Thursday, March 4, 2010
With only four issues being reviewed, this is the shortest countdown in the history of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings. Interestingly enough, it is also the most positive. Every book this week gets a good review, but only one can take home the Book of the Week honor. Will it be Marvel’s lady-centric Girl Comics? Perhaps it is the surprising pick-up of Jonah Hex? Heck, it might even be First Wave or GI Joe. Chances are, it is going to be one of these books because I didn’t buy anything else at the story. Want to know who is #1? 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 Various
Art by Various
Letters by Various
Cover by Amanda Conner and Laura Martin
• Despite having a really bad name, Girl Comics is Marvel’s admirable attempt at spotlighting some of the best and brightest female creators in the comic book industry, from well-known talents like cover artist Amanda Conner to rising stars like Elizabeth Breitweiser to women that you might not have heard of, but definitely should check out like Colleen Coover.
• This issue kicks off with a short introduction by Colleen Coover that plays up Marvel’s female heroes, but also serves as a meta-commentary on the entire Girl Comics project. Since Coover’s style is a ton of fun, seeing her draw some of the most prominent female characters is a great way to start things off.
• The first story in the anthology is a Nightcrawler tale set to the tune of “Die Moritat” (“Mack the Knife” by writer G. Willow Wilson (who wrote Air and the amazing Cairo for Vertigo) with art from Ming Doyle and Cris Peter. The story is incredibly thin and the art is very muddled with some very strange design choices. It is the weakest of the bunch, unfortunately. I had very high hopes considering how great Wilson’s work has been in the past.
• The second story follows Venus of the Agents of Atlas as she overcomes the chauvinism of the male gods by besting them in a wager. Trina Robbins has a good handle on the characters despite avoiding the superheroics you might expect while Stephanie Buscema’s ultra-stylized art has a fun tiki-bar quality to it. This story works best as a metaphor for women struggling in any creative field, making it a great fit the issue.
• The book then switches gears to profile Flo Steinberg, who is perhaps the most important person in Marvel’s history that you’ve never heard of. I’ve had some familiarity with Steinberg, but never realized just how integral she was to Stan Lee’s reign. If this retrospective doesn’t warm your heart, I don’t think we can be friends any more.
• Valerie D’Orazio pens the strongest story in the anthology with art from Nikki Cook and Elizabeth Breitweiser. The short Punisher tale is incredible effective and powerful as it distills the essence of the character while going for a gut reaction with its plot. Very few stories can be as effective as this in just four pages.
• I found myself literally laughing out loud a the next tale, which followed Doctor Octopus through his troubles while shopping and the inevitable loneliness that he faces. Lucy Knisley does a brilliant job here and makes me wish that she would write a story like this for every Marvel character.
• This is followed up by another strong retrospective on artist Marie Severin, whose work you’ve probably admired for years without ever realizing she was the one drawing it.
• Robin Furth and Agnes Garbowska keep things moving forward with a retelling of Hansel and Gretel starring Valerie and Franklin Richards that feels weirdly out of place and suffers from some pacing issues that were hard to ignore. It was cute and all, but it never really came together for me.
• Underrated writer Devin Grayson makes her return to comics in the final story of the anthology. She teams up with artists Emma Rios and Barbara Ciapro in a short but intense look at the Cyclops/Wolverine/Jean love-triangle. It looks like Grayson might have some rust from her time away from the industry, but you’ll hardly notice because the art by Rios looks so incredibly good.
Verdict: Buy It. Yes, Girl Comics does feel like a gimmick and it does have a pretty stupid title. Once you get past that, though, you get a very enjoyable and charming anthology that covers a wide range of styles and approaches to well known characters from talented creators. There are some low points, but they are majorly overshadowed by the issue’s strengths. The hook is the fact that this was all done by female creators, but the message is that great storytelling and talent transcends gender.
Written by Robert Atkins
Art by Robert Atkins, Clayton Brown, and Andrew Crossley
Letters by Robbie Robbins
Covers by Robert Atkins with Andrew Crossley and David Williams with Kelsey Shannon
• After being handily defeated last week by a Cobra agent, Scarlet and Duke find themselves wrapped up in the investigation of the doctor that Cobra kidnapped to work on the MASS Device, which is now fully operational.
• This is a really well-paced issue that has a strong build towards a very intense conclusion. What I really like about how this issue draws together is that it doesn’t really end on a proper cliffhanger or with a big action piece, but rather with the promise of a new threat. It’s very enticing in an unusual way.
• The plotting of this issue is very direct, but Chuck Dixon keeps things fresh and lively by throwing in lots of personality. I absolutely love his headstrong take on Scarlet, especially when she trashes a policeman for having been in the Marines.
• Knowing how the story of Destro traditionally pans out, it is interesting to see him rendered ineffective in this issue by the Baroness. It is cool to see Dixon setting up for what we’ve seen in other Joe stories, though it will be more interesting to see what twists he throws in there.
• I absolutely loved the final page of this issue and the Joe’s tribute to Bazooka. Dixon does an amazing job of distilling loads of camaraderie into just a few lines. It is very heartfelt without having to drone on and on and on.
• Robert Atkins continues to make this series look fantastic. His art is just the right balance between a detailed realism and a style that makes the characters look like action figures come alive. I don’t think GI Joe has ever had a more fitting artist.
• There were a few places where the facial expressions seemed overly stylized, which didn’t gel well with the rest of the art. These were more distracting than effective.
