Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 02/02/11

After taking an unplanned sabbatical, the Comic Book Review Power Rankings are back! I apologize for my unexpected absence and am proud to bring you the first full set of reviews in a month. I’ve got a slew of great books this week, including some Rankings favorites. Who will be our #1? 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.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter are already aware of this, but I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund my self-published comics collection, Matinee Eclectica. We are already 60% funded, but have a long way to go between now and April 1st. Please consider backing the project as you check out our official Kickstarter page. Your support is appreciated!

Lead Written by Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente
Lead Art by Stefano Caselli and Edgar Delgado
Backup Written by Fred Van Lente
Backup Art by Reilly Brown, Victor Olazaba, and Andres Mossa
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Stefano Caselli
preRanking: 06

• This week’s Amazing Spider-Man features two stories. In the lead, Spider-Man must foil the plot by the Spider-Slayers to kill the entire Jameson family and everyone they love, prompting the hero to call for help from the New Avengers. In the back-up, Spidey teams with the new Power Man to take on the Looter.
• The lead is a standard action piece with Spider-Man battling various insectoid villains, followed by the New Avengers battling more insectoid villains. As such, much of the success relies on pacing rather than dialogue and the duo of Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente do an adequate job, though the story does drag some when moving away from the action scenes for some clunky side-trips that only serve to setup more action scenes.
• That being said, I do really like the way that J. Jonah Jameson was handled here, especially with his brazen attitude towards the attacking supervillains. Good move, Slott and Van Lente.
• Some of the quipping was a bit awkward though, especially when the writers seem to be going for humor. Any appearances by Squirrel Girl or the Thing were more distracting than they should’ve been.
• I was pleased to see Stefano Caselli handling the art chores, though. I became a huge fan of his during Avengers: Initiative and he brings a lot of the same great qualities to his work here. His clean designs and strong expressions are probably my favorite part of this entire issue.
• I was not as pleased, however, with the back-up. The new Power Man really hasn’t caught on with me and Van Lente doesn’t offer much here to make me more enticed by the character. This just your average superhero yarn and if you can’t get into the characters, it doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on.
Reilly Brown’s artwork is serviceable. His designs are strong and he does a good job with his character work, but the storytelling is really iffy. Aside from making some strange jumps from panel to panel, he relies way too much on shots that either don’t have borders or break them. It’s distracting and disjointed.

Verdict: Check It. I really want to give this issue a Buy It verdict because I did enjoy the fast-paced action of the lead story and Stefano Casseli’s artwork was really impressive, but the pacing in the lead was off at times and I simply didn’t care much for the back-up. Unfortunately, despite this issue having many impressive qualities, it was dragged down by these weaknesses.

Written by Paul Tobin
Art by Clayton Henry, Tim Seeley, Sergio Cariello, and Chris Sotomayor
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Jelena Djurdjevic
preRanking: 03

• Still reeling from the death of her father, Anya “Spider-Girl” Corazon struggles to find meaning in his death and her reaction to it, resulting in surprising interactions with Red Hulk and the Invisible Woman.
• The amount of heart that Paul Tobin puts into this series is really impressive. He perfectly captures the complex emotions that Anya is dealing with here in an extremely impressive manner. It really tugs at the heartstrings in a very genuine way.
• I like that Tobin builds this story on two levels, with Spider-Girl “teaming” with Invisible Woman to handle her emotional breakdown and with Rulk to find out the truth behind her father’s murder. It adds depth to an otherwise very linear and character-focused story.
• The art in this issue is a bit of a mess, despite the best efforts of the artists involved. They all put in some great work, but the end result simply doesn’t come together well and that really derails the issue.
• Obviously, Clayton Henry’s clean linework is simply awesome and is a great fit for the series. He has done a great job over the last few issues to make Spider-Girl his character and so his pages stand out in a great way.
• I’m really glad to see Tim Seeley doing art for Marvel and he does a really solid job with his pages. His work is high-energy and engaging, but simply doesn’t match up with the style of Henry. Same goes for Sergio Cariello, whose work was less memorable, but still a strong effort.

Verdict: Buy It. This issue squeaks in at a Buy It ranking, but just barely. Paul Tobin’s writing continues to impress me as he’s made Spider-Girl an extremely engaging character. If you look at each individual artists’ pages as a singular entity, this issue is really amazing, but the three artists fail to come together without jarring shifts that really detract from the issue. It is still worth your money and another fine issue from this great series, though.

