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Is It Wednesday Yet?
21 August 2007

21 August 2007 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always the comics you're about to read about won't be released until tomorrow (22 August 2007), so these reviews are free of spoilers and should help inform your purchases on new comic book day.

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Astonishing X-Men #22
Writer:Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassady
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Covers: John Cassady

Review: Tim Glancy
Astonishing X-Men is a book that, in all honesty, I did not like at all for the first 12 or so issues. There have been entirely too many "mutant cure" stories done before, and the Danger Room story just did not resonate with me. Sure, they brought Colossus back, and the art was fantastic, but I just could not jump into bed with this series. However, when the second batch of 12 issues started, I decided to give the book a chance, and was very glad that I did. Though it was lost in a wave of wars and crises, the Hellfire Club / Emma Frost storyline was one of the best comic book stories of the last year. After that, my trepidation and fears were built right back up, because we were going to visit another X-clichι: the X-Men in space. Given that the Uncanny team was already in space, I thought sending the Astonishing group there was a bit overkill. However, so far the story has been handled really well, and I'm excited to read each issue.

It's not surprising that Joss Whedon was able to craft a fantastic space story. The man behind Firefly / Serenity, Whedon has a great grasp on science fiction and the characters that occupy the, well, space. Of course, a Whedon trademark is his women, and that comes to the forefront in this series. Kitty Pryde is, probably, the best she has ever been in this series. Strong, independent and a whole different character than the last time she was really prominent in a main X-book. The White Queen is phenomenal as well, playing the role of "big hearted bitch" extremely well. I think the woman that Whedon has done the most with, however, is the poorly codenamed Armor — a young mutant who ended up attached to this team by complete accident. Her adventures with Wolverine have been tremendous, and this gives Wolverine something that makes him interesting: a young female sidekick.

To think that this book is all about the women is completely off point. Cyclops is tremendous here, even without his power. From issue to issue Whedon reminds us why he's been the team leader since day one. Colossus and Beast, while important characters to the story, hover somewhere in the background. But when they do jump into the spotlight, they are handled with the reverence that characters of their stature deserve. Not being a Buffy fan, I was hesitant to welcome Joss Whedon into the comics world. But with this book and Runaways, he is quickly establishing himself as a favorite of mine. My only issue, and I have said this before about other books, is that there is very little in the way of catching up. If you haven't been reading the story thus far, you're out of luck. Down the line, when this is collected, it will be a non-issue. But from issue to issue, it presents a problem for new readers.

The art, handled by John Cassady and colored by Laura Martin, is nothing short of fantastic. Cassady manages to handle every single aspect of the book tremendously well. His facials are amazing, and he really makes the quiet moments (especially those between Kitty and Peter) resonate with emotion. At the same time, he can draw huge action scenes that feel frantic and helpless for the heroes. This arc has really allowed Cassady to flex his artistic muscles, with space battles, love scenes, fight scenes and huge splashes — often in the same issue. Every page and panel has looked great — with much thanks to Laura Martin, who handles the colors expertly. I know it's a strange thing to notice, but I have never seen characters with a more realistic color pallet than when colored by Martin. No matter what Cassady's next project is, I hope Martin goes along with him, because I think they work brilliantly together.

So take a book that has great writing, great art, great characters and a great pedigree, and of course you are going to have a buy. However, I do have to give a little warning here: this is the fourth part of the current storyline, and there are a lot of references to previous issues. So if you are picking this book up for the first time, I definitely recommend issues 19-21 as well.

Fantastic Five #4
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Ron Lim
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Avalon's Rob Ro
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Clayton Henry

Review: drqshadow
Residing in MC2, a future-based counterpart to the regular Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Five consists of the same four faces you've come to know and love, plus an adult Franklin Richards. In previous issues, Dr. Doom escaped from an imprisonment by the Sub-Mariner, who'd held him for over a decade, regained the Power Cosmic, spread the might amongst his army of robotic duplicates and set out to claim the world as his own. This issue: repercussions!

Since the story is set in an alternate future, the gloves are really off as far as major storyline direction goes. If writer Tom DeFalco wants to kill off Dr. Doom or the entire population of New York City, there's nothing that says he can't — at least from a continuity standpoint. That opens up a tremendous amount of storytelling possibilities, which come in handy during Doom's heavy-duty display of power that opens the issue. His aim is global domination, and he makes more of an impact on that front in just a few panels than he's ever managed to in the main FF title.

