Phillips
preRanking: 03

Tracy Lawless continues to shakedown leads in this week’s installment of Criminal: The Sinners as the truth behind the murders he is investigating come to light and things take a dangerous turn for him.
• This issue is filled with the usual Criminal trademarks—super slick character work and very tight plotting.
• There are a ton of twists and turns here as the story moves at a super quick pace, but no issues arise in the writing out of it. Brubaker really nails this one.
• This is one of the deepest issues of Criminal yet as layer after layer is added to the narrative—if the previous Criminal stories are akin to classic noir films, this issue is more like the complex and fast-paced heist stories of the 70s.
• The unexpected downer of this issue is the art from Sean Phillips. Bad Phillips is still better than the vast majority of artists’ best work, but this one feels like a big drop off from his earlier work.
• Stiffness and facial construction are the biggest issues. It’s really odd to see something like Tracy’s nose shift in size and shape from panel to panel—that is really unlike Phillips and a big disappointment.
• Once again Val Staples works his usual magic with his sharp color choices. From afar, this really saves the art as the coloring is so solid, but once you take a closer look, it just doesn’t click like it normally does for this series.

Verdict: Buy It. Writing-wise, this is one of the best issues of Criminal in some time. Brubaker’s tight-plotting and strong character work combine for intensely deep issue. Unfortunately, this is a major misstep for artist Sean Phillips. His work is still good, but is not up to par with what I’d expect from him.


02. TEEN TITANS #78
Written by JT Krul
Art by Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, Ruy Jose, Rod Reis, and Pete Pantazis
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Joe Bennett, Jack Jadson, and Rod Reis
preRanking: 05

• The two part tie-in story to Blackest Night concludes this week as the unlikely trio of Deathstroke, Ravager, and Jericho battle for their lives against Black Lanterns from their family’s past.
JT Krul does more to sort out the mess that DC has made with Jericho and Deathstroke in this one issue than any writer has since Marv Wolfman first introduced them. This issue the issue that these characters needed and Krul absolutely nails it.
• This only works because Krul understands and perfectly conveys how complex Deathstroke is and how important family is to him—this has been his motivation for years, despite the fact that many recent writers have ignored this.
• What worked even better than Deathstroke’s attempt at reconnecting with his family is Ravager’s reaction to it—this was an excellent payoff to how she has been written since DC’s One Year Later jump put her on the Teen Titans team.
• Even beyond the superb character work, Krul does a great job at writing through the action of the issue with solid quipping and good plotting—all leading up to the next chapters in the character’s lives: Rose’s search for her mother and, presumably, Deathstroke taking over a Titans squad.
Joe Bennett and Company do a stellar job of capturing the intensity and chaos of this issue, but also handles the quieter moments between the characters with ease.
• The art is all about impact and intensity and the superb pacing and action chorography really hammer that home.

Verdict: Must Read. I’ll admit, I am coming to this issue with some bias—I’m a HUGE fan of Deathstroke and Ravager—but that also means that hypercritical of how the characters are presented. I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite issues for the duo. Even Jericho, who has basically been ruined by countless writers in the last few years, comes across well here. Plus, as a bonus, we get some sweet action and solid art. The only downside? JT Krul isn’t sticking around as writer after this issue!


01. ENDER’S GAME: COMMAND SCHOOL #4
Written by Christopher Yost
Art by Pasqual Ferry and Frank D’Armata
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Pasqual Ferry and Frank D’Armata
preRanking: 01

• The penultimate issue of Marvel’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game dropped this week in a big way with a jam-packed issue that follows Ender as he leaves Battle School right up to his fateful first meeting with Mazer Rackham.
• I’m really impressed with how well Chris Yost distills the original story in this issue. It is incredibly fast-paced and covers a lot of ground, yet is still intensely satisfying and very accessible to new readers.
• Ender’s meeting with Valentine before he heads to Command school is a key moment in the original story and Yost does a stellar job adapting it. He manages to capture both the heartwarming sensibilities of their reunion and the cold awkwardness springing from how much Ender has changed since he left for Battle School. I honestly think this scene is better in the comic than it was in the novel, which is a HUGE compliment.
• The plotting and pacing of this issue also deserves major commendation. This issue feels considerably longer than it actually is because of how well paced it is.
• Everything that I’ve complimented about the writing—the pacing, tone, character work, etc—can be applied to the art is well.
This is, quite simply, one of the best issues of Pasqual Ferry’s career. Even if you have no interest in this story (which you most definitely should), you absolutely must purchase this comic for the art alone.
• Aside from the fact that this is a supreme example of quality craftsmanship, this issue is worth reading simply because it is a great story. It’s an enjoyable read that hits all the right notes emotionally.

Verdict: Must Read. There is no reason that the internet is not abuzz with readers and reviewers talking about this issue. There was no other issue this week that could touch it. The creative team simply knocks this one out of the park, not only crafting an awesome adaptation of a great story, but succeeding by its own merits and, in some cases, actually exceeding the awesomeness of the source material.


That’s a wrap, dear friends! Don’t fret, though, there will be more comics to be reviewed in 2010 and I’ll be here each and every week telling you which books you should avoid like the plague and which books you absolutely must have in your collection.

In the meantime, though, be sure to check back at the Weekly Crisis tomorrow for my special Yearly Review Power Rankings, counting down the best and brightest that 2009 had to offer the world of comics. Then, as an added bonus, come back on Friday as I track and discuss the full list of Book of the Week issues for 2009!


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8 comments:

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Ryan - I agree with you about Phillips art in this one, seemed a little rushed, which is a shame, but I will say in his defence that the Undertown sign has always said Undertown with the blobes, it's just the globe for the second N doesn't work anymore and so at nifght it says Undertow. The scene in this issue is in the day, so it spells it all uniformly, but you'll see at night that the second N is always there, it just doesn't light up and looks lamer.
Anyway, happy new year, Weekly Crisis!

Ivan said...

What's wrong with Jerry Ordway?

Ryan Schrodt said...

@Ryan - Good catch on the Undertow. I'll have to check out my Criminal back issues for that one.

@Ivan - I'm not a huge fan of Ordway's work in the last 5 years or so. His faces are just getting increasingly awkward with weirdly defined features--too much "detail" around the cheeks and mouths.

Ivan said...

Ah, last five years or so, ok. I haven't seen his work in a while.

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