Friday, June 11, 2010
It’s Thursday and that means I’m bringing you the goods with another installment of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings! This week I’ve got a solid offering of nine comics including new issues of the always awesome Batgirl and Secret Six, plus the debuts of Avengers Academy and Young Allies. Which comic will bring in the Book of the Week honors? 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 Mike Costa and Christos Gage
Art by Sergio Carrera and Lovern Kindzierski
Letters by Robbie Robins
Covers by Antonio Fuso and Ben Templesmith
• I picked up the first four issues of this series during a great sale at my local comic book shop and absolutely loved them, which really raised my expectations for this issue, which follows “Scoop,” a private investigator looking into a serpent-based cult called The Coil.
• After being so blown away with the first storyline of this ongoing series, I was really underwhelmed in how this one came together.
• The biggest problem with the writing is that it is really hard to get involved in this story because the protagonist is so unlikeable. He is your archetypal sleazy PI-for-hire but with almost not redeemable qualities. Honestly, you want something bad to happen to him.
• This storyline does introduce Serpentor and I really like that he is clearly going to be involved in this cult rather than following his ridiculous Real American Hero origin. Mike Costa and Christos Gage are already on the right track for introducing the character in way that meshes with IDW’s more grounded spin on the franchise.
• The other biggest problem with the writing is the issue spins its wheels way too much without every really going here. Honestly, there are only a handful of story pages here that actually matter, with the rest being fluff and filler centering on the unlikable protagonist mentioned above.
• Writing-alone, I would probably give this issue a Check It verdict because the concepts are strong and I did enjoy some of the world building. Unfortunately, I have to also take the art into account and, quite frankly, the art ruins this comic.
• For starters, Sergio Carrera’s line work is completely devoid of depth and detail. This causes the characters to look misshapen and malformed despite the fact that he is clearly going for a realistic approach.
• The end result is something that looks painfully traced from photographs. I’m not saying that it is, but it looks like it. If you squint, it looks like a real person, but if you actually look at it, it looks like a mess.
• Lovern Kindzierski’s colors are not helping. The colors have a very strange texture going on that is splotchy and uneven. It looks like the issue was colored with a marker that was running out of ink.
Verdict: Byrne It. I had really, really high hopes for this series after being tremendously impressed with the opening storyline. While there are cool concepts here and as a big GI Joe fan I’m very curious to see where Costa and Gage are taking the story, the uneven execution does hold my excitement back. Then, of course, there is the art which is simply horrible. I found absolutely nothing to enjoy about the art. I don’t think I’ve disliked the art in a comic this much since the last time I bought something Greg Land “drew.”
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Tony Daniel, Ian Hannin, Frank Quitely, Scott Kolins, Alex Sinclair, Tony Avina, Andy Kubert, Brand Anderson, David Finch, Richard Friend, and Peter Steigerwald
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by David Finch
• Batman reaches its 700th issue this week and to celebrate, Grant Morrison teams-up with a “who’s who” of DC’s finest artists to tell a story that involves the mystery of the Joker’s jokebook in a story that covers three iterations of Batman—Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Damian Wayne.
• Believe it or not, I really don’t “hate” what Grant Morrison is doing here. In fact, I really liked the way that he tied in the mystery of the jokebook through three generations to highlight the similarities and differences between each Batman while following their same underlying commitment to justice. That really worked to me.
• As far as character work goes, that wasn’t quite as strong as the concept the story is built upon. That being said, I did really like the interaction between Dick and Damian in the “today” section of the story. Now that Morrison’s young Damian is following suit with the rest of the Bat-writers, I’m really impressed with how he plays the characters off of one another.
• While, the vast majority of the character work didn’t really offend me (or impress me), there were a few major missteps. While I’m hard pressed to say that his stiff and, surprisingly, dull take on the Joker is the issue’s lowest point, it’s actually the whole of the “tomorrow” section’s characters that stunk this one up.
• Damian’s “badass” demeanor is tremendously unoriginal and totally lifeless. At least in Batman #666 (which I didn’t like), he had some personality beyond simply being a whirlwind of violence and hubris. You don’t get anything beyond that here.
