Friday, January 15, 2010
My apologies for the delay on this week’s Comic Book Review Power Rankings. Hopefully your Thursday wasn’t ruined by my absence. I am back in full-force today though, taking a look at six of the week’s biggest releases including an early favorite for the Single of Issue of the Year. Could it be the next installment in Tony Daniel’s Batman? Perhaps it is Rankings-favorite Secret Six? Or, perhaps, it is something totally different altogether. Hit the jump 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 battle between Team Arrow (Green Arrow, Speedy, and Black Canary) and the duo of Cupid and Everyman (Dark Arrow) got quite intense this week as the clandestine militaristic group Cobalt attempted to retake former operative Cupid in the midst of the fight.
• This issue is packed full of action and great quipping from writer Andrew Kreisberg. His incredible handle on the entire Arrow family is simply awesome and that really shows here. The dialogue is just bursting with personality and quality interaction.
• I’m not entirely thrilled about Cupid’s back story. It seemed interesting last issue, but quickly turned to heavy-handed when things like mind control-ish drugs come into play. It felt really forced.
• The biggest problem, though, is the Cobalt organization. There are a ton of clandestine groups in the DCU that do the exact same thing but are well known, so there isn’t much of a need for yet another one here, especially with such a ridiculous premise like only 19 people on Earth knowing of their existence.
• I was shocked by how spastic the art was in the main story considering the effort we’ve seen from Mike Norton and Bill Sienkiewicz in previous issues. When the art was tigheter and more controlled, the work is fried gold; however, as soon as Sienkiewicz loosened up, the art looks far too rough. This problem is made more apparent by how often the art switched between these stylized, including several switches on a single page.
• It also doesn’t help that David Baron’s coloring was surprisingly inconsistent. He seemed to be working from two vastly different palettes at times in the story, which is really distracting.
• Renato Guedes’s art was much better than it has been technically, though it was seriously bland. There isn’t a ton of depth or impact—the art just hangs on the page. I suppose I should be happy that the characters weren’t abnormally bulgy like they have been in past efforts from Guedes, but still…
Verdict: Byrne It. This is a wildly inconsistent issue that features some of the best and worst moments for both the writing and art that this series has seen (but more of the worst than the best). The character work was phenomenal and all of the artists show moments of great promise, but the issue simply can’t overcome the ridiculousness of the Cobalt group, Cupid’s back story, and the inconsistency with the art.
Written by Tony Daniel
Art by Tony Daniel, Sandu Florea, Norm Rapmund, and Ian Hannin
Letters by Jared K. Fletch
Cover by Tony Daniel
• The mysteries surrounding Black Mask and the resurgence of the Falcone family deepen in this week’s Batman, a densely packed issue that catches up with Catwoman, the mysterious Kitrina, and, of course, the Caped Crusader.
• The biggest problem with this story is, quite simply, that Tony Daniel has yet to find a unique voice for Dick Grayson. Once again this issue finds Daniel writing him too much like Bruce Wayne. The weird thing is, its actually a pretty decent Bruce Wayne to boot, so with some retooling, this would make an awesome story out of current continuity.
• On the flipside, his Catwoman is pretty top notch. I really dug her interaction with Kitrina Falcone, who is a fascinating character unto herself. Daniel is clearly influenced by Jeph Loeb in his take on the character (especially with the references to the When in Rome story), which I wouldn’t consider a bad thing.
• The pacing in this issue is really solid, but the story trips up as the mystery builds. There is too much here that is ill-defined, making it really hard to see the forest from the trees.
• Daniel’s art is still the strong point here with big action that utilizes shadows well and exhibits great movement. Daniel does a great job of making up for his lack of backgrounds by pulling readers into the action with solid detail and good choreography that keeps the eye focused on the main points of the panels.
• The art does suffer from stiffness and strange expressions, especially in close-ups and any time that Sandu Florea’s inks get really tight on the pencils. This is really distracting. Check out Damian’s conversation with Alfred and Batman’s confrontation with Jeremiah Arkham for the “best” examples of this.
Verdict: Check It. This would be a very fun issue with solid art were it not for the unclear direction of the story and the utter lack of a voice for Dick Grayson. Tony Daniel is crafting an excellent Bruce Wayne story with some of the best uses of Catwoman that we’ve seen in years, but that isn’t what he is actually going for, which really holds this one back.
Lead Written by Dan Jurgens
Lead Art by Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, John Stanisci, and Hi-Fi
Lead Letters by Swands
Backup Written by Matthew Sturges
Backup Art by Mike Norton and Guy Major
Backup Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund
• This week’s Booster Gold does its best to hang on to the new readers that the Blackest Night tie-in story brought in with not one, but two stories that are very accessible to new readers without alienating longtime fans.
