Thursday, February 4, 2010
What would be a relatively light week for the Comic Book Review Power Rankings filled-out nicely this week thanks to some surprise review comics that were sent to me by some fine indie publishers, as well as two in-shop decisions. Will one of these upstarts take the top spot or will it be one of the few comics I actually intended to buy this week? You’ll have to hit the jump to find out, though I will say that choosing this week’s best book was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make since I started reviewing comics!
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 email@example.com.
Written by Nick Percival
Art by Nick Percival
Letters by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Cover by Nick Percival
• The good folks at Radical Publishing sent me two books to review this week, the first of which is the preview issue of Nick Percival’s upcoming Legends: The Enchanted.
• Legends is a steampunk take on fairy tale characters living amongst non-fairy tale types (similar to Fables in concept, but not in tone or style) and the horrific world in which they live.
• This issue is meant to preview the upcoming hardcover graphic novel and, in same ways it works, while in others it completely misses the mark.
• You do immediately get a feel for the world as the story kicks off with a violent action sequence and proceeds to lightly introduce some of the main characters including Jack the Giant Killer, Red Riding Hood the Wolfslayer, and a very Frankenstein-esque take on Pinnochio.
• While you do get a feel for the world and the characters, you don’t really get much in terms of plot. This issue is a loose collection of one-off scenes, none of which really establish or hint at much of a story. There just isn’t a lot of substance here.
• Percival’s art is probably the biggest hang-up for me though.
• I will compliment the lush textures and intriguing designs, but the execution just does not sit well with me.
• For one, it is incredibly stiff. The style of the art does not easily give way to a sense of motion and so even the action sequences look ridiculously posed.
• Plus, the style just doesn’t work. It looks like a bad video game with strange proportions, characters and backgrounds that don’t seem to gel with one another, poor lighting, etc, etc.
• The biggest hang-up, though is that the characters don’t always look like they belong in the same comic. Some characters are hyper-realistic with a good sense of depth, while others are extremely flat and cartoonish. When the two appear on the same page it looks odd, but when they share a panel, it just doesn’t work.
Verdict: Avoid It. I was really intrigued by the premise of this comic, and still am, but the lack of a coherent plot and the haphazard art completely derails the train just moments after it leaves the station. As a preview issue, this should leave me extremely excited for to pick up the full graphic novel, but I think I’m honestly less interested after reading this than I was before. I hate to trash a review comic that was sent to me, but this one just doesn’t work (sorry, Radical folks!).
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Mahmud A. Asrar, Scott Hanna, and Bruno Hang
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Brandon Peterson
• The battle between the two Sphinxes heats up in this week’s Nova as the two pit their respective champions against one another in an all-out battle for supremacy, with the fate of the universe resting in the balance.
• The plot of this issue is extremely basic and reads more like the loose back story of a 1990s fighting video game than a comic book storyline.
• There isn’t a ton of a personality for the vast majority of the characters, especially in the fight sequences when the quipping is awfully throwaway and interchangeable.
• The one character that does come across well is Nova, though he is really pushed into the background in this issue.
• There is a lot going on here with Darkhawk and the Raptor fraternity, so if you missed that part of the War of Kings tie-in stories (which I did), you might get a bit lost in the second half of the issue (which I was).
• The main draw for this issue is artist Mahmud Asrar and for the most part, he does not disappoint. He does a great job with the action sequences, which make up the majority of the issue and his expressions are stellar throughout the issue.
• I also dig the perspectives and “payoff” panels that put a lot of emphasis on certain moments. All of this combines into some strong storytelling.
• There are a lot of inconsistencies in how the issue is inked with varying line widths, shadows, and details. This really detracts from the strength of the art.
Verdict: Check It. The strong art from Mahmud Asrar goes a long way in salvaging the uninspired plot of this issue. The story is really all about putting the Sphinx into a certain place for the final leg of this story, but it does so in a really drab manner. Thankfully Asrar comes in with one of his strongest Marvel outings yet to keep this one out of the fire.
Written by Jesse Blaze Snider
Art by Nathan Watson and Mickey Clausen
Letters by Deron Bennett
Covers by Nathan Watson and Veronica Gandini
• I was a bit hard on the #0 issue of Toy Story a few weeks back, but I’m glad to have the chance to take a second look at the series with this week’s #1 (thanks to writer Jesse Blaze Snider for hooking me up with a review copy).
• This issue picks up where the last left off as Andy’s toys find themselves having to rescue Buzz from a toy store when he is accidentally returned in place of a second Buzz that his grandmother gave him.
• In terms of tone and voice, this issue is lightyears (pun intended) ahead of the previous issue as Snider does a much better job of capturing the feel of the Toy Story films. I’m especially impressed with how he handled my two favorite characters from the franchise, Ham and Rex.
