Friday, December 24, 2010
Christmastime is upon us and I’ve got a gift for you—the penultimate edition of the Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 2010! I’m ready to stuff your stockings with reviews of some of the finest comics on the market including new issues of X-Men: Legacy, Batman Incorporated, Mice Templar, and more! Hit the jump to find out which comic has a Book of the Week honor under its tree!
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.
12. X-MEN: LEGACY #243
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Paul Davidson and Brian Reber
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Lenil Yu
• This week’s X-Men: Legacy follows Hellion as he recounts his involvement in taking down Omega Sentinel after a virus in her programming causes her to attack the X-Men, prompting a violent response from Hellion.
• This is a very character-focused issue that is focused on developing Mike Carey’s interpretation of Hellion. Though quite interesting, it is a bit more shallow than I remember him being in New X-Men under Craig Kyle and Chris Yost. Still, I do like the direction Carey is moving in.
• It was great seeing Hellion call out Cyclops when the X-Men’s leader comes down hard on the team for using excessive force against the Omega Sentinel. It’s about time someone bring Summers down a peg.
• The cuts between the Cyclops/Hellion meeting and the action flashbacks did a solid job of building tension towards not only the defeat of Omega Sentinel, but also to the much more shocking reaction from Rogue.
• The art is a major mixed bag as Paul Davidson slips between two distinct styles—a loose, jagged style that is reminiscent of Phil Hester or Mike Oeming and a slightly more realistic, rounded style. This is especially problematic when Davidson uses both styles on one page.
• The storytelling is a bit haphazard as there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind the layouts and panel sizes, which can be a tad frustrating.
• The spot blacks are equally as uneven. Sometimes Davidson uses them extremely well, but at other times they are highly unnecessary and extremely overpowering.
Verdict: Check It. This issue was really close to bringing in a Buy It verdict, as it is easily one of the best X-Men comics that I’ve read from Carey in quite some time, but the art inconsistencies were just too overpowering to ignore as they bring this one down. If Davidson can focus more on his consistency, there is some fantastic things going on with his art. There is definitely potential there, we just aren’t seeing it come together.
Written by Phil Hester
Art by Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica, Daniel HDR, Jay Leisten, Marlo Alquiza, Wayne Faucher, Eber Ferreira, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Don Kramer with Alex Sinclair
• In the first Wonder Woman issue since J. Michael Straczynski’s departure, more of the reinterpreted Wonder Woman’s world is explored, including her commitment to justice, the status quo of the Amazons, and a new trio of war goddess villains that have their sights on Diana.
• There is more work done here to flesh out the “new” Wonder Woman’s character than there was in all of JMS’s issues combined. Kudos to Phil Hester for setting out to develop the character early on and not letting up until we understand his vision.
• Seeing the Amazon’s adapt to a hidden life was really interesting, especially with some wholeheartedly embracing “man’s culture” as others try their best to stay separate and hidden. It’s a fun concept that I hope sticks around for a while.
• Hester’s focus on justice and nobility being Wonder Woman’s key virtues is fantastic. Between her helping the destitute economically in the present and her actions as child in the flashback, we now know exactly what Diana’s motivations are. It’s great to finally have that.
• I can honestly say I do not remember the last time I read a comic with such inconsistent art. There are a few pages that shine here, a few pages that are simply humdrum, and some pages that are simply abysmal.
• The title splash features perhaps the worst drawing of Wonder Woman I’ve ever seen in a comic. Between her un-centered eyes, poorly defined jaw, and I’m-not-even-sure-I-can-call-it-a-nose, I am shocked that DC would allow this to be printed in one of their comics.
• With three pencilers on this book, I’m really not sure which pages were done by which artist, but there are few other pages beyond the splash page that are equally as disappointing. Everyone has off days and I’m sure this issue was rushed, but this is so beyond the minimal quality you’d expect to see in a professional comic book.
• When the art works, though, it works extremely well. As a huge fan of Don Kramer, I’m assuming that these pages were his (mostly because I don’t want to accept the fact that he might have drawn the crap pages).
Verdict: Check It. Phil Hester makes the most of this new high-profile gig by immediately going for an iconic take on Wonder Woman and absolutely nails it. It’s too early to count chickens, but there is a ton of potential in Hester’s run being the first real defining take on the character since Rucka’s run ended. Unfortunately, the strength of the art is counter by some frighteningly bad art that brings the issue down hard. Not every page is problematic, but there are some that are just plain shockingly bad. I really want you to read this comic because the character work is so great, but I want you to be warned before you crack it open.
