Thursday, March 11, 2010
It’s Thursday! You know what that means right? It’s time to countdown the week’s best comics and they are all right here on the Comic Book Review Power Rankings. This week’s chock full Rankings favorites like Secret Six, Elephantmen, and Criminal, as well as new issues of Batgirl, Red Robin, and more. We have a lot of great books this week, but there can only be one Book of the Week, though, and you have to hit the jump to find out what it is!
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 JT Krul
Art by Diogenes Neves, Mike Mayhew, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Vincente Cifuentes, Ruy Jose, Nei Ruffino, and Andy Troy
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Art Germ
• The Arrow Family mini-event kicks off this week with the Justice League: Rise and Fall Special, which follows up on the events of Cry for Justice and sets things in motion for The Fall of Green Arrow storyline that kicks off next week.
• For those of you that haven’t heard, Cry for Justice not only featured Roy “Speedy I/Red Arrow/Arsenal” Harper losing his arm in a brutal attack from Prometheus, but also feature the destruction of Star City and the death of Roy’s daughter Lian. Faced with all of this destruction, Green Arrow snaps and murders Prometheus, leaving his body to rot. In this issue he goes on the hunt for the other villains involved and finds himself at odds with the Justice League.
• I should preface my review by saying that I hate this direction and I hate the choices that have been made so far. I think that they are cheap shock value plot points that were highly unnecessary. There is an old saying about things that ain’t broke that really applies here.
• That being said, I think that JT Krul does the best with the bad lot. His character interaction, especially with the non-Arrow family characters really worked well for me. I especially dug the Flash (Wally) and Batman (Dick) scene, though Dick did really come across as a tad too judgmental on Roy, but it was in a brotherly way.
• Krul does his best to explain Ollie’s actions, but it ultimately falls flat around the concept. Ollie as the Punisher doesn’t work, even if it is something that his title has tried to build towards over the last few years. It doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t feel like a natural progression for the character, even under such unordinary circumstances. You simply can’t fix that part of the story, no matter how good the character work is.
• There are three pencilers on this issue, which means that the art is unavoidably uneven. Of course, it doesn’t help that the artists’ styles don’t gel very well at all. They are too far apart stylistically, which makes the shifts jarring.
• I really did not care for the stiff, overly rendered art (Batman/Flash scene is a great example). It was really lifeless.
• The best was the looser more conventional art of the final scenes, but the inconsistencies of the character designs, especially the facial features was too much for me to handle.
Verdict: Byrne It. In my review I mentioned an old saying about things that ain’t broke, I’d like to supplement that with the old saying, “what’s a good plate with nothing on it?” That about sums up this issue. JT Krul does solid character work here and I know that his talent is going to shine through the stories that have yet to come. Unfortunately, the storyline leaves such a bad taste in my mouth that even the quality of the writing craft can’t overcome the content of the story. It’s an ugly, dirty, disgusting story that honestly feels like a slap in the face to the people who love the character of Green Arrow and his supporting cast. Even though I’m sure everything will end up back at an acceptable status quo in the end, this isn’t enjoyable or intriguing or exciting to me. As much as I love Green Arrow in the spotlight, I want the Green Arrow that I know and love, not the Emerald Punisher. Geoff Johns openly and honestly responded to my criticism during yesterdays #DC_Reader yesterday on Twitter, saying that I should check back with Green Arrow in June and I’ll be happier with the direction. I might just do that, but I’m really unsure if I’m going to stick around in the meantime.
Written by Jesse Blaze Snider
Art by Nathan Watson and Mickey Clausen
Letters by Deron Bennett
Covers by Nathan Watson with Mickey Clausen and Veronica Gandini
• Picking up where last issue left off, this week’s installment of Toy Story finds the gang at the mercy of the Variant Buzz Lightyears (including my favorite, Naptime Buzz) and reveals the sinister and somewhat heartbreaking truth beyond the second regular Buzz Lightyear (Buzz II).
