Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Comic Book Review Power Rankings for 02/09/11

After facing massive delays and skipped editions last month, I apologize for the delayed Comic Book Review Power Rankings this week. After being rocked with the flu last week, it took me some time to get caught up, but the reviews are here! I’m checking out 11 of last week’s finest comics in this week’s Rankings. Who will be #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

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 have met our goal, but are still accepting pledges between now and April 1st. Any additional funds raised will go towards increasing our initial printrun and taking the comic to more conventions this summer! Please consider backing the project as you check out our official Kickstarter page. Your support is appreciated!

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Inaki Miranda and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau
preRanking: 07

• After her team is brutally attacked by Calculator’s forces, Oracle continues her mysterious endgame as Black Canary is forced to face the horrors of her past.
• A good chunk of this issue follows Black Canary’s inner struggle after being struck by Mortis and is easily the most compelling part of the issue, though readers who’ve followed the character for the last few years will feel that this is retreading on territory we’ve seen many times before.
• I understand that Gail Simone is trying to keep readers in the dark over what Oracle’s endgame is, but there is almost too little information being offered here. Readers need some breadcrumbs to follow, but there isn’t much to grasp onto here.
• I’m really not sure how I feel about Simone’s Batman. There are very few characters that she hasn’t wowed me with, but there is something a little off about her take on the Dark Knight that is very surprising.
Inaki Miranda, whom I’m not familiar with at all, fills in on this issue in what I’m assuming is his/her DC debut. While there are flashes of brilliance, it’s a very uneven outing.
• The biggest issue is that Miranda’s designs don’t always gel well with one another. Some characters simply don’t fit with others aesthetically, which is extremely distracting.
• There are also some big anatomy issues here, with body parts seeming out of proportion far too often. Again, this is majorly distracting and really pulled me out of the issue.
• That being said, there are some panels that showed incredible potential and so I hope that we do see more of Miranda in the future, so long as the artist tightens up some in terms of consistency.

Verdict: Byrne It. There is a lot that I really like about this issue, but in the long run, there is a lot more that I didn’t care for. Writer Gail Simone seems a bit off of her game here, which is surprising considering how consistent of a writer she normally is from month to month. The issue is compounded by the fact that artist Inaki Miranda has a very uneven effort here that, while showcasing potential, is more of a hindrance to the issue than anything else.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Fernando Pasarin, Cam Smith, Oclair Albert, and Randy Mayor
Letters by Steve Wands
Cover by Rodolfo Migliari
preRanking: 11

• In this week’s Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors, which closes out the first story arc, finds Guy Gardner battling the mysterious Zardor and having a surprising confrontation with renegade Lantern Sodam Yat.
• The biggest struggle that this series has had—other than moving a bit too slowly—is the fact that Zardor’s actions and motivations have never been tremendously clear. Even now, that is a big issue as too many dots haven’t been connected. Peter Tomasi is leaving a lot of holes for the reader to fill, which is generally fine, but this issue and storyline could use some clarity.
• I really like the way that Guy Gardner and Bleez are starting to rub off on another, both for good and bad. It’s a fun dynamic, especially when Arisia and Kilowog are used as foils for the Red Lantern.
• The “twist” ending didn’t work to well for me. It felt too forced for the heartwarming joke, which really took away from the impact of the moment and the failure of the Lanterns to stop Zardor and Yat.
• If you look at the regular Green Lantern series, you’ll see perhaps the best ever example of a series overcoming multiple inkers. That is not the case here, as the three separate inkers do not gel together whatsoever, leading to a clunky and disjointed issue.
• At one point, one giant snake flies into the mouth of another giant snake (no, I’m not kidding). Between the colors bleeding together too much and a general lack of clarity in the panels where this takes place, this theoretically-striking visual is completely lost. What should’ve been fairly simple and clear simply doesn’t work.
• That’s not to say that Fernando Pasarin’s art is all bad, which it isn’t. I really dig his expressions and his sense of movement in the action sequences is great. There are just a number of issues that really drag it down.

Verdict: Byrne It. In a lot of ways, this issue really encapsulates the struggles that this series has had since launching last year. The story is drug on a bit too long with too little concrete information being given, too much is forced to make things fall together “nicely,” and the issues with the art drag down the fact that Pasarin’s a fantastic artist. This series has all of the makings of being on of DC’s best comics, but it falls short in the end.