• I also really enjoyed some of the gags that felt perfectly in line with the films, such as how the toys dealt with being pulled over for driving too slow and Potato Head’s “driving glasses.”
• There were still a few points that felt out of place, such as some of the humor involving Rocky (the strongman/wrestler looking toy) and Woody calling the GPS voice “hot.” These didn’t match the tone of the rest of the script.
• There are also some minor pacing issues as the vast majority of the pages have very quick, short dialogue, while a few others are too densely packed and slow the scenes down unnecessarily.
• The drawback for me is really the art, though. Nathan Watson had his work cut out for him by having to adapt the characters to a 2D environment and I think a lot of the troubles stem from that.
• There are some major consistency issues with the designs, especially Woody, as certain facial features shit in shape and position from panel to panel. This is really distracting, especially considering how iconic these characters looks are.
• The more glaring problem, however, is the issues that Watson has with scaling the characters. The size of the characters in relation to one another and their surroundings changes throughout the issue.
• I do want to give Watson some major kudos on the designs for the various Buzz Lightyears that show up in the final pages of the comic. That was a lot of fun.
Verdict: Check It. There are still some pretty major wrinkles that need to be ironed out with this comic—mostly with the art—but it is a major improvement from the last issue. Snider is clearly getting into the groove when it comes to his take on these very iconic characters as he increases his authenticity and authority when it comes to handling them. Writing alone, this is a really fun comic; I just hope that between issues #1 and #2 the art can make the same strides that the writing did between issues #0 and #1.
Written by Ian Edginton
Art by Patrick Reilly
Letters by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Retancourt
Covers by Marko Djurdjevic, Arthur Sudyam, and Clayton Crain
• Radical Publishing’s second offering of the week is the debut of their take on the classic Arabian Night’s tale of Aladdin, which sticks to the most iconic aspects of the story while adding some very dark twists.
• While the Aladdin story has been around for centuries, the vast majority of this comic’s audience is going to immediately associate the tale with the classic Disney film (one of my personal favorites) and writer Ian Edginton clearly understands that by matching up the two stories at key points. This is an excellent way to suck the reader in and familiarize them enough with the story before adding his own variations.
• These variations—including Aladdin’s back story as being raised in a brothel, making the princess more headstrong and intelligent, and the cameo by Sinbad the Sailor—add a lot of depth to the story that is really intriguing. What I dug the most about this is that it helps build excitement in the story—I want to see what the next variations are going to be when the issue ends.
• The dialogue is a bit stiff at times, with lots of exposition explaining what we are already seeing, which is frustrating. Aladdin also has a tendency to speak in much more contemporary terms than some of the other characters, which is distracting.
• The art is very lush and detailed. It should be noted, though, that Patrick Reilly picks-and-chooses what details to show very skillfully, not wasting his time on the superfluous nor ignoring important aspects like backgrounds (you laugh, but many artists with similar styles really ignore backgrounds).
• There is a lot of stiffness in Reilly’s style, though the majority of the issue is talking heads, so it is hard to gauge exactly how much of an issue this is.
• I would like to see more variations in the colors to help separate out the characters, though. I know it fits with the setting, but the character’s clothing is really drab and that holds the art in general back.
Verdict: Buy It. The price tag on this issue is a bit hefty ($4.99), but with 40+ pages of story content and superb presentation quality, this issue is still a strong value. Fans of the Aladdin legend should really enjoy the way that Edginton keeps things familiar while still taking ownership with his intriguing changes and strong character work. The art doesn’t exactly wow me, but when you’ve got a story this good, you can always make exceptions. This one might be a bit hard to track down for some readers, but if you run across a copy, it is well worth your time!
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Covers by Various
• I made it pretty clear in my review that I was not impressed with really any aspect of Siege #1 and so I honestly considered skipping this week’s issue. However, as a comic book reviewer, major event books are almost required reading for me. So, I gave Siege another shot and I’m really glad that I did.
• This issue picks up during the invasion of Asgard by Norman Osborn’s forces and serves mostly as setup for the big battle between Osborn’s “evil” heroes and the true heroes led by Captain America.
• This is an improvement on the first issue in every single way. There isn’t a single aspect of this issue that is not loads and loads better than the previous.
• A major part of this improvement is the solid pacing from both the writing and the art that does a great job of building tension throughout the entire issue, all leading up to a really awesome cliffhanger.
• Brian Michael Bendis does a great job of infusing his characters with personality, especially Ares and Captain America, who come across incredibly well here.
• The Captain America scene does seem to contradict what is going on in the Captain America book, with Steve having backed out of the role, but it works so well in this story that I really wish Ed Brubaker would be taking his cues from Bendis here.