• This is a fun story that continues to improve from the previous issues. Jesse Blaze Snider is getting a better grasp on the unique voices and personalities of the Toy Story gang, which goes a long way.
• I’m still really not feeling the character of Rocky. Maybe it is because he didn’t talk in the movies or maybe it is because I don’t like his personality. I just feel like he is unnecessarily detracting from the characters I do enjoy.
• There is a great bit in the issue where Potato Head does an insult comic routine on the Buzz Variants. In case you didn’t know, the voice of Potato Head in the films is famed insult comic Don Rickles. Kudos to Snider for working this in there.
• That being said, I felt that a lot of this issue was focused on throwing in gags and one liners and was less focused on the actual story. There needs to be a better balance.
• Nathan Watson is also getting a better hang on the characters and finding ways to translate them into 2D more successfully.
• There are still some hang-ups for me, especially the total lack of backgrounds. There are only a handful of panels that feature much of a background at all. That is distracting and makes the art look incomplete.
• I also really do not care for the coloring at all. The world of the Toy Story films is vibrant and lush, but the colors in this comic are dull and drab. I can’t expect Mickey Clausen to replicate the look perfectly, especially when dealing with a 2D medium versus CGI animation, but this looks way to lifeless to me.
Verdict: Check It. Even though this issue is Ranked fairly low, it is still a massive improvement upon the previous issues and was an enjoyable read. Snider is making leaps and bounds in terms of capturing the spirit of the films with his solid character work, but the clunkiness of the story at times. The biggest problem for me, though, remains the art. I want to see this turn the corners that the writing has already done. I could be expecting too much out of a comic that is intended for kids, but this has a lot of potential and I want to see it live up to the high standards of the franchise.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Takeshi Miyzawa and Jstin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
• Spider-Man and his amazing friends (Iceman and Firestar—er…Human Torch) continue their powwow with the recently powered Rick Jones this week, only to find the ragtag group in a battle with the Serpent Society inside a government facility.
• This is a fun story with solid action and good bits of humor. It’s light and fluffy. That is probably the best way to describe it.
• It really irks me that Torch and Iceman are written so similarly. With limited characters to interact with, they really meld into a single personality here. That is a major drawback, especially when Jones starts acting like them towards the end.
• The transformation of Rick Jones from his angst against heroes to wanting to become one comes on really fast and feels really forced.
• I did enjoy some of the quipping during the fight. Bendis does a good job of adapting his usual fight talk so that it seems more natural for teenage boys fighting attractive young women.
• Much of the story is carried by Takeshi Miyazawa, though it isn’t his strongest outing. There are some very odd instances of anatomy, mostly with the proportions of the characters’ body parts to their height. Check out the splash introducing the Serpent Society to see what I mean.
• The way that the panels per page vary throughout doesn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason and doesn’t seem to be associated with pacing. This is distracting.
• I do love the sense of motion in the action sequences and the expressions very strong, though.
Verdict: Check It. On the surface, this is a fun issue that is a decent introduction to Rick Jones as the Ultimate Nova (think Frankie Raye, not Richard Rider). The problem is that the character work isn’t up to the title’s high standards and the art is a bit of a misstep for the usually awesome Miyazawa. It’s worth a read, but I wouldn’t bend over backwards to check it out.
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Talent Caldwell, Yvel Guichet, John Stanisci, and Guy Major
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Art Germ
• The Batgirl/Red Robin crossover kicks off with this issue as the first meeting between the two since she donned the new cowl starts off awkward and angsty, but finds a rhythm when the duo must team up to save Leslie Thompkins from the League of Assassins.
• Bryan Q. Miller shows just as much confidence with Tim Drake as he did with Damian in the previous issues and as he has all along with Batgirl and Oracle. The guy has chops for character writing.
• I really loved the progression of Batgirl in this issue. Even though we see the story unfold through her narration and her eyes, she sees herself through Red Robin’s filter. This makes her progression from uncertainty to capability and respect from other heroes (like Supergirl, who has a fun cameo) all the more satisfying.