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by Yildiray Cinar, Daniel HDR, Wayne Faucher, Bob Wiacek, and Hi-Fi
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Yildiary Cinar, Wayne Faucher, and Hi-Fi
• The Brande-worshipping Durlan faction causes a major headache for the Legion of Super-Heroes in this issue, which also unveils the new team leader, as chosen by the fans in an online vote earlier this year.
• This issue is almost al action with the various Legionnaires battling the shape-shifting Durlans, with plot points scattered about either in quips or short breaks.
• After Paul Levitz has done such a great job of developing all of the fantastic characters in this comic, I was really surprised by how sparse his character writing was here. Only the use of their powers separated each member of the Legion, as their dialogue was mostly interchangeable and highly disposable.
• I figured there would be more fanfare surrounding the announcement of the team leader, especially since the fans were allowed to choose. It simply happens and is a very small deal. I’m also disappointed that my pick, Lightning Lass, did not win.
• This issue is a tad inaccessible at times if you aren’t up on your Legion-lore. Despite having such a slow-moving plot, there is a lot that might go over the head of some more casual readers. Levitz needs to take that into consideration more.
• It appears that Yildiray Cinar does most of the art in this comic, or simply that Daniel HDR blends incredibly well with him. The shifts between artists are largely seamless.
• The action is handled well with big, bold characters that have lots of movement. It’s exactly what you need from this type of plot.
• There really isn’t anything else that stands out about the art to the positive or the negative. This is your average Cinar performance, which is great, it just isn’t bringing down the house.
Verdict: Check It. This issue is very much on the cusp of being a Buy It book as the action was handled really well and there are some cool developments that go on as the plot inches forward. Unfortunately, accessibility issues do factor in heavily, as does the disappointingly shallow dialogue. Is it a fun read? Definitely. Is it something you need to run out and buy not? Probably not.
Written by Jay Faerber
Lead Art by Marcio Takara and Ron Riley
Backup Art by Various
Letters by Charles Pritchett
Cover by Mahmud Asrar and Ron Riley
• In this week’s Dynamo 5 one-shot, the team tries to track down Luminex, a former villain of Captain Dynamo’s, when his unique energy signature is linked to various violent actions—only to find out that nothing is quite what it seems.
• This methodically paced issue touches upon all of the issues that the kids have been having recently and focuses heavily on the aftermath of Hector’s deadly actions in the recently concluded miniseries. There is a lot of wheel spinning here if you are already well-versed in your Dynamo 5 lore.
• The ending is a bit hokey and heartwarming, but what else would you expect from a holiday special? The Luminex stuff is a tad forced, but I did really enjoy the Christmas surprise for Spencer (Wraith).
• The epilogue backups were a tad fleeting and seem meaningless at first until you get to the shock ending, which demands that you reread all of the others as you ponder the questions that it raises. It’ll also make you want more Dynamo 5 right now.
• Artist Marcio Takara’s work is really great here, though there are some style inconsitencies that need to be tightened up. There are some pages that use a looser, more rounded style a bit too much.
• Despite not having any of the starring characters, I honestly think that the opening page looks the best in terms of pure aesthetic appeal. It’s not often that such a throwaway page stands out so much.
• Ron Riley does a great job on the colors and has fantastic chemistry with Takara. I really wish he were coloring over the artist on Incorruptible (but more on that later).
• The art in the backup features a different artist on each page and showcases some wildly different styles. While this is a neat way to use some great talents, the lack of cohesion is distracting and does take away some from the over all effect of the story.
Verdict: Buy It. It is always great to have Dynamo 5 back, even if it is just a one-shot story. Much of this issue—aside from the epilogue—is fairly inconsequential, but is rather heartwarming and is a great way for Jay Faerber to tackle something less weighty with his superhero team. When you add in a solid effort from Marcio Takara, you get a great little issue that overcomes its faults to become quite the enjoyable read.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor
• This week’s Ultimate Spider-Man is rather un-Spider-Man-y, instead focusing on the supporting cast including the fallout from Gwen running away from the Parker house, former supervillain Lana (Bombshell) making an impression on Torch and Iceman, and Mysterio setting his sights on the Kingpin’s empire.
• This pacing of the issue is a tad wonky as Brian Michael Bendis covers a lot of ground without an underlying central theme. You get a lot of really great scenes, but as a whole its disjointed.
• All of the characters in this issue absolutely shine. The Lana/Bobby/Johnny scene was fantastic, but Aunt May really steals the show in her interaction with Gwen. Ultimate Aunt May rules.
• The scenes between Black Cat and Mysterio dragged on a bit and took up more of the issue than I would have liked. I’m looking forward to what these scenes are setting up, but in this issue, they don’t work as well.
