Thursday, October 7, 2010

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 10/06/10


It's a banner week for the Comic Book Review Power Rankings. In this week's solid haul of ten titles, all books are Ranked at a Buy It verdict or above. That means it was quite the fight for the Book of the Week honor. Who took it home this week? Could it be Rankings darling Secret Six? The debut of Uncanny X-Force? I'll be taking a look at these books and more after the jump!

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.


10. WOLVERINE #2
Written by Jason Aaron
Lead Art by Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson Magalhaes, and Matt Wilson
Backup Art by Steven Sanders and Ronda Pattison
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Jae Lee
preRanking: 06

• In the lead story of this week’s Wolverine, the titular hero finds himself battling hordes of his own victims in Hell as he is tortured by the Devil. Meanwhile, on Earth, Mystique and Wolverine’s girlfriend search for help as the Souless-Logan attacks Yukio.
• The story is very heavy on continuity and a major part of your enjoyment might be based on how much you know about the characters involved. Jason Aaron does an admirable job of providing context clues, but you still might need to do some research.
• That being said, the character work is quite superb and, even if you aren’t well-versed in the supporting cast, the strong character interaction and the simply fantastic take on Wolverine will be more than satisfying.
• Aaron’s take on Wolverine’s resilience and resolve in Hell is the perfect portrait of the character. I’m still not sure how I feel about the supernatural premise, but seeing Wolverine’s reaction to his torment makes up for it.
• There are several shocking returns in this issue that are a lot to process. While there is a good build to each reveal, it feels like a bit too much in the end. The bombardment of twists takes the wind out of the sails towards the end, causing the final reveal to lose a lot of impact.
• The art by Renato Guedes is a decided step down from the previous issue, but is still loads better than his recent DC work. I’m still shocked that this is the same artist.
• The scenes in Hell were pretty cool thanks to the really great designs from Guedes. Plus, once Wolverine is tortured by one of the most important characters of his past, there is a simply brilliant reaction shot of his pain.
• The biggest problem with the art comes in the interaction between Mystique and Wolverine’s girlfriend thanks to some painfully awkward anatomy, including some of the most ridiculous boobs I have ever seen in comics. These pages are dreadful.
• The backup story follows right after the lead and features Soulless-Logan’s attack on Yukio from her adopted daughter Amiko’s point of view.
• This story seems like an appropriate follow-up to last issue’s Silver Samurai backup given the history between that character and the women here. Plus it flows nicely from the first story.
• Once again, Aaron’s character writing leads this to a win. The first-person point of view separates this from the lead story and makes it all the more compelling and intense.
• The art is a mixed bag. On one hand, Steven Sanders has a great storytelling sense and puts together some very strong designs. I really dig how feral his Wolverine looks here.
• On the flipside, the colors by Ronda Pattison are really subpar. Her color choices are very muddy and are often either too flat or too heavily rendered. It really detracts from the strength of the linework.

Verdict: Buy It. Don’t let the fact that this is lowest-ranked comic of the week fool you into thinking that it isn’t worth reading. This is a tremendously satisfying comic that features some of the strongest writing that Wolverine has seen in quite some time. Jason Aaron has this character down perfectly, which allows him to rise above a storyline that is only marginally interesting to me. There are some issues with the art that caused this to tumble down the list, but this comic is still completely worth a purchase and comes strongly recommended.


09. UNCANNY X-FORCE #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opena and Dean White
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Esad Ribic
preRanking: 09

• In the debut issue of Uncanny X-Force, a cult bent on resurrecting Apocalypse is discovered by Deadpool, prompting Angel to form a new X-Force squad.
• It is really interesting to met hat the driving force behind this series isn’t Wolverine, as most would expect, but is actually Angel’s struggle with his Archangel persona. That completely changes the playing field.
• This issue is very focused on introducing the characters and the new status quo rather than pushing the plot of Apocalypse’s return. Given that X-Force has always been a plot-first, character-second series, this is an interesting approach.
• Seriously, how awesome is Fantomex? I’ve never read much involving the character but his completely unique approach to pretty much everything makes him the standout character here. He is pure badass through and through.
• I’m really glad to see Deadpool not being a one-note joke machine here. Yes, there are gags, but they aren’t terribly distracting and the focus remains on how capable he is as a combatant. That’s something we don’t see enough of.
Jerome Opena’s highly detailed art delivers on the action in a big way. This issue is mostly talking heads, but once he gets to open up with the fight scenes, he is phenomenal.
• I was, quite simply, blown away by how expressive Opena made Deadpool and Fantomex considering the former wears a full-face mask and the latter can only be expressive with his eyes. That is really impressive.
• There are some consistency issues though. The art is so detailed for the majority of the issue that any drop in the amount of detail makes the art look completely unfinished. Opena needs to find a better balance here.
Dean White’s colors are a great fit for Opena’s art as he handles the detail well and is just as bold as the line artist. The only problem is that the texture isn’t consistent throughout, making some pages look like they were painted with a brush and others like they were painted in a traditional comics fashion.

