Saturday, March 12, 2011
It's that time again, True Believers! It's time to check out this week's releases in the Comic Book Review Power Rankings! I've got a haul of 10 great books, including some Rankings favorites. Who will be #1 this week? 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
If you didn’t pick it up this week, you should definitely check out CLiNT Magazine #5, which came out on Wednesday. Why, you ask? Because it features my professional comics writing debut! British artist Des Taylor and I contributed the story Battle of Dasnroom to the magazine. Check it out!
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Inaki Miranda and Nei Ruffino
Letters by Swands
Cover by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau
• Oracle completes her endgame against the Calculator in this week’s Birds of Prey, launching her into the next phase of her mission.
• This issue would be considerably more effective if Oracle’s new role was clearer. Gail Simone does a great job of developing why she is taking these actions, just not what she is doing next. That really takes away from the impact of her decision.
• I’m glad to see Simone give a nod to the still-absent Cassandra Cain (who, once again, is alluded to having something unseen going on) and for bringing back Misfit, even if it was only momentarily. Can we have her back full time now?
• Simone spins her wheels a bit early on in this issue, but her fun character interaction makes up for it. I love how delusional her Calculator is.
• I’m really disappointed in the art by Inaki Miranda. I don’t want to dwell on it, but I will say that it really doesn’t live up to DC’s standards by any means. This is not the quality of work I expected. There are a lot of issues here.
• The lack of detail in the line works puts a lot of pressure on colorist Nei Ruffino, who does what she can, but has little to work with. In the end, even she is brought down.
Verdict: Byrne It. In terms of writing alone, this could probably be a Buy It level comic thanks to the strong character interaction and the surprising moves made by Oracle. On the other hand, the art is…shocking, really. There is only so much the writing could do here and, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough.
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Yanick Paquette, Michel Lacombe, Pere Perez, and Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by Patrick Brosseau
Cover by JH Williams III
• As part of his worldwide trek to establish global Batmen, Bruce Wayne visits Argentina to team-up with El Gaucho to investigate a series of shocking kidnappings.
• Grant Morrison does a good job of tying this story to the Club of Heroes arc he wrote a few years ago, which, in my opinion, was easily the best Batman story he has ever written.
• I like Morrison’s Bruce Wayne-as-James Bond interpretation here in theory, but the execution felt forced and ridiculous, especially the “tango of death” bit.
• In general, the dialogue was really stiff and unnatural, especially the exchanges between Batman and El Gaucho. There is no natural rhythm to any of the interaction.
• This is not Yanick Paquette’s strongest outing as he shifts between a looser, more energetic style and a fairly stiff “square jaw” style that is reminiscent of Ed McGuinness.
• I did really like Michael Lacombe’s heavy inks, which gave the art an eye-catching sense of weight, but there were places where the details were lost in his inking.
• I might have to check out some other copies of this issue because of some of the pages looked really washed out, which is unusual for colorist Nathan Fairbairn. Either my copy was a dud or he is really working out of character here.
Verdict: Check It. There are a lot things that work really well in theory in this issue, as Grant Morrison has some fun, wacky ideas that could work really well with the tense plot, but the execution from both the writer and artist Yanick Paquette here just aren’t up to snuff compared to their usual work. The great cliffhanger has me excited for next issue, but I can’t help but feel like this one should’ve been stronger than it was.
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Sana Takeda
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Kalman Andrasofszky
• Still on their soul-searching mission, X-23 and Gambit head to Madripoor, only to run afoul some bloodthirsty pirates.
• The plot of this issue takes the backseat and ultimately gets lost in the character developments that are at the forefront of this issue.
• Thankfully Marjorie Liu has done a really great job of developing the friendship between Gambit and X-23, who have an unexpected, yet still plausible connection.
• The heavy dialogue at the front end of this issue is a bit much to trudge through and, in retrospect, really throws off the pace of this issue moving towards the faster-paced second half.