• Then there is the main offender in terms of characterization, which is his take on Barbara Gordon. Despite the fact that other writers have spent decades establishing her as a capable and confident character, Morrison presents her has hapless, helpless, and spineless here in her interactions with Damian. The only reason that I can see for this is to elevate his character, in which case this goes from crappy character writing to disgustingly self-serving character writing.
• I was on board with this story and ready to forgive some of its lulls (including a poorly conceived concept of time travel and the simply asinine “Maybe Machine”), but the ridiculously clichéd Damian Batman and simply deplorable take on Babs killed all of the moment the story had going for it.
• Despite the A-list of artists involved in this project, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the art either. Both Tony Daniel and Andy Kubert put in strong efforts, but compared to their previous works with the character, their work here is a bit too scratch and a bit too messy for my taste.
• David Finch’s section has a lot of ups-and-downs as he has to draw across several time periods in his post-Damian era section (which includes a nod to Batman Beyond). The highlight of his section, which was also a highlight for the issue as a whole, was his awesome take on Dark Knight Returns which, unfortunately, was limited to a single panel.
• The biggest offense in the art was the switch from Frank Quitely to Scott Kolins midway through the second story. The styles of these artists are nothing a like, so the switch a total train wreck. If neither artist could pull of the full story (which was truncated to begin with), then DC either needed to find an artist that could meet the deadlines or they needed to find a fill-in artist that could gel with one of these two men. Trying to use them both did not work in any way, shape, or form.
Verdict: Check It. There are some really cool concepts here as Grant Morrison does a solid job of paying tribute to the Batman concept and characters through three (plus) stories with a strong central theme and plot point. Unfortunately the uneven effort from the A-list artists and the horrible characterization in the “tomorrow” section cut this one off before it can meet its tremendous potential. I feel like this is definitely on the right track, but ultimately it ends up in the wrong station.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain
Letters by Todd Klein
Cover by Gerald Parel
• Two months ago, I was completely floored by the high-concept awesomeness of Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s S.H.I.E.L.D. series in its debut issue. This issue takes a lot of those concepts and runs with them and ultimately becomes a lesson that too much of a good thing can be detrimental to an issue’s success.
• In this issue, Leonid meets with Leonard da Vinci who explains where the Brotherhood of the Shield has gone wrong while Leonid’s father causes mass destruction.
• I really dig high-concept comics and a I love a good mystery, but in order to make a successful comic centered on both, you need a grounding element, which this issue does not have. We get wave after wave of crazy concepts, but nothing to latch onto.
• I had to read this issue multiple times before I started to like it. Once I got a better handle on where Hickman was going, it’s a much strong concept, but even after three read-throughs, I don’t feel like there are enough dots being connected to consider this a true success.
• That being said, I really liked the character work, especially with Leonard da Vinci. He has a Doctor Who vibe to his approach to reality that was fun. Leonid makes for a nice foil to him, though I’d like to see a bit more personality.
• There is a prose page stuck in about ¾ of the way through that was a cop-out to avoid a talking heads page. It was unnecessary and so poorly timed that it completely derailed the issue to that point. I really don’t get its purpose.
• In the last issue, Weaver showcased multiple art styles to compliment the multiple stories that were being presented. In this issue, he is still using multiple styles, but there is no reason for it. I really don’t care for that.
• It would be different, but any one of these styles would look fantastic if Weaver used it throughout, but the constant switches were distracting and only served to further muddy-up the issue.
Verdict: Check It. While I’m still digging the concepts and the characters in S.H.I.E.L.D., the storytelling gaps and unnecessary avoidance of anything grounded makes this a huge step down from the previous issue. Hickman is jumping head first without making sure that there is water in the pool. Thankfully there is enough to keep him from metaphorically perishing, but there isn’t really enough to have that great of a time. I’d like to see better focus and more control from Dustin Weaver in the next issue of this series. For something that was so great out of the gate, I can’t help but feel like this series has taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
• After the incident with Kitty Pryde last issue, Aunt May outlaws superheroes, Iceman gets a job, MJ takes her video of Kitty to the Daily Bugle, and a new threat emerges.
