Friday, May 21, 2010
Sorry for the delay folks! Due to spending way too much time with my new puppy, Lebowski, I’m a day late on this week’s installment of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings. I’m making up for it by bringing you a slew of reviews this week including the debut issues of Zatanna, Legion of Superheroes, and Avengers plus new issues of X-Men: Legacy, The Spirit, and more. Who will be number one? 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 email@example.com.
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Adi Granov
• I was really worried going into this issue that I might have missed two much by skipping a week of this crossover (my shop sold out of last week’s New Mutants within 15 minutes), but this issue was fairly approachable as the only thing I seem to have missed was Bastion unleashing a sphere that traps the X-Men on Utopia and cuts off the entire Bay Area from the outside world.
• While this is fairly accessible after missing a chapter in Second Coming, it is also incredibly dull. Much of the issue is exposition and explanation of the X-Men’s problem, which is necessary to keep the story moving, but Mike Carey does very little to make it interesting.
• It doesn’t help that there is almost no personality coming from the characters. Almost all of the dialogue is interchangeable, with the exception of some of Hope’s lines.
• The issue does end on a cool cliffhanger that has me excited for next issue, but that can’t really save this otherwise boring comic.
• The art is what really kills the issue though. After surprising me with a pretty decent outing on this title a few weeks back, Greg Land is back to his old “tricks” and by tricks, I mean tracings.
• Apparently Land could only find one woman on the internet to trace because every single female character in this issue looks exactly the same. Apparently he couldn’t find any backgrounds to trace either, as this issue is totally devoid of them.
• I do want to give kudos to Jay Leisten and Junstin Ponsor for doing their best to breath life into this issue. They aren’t given much here, but they try to make the best of it. It is just unfair that actual artists like these guys have to put up with crap like Land’s tracings.
Verdict: Avoid It. I was excited about the direction of this crossover before this issue and I’m excited to see what happens next, but I really couldn’t care about what happen (or rather, doesn’t happen) here. This is just a dull comic with almost no plot movement and some of the most boring characterization I’ve ever read from Mike Carey, who is normally a fine character writer. Plus it is filled with the lazy tracings of Greg Land, which ruins everything it comes in contact with.
Written by Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi
Art by Ivan Reis, Pat Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, Tom Nguyen, Rebecca Buchman, David Beaty, Peter Steigerwald, John Starr, and Beth Solelo
Letters by Rob Clark Jr.
Cover by David Finch, Scott Williams, and Peter Steigerwald
• After Brightest Day #1 was basically a repeat of what happened in Brightest Day #0, things do pick up slightly in this week’s issue as we check in on Firestorm(s) and his/their inability to separate, Hawkman and Hawkwoman setting their sights on Hath-Set, Martian Manhunter investigating his past, and Deadman finding out that the Anti-Monitor is still alive.
• We get lots of story snippets, but none have enough room to build into anything concrete and seem terribly unfocused. I’ve seen comparisons of this to 52, but I felt that the early issues of that series had much better direction.
• It doesn’t help that I’m personally not very interested in any story except for the Firestorm thread, but the fact that Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi write both Firestorm characters as terrible unlikeable kills my interest.
• Also, the Anti-Monitor? Seriously? We need to stop using him as a go-to villain. He was once the most dangerous character in the DCU, but his repeated use over the last few years has taken away that impact. Seeing him here doesn’t interest me, it makes me groan.
• Then there is the problem of the art. There are a ton of artists on the issue and they should be commended for how uniform the issue looks despite the fact that so many people had a hand in it. In theory, that is a good thing.
• The problem is that its just mediocre. It seems like the incredible talents of guys like Ivan Reis and Pat Gleason are being boxed in to fit with less established folks like Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes.
• The thing is, I don’t want a mediocre Pat Gleason so that his work can fit with the work of other artists without jarring transitions. I want Pat Gleason at his finest. I don’t think we are ever going to see that here.