09. THE FLASH #9
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellatto
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
preRanking: 10

• As Barry Allen’s actions begin causing a headache for the Central City Police Department, he struggles balancing his professional and personal lives. Meanwhile, a mysterious alternate reality policeman has a shocking message for him.
• This issue feels eerily similar to the start of the first storyline in this series. Barry is struggling to catch on with the CCPD after a lengthy absence, Iris has trouble dealing with Barry’s return to action, and a mysterious lawman comes with a dire warning. Didn’t we just go through this?
• I did really enjoy seeing the larger Flash family getting together in this issue, especially since we haven’t seen much of Wally West since Barry Allen’s return. It’s a fleeting moment, but hopefully it’s not the last one for another long stretch.
• I am intrigued by the “young hero” being killed in this issue, but it really seems tacked on to the rest of the issue. It clearly is meant to be a big deal, but as of right now, it feels more like an means to an end.
• Over the last few issues of this series, its seemed like Francis Manapul has been moving towards a new style or, at the very least, a new twist on his style. This progression is really prevalent here.
• While I really like the new direction that Manapul is moving in, I’m not sure what is going on with colorist Brian Buccellato here. It honestly looks like there are three or four different colorists on this issue.

Verdict: Check It. Technically, other than some issues with the coloring, there isn’t a lot wrong with the craftsmanship of this issue. Manapul’s art is impressive and Johns has a good take on the characters. The biggest problem that I’m having is that the issue is that it’s simply too much like the first issue of this relaunched series and it really wasn’t the most entertaining book. Sometimes it just comes down to how much fun you have reading a book and this one felt a bit flat.

Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Patrick Brosseau
Cover by Patrick Gleason and Bill Irwin
preRanking: 09

• In the debut issue of the much anticipated Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason run on this title, a mysterious “angel” falls from the sky and the titular duo are on the case.
• This issue opens with an interesting and heartwarming scene that has already started a controversy in some circles on the internet. Bruce Wayne settles in for a movie night with his “family” (Alfred, Dick, Tim, and Damian) to watch The Mark of Zorro. While it is an effective scene at establishing Tomasi’s take on the characters, as many have pointed out, Cassandra Cain is nowhere to be scene. While I don’t think this takes too much away from the moment, this scene does highlight the fact that the character has been completely dropped since Bruce Wayne “died.”
• There are a large number of bright white bats that show up near the end of this issue. I really hope that this doesn’t mean the series is going to tie into Brightest Day because, as a pattern, most of the tie-in comics haven’t been that great.
• While Commissioner Gordon’s reaction to Damian’s attitude was pretty funny and shocking, it also didn’t really fit with either character. I’m really not sure what Tomasi was going for here.
• Tomasi does, however, have a strong take on the Dick/Damian relationship, which is going to be a major key to the success of his run.
• The big selling point on this run from the beginning has been Gleason’s art. He is one of my favorite artists in DC’s stable and so I was really hoping he’d continue his success from Green Lantern Corps. While he art isn’t bad per se, it didn’t really live up to his previous work.
• A major issue is the fact that there are far too many spot blacks and they aren’t tremendously effective. Some work great, others just didn’t do it for me.
• I am a big fan of Gleason’s designs and style, especially with the characters in costume. He seems to be feeling out his designs for them in their civvies, but his Batman and Robin in action look great.

Verdict: Check It. This issue is definitely on the bubble between Check It and Buy It, but falls just a bit short. I will openly admit that I might have gotten too excited about this creative team’s debut and that could be clouding my judgment, but I was a bit let down by this issue. There are definitely flashes of everything that I hoped for and more, but a lot of it fails to live up to the high standards this team has set for themselves.