Verdict: Buy It. I really don’t know what I expected from Uncanny X-Force, but it certainly wasn’t something as character-driven as this issue was. Between Angel’s war with himself and the bold personalities of Fantomex and Deadpool, Rick Remender offers a new spin on the X-Force formula that works very well. I wasn’t blown away by this issue, but I was impressed enough that I’d say it is well worth your money. There are a lot of really interesting concepts coming together here under some damn fine craftsmanship.


08. PILOT SEASON: CROSSHAIR #1
Written by Jeff Katz
Art by Allan Jefferson, Jordi Terragona, and Michael Atiyeh
Letters by Troy Peteri
Cover by Marc Silvestri and Sunny Gho
preRanking: 10

• In the newest installment of Top Cow’s Pilot Season program, former black-ops agent Justin Weller is pulled back into the game when he is “activated” with the task of killing the President after being brutally attacked by his former team.
• This comic is insanely intense. Between all of the action, the intrigue, and the ever-present paranoia, this comic goes for the jugular early and does not let go.
• If you are looking for character, you’ll be a bit disappointed as Jeff Katz is focused on plot first and foremost, but his spins it complexly enough that you won’t mind. The twists and turns are more than enough.
• In the afterward, Jeff Katz compares this comic to The Manuchurian Candidate and does so with great reason. Fans of that brilliant conspiracy film (the original with Sinatra, naturally) will feel right at home with this tightly-wound story.
• The art is serviceable. It is consistent throughout and follows the storytelling of the writing quite well. There are some issues that drag it down, though.
• The biggest problem is the overuse of heavy blacks on the characters’ faces. There is no reason to use so much as shadow, especially when it has a tendency to distort the structures a bit.
• The other major issue is that there are a lot of really awkward perspectives that are meant to give the art a 3-D feel, but ultimately make the characters look unnecessarily deformed. I’d rather see Allan Jefferson stick to the basics here.

Verdict: Buy It. We are three weeks in and all three of Top Cow’s Pilot Season titles have been enjoyable. Jeff Katz, working from concepts created by Marc Silvestri, does a brilliant job of developing a action-packed mystery here that is a ton of fun to watch unfold thanks to the multiple twists-and-turns that surround the conspiracies at the heart of the story. If the art was stronger, this could have easily jumped into Must Read territory. As it stands, its still an awesome comic that is worth a purchase, even if it doesn’t upset my current favorite for Pilot Season, last week’s Asset.


07. YOUNG ALLIES #5
Written by Sean McKeever
Art by David Baldeon, N. Bowling, and Chris Sotomayor
Letters by Joe Sabino
Cover by David Lafuente and Morry Hollowell
preRanking: 05

• After revealing himself to be the mastermind behind the Bastards of Evil, the Superior (son of the Leader) reveals the truth behind his teams creation as the Young Allies make a last ditch effort to stop the villains.
Sean McKeever’s frighteningly uncanny ability to write teenage characters cotninutes to be the hallmark of the series. It is insane how much personality he can pack into the story.
• I find it really interesting that the darkest character in this issue is actually Gravity. His tendency to toe the line makes him incredibly compelling, especially when allied with the so-nice-they-seem-like-Silver-Age-characters Nomad and Spider-Girl.
• There is one panel towards the end of the issue where Toro gives Nomad her weapon-discs that tells an amazing amount of story with very minimal dialogue. This is the prime example of how efficient McKeever is in both his storytelling and his characterization.
• The pacing is a bit awkward at times, despite the fact that McKeever hits all the right notes with the story. The herky-jerky movement of the dialogue does undercut the impact a bit.
David Baldeon’s bold characters and strong expressions bring their usual magic here and combine with the natural energy of Baldeon’s art to look fantastic.
• There are some strong panel choices that slow the action quite a bit and lead to the enigmatic situation of a very fluid, energetic style acting against very static storytelling.
• There is also some inconsistency in the shape of character’s heads. The overall facial design is the same, but the heads get a bit wonky. I’m not sure what is up with that, but I don’t care much for it.