Verdict: Check It. I really want to like Brightest Day. It is a cool idea and it has talented creators backing it, but after three issues, I’m just bored. I’m all for the slow burn, but you have to meet me halfway with better characterization and stronger art. I considered sticking around for the fate of Firestorm, since I’m a HUGE fan of the characters (I’m probably the biggest fan of Jason as Firestorm that you’ll ever find), but it’s just not worth buying, especially on a bi-weekly schedule.
Written by James Robinson and Sterling Gates
Art by Cafu, Bit,a nd Blond
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Eddy Barrows, J.P. Meyer, and Rod Reis
• War of the Supermen rages on this week as Flamebird makes a sacrifice to save the Kryptonians, the heroes of Earth band together, and the stage is set for the final Ursa vs. Supergirl and Zod vs. Superman battles.
• This issue moves at a ridiculously fast pace, which undercuts the impact of almost every scene. There isn’t time to reflect on anything that happens because the story pushes on so fast.
• This becomes a major issue when twists like General Lane turning the sun red to kill the Kryptonians is reversed almost immediately. Major plot points like this get washed over for the sake of jumping forward, which is unfortunate as there are some very cool ideas floating around in this book.
• The character work here is a major step down from the previous issues to the point that it is almost non-existent. Again, time is a major issue. It’s hard to develop personality in Superboy when we only have time to see him punch one dude before jumping to the next scene. Unfortunately, this dulls out the read.
• Jimmy Olson using the internet to network with volunteer message board pals seemed really lame and the nod to the Newsboy Legion was lamer. I totally could have done without that.
• When this series was first announced, we were told that it would cover roughly 100 minutes, which meant that most metahumans would not have chance to respond. That means each issues covers about 25 minutes. Are you telling me that Checkmate had time to make sure GI Robot was in working order, assemble him an army of Kryptonite soldiers, and ship him to Australia in 25 minutes? I’m guessing it would take the average Checkmate worker 25 minutes just to remember who GI Robot is.
• The art in this issue is pretty mediocre. Cafu isn’t horrible, but his work does not live up to Pansica’s work from last week and definitely can’t touch Igle’s work from the week before.
• This is a really action-oriented issue, which means the stiffness and posed quality of the art really doesn’t fly. The shot of Ursa and Supergirl flying at one another is brutal.
• I did dig the final page, though, where Cafu absolutely nails the iconic shot of Superman waiting for the oncoming onslaught. That page rocked.
Verdict: Check It. After two very strong issues, I had high hopes for this week’s installment of War of the Supermen as the battle finally reached Earth. Unfortunately, for every step forward, there was an equally as large, if not larger, step back. This is definitely a major miss in comparison to the other issues and a big part of that is the fact that we have more than 4 issues of story and it doesn’t have the room to breathe. Next week’s conclusion looks promising, so hopefully this issue doesn’t end up derailing what had been a very enjoyable story.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, and Dean White
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, and Dean White
• I’ve been a huge Avengers fan since I was a wee little lad (I even have the Avengers’ “A” tattooed on my leg), so I was glad to see that Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr. (my all-time favorite Marvel artist) would be teaming up to bring the franchise back to its classic sensibilities.
• This issue sets the stage for the new status quo of the Avengers, which basically states that Maria Hill is the public face and every capable hero has a place on the team as needed, but things get hairy when longtime Avengers’ villain Kang the Conqueror comes from the future with a dire warning.
• I really like the idea behind this new Avengers’ premise, which seems to embody the idea of the Heroic Age and the opening spread of hero reactions worked extremely well.
• The idea of using the Next Avengers, clearly spinning out of the animated DVD of the same title, is a neat twist and is very engaging. It also makes me want to pick up the DVD this weekend since I’ve never actually seen it.
• If you’ve been following my Twitter account, you’ll know that I’ve been very vocal about the need for Wonder Man in a current Avengers title, so I’m glad to see him show up here, despite the dismissive and downright prickish way that Bendis presents him (he is cocky, but not this one-dimensional).
