Thursday, May 13, 2010
It’s a big week for comic fans this week and the means I’ve got a jam-packed installment of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings ready to roll. This week’s Rankings feature a slew of much-talked about comics including the controversial Titans: Villains for Hire Special, the finale issue of Marvel’s Siege event, and the long-awaited return of Birds of Prey. I’ll be taking a look at these books and more as I count down to the newest Book of the Week winner. Who will it be? You’ll have to 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 Eric Wallace
Art by Fabrizio Fiorentino, Mike Mayhew, Sergio Arino, Walden Wong, and Hi-Fi
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Fabrizio Fiorentino
• Most readers of the Rankings will know that I have a lot of love for Deathstroke the Terminator and so, despite my trepidations about the premise behind the new Titans direction, I felt that I owed it to one of my favorite characters to pick up this issue. That was an unwise choice.
• The issue follows Deathstroke as he assembles his team of mercenary villains with promises of redemption, revenge, and hope. Once he has his team, he sets them off on their first mission—to kill Ryan Choi (the “All-New Atom”).
• This issue is incredibly dark as Deathstroke goes into the darkest corners of his team’s lives as he recruits them. No stone is left unturned as Deathstroke manipulates them into becoming part of his hit-squad to the point that it becomes uncomfortable.
• The problem with this is that the character work only nicks the surface. Deathstroke comes across as a one-note manipulator and his team appears as a ridiculously gullible group of sheep. There is absolutely no depth to humanize (in the broadest sense) the characters.
• The death of Choi, which has already ignited quite a few fires on the internet, feels incredibly dirty and unnecessary. Just because Ray Palmer is back doesn’t mean Choi needs to be offed in such an unspectacular manner.
• The worst is when Choi tells his girlfriend a lie to get rid of her before he faces his own death—she isn’t part of the contract. I get that the point of this is to make you uncomfortable, but that just left a bad taste in my mouth.
• The only thing that I did like was Deathstroke’s line about naming hi team the “Titans” being personal, which was actually the only moment in the issue that I felt he was acting in character.
• The art in the issue does almost nothing to salvage the situation. The most immediate problem is that Fabrizio Fiorentino and Mike Mayhew’s art styles are too drastically different to be effective in conjunction with one another.
• There is a major lack of detail throughout the issue, especially in the backgrounds. That issue is plaguing a lot of comics these days and it certainly isn’t doing this issues any favors.
• Mayhew’s pages are tremendously stiff and unnatural looking. While I admire his attempts at realism, the lack of textures, poor sense of movement, and awkward poses results in his work looking even less realistic than Fiorentino’s more traditional comics style.
Verdict: Avoid It. I read one reviewer online say that this issue made him feel “dirty” and I’m inclined to agree for a lot of reasons. This issue is very dark for the sake of dark to the point that it is, at times, an uncomfortable reading experience. When you add in the very poor character writing and haphazard art, this one is a total stinker, especially for the ridiculously high $4.99 price tag. I can’t think of any reason to buy this, even if you are a hardcore Deathstroke fan. In fact, if you are a hardcore Deathstroke fan, you probably need to avoid this issue even more than the casual fans. Needless to say, this has killed all interest that I had in the new direction of the Titans series, even if Ravager shows up (and y’all know I’m a sucker for Ravager).
Written by Tony Daniel
Art by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Tony Daniel
• Tony Daniel’s two-part team-up with artist Guillem March comes to a conclusion this week as Batman tracks down evil magician Blackspell and it looks like the Riddler is back to his villainous ways.
• This is a very haphazardly presented, ill-defined story. It is almost impossible to put all of the pieces together in one read, not because of its complexity, but because of its incoherency.
• There is a major lack of transitions between scenes and the storytelling logic has major lapses here. This is the definition of unpolished writing.
• Once again, Daniel is writing Batman as Bruce Wayne despite the fact that he is supposed to be writing him as Dick Grayson. Did he miss the memo somewhere? The “Dark Knight” approach shows that Daniel has promise to write the character when Wayne returns, but for now it just doesn’t make sense.
• The bit with Firefly really doesn’t work for me at all. Daniel gets sidetracked in using the character to heavy-handedly give background on Blackspell, but never connects it to anything in any clear way.
• Guillem March’s art goes in an interesting direction in this issue that is very different from the style he has been using recently. There is a major Bill Sienkiewicz-influence in the art.