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Letters by Sean Phillips
Cover by Sean Phillips
preRanking: 08

• In this week’s installment of the gritty pulp Incognito: Bad Influences, “reformed” villain Zack Overkill continues his search for information on Level 9, which leads him to return to his criminal roots. Meanwhile the mysterious vigilante continues his violent war on crime (and those who let crime happen) and Zoe Zeppelin’s origins are revealed.
• I really like the episodic approach to storytelling that Ed Brubaker employs here. Telling the story in palpable chunks works really well and saves on wasting time with transitions between scenes.
• I really like the parallel structure that is being built in the way that Overkill, Zoe, and the vigilante approach their own individual missions. Brubaker is building them in similar ways while going in vastly different directions.
• While I felt that Brubaker stumbled some in the first volume of Incognito, he is on a roll here. The great gritty characters and bold storytelling is perfect for his style.
Sean Phillips is having a bit of an identity crisis in this issue. One minute he is using his usual style, but then in the next moment he is channeling Mike Mignola and in the next his work looks like John Romita Jr.
• As such, we see Phillips at his best and at his not-so-best, though if he stuck to one consistent style, this would be a much stronger book (I will say, though, that the Mignola-styled pages are dynamite).
• The big unifier in the art, though, is the coloring of Val Staples. Once again he controls the tone of the book and really helps sell the pulp atmosphere. I’m sure most of you are sick of me saying this, but Staples really deserves the big billing alongside Phillips and Brubaker on this book (and Criminal!).

Verdict: Buy It. It has been way too long since we’ve seen an issue from this series, but that doesn’t stop this one from being immensely enjoyable. Brubaker and Phillips both play to their strengths and the issue is fantastic for it—though Phillips does make some strange detours along the way. I still would prefer this series in trade, but the episodic nature of this issue definitely made it work better as a single issue. It’s gritty, it’s pulpy, it’s fun, and it’s worth your cash.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli, David Lafuente, Lan Medina, Ed Tadeo, and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Ed McGuinness and Morry Hallowell

• In this week’s Ultimate Spider-Man, our titular hero begins his “hero” training with an unprepared Iron Man, while Mysterio tries to get the mysterious and powerful Zodiac Key from Black Cat.
• There is really great parallel structure here between the two stories, as both Spider-Man and Black Cat learn how much they don’t know about possessing great power from Iron Man and Mysterio, who know much less than they are letting on.
• The scenes with Iron Man and Spidey were really fun thanks to the similarities between the characters and were a nice foil for the much more volatile and dire situation with Black Cat and Mysterio.
• I’m really intrigued by the Zodiac Key, even if it seems like its immense power will be used to reboot or make massive sweeping changes to the Ultimate Universe.
• Usually, multiple artists on one book is going to be problematic, but the penciling team on this issue have similar enough styles that the combination works really well. This is a very slick looking issue.
• Since I only started reading this book at the beginning of the second volume, I’m not terribly familiar with the history of Ultimate Black Cat. Does she always look this much like Selina Kyle out of costume? That was really distracting for me.
• I absolutely loved Iron Man’s armory. It was great to see how expansive it is while remaining cluttered like an actual workshop. This definitely works better for me than pristine, museum-like armories we’ve seen in the regular 616 Universe.

Verdict: Buy It. This issue is all about setup and foreshadowing as Spider-Man “learns” about heroics and we learn about the insanely powerful Zodiac Key, both of which are likely to be major parts of the Death of Spider-Man storyline (which, I believe, begins next month). This is a highly entertaining comic with some great art and solid character writing. It is a bit fluffy in places, but it is still a great read and has me very excited for the next storyline.

05. RED ROBIN #20
Written by Fabian Nicieza
Art by Marcus To, Ray McCarthy, and Guy Major
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Cover by Marcus To, Ray McCarthy, and Brian Buccellato
preRanking: 03

• As Red Robin continues his crusade against the Unternet, he finds himself battling against Catman and teaming with the Teen Titans to stop the Calculator.
Fabian Nicieza covers a lot of ground in just 20 pages thanks to some really solid pacing. None of the scenes felt shortchanged and the progression from scene to scene did a great job of building tension before the cliffhanger.
• Nicieza’s Catman is a bit one-note, especially compared to how Gail Simone writes him in Secret Six. Honestly, his dialogue could’ve been given to just about any other mercenary in the DCU and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. I feel like this is a wasted opportunity to use a really great character.
• On the flipside, the interaction between Tim and the Titans was fantastic. I really love what JT Krul has been doing in the Teen Titans book, but if he ever needs a break, DC needs to hand the reins over to Nicieza.
• I cannot say enough good things about Marcus To’s art. I can’t think of any other artist that would be a better fit for this title and this issue is a prime example of why.
• Given how dark this series has been (both in terms of colors and tone), it is interesting to see To’s work on lighter scenes (again, both in terms of colors and tone) when the Titans first show up. It was a bit shocking at first.

