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Is It Wednesday Yet?
01 July 2008

01 July 2008 — 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 (02 July 2008), 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.

Avengers / Invaders #3
Plot: Alex Ross and Jim Krueger
Script: Jim Krueger
Artist: Steve Sadowski
Colorist: inLight Studios
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: Alex Ross

Review: drqshadow
It's old versus new in this crossover between Marvel's most ancient superhero team and their most recent, as the dueling squads of Avengers face the Nazi-hunting Invaders. After a mysterious green mist transported the greatest heroes of the 1940s to the present, they unwittingly took a decisive stance in the continuing conflict over the Superhuman Registration Act. Now deemed enemies of the state, the Invaders have been felled in battle and imprisoned by SHIELD. So when's a good time for Luke Cage and his Avengers to step in? How about right now?

Alex Ross and Jim Krueger do a serviceable job of whittling down this potentially complex storyline into a digestible miniseries with some perks. A lot of the draw of this series is the interactions between these age-old characters and their more modern counterparts. And when the story focuses on that aspect of the tale, it's intriguing. How well does the original Namor get along with his older, wiser counterpart? The answer isn't entirely unexpected, but it's still a lot of fun to read.

However, the duo's story has the bad luck of falling right in the middle of the major revelations hidden in Secret Invasion, so readers familiar with that narrative will notice some inconsistencies in the behavior of certain team members. Six months ago, I wouldn't have given their actions a second thought, but now that the level of detail and intricacy in the imposter heroes' plans have been revealed, many of the key plot points in this book feel completely inappropriate.

Krueger handles the script entirely on his own, and it's generally awful — particularly the lines he gives to Spider-Man. He gets the idea that Spidey likes to frequently lighten the mood with bad puns, but seems to forget that his jokes are at least amusingly bad. In Avengers / Invaders it feels like the author is stretching to make everything Parker has to say into comedy gold, and clearly that isn't his forte. After the first six pages, I was ready to start ignoring everything the character had to say, and I probably would've been better off if I had.

Artist Steve Sadowski seems uncomfortable illustrating superheroes, which makes this assignment a bit puzzling. Between the awkward poses they're constantly striking and the weird, often inappropriate facial expressions they display, none of the heroes look comfortable wearing their own skin. His rendition of Namor is generic and unrefined, while his Wolverine looks like he's wearing pants that are three sizes too small and struggling with the consequences. Logan seems to have it pretty good, though; I don't know how Spider-Woman has room to breathe in her outfit. By contrast, Luke Cage looks fantastic (if completely out of place alongside so much spandex) in his black leather coat and T-shirt. When he gets a chance to deal with a more civilian subject, Sadowski's skills become much more pronounced, but such opportunities only come in small doses and his work with the Avengers and the Invaders is so bad that you'll quickly forget all about such strengths.

While it has its moments, this series isn't something I'd go out of my way to continue reading. The concept of a younger, more naïve set of heroes interacting with their older, wiser selves in the future makes for a few good moments, although it never really capitalizes on its full potential. It's a fine premise, but a slow pace, rotten dialog and mismatched artwork hold it back from becoming anything worth reading. Skip it unless you're desperate to see Steve Rogers back in action.

Cable #5
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Ariel Olivetti
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

Review: drqshadow
The baby-wearing, time-skipping, gun-firing madness continues this month in Cable. Taking possession of the first mutant born after M-Day and swearing to protect it with his life, Cable has hurled himself into the timestream and emerged roughly 35 years in the future. But it wasn't long before his plans to hide from the child's would-be assassins fell apart. Bishop found the pair with relative ease, and while they escaped their assailant in the end, that momentary safety came with a heavy price — the death of Cannonball, Cable's old protégé.