Verdict: Buy It. The first storyline for Young Allies ends on a very strong note with the team finally coming together to stop a threat and showing just how capable the young heroes are when the situation demands their attention. The open-ending has me wondering where McKeever is going with the story, but so long as the craftsmanship stays as strong as it is here, count me in for the ride. This is definitely one of the most underlooked books on the stands today and you’d be wise not to pass it up.


06. FREEDOM FIGHTERS #2
Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Travis Moore, Trevor Scott, and Rob Schwager
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Dave Johnson
preRanking: 03

• The ancient native immortals revealed last issue face off against the Freedom Fighters in this issue, as we learn the history of the immortals and the legendary Arcadians “out” themselves.
• This issue is simply epic. It’s huge action and massive intrigued unloaded at an incredible pace. I had to count the pages afterwards to verify that there were only 22 story pages in this book. There is so much going on here that I swore it had to be an oversized issue.
• As a huge fan of character-centered writing, I did note that the character work here is a tad shallow, but that is only because there are so few breaks for the characters to be developed. There is a lot of personality, but its fleeting.
• I really dig the concept of the Arcadian and the implications of his mission. That is just an awesome concept to be put against the Freedom Fighters.
• It’s not very often that the end of a comic is truly shocking, but this issue pulls off one hell of a cliffhanger. I was so sucked into the story that I did not see that coming at all.
• The best way to describe the art of Travis Moore is “huge.” Every panel is overflowing with art as he perfectly matches the epic nature of the story.
• The early parts of the issue use a lot of spot blacks, but they trail off towards the end of the issue and, truthfully, they aren’t terrible consistent in their usage, which is disappointing.
• The action can get hard to follow because there is so much going on and the story does move so quickly. The storytelling in the art could be a bit tighter, but with a careful read, this is minor.
• There is one panel where Phantom Lady is being lit on fire, where Rob Schwager changes the texture of the colors to show this rather than just doing an orange or red wash. That is a really cool technique and I applaud him for it.

Verdict: Buy It. It’s clear that Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s approach to this series is ‘go big or go home’ and that is exactly what they do in this issue. This issue is filled to the gutters with action and intrigue as the creative team pushes the limits of the standard 22-page count. I cannot think of any comics in the last few years that have pushed so hard to cram as much story into a comic as possible as Freedom Fighters does. That alone is worth checking out this issue for, but the fact that its an awesome comic in its own right means you’d be pretty foolish not to buy it.


05. GI JOE #23
Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by Robert Atkins, Clayton Brown, and Andrew Crossley
Letters by Neil Uyetake
Covers by Various
preRanking: 07

• Artist Robert Atkins returns for this week’s GI Joe, which sees Agent Helix joining the ranks as the Joes decided to take the fight to Cobra as they deal with the implications of a working MASS Device.
• It is great to see Helix introduced to the team here. Her one-shot was a lot of fun and she is a great addition to the mythos. I look forward to seeing where Chuck Dixon takes her.
• This issue is a great mix of action and suspense as the Joes make their first major tactical offensive against Cobra (as opposed to run-and-gun intel missions). It took 23 issues to get to this point, but it was worth it.
• The pacing is a huge part of this issue’s success. Dixon’s timing and precision as he works through the plot is simply superb.
• The character work is the only weak part of the writing. Much like Freedom Fighters, it suffers from “too much story syndrome”—there simply isn’t enough time to cover this much story and pause for character depth.
Storm Shadow. Need I say more?
• I’m so glad that Robert Atkins is back. He simply owns this title and every issue with a fill-in artist isn’t up to snuff because of that. Let’s hope he sticks around for a while.
• The opening splash page of Helix is awesome, and is bookended nicely by the final splash page of Storm Shadow. I really hope that this is alluding to an inevitable battle between the two. Honestly, the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes rivalry is tired, but Helix’s abilities make her a perfect foil for Storm Shadow.

Verdict: Must Read. Slightly shallow character writing aside, this issue’s flaws are few and far between. The entire franchise ramps up with this issue as we get closer to the inevitable full-on war between Cobra and the Joes. That will only serve to elevate my enjoyment of this tremendously well-thought out series, especially if Robert Atkins sticks around. Plus, any issue both Helix and Storm Shadow is that much more awesome by default. Don’t miss this one!