• The Red Robin looks like Doctor Mid-Nite jokes have yet to get old, so I’m glad that Miller threw on in here.
• It seems like Miller is trying to draw parallels between Detective Nick and Oracle’s interaction and Batigirl and Red Robin, but it isn’t tremendously natural, making the few points that really synch up seem awkward and unnecessary (like the way they both have overlapping dialogue, etc).
• The art is wildly inconsistent and pretty much kills the momentum of the issue. A huge problem is that it is hard to determine where one artist ends and another begins because the artists themselves seem to be having consistency issues individually.
• Some pages do look really spectacular, though, like the opening pages. Otherwise, however, like the first few pages of the party fight look way too shaky and quite bad.
Verdict: Check It. This issue was really, really close to pulling in a Buy It verdict, but the inconsistent art performance really killed the momentum built up by the strong writing. You’ll may still want to check it out so that you can be prepped for this week’s issue of Red Robin though, which you’ll read more about later on in the Rankings.
Written by Gail Simone
Art by J. Calafiore and Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Daniel Luvisi
• A new storyline kicks off in this week’s Secret Six as the titular team is hired to take down a Brother Blood-worshipping cult, former Sixer Cheshire is brutally attacked, and Catman faces a very terrifying dilemma.
• I almost forgot that Catman and Chesire had a son together, which was revealed in the Secret Six miniseries that preceded the ongoing series. If you forgot that as well, you might want to remember that before you check out this issue.
• Not surprisingly, the character interaction is the highlight of the issue, especially the scenes between Catman and Deadshot. It’s a lot of fun, even when they start the alpha-male chest thumping about the relationship between Deadshot and teammate Jeanette (who is now apparently Deadshot’s girlfriend).
• The Black Alice and Ragdoll interaction, on the other hand, just weirds me out. I know that is the point, but there is something about it that I just don’t care for. Maybe it is just because I really liked Parademon and Ragdoll together in the Villains United miniseries that preceded the Secret Six miniseries that preceded the ongoing, even if that wasn’t technically a relationship.
• The plot in this issue is also a lot looser than it normally is with this series. I’m not used to that.
• J. Calafiore does a solid job with the art. His storytelling is really solid with strong progressions from panel to panel.
• I also really liked how varied his shots are as he seems to have a lot of fun playing with the perspectives.
• Some of the character designs didn’t work quite as well as the others. Scandal especially looked odd. I really dug the “black ops” outfits for Deadshot and Catman. It is always cool to see characters wear variant costumes.
• The colors from Jason Wright are really consistent. Some o the pages look very heavily rendered, while others looked flat. If he were consistent one way or another, this would be a much stronger issue.
• I normally don’t comment much on covers in the Rankings, but this one if really problematic for me. Scandal and especially Jeanette look very traced here. They practically look like photographs. The others, on the other hand, were clearly drawn freehand. The mix in styles looks horrible, especially when it is clear that Daniel Luvisi doesn’t need to lightbox his characters. There is no reason for Jeanette too look like she does.
Verdict: Buy It. This might be my least favorite issue of Secret Six yet. Here is the brilliant thing about Secret Six, though, even my least favorite issue is totally worth your time. Don’t expect to be wowed by its supreme awesomeness, but prepare to thoroughly enjoy yourself. I promise. You’ll dig it.
Lead Written by Jesse Blaze Snider
Lead Art by Steve Kurth, Andrew Hennessy, and Chris Sotomayor
Backup Written by Mark Parsons and Tom Cohen
Backup Art by Ed McGuinness and Kelsey Shannon
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Mike Del Mundo
• Jesse Blaze Snider was kind enough to shoot me a review copy of this Hulk one-shot, perhaps because he was passionate about getting the word out there or perhaps because he knows how much I love his dad’s song, “I Wanna Rock.” Regardless, he was cool enough to send it and I’m cool enough to read it.
• The comic is split into two stories, the first of which is a character study of Bruce Banner as he deals with the “day after” being the Hulk, which is written by Snider, while the second is a reprint story that has to do with a Hulk army.