The writing on this book is little more than an excuse to transition between crazy action scenes and striking futuristic settings. Duane Swierczynski doesn't have a knack for dialog. His characters are about as deep as a kiddy pool: they're interested in looking badass and firing guns, but little else. Reading this issue was like watching a terrible summer blockbuster: a glut of action, screaming, posturing and suicidal special effects. And there's a plot buried somewhere underneath all of the rubble. It's like rubbernecking at a bad car accident on your afternoon commute: you bitch when everybody in front of you slows down to take a peek, but then can't help yourself from doing the same as you cruise past the wreckage.

Cable treats his infant companion with about as much care as he does the weapons he straps to his back. The two share almost no emotional connection, when in reality that relationship should be the backbone of this story. If Swierczynski wants to mimic Lone Wolf and Cub that's cool, but he's missing the biggest piece of the puzzle. If nothing else, that relationship (or lack thereof) provides a bit of unintentional comic relief to the series, as Cable cares so much for the child that he's taken to wearing her on his torso during battle. It's an absolutely hilarious image, this would-be bodyguard doing everything short of painting a bull's-eye on her forehead in his quest to get the kid killed. Well, that gets even better this month when it suddenly occurs to the war-weary veteran that gee, maybe I ought to do something about this baby on my chest. Literally the moment he acts to protect the child, all of his enemies commence firing directly, repeatedly, at the center of his chest. If it weren't meant to be so deathly serious, it would never be so absurdly funny.

Ariel Olivetti, perhaps most widely known for his recent work designing a gun that shoots swords on Punisher War Journal, brings a very similar style to his artistic duties on Cable. Olivetti digitally colors his own work and, as is the case with most artists who do so, that results in a much more cohesive visual identity. His work is extremely rich and vivid, a strange mash-up of realism and stylization that captures the best of both worlds and blends them together to create something completely original. While his compositions will occasionally leave something to be desired, the unusually spectacular nature of his efforts and, naturally, the excess of eye candy he brings to the page make this issue a visual pleasure. If Olivetti's style were to become more widespread, I could see myself tiring of it relatively quickly. But because he's the only one doing anything like this in a mainstream series, it retains a certain charm — an appeal that's hard to pinpoint but easy to enjoy.

I don't know whether I loved this issue or hated it, but it's certainly one of the more original comics I've read this year. Either Duane Swierczynski is a moron who's watched one action movie too many or he's a genius, swinging for the fences in the most adrenaline-soaked action / adventure satire on the market. His partner in crime, Ariel Olivetti, has moments of glory and moments of weakness, but always manages to hold the reader's interest. I'm going to go out on a limb here and recommend you turn off your brain for a while and flip through this. It's a strange, stereotypical beast, but there's this oddball allure that kept me smiling from cover to cover.

Lords of Avalon: Sword of Darkness #6
Writers: Sherrilyn Kenyon and Robin Furth
Artist: Tommy Ohtsuka
Letterer: Bill Tortolini
Cover: Tommy Ohtsuka and Guru eFX

Review: Dan Toland
Three months ago I reviewed the third issue of this series. If you could maybe reread that and assume everything I said then is true now, we could save some time today. Okay...?

No, I didn't think it would be that easy.

Here's what's what: Seren is going to be the mother of the next Merlin. The bad guys want to kill her. The good guys don't. The Kerrigan (a bad guy with a heart o' gold) is protecting Seren and summons (as far as I can tell) the Brawny Paper Towel Man to escort her to Avalon, where she will theoretically be safe from Morgen le Fay and her swarming legions of meanness and rottenness. In exchange for shepherding Seren to Avalon, Brawny demands that the Kerrigan give him what is clearly the Sword of Omens. Kerrigan does this, even though he intends to face Morgen, and while having Sight Beyond Sight would obviously come in handy, without this sword he will no longer be able to summon the other Thundercats if he needs help.

I hope I'm not spoiling anything when I say they all live happily ever after.

Not that this doesn't stomp all over Anita Blake, but this issue is every bit as lightweight as the vast majority of Marvel's recent novel adaptations. If the idea is to make the reader interested enough to seek out Kenyon's novel, then this is not going to do it. It's a shame, too; every now and then a snippet of dialog escapes that makes the speaker sound as if they would have been interesting.