• How awesome is artist Sara Pichelli? Seriously, her artwork is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
• Pichelli mixes up her storytelling by using a variety of layouts and perspectives to make each page fresh.
• The only thing that bothers me is that a few pages have overlapping panels, while the majority of the issue is very structured. Since there appears to be no real reason for this, its pretty distracting.
• On the flipside, the lack of a panel on Lana’s first appearance in the issue really highlights that moment and puts a lot of emphasis on that scene.
Verdict: Buy It. You should probably buy this issue for the artwork alone, as Sara Pichelli absolutely rocks it here. She is such an incredible talent and I really hope that Marvel utilizes her elsewhere after she leaves this book. The writing is a tad disjointed, but Bendis’s tremendous character work does make up for a lot of the pacing and plotting issues. In the end, not the finest issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, but another nice reminder on why this book is so much fun.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Marcio Takara and Nolan Woodard
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Covers by Christian Nauck, Garry Brown, and Jeffrey Spokes
• Now that I’ve finally caught up on reading Incorruptible, you can expect to see it and, eventually Irredeemable on the Rankings.
• In this issue, which kicks off the fourth storyline for this series, reformed villain Max Danger pushes to find a final solution for former hero the Plutonian’s deadly rampage, pushing himself to the absolute limit.
• As is the hallmark for this series, Mark Waid’s ability to write skewed characters that are equal parts frightening and extremely likable is the key to the success of this issue. Max Danger, Headcase, and even Alana are all extremely flawed characters, but are incredibly compelling here.
• I love the irony of Danger finding the perfect solution to stop Plutonian and to finally clear his name, only to have that ripped away from him because he pushed himself too far. It’s heartbreaking and raises a lot of questions about just how much Danger can handle.
• The fight between Arsonal and Headcase was good to use as a segue between scenes and set up for the ending, but on its own felt really forced. It just doesn’t seem to get the attention that the rest of the issue does.
• Marcio Takara’s art is still perhaps the best fit that this series has had, but suffers from notable issues.
• As mentioned in the Dynamo 5 review, Takara is struggling to define his art style and so we get a pastiche of designs here that don’t always gel from page to page.
• Part of the issue is that Nolan Woodard’s coloring style isn’t the best fit for Takara. The coloring just looks out of place, especially when Woodard tries to render more depth than the line work needs.
Verdict: Buy It. While I definitely prefer to read Incorruptible in trade and feel that it flows better that way as opposed to an issue-by-issue read (which is rarely an issue with superhero comics), I was really pleased with this issue and the developments that it sets up. The series is turning a major corner here as the Plutonian is no longer a major issue hanging behind Danger’s actions from this point forward. I look forward to seeing where Waid takes this and I’m glad to have Takara along for the ride, even if some tweaking is needed for him to meet his potential.
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Yanick Paquette, Michael Lacombe, and Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by JH Williams III
• In Japan, the trio of Batman, Catwoman, and the second Mr. Unknown battle the villainous Lord Death Man as Bruce Wayne looks to expand his crime fighting operation internationally.
• This issue is filled with fun, wild action with an unbridled creative edge that can rival just about any comic on the stands. Grant Morrison cuts loose with some insane concepts here and it all comes together quite nicely.
• Morrison does a great job of focusing on the action and plotting, which allows him to go crazy with such wild ideas like converting an apartment building into an aquatic torture chamber or pretty much everything involving Lord Death man.
• Morrison’s Batman is a bit too grim here, which doesn’t gel well with his more carefree Catwoman and does put a sinister spin on how he deals with Lord Death Man. Batman should be dark, but there are a few instances where he is just a prick here.
• I really liked the way that Mr. Unknown has to prove himself before he can join Batman, Inc. This feels perfectly in line with how the Robins were trained and developed. Morrison’s strong character development of Mr. Unknown makes this work really well.
• Yanick Paquette’s art is considerably more consistent here than it was in the last issue with some great designs and very bold storytelling. This is the Paquette I wanted to see last issue!
• The inking is problematic, though, and is a major reason this book isn’t ranked any higher. Michael Lacombe’s lines are just too thick and he too rarely inks tightly to the pencils, which detracts from the designs. The only character that is tightly inked—Aquazon—is also the only character that consistently looks fantastic.
• I do like the subdued colors that are used here, but they have a tendency to get lost in the thick inks. It’s a great fit for Paquette’s style though.