• I know that it is supposed to be your standard fare for a scientist, but the doctor’s outfit looks like cheap early 90s workout clothes. The design just doesn’t work for me.
Verdict: Buy It. This is a very solid, straightforward issue that showcases a lot of the strengths that have made GI Joe such an excellent series since it was relaunched with IDW. Both Chuck Dixon and Robert Atkins have hit their respective strides with the series. I absolutely love the way that they are building up both Scarlet and Destro, two of my absolute favorite characters in the franchise. This issue works on a number of levels and is well worth your time and cash.
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Rags Morales and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Clem Robins
Covers by JG Jones and Neal Adams with Moose Baumann
• DC’s pulp universe makes its proper debut in this week’s First Wave #1, which focuses on introducing the elements and characters of this new world, most notably Doc Savage and the Spirit.
• The plot is really secondary to the world building and character introductions. Brian Azzarello plots very tightly around these, but almost too tightly as a second read might be necessary to connect the dots in some places.
• Once you do get a good handle on where the plot is going, though, it is a very satisfying read with some very cool mysteries building up. I really dug the cliffhanger introducing this world’s Blackhawks. I’ve always been a big fan of the concept, so I can’t wait to see what Azzarello has planned for them.
• It is really interesting to see the parallels that Azzarello seems to be building between how Doc Savage is perceived by his world and how Superman is to the regular DCU. This could be a subconscious move, but it certainly makes the character accessible to more casual fans.
• I’m also really impressed with how Azzarello finds a perfect balance between how ridiculous the Spirit is personality-wise, but how seriously he takes his mission to fight crime. He really makes the character work in ways that most contemporary writes have struggled with.
• The art by Rags Morales is very solid and is a great fit for the series. He is really playing with noir aesthetics which adds to the pulpy feel, but not to the point that it is overdone.
• I was surprised by how stiff the art could be, especially during the “talking heads’ scenes. Morales is normally a very fluid artist, so this was a bit of a shock.
• I really dig the colors by Nei Ruffino. She makes some very bold choices that keep the book from being too grim, but never so bold that it clashes with the tone of the story.
• I was really surprised by how rendered the colors made the characters look and I don’t think I would have noticed it as much had DC not printed the black-and-white preview pages in the vast majority of its titles over the last few months. I don’t think this would have been as evident had I not seen the colorless previews.
Verdict: Buy It. As a fan of the pulp style and of how seamlessly Azzarello can work his magic with it, I had very high expectations of this comic. I was not disappointed. While I would like to see more of a focus on the plot, this is an excellent “hit-the-ground-running” approach to developing a new universe as Azarello gives the reader just enough plot to be intrigued while putting a big push behind the characters and concepts of the new world. Rags Morales and Nei Ruffino make a formidable art team here that compliments the story incredibly well. This is definitely a great start and I can’t wait to see where the creative team goes with this momentum.
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Billy Tucci and Paul Mounts
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Billy Tucci and Hi-Fi
• As interested as I have been in the Jonah Hex series by two of my favorite writers, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, I’ve avoided picking this series up for the sole reason that I had been working on my own Western comic for the last several years and I didn’t want to be unnecessarily influenced by such a prominent title (neurotic, i know). Now that my comic is with an artist (more on that in the future, True Believers), I decided to give this week’s Jonah Hex a flip-through at the local comic book shop yesterday and decided to snatch it up based upon the strength of Billy Tucci’s art.
• My first conclusion after finally reading Jonah Hex after several years of interest? It is time for me to start buying some back issues.
• This issue follows Hex as he enlists the help of an actress to help him bring a group of train robbers to justice, only to find that you really can’t trust anyone in the lawless west…including the law.
• This issue is very tightly plotted with every single panel pushing the story forward and building up tension towards the series of excellent twists that close out the issue.
• The twists really caught me off guard. Even when I thought that there was nothing else that Palmiotti and Gray could do to surprise me, they pull of an incredibly shocking and brutal ending.
• The character work here is very excellent. Palmiotti and Gray play a lot with archetypes of the Western genre, only to add their own twists and spins on well worn characters.
• The interaction between Hex and Lana the actress was superb. They made for excellent foils for one another in a classic “beauty and the beast” type arrangement, even though the beastly sides of both characters come to light by the end.
• Even though I have some familiarity with Hex from DC’s animated projects and reading some classic back issues in my younger days, I’m glad that I picked this issue to start with. It is a great introduction to Hex and his work, making it a perfect jumping on point for new readers.
• Billy Tucci’s work is amazing here. It is up there with his Sgt. Rock work in terms of quality. It was his work that hooked me at first glance and it kept me throughout the entire issue.
• He has a great sense of detail that is complimented by very strong expressions and excellent storytelling. I love that he doesn’t skirt around the brutality of the old west, but doesn’t revel in it either.
• Paul Mounts deserves a lot of credit for his colors here. He gives the book a faded look that is a nice touch for a book that takes place during the time period, but doesn’t mute the colors so much that it feels like a gimmick. He finds great balance.
Verdict: Must Read. I’ll put it bluntly for you, friends. If this issue is any indication of the quality of Jonah Hex, then I’m stupid for not picking it up sooner and you probably aren’t doing much better for not reading it either. We seriously need to remedy this and the first step is by picking up this incredible issue. In a week full of top-notch comics, this was the easy choice for Book of the Week. I really can’t recommend it enough.