But, while it's a lot of fun to see Doom kicking so much ass and making a joke out of our world leaders, the plot itself is fairly stagnant. The great majority of DeFalco's work came before and during his run as Editor-in-Chief in the mid '80s and early '90s, and his style doesn't seem to have changed since those days. His presentation of the team, of Doom, of the world powers, of the public in general — with cheesy dialog, two-dimensional storyline development and no shades of grey, it's all very dated. You've got the good guys (squeaky clean and glisteningly honest), the bad guys (with a single nefarious goal and a god complex) and the public (blissfully unaware and easily confused). If a character doesn't fit into one of those molds, it has no place in one of these stories.

For a Fantastic family title, there's a notable lack of adventuring, science fiction and teamwork. The dual narratives of this issue take place in Doom's palace and a sealed ship floating aimlessly through space, respectively — neither very interesting settings. The presence of the all-powerful Power Cosmic makes any potential scientific contributions worthless, and Franklin Richards devises a questionable plan of his own midway through the issue, putting it into action without consulting nor asking for the aid of his companions. It's a fake FF story, one that uses many of the same characters but none of the familiar themes.

Ron Lim's art is similarly dated, which actually makes the two a good match for one another. His work is simple, neatly under-detailed, but without much of a personality. In a way, he reminds me of Dan Jurgens during his run as both artist and writer for Superman. Both artists' work is disturbingly clean-cut and technically correct, but never overly interesting. Even when a Doombot is single-handedly going to war with the entire roster of any given team, I was never really excited by the moment. It's there, it tells the story adequately, but it doesn't stand out.

If you're a big fan of the more run-of-the-mill superhero books of decades past, this might be right up your alley. It's quite shallow, which makes it light reading at best, and does nothing particularly inventive with the all-star cast. The artwork treads water for 22 pages, the dialog is uncomfortable and the plot strays from the traditional Fantastic Four direction. Skip this if you aren't a balls-to-the-wall Marvel completist extraordinaire.

Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #27
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Cory Hamscher
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Paul Smith

Review: drqshadow
The Marvel Adventures line, intended for a younger audience, focuses on standalone stories, simple themes and its own loose brand of continuity. MA Fantastic Four, for instance, this month spotlights the team's first encounter with the royal family of Inhumans. It's a nice concept: introduce kids to the characters before you overwhelm them with 40 years of back stories and chase them away.

Fred Van Lente aims to bring a light, humorous air to the book, but ultimately doesn't seem all that comfortable with the format. Each of his characters are spoiling for a fight above all else, whether they're hero or villain. The primary focus of the story is on the quirks and absurdities of life as a superhuman, but he never delves too deeply into the concept. It's basically 15 pages of the heroes calling each other names and shifting their eyes around, with a few random acts of violence thrown in. Everybody gets a chance to show off their powers and grimace, and the problem is solved tidily at the end of the day.

Cory Hamscher's art is extremely inconsistent — he'll knock your socks off with a great illustration on the left side of a spread and mail in his contribution on the right. His work is excessively cartoony with a heavy manga influence, often to a fault. While he retains much of the flair and excitement of the style's action sequences, he also carries over an excess of its clichιs. Every single female character has gargantuan bug eyes, accompanied by teeny tiny miniscule necks. It's cute once or twice, but when it's overdone to this degree, it becomes really distracting and obnoxious. I realize that the goal is to bring something to the table that's bright and flashy for the kids, but that doesn't mean it can't have substance, too.

Hamscher also doesn't seem to have much of a feel for these characters. Reed looks twice as old as he'd have been at the time of this story (continuity or not, he wasn't 50-something his entire life), while Black Bolt's appearance hasn't changed a bit. Sue is more of a brainless ditz in a dark dress than an intelligent, motherly type. The artist usually fills his backgrounds with needless speed lines or aimless crosshatching. Add to all that a paneling style that's far too busy and tough to follow, and you've got a book that's a visual mess. When he's on, he really delivers (as evidenced by the two or three really nice splash pages in this issue), but he isn't ready for a gig as a regular artist yet.

As the printed version of a Saturday morning cartoon, this is what you'd imagine it would be: loud, overly stylized artwork, paired with a rudimentary, thin story. It might reach its target audience on name value alone, but a younger crowd shouldn't necessarily make for a weaker story. A great tale can entertain children and adults alike, which is a claim Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four can't quite make. I'd skip this one, even if you're shopping for your kid brother. There's much better kid-oriented material out there.