• Bendis throws out some major attempts at humor in this issue and, honestly, that nearly derails it. The quirky dialogue between Steve Rogers and Iron Man never quite hits the mark Bendis is going for, while the quipping from Spider-Man made me hate the character. I’ve always loved Spider-Man, but Bendis made me actually hate him here. We are talking like Greg Land level of hatred.
• The art from John Romita Jr. was one of the biggest selling points of this title, but unfortunately, it isn’t the best go-round for JRJr. His work runs the gamut from the highest to the lowest of quality, with the later being more present than the former.
• The big problem is that the art just isn’t that sharp looking. I’m not sure if this is an issue with the inks or with the original pencils, but it looks like Romita in a rough draft stage.
• It doesn’t help that the art looks so rushed. Romita is normally spot-on with his consistency, but his designs shift constantly throughout this issue, often times on the same page. I’m not used to that from JRJr and I don’t care much for it at all.
Verdict: Check It. This issue is on the cusp of a “Buy It” verdict because there are a lot of things to really enjoy about it. Unfortunately, the inconsistency of the art and some of the writing’s shortcomings, most notably all things related to Spider-Man, hold this one back. Clearly the sky is the limit with this title because of this creative team, but they did not put their best foot forward here.
Written by Jesse Blaze Snider and Patrick Storck
Art by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
Letters by Troy Peteri and Deron Bennett
Covers by David Peterson and James Silvani
• I should preface this by saying that, after test driving a few in the past, I have been purposely avoiding the Muppets comics because their unique “magic” seems to be utterly lost on comic book creators whose attempts at capturing the wonder of the Muppets, who I have been obsessing over my entire life, seem forced and unnatural. The only reason I’m reviewing this comic is because Jesse Blaze Snider was kind enough to float me a review copy.
• While I will say that Muppets comics still have a long way to go before they can capture the spirit of Jim Henson’s creations, if anyone is going to find a way to do it, it is probably Snider.
• Snider sets up this retelling of the Snow White fable in a way that is a natural extension of the recent Muppet films, using Gonzo and Rizzo as the narrators that interact with the readers. It’s a safe choice that pays off thanks to how seamlessly Snider slips into their voices.
• From there, the rest of the story comes rather naturally. Snider knows his Muppets and writes them with the reverence they deserve and the “foot firmly planted in pop culture” that has been the hallmark of the Muppets since the original Muppet show.
• I found myself reading this comic with the voices of the Muppets in my head and didn’t have to force myself to do so, which is perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Snider’s work.
• The pacing is something he’ll need to work on. There are times where would-be rapid-fire exchanges go on too long, which kills the gag. The give-and-take that Snider is going for doesn’t work as smoothly in a comic as it would if he were writing the script for an actual show. Much of Pepe’s schtick suffers from this problem.
• The choice of turning the classic Disney “Heigh-Ho” into a parody of The Ramone’s “Blitzkreig Bop” was a stroke of brilliance. Not only does this work well with the classic model of Muppet songs, its just plain hilarious.
• The art is what really drags this issue down. Much like with the Pixar comics, the problem comes from transferring something so lively and three-dimensional to a two-dimensional medium. It’s not an easy transition and, unfortunately, Shelli Paroline can’t quite get it to work.
• There are some pages where the characters look absolutely amazing. Interestingly enough, these are also the pages with limited action. The more static the scene, the better they look.
• When the action picks up, however, the proportions on the characters begin to fall apart and the designs start looking just plain weird.
• Also, I’m not sure what it is that is causing this, but Kermit just looks bad. He looks like a generic rip-off Kermit that you’d find at a dollar story.
• A big part of the issue, though, is the coloring. It’s incredibly flat, which makes the art as a whole look like a coloring book page. There is no depth or shadow work to bring the issue alive. I know that flat, lifeless coloring is standard practice for kids comics, but if more time and style went into the coloring, I think we’d be looking at a much, much, much stronger comic.