• The only problem I have with this issue is the Sentry being too powerful. I understand he is the most powerful “hero” in Marvel’s stable, but the way he dispatches Ares is simply overkill. How am I to believe that he can be taken down without being brutally slaughtered by ALL of the heroes at this point?
• Olivier Coipel brings his A-game in a big way and produces some of his absolute best work in this issue. When you take on an event book, you have to step it up (like Lenil Yu did for Secret Invasion) and Coipel does not disappoint here.
• The character designs and layouts are fried gold. After seeing this issue, there is not a single character I don’t want to see him drawing full time.
• There is one major problem, which was an issue last time as well. In wider shots, Coipel drops all detail and, in many cases, goes as far as to draw faces without features. This is distracting and does not gel with the rest of his work, which is highly detailed, at all.
Verdict: Buy It. This issue is so ridiculously close to being a Must Read that it really comes down to problematic details that keep it from making the jump. The biggest problems are those few fundamental issues with Coipel’s art, though the reliance on a few clichés here and there from Bendis doesn’t do the issue any favors either. However, as a whole, this is still an awesome comic and a HUGE improvement over last issue. I lost all interest in Siege after that issue, but I’m sucked in now in a big, big way. If the same strides can be made in the next issue, this one is going to be epic.
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Arthur Adams, Mark Roslan, and Peter Steigerwald
Letters by Richard Starkings and Albert Deschesne
Cover by Arthur Adams
• Ultimate X kicks off this week with the debut of the team’s first member, Wolverine’s son Jimmy, as he faces his true identity when he discovers his power and has a fateful meeting with Kitty Pryde.
• This is, by far, the best Jeph Loeb comic since he jumped ship to Marvel and very much in line with his excellent DC work.
• The introduction and building of Jimmy’s character works really well as Loeb uses Jimmy’s adopted father as a narrator throughout the issue.
• The dialogue in this issue is very genuine and heartfelt with very strong character voices. This is definitely more in line with Loeb’s “color” cycle (Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Grey, etc), which were considerably more character focused than some of his later work.
• The only problem is that, once you realize Jimmy is Wolverine’s son, this issue becomes fairly predictable.
• Did Ultimate Wolverine and Ultimate Kitty have some sort of thing going on? That seems to be the implication in this issue, but considering she is in high school, I hope I’m just reading this wrong.
• I really only picked up this issue because of Art Adams’s art and it is just as good as I expected. Adams is one artist that, much like John Romita Jr., is already a legend, but seems to just get better and better as time goes by.
• Adams does an excellent job with his expressions, using not only the character’s faces, but their body language as well to convey their emotions. This is especially powerful with Jimmy as Adams gives him a subtle animalistic quality that really enhances the characterization.
• Adams really blows me away throughout this entire issue, except his take on Kitty Pryde. There is just something off about her. I definitely don’t like how weird her lips look, but there is something else that just seems “not right.”
Verdict: Buy It. Much like Siege, this issue was really close to take home a Must Read verdict. It is a very fun, very interesting, and very well-crafted comic book that showcases exactly why Art Adams is a legend in the industry and exactly what Jeph Loeb is still capable of, despite his seriously disappointing work since joining Marvel. It was the work by Adams that sold me on this, but Loeb stepping up really cemented the comic such a high spot on the Rankings. I just hope that this isn’t a fluke, but instead is a return to form for the once incredible writer.
I’d like to take a brief time out here to point out how difficult of a decision it was to choose the order of this week’s Top 3 books. This is honestly one of the most evenly matched trio of comics I’ve run across in some time. All three books are Must Reads and merit taking home the Book of the Week honor. You should probably go out and buy all three when you get done reading this!
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Marcus To, Ray McCarthy, and Guy Major
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Marcus To and Ray McCarthy
• Tim Drake returns to Gotham City in this week’s Red Robin, as he finds himself refreshed in knowing that Bruce Wayne is alive, but trapped in time. While there he swoons over Tam Fox, meets with Superboy, and finds himself in an unlikely team-up to stop Ra’s al Ghul.
• This issue is mostly setup and character exploration, so the plot is a bit thin in the first half, though it really picks up once the threat of Ra’s al Ghul is established.
• You won’t even notice the relatively thin plot anyway, though, as Chris Yost really rocks it with his character writing this week. It’s amazing what he has done for Tim in just 9 issues and this issue is really a culmination of that.
• I really enjoyed the parallels that he builds between Tam and Tim. It was light and fun; it is the first time you really see Tim as a teenager in this series, as his responsibilities have trumped the fact that he is still just a kid.
• The very heartfelt scene between Conner and Tim serves as a nice foil to Tim’s shocked reaction to seeing Stephanie as Batgirl.
• I cannot wait for the next issue of Batgirl to see what Bryan Q. Miller does with this team-up, though I’m also really interested to see Yost’s take on the character.