Marvel Adventures The Avengers #15
Writer: Jeff Parker
Penciler: Cafu
Inker: Terry Pallot
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Leonard Kirk

Review: Tim Glancy
Once again, the Marvel Adventures line delivers another fun, light-spirited story in a world full of serious, overdramatic comic books. This time we look at Marvel Adventures The Avengers #15, and we instantly see an Avengers team different than any we've seen before. Truth be told, I actually own the first Marvel Adventures The Avengers collection, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the team created here (Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Storm, Hulk, Iron Man and Giant-Girl) is unique enough to truly separate the characters from the mainstream Marvel Universe, but with enough familiarity to sell the book. Being a Marvel Adventures comic, the title is full of old school, fun action and is a throwback to the Avengers comic circa 1965. Upon reading this and the first three-ish years of the original series, I was surprised to realize just how similar they felt to one another.

Jeff Parker is the writer here, and he must have channeled his inner Stan Lee to make a story this fun. Sure, the dialog is childish and the story doesn't take any real twists and turns, but that is the purpose of these books. These stories are meant to be easily accessible for fans of all ages, and that means simple storytelling and joking characters. However, Parker still manages to stay true to a majority of the characters. Captain America is the straight-laced leader. Spidey jokes at inappropriate times. Wolverine is just as gruff as ever, though his violent nature is downplayed. As is the action. It's fun, not overtly violent. All in all, Parker writes a story that feels straight out of the Avengers past, but doesn't feel out of place in a modern comic book.

As Parker's writing is to classic storytelling, Cafu's pencils are to modern comic book art — which is a needed feature in these Adventures titles. Fun, simple stories mixed with modern, kinetic artwork will surely draw young readers into the medium, and Marvel is doing an excellent job here.

That said, though the fight scenes deliver and the characters look great, the backgrounds are lacking. But in a book like this, where the action and characters are more important than the doodads placed on countertops, it really isn't an issue. However, should Cafu make the jump to a more high profile gig, he'll have to work on that, because everything else he does is very impressive.

Val Staples does a tremendous job here with the colors, keeping everything bright and youthful, as it should. All in all, with improved backgrounds, I really think this art team is good enough to handle an in-continuity book, that's how awesome they are.

Just like Marvel Adventures Hulk #2 last week, this issue is a treat for anyone looking for a fun, one-issue story that hearkens back to the days of our past. Easily a buy for anyone wanting fun comic books.

Sensational Spider-Man #40
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Clayton Crain
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Clayton Crain

Review: drqshadow
This month's Sensational Spider-Man takes a short break from the rigors of the ongoing storyline to focus on Peter's uncertain state of mind. He's broken up over the gunshot that recently struck Aunt May, and he once again questions his decision to take to the streets as Spider-Man. Good timing, then, for a certain all-knowing, all-seeing deity to grace Peter with his presence.

Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's story of the meeting between Parker and God himself is obviously meant to be very touching, yanking at the heartstrings and ultimately delivering a clearer state of mind to the title character. If I'm speaking honestly, though, it just doesn't connect. As though the concept of the Almighty appearing alongside Spider-Man isn't odd enough, the actualization of that idea is even stranger. The meeting is so nonchalant, so casual, that it puts the reader in a very strange place. One minute, Peter's daydreaming about his origins, the next — "Hey, what's up, God? Oh, you want to help me work through this? Well, all right." If we're going to take such a direct approach at relieving Spidey of some of his angst and inner guilt over recent events, why does religion even need to be a part of the story? Couldn't Peter have come to some of these conclusions himself if he'd put his million dollar mind to the task?

It's tough to do a religious issue without coming off as heavy-handed, but Aguirre-Sacasa does manage to avoid most of these pitfalls. There are no moments of overplayed symbolism or hints about the one true faith, it's just a conversation. Not a particularly enthralling or revealing conversation, but not one that seems totally forced, either. Although the ultimate goal is to further elongate the Aunt May saga, which is really starting to drag on its own merit, at least this tale doesn't feel like complete and utter filler. I was left with the impression that it's finally time to wrap this thing up. Peter has come to terms with what's happening, paving the way for "One More Day" next month.

Where I could take or leave Aguirre-Sacasa's tale of conscience, heroism and the Holy Father, I found Clayton Crain's painted artwork captivating. Often painters don't mesh well within the confines of a full-sized monthly book. They tend to over-render, reaching for absolute realism when the medium itself is defined by exaggeration, cleanliness and dynamism. Simply put, superheroes don't work when they're too realistic: the suspension of disbelief evaporates when Batman outweighs Commissioner Gordon by several hundred pounds' worth of solid muscle.

