Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 09/29/10


It’s Thursday night and…surprise! The Comic Book Review Power Rankings are actually on schedule this week! It’s another great crop of comics this week, including the debut of the Jimmy Olsen backup in Action Comics and new issues of books like X-Men: Legacy, Wonder Woman, Artifacts, and more! Which book will reign supreme? 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 ryanreviews@gmail.com.


09. X-MEN: LEGACY #240
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Clay Mann, Jay Leisten, and Brian Reber
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Lenil Yu
preRanking: 06

• After being revealed as the source of the electrical storms in Mumbai, the Children of the Vault reveal their horrifying plans after handily defeating the X-Men.
• I really like that Mike Carey offers a clear explanation of the Children of the Vault in this issue, which is something that their previous appearances lacked. They are cool villains, but they seriously needed to be fleshed out.
• The early emphasis on action and danger drew my attention away from the lack of character depth and the relatively negative portrayal of Indian culture. I consider this a good thing.
• Unfortunately, while this issue does start out with a bang, the majority of the issue is hunkered down by a very plodding pace and too many overwritten explanations. This really takes the impact out of the comic before we reach the cliffhanger.
• The character writing here is extremely shallow and lifeless. Other than Magneto’s enigmatic actions, there really is no personality coming through on any of the characters.
• The art in this issue is the major killer though. Much like the writing, it starts fairly strong with a lot of energy in the action sequences, but quickly tapers off.
• The lack of detail is easily the biggest problem. The characters look flat and lifeless, while their surroundings look incomplete. It honestly looks like Clay Mann was only halfway finished with the book before Brian Reber started coloring it.

Verdict: Avoid It. There are some positive aspects of this book here and there, but it ultimately misses the mark and misses it hard. Pacing issues, shallow character writing, and simply disappointing art are the main culprits with this book as the creative team turns an interesting plot into an unfortunate mess. Unfortunately, this might just be the last straw for this title as I’m really tired of giving it second chances.


08. WONDER WOMAN #603
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica, Allan Goldman, Jay Leisten, Scott Koblish, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Don Kramer and Alex Sinclair
preRanking: 01

• After getting all crazy violent last issue, Wonder Woman leads her displaced Amazon sisters through the desert, only to find herself making an unexpected trip through Hell before finding herself face-to-face with Hippolyta’s killer.
• Whereas previous issues showed hints that this series would eventually return to its previous continuity, this issue really feels more like an Elseworlds story or a reboot because it lacks these hints. That is a tad off-putting.
• That being said, I am still enjoying the new direction of the series and despite some noticeable problems, this issue doesn’t really deter me from that.
• The trip through Hell was really interesting and definitely sucked me into the issue, but ended far too quickly. I’m really not sure why J. Michael Straczynski would introduce such an interesting concept only to throw it away after a few pages. That screams filler to me.
• The story is fun and fast-paced, but the heavy focus on plot means the character work was pretty minimal. I feel like JMS is writing more about things happening around Wonder Woman than about Wonder Woman herself.
• The three pencil artists on this issue (Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica, and Allan Goldman) means three styles of both design and storytelling. This is problematic.
• All of the pages look really good, so I can’t knock any individual artist for his shortcomings, but the lack of cohesion is really grating. I don’t like the jarring shifts in style from page to page.
• This isn’t a major issue, but I was really disappointed by the cover of this book. That is some surprisingly weak work from Don Kramer. The incentive cover was really awesome though!

Verdict: Check It. This issue definitely made a run for a Buy It verdict thanks to some really interesting concepts presented by JMS and strong efforts from all of the artists involved. Unfortunately, the lack of cohesion in the art and the very rushed concepts in the writing held this one back just enough that it stayed in Check It range. I’m still really enjoying the new direction for Wonder Woman, but unfortunately this issue isn’t quite up to par with the previous offerings in this run.