• As per usual with this series, the character writing of Brian Michael Bendis is central to the issue’s success. Bendis does a solid job of mixing fun, one-off moments of humor (like Iceman working a Burger Frog) with more serious interactions (such as the subtext of the Gwen/MJ/Peter triangle) without missing a beat.
• The pacing, though, is a bit of a problem. There isn’t any action in this issue, which means that there is nothing to break up the talking heads scenes (other than the introduction of the ho-hum villain at the end of the issue). That means we have a chatty, plodding pace that grinds on too slowly, too long.
• This is a good setup issue for upcoming story beats, but on its own, its pretty dull. It doesn’t have any legs of its own and, quite frankly, is too much of an awkward transition. I’m sure this will read much better in trade.
• Artist David Lafuente is one of the more consistent artists in the industry today, rarely straying form his comfort zone, but also rarely making mistakes. This issue follows suit with that and is on part with his previous efforts on this series.
• The only major issue I would state is that the design for Gwen still looks out of place with the rest of the characters. Her facial features, including her very sharp nose and “manga eyes” doesn’t really fit with the style the other characters are drawn in.
Verdict: Check It. There are things to like in this issue, but most of them are fleeting as it plods along from one major storyline to another. Transition issues like this are always a hard sell, but there just wasn’t enough for me to sink my teeth into to be fully satisfied, especially with such a bland villain to close out the issue. At least we had plenty of David Lafuente awesomeness to even things out.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Adi Granov
• The Second Coming crossover rolls on this week as the Avengers and Fantastic Four come in to help the trapped X-Men (still in a bubble and running out of time) and X-Force finds out that the future is even grimmer than they had anticipated.
• This is a great follow-up that really ups the ante as this storyline rockets towards its conclusion. The plot doesn’t move forward much, but Matt Fraction does a great job of raising the stakes that I didn’t really mind.
• I’m glad to see other Marvel heroes brought in here. This is an X-Men story, but the extinction of the world’s mutants at stake, the situation is dire enough that other heroes should be stepping in. Too often stories like this ignore the fact that Marvel is a shared universe.
• This issue features a solid mix of action and character work. Fraction finds a solid balance and showcases some of his best “voice work” during his entire run, especially Cyclops and Emma Frost, who have both bored me to death under Fraction.
• The issue ends with a series of solid twists that jumped out just the right moment for maximum effect, which is the crux of raising the sense of danger in the story.
• The art is on par with what you’d normally expect from Terry and Rachel Dodson—big, bulky characters boldly placed. I really dig seeing them take on the likes of Thor and Captain America in this issue, which makes me want to see them branch out beyond the X-Men and further into the Marvel Universe.
• The lack of backgrounds is an issue, but that is standard fare for this art team. I also didn’t care for how bulky some of the smaller male characters appeared. There are a few panels where Cyclops in particular is built like the Thing, which just isn’t right.
• Rogue only shows up for a few panels, but there is on in particular (her only spotlight panel in the entire issue) that is just dynamite. Honestly, it is one of the best takes on Rogue that I’ve seen in the last few years (probably since the killer Bachalo cover to X-Men #192). It is bold and full of personality. I absolutely loved it.
Verdict: Buy It. After taking a week off, the X-Men: Second Coming crossover is back in full force this week with another solid installment. While the story just barely moves forward, Matt Fraction does a great job of raising the stakes and the intensity while Terry and Rachel Dodson continue to do a solid job with all of the characters involved. The story does spin its wheels a bit, but the craftsmanship is so solid that I really don’t mind.
Written by Sean McKeever
Art by David Baldeon, N. Bowling, and Chris Sotomayor
Letters by Joe Sabino
Cover by David Lafuente and Morry Hollowell
• One of the most random teen superhero teams you’ll ever see make their debut this week in Young Allies #1 as being in the right place at the right teams means Nomad, Arana, Toro, Gravity, and Firestar form an unlikely alliance to take on debuting Bastards of Evil.
• Sean McKeever has proven himself on multiple occasions to be one of the premiere teenage superhero writers in the industry thanks to the strong voices and interactions that he develops with his characters. That trend continues with this issue.
