Monday, July 19, 2010

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 07/14/10


I apologize for the long wait as I bring you a special Monday edition of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings! I know that ya’ll have been pulling out your hair and going crazy since Thursday, so I’ll keep this short and to the point. Hit the jump to check out my thoughts on last week’s comics!

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 ryanreviews@gmail.com.


GIRL COMICS #3
Written by Various
Art by Various
Letters by Various
Cover by Jo Chen

Although I didn’t rank the issue because it is a full-on anthology, I highly recommend Girl Comics #3. The comic was easily the strongest of this fantastic series. Nearly every story was a winner, including some that I didn’t expect to like that much—like Louise Simonson’s Power Pack story (never been a fan of the characters). The show stealers, though, were the heartfelt Wolverine and Jubilee story by Marjorie Liu and Sara Pichelli that demands a follow-up from this creative team and Carla Speed McNeil’s charming story of Kitty Pryde’s 21st birthday celebration. In the end, the strength of this issue alone makes the anthology one of Marvel’s best books of the year, though the entire run has been highly enjoyable.


09. X-MEN: SECOND COMING #14
Written by Various
Art by Various
Letters by Various
Cover by Adi Granov
preRanking: 07

Second Coming comes to a close with this collection of four interlocking stories that explores the aftermath of Bastion’s deadly attack on the X-Men and the reaction to the mutants saving San Francisco.
Zeb Wells and Ibraim Roberson kick things off with the “immediate response” to Hope’s defeat of Bastion and the damage the X-Men took as a result of it. The art in this story is solid, with some awkward anatomy at times. The character work was mostly dull, though there was some great interaction between Hope and Magneto that made up for it.
Mike Carey and Esad Ribic put together the second story that follows Cable’s funeral and the fallout from Rogue allowing Hope to battle Bastion. This is the strongest story in the issue with some awesome art from Ribic and some really great emotional impact.
• The writing team of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost team with Greg Land for the third story. In this one, Wolverine reforms X-Force and sets X-23 free to follow her own life. This features some good character work, but there really isn’t much logic to the reformation of X-Force. Plus, the “art” is from Greg Land, so you can imagine how terrible it is.
• The last story by Matt Fraction and the Dodsons is the shortest, but the most important as it reveals that following the defeat of Bastion, five mutants have regained their powers. This is your typical work from the writer and the artists, but is ultimately two short to really form much of an opinion on it.
• Individually, all of the stories except the Wolverine/X-Force tale work really well. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a strong running thread that pulls them together other than the fact that they all take place at the same general time. This feels more like an anthology than a single installment to a larger story.
• The strong highs of this issue are more numerous than the lows, but when this issue hits bottom, it hits hard. Of course, any time a comic features Greg Land’s work, its automatically dropped down several pegs.

Verdict: Check It. After several months and 13 previous issues leading up to this, its hard not to feel a little let down by this “conclusion” to Second Coming. The disjointed nature of presenting four stories by four creative teams that go in four directions (with limited movement in most of the issue) is a hard sell, even when there are some cool concepts and strong craftsmanship being showcased. Ultimately, though, the biggest problem with Second Coming #2 is that it isn’t Uncanny X-Men: Heroic Age, which serves as a far better conclusion to the crossover—but we will get to that later in the Rankings.


08. ULTIMATE COMICS: SPIDER-MAN #12
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
preRanking: 05

• After being replaced by a mysterious shape-shifter last issue, things get a little crazy in Peter Parker’s life as the imposter tries to hook-up with Mary Jane, ruins Peter’s relationship with Gwen, and discovers our hero’s biggest secret.
• There seems to be almost no logic to the villain of this issue at all beyond forcing Peter’s life into uncomfortable places. I’m sure there is a reason why he took J. Jonah Jameson’s personality last issue, but jumping to Peter and sticking with it makes no sense to me.
• It doesn’t help that the running commentary from the villain was completely overdone, which undercuts the emotional impact of his dastardly deeds. Without this narration, the story would still work just as well, so there is no reason to force that on the reader.
• That’s not to say that there weren’t some great moments here and some interesting things being setup. The major shift in the Peter/MJ/Gwen triangle alone is going to make for some great storytelling down the road.
• The art is standard David Lafuente, which means that it’s a pain to write a review on it. As per usual, there are great designs, solid storytelling, and extremely strong expressions. You know what you are getting into with Lafuente and its always good.
• There are way too many large panels that are silent or nearly-silent versus the smaller, dialogue-packed panels. Not only does this throw off the pace of the issue, cramming that many balloons or narration boxes into a smaller panel takes away from the effectiveness of the art.

