Thursday, November 4, 2010
November kicks off with tonight’s edition of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings. I’ve got an even ten books on the Rankings this week including the debuts of Superboy and Generation Hope, plus the conclusion of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin and the final issues of Young Allies and Hawkeye and Mockingbird. Will one of these books be this week’s #1? Will it be something else? Hit the jump to find out!
For the uninitiated, the Comic Book Review Power Rankings is a countdown from worst-to-best of my weekly comic book haul. Before reading the issues, I preRank them based on the creative team, previous issues, solicitations, and gut instinct. The final Ranking number is based upon how the issues actually turned out. I attempt to keep everything as spoiler free as possible, but keep in mind that there may be the occasional minor spoiler that I overlook. As always, I can be reached via responses to this thread or at email@example.com.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Pier Gallo and Jamie Grant
Letters by John J.Hill
Cover by Rafael Albuquerque
• In the debut of the new Superboy ongoing series, Conner Kent receives an ominous message from Phantom Stranger, battles it out with Parasite, and finds himself with a surprising potential ally.
• Jeff Lemire hits the ground running with this series, with mixed results. It’s great that he clearly has an idea of where he wants to take the character and his status quo, but a lot seems to happen without explanation. It’s hard to get engaged because of that.
• I really like the sense of voice that Lemire develops with Conner. He’s a believable teen with believable teen neuroses. He’s very relatable.
• On the flipside, the supporting cast is a bit too in-your-face. There is nothing nuanced about Conner’s brilliant young “sidekick” pal or potential love interest Lori (who is apparently Lex Luthor’s niece—I had no idea Lex had a brother or sister).
• There are definite pacing issues, which can be attributed to the writing and the art. Everything happens very haphazardly, killing the natural flow of the story.
• The real weak-link in the issue is the art from Pier Gallo (which is disappointing after the big, bold cover by Rafael Albuquerque that raises the bar for the issue.
• Gallo’s designs are very reminiscent of the work of Frank Quitely, but suffers from the major issue’s of Quitely’s art without reaping the benefits. The characters are extremely bulgy looking and the facial expressions are extremely stiff.
• I’m also not a fan of Jamie Grant’s colors. It’s hard to explain why I take issue with it, but it simply isn’t working with the very open designs of Gallo’s work. It just looks unnatural and adds no depth to the issue.
Verdict: Avoid It. As a huge fan of Jeff Lemire’s pre-superhero work, I really hoped that his awesome writing ability would transition well into his work for DC. While I do think that he has a strong take on Conner Kent as a character, the poor pacing of this issue and the very weak art hold this one back and bring it down. With more careful storytelling and a lot of polish on the art, this book has potential, but there just isn’t enough here for me to recommend purchasing or reading this comic. I had hopes, but this one let me down.
Written by Jason Aaron
Lead Art by Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson Magalahes, Oclair Albert, and Matt Wilson
Backup Art by Michael Gaydos
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Matt Wilson
• In the lead story, Puck gives the trapped Wolverine a pep-talk in Hell, while on Earth, Mystique and company make supernatural plans to save Wolverine and Soulless-Logan sets his sights on a new victim.
• This story is a bit disjointed, as Jason Aaron tries to cover a lot of new ground with the story while still spinning his wheels with Wolverine. This causes some pacing issues that drag this down a bit.
• I do really like what is on the horizon with Wolverine, as we learn how his incarceration in Hell is having an effect on its inhabitants. The next issue should have some great moments because of this.
• The bits with Mystique, Wolverine’s girlfriend, and Team Ghost Rider aren’t really working with me. The character writing just doesn’t have the same impact as the Soulless-Logan and Wolverine threads.
• In terms of art, Renato Guedes continues to improve with each issue. He is leaps and bounds ahead of his DC work. His pages are incredibly full and his demon designs are really strong.
• The art is highly detailed, but there is a point where it gets busy—his characters’ faces just have too many lines on them. It takes away from the strength of his designs.