• I really dig Snider’s story. Its clear that he understands the Hulk/Banner relationship deeply and I love the amount of thought and detail that he puts into the rituals and coping mechanisms that Banner has built up.
• I also really like that he shows the character honestly, portraying both sides without bias, allowing readers to see Banner’s actions as the Hulk both as a heroic and as unnecessary destruction. It’s really poignant and probably the best Hulk comic I’ve read since Planet Hulk.
• There is fun quipping in the few action sequences and a solid loose story that the issue builds from, but the strong character work is central to the issue.
• The art by Steve Kurth and company is solid and fits the tone well. I like that Kurth puts a modern flair on classic superhero sensibilities, which mirrors the story.
• There is an excessive use of spot blacks that is a bit frustrating considering how unnecessary they are, along with a handful of misshapen heads that are bothersome.
• I do like the impact in the action and the solid storytelling that helps along the story.
• The backup is a bit of a mess. Unless I missed something and this story ties into something else, I was terribly lost here and didn’t care for what it was.
• There isn’t anything going on besides the narration in terms of writing, which does not help any.
• The art is typically Ed McGuinness with big, bulky, bold characters. If you like his stuff, you’ll like this.
• In the end, the story is interesting representation on how Hulk is the hero you need, but the uncontrollable force you can’t live with, but I’m not really sure that it was necessary. I’d rather see more space given to the first story.
Verdict: Buy It. The big problem with this issue is that it contains two stories, one of which is totally unnecessary. Jesse Blaze Sinder’s lead story is an incredibly strong character-focused tale that is honestly one of the best Hulk stories I’ve read in a very long time. He absolutely nails it. It would earn a Must Read verdict on its own. The problem is that the second story is the complete opposite and drags this one down. You still need to read the first story, which is why I’m recommending that you buy the issue, but it might be best if you stop halfway through.
Written by Chris Yost
Art by Marcus To, Ray McCarthy, and Guy Major
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Marcus To and Ray McCarthy
• The second installment of the Batgirl/Robin crossover also dropped this week (picking up from Batgirl #8, reviewed above) with the team-up between the two heroes continuing as Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins target Tim Drake’s loved ones.
• This is a great follow-up from an already solid Batgirl issue as the story ramps up the action, intensity, and complexity. Everything in this issue is an improvement on the first chapter and helps push towards the next.
• Chris Yost’s character work is brilliant. He hits all the right notes with all of the characters, whether it is the tension between the heroes, Vicki Vale’s stubbornness, or even the ruthlessness of Ra’s al Ghul, Yost captures it perfectly.
• The pacing in the issue is also excellent. Yost hits the ground running and pushing things forward briskly, building intensity with each scene. It becomes a bit of a thrill ride by the end and has me wishing the third installment also dropped this week!
• The issue is a great mix of action and character drama, with a tinge of romance as Stephanie and Tim clearly have issues they need to work out.
• Marcus To’s art is absolutely fantastic. He does a brilliant job with all of the characters involved.
• I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. To is the only artist we have seen that can actually capture Red Robin’s age appropriately while in costume; this goes double for Batgirl.
• To’s expressions also deserve praise as he does a splendid job of conveying subtle emotions and their shifts.
Verdict: Must Read. The creative team really outdoes themselves here as this is definitely the best issue this series has seen since its debut last year. Yost’s great character work and strong plotting are complimented perfectly by Marcus To’s art, which gets better and better with each issue. I’m really impressed with this issue. It is solid issues like this that make me disappointed that Yost will be leaving the title after issue #12!
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Moritat, Andre Syzmanowicz, Chris Burnham, and Gregory Wright
Letters by Comicraft
Cover by Boo Cook
• Finally! A new issue of Elephantmen! After what feels like forever, Elephantmen is back as Hip’s forceful reactivation by MAPPO has deadly consequences though its Miki’s reaction to Hip and Ebony that is the real shocker. Meanwhile Sahara and Obidiah have secrets to keep and the damaged Simm sets his sights on Vanity.