Verdict: Check It. I’m not a huge fan of any story that involves a shape-shifter taking over the body of a hero because, quite frankly, its been done too many times and there are only so many spins that can be put on it. Considering this storyline was already done with Spider-Man earlier this year with the Chameleon as part of the build up towards Grim Hunt in Amazing Spider-Man, its even more frustrating. That being said, there are some cool concepts going on here and any comic with art by David Lafuente is automatically worth checking out. Just don’t say that I didn’t warn you about this issue’s rougher aspects.


07. BATMAN #701
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Tony Daniel and Ian Hannin
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Cover Tony Daniel
preRanking; 09

Batman #701 kicks off a two-part story that bridges the gap between Batman’s apparent demise at the end of Batman RIP and his involvement in Final Crisis that led to his time displacement.
• The issue is built around strong narration from Batman that is clear and focused. This is the Batman that we know and love, not the Batman that Grant Morrison used throughout his run.
• This story is very linear, well-paced, and concise; in other words, it is everything that RIP wasn’t. If this issue was used to end RIP instead of jumping directly into Battle for the Cowl, it would have completely changed the landscape of that debacle.
• It does feel like Morrison is backtracking some here though, especially when he starts clarifying and blatantly stating what certain elements of RIP were supposed to be. That seems like an odd move from him, but as I said, it certainly strengthens what I consider to have been a very weak and poorly executed story.
• The art from Tony Daniel is a mostly solid effort. His expressions are good, but he really excels in building the atmosphere and tone of the story with his highly detailed art.
• The biggest problem with the art is how drastically different Batman’s shape and size changes form page to page. We see everything from a leaner, more tone Batman (that you’d expect more from Dick Grayson) to a bulked-up hulking Batman that is more akin to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns than anything else.
• I think it is worth noting that this is the first time in a Morrison and Daniel Batman story that Daniel is actually the weak link in the creative chain.

Verdict: Buy It. There isn’t a lot of depth in this story and I’d definitely say that there is an air of too-little-too-late hanging over it as this story fills in a lot of the gaping plot holes left from Batman: RIP and Final Crisis, but what it lacks in timeliness and relevancy, it makes up for in quality craftsmanship. As I said a few bullet points back, this is everything that RIP wasn’t and while I thoroughly enjoyed this issue, it does make sad to know what RIP could have been capable of if Morrison would’ve tightened his focus as he does in this issue.


06. UNCANNY X-MEN: HEROIC AGE
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Various
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Mark Brooks
preRanking: 08

• Despite being printed under the Heroic Age banner, this multiple-story issue should have been plastered with a Second Coming logo as it is a strong conclusion to the story than this week’s actual final issue.
• In the main story, Cyclops deals with the fallout of Second Coming, only to find himself being honored by both Captain America and the President for his role in saving San Francisco. Meanwhile, in the second story, Beast explains extinction to Molly Hayes of Runaways fame, who refuses to give up hope for mutantkind. Finally, in the last story, Hope is poked and prodded and told which way to go, only to resolve to make her own path by seeking remnants of her birth family in Alaska.
• Each story has its own strengths and weaknesses, but as a whole this a much stronger conclusion to Second Coming than Second Coming too as it deals with the themes of the story in a much better manner while pushing the story forward more seamlessly.
• I really didn’t care for the fact that Cyclops was so dismissively killing dinosaurs in the Savage Land to blow off steam, nor with the fact that Captain America seemed so cool with it. Isn’t killing animals for fun a sign of being a psychopath? I mean, he isn’t hunting them, he is slaughtering them.
Matt Fraction does a great job of reminding us of how awesome Molly is and why Runaways is a book that we desperately need back on the shelves. Her interaction with Beast was priceless. The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was her talk of homework—where did that come from? Did I miss a story somewhere?
• With three artists on the book, it isn’t surprising that we would get mixed results. For the most part, the art is fantastic, with the exception of While Portacio who draws the weirdest, most inhuman torsos I have ever seen.
Steve Sanders brings the same awesomeness that he brought to SWORD. I’m glad to se he stuck to his very unique take on Beast, though I was equally as impressed with his great sense of style on Molly (like her tube sock arm-warmer and perhaps the best hat she has ever worn).
Jamie McKelvie’s ultra-clean style isn’t particularly fancy, but he did a great job at matching the tone through strong expressions and storytelling in the Hope story. He has already done some great work with Image, but I really hope we see more of his work with Marvel.