04. SECRET SIX #26
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jim Calafiore and Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Daniel Luvisi
preRanking: 01

• The battle between Bane’s Substitute Six and Scandal’s Secret Six over the fate of Skartaris begins as the mystery surrounding Spy Smasher and Amanda Waller’s operations slowly being revealed.
• Honestly, the conspiracy in the middle of this storyline is a little frustrating. Gail Simone is only revealing little bits that don’t add up to a whole lot yet. I’d like to see a bit more here.
• I love how disturbing this issue is. Between Ragdoll’s hilarious precipitation joke to the incredibly shocking ending, this Gail Simone up to her creepy par.
• I like how the action in the middle of the story, featuring Catman versus a swamp monster, raises the stakes before we even get to the focal point battle.
Black Alice’s bluff on Jeanette was simply awesome. It’s great to see some Alice’s wit, which Simone hasn’t been emphasizing as much as she had in previous stories.
Jim Calafiore’s strengths are all on display here—superb storytelling, excellent details, and a strong design sense.
• The fight between Catman and the swamp creature was really awesome and makes me feel like maybe I need to own another Calafiore page from Secret Six.
• The only problem is that the background characters seem to be standing around lifelessly a bit too often, which makes the entire page look stiff. I’d like to see a bit more background action and life.

Verdict: Must Read. This isn’t the best Secret Six storyline that we’ve seen, but even its lulls are stronger than most comic’s highs. There is a lot to love here, especially with some of the stronger character moments. Ragdoll’s joke about it raining swamp creature is worth the cover price alone. This is your usual fantastic Secret Six fare and, if things go the way they are heading, the next issue will be even better.


03. HAWKEYE AND MOCKINGBIRD #5
Written by Jim McCann
Art by David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez, and Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Paul Renaud
preRanking: 04

• The final battle between the villainous duo of Crossfire and Phantom Rider against our titular heroes comes to its shocking conclusion this week, leading to some very hard decisions being made and some very important lines being crossed.
• This issue is crazy intense and delves into some very dark territory for the characters. Jim McCann holds absolutely nothing back as the characters are pushed to the edge.
• The character development here is fantastic. Hawkeye and Mockingbird both stray from their usual selves here because of the very unique circumstances, which in turn lead to very prominent growth for the characters. You’d never believe Hawkeye could be so deep!
• The end of this issue is a complete shocker and, quite frankly, is something I didn’t think would be possible on this series. It hadn’t even crossed my mind as a possibility. Plus, the way McCann leaves the reader hanging is a simply brilliant move. There is no denouement at all—just one hell of a shocker.
• The art from David and Alvaro Lopez is awesome. They really bring their A-games here on all levels.
• The huge issue for the art in this series has been how awkward the characters look out of costume. Since they don’t appear out of costume much in this issue, that alone goes along way towards the issue’s success.
• There are a slew of great reaction shots in this—both in terms of emotional beats and actual violence. The expressions are top notch.

Verdict: Must Read. The first storyline in this series rockets to a conclusion in the much the same manner it has operated from the beginning—strong character work, high-octane action, and an anything goes approach to storytelling. Jim McCann pulls a major shocker here that completely changes the game for this series and the art team led by David Lopez makes it look fantastic. I never thought I’d see the day that a comic starring Hawkeye and Mockingbird would be one of Marvel’s strongest books, but issues like this have shown me the error of my ways.


02. AVENGERS ACADEMY #5
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Jorge Molina, Andrew Hennessy, and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Mike McKone
preRanking: 02

• As the Avengers Academy is publically “outed,” Striker reveals his horrifying origins to Jocasta and, in turn, becomes the new most interesting member of the team (just like Veil, Hazmat, Mettle, and Finesse in their spotlight issues!).
• Striker is presented in here in a much more complex fashion than we have seen previously. In fact, he had been the shallowest member of the team prior to this. I really like how Christos Gage has turned that around.
• The relationships building around Striker are even more fascinating. The scenes between Striker and Finesse and, especially, Striker and Veil were phenomenal. Gage is leading the characters in very interesting directions and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
• In other words, the character writing in this issue is pure genius and it hangs nicely upon a well-played plot that works equally as well. This is some of the best comic writing Gage has ever produced.
Jorge Molina fills-in for Mike McKone and, while he can’t quite fill those very large shoes, he holds his own quite well.
• Molina’s storytelling is phenomenal with great panel choices, strong perspectives, and great expressions.
• What really impressed me is how well Molina handles the quieter moments where body language is just as important as facial expressions. He is a great follow-up to McKone in that regard.
• There are some major issues with the inking though. In fact, the inking gets so rough in some places that I’m not 100% certain that the issue isn’t a printing error. That really surprises me and does drag the otherwise stellar art down.