• In the very brief backup, the people responsible for Wolverine going to Hell ruminate on their actions and the fallout from them.
• I’m really not sure what the point of the backup is supposed to be. Perhaps I’m missing something by not being able to readily identify the characters, but this just doesn’t work for me.
• I get that Aaron is trying to build a sense of impending doom and mystery with this story, but there isn’t enough to latch on to. Leaving a lot unsaid is an effective way to build tension, but there still has to be a hook.
• The art by Michael Gaydos is pretty weak compared to his past output. The character’s are very choppy looking and the monochromatic color scheme makes it looks unfinished or rushed through.
Verdict: Check It. While this issue definitely has its strengths, it is a matter of one step forward followed by one step back followed by a backup story that tips the scales by just not working. I’m still enjoying this storyline and there is a lot that I really like about this issue, the holes in the craft keep it from jumping up the Rankings any further. Without the back up, we are looking at a low Buy It, but when I take the book as a whole, it can’t make it any further up the Rankings.
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Mike McKone, Dave Meikis, Rebecca Buchman, Andrew Hennessy, Rick Ketchum, and Jeromy Cox
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Mike McKone
• This week’s Avengers Academy spotlights the recently elected team leader Reptil, who, much like his classmates, struggles with his troubling background that may have an adverse affect on his future.
• Reptil had been build over the last few issues as the most “together” of the Academy cadets, so it interesting to see how much he has internalized his issues. Kudos to Christos Gage for bringing together a slow build on the character.
• The problem is, after seeing the neuroses and shattered histories of the other cadets, it’s hard to get engaged with Reptil repressing his own issues. Perhaps I’m just numb at this point, but I found it far weaker than the issues focusing on Finesse, Veil, or Mettle.
• I think that its going to take a few more spotlight issues that tease out Reptil’s history and true personality before he’ll work better for me. I hate to say it, but I think we need an even slower burn.
• The art from Mike McKone is a weaker than his usual effort, but its clear early on that the problem centers on the fact that there are four inkers bringing four totally different styles to McKone’s lines.
• The storytelling from McKone is up to his usual standards with strong panel progression and quality expressions.
• I really dig how the layouts break the standard grid when Reptil takes on his dinosaur forms. It’s a simple but effective twist.
Verdict: Check It. It’s really hard not to compare this issue to the previous efforts from this awesome series because the quality of those issues was so high. On its own merits, there is a lot to like here, but knowing the potential that Gage and McKone have, it doesn’t add up. Of course, it doesn’t help that the multiple inkers on McKone’s art give it an uneven quality. This isn’t a horrible comic by any means, but its definitely a step down for this otherwise brilliant series.
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Espin and Jim Charalampidis
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Olivier Coipel, Danny Miki, and Laura Martin
• Spinning out of the most recent Uncanny X-Men arc, Hope takes the first four new mutants to Tokyo in search of the fifth and final “light” with disastrous results.
• Kudos to Kieron Gillen’s work to flesh out the new mutants, whom had barely been developed in Uncanny X-Men. We see quite a bit more personality here, even if the revelation of said personality comes from shallow dialogue and narration. It just isn’t terribly deep.
• I really like Gillen’s take on Hope, whom is his strongest character here. He does a great job of capturing her spirit and background. She’s a complex character and Gillen nails that.
• The plotting is a bit simple at times and doesn’t always make the most sense—mostly in the X-Men’s reactions to the violence caused by the new mutant.
• Anyone else think of Akira when the new mutant’s powers were unleashed?
• I really like Salvador Espin’s art here, but there are some kinks that I’d like to see worked out.
• The biggest issue is consistency. There are too many places where the art lacks polish, with sloppier inks and uneven designs. These really take away from the sharper pages.
• The other issue is that certain facial expressions don’t seem to match the style of the rest of the book. These larger-than-life expressions are too unlike the more nuanced expressions he uses elsewhere.