• The consistency and excellent designs from Marcus To are the high points of the art, though it is an excellent effort from To overall.
• The layouts are very clean and simple, but To mixes up the distance of his shorts for dramatic flair and it is very effective.
• I really can’t say much more about the art other than the fact that it just looks great. There is nothing flashy about it, but it tells the story perfectly, interacts well with the script, and is nearly mistake free.
Verdict: Must Read. Red Robin has been a great series since its debut last year, but this issue really sets a new standard for the title with stellar craftsmanship from Chris Yost and the art team led by Marcus To. The series is clearly turning a corner with this issue, which makes it a perfect jumping on point for both new readers and readers that might have jumped ship with the darker take on Tim Drake from the previous issues. Regardless, new readers, returning readers, and regular readers should not miss this issue under any circumstances.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Cover by Sean Phillips
• This week’s installment of Criminal: The Sinners follows Tracy Lawless’s less-than-daring escape from the military that is after him for desertion, only to find himself saved by one of the killers that he is tracking down. Meanwhile, Hyde’s toadies find out about his relationship with Hyde’s wife and he finds himself framed for murdering a Triad.
• This is very complex and fast paced issue as Ed Brubaker ups the stakes heading into the final leg of this story. This may be the best issue of Criminal yet in terms of building tension.
• The character writing her is incredible as Brubaker writes some of his best interaction in some time. The scene between Gnarly and Tracy is just phenomenal.
• I’m really impressed by how tightly plotted this story is. As the curtain is pulled back and more of the story is seen, it is clear just how interconnected everything else.
• The issue ends on one of the best Criminal cliffhanger’s yet with an awesome twist that is just one of a number of mounting problems for lawless.
• Sean Phillips, whose work has dwindled a bit over the last few issues, returns to form here. His dank, atmospheric art is back up to the level of previous Criminal arcs.
• The art is considerably less stiff, which was a major problem of the last few issues. Likewise, his use of spot blacks is now spot-on once again.
• I’ve complained over the last few issues that I’m running out of ways to praise the work of colorist Val Staples and things aren’t any better for me as a reviewer with this issue. As a reader, however, things are just as good as ever. Staples is the unsung hero of this art team as his bold color choices control the mood of the art perfectly and accent the work of Phillips in a way that I don’t think any other colorist could pull off.
Verdict: Must Read. Criminal was once the King of the Power Rankings, but the last few issues stripped the title of its crown (don’t get me wrong, it was still awesome, just not as awesome. With this issue, though, things are back to the levels that made this series the single best comic on the stands. In any other week, this would have been the easy choice for Book of the Week, but the competition was just a tad too fierce for this one to take the top spot. Don’t let that stop you from picking this up, though, as this is still require reading, True Believers.
Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Ben Templesmith
Letters by Robbie Robbins
Covers by Ben Templesmith and Tom Feister
• This week’s GI Joe: Origins is a done-in-one story that explores the origins of the villainous Baroness, from her upbringing as a spoiled aristocrat to her time as a jaded college student to her eventual role as a ruthless mercenary.
• The Baroness is amongst my favorite characters which piqued my interest, but what really sucked me in was the fact that Marc Andreyko was writing this one.
• Andreyko does some brilliant character building a fairly minimal script, writing one of the most efficient comics that I’ve ever read.
• It is really interesting to see the Baroness grow through various stages and where this splintered off into her being an angry revolutionary to one of the most deadly women on the planet. Andreyko does a great job of telling story in just one issue, but I would love to see what he could do with a full miniseries or story arc.
• I loved the twists in the farming device, which follows the Baroness as she tracks down a former lover. The back story explains why she is the way she is, but it is this story that really hammers home exactly what she has become.
• Ben Templesmith’s art is moody and incredibly atmospheric. At times, it is practically dreamlike.
• He utilizes very minimal line work with stark monochrome color choices. It is the exact opposite of what you’d expect to see from a GI Joe comic, but it works perfectly with the scripts.
• The designs for the Baroness really strip down the edginess that she is known for, making her appear more vulnerable, but never actual betrays the original design. It is a very cool choice on the part of Templesmith.
• Templesmith only really breaks away from his minimal style once in the issue, on the final and most telling page. It makes this page all the more powerful and is incredibly impressive.
Verdict: Must Read. When I first read the solicitation for this comic, I expected something edgier and blunter in its explorations of the origin of the Baroness. While the end result is absolutely nothing like what I had expected, I can honestly say that I would never want it any other way. This is a subtle and vulnerable exploration of one of the franchise’s darkest and most impenetrable characters, which makes it all the more fascinating. Everything about this issue works almost perfectly as Andreyko and Templesmith turn the readers’ expectations upside down while still staying true to the core of the character. This is a brilliant comic and should not be missed.