• I wouldn’t have pegged March’s work to go in this direction, but I’m not exactly complaining here as I think that he is on to something.
• The art does have a tendency to be far too cluttered far too often, which really takes away from its effectiveness.
Verdict: Avoid It. Tony Daniel really misses the mark with his writing in this issue as he presents a story that never really comes together in a coherent way. His characterization is just as bad. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that Guillem March is doing some interesting things with the art in this issue (and Titans left such a horrible taste in my mouth) this issue definitely would have been the lowest Ranked book of the week based upon the poor quality of the writing alone.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Cover by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin
• Siege rockets to a conclusion this week with a slew of tie-in issues as well as the final issue of the main miniseries, which is really the only thing Siege related that I actually read. I only say this because I think that I would have liked this issue a lot more if I had invested in the tie-ins.
• This issue follows the heroes as they battle the Void (the evil entity in the Sentry) and the aftermath of Norman Osborne’s ill-planned invasion of Asgard.
• There is a lot going on in this issue, but it all happens way too fast. This is very much a “big picture” comic, making it hard to get invested in any of the particular scenes. If you are a fan of this type of storytelling, you’ll dig thus. Unfortunately, I am not. I like details and focus.
• The bit with Loki empowering the heroes to defeat the Sentry/Void probably makes more sense to folks who read the tie-ins. To me, and to most casual fans, it really comes out of nowhere. His shifting allegiance is really baffling and the whole bit with “powering” the heroes makes absolutely no sense at all.
• Is it just me or does the fate of the Sentry seems to be an attempt to appease all of the fanboys that hated the character from the beginning? I suppose that is why they did the Sentry: Fallen Sun issue to appease the characters fans, but everything else seems an attempt to bury the character.
• I do dig that he gets thrown into the sun (post-mortem) by Thor. That was a nice touch.
• The second half of the issue is dedicated to developing the Heroic Age status quos, most of which have already been revealed in the solicits. I get what they are doing here, but ending with an all-Avengers barbeque seemed to cutesy and over-the-top considering all that the heroes have been through in the last 5 years.
• This is definitely the weakest issue for artist Olivier Coipel. There are a few big panels that are full of detail and showcase his talent, but most of the issue is plagued with strange anatomy and a weird lack of detail.
• The biggest problem is that the characters become muddled and incomplete-looking in wider shots. I know you can’t have much detail from these angles, but the characters shouldn’t look misshapen either.
• I’m also not digging the way Steve Rogers looks totally different in and out of costume. His build seems to shift and his out-of-costume head is disturbingly square.
Verdict: Check It. The fanboy in me that loves big-action and hero camaraderie found enough to like in this issue that I can’t say it was a total waste of time. Unfortunately, the too-cozy ending and paint-by-numbers approach is a bit of a letdown, especially with certain bits having no setup or context clues for fans that didn’t read all of the tie-ins. This issue came in with a good amount of momentum, but I can’t help but feel like this ending is a bit of a misstep—a misstep with the best of intentions, but a misstep nonetheless.
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Guy Major
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by Andy Kubert
• Bruce Wayne’s inevitable return to the mantle of the Batman kicks officially this week with the first issue of the aptly titled Return of Bruce Wayne as the Un-Caped Crusader is pitted against Vandal Savage in prehistoric times, which is where he woke up at the end of Final Crisis.
• The plot of this issue is fairly interesting with a few cool twists, most notably the fact that Vandal Savage was used as the main villain. I dig that.
• Grant Morrison uses a choppy language for the cavemen, which is a cool idea, but he isn’t consistent with it. In one panel they will speak in the choppy ungrammatical style, but in the next they are speaking perfectly clear. I don’t get why Morrison couldn’t commit to this device, especially when it is an issue with all of the cavemen and not just a few.
• The cameo by the Justice League seemed really random. I know that there will be a tie-in miniseries, but it still seemed to come out of nowhere.
• I don’t think I would have minded this as much had Hal not made a comment about Bruce not having any memories—how could he even know this? This is the type of storytelling logic that Morrison conveniently ignores that bugs the crap out of me. It’s a minor issue, but it pulled me out of the story almost immediately.
• The art from Chris Sprouse was a mixed bag. I dug his character designs and the amount of detail he put into them, but he didn’t extend that care beyond the characters themselves.
• There are almost no backgrounds and the characters look like they were pasted on top of them rather than being a part of the same scene. It reminds me of Colorforms.