• That being said, his style is fluid and engaging and he has a great take on most of the characters (I’m not totally thrilled with his Wolverine). I’m not terribly familiar with his art, but now I want to see more.
Verdict: Buy It. Despite being the lowest ranked Buy It title, this is still a fantastic comic and well worth your time and money. Keiron Gillen picks up on the stronger aspects of the recent Five Lights arc in Uncanny X-Men and supplements it with strong character writing and art from Salvador Espin that shows ton of potential. While there are issues that are hard to overlook, its still a fine comic and a great start to this miniseries.
Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by Robert Atkins, Clayton Brown, and Andrew Crossley
Letters by Shawn Lee
Cover by Trevor Hutchinson and Robert Atkins with Clayton Brown and Andrew Crossley
• In an attempt to pinpoint the next target of Cobra’s MASS Device, the Joes show their cards to the terrorist organization.
• This is a fast-paced action-packed issue that raises the stakes for the conflict between the GI Joe soldiers and their Cobra enemies. It’s great to see this conflict working towards a head as both groups continue to act in their shadows.
• I really like the little character moments that Chuck Dixon throws in, especially with Scarlett and Storm Shadow, both of whom stand out here. I really hope we see more of the budding rivalry between Scarlett and Helix.
• Robert Atkins’s effort here is a great example of why he is one of my all-time favorite GI Joe artists. He has the right “feel” for the characters and concepts.
• There are some really rough spots with Clayton Brown’s inks being too heavy for the lines, leading to some very awkward panels.
• I’d like to see Atkins let some of his action panels breathe more. He has these awesome, high-intensity panels, but they are smashed into pages with 5 or 6 panels. That distracts the awesomeness of his action.
Verdict: Buy It. As IDW’s take on GI Joe reaches its two-year point, things are looking as good as ever. Chuck Dixon finds the right mix of action and character work and gets a fine assist from artist Robert Atkins. This has the makings of a Must Read comic if not for a few hang-ups here and there, but overall, it’s one of the strongest issues this series has seen since the relaunch.
Written by Sean McKeever
Art by David Baldeon, N. Bowling, and Chris Sotomayor
Letters by Joe Sabino
Cover by Takeshi Miyazawa and Morry Hollowell
• After the group disbands following their defeat of the Bastards of Evil last issue, each member of the Young Allies struggles to find their place in the world, with special focus being given to Firestar.
• This is really great issue that would have been a fantastic launch pad for future stories. You can see lots of small threads that Sean McKeever starts to draw here, showcasing just how prematurely this series was cut down.
• There is a lot of depth to the characters, especially Firestar and Nomad. McKeever does a great job of developing their complexities and insecurities here. Even Emma Frost, who is normally treated as a fairly one-note character despite a long and complex history, shows quite a bit of depth.
• On the subject of Frost, I’m glad to see that McKeever doesn’t gloss over the fact that she was a supervillain before she was a hero. Too often the X-writers treat her as just catty, ignoring that she was once one of the most dangerous enemies the X-men had.
• If you are looking for a ton of plot, you might be disappointed. Personally, I’d rather see great characters moments like Firestar’s meltdown or Nomad’s struggle to connect with Toro. That is just fantastic to me.
• Artist David Baldeon works his usual magic here. We’ve got great designs, superb expressions, and a very loose feel that fits perfectly with the characters.
• Baldeon does a bang-up job of allowing his expressions to move beyond simple facial cues and into body language. The way his take on Emma Frost carries herself is a perfect example of how he nails this.
• The issue could use more consistency on certain aspects of the art like shading/depth and details. In some areas in the issue these are great, but when they aren’t, it really shows.