• There is a lot going on here as the three main plot threads lead into several new major plot points in this incredibly dense issue. It’s hard not to get excited about upcoming stories after this issue.
• I love how the disaffected narration fills in new readers on previous events, which makes this accessible to new readers, but the way in which it is handled avoids talking down to longtime fans.
• The most successful part of this narration, however, is how its cold facts about the Elephantmen as experiments contrasts starkly with the “human” side that we have seen from them which contrasts again with the animalistic nature of Hip’s attack on Ebony. It is a simple method of storytelling that masks a very complex story.
• This issue really pulls at the heart strings while still pushing some great action and intriguing mysteries. There is something for everyone.
• This is the first issue in quite some time where I feel like anything was possible and that very bad, very unavoidable things are on the horizon for the characters. Anything goes from this point and while that will make for some great stories, it does not bode well for the characters we have come to love.
• It is great to see Moritat back on this title and his clean line work and strong designs do not disappoint.
• This issue features some of his best expressions, both from the Elephantmen and their human counterparts. Moritat really brings his A-game here.
• There are a few odd moments in the execution of the art that caught my eye, which I’m assuming can be attributed to the “art assists’ that are mention on the title page.
• Chris Burnham’s work is great compliment to Moritat’s as their styles gel well together, making the backup feel like a perfect extension of the main story.
• I’m not sure how I feel about Gregory Wright’s colors. While he does a good job of keeping the entire issue look uniform, I’m not a huge fan of the textures that he is using. It distracts me from the power of the line art.
Verdict: Must Read. I’m really running out of ways to talk about how great Elephantmen is. This issue is no different than any other issue from this franchise. It is incredibly brilliant, thought-provoking, well-crafted, horrifying, and beautiful. There is no other title in the industry that is this consistently intelligent and entertaining at the same time. Every issue of Elephantmen sticks with you after reading and this is no different. Reading Elephantmen is an experience and should not be missed.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Cover by Sean Phillips
• The latest volume of Criminal comes to a close this week as Tracy Lawless finds himself caught in the hands of the Triad as things go from bad to worse for everyone involved in the brutal alter boy mob killings and his investigation of them.
• Ed Brubaker plots this issue incredibly tightly. There is not a wasted moment in the entire issue as the story gets more and more complex as it rockets towards its conclusion.
• I don’t think any Criminal conclusion has been this complicated or has had this many twists, which, oddly enough, is one of the reason it is amongst the best issues the title has had to offer.
• There is a lot going on here and because of that the creative team uses 8 to 10 panels for most pages, which requires impeccable pacing to pull off as well as they do here.
• There is a lot of personality in this issue and all of it is incredibly hardcore. In the end, everyone does some sort of horrible deed and pays for it, which makes sense given the title. Still, this is gruesome, dingy, and pure awesome.
• The art from Sean Phillips is a major step back up after the quality floundered for the last few issues. This is back on the level that Phillips is known for, i.e. it’s wicked gorgeous.
• Phillips’s use of spot blacks in this issue should be used to teach a class on comic art. Few artists do as great of job with spot blacks as he does here. Not only do they make the art look pretty, but they are done with forethought.
• There are an almost obscene number of close-ups in this issue, but given how strong the expressions are, it’s hard to argue.
• Longtime readers of the Rankings will know that I consider Val Staples to be the unsung hero of this series and he does not disappoint here. His colors create the atmosphere for the art and are integral to its success. There is no reason he doesn’t get marquee credit.
Verdict: Must Read. This volume of Criminal has been a lot of fun but, for the most part, hasn’t been quite as amazing as some of the earlier stories. While things had picked up over the last few years, I wasn’t expecting to really be blown away by this issue. How foolish, I was. This issue is amongst Criminal’s finest and closes out this storyline so well that it is immediately catapulted to the level of my favorite Criminal stories, Lawless and Bad Night. Do not miss it for any reason whatsoever.