Verdict: Buy It. I would probably pay the full cover price of this issue for the scenes between Beast and Molly on their own as Fraction and Sanders absolutely nailed them. When you add in some cool developments with Hope and Cyclops, plus a great effort from McKelvie, you have a very strong issue. The art from Portacio drags it down a bit and there is some wheel-spinning in the Hope story thanks to Franklin Richards showing up for almost no reason, but I’m willing to overlook that when so much of the issue is incredibly enjoyable.


05. X-FORCE: SEX AND VIOLENCE #1
Written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost
Art by Gabriele Dell’Otto
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Gabriele Dell’Otto
preRanking: 06

• The long-awaited first issue of X-Force: Sex and Violence finally dropped this week. It follows Domino as she recounts a scuffle with the Assassins Guild and the Hand over all sorts of dirty dealings, which brings in Wolverine for a little bit of the activities alluded to in the title.
• This comic is perfectly named as it stars X-Force and is really nothing more than sex, violence, sexy violence, and violent sex. That being said, its also totally awesome.
Chris Yost and Craig Kyle are up their usual standards here with fantastic character work. They do an awesome job of building tension between Domino and Wolverine throughout the issue, leading to a great twist ending that adds a playful element to the story.
• The plot in this issue is really simple, but thanks to some fun twists and the aforementioned great character work, you really won’t care. This issue is exactly what it sets out to be and has no regrets about it.
• The real draw, though, is the gorgeous art by Gabriele Dell’Otto, whose work is lush and dreamlike while retaining a strong sense of detail.
• I really dig that Dell’Otto switches styles slightly between the main story and the flashbacks without beating readers over the head with it—that is really cool.
• The art is so good that I may not finish this in single issues. The quality really demands that it be read as an oversized hardcover with high quality paper. I want to know what happens next, but I also want to read this one properly!

Verdict: Must Read. I had high expectations going into this one thanks to the absolutely stellar creative team and they did not disappoint. This is a ton of fun with great action, superb character work, and some of the best looking art you’ll see in any comic this week. Yes, it is a little light on story, but what is there is entertaining as the comic lives up to its potential in spades.


04. BIRDS OF PREY #3
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Mariah Benes, and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Swands
Cover by Cliff Chiang
preRanking: 01

• The Birds continue to feel the wrath of the White Canary in this week’s issue, which features more of the hilarious dying Penguin, a strange twist with Creote and Savant, and the first one-on-one showdown between the Black and White Canaries.
• I really like the way that Gail Simone bookends this issue with complete opposites. It opens with the hilariousness of the Penguin’s Birds of Prey fantasy as he bleeds to death and ends with the gave seriousness of the battle between the Canaries.
• This issue is tremendously well-paced as things go from bad-to-worse quickly with a nice “calm” in Oracle’s shocking abduction, before the action-packed final pages. The flow of the issue does a brilliant job of building tension.
• Once again, Black Canary’s unique outlook at the moment, filled with defiant loyalty and surprising self-doubt, makes her an excellent point of view character. Of course, this wouldn’t work so well if not for how perfectly Simone writes her.
• Artists Adriana Melo and Ed Benes mix together well in this issue thanks to their similar styles, though there are some hiccups—whether they be noticeable shifts between the artists or simply consistency issues with one of them.
• The sense of impact in the action sequences is really solid, though the odd anatomies take away from that (though the worst is actually the Creote/Savant reveal, which isn’t in an action sequence).
• This isn’t the strongest issue that we’ve seen so far in terms of art, but the great character writing and superb plotting make up for it.

Verdict: Must Read. While not as strong overall as the first two issues, the third installment of the new volume of Birds of Prey is still an excellent read. Gail Simone’s writing is top-notch throughout as she twists and turns her way through this thrill ride, though the shortcomings of the art do hold it back some. Still, when taken as a whole, the highest definitely outshine the lows and you get an issue that should not be missed.