Verdict: Must Read. Young Allies comes to a close with this issue and it’s a damn shame. This issue is a great example of the complexity and depth behind the concept of a “team that isn’t a team” that Sean McKeever and David Baldeon have been building over the last six issues. The craftsmanship here is as superb as ever; I’m glad to see the series go out on a strong note. It’s just a shame that Marvel’s readership can support umpteen Deadpool and Avengers books, but couldn’t find a place for this one on their pull lists! Hopefully the upcoming Onslaught Unleashed can revitalize interest in the characters as this is a simply fantastic series that is ending long before it should.
Written by Gail Simone
Art by J. Calafiore and Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Daniel Luvisi
• After Scandal mortally wounded Bane last issue, the fate of Skaartaris comes into question with new twists in the battle between the Secret Six and the Substitute Six.
• This issue has it all—great action, great characters, and a lot of fun twists. It’s another month and another great issue for Gail Simone.
• There are a lot of great moments in this issue, including the interaction between Ragdoll and King Shark, Catman’s new wardrobe, and Jeanette showing her muscle. Not everything gels quite as well as I’d like or quite as well as Simone’s books normally do, which is unfortunate.
• Amanda Waller has an amazing line in this issue that I won’t spoil for you. I will tell you, however, that it is easily one of the most badass lines of dialogue that Gail Simone has ever written.
• The art is par for the course with Jim Calafiore. He is a master storyteller and it shows here.
• There are two pages in a row featuring Jeanette as a banshee that really impressed me. One just had a spectacular layout and the other had a very cool affect showing Jeanette’s transformation.
• The action sequences were also very impressive, especially Catman riding into battle on top of a monstrous feline.
Verdict: Must Read. This storyline is still a bit weaker than the usual Secret Six fair, with awkward pacing being the only major issue. Despite this, it’s still a great read with strong character work and some great art. Plus, Amanda Waller’s scene is so awesome that it is worth the cover price alone. Seriously, it’s incredibly badass.
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart, Chris Burnham, Frazer Irving, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Patrick Brosseau
Cover by Frank Quitely and Alex Sinclair
• Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin and, by extension, his complex longterm Batman vs. Dr. Hurt storyline comes to a close with this issue which reveals the truth behind Dr. Hurt, the return of Bruce Wayne, and the launch-point for his upcoming Batman, Incorporated series.
• I’ve said it before, but the key to Grant Morrison’s success is focus, focus, focus, and more focus. This issue is extremely focused and clear, which makes it one of the strongest comics of the week. Morrison covers a ton of ground here without shortchanging any scenes or succumb to unnecessary tangents.
• This also features some of the best character moments in Morrison’s entire run. Dick and Damian’s reactions to Bruce’s return and the Joker’s confrontation with Dr. Hurt were simply incredible.
• I’m not sure how I feel about the concept behind Batman, Incorporated, which gives me mixed feelings on the end of this issue (which was spoiled all over the internet yesterday).
• After years of mystery and convoluted detours, it’s great to see Dr. Hurt’s history finally laid bare here. It came together much better than I expected it to.
• There are three main artists on the issue and all have extremely distinct styles, which is the biggest thing holding this issue back from running up the Rankings any further. With great cohesiveness on the art, this could have been Book of the Week.
• Of the three artists, Chris Burnham steals the show, despite not getting his name on the cover. He has the most clarity, the strongest designs, and the boldest storytelling. Burnham—whose work I loved on Elephantmen and Officer Downe—is going to be very huge, very soon.
• Cameron Stewart’s work gels well with Burnham’s pages, but wasn’t quite his strongest work. His most memorable contribution is this incredible two page sequence that featured 30 action-packed panels. It’s an inventive approach to the action that condenses a four or five page fight scene down to two pages effectively.
• Frazer Irving’s art, on the other hand, nearly derails the issue. I’ve been disappointed with his work lately, but even his uneven work from the last issue tops his effort here. His characters look frustratingly unfinished with incredibly weak expressions and some of the most dreadful designs I’ve seen in a long time. Check out his designs for the Wayne Family in the final pages for a fine example of how Irving should not be drawing.