• In the main story, Booster must stop a mysterious time traveler from disrupting the space shuttle launch that lead to Hank Henshaw becoming the Cyborg Superman, while his time-displaced sister is trapped in Coast City shortly before its destruction.
• The first story opens with a major fluff scene focusing on a fight between Booster and the Royal Flush Gang that isn’t tremendously interesting, but is a nice rundown of Booster’s mission and his double-life for new readers.
• I really enjoyed the parallel story structure with Booster having to save one of DC’s most vile villains (Cyborg Superman) even though he could be unwittingly ensuring his sister’s destruction by doing so.
• The majority of this story is told in a paint-by-numbers fashion with Dan Jurgens keeping the plot and dialogue fairly basic. He sticks to his guns and it works, though it is clear that he is writing more to the new readers than anything else.
• It was nice to see Booster back to his arrogant self for a bit though. It reminded me a lot of 52, which is always a good thing.
• The art takes a very basic and straightforward approach that isn’t tremendously flashy, but works really well. I was impressed with the choices for the panel progression.
• There are places in the art that don’t look quite as polished and really lacked in depth. Presumably, these are the parts of the issue that were done by guest finisher John Stanisci rather than series regular Norm Rapmund.
• In the second story, Blue Beetle and friends visit the temple where the Scarab was first discovered by Dan Garrett in an attempt to find out why Beetle has been acting so strange since the Scarab rebooted itself.
• This story is clearly setting up the close of the Blue Beetle backup and does so by bringing together a lot of hanging plot points, including some that were setup during the Blue Beetle ongoing series. That makes this little story a great payoff for longtime fans.
• The story is also really accessible thanks to the brief recap of Beetle’s origins and recent history. Writer Matthew Sturges thankfully keeps this short and to the point so as not to derail the bulk of the story.
• The biggest problem with the writing is that there are almost too many things going in this story for it to be contained in such a short form. There are a lot of ideas floating around here and some of them get shortchanged.
• It looks like Mike Norton is inking himself in this issue and, if he did, he does a great job with it. The art looks incredibly polished and features all of the aspects that earned Norton my award for Artist of the Year in 2009—strong designs, great expressions, superb storytelling, and a wonderful sense of motion and impact.
Verdict: Buy It. The two great stories in this issue are nice payoffs to readers that have been following them for a while, but remain accessible to new readers. The Booster Gold story felt a bit phoned in at times, especially with the opening sequence that dragged on a bit. I would much rather have seen less time focused on Booster pounding the Royal Flush Gang and more time given to Blue Beetle’s latest adventure.
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Lee Garbett, Trevor Scott, and Guy Major
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Phil Noto
• This week’s Batgirl follows the titular character on an impromptu team-up with the feisty new Robin, Damian Wayne, as they investigate the kidnapping of a classmate of Batgirl’s.
• This issue is a great example of how you don’t have to sacrifice plot when using character-focused storytelling. There is more than enough action to carry this story despite the fact that Bryan Q. Miller is clearly focusing on the characters and their interaction first and foremost.
• The dynamic between Batgirl and Robin is really well-played as Miller taps into the depth of the characters more than most writers have in recent memory. Even Damian’s “creator” Grant Morrison has yet to show the character in such a well-rounded manner as he appears here.
• Miller is just as successful in his portrayal of Dick “Batman” Grayson and Barbara “Oracle” Gordon. It’s well-known that I’m a big fan of this character pairing and Miller perfectly captures the chemistry between the characters without beating us over the head with.
• There is a fun parallel between how the former Robin and Batgirl used to spat in just the same way that the current iterations due, though Miller makes it clear that the match isn’t perfect (because truthfully, it would be damn creepy if that was the avenue he was going in).
• The plot has a good sense of mystery to it and its nice to see the junior members of the Bat-family using some detective work to uncover it, especially since they clearly struggle with the processes at times.
• I’m not real blown away by the choice of villain in the story (I won’t spoil it), as the story breaks down a bit around the reveal into well-tread territory (pretty much every story with this villain ends up being the same). However, it does put the characters into a good position for the next installment.
• Lee Garbett continues to show strong chemistry with Miller’s as he emphasizes key points in the script with excellent expressions and dramatic perspectives. The two really are on the same page with this one.
• I am a bit disappointed by the lack of detail in the art, though. There are multiple points in the issue where it was just far too bland. Detail shouldn’t be overbearing to the point that it distracts the reader, but at the same time its hard to get invested when there isn’t much there at all.
Verdict: Buy It. This issue was really, really close to pulling in the Must Read rating, but its missing that last bit of a polish that would have pushed it over the top. However, it is a finely crafted, character-focused story that is very engaging and is perhaps one of the best examples post-RIP of how Stephanie Brown and Damian Wayne are characters worth reading about.