• I really think that Sana Takeda is a great fit for X-23, as her style puts a unique spin on the character. It is cool to see her working on this book.
• The painted style gives every page a very lush look that is completely unique compared to Marvel’s other titles.
• Unfortunately, all of the non-marquee characters really don’t get the care and attention from Takeda that X-23 and Gambit do. Most look unfinished at times, lacking major details, while all of them are considerably stiffer than the more kinetic leads.
Verdict: Check It. There is some great character work here from Liu and Takeda, who make a formidably combination that I’d like to see on this title a bit more often. Some awkward plotting and even more awkward bits art, however, keep this issue from fully reaching its potential. This is a fun read and there is a lot to love about it, but the issues add up and keep it from jumping further up the Rankings.
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Tony Moore, Crimelab Studios, Sandu Florea, Karl Kesel, and John Rauch
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Joe Quesada
• The new Venom—Flash Thompson—sets out on a mission to extract a renegade scientist, only to find that controlling the symbiote won’t be easy, nor will controlling his personal life.
• If you can forget that you read the simply brilliant Venom stories written by Dan Slott over the last few months, you’ll feel much better about this issue.
• Rick Remender does a good job of setting up the status quo of the new Venom, including his powers, mission, and status quo, but fails to capture the gravitas that made Slott’s stories so great.
• I was really surprised by much stronger the more heartfelt moments towards the end of the issue were than the action quips and inner-monologues—two things that are normally Remender’s forte.
• Tony Moore’s artwork is highly detailed, but there are moments where he seemed more focused on the minutiae than the characters.
• The storytelling was really strong, especially in the battle scenes. Moore uses a lot of long shots, which really helped establish the scale of the story and the action.
• Moore can’t seem to find the right balance between highly-realistic work and highly cartoony work in this issue, which is jarring. Either would work well here, but he needs to stick to one or the other.
Verdict: Check It. I’ll admit that I’m really biased towards Dan Slott’s work with the new Venom, which does cloud my judgment some, but in general this is a solid first issue for Rick Remender, who does a good job of introducing the new Venom and the world he operates in. There is a missing x-factor that Slott had and, hopefully, Remender can find that over the first few issues. The weak link here is Tony Moore, whose inconsistent artwork shows flashes a unlimited potential, but ultimately keeps this issue from reaching a Buy It verdict, though it was a close-decision.
Written by Phil Hester
Art by Geraldo Borges, Marlo Alquiza, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by Don Kramer and Alex Sinclair
• As the current arc starts to boil over, Wonder Woman faces off against Artemis, Cheetah, and Giganta, only to be saved by a very surprising “ally.”
• This is a really intense issue that centers on a solid bit of action. The story doesn’t push forward too hard, but the fight scenes work really well.
• Phil Hester shows a great amount of control here as he paces the issue quite well, knowing when to back off the dialogue and when to push interaction.
• The shock-ending pulls Wonder Woman back into the familiar world, which has me really excited. I want Hester writing Wonder Woman, I just want it to be the Wonder Woman I know and love.
• Geraldo Borges fills in for Don Kramer and the results are mixed, but mostly enjoyable.
• The widescreen storytelling gives everything a very “epic” feel and does help control the pace of the story. Borges also has a solid handle on the characters, which helps.
• There are some consistency issues, especially in regards to the inks, that wear down the issue a bit. I also wasn’t a fan of the awkward “standalone” shots that break out of the panel structure and almost all include some very odd perspective choices.
Verdict: Buy It. While this isn’t the strongest issue thus far of Phil Hester’s run at the helm of JMS’s Wonder Woman, it is a solid read that continues to showcase how strong Hester’s vision for the character is. The cliffhanger was a great way to end this action-packed issue and has me more excited than I have been at any point in this story arc. While I do wish that Kramer were drawing this book without fill-ins, Borges does a fine job of taking the reigns, despite a few hang-ups.