Verdict: Must Read. And so the door closes on of the most divisive storylines in recent memory—Grant Morrison’s multi-year, multi-title epic that saw Bruce Wayne at his highest and lowest points as he battles the mysterious Dr. Hurt. In the midst of this, Morrison wrote some of his best and worst work, but he ends on a very strong note with this issue. When you had in superb efforts from Burnham and Stewart, you have a simply phenomenal comic, even if Irving’s work is simply abysmal.
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Travis Moore, Trevor Scott, and Rob Schwager
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Dave Johnson
• Following up from last month’s shellacking, the Freedom Fighters must regroup without Uncle Sam to defeat the Renegades as the Arcadians step up their heinous efforts.
• This issue moves very fast, is full of action, and is very complex. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray never let off the gas with this issue.
• Despite the quick pace, there is a lot of personality shining through in some very strong character moments. Miss America, Firebrand, and Black Condor especially shine here.
• The pacing does make it hard for some of the new concepts to really grab hold as they seem to pop-up without a frame of reference. This can get a little frightening, especially when dealing with the villains that aren’t as established as the heroes.
• Travis Moore steps his game big time in this issue. This issue is full of strong details and an insane amount of energy.
• I really loved the faux-splash/action page that focuses on an iconic shot of Phantom Lady surrounded by small action panels. It’s a very cool move.
• The female anatomies are a tad ridiculous. I get Phantom Lady being so boobalicious because that is how she is always drawn, but Miss America doesn’t need to follow suit. Also, I can’t believe I just typed “boobalicious.”
• The coloring by Rob Schwager is a tad wishy-washy. Sometimes it adds a great amount of depth to the lines and sometimes it seems to actually take it away. Same goes for texture.
Verdict: Must Read. Remember when Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray launched Power Girl and it was completely different from every other comic because it was so refreshingly fun? Well, this is a lot like that, only instead of being refreshingly fun, it’s refreshingly dense. There isn’t a single comic on the stands that packs as much into each issue as Freedom Fighters has and this issue is no different. This is packed to the gutters with action and strong character work, plus a superb effort from artist Travis Moore. You definitely should not miss this issue, because if you do, you are missing a lot!
Written by Jim McCann
Art by David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez, and Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Paul Renaud
• In what is essentially the final issue of Hawkeye and Mockingbird (it goes on hiatus after Widowmaker), the titular characters try to pick up the pieces after their break up last issue.
• This issue is purely character-focused and handles that brilliantly. Jim McCann nails every single line from every single character. This is finest comic I’ve ever read from McCann in that regard.
• I loved the interaction that Hawkeye has with the other characters. His meetings with Spider-Woman and Steve Rogers showcase how much he has changed and grown as a character over the last few years.
• I really dug the bit with Mockingbird fighting a Skrull in the Savage Land. When it first started, it seemed out of place, but if you take a step back, it’s an interesting metaphor for the identity crises that have permeated her life. It’s a deft move.
• David Lopez has shown a lot of growth over the course of this series, but he really nails it here. His usual strengths—storytelling and consistency—are even better than usual.
• This is the first time that Hawkeye doesn’t look awkward and weird out of costume. I really dug his expressions. It’s not easy to make the art look fresh in talking-heads scenes, but Lopez rocks it.
• The mix of grids and wilder layouts was handled very well. It was actually really refreshing to see 9-panel pages featured so prominently here. They are a forgotten art.
Verdict: Must Read. I absolutely hate that this series is going to go away, especially since the recent Runaways hiatus has shown us that hiatuses are just cruelly mislabeled cancellations. Jim McCann and the art team led by David Lopez play to their strengths here and bring their A-game in doing so. This issue encapsulates everything that has worked incredibly well for this series and turns it up to 11. I’m not okay with the fact that this series is ending, but I’m so glad that it is ending on such a strong note. If you are going to go, go out on top, right? This is the first Book of the Week honor for Hawkeye and Mockingbird, and I’m disappointed that I can’t refer to it as the “first of many.”