Verdict: Buy It. Despite being shot a review copy of this, I really had no intention of reading or reviewing it because, truthfully, I’m a Muppet purist and snob. That would have been a poor choice on my part, as Jesse Blaze Snider approaches this comic with the same lifelong love and respect for Jim Henson’s creations that I do and that shows in his charming and witty script. He knows his Muppets, their voices, and how they interact, which makes this is a very faithful and enjoyable continuation of the franchise. The art does need a lot of help, especially in the coloring department, as does the pacing of the story, but for the money, you really can’t go wrong with this very fun comic.
Written by Paul Dini
Art by Stephane Roux, Karl Story, and John Kalisz
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Stephane Roux
• The long awaited Zatanna ongoing series debuted this week with the titular character teaming up with a local detective (and potential love interest) to investigate a mystical mass murder in a pure setup issue.
• This is a great introduction to the character for new readers as Paul Dini puts a lot of effort into developing the key points of Zatanna’s personality and introducing the type of threats that she is going to face.
• As this issue is so focused on setup, there are times where it does feel forced, most notably when Zatanna has to explain the villains to the detective. In Dini’s defense, there really isn’t a natural way to do this without sacrificing the action or the pace, so I don’t blame him.
• I really dig the tone of this series. It is very fun and light with a quirky spin that you don’t see in many DC Comics. Fans of the criminally underrated (and sadly missed) Shadowpact series will love this one.
• As with all Dini comics, the strength of the character writing is what this issue lives and dies by. He did an amazing job with Zatanna during his Detective Comics run and this issue is no different. That alone will eventually make this a must-read comic.
• This is artist Stephane Roux’s first outing with DC as an interior artist and I think it shows as there seems to be growing pains as he moves away from being just a cover artist.
• Thank being said, he has fantastic expressions and his storytelling is really solid for a cover artist. Too often you see a cover artist switch to interiors only to approach each panel as a pin-up. That doesn’t happen here.
• The designs were a bit inconsistent, especially with Zatanna’s build and her facial structure. These seem to be most problematic in shots involving increased action.
Verdict: Buy It. There are setbacks in this issue and some of its faults are awfully glaring, but you cannot deny the potential it has for greatness. Paul Dini does wonders with the character and Stephane Roux looks like he will, given time, just as strong of an interior artist as he is for covers. Zatanna is character that is too often played up as either A) a quick magical deus ex machine or B) sheer eye candy, but I think that this series is going to go a long way at changing that. This could definitely be the new Power Girl (which is good since I’ll dropping that series after Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner’s last issue).
Written by Josh Howard
Art by Josh Howard
Cover by Josh Howard
• In the penultimate issue of Dead @17: The Witch Queen, Nara makes her plan to overthrow the Witch Queen and brings in an unlikely ally, but not before sparks begin to fly between Nara and Malachi.
• This issue features some of the best character work I’ve ever seen from writer/artist Josh Howard. There is a noticeable shift towards denser dialogue in this issue, which goes a long way in this regard.
• I really like subtext in this issue. Howard doesn’t beat readers over the head with the back story, but still manages to stir up some great emotional resonance thanks to nuanced dialogue and strong character interaction.
• The love scene between Nara and Malachi is heartfelt and has clearly been developing since issue #1, but the setup here is really forced and acts as a weird break from the plot to overthrow the Witch Queen.
• Howard remains one of the most consistent artists in the business. His line work is incredibly clean and his characters are spot-on every time. He doesn’t take many risks here, but he doesn’t make many mistakes either.
• This issue takes a very cinematic approach to perspectives and shifts between the panel, which adds to the dramatic flair. Kudos to Howard for putting so much thought into each page.
Verdict: Buy It. This issue came really close to snagging a “Must Read” verdict and certainly would have it the love scene had better setup. That is really all that it came down to as Josh Howard puts forth one of the best efforts of his career in this issue. His character writing is amongst his strongest and, as always, his art is top notch. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed one of Josh’s comics this much since Lost Books of Eve #1.
Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by SL Gallant, Gary Erskine, and Andrew Crossley
Letters by Chris Mowry
Covers by Robert Atkins with Andrew Crossley and Kesley Shannon
• In this week’s GI Joe, a training exercise goes awry for Cover Girl, Tripwire, and Downtown when they are attacked by Cobra soldiers who have used the MASS device to put themselves within striking distance of The Pit.