Written by Paul Dini
Art by Cliff Chiang and John Kalisz
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Stephane Roux
• Looking to right a wrong her father may or may not have made, Zatanna looks for the truth behind the puppeteer that her father had cursed many years earlier.
• The plodding pace of this issue helps develop a sense of comfort before the twist ending. This is really slick work by Paul Dini that plays with the readers’ expectations quite well.
• It is interesting to watch Dini use the plot of this issue to naturally develop and explain the rules of magic that will dictate Zatanna’s future adventures.
• The story thread following Brother Night was very awkwardly stuck in the middle of this issue. While it is necessary, its placement is more of a distraction to the issue than anything else. I’d like to see a more natural transition between story beats.
• Cliff Chiang has is one of my favorite artists to take on Zatanna—his interpretation and design is extremely iconic.
• On the flipside, this issue features a much rougher and scratchier execution than you’d normally expect from Chiang, who is one of the cleanest artists in the industry. I’m really not sure what to make of that.
• Speaking of things that I haven’t seen from Chiang before, there are major influences of Mike Allred here, which I’ve never really seen in his art before. It looks like Chiang could be in an aesthetic transition period here.
Verdict: Buy It. While Cliff Chiang’s work is a nice bonus—albeit an odd bonus as he seems to be feeling out a new style—the real draw of this issue is the clever storytelling from Paul Dini, who uses the plot of this issue in some interesting ways as he establishes rules, plays with reader expectations, and showcases just how clever he is. Another month and another fun issue of Zatanna.
Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Pat Gleason and Mick Gray
• As Batman and Robin investigate Gotham’s “fallen angels,” they learn that the mysterious “White Knight” is killing the families of Gotham’s criminals.
• The awesomely paced issue blends mystery and action quite well, completely absorbing the reader through its twists, turns, and revelations.
• While working well as a thriller, Peter Tomasi does a great job of injecting humor and strong character action to break the tension at key times, which is really effective thanks to his strong take on the titular characters.
• I’m really intrigued by the White Knight’s actions here, especially when some of the villains he is targeting aren’t known for having families (like the Joker).
• Pat Gleason’s work looks great here, though much like last issue, he still seems to be struggling with “his” Batman and so some scenes with the Caped Crusader look a tad awkward.
• Mick Gray’s inks are a great fit for Gleason, whom he inks very tightly. As such, the art has a slightly different, but considerably more consistent tone than Gleason’s run on Green Lantern Corps.
• I really like how animated Damian is. His expressions are stellar.
Verdict: Buy It. While I was underwhelmed with their debut issue, the Toamsi and Gleason team really work to their potential in this issue, which is a great mix of action, mystery, and character work. With an intriguing plot and great art, you really can’t go wrong with this issue. There are some nagging problems, most notably the fact that Gleason’s weakest character is Batman, but overall, this comic is worth your cash.
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Ramon Bachs and Guy Major
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Dustin Nguyen
• Still tracking down the Reapers, Batgirl finds herself at odds with the speedster Slipstream, tries to bond with Proxy in the aftermath of Oracle’s departure (see Birds of Prey this week!), and has an unexpected team-up with the Gray Ghost.
• As per usual with this title, the defining feature is Bryan Q. Miller’s brilliant character writing. The interaction between the characters and the charm of our titular heroine is amazing.
• I like the way the mystery behind Slipstream unfolds, especially in how he utilizes his superspeed to pull off a very slow and calculated plot—not your usual speedster crime.
• Oracle’s exit is handled really well, with Miller giving the character due credit while still showing Batgirl’s ability to stand on her own and elevating the status of Proxy. Of course, the addition of the “Firewall 2.0” base certainly helps!
• It really isn’t fair of me to compare previous artists on a title to the current artist, but despite an admirable effort, Ramon Bachs’s work here is a step down from Lee Garbett and Dustin Nguyen.
• That being said, Bach’s uses a looser style here that gives the art a good amount of energy and leads to some fun expressions that are a good fit for the tone of the issue.