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Travis Moore, Trevor Scott, and Rob Schwager
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Dave Johnson
preRanking: 07

• With their backs against the wall as they continue to search for the mystical artifacts needed to save the Vice President from the Arcadian, the Freedom Fighters are forced to accept the leadership of Miss America in this week’s issue as their situation continues to look bleaker.
• As is the calling card for this series, this issue is jam-packed with action and plot movement as writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray continue their push to make this the most densely-packed comic on the stands.
• With Uncle Sam now out of the picture, the personality of the other characters are really shining through within the resulting power vacuum and that makes this comic that much stronger. Watching the characters interact with one another in such a desperate situation has been a real treat.
• The twist ending on this issue was a fun shocker that is a definitive point about the difference between Miss America and Uncle Sam, but also highlights the fact that they are two sides of the same coin.
• You could never say that artist Travis Moore wastes space. His pages are completely filled with big bold characters. In the past, there were times that his pages were too full, bordering on chaotic, but he exhibits much more control and stronger storytelling here.
• Moore’s designs are great as most of the characters look fantastic and iconic, though a big part of that comes from the simple but effective coloring of Rob Schwager, who really makes the characters pop off the page.
• There are a few oddities here and there, most of them involving how strangely Miss America’s nose is drawn and how much that makes it seem like her face is incomplete. Seriously, there is something just off about it.

Verdict: Buy It. Once again, Freedom Fighters is all about value. This densely-packed action-oriented comic gives you more story per page than nearly any other “big 2” comic with Palmiotti, Gray, and the fantastic art team giving you more for your $2.99 than you’d expect. There are some faults and inconsistencies, but for the most part, this is an awesomely crafted comic with bold memorable characters and an engaging high-energy plot that is definitely well worth your cash.

04. SECRET SIX #30
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jim Calafiore, Jason Wright, and John Kalisz
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Cliff Chiang
preRanking: 04

• In this week’s Secret Six, a slacker teenager finds himself taking on the role of a criminal mastermind and tries to procure an island base, which leads to a confrontation between the titular crew and the Doom Patrol.
• There is a lot to love about this comic, but Bane on a date with a stripper is more than worth the purchase price alone. Gail Simone is the queen of uncomfortable and she flexes those muscles here.
• The only Doom Patrol that I’ve ever enjoyed was Grant Morrison’s simply bizarre take on the team, but Simone makes them intriguing enough here to keep me interested, even though I came specifically for the Six.
• I’m really like the development of the new villain here, especially with how well his swingin’ Rat Pack throwback vibe plays out. It’s a fun change from the usual superpowered DC villains. Plus, I just really love the Rat Pack.
• The art is your usual work from Jim Calafiore, who again showcases the fact that he is one of DC’s most consistent artists. His work very rarely wavers.
• Calafiore is an amazing storyteller. His panel progressions and choices are spot on and that goes a long way.
• While I don’t think that we need lots of gore by any means, I do feel like more could have been done with Elasti-Girl’s leg being bitten off by King Shark. The lack of detail makes it look more invisible than mangled.

Verdict: Buy It. This issue just barely misses out from taking home a Must Read verdict. You get a cool new villain introduced and a few great moments of personality, including Bane’s first date ever, but the lack of focus on the main characters for the majority of the issue and some slightly awkward plotting towards the second half of the issue did drag this one down a bit. This one is definitely on the bubble, so I do strongly recommend it.

Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos and Veronica Gandini
Letters James H. Glass
Cover by Michael Avon Oeming and Victor Santos with Veronica Gandini
preRanking: 02

• The fallout from Karic’s daring actions of last volume continue as the villainous hordes seek out revenge and Ronan’s attack on Cassius continues.
• This issue is complex, but tightly plotted enough that you won’t get lost in all of the twists and subplots. Bryan Glass is a master storyteller, which he needs to be to make this issue work.
• I love the balance that Glass finds between the big epic problems that all mice are facing and the personal trials that individual characters are facing. This issue delivers big on both levels.
• Llochloraine’s appeal to Ronan and Cassius is one of my favorite moments from the entire series. It’s a simply delivered series panels, but the emotional impact really resonated with me.
• Kudos to Glass for not only including an in-depth recap of the recent events, but also a glossary of terms. That’s a nice service for the readers.
Victor Santos is really coming into his own on this book. In the last volume, his work borrowed heavily from Michael Avon Oeming’s work (and with good reason), but he is really breaking out here with his own style and designs.
• It is almost frightening how expressive Santos’s mice are. He really brings them to life here, which does so much to carry the tone of this issue. It’s really phenomenal.

Verdict: Must Read. This issue is epic and engaging with a great balance between the larger conflicts and a strong personal connection that is just fantastically put together. This series has gotten better and better with each issue, but the creative seems to just now be hitting their stride. This issue is a perfect example of everything that this series is capable of and everything that fantasy comics should strive to be.