• I also didn’t care much for Sprouse’s storytelling, especially in the action sequences. There didn’t seem to be a lot of logic in the panel progression (punch, close-up of a reaction face, kick, close-up of a reaction face, rinse, repeat, snore).
Verdict: Check It. This issue was a fun read with some interesting ideas, but it seemed to be so wrapped up in how neat the concept was that it lost its purpose as part of a larger story. I think this would make a great Elseworld’s story, but as part of a larger tapestry, I’m just not as wow-ed as a lot of other readers seem to be. Plus, the minor technical issues like consistency in dialogue and logical progression of plot points were bugged me and pulled me out of the story. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like here and I was very tempted to give it a Buy It verdict, but the sum of the minor faults held it back.
Written by Sterling Gates and James Robinson
Art by Eduardo Pansica, Wayne Faucher, and Blond
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Eddy Barrows, JP Mayer, and Rod Reis
• War of the Supermen continues this week as Superman and Supergirl look to stop the war, the Kryptonians step up their aggressions, and General Lane does all sorts of nastiness including kidnapping his daughter and unleashing a major weapon against the Kryptonians.
• The pace of this issue is very brisk as Sterling Gates and James Robinson cover a lot of ground, which does short change some scenes, such as the actual attack on the Mars base by the Kryptonians.
• After the shock of Kara seemingly defecting to the Kryptonian army last issue, her quick switch back to helping Superman seems really forced and makes me wonder why they bothered to imply her jumping sides in the first place.
• I’m glad to see Lex Luthor thinking big in this issue with the super-weapon that Lane uses, but I hope that he comes out of Lane’s shadow in this storyline. If anyone should be leading the humans against the Kryptonians, it should be Luthor.
• The art by Eduardo Pansica is a solid effort and shows a lot of promise. His expressions and action shots were impressive.
• The amount of detail in a panel does seem to fluctuate a lot, but I think this is an issue with what Wayne Faucher is and isn’t inking rather than a problem with the pencils.
• Pansica never seems to get a hang of how to draw Supegirl’s face and hair, which cycle designs throughout the issue. That is very distracting.
Verdict: Check It. This issue was very close to earning a Buy It verdict as well, but the lack of focus in this far-too briskly paced issue drags it down. Much like Siege, we are getting a big picture look at a major conflict, despite the fact that it has a very personal significance to characters that are being written compellingly when they have do get a chance to shine. I try not to review comics based upon what they aren’t, but I can’t help but feel like this issue does not live up to its potential despite hints of exciting action and some engaging character work.
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Rags Morales and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by JG Jones
• There is a lot of movement in the ludicrously large number of subplots in Brian Azzarello’s First Wave this week as mysteries deepen, new interpretations of classic character are introduced, and others are completely turned upside down.
• This is easily the most complex comic that I’ve read all week and in the running for most complex comic that I’ve read this year. You really have to read this one twist to catch all the twists, but thankfully it is an even better read the second time around.
• I like that Azzarello is putting a lot of concepts in front of the reader, but isn’t quick to pull back the curtain on anything. His ability to spin a mystery is unparalleled. It is what made 100 Bullets so effective and its working just as well here.
• On the flipside, it is easy to get lost and frustrated in the mystery and the fact that we’ve never seen the majority of these characters before. More than once I found myself having to reread a sequence just to get who’s who and how are they related straight before moving on.
• The character work in this issue is great, especially everything involving the Spirit. This issue has a large cast and everyone has distinct voices, genuinely unique reactions to one another, and clear personalities that I really wish Azzarello had more than six issues to explore.
• Weirdly enough, Batman (or The Bat Man as the cover suggests) is the least interesting thing about this issue. I never thought we’d live in a world where I’d rather see less of Batman and more of the Spirit, but I assure that is a testament to the writing.
• The artwork from Rags Morales is top notch. His linework is clean and is storytelling is well plotted to echo the pace of the script.
• I really dig the timeless feel of the designs. Morales draws more than a few plays out of Batman: The Animated Series’ playbook, but I don’t think you’ll hear many complaints on that.
• Nei Ruffino absolutely deserves top billing for her colors on this issue. She is just as responsible for how great the art looks as Morales. The amount of depth she adds to the art is staggering, as is her ability to manipulate light here.