Written by Gail Simone and John Ostrander
Art by Jim Calafiore and Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Daniel Luvisi
• Picking up after the events of last week’s “resurrected” Suicide Squad issue, this week’s Secret Six finds the titular team at odds with Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad after falling into the Wall’s trap; unfortunately for both groups, the threat of Black Lanterns led by the Fiddler is looming over them.
• This issue is filled to the brim with Gail Simone’s calling card of superb character interaction with the standoffs between Bronze Tiger and Catman, and Deadshot and Rick Flag making for some of the week’s most memorable moments.
• I honestly do not remember the last time I read such great ‘tough guy” battle talk, which is definitely more in line with John Ostrander’s writing. This issue is clearly the perfect blending of both writers’ strengths.
• It is interesting to see Bane picking up on his “fatherly” mentor role with Black Alice after the rift has developed between him and Scandal Savage. It is more subtle this time around, though, as Bane’s position is more of a proud father-figure than that of a protective one. It makes for a great dynamic that I look forward to seeing more of.
• I’m glad to see the Black Lanterns coming more to the forefront in this issue after they were largely absent in the last installment, though, truthfully, I think this story would be just as effective without them.
• The storytelling from artist Jim Calafiore is awesome here, especially during the battle sequences. His fight choreography—especially in the Bane/Nightshade scene—is top notch. This is precisely the flair that I said was missing from his art last week.
• I’m also digging how creepy Calafiore’s designs are for the Black Lanterns. We’ve seen just about every artist currently working on a DC book tackle these baddies, but this is one of the few times where they’ve actually seemed as nasty and disturbing as the superpowerd resurrected dead should be.
Verdict: Must Read. Under normal circumstances, this book would have been the easy pick for Book of the Week (more on that in a moment), as the craftsmanship of this issue is of the highest quality. The writing duo of John Ostrander and Gail Simone put their best feet forward and we get the best of both writers as a result. Meanwhile, Jim Calafiore brings the goods with the art. There really isn’t a reason that we don’t see more big name projects out of Calafiore and this issue is a prime example of why. This is just an awesome, awesome comic.
Written by Joe Kelly
Lead Art by Max Fiumara and Fabio D’Auria
Backup Art by Javier Pulido and Matt Hollingsworth
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Max Fiumara
• This week’s Book of the Week is also the week’s biggest surprise as the Gauntlet mega-story continues with the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man finding himself caught between not one, but two Rhinos in one of the most touching Spider-Man stories in years.
• This issue is almost entirely devoted to reinventing the Rhino, much like the previous Gauntlet issues have done with villains like Sandman and Electro. Unlike those issues, this doesn’t present Rhino as a more powerful villain, but instead as a more well-rounded character.
• I really can’t believe how much depth Joe Kelly adds to Rhino in this story. I never would have believed that he could be such a sympathetic character, and yet, by the end of this issue, I was cheering him on more than I was Spider-Man.
• That’s not to say that Spider-Man doesn’t have his moments here. The interaction between Peter Parker and Norah Winters is witty and charming. It’s a great foil to the more serious undertones of Rhino’s story.
• This is the first time Norah hasn’t really annoyed the crap out of me, which is a great step forward for this series. On the same token, Kelly does a great job of writing Peter’s roommate Michelle, making this the first issue since #600 where she hasn’t been written as nothing more than a lunatic.
• To get back to Rhino, there have been a countless number of issues that attempt to humanize a villain by throwing in a love interest or other means of motivation. It’s a stock maneuver that has gotten a bit tired, but Kelly breathes new life into it back tapping into raw emotion here. By the end of the issue, you really feel for Rhino.
• The pacing of the issue and the simply astounding sense of voice combine to really pack a punch here. By the time you finish the first story, it is nearly impossible not to feel for Rhino to the point that the back up isn’t even necessary. However, the second story is so heartfelt and so effective in its charming simplicity that the combination of the two tales lead to this issue simply blowing all of the week’s other releases out of the water.
• I’ll admit that I don’t have a ton of familiarity with artist Max Fiumara, but after this issue, I’m a HUGE fan. His art is an awesome mix of stark realism and hyper-stylized designs that manages to capture the best of both worlds in a supremely effective manner.
• There is a ton of energy and personality in the issue, not only from the characters, but from the settings as well. There is very little about the art in the main story that isn’t awesome.
• Javier Pulido’s art is usually hit-or-miss with me, but I have to say, he really nailed the tone of the back up story. His simple, old school approach fits with the straightforward charm of the script. His work is overshadowed by the awesomeness of Max Fiumara’s work, but still stands on its own in a big way.
Verdict: Must Read. Is it too early to say that we have a major Single Issue of the Year candidate?