07. GI JOE: COBRA SPECIAL #2
Lead Written by Mike Costa
Lead Art by Antonio Fuso and Filippo Flores
Lead Letters by Robbie Robbins
Backup Written by Duane Swierczynski
Cover by Antonio Fuso
preRanking: 05

• The lead story in this special issue of GI Joe: Cobra tells the story of Chameleon’s first mission as part of GI Joe after she was captured from Cobra and recounts her origins.
• This is an awesome introduction to an incredibly interesting character. By the end of this issue, I wanted to see more of Chameleon in action. Mike Costa does a fantastic job of developing her here.
• After suffering through several longwinded regular issues of GI Joe: Cobra, I’m glad to see that Costa tells this story without resorting to heavy exposition. This is a great example of “show, don’t tell.”
• There is a great amount of depth in the character work thanks to the brilliantly complex characterization of Chameleon and the fantastic dialogue between her and Firewall.
• The art by Antonio Fuso is very clean and clear with a bold style that is immediately eye-catching.
• I really love how simple and effective the art is. Fuso does so much without unnecessary linework.
• There is a great amount of subtlety in Fuso’s expressions that really impressed me. I really hope we see more of him on this title.
• The majority of the issue is taken up by the backup short story by Duane Swierczynski that serves as little more than a teaser for the upcoming GI Joe prose anthology. It’s terribly out of place here and, quite frankly, didn’t impress me all that much.

Verdict: Buy It. This is a prime example of how a backup can hijack a great comic. The lead comic in this issue is easily Must Read material and could be a contender for Book of the Week on its own. Unfortunately, the longwinded prose story takes up the majority of this issue, bumping up the page count and adding to the price. At $2.99 for just the main story, this comic could take home the top spot on this week’s rankings (granted, IDW’s standard price point for GI Joe books is $3.99, but I think we’d probably get more story pages at full price, so I won’t complain). Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve paid a few extra bucks for something that has very little to do with the lead and, ultimately, drags the book down.


06. GREEN ARROW #5
Written by J.T. Krul
Art by Diogenes Neves, Vicente Cifuentes, and Ulises Arreola
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by Mauro Cascioli
preRanking: 02

• In this week’s Green Arrow, Ollie’s old friend Martian Manhunter stops by Star City’s forest for some surprising mayhem and Green Arrow learns something surprisingly sinister about his activist friend Mary.
• This issue is comprised of a lot of great story bits that aren’t terribly cohesive. As a single issue, this is really disjointed, though I think that it will ready incredibly well in trade.
• The Brightest Day tie-in bits with Martian Manhunter come and go very fast and, while interesting, they aren’t terribly accessible to readers that aren’t following that comic. This is frustrating.
• I did not see the twist with Mary coming at all. Kudos to J.T. Krul for that shocker.
• Krul has done a great job for finding the right voice for Green Arrow. I’ve offered much love on numerous occasions for Mike Grell’s run with the character and I’m seeing a lot of that same personality coming through here.
• The art did a really great job of capturing the intensity if the issue with very full, energetic panels that have great impact. The action sequences are superb.
Diogenes Neves does a much better job of adapting to the crazy elements than Krul does. Whereas the Krul excels the more grounded the story is, Neves shows he has the chops for the “far-out” concepts. The prime example here is his totally awesome take on Martian Manhunter’s “tantrum.”
• The hazy coloring from Ulises Arreola does make certain things really pop on the page—like Green Arrow in uniform—but it also causes some details to fade into the background. It’s a double-edge sword as I like the style, but I can’t help but feel like we are losing some of Neves’s linework.

Verdict: Buy It. If this issue were a bit more cohesive with a stronger underlying focus, it could easily vault into Must Read territory. The twist ending was a great shocker that has me super pumped for next issue, while Diogenes Neves is making leaps and bounds forward with his art. I still wish we’d see a more grounded take on Green Arrow that skips over the Brightest Day mumbo jumbo, but even with that present here, this is an issue that is well-worth your time.


05. ARTIFACTS #2
Written by Ron Marz
Lead Art by Michael Broussard, Rick Basaluda, Joe Weems, Sal Regla, and Sunny Gho
Backup Art by Dale Keown
Letters by Troy Peteri
Cover by Ryan Sook
preRanking: 04

• After Hope was kidnapped by Aphrodite IX, Witchblade is confronted by Darkness and Angelus and all three learn of something sinister brewing by their unexpected ally, Tom Judge.
• For a mostly talking heads issue, this issue is very intense thanks to the strong pacing and strong reactions from the characters. Ron Marz does a great job of keeping it fresh.
• I also have to commend Marz for keeping this issue accessible to Top Cow newbies like me. I haven’t read many Top Cow Universe comics, yet I was perfectly comfortable throughout this entire issue.
• I love the big, bold personalities from all of the characters. Marz does a great job of developing their individual personalities.
• The art in this is definitely an acquired taste, but I really dig the overall look of this book.
• The scratchy lines and craggy designs give instantly give this issue a very dark, gritty feel without relying on heavy shadows. It takes some getting used to, but it’s a cool affect.
• There are multiple inkers on this issue that all bring their own spin on Michael Broussard’s lines. This can be a bit frustrating at times, though the heavily stylized colors of Sunny Gho do a solid job of unifying the book.
• The backup is a brief look at the origin of Darkness, who is the only character I’m really familiar with. Still, it’s a nice primer and the art from Dale Keown is pretty solid.