• Consistency is the biggest issue, especially in regards to how Batgirl’s facial features are drawn. Bachs really struggles to draw her the same way more than once.
Verdict: Buy It. While this isn’t the strongest issue of Batgirl in recent memory, it does feature all of the wit, charm, and personality that make this DC’s most underrated book. Miller does a lot of setup work here, so I expect the next issue to make up for some of the more awkward moments in this one, though the big thing that keeps this from being a Must Read is the uneven effort from Ramon Bachs. This is a great comic, though, and it just barely falls short of reaching that next level.
Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Gregory Wright
Letters by Comicraft
Cover by J. Scott Campbell and Nei Ruffino
• In this week’s Elephantmen, a scientist wants to stop the MAPPO sleeper cells, Sahara’s body-double has impure thoughts, and Miki spends an intimate night with Hip Flask.
• You don’t often see genuine romance in an Elephantmen comic, but its here and it works extremely well. There is a very natural sweetness to the very sensual interaction between Hip and Miki in this issue.
• The twist with the scientist (which I won’t spoil) was pure genius. Richard Starkings completely pulls the rug out from under the reader and casts a very frightening shadow over the coming events.
• This is clearly the calm before a storm, as Starkings uses quiet moments to build tension here.
• I love the contrasts that are built in this issue—which is a calling card of the series. Love and lust, life and death, freedom and bondage, will and manipulation—all of these themes are covered here.
• I was surprised to see that Axel Medellin was the only artist on this issue as there are two very distinct styles that would indicate to very distinct artists. That’s impressive.
• While the two art styles—a softer, painted style and a more traditional comics styles—don’t “gel” necessarily, they do flow in and out of one another naturally. Part of this comes from those thematic contrast built into the story; it carries over to the art.
• Naked breasts never look tremendously natural in any comic, but there is something really weird about the boobs here. This is a minor complaint because, honestly, I don’t care, but it is distracting.
Verdict: Must Read. In terms of nudity, this is Elephantmen Gone Wild, even though the story itself is perhaps the quietest we’ve seen from the entire run of this series. Starkings brilliantly weaves a complex tapestry of relationships and machinations that will have longstanding effects on this series but also work incredibly well in the moment. When you add in the work of Axel Medellin, who shows great range here, you have a simply amazing comic. There is a reason that I’ve been singing the praises of Elephantmen for years and this issue is a prime example of what this comic is capable of.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Chris Samnee and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Oliver Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin
• Despite the ominous “Death of Spider-Man” label on the cover of this comic, it actually features an upswing for young Peter Parker, who has promising run-ins with J. Jonah Jameson, Kitty Pryde, and Mary Jane Watson.
• The “confrontation” between Peter and JJJ is instantly one of my all time favorite scenes that Brian Michael Bendis has ever written. It was moving and heartfelt while staying true to the characters despite putting them in an surprising and unique situation. Jameson’s comment about not knowing anyone like Peter was amazing.
• I’m glad to see that Kitty Pryde is back in the book and naturally brought back in while still acknowledging her freak-out. It was a good move.
• Peter’s birthday part, especially his interaction Mary Jane was very sweet and fun. I’ve only really known Ultimate Peter with Gwen (I started reading with the relaunch), but there is something very sweet and genuine about their moment here.
• This issue could quite possibly be the best work of Chris Samnee’s career. This is damn near flawless.
• The designs, the storytelling, the expressions, the perspectives, the action, the layouts—everything about this issue works. Samnee does not miss a bit.
• Justin Ponsor did a great job with the colors, which really enhances Samnee’s art. The very open designs worked really well with the color choices.
Verdict: Must Read. When Bendis writes one of the best scenes of his career and Samnee draws the best issue of his career, there is absolutely no chance that any other comic—even the amazing Elephantmen—could top this one as Book of the Week. This comic is simply awesome. You need to own it. Enough said.