• I really like how McKeever approaches the characters in a way that introduces them to more casual readers, but doesn’t beat readers over the head with back story. This very much a “in the now” story that references, but doesn’t live in the past. It makes for a great introduction to the characters.
• The interaction between Arana and Nomad is very solid, but it’s the debuting Toro who steals the show here. For being the character with the least amount of history in the issue, he is immediately the most intriguing and I cannot wait to see how things play out with him and Arana as they have an immediate (and cultural) bond.
• Kudos to Marvel for including the “primers” to the characters in the back of this issue. That is definitely worth the extra dollar. This allows McKeever to develop the characters through hints rather than exposition, which puts more emphasis on the story.
• I was less impressed with the Bastards of Evil than I was with the Young Allies. They are a cool idea, but their overzealous explanations of themselves mid-fight was unnecessary. Had McKeever developed them in a similar way as he did the heroes, the back end of this issue would be considerably stronger.
• I’ve seen that some readers take issue with some of the darker elements of the story, including childhood slavery and talk of killing prostitutes. I think that they need to take a step back and look at the issue as a whole. This isn’t a terribly dark issue, but these things do serve a purpose, much like the mention of Firestar’s cancer.
• David Baldeon’s art is a perfect fit for this series. His light, loose tone works incredibly well for the characters and the tone of the issue. I’m instantly reminded of the work of David Lafuente, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Adrian Alphona—perfect artists for similarly toned comics.
• The level of detail does trail off during the action sequences, which is disappointing. This isn’t terribly noticeable unless you take a few moments to really pour over the pages, but it is a bit disappointing considering how strong the detail is in the more static panels.
Verdict: Buy It. I picked this up as a big fan of Sean McKeever’s ability to write teenage heroes (potentially as a replacement for Teen Titans on my pull list now that his Ravager story is finished). I had high expectations and I was not disappointed. McKeever and Baldeon do a great job of making characters that I’m not terribly familiar with intriguing with a fun issue that plays up classic superhero sensibilities while emphasizing its modern character-based storytelling. This is a fine debut issue that won me over enough that I’ll definitely be picking up the next issue.
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Walden Wong, and Guy Major
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover Stanley “Artgerm” Lau
• Batgirl finds herself in a whole mess of trouble this week as Calculator continues his physical attack in Gotham and his cerebral attack on Oracle, though things start to look up with Batgirl finds an unlikely ally in Calculator’s daughter Wendy.
• This issue is another fine example of how well Bryan Q. Miller is writing Stephanie Brown. Even in the most extreme and insane of situations—such as being attacked by a techno-zombie Man-Bat—she remains a down-to-Earth, relatable, and extremely likable character.
• Her interaction with Wendy in this issue is top notch, especially when she starts characteristically putting her foot in her mouth over and over again.
• The cerebral sparring between Oracle and Calculator worked extremely well as Miller is writing this rivalry perfectly in line with the years of build-up that this final battle has had.
• I have to give kudos to Miller for how well he paces this story. He pushes this along at a fantastic pace that balances the action with the quieter moments quite well and shifts between them seamlessly.
• While I’d love to see Lee Garbett handle full issues without a fill-in artist, Pere Perez is a great option here. It’s hard to tell where one artist ends and the next begins as they gel incredibly well.
• The energy in this issue is superb as the action scenes really come to life with a great sense of movement and impact. The splash page that ends the issue works especially well.
• The key to the art’s success though is the strong sense of personality that comes out of the expressions. Garbett and Perez do just as much to make the characters feel lively and entertaining as Miller does.
Verdict: Buy It. Another month and another win for what is probably DC’s single best straight-up superhero comic (the only comic they are publishing right now that is better would have to be Secret Six). The ridiculous amount of charm and personality in both the writing and the art should win over most readers, which the strong action and intriguing work in the rivalry between Oracle and Calculator should win over the rest. I know that Stephanie Brown has been a tough sell to a lot of readers, but there is no reason this comic isn’t on everyone’s pull list and this is another example of why.
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Mike McKone and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Mike McKone
• In the debut issue of Avengers Academy, six super-powered teenagers that were forcibly “recruited” by Norman Osborn are offered an education in superheroics from a new squad of Avengers seeking redemption, including Speedball, Quicksilver, and Hank Pym, only to find out that the reason behind their enrollment isn’t exactly what it appears to be.