Crain is a rare breed, in that he understands these guidelines and adheres to them from cover to cover. He allows his illustrative style to shine brightly, while also introducing a handful of effects and situations that wouldn't work with pencil and ink. He frequently blurs his backgrounds, easily separating a panel's focus from its surroundings, and it never proves to be too much. His detail on the New York cityscape is just enough to catch your eye but never so focused as to drive you mad. He understands when to allow the white space to do the talking for him. His framing and choice of camera angles are breathtaking. On the rare occasion when he falters (in detailing Peter's face, for instance, he gets a bit crazy with wrinkles and blemishes), he almost immediately redeems himself (his recreation of the legendary cover to Amazing Fantasy #15 is breathtaking). Crain produces great work here, and I can't wait to see more from him.

It's too bad he couldn't have been matched with a better story — while he was only given a limited opportunity to do so, the artist proved that he could really shine in an action scene. I couldn't get into the talking heads of Peter and God that filled this issue (although God's physical appearance was an original idea), but you'll want to at least flip through this and breathe in the visuals.

Thunderbolts #116
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Mike Deodato
Colorist: Rainer Beredo
Letterer: Albert Deschesne
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

Review: Tim Glancy
Before I even read Thunderbolts #116, I knew two things:

01. I don't like this book.

02. This is one of the best books out there.

I know, it makes little sense, but that is what I know about Thunderbolts. Like everyone else, I was very excited for the post-Civil War reboot. First of all, Norman Osborn is one of my favorite characters of all time. Every room in my house, as well as my desk at work, has a Green Goblin action figure on display. My kids also have Green Goblin figures and posters. I think that Norman Osborn is one of the best comic book characters ever created. I am also a fan of the new Venom and Bullseye, and was interested to see what Marvel would do with Robbie Baldwin, who I loved as Speedball — so I had plenty of interest in the book and characters when it was first announced. I also think the storyline (RE: some of the most vile people in the world working for the government to hunt down heroes) is tremendous. In the year 2007, government mistrust is commonplace, and this book really plays off of that. What lengths would a government go to win a battle and to bring in those breaking the law, even when those breaking the law are helping people every day? It's a great story that works in the modern world. Warren Ellis has made sure that the book feels firmly grounded in reality, even given the characters involved, and that helps the book feel as though it is taking place right outside our windows.

On top of that, Ellis is known for his social commentary, and this book is a great platform for that style of writing. Norman Osborn, as written by Ellis, is a dictator. He has his own secret agenda that surely isn't best for those under his watchful eye, yet he truly believes his purpose to be noble. The most impressive part of the book, to me, is how Ellis has taken Venom and changed him from the somewhat noble but tortured character that was Eddie Brock, and turned him into a purely evil character in the Mac Gargan version. It's nice to see a change that a lot of people were down on at first being handled so well.

The art, on the other hand, is where my personal issue is. While the style of Deodato fits the tone of the book, it is not a style that I am fond of at all. There is a gritty realism to the book, the panels are dark and the characters are very detailed. Really, as far as the art is concerned, it's handled well. The problem is I just don't like the style. It feels like I am reading an illustrated book and less of a comic book, because the characters seem still — as if each panel is a painting of a scene and not the actual scene, if that makes sense. To me, a great comic book artist is someone who makes the action and characters feel alive, and Deodato doesn't do that here. When Osborn is sitting in his office or the characters are on their plane, it's not a big deal. But when there is a big protest scene or a battle, the images feel like courtroom diagrams.

In issue 116, we see the beginning of a new arc, and we also see some of the ramifications of the events that unfolded over the last storyline, including the, um, devouring of Steel Spider's arm by Venom. So this is really a great jumping on point for new readers; you will be brought up to speed fairly quickly. Despite the fact that I won't be purchasing this book anytime soon, I strongly recommend this as a buy for everyone else; the story is excellent and, despite my feelings about the art, it's what's popular nowadays. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean it isn't good. One man's trash is another man's treasure, after all.