03. THANOS IMPERATIVE #2
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Miguel Sepulveda and Jay David Ramos
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Aleksi Briclot
preRanking: 04

• The battle between the denizens of the regular Marvel Universe and the Cancer-verse of the Fault turns up to eleven in this big battle issue of the Thanos Imperative.
• This is almost pure action from start to finish that ups the ante of the story and broadens the scope, which is precisely what a second issue of an epic war should do.
• I really dig the things that DnA are doing with Thanos, especially in terms of his relationship with Star-Lord. It is very cool to see such a big name villain being treated so respectfully simply because of the circumstances (the enemy of my enemy and all that).
• Nothing says “major threat” like the Celestials and Cosmic Abstracts (like Galactus) joining the war against the Fault. That is such a cool moment, even if it was spoiled by the sketch section of the previous issue.
• I really dig the complexity of this story despite its relatively simple presentation. There are a ton of potential subplots starting to surface, all of which are very exciting.
• Unfortunately, the art is a bit of a weak link when compared to the writing, though I honestly wouldn’t think so had I not seen the pencil-only pages in the back of the first issue.
Miguel Sepulveda does a great job of conveying the impact and chaos of the storyline with some great perspectives and dramatic angles.
• The problem is that the coloring really takes away from the detail of the art. After seeing those penciled pages, it’s tremendously clear that the coloring is doing nothing to enhance this issue at all.

Verdict: Must Read. The action gets turned up to 11 in this issue as DnA set the stage for what should be the most exciting cosmic showdown since the first Annihilation miniseries. You get lots and lots of great action here with all of Marvel’s heavy hitting space-heroes (and some villains) that is handled extremely well. Granted, we do know that the art could look much better than it does, but as is stands, this is a super exciting issue that should not be missed.


02. AVENGERS ACADEMY #2
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Mike McKone and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Mike McKone
preRanking: 03

• This week’s Avengers Academy focuses on cadet Finesse, whose inability to relate to her classmates reveals their own secrets and highlights how much of an outsider Quicksilver is compared to his fellow teachers.
• The character writing in this issue is simply brilliant. It is, flat-out, amongst the best character writing that Christos Gage has done for Marvel. Finesse’s narration weaves a complex tapestry for what could easily become a one-dimensional character, while her judgments and poor interactions actually adds depth to the other characters.
• I love how easily she dismisses her peers in various ways, from nearly sacrificing Hazmat to her disgust and pity towards Veil to her insensitivity towards Reptil.
• We are beaten over the head a bit with the film on Quicksilver, but through it Gage points out some very interesting points about his reputation and heroic drive that are inherent to the character, but often overlooked.
• Artist Mike McKone does a solid job with the character designs and excels during the few action sequences we see here. This issue features some of his best work in both regards.
• There are several simple close-ups of Finesse that, when taken in concert with the script, reveal so much about the character so subtly. It’s not often enough that we can learn so much about character from his/her expressions.
• That runs right into my next point—McKone really understands and emphasizes the importance of body language at setting the tone of a scene. He clearly put a lot of thought into how the characters carry themselves and that goes a long way.
• There are some consistency issues, mostly in terms of the amount of detail and polish there is in the linework. That does bring the art down a peg.

Verdict: Must Read. The first issue of Avengers Academy really blew my away with his quality craftsmanship, especially the strength of Christos Gage’s new characters. This second issue shows that the first was definitely not a fluke as he builds upon all of the strengths of the first issue and throws in a slew of new twists as he focuses on Finesse. When you add in another strong effort from Mike McKone, you have a comic that you’d be insane not to buy.


01. BATGIRL #12
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, Walden Wong, and Guy Major
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau
preRanking: 02

Stephanie Brown’s first year as Batgirl comes to a close this week as she teams up with Wendy (of Wendy and Marvin) to raid Calculator’s compound and save Gotham City while Oracle battles the villain inside his own mind.
• There is so much about this issue that works incredibly well, from the strong plot twists to the superb pacing. This is a totally enjoyable read that showcases just how good of a writer Bryan Q. Miller is.
• The amount of personality in the characters really blows me away. This is by no means a character-focused issue, yet the charm and reliability of the main characters really shines through.
• I absolutely love how well Wendy is folded into the crew in this issue. She and Batgirl play off of one another well as they are so similar, though the differences between the two are going to be what makes “Proxy” an entertaining addition to the team.
• It’s interesting to see more background on Calculator—Miller really fleshes out the character in this issue, which is a nice way to close the door on his extended battle with Oracle that has lasted several years through multiple titles.
• While there are minor differences in their designs, Lee Garbett and Pere Perez work exceptionally well together on this issue thanks to their similar storytelling sensibilities.
• There is a load of personality in the art that is just awesome. From the strong expressions, well thought body language, and good interaction between the characters, the artists do just as much work to bring charm to this issue that Miller does.
• I do have to give the artists credit for their perspective choices as well. They add a nice dramatic flair that helps build tension and gives the issue a very cinematic feel.