• The opening pages of this instantly make Veil one of the single most compelling characters in the Marvel Universe. These might just be one of the single best sequences that I’ve ever seen from Christos Gage.
• The issue as a whole is actually one of Gage’s finest thanks to his superb character development. I really dig that you instantly build opinions about these characters, yet they aren’t one note. Gage does this by toeing a fine line with development and he does so brilliantly.
• The twist regarding the exact nature of the characters isn’t exactly Earth-shattering by any means, but it makes the series all the more intriguing. This series could easily be called Avengers: Redemption.
• You really don’t often see a superhero comic with characters and character-based concepts that are this complex. This issue shows that this series has a tremendous amount of potential for being the premiere young superhero comic, much in the vein of the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans series (which, coming from me, is an obscenely huge compliment).
• Speaking of Teen Titans, former TT artist Mike McKone’s work is stellar throughout this issue. His clean, effective storytelling and character designs impress me from the get go.
• I also love the range that McKone shows here as he is just as comfortable with the talking heads pages as he is with the action sequences. He’s got the chops to push this series to another level, which says a lot considering how this issue sets the bar.
• The only complaint I have about the art is that Veil says, on numerous occasions that she is small-chested, yet in multiple places throughout the issue, McKone gives her ample breasts, especially when in costume. Is this a major issue? Absolutely not, but it does detract from the work that Gage is doing to develop the character, who certainly shouldn’t be presented as a bombshell.
Verdict: Must Read. I’m a sucker for teen superheroes, particularly those that are presented in a complex and reverent manner. This issue takes cues from some of my favorite teen hero runs as it presents some of the most interesting and intriguing new characters that have come from Marvel in quite some time. Gage and McKone have a ridiculous amount of potential in this series, which says a lot considering this is already a wildly entertaining and finely crafted issue. The sky is the limit on this one and I highly suggest that you get in on the ground floor before its too late.
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jim Calafiore and Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cove rby Daniel Luvisi
• The ridiculously dark Catman-centered story “Cats in the Cradle” comes to a close this week as Catman’s hunt comes to a close in a gory and horrific story that also see Black Alice make a decision regarding her fate as part of the team.
• This is easily the most disturbing comic that I’ve ever read from Gail Simone and she has visited some incredibly dark places during the last few years. I’m honestly shocked at some of the things that went on here, but I was also wildly entertained by them.
• While this issue eschews the quirky characterization that the series is known for, Simone supplants it with brilliant character work of another color (such as Ragdoll taking a stand). This is a different type of Secret Six comic than what I’m used to, but it is perfectly in line with the rest of the series.
• I did not see the twist with Black Alice coming at all, but I’m glad to see that there was an explanation for her behavior, which seemed quite erratic over the last few issues. I really hope that Simone is able to pick up the pieces from this and continue this story, either in this series or, preferably, in a Black Alice miniseries.
• Catman’s actions in this issue are simply horrifying, but also incredibly satisfying because of how strong the character work is in them. Plus, seriously, who would have thought that in an issue that features a man’s face being chewed off, the most disturbing and disgusting action would be Catman’s phone call to Chesire? Bloody brilliant.
• Simone could not have asked for a better artist on this story than Jim Calafiore. While I generally prefer Nicola Scott on this series, Calafiore does a brilliant job of tapping the disturbing nature of this story in every single panel.
• His storytelling, from the pacing to the panel perspectives to the expressions works perfectly in line with Simone’s writing. The two work perfectly in synch here.
• I honestly can’t find a single thing to complain about with the art. This might just be my favorite Calafiore issue, potentially even beating out the ridiculously awesome puzzle-piece story from Gotham Underground.
Verdict: Must Read. You will not find a comic more intense than Secret Six #22. You probably won’t find a comic more disturbing than Secret Six #22. This week, you definitely will not find a comic more satisfying than Secret Six #22. This is Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore at their absolute finest. From the brilliant character development to the shockingly awesome artwork, this issue is the total package and an easy choice for Book of the Week. You cannot go wrong with this comic, though it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’ve got the stomach, do not miss this book.