• This issue is the perfect mix of action and character work as Chuck Dixon strikes the right balance between developing the characters and writing a thrilling action tale.
• The pacing of this story is amongst the finest you’ll find this week as Dixon expertly builds tension from page one of this issue. This one is a nailbiter.
• I’m really glad to see Cover Girl getting some credibility here. She has always been a hard sell character that most writers are unsure of how to use, but Dixon really steps it up to make her a total badass here.
• This is definitely the best effort that I’ve seen from SL Gallant who, as regular readers will know, I’ve loathed on previous issues of this title.
• There are still some issues with anatomy that plague Gallant and drag the art down as a whole, but his strengths definitely outweigh them here.
• The pacing of the art is a great match for the script and the storytelling is easily the best of Gallant’s career. Dixon gave him a great story to work with and Gallant ran with it.
Verdict: Must Read. The strength of the writing in this issue definitely propels it up the Rankings, but SL Gallant deserves a lot of credit for stepping up with the art. This is definitely the highest quality art that we’ve seen from Gallant and he chose a great issue to showcase it as this is also one the strongest GI Joe issues that Dixon has produced. You really shouldn’t miss this great done-in-one.
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by Yildiray Cinar, Wayne Faucher, and Hi-Fi
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Yildiray Cinar and Wayne Faucher
• The newest volume of Legion of Superheroes kicks off this week and, despite poor experiences with the characters in the past, I decided to give this one a shot because of the great creative team and I was very impressed.
• The issue does a great job of setting up who the Legion are and what their current predicament is as the action of Earth-Man from the Action Comics amazing “Superman and the Legion of Superheroes” story puts the team in a tricky position as Earth attempts to rejoin the universal community.
• Its clear that there is no re-learning curve for Paul Levitz, who immediately jumps into great character writing. I’ve given the Legion a shot under multiple creative teams and this is the first time (other than in the aforementioned Action Comics storyline) that I’ve really found them that interesting.
• Levitz does a great job of packing the dialogue with emotion and personality, which makes this issue that much more accessible and incredibly enjoyable. You can feel their pain when Titan is destroyed and the shock at Earth-Man being forced onto the team without Levitz having to resort to longwinded reactions.
• Yildiray Cinar has a huge opportunity in this issue and absolutely runs with it. This is his biggest assignment yet and hae makest hem ost of it.
• His designs are clean and sharp, with strong expressions. Meanwhile, his storytelling is definitely fantastic as well. Fans of his recent Ravager backup story in Teen Titans should absolutely love his effort here.
• The only problem with the art that really stands out is Cinar struggling with the design for Brainiac 5. That shifts a lot throughout the issue. This is strange since the other characters remain consistent throughout.
Verdict: Must Read. I’ve never really connected with the Legion of Superheroes, despite all of my efforts to get engaged in their adventures. That, of course, was before this wonderfully crafted issue that does a great job of making the Legion accessible and enjoyable. Levitz’s character writing is fantastic, especially given how long it has been since he has regular written a comic, and Cinar’s artwork really shines. I was weary of another Legion relaunch, but I can see myself really getting on board with this series.
Written by Jeff Parker
Lead Art by Gabriel Hardman and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Backup Art by Ramon Rosanas
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Cover by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson
• In the lead story of the debut issue of this Agents of Atlas relaunch, the new 3-D Man finds himself in the midst of some crazy happenings, which eventually gets the attention of the titular team.
• It is really bold move for the Agents to barely appear in the main story of this issue, with Jeff Parker focusing mainly on the weird things going on around 3-D Man. It works though as it is a perfect setup for the world around the Agents and the type of weirdness they will encounter.
• The patient, methodically storytelling in the lead story is just fantastic. Parker spins one of a mystery here.
• I also have to hand it to him for his character work as he took a character I really never cared for and made him very interesting and intriguing. I want to know what happens next when normally I couldn’t care less what happens to 3-D Man.