02. GI JOE #26
Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by Robert Atkins, Clayton Brown, Juan Castro, and Andrew Crossley
Letters by Shawn Lee
Covers by Tom Whalen and Robert Akins with Clayton Brown and Andrew Crossley
preRanking: 05

• After using reverse engineered Cobra technology to hijack the M.A.S.S. device and infiltrate the terrorist group’s hidden arctic base, Agent Helix and Snake Eyes find themselves on a suicide mission to thwart Cobra’s plans.
• Things continue to come to a head for this series as Chuck Dixon’s culmination of two years worth of stories pushes towards its conclusion. For those of you who have been patient enough to follow this series from day one, this is a great payoff.
• I absolutely love Dixon’s use of Helix and Snake Eyes here. There is a fun competitive vibe between the two that make them a surprisingly awesome duo. I’ve always loved Snake Eyes but he has really sold me on the newer Joe.
• Dixon’s strong character writing works just well on the other side of the conflict, with the Cobra Commander and Baroness scene also shining. I love how compared to her leader’s ruthlessness, Baroness actually seems soft.
• I’ve said it before, but this issue warrants a repeat; Robert Atkins might just be my all-time favorite GI Joe artist. He finds the right balance between campy flair and stark realism—much like Dixon’s writing itself.
• The energy in the action sequences is just fantastic. Atkins brings loads of life to some fantastic, highly animated panels.
• On the flipside, he really impressed me this week with his tight close-ups and reaction shots. He has come a long way in this regard since the beginning of the series.

Verdict: Must Read. This volume of GI Joe is on its way out (a relaunch is planned for later this year after Cobra Commander was killed a few weeks ago in GI Joe: Cobra) and it is going out in style. Chuck Dixon and Robert Atkins are superb in this high-energy, action-packed comic that sees the culmination of years of build-up as the Joes finally take it to their enemies in the battle over the M.A.S.S. device. This is everything you could hope for in a GI Joe comic and more!

01. SHE-HULKS #4
Written by Harrison Wilcox
Art by Ryan Stegman, Michael Babinski, and Guru eFX
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Cover by Ed McGuinness and Paul Mounts
preRanking: 01

• After hunting the Intelligencia for three straight issues, Lyra and She-Hulk both look for a night of normalcy but find that being a superhero means always living with “complications.”
• There is really no denying that this is a “fluff” comic. It doesn’t have any over-reaching implications and it doesn’t tie-into a blockbuster storyline. Sadly, that also means that way too much comic book readers are going to overlook its brilliance. Yes, I’m talking to you (provided that you haven’t been reading this brilliant comic).
Harrison Wilcox’s charming character writing is in full-force here as he makes both Lyra and She-Hulk incredibly compelling characters with a great amount of depth without ever short-changing his quick-moving and engaging plot.
• The interaction between the Hulk and the Wizard, though fleeting, was a lot of fun. Wilcox definitely has the chops to write the big green goliath, provided the character can ever be wrestled away from Greg Pak.
• The star of the show, though, is artist Ryan Stegman. I simply cannot praise his work on this series enough and this issue is no different. This is a superstar making performance.
• The bold designs, the great sense of movement and energy, the strong storytelling, and, of course, the simply fantastic facial expressions blew me away in this issue. She-Hulks is the best work of Stegman’s career thus far and is a shining example of why he is going to be one of the biggest names in comics.
• Of course, Stegman’s work wouldn’t be nearly as amazing (though it’d still be damn good) if not for the work of inker Michael Babinski and Guru eFX. They make his work simply pop off the page.

Verdict: Must Read. Being a big fan of the creative team, I knew that She-Hulks was going to be a fun comic put together fine craftsmanship from all involved. I had high hopes for this book, but I never could have guessed how insanely entertaining and incredibly fantastic this comic would end up being. Wilcox went from being a writer that I barely knew to one whose work I’ll now greatly anticipate, while Stegman went from being one of my favorite rising stars to a true superstar in the making. If you passed up this comic for whatever reason, go grab it now while you still can. When this creative team is headlining some of Marvel’s biggest books, you’ll wish you had this awesome comic in your collection. Few comics can pull in three consecutive Book of the Week awards, but this one did and it earned every single one of them!

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Rocker69 said...

This issue of Secret Six was just hilarious. I even got tempted to pick up some issues of Doom Patrol but I bet it's not as funny as Gail Simone's version of the team as featured in SS.

Or is it? Is someone reading DP?

John J said...

@Rocker69: Doom Patrol is a lot of fun, it's a great book. Super dense too, so you're definitely not in for a short read.

Rocker69 said...

@John_J: Hmmm thanks. I guess I'll pick up an issue or two to see what it's like...but the series is never featured anywhere, nobody ever talks about it.

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