Verdict: Buy It. When Grant Morrison manages to inject some fun into his weird and builds that out of a strong plot and great characterization, he is hard to beat and that is exactly what we get here. This issue features some great development as the Batman, Inc concept is fleshed out more in this highly entertaining issue. Paquette’s art is a strong fit for the series, especially with the improvement made from last issue, though the inking is just a terrible fit. The sooner this is fixed, the sooner this book will be a contender for the top spot on the Rankings.
Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger and Ian Herring
Letters by Neil Uyetake
Cover by Kagan McLeod
• Kill Shakespeare marches towards its conclusion this week as Richard III sets out for his endgame against the Prodigals and Hamlet finally accepts his fate and sets off to find Shakespeare.
• This issue is mostly about moving the characters around to get everyone into play for the final act of the series. It does this quite well and the reason why it works is the fact that all of the characters are written so well that all of their motivations seem incredible genuine—even the characters who are being disingenuous.
• The romance between Hamlet and Juliet takes a big step forward here with an absolutely fabulous scene that puts a great twist on the classic balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. This makes the surprise return of a familiar face all the more shocking in the closing moments of the issue.
• I really dig the growing scale of the conflicts in this series. While this has primarily been a one-on-one conflict between the Prodigals and Richard III, this issue expands upon that by developing new factions and local conflicts within the groups. The tensions are really mounting.
• Artist Andy Belanger continues to do a fantastic job with the art. His strong designs and expressive characters look just as well here as ever.
• I really like how playful Belanger is with his layouts and storytelling. His use of inset panels and inventive layouts really highlights certain scenes. The balcony scene is especially creative and looks fantastic.
• The only problem with the art is that the characters tend to be a bit stiff, which isn’t helped by the fact that this is primarily a talking heads issue. I’d like to see more movement and life the art.
Verdict: Must Read. As Kill Shakespeare heads towards its inevitable conclusion, the creativity and complexity of the plotting continue to compound into what is becoming one of the best comics of the last few years. This week’s issue features an awesome twist with Hamlet and Juliet that has me chomping at the bit for next issue in addition to more solid craftsmanship from all involved. You really should not miss this comic!
Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwing Huang and Misty Coates
Letters by Marshall Dillon
Cover by Chris Stevens
• Continuing their misadventures, our heroes Baldy and Shorty must escape from the clutches of an evil necromancer in this week’s Skullkickers.
• I cannot accurately describe to you exactly how much fun Skullkickers is. This issue is big action and silly humor all rolled up into one incredibly entertaining package. This is the Army of Darkness of comics (only way better than the Army of Darkness comics ever were!).
• The twist ending on this issue sets up even more fun next issue and is a great twist on the brute force of the main characters not working in their favor this time. I look forward to seeing how they come out of this.
• This issue also introduces a new female character, Kusia, who arrives in grand fashion that highlights how capable she is in a very minimalist way. Jim Zubkavich is incredibly efficient in setting the character up here.
• You will never find a comic with better sound effects than this. Nowhere else will things like “Kick-Ass,” “Mad Dash,” “’splode,” and “Misplaced Stab” seem like perfectly natural sound effects.
• Edwin Huang’s art continues to look great and be the absolute perfect fit for this series.
• His hyper-stylized characters and perspectives emphasize the fun and heavy-hitting action of the series while showcasing incredibly over-the-top but effective expressions.
• This issue also features stat sheets for Baldy and Shorty just in case you want to fold them into your next D&D adventure, which is beyond awesome.
Verdict: Must Read. Skullkickers is easily one of my favorite comics being published right now and this issue is another prime example of why. It’s big, bold, and bodacious in its unrelenting awesomeness. It has memorable characters, great action, and a unique sense of humor that sets it apart from every other book on the stands. You can a comic that is just plain fun (and finely crafted)? Look no further.
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos, Michael Avon Oeming, and Veronica Gandini
Letters by James H. Glass
Covers by Michael Avon Oeming and Victor Santos with Veronica Gandini
• Mice Templar returns this week with the start of volume three, A Midwinter Night’s Dream, which finds Cassius returning to the exiled Templar camp with the ailing Karic, only to find resistance from his rival Ronan.
• This is an incredibly ambitious and epic comic that adds a lot to the already complex mythos of the series. Kudos to Bryan J.L. Glass for including a glossary in the back of the book to explain some of these elements to new readers.
• I really enjoy the fact that this comic is extremely character-focused, but retains an epic sensibility. There is a beautiful balance between the two.
• Glass does a simply amazing job with the character writing. Much of the dialogue is fairly minimal, but written to the maximum effect. The development of characters like Aquila works incredibly well because of how efficient the writing is.