Verdict: Buy It. Honestly, when the kind folks at Top Cow sent me a review copy of Artifacts #1, I full expected it to be completely inaccessible, to frustrate me, and for me to be done with the miniseries after the first review. I was wrong. I am totally hooked on this epic crossover. Ron Marz has done a tremendous job of making this accessible and satisfying to new readers. He works very well with Michael Broussard to keep this exciting and fresh. There are flaws and it does tend to be a bit shallow in some places, but its still a really fun read—plus it reads a lot better than the last few Marvel and DC “events” did!


04. PILOT SEASON: ASSET #1
Written by Filip Sablik
Art by David Marquez and William Farmer
Letters by Troy Peteri
Cover by Jenny Frison
preRanking: 08

• The second entrant into this year’s Pilot Season from Top Cow drops this week with Asset, which follows a female spy that uses dating websites to find candidates to carry through her devious plans.
• This is an incredibly unique concept sucked me in right away. Kudos to Filip Sablik for pursuing a premise that is really unlike any other comic on the stands right now.
• The pacing in this issue is a major reason behind its success. The slow, casual pace at the beginning of the issue is broken midway through by much faster storytelling, which follows the theme of the book quite effectively.
• Without strong character writing, the premise of this book would fall completely flat. Sablik has to be convincing in his portrayals if this is going to work and he is. He does a great job of establishing character from the get go.
• The artwork is good, but suffers from issues that keep it from being what I would consider great.
David Marquez has a strong sense of realism that brings you into the world and a good design sense that furthers that. His anatomy is strong and he does a fantastic job with body language.
• There are some consistency issues in the design of the main character. Her face in the beginning of the issue looks very different than it does towards the end, which is off-putting.
• There is also the issue of the very limited backgrounds. When they are present, they look good and bring a lot of life to the issue, but too often characters converse over completely blank backdrops.

Verdict: Buy It. We may only be two weeks into Top Cow’s Pilot Season, but this issue is the frontrunner for me and its going to take a very strong comic to steal my vote. Filip Sablik’s unique story is brought to life expertly by David Marquez in this extremely intriguing issue. This feels like a good trailer for a hit movie—you get just enough to be interested and you have to overlook some flaws, but in the end you can’t wait to see the whole thing.


03. ACTION COMICS #893
Lead Written by Paul Cornell
Lead Art by Sean Chen, Wayne Faucher, and Brad Anderson
Backup Written by Nick Spencer
Backup Art by RB Silva, Dym, and Dave McCaig
Letters by Rob Leigh
Cover by David Finch, Richard Friend, and Peter Steigerwald
preRanking: 07