Verdict: Buy It. Great storytelling and superb art continue to be the hallmarks of this series, which produced another great issue this week. Nicieza and To are a dynamite creative team and this issue shows that they can work just as well with other DCU characters, with the exception of Catman, who is surprisingly flat here. That aside, you really cannot go wrong with this series and this is another fine example of why.

Written by Steve Pugh
Art by Steve Pugh
Letters by Steve Pugh
Cover by Steve Pugh
preRanking: 01

• As the Blue Lights (electronic ghosts) continue to rampage across the city, Alice Hotwire must resort to desperate measures, including accepting help from her rivals, to save the day in this thrilling finale.
• This issue is complex, fast-paced, and incredibly thrilling. Steve Pugh moves quickly and delivers big in this one.
• Much like the first volume, the bold characters really shown through the engaging plot here. The moment I hit the final page, I wanted to read more of Alice’s adventures. I really hope that Radical sticks with this franchise, because I definitely want a third volume!
• The script does have a tendency to be too dense at times, which does slow the reading-pace of the issue, despite the fact that the plot pushes forward so fast. The issue, while fantastic, would hit another level if it were about 20 pages longer, giving Pugh the breathing room he needs.
• Pugh’s art is bright, bold, and highly kinetic. It’s like a neon explosion, which is absolutely perfect for the script.
• I really dig the extreme sense of realism in the characters despite the completely unreal surroundings. In a meta-sense, this fits really well with Alice’s pragmatic and scientific outlook to her role as a exorcist of electronic ghosts.
• There is a tendency for the characters to look stiff at times, which isn’t surprising given the style, but does undercut some of the action sequences.
• I’d absolutely love to see this issue printed in an oversized format, which would greatly benefit the art. He packs so much on a page that it screams to be seen in a larger size. I hope that Radical realizes this when they print the trade.

Verdict: Must Read. Despite some script-density issues and a few stiff facial expressions, this was easily one of the most entertaining and well-crafted comics of the week. You do have to overlook some flaws, but the fact that this comic is so thrilling makes that much easier to do than you’d expect. Steve Pugh has an awesome character on his hands with a superb premise and does not disappoint in the execution. The only problem? I want more of Alice’s adventures now!

Lead Story Written by Dan Slott and Fred Van Lente
Lead Art by Stefano Caselli and Marte Garcia
Backup Written by Dan Slott
Backup Art by Paulo Siqueira, Ronan Cliquet de Oliveira, Roland Paris, Greg Adams, and Fabio D’Auria
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Stefano Caselli
preRanking: 05

• In this issue’s lead story, Spider-Man gets all science-y to stop the Spider-Slayers from killing J. Jonah Jameson’s friends and family, but, tragically, can’t save everyone.
• The heart-wrenching end of this issue hit extremely hard thanks to the strong characterization of JJJ, who shows an incredible amount of depth in the final pages of the story. Kudos to scripter Fred Van Lente for doing such great work with the character.
• I really liked the twists with Max Modell figuring out Peter’s “secret,” especially with the fun implication that he knows more than he is letting on. I really like the dynamic that is being setup here.
• While it was great to see the New Avengers guest starring, their quips detracted from some of the seriousness of the story, which takes away from the tension building.
Stefano Caselli’s art is clean, consistent, and full of life in this issue. He is a perfect fit for Spider-Man and I really hope that he comes back for future stories.
• I absolutely loved the color progression in this story. The issue begins with bright, vibrant colors, but slowly darkens towards the end, following the tone of the story.
• The backup story features the debut of Flash Thompson as the new government-sponsored Venom, setting up the upcoming ongoing series.
• The strong character work in this story really sells the character and had me engaged from page one. I was on the fence with the new ongoing series initially and warmed up to the idea after Flash Thompson was announced as the new Venom, but really started to get excited after this story.
• I am a bit confused by the fact that the creative team behind the Venom ongoing didn’t do this story. That seems like a strange choice.
• I was really surprised to see that so many artists worked on the backup story because of how strong and consistent the art was. I’m impressed with how well it came together.