• The art is simply gorgeous from cover to cover. Victor Santos and Mike Oeming dazzled me with their work here. This is just a great looking book.
• The lack of panel definitions make some pages extremely dynamic so long as there is some space on the page between scenes. Otherwise it does get a bit too busy, which can be distracting.
• The work of Oeming and Santos blend really well together as they each put their own spin on their very similar styles.
Verdict: Must Read. The newest volume of Mice Templar—the halfway point in the series—kicks off superbly with this week’s issue as Glass, Oeming, and Santos put together one of the finest issues this series has seen in its already illustrious history. Fans of the series will be excited with the new developments while new readers should be able to jump into the series quite well thanks to the accessibility of the issue. If you’ve never read Mice Templar before, shame on you, but now is a good time to start!
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Brett Booth and Andrew Dalhouse
Letters by Nick J. Napolitano
Cover by Gen Ha
• It’s Larfleeze’s first Christmas in this week’s Green Lantern holiday special, which finds the Orange Lantern angered about being skipped over by Santa Claus, leading to Hal Jordan seeking to teach him about the true spirit of the holidays.
• This story is full of charm and bold character development that makes Larfleeze considerably more complex than we’ve seen previously without abandoning his more hilarious mannerisms.
• Geoff Johns plays close to the patterns and conventions of your average Christmas special, but adapts it well not only to the conventions of a superhero story, but also the specific heartbreaking ending that hits you like a ton of bricks because of the expected heartwarming ending.
• It’s great to see Johns do something less epic and more character focused. This issue is more renascent of Stars and STRIPE more than any of his recent work, which I consider to be a refreshing change of pace.
• I was really impressed with Brett Booth’s work here. I’m not very familiar with the artist, but I can say it won’t be long before he starts headlining some big books for DC.
• Booth’s Larfleeze is incredibly expressive, both through his facial cues and his body language. Kudos to Booth for using the whole of the character to tell a story.
• The various games, puzzles, and extras in the issue—including a cookie recipe—are a welcome bonus that really helped make the issue feel special and unique.
• The Tiny Titans crew of Art Baltazar and Franco do a wonderful backup story about Glomulous that was a much needed gag to balance against the depressing end of the lead story.
Verdict: Must Read. This comic is as charming as it is heartbreaking with Geoff Johns and Brett Booth working together to create an intelligent, emotionally complex Christmas special that does wonders for expanding upon the character of Larfleeze in a way that should really resonate with readers. Holiday comics are normally fluff pieces without substance, but they break the mold here and produce not only one of the finest comics of the week, but one of the best comics of the year.
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo
Letters by Johnny Lowe
Cover by Rod Esquejo
• In the conclusion to the first story arc in the enigmatic Morning Glories, Casey’s daring rescue of Jade is detailed through a meeting with Mister Gibbs, a faculty member of the academy that could be the most frightening character we’ve seen thus far.
• If Morning Glories wasn’t already the Lost of comic books before, it most certainly is now. This issue is non-stop mysteries and unexpected twists unfolding over brilliant character work. You may not know exactly what is going on at this moment, but you’ll love the ride.
• I really enjoy the fact that Nick Spencer works to show all of the characters as being capable here while focusing mostly on Casey, who fully breaks out as the lead here. It’s a great step forward for the entire cast.
• I absolutely love the way Spencer builds Casey up to be this unstoppable, extremely cunning badass force here, only to have her break down and show her vulnerability in the final moments. It’s just a great twist that is extremely compelling.
• The references to Clockwork Orange and Hitchhiker’s Guide were fantastic, but the Stormtooper joke stole the show here. It was a great moment of quick humor to break up the drama and tension.
• The art in this issue is phenomenal. Joe Eisma has grown more in the last five issues than most artists do over the course of years.
• I loved how methodical the storytelling was, with Eisma clearly putting a lot of thought into every single page. He really controls the ebb and flow of the story.
• Alex Sollazzo deserves quite a bit of credit for the colors as well. He doesn’t overpower the line work, instead using a muted group of colors and avoids over-rendering, which enhances the open line work of Eisma rather than taking away from it.
Verdict: Must Read. I’ve been singing the praises of Morning Glories from day one and it has easily been one of the best comics of the year. That being said, this issue completely blows away every single issue that we’ve seen so far. This is Morning Glories living up to its tremendous amount of potential and exceeding all expectations. There is no more enigmatic comic on the stands this week and the brilliant creative team turns that into one of the most satisfying. Even in a week overflowing with awesome comics, there was never any question as to what would be the Book of the Week. Don’t be on the naughty list this week—make sure you pick up this comic!