• In the lead story, Lex Luthor goes to Africa in search of Black Lantern energy, only to find himself in conflict with Gorilla Grodd.
• I’ve actually missed two issues of this story, but I was able to catch up quickly thanks to strong context clues and clear storytelling from Paul Cornell. This is likely to be a big jumping-on point for new readers because of the much-hyped backup, so I’m glad to see that it should be highly accessible.
• Cornell’s character work is simply brilliant. He hits all of the right notes on big picture characterization—Grodd’s megalomania, Luthor’s crafty madness, etc—but more surprisingly he adds a ton of depth to these villains. This is one of the most well-rounded representations of Luthor that I can remember reading.
• Even though I knew that the next issue stars Death of the Endless (of Vertigo’s Sandman franchise), I was still caught off guard by the ending because I was so invested in the story.
Sean Chen’s strong consistency, great designs, and fantastic cinematic storytelling go a long way towards the success of this issue. He really does a phenomenal job here.
• Chen’s expressions were a bit over-the-top at times, but considering this story is about a mad scientist invading the homeland of another mad scientist that just so happens to be a gorilla, I think I can overlook that.
• In the first installment of the Jimmy Olsen backup, Smallville’s breakout character Chloe Sullivan makes her DCU-debut by dumping Jimmy and sending him on a collision course with a hot-shot LuthorCorp executive.
• This is a great debut for Chloe as Nick Spencer pulls just enough of her TV personality to make her familiar, but tweaks her just enough that you don’t feel like strangling her (seriously, for being such an awesome character in the first 5 seasons or, she has become worse than Lana in the last few seasons (Lana, of course, being the worst character on the entire show (a huge part of that is the fact that Kristen Kreuk couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag))).
• I really like Spencer’s portrayal of Olsen as an everyman slacker. He is much more relatable here than his usual appearances as Superman’s whiney fanboy.
• The twist at the end was really cool and worked extremely well. I don’t think it could have been as effective if not for the flashback the opens the story. The two bookend the rest very well.
RB Silva’s art is really clean with some absolutely superb designs. His work reminds me a lot of Cliff Chiang, which is a major compliment. I’m not terribly familiar with Silva, but now I feel compelled to buy every comic he has ever drawn.
• I’m not a huge fan of how he drew Chloe’s hair, but that is just a personal preference. There is something about it that just looks weird to me.

Verdict: Must Read. I picked this issue up knowing how great the Jimmy Olsen backup feature was (after it had been posted on Comixology last week), but was pleasantly surprised to see that the Lex Luthor main story was leaps and bounds ahead of the first (and only) installment I had read a few months back. With clever writing from both Cornell and Spencer, as well as fantastic art from both Chen and Silva, this is a definite “can’t miss” comic.


02. STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES #1
Written by Billy Tucci
Art by Justiniano, Tom Derenick, Andrew Magnum, and Tom Chu
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Brian Bolland
preRanking: 09

• In this “throwback” war story one-shot, the original Mademoiselle Marie drops into occupied France on a secret mission, only to find herself betrayed by Nazi sympathizers.
• Normally I’m not much of a fan of war comics, but the draw of Billy Tucci, Justiniano, and Mademoiselle Marie (whose legacy was explored in an amazing storyline in Checkmate a few years back) pulled me in. I am so glad I didn’t skip this.
• Tucci is telling a very direct story here, not messing around with unnecessary subplots or filler, leading to some great twists at the end. This is about as clear of storytelling as you’ll see in any comic.
• The character work, especially the brilliant and engaging take on Marie, really had me hooked. Too often every character in a World War II story is cut from the same clichéd cloth, but Tucci plays around here.
• I loved the multiple double-crosses and the varying degrees of treachery here. That made this really engaging and made the ending tremendously satisfying.
• The art was, quite frankly, badass. I’ve said this before, but Justiniano is insanely underutilized. He is a fantastic artist and he shows it on every single page of this issue.
Tom Derenick’s art flowed very well with Justiniano’s work here. Honestly, I was surprised to see him included on the pencil credits.
• There are a ton of great, iconic moments that the artists capture here without sacrificing the storytelling. It’s not something many artists can pull off without looking stiff or posed, but Justiniano and Derenick nail it here.

Verdict: Must Read. I picked this issue up on a hunch and came into it with really low expectations. I came out of it wishing that it were an ongoing. The creative team puts on a show here and should be commended for their fantastic work. This book is going to be off the radar for most readers, but it is something you should definitely track down for its superb craftsmanship and engaging story.


01. VALKYRIE #1
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Phil Winslade and Veronica Gandini
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Cover by Jay Anacleto and Brian Haberlin
preRanking: 03

• The continuity nightmare Valkyrie returns from the dead by inhabiting the body of a murdered woman and seeks resolution in this fantastic one-shot written by Mice Templar creator Bryan J.L. Glass.
• I read up some on Valkyrie prior to this issue and was immediately stricken with migraines trying to sort out her history. Kudos to Glass for doing a brilliant job of streaming that into something more palpable while simultaneously launching the next era in the character’s history.
• This issue’s success really comes down to brilliant character writing. As Valkyrie’s personality is emerging here, it’s impossible not to be engaged by her. It blow me away how well Glass develops the character here.
• Using Wasp was an equally impressive move. Not only does she serve a strong purpose in the plot, but Glass also shows the potential the character has and how unjustified her plot-centric death really was.
Phil Winslade impresses me on all levels with his art. I absolutely loved his spectacular storytelling in his densely packed pages. There is not an inch of wasted space in this entire issue.
• I was equally as impressed with the expressions and well-thought-out body language from Winslade. Nothing is accidental in his placement, which makes his art stick with you.
Veronica Gandini, who worked with Glass on Mice Templar, works her magic spectacularly here, building tone and adding depth to the art without fail. It’s amazing how much her work has grown in the last few years and this is a prime example of the quality she is capable of.