Verdict: Must Read. While I’ve been on fully board with Amazing Spider-Man since the start of Big Time, this is the first dual-story issue where I was excited by both the lead and the backup. You get two great stories in this issue, both of which very finely crafted and have me really psyched for the directions they take their respective characters. The lead story cuts deep with its shocking and emotional ending, while the backup perfectly sells the new Venom ongoing series. It is a great time to be a Spider-Man fan thanks to comics like this hitting the stands!

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Jimmy Broxton and Guy Major
Letters by Swands
Cover by Yanick Paquette, Michael Lancombe, and Nathan Fairbairn
preRanking: 04

• After finding out that he only has a few weeks to live, Jarvis Poker—the British Joker—goes on a harmless, but high-profile crime spree, which captures the attention and ire of the real Joker, who has much deadlier plans.
• I loved the fact that Knight and Squire try to give Poker one last hurrah as a villain. That tugs at the heartstrings.
• Any comic that features an unexpected guest appearance by British talk show host and comedian (now comic book writer) Jonathan Ross is a win in my book. Kudos for that!
• The Joker’s appearance at the end is a great twist that has me incredibly excited for the final chapter of this miniseries, especially after the shocking murder he commits here. Paul Cornell really sucks you in with the somewhat saccharine nostalgic thread on Poker’s last stand, only to pull the rug out from under the reader with the Joker’s appearance.
Jimmy Broxton’s art remains a perfect fit with the series as he perfectly captures both the humor and the gravitas of the story.
• There are a few consistency issues with the amount of detail that is drawn into every character’s face, though this has been present in each issue, so it can be assumed that Broxton is making a stylistic choice here. I’m just not a huge fan.
• I am, however, a huge fan of Broxton’s designs for Joker and Poker, who look enough a like to cause a double take, but still have striking individual features. It’s fun to see them together, even if simply horrifying things are on the horizon.

Verdict: Must Read. This quirky and charming miniseries rolls on this week with its strongest issue yet thanks to a great effort from artist Jimmy Broxton and simply superb plotting and character writing from Paul Cornell. This is a book with a niche audience, which, sadly, will keep us from ever having a Knight and Squire ongoing series, but as a member of that audience, I am damn glad that this book is what it is.

01. BATGIRL #18
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Dustin Nguyen, Derek Fridolfs, and Guy Major
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Dustin Nguyen
preRanking: 02

• In a special Valentine’s Day misadventure, Batgirl must team with Klarion the Witch Boy to find a mate for his cat Teekl to keep it from becoming a were-cat and killing the residents of Gotham City.
• This issue is overflowing with personality and superb character interaction. Bryan Q. Miller plays Stephanie and Klarion off one of on another perfectly, with the end result being both charming and hilarious.
• I really liked the parallels between how Klarion deals with Batgirl’s classmates and how her bullheaded and blunt nature gets her into trouble in Limbo Town. It’s so much fun.
• There really isn’t any action in this comic, but the tight plotting and fun twists keep things fresh nonetheless. If you are a fan of character-based writing, you’ll love this issue.
• “You taste like Christmas” is easily the best line from any comic this week.
• I am so glad to see Dustin Nguyen using both his penciled and painted styles in this issue. Both styles look fantastic here and the split between the two works very naturally into the story. This issue is as much a showcase of Nguyen’s range as it is of Miller’s brilliant character writing.
• Nguyen takes some big steps forward here with his expressions, perfectly capturing the personality of the script.

Verdict: Must Read. In a week full of well-crafted comics, what really gave Batgirl the edge was the fact that, not only was it supremely put together thanks to some amazing work from the creative team, it was also extremely enjoyable. The charm of this series is turned up to eleven in this issue. I never thought that any comic featuring Klarion the Witch Boy could top the Rankings, but this issue earned the spot easily thanks to the stellar work of Miller and Nguyen. A lot of folks still scoff at the high praise that this series has earned from its devoted fanbase, which is unfortunate—this is one of DC’s finest comics. Everything about this issue screams Book of the Week and I highly recommend that you check it out!

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Jay C said...

you need to review THUNDER Agents. a lot better than some of these, and very interesting plot twist in issue #4.

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