Verdict: Must Read. I’ve been a huge fan of Christos Gage for years, but with Avengers Academy, he has completely redefined himself as a writer and jumped into the upper echelon of character-writers. His work on this issue has just been superb and this issue might be his best effort yet. The way that he has turned Striker into the most interesting and complex characters in the series is just phenomenal. Jorge Molina does an admirable job stepping in for Mike McKone here, as well. Honestly, this one had Book of the Week written all over it, but was just barely edged out for the top spot.


01. RYDER ON THE STORM #1
Written by David Hine
Art by Wayne Nichols, Fegian Chong, and Sansan Saw
Letters by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Cover by Francesco “Matt” Mattina
preRanking: 08

• In this supernatural noir story, Private Detective Ryder is roped into protecting a woman who finds her lover killed, only to stumble upon a world of demons and horror that may have a shared history with him.
• This issue works on so many levels. It’s a great dystopian crime novel. It’s fantastic noir fiction. It’s a creepy-as-hell supernatural thriller. David Hine breaks down the walls between genres to run rampant with this story wherever he pleases.
• Hine really takes advantage of the extended page count that Radical Comics offer. He starts the story slow and methodical, building the world in classic noir fashion only to ratchet up the intensity like a true thriller in the back end. This is not something you could do effectively in 22 pages.
• The dialogue in this issue needs its own separate kudos. Hine captures the essence of each character in every single line, with a great amount of subtext. It’s easy to fall back shallow characterization in both supernatural and noir stories, but Hine refuses and the issue is elevated because of that.
Wayne Nichols showed that he has a great chemistry with David Hine in Radical Comics’ FVZA: Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency, which carries over here. The two work perfectly in synch throughout the issue.
• I love the sense of atmosphere than Nichols brings. From the very first panel, you are sucked into this dark, smoky world.
• The art is very clean and highly consistent. There really isn’t an off panel in this entire issue, which is incredibly impressive given that it clocks in at over 50 story pages.
• This is really just a beautiful book. I can’t emphasize that enough. The amount of detail, the strength of the expressions, the careful storytelling—it all adds up.

Verdict: Must Read. This has been one of the strongest weeks for comics in recent memory, with so many great issues. It was almost impossible for me to choose my favorite comic this week, but I kept coming back to Ryder on the Storm. The lush, atmospheric art and the genre-destroying come together beautifully in an intriguing and exciting package that is not only the Book of the Week, but one of the best comics of the year. This is not a comic you want to miss.


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7 comments:

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Completely agree with the top choice. Ryder On The Storm was rock solid gold. I gave it 4.5 stars over at CBR. I'm really starting to dig Radical doing the larger issues for $5. Definitely worth every dollar if you break it down.

I, however, really wasn't impressed with Crosshair. It felt like the first 6th of a trade and since they only get one issue they should really sell me a lot better. It should stand alone more but draw me in, much like last week's Asset did.

brandon said...

The four books I got are were all excellent reads. Boys, American Vampire, Wolverine and Scalped were all at the top of their game. Sadly, Wolverine would pull up the rear on my list too - lol.

I still have to read Cooke's The Outfit. I expect nothing less than amazing from that book after a thumb-through.

twobitspecialist said...

Avengers Academy was awesome. It's becoming clearer why Norman Osborn would be interested in all these kids: we've seen the manipulative side of Finesse and Striker, and Mettle and Hazmat just need right nudging to step into super-villainy.

Anonymous said...

I've been going back and forth on whether to buy X-Force or not. Your review has sold me on the buy it tag. Maybe this incarnation will be everything fans have been looking for in X-Force since it's inception.

- Retcon Joe

Aaron K said...

No CHAOS WAR? After the brilliance of INCREDIBLE HERCULES and then PRINCE OF POWER? I'm disappointed. It was a good read, though mostly just getting pieces into position. The back-up story was very much a traditional, i.e., great, Herc story.

Ivan said...

Something I don't get about Striker just from the visuals: is that an outfit or is his body like that? This might have been adressed, but I'm not reading this series yet.

twobitspecialist said...

I liked Chaos War, but I shouldn't have gone in expecting something like Infinity War. Herc spends the whole issue recruiting Marvel heroes to his side only for the issue ending to happen (which I won't spoil here).

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