Verdict: Must Read. This honestly feels more like a great opening to an ongoing series than it does a one-off story. Glass makes you care, then sets Valkyrie off into the sunset for other writers to work with. The problem? I want more and I want more from this creative team. This issue shows what a strong creative team with a clear focus can do for even the most convoluted characters. I never though I’d say this, but if Marvel launched an ongoing Valykrie series, it would go to the top of my pull list—provided it retained this creative team. In a week full of simply awesome comics, it took a total package issue to walk away with the Book of the Week honor and that is exactly what this is.


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12 comments:

Akylle said...

Action Comics was issue of the week for me. Nothing beats the combat spoon.

Anonymous said...

I agree the back in Cobra Special had nothing to do with the rest of the book, but I enjoyed it, it did to seem to have some editing mistakes though. I like Duane Swierczynski's novels. Looks like the only one I'd want to read in that G.I. Joe book anyway.

stokervu said...

Absolutely dead on with Wonder Woman. I like the story, I enjoy the art, but we still don't know this Diana. Her dialog is sparse and quick. She kicks ass, wears a jacket, and that is about all we know. Oh, and three headed heel dogs think she's fine.

JP said...

Ryan
It is obvious in your review of the Jimmy Olsen co-feature that you are a fan of Smallville (as am I).

Just curious, any chance that you or anyone else at the TWC doing something on Smallville in honor of the tenth and final season that just started?

Ryan Schrodt said...

@JP - It isn't something that has come up, but I think it is definitely something I'd consider putting together. The biggest problem is finding time! Thanks for the suggestion!

Ivan said...

Boy, you sure like your parentheses, don't you :P

I can't wait for Cornell's run on Action to start around here.

Anonymous said...

JT Krull did an awful work on Rise and fall but his work on GA is great. I am having high hopes that titans under Krul will be fas superior than Henderson´s Titans

ENRIQUE

Ryan Schrodt said...

@Enrique - Did you read his Blackest Night issues of Teen Titans? He did an awesome job on those issues focusing on Ravager, which has me really jazzed for him to take over the title from Henderson (who was horrible). I'm incredibly excited for this run.

Anonymous said...

@Ryan: hey man yeah I read those too, they were simply great! And now paired with Nicola Scott I wish they can launch a great title altought having Damian Wayne makes me a little nervous.... let us hope that Krul can fit him in the team.

Have a great weekend.

ENRIQUE G.

Ryan Schrodt said...

Damian has actually grown on me thanks to some great work by Paul Dini, Chris Yost, Fabian Nicieza, and Bryan Q. Miller to flesh out the character.

The big draw for me is Krul's Ravager. She has been a favorite character of mine for years and I look forward to seeing how Krul plays here against the other characters.

Aaron K said...

@Ryan - I almost feel that I must have gotten a different copy of VALKYRIE than you did. Mine was predictable ("Who am I?" Superhero beats up second-class bad guy and sets out to find her true self) and featured a protagonist who had almost no personality. Indeed, the entire story was centered around the fact that Brunnhilde *did not know who she was*. She's a blank slate waiting to be drawn upon -- and that drawing did not occur here at all. If this were issue #1 of a miniseries or ongoing, this might be a compelling story, bringing me back for more. As a one-shot, it's a story about a superheroine who has a horribly confusing back story and now has an uncertain future, personality, and characterization. How unfulfilling.

What did I learn of Brunnhilde's character from this issue? *shrug* (I did learn she can magically change her outfit and make Dragonfang appear out of thin air. That was not worth $4.) So far, Glass has not shown me anything special in his handling of Asgardians.

btownlegend said...

I feel Cornell on Action has been the best thing DC has going at the moment. I read at least 12 DC titles a month and also don't mind Morrison. So I disagree that the draw isn't that big for the Jimmy Olsen back-up. Even though the hype now is Nick Spencer. Which he deserves.

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