Verdict: Buy It. Brian Azzarello is definitely writing towards his strengths in First Wave and because of that, is writing to a niche market. The average superhero fan may not care much for such a carefully plotted and slow burning story, but mystery buffs and fans of classic pulp stories should find a lot to dig here. The ambitiousness of the project does come back to haunt Azzarello a bit when the scope becomes cumbersome here, but if you’ve got the patience to sort it out it is well worth the more careful read. Plus, seriously, Nei Ruffino is a freakin’ rockstar on this issue, bringing Rags Morales’s art to a whole new level.
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Francis Manapul, Joel Gomez, and Brian Buccellato
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
• Barry Allen has to face accusations of murder from both his coworkers and future cop versions of the Rogues (known as the Renegades) in this week’s second issue of the new Flash series.
• I really dig that Geoff Johns is building a moral dilemma around one of Barry’s most identifiable qualities—his by-the-book attitude. If the evidence is stacked against him, how can someone who so rigidly enforces the rules defend himself?
• Johns does a great job of not only pushing the main plot in this issue, but also doing some world building with Barry’s supporting cast and his civilian life.
• In the issue, Flash quickly rebuilds a crumbling apartment building after the Renegades nearly destroy it. I understand that this is supposed to emphasize Barry’s powers and his commitment to doing good, but it seemed like overkill to me.
• I don’t suppose this would have been as annoying to me had he not later in the issue reopened a murder investigation based upon one woman’s complaint. Between the two, Barry is presented as almost sickeningly good and saintly.
• While I do have a few minor squabbles about the writing, I can find almost nothing to complain about with Francis Manapul’s art.
• His designs and approach to line work are clearly heavily influenced by John Romita Jr. to the point that I’d say he is practically aping him. When the end result looks this good, though, I’m not going to say that is a bad thing.
• Manapul’s consistency is worth noting here as there are almost no design shifts and the amount of detail he puts into each panel remains level throughout the issue.
• There are a few minor shifts with the line widths that are noticeable when you look close enough, which I’m assuming is an indication of the help provided by Joel Gomez. If that is the case, kudos to Gomez for not forcing a large shift in style when pitching in.
Verdict: Buy It. I really did not expect much out of a series focusing on Barry Allen as the Flash (lifelong fan of Wally as the character), but Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul are making a fan out of me with high quality issues like this one. The strong pacing, interesting character-based twists, and fantastic art are enough to win over just about any cynic. I know I can’t be the only naysayer about Barry Allen’s return and I urge my brethren to give this series a shot as issues like this are likely to change their minds.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
• Picking up where the previous issue ended, this week’s Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man follows Kitty Pryde’s escape from the federal agents that came for her at her school and the reaction from her friends and fellow heroes to this unusual situation.
• As per usual with this series, the character work is absolutely superb. Brian Michael Bendis does a wonderful job of showcasing the clear personalities of all of the characters as they interact with one another.
• Spinning out of this, Kitty’s situation is absolutely gut-wrenching and would not be nearly as emotionally resonant if not for how well Bendis writers the reactions of her and the other characters. You can really feel the pain and anguish they are going through.
• The debate amongst the heroes on how to react to Kitty’s situation is really well handled. Their indecisiveness and the fact that they are so overwhelmed is exactly how a teenager would react. That is something that is usually ignored by writers when dealing with teen superheroes in situations like this.
• While the pacing in this issue towards Kitty’s very dark turn in this individual issue is handled well, I can’t help but feel that it seemed to come out of the blue in the larger context of the series. I think a few smaller displays of such destructive power and anger prior to this would have made the turn in this issue more effective.
• The chemistry between Bendis and artist David Lafuente makes this issue all the more enjoyable. The two work in perfect sync on the tone and pace of this issue.
• I absolutely love the expressions from Lafuente in this issue as he perfectly captures how emotionally charged the characters are. You almost don’t need the dialogue because the faces of the characters tell so much of the story.
• The splash page of Kitty crying in the sewer is pure gold. That is probably my absolute favorite page that I’ve ever seen from Lafuente and definitely the best splash page from any book this week.
Verdict: Must Read. Once again, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man is a veritable clinic on effective storytelling and character work with Bendis and Lafuente seemingly sharing a brain as they put this issue together. There is no other explanation for how two individuals could click so well in creating a comic. Having never seen them in the same place at the same time, I’ll also accept conspiracy theories about them being the same person.
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Jonathan Glapion, Rodney Ramos, and Guy Major
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau
• Things go from bad to worse for Batgirl and Oracle as the Calculator unleashes his horde of technologically-crafted zombies in this week’s highly entertaining issue of Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett’s Batgirl series.