• Gabriel Hardman’s atmospheric art and strong sense of realism is a perfect fit the dank, haunting tone of the story.
• His work is visually striking despite a relatively simplistic approach. There is definitely a Sean Phillips-like quality to the art that I’m really digging.
• Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors are in top form here as her work is just as important for establishing the tone and feel of the issue as Hardman’s linework. If Hardman is Phillips, then Breitweiser is definitely the unsung hero Val Staples (which is a major compliment).
• The backup is a fun action-packed story that follows the Agents on an early mission that pits them against the undead.
• This fills the void from the lead story as the Agents are here in full-force. It’s a brisker, lighter story, which is refreshing after the heavy and intense lead.
• The art in the backup by Ramon Rosanas is a nice compliment to the art in the lead. There are similar sensibilities between the two, with Rosanas’s work being a bit showier. That gives the issue some solid uniformity as a whole, but gives the second story just a bit of flair that matches the throwback adventure tone of the script.
Verdict: Must Read. Jeff Parker and Company bring their A-game on this very unusual first issue that taps a pulpy noir vein and manages to make one of the least interesting characters in all of Marvel one of the most intriguing. You get a great mystery and fantastic art in this issue, which has me clamoring for more. You can’t ask for more from a debut issue.
Lead Written by Mark Schultz
Lead Art by Moritat, Gabriel Bautista, and Andre Szymanowicz
Lead Letters by Rob Leigh
Backup Written by Harlan Ellison
Backup Art by Kyle Baker
Backup Letters by Kyle Baker
Cover by Ladronn
• After a strong start last month, the newest volume of The Spirit really steps it up with this week’s installment. In the lead story, the Spirit recounts his first encounter with the assassin Angel Smerti to Ellen Dolan, only to find out that he isn’t nearly as safe as he thought he was.
• Mark Schultz has a great take on the Spirit and his world that captures the tone and feel of Will Eisner’s original creation with its own unique spin that is very enjoyable.
• The twist with Smerti being the assassin was very telegraphed (all the way back to last issue), but the pacing towards her second attack is what really sells this issue. Schultz lures you into comfort, only to unleash the character at just the right time. I’m really impressed with how that played out.
• I really dig how Schultz effectively uses each scene in this issue to add another layer to his complex interpretation of the Spirit but without sacrificing the story to world build. That is a difficult line to toe, but he does so with an uncanny panache.
• As expected, the art from Moritat, Gabriel Bautista and Andre Syzmanowicz is nothing short of awesome in the lead story as they expertly control the flow of the story and allow Schultz’s story to unravel at just the right pace.
• There is a great design sense in the art that feels vintage, but with a modern flair. I feel like you could see anything from an iPod to an old Hudson in the art, yet nothing would look anachronistic.
• Moritat and crew really impress me with how they bring the backgrounds alive. The city itself and even the rooms the characters are more than just backdrops; they are practically characters themselves.
• The backup is a nice love letter to Eisner that echoes some of themes from the main story with writer Harlan Ellison paying tribute to his longtime friend with a simple but effective story.
• The dialogue in the backup is very dense, almost unnecessarily so, which does slow the pace down more than it should, but part of that could be that Kyle Baker’s letters are far too large.
• I really dig Baker’s semi-photographic art that looks incredibly realistic but without appearing traced. It’s a very cool style that is a great fit for the Spirit.
• His unique approach and great perspectives are a departure from what you’d normally see in a DC comic, but is a style that I would love to see him employ in longer, more involved stories for the company. A Batman story in this style would absolutely kill.
Verdict: Must Read. This week’s Spirit stuffs two top-notch stories between its covers and easily walks away with the Book of the Week in a very competitive installment of the Rankings. Between Schultz’s strong world building, the gorgeous designs of Moritat’s art, or the superb combination of Ellison and Baker on the backup, this issue is the total package. Every aspect of the craft wowed me in this issue, which is precisely how it rocketed up the Rankings to the top spot. You’d be a fool to miss this one.