World War Hulk: Gamma Corps #2
Writer: Frank Tieri
Penciler: Carlos Ferriera
Inker: Sandu Flore
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Cover: Stephane Roux

Review: Tim Glancy
During Civil War, I tried to keep up with every tie-in possible, and for the most part succeeded. This time around, with World War Hulk, I decided to stick to the main book and Incredible Hulk. So I went into Gamma Corps not knowing what to expect. Would it tie-in well, or is it a money grab? Initially my expectations were low. I didn't really like the idea the book was founded on: a bunch of gamma-irradiated individuals, who all have history with the Hulk, are teaming up to stop him from destroying the planet. Seemed to me like there were a lot of plot holes here. Why did these people wait until now? Why did the government keep this task force hidden until now? How did the government create a process to empower these people? And how bad do these people need revenge to go through this process?

Well, I am pleased to say that Marvel seems to have put a lot of thought into this series — or at least into the characters — because in this issue we learn why everyone on the team hates the Hulk and how they came to join the Gamma Corps. Frank Tieri manages to take six characters that no one had any reason to care about, and crafted a story that shows just how far the Hulk pushed each one of them. And the way Tieri gives these people their power is pretty genius: DNA from the Hulk and his greatest enemies is spliced with these peoples' DNA to create all new Hulk-like creatures. It's a pretty slick move, actually. That's not to say that the writing is great; the dialog is often forced and out of place, and some of the characters feel shoehorned in, especially Griffin. I think there is more positive than negative here, but the negative is pretty glaring. Some of the lines are so heavy-handed, you're ripped from the story.

The art falls firmly in the serviceable range. Everything is crisp and clean, but nothing stands out. In terms of writing and art, Gamma Corps is the typical (RE: mediocre) crossover book. Meaning, it's not a waste of time, only money. So borrow this one. Overall I dig what they were trying to do here, but the execution could have been handled better.

X-Men #202
Writer: Mike Carey
Penciler: Humberto Ramos
Inker: Carlos Cuevas
Colorist: Studio F's Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Humberto Ramos

Review: drqshadow
The ongoing X-Men team of Mike Carey and Humberto Ramos continues its work this month with issue 202, the third chapter of "Blinded by the Light." Last issue, Mystique and the Marauders destroyed Rogue's team in battle, while Exodus and the Acolytes assaulted the mansion. Only Cannonball and Iceman managed to escape unscathed, and their flight provides much of the focus of this issue.

Mike Carey is great at fleshing out a world where mutant powers are a reality. When a member of the Acolytes uses his ability to freeze time, a teammate complains that slowed time "makes the air feel all thick and slimy." That's a little touch that's an afterthought to the characters themselves, but serves to bring the reader just a little bit further into a fictional reality.

His abilities aren't just limited to the ambient, either. His pairing of Iceman and Cannonball is interesting, and gives the characters a nice opportunity to prove their growth and changes in personality. Sam plays the hotheaded, impulsive youth while Bobby does his best to maintain a level head and weigh their options. Not that long ago, Iceman would be the one to rush into action without considering the ramifications. His restraint shows that the character has matured over the years, and the comparison to Cannonball makes a nice contrast. Past and present, so to speak.

Carey does great work at shrinking an unmanageably large population of mutants. He gives every character a purpose, whether they get 10 pages' worth of attention or half a panel. Even Sinister, a character I've always despised for his shortcomings in this area, is given a definitive direction and personality in this story.

The ongoing narrative is still occupying itself with foreshadowing and vague insinuations, broken up by a few short battles, but if you've been reading X-Men for long, that shouldn't be anything new. These books were basically founded on the idea of a slow crescendo, almost to the point that you begin to wonder if there will ever be a climax. This issue holds a steady course in that regard. There's a lot going on, but by the final panel we're still only an inch closer to the big, momentous occasion that's being hinted at.

The normally solid Humberto Ramos misses a few occasions for some monstrously cool pages here, specifically a face-off between Iceman, Cannonball and Sunfire at high altitude that could've been blow-me-away cool. I'm not sure if that's due to the tight deadlines required by the book, the script, laziness or something else. Too many times a backdrop is relegated to flat air and simple gradations, and it gives the book a mildly vacant, less substantial vibe. When it's time to really gear up and deliver with a huge, dozen-man brawl, though, Ramos still comes through. In particular, the two-page spread in the middle of the issue is a great example of this proficiency.

As is par for the course, you're going to fall into one of three camps on this book: you're a diehard (buying this issue regardless of what I say), a hater (the precise opposite) or a tweener (who hasn't been following the series but isn't opposed to the concept). If you're one of the first two, your mind has already been made up. If you're the latter, find a diehard friend to borrow this from. It's slowly beginning to draw me in, and I imagine it'll do the same for you.

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