Verdict: Must Read. In a week that featured five Must Read books, you’d think it was a hard fought battle for the Book of the Week honor, but, in reality, there was never really a question about what book would come out on top. Batgirl #12 is a great culmination of year’s worth of fantastic storytelling as Bryan Q. Miller takes full ownership of Stephanie Brown and reiterates why she is the perfect Batgirl through his charming script and strong plotting. Lee Garbett and Pere Perez make the most of teaming up on the art by gelling well and both having strong enough chemistry with Miller that it didn’t really matter that their were to artists. If you had any doubts as to whether or not Stephanie Brown should be Batgirl, this issue is one prime example of why, though I’d strongly recommend picking up the back issues on this title to make it an even dozen.


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10 comments:

twobitspecialist said...

Man, I thought you were skipping the Power Rankings this week! Thanks for not letting us hanging!

Philipe said...

@Ryan - Power Girl and Batgirl? And I know you like Supergirl comics too...I don't know, I usually don't even consider picking these type of comics. Am I sexist?

Jank said...

I was a little disappointed with the whole Second Coming event. It started strong, and pretty much wrapped up as I expected it to, but it definitely didn't have the story to justify its length. Also, it's a little annoying for me when the old X-men (Beast, Storm, etc.) get on their high horse and complain about X-Force. Wolverine's ALWAYS been shown to be a killer. He's killed his enemies before, so what's different now? Hell, if they wanted to be mad, they should have complained that X-Force didn't kill Bastion and his team earlier. Would have saved them a lot of grief. In general, given the state of the X-men, I don't see how a pacifist ideology would ensure the survival of the surviving mutants, but that's me.

On another note, I enjoyed Batgirl as well. I look forward to seeing where the creative team takes the title next.

Daryll B. said...

I have to give Bryan Q Miller credit. As a Cass Cain fan when this series was announced, I was ready to dump all over Batgirl. Now I can easily say that Batgirl and Red Robin might be 2 of the strongest Bat-Books (tuned to my sensibilities) that DC puts out by far

I dunno what is cooler: how Finesse handled both Pym and Pietro or these two words...GALACTUS. CANNON.

My prob with UXM Heroic Age and Second Coming is the same as any one of these anthologies to wrap up events... continuity. You hit the Captain America/Cyclops one on the nose. Out of character for both of them ESPECIALLY with how we seen Steve being written since his return. Then the Beast & Molly scene, although cute, contradicts paths in Sec. Avengers, Runaways, AND Uncanny. Don't get me started on how stupid the X-Force scene and Hellion/Colossus scenes were. Storm and Wolverine? Really?...I did like the Namor/basketball scene and the Cyclops/Hope scene in the end. So ugh...

Finally caught up with everyone with Avengers Crusade (Heinberg's got A LOT of cleanup to do) and The Boys...wow Annie..just wow...Now THAT'S an Ennis cliffhanger! Poor Hughie...

BTW, Did you guys hear about the Runaways movie plans? I so wanted this animated...I not happy...

JonesHawkeye said...

Hey Ryan, Stuff Of Legend: The Jungle # 1 came out last week. I was positive it was going to be your # 1 book for the week, but you didn't even review it. What gives?

Anonymous said...

As a fan of marvel's cosmic stuff, i agree with your comments on the pencils for Thanos. Another example of amazing pencils and poor colors, check out "dangerous artifacts", a tensomething years ago story from Castellini about the Surfer. Got a copy of the italian b&w edition and it blows away the colored one.
I want a b&w monthly "Cosmo and Rocket: adventures in space"!!!

Anonymous said...

@Ryan: I want to buy X-FORCE: SEX AND VIOLENCE #1 but I want to know first if the "sex" part really accomplishes what the title ofers; I mean do they show nudity (nipples) or is is "PG13" ?

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous #7 - there's no sexual content in the book aside from some heat of the moment kissing. If there will be sex, it will undoubtably be censored/offpanel like every other Marvel comic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kirk, It sounds a little deceiving on marvel's part but anyway the art looks gorgeous so I will have to buy it even if it does not have the "sex".

Ryan Schrodt said...

@JonesHawkeye - I actually didn't get around to reading Stuff of Legend (I forgot that I had a review copy until you reminded me!). That was totally awesome and a great follow-up to the first volume, but I did like Batgirl better. Still a Must Read though!

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