• Miller continues to make Stephanie Brown one of DC’s most likable characters with her relatable attitude towards her incredibly unusual life. If you can’t find something to latch onto in Batgirl’s personality in this issue, I fear for your psyche.
• The scene between Stephanie and the potential beau for Oracle, Detective Gage, is absolutely priceless. Tension of this sort between characters is hard to develop in a comic, but Miller absolutely nails it.
• Miller is finding a great line to toe with Batgirl where she clearly relies on others for support, both emotionally and “professionally,” but continually finds herself in positions where she has to show her individual resilience. That is a great way to develop a character that has struggled for years to develop credibility amongst fans.
• This story is a good continuation from the ongoing feud between Calculator and Oracle, which makes me happy that Miller is treating as a good payoff for fans that have been following this story for several years now across multiple titles.
• I honestly had no idea that so many artists worked on this issue until I looked up the credits for this review. That is a testament to the strength of Guy Major’s unifying colors first and foremost, though kudos to the entire art team for keeping the look of this issue uniform throughout.
• The art isn’t flashy and it doesn’t really standout amongst the week’s other books, but it is consistent and tells a good story. I think that is the perfect fit for a book whose whole premise follows a similar theme.
Verdict: Must Read. As a longtime fan of Stephanie Brown and off the Batgirl legacy, I had high hopes for this series, but I don’t think I could have ever imagined that it would so quickly become one of DC’s strongest titles. Issues like this are a perfect example of why this might just be the best solo-character series that the company is producing today. Then again, I can’t argue with high quality storytelling, polished craftsmanship, and fun characters in an engaging plot (of course, that could just be me).
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ed Benes and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Swands
Cover by Ed Benes and Nei Ruffino
• Finally, the Birds of Prey have returned under the watchful pen of the brilliant Gail Simone! I could probably end this review with that sentence and that sentence alone.
• In this issue, Oracle puts the team back together to combat a seemingly omnipotent threat with a mad-on for the Birds, while tensions flare between Dove and the recently resurrected Hawk.
• Simone wastes absolutely no time getting back to form as this issue is just as great as the series was when she left the title during the tail end of the previous volume. Apparently returning to these characters is just like riding a bike for Simone, which is good news for readers.
• I like the choice of using Black Canary as a narrator through the issue. She isn’t your typical POV-character, but her reactions are a great guide to the reader and make the issue that much more powerful.
• The character interaction, especially the reunion between the Birds, is just stellar. I imagine this as Simone channeling her own emotions through the characters as she returns to them, which makes the feel of the scene all the more genuine.
• The Hawk and Dove scenes were just as great, especially with Canary providing commentary on their interaction, much to Dove’s dismay. I look forward to seeing where this goes.
• Anyone else getting the feeling that the White Canary is somehow an older version of Sin who’s using villainous tactics to reunite the Birds for a larger purpose? I’m calling that right now!
• It’s almost hard to believe that Ed Benes was the artist on this issue as there is almost no gratuitous T-and-A. He certainly had the opportunity, but I really appreciate his restraint.
• Benes does a superb job with the character designs throughout, but I think that is main strength in this issue is fight choreography. The action is incredibly well laid out.
• One of the few weaknesses in the art, which is a continual problem with Benes, would have to be how odd the female characters’ lips look. I’m definitely not digging that.
• I know I just praised her work a few reviews up, but Nei Ruffino is absolutely amazing and it is worth repeating. She brings her A-game here, using a totally different coloring style than she did on First Wave, which sets this apart from any other work that I’ve seen from Benes. She is a total show stealer.
• I really only have one complaint about this issue that I think needs to be rectified as soon as possible—Misfit is nowhere to be found. A character that awesome that Simone did such a great job of developing in the last volume really needs to make a come back. We need some dark vengeance!
Verdict: Must Read. Gail Simone picks up where she left off with the Birds of Prey, reminding us of exactly how awesome she is and how perfect she is for writing these characters. This issue has something for everyone—great action, amazing character interaction, and an intriguing cliffhanger that has me clamoring for the next issue. When you add in the best art I’ve ever seen from Ed Benes (big props to Nei Ruffino on that one), you’ve got an easy choice for Book of the Week and the potential for Simone’s Secret Six to finally have some serious competition for DC’s best ongoing series.