Ohtsuka's artwork just doesn't work here. This is illustrated in a manga style, and while I can applaud Marvel for staying away from the obvious, it makes the comic seem even more lightweight and inconsequential than it already does. Furthermore, his storytelling could use some work; characters move from one panel to the next with no flow or order. It can feel very disjointed at times.

This isn't a bad comic. But it's not a particularly good one, either. Unfortunately, there's really nothing here to recommend, despite there not being anything to particularly rant against, either. It's a lukewarm skip, but a skip nonetheless.

Marvel Two-In-One #13
Writer: Jeff Parker
Pencilers: Roger Cruz and Leonard Kirk
Inkers: Roger Cruz and Terry Pallot
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterers: Blambot's Nate Piekos and Dave Sharpe
Cover: Eric Nguyen

Review: Dan Toland
Marvel's parade of kid-friendly reprinty goodness marches forward!

Jeff Parker writes both of the titles being reprinted this month. First up is X-Men: First Class #1 (the ongoing series, not the original mini), in which Professor Xavier begins to realize that Marvel Girl is perhaps not getting everything she needs as the only female on a team of fairly lunkheaded guys. To rectify this, he has Susan Richards take Jean around with her as a form of mentoring / job shadowing.

This is the part where I confess that I am a total mark for X-Men: First Class. Month in and month out, this is one of the most consistently entertaining books on the shelves. Oh, it's pretty goofy and unsubstantial, but it's unapologetically fun.

Parker writes some of the most believable teenagers in comics today. There's no soap opera, and very little angst to speak of; the X-Men are good kids, with five very distinct personalities, who react to situations exactly the way a group of young people generally would. This is made perfectly clear in the first two pages of the book, which set the whole story in motion. Jean is attempting to teach herself how to use her telekinesis to fly. It being her first effort, it goes less than ideally, and she's immediately set upon by her teammates. Bobby (clown) is clueless and makes fun. Hank (nerd) begins pontificating on the importance of aerodynamics. Warren (jock) declares how easy flying is. And Scott (uptight Type A) lectures about the safety of rule-following. Right there, in a single page of dialog, we know each of these characters. It's done quite well.

Yes, there's a plot, but it really doesn't matter. The point to the issue is to give Marvel Girl a character spotlight. Jean is given infinitely more characterization in this one issue than in the 45 years she previously spent as the personification of Scott Summers' relationship drama. Here, she's a supremely awkward teenager reveling in the experience of spending some quality time with a female role model. She's absolutely adorable. And when Susan manages to articulate in one almost totally offhanded sentence the frustration Jean is feeling with the men on her team, up to and including Xavier, Jean immediately gives her a hug that makes you want to pinch her cheeks and give her a cookie.

Aiding things considerably is the artwork. Cruz has a clean, bright style that's a little manga-influenced, but not overly so. And while his action scenes are excellent, his real talent is characterization. Facial expressions, body language, movement — all of it is good. Staples' colors are bright and cheerful as well, giving the book the appropriate vibe.

Backing this up is a reprint of Marvel Adventures The Avengers #13. Here, Janet "Giant-Girl" van Dyne goes into a mindless rampage (RE: King Kong) as her teammates battle giant bugs known as the Insectoid People.

The very first thing that hit me as I read this was the characterization of the Avengers, both as a team and individually. As a Marvel Adventures book, this is, of course, more kid-friendly than its 616 counterpart. Everyone gets along. The wisecracks fly back and forth. The characters in general are extremely likable. And no one feels out of place on the team. Even the Hulk is quite the team player here. I have to take particular notice of Wolverine; he's much mellower in this title than we're used to, and is actually a fairly straightforward "stand aside, citizen, I'll handle this" superhero. It's not a bad take on the character, and it certainly fits the tone of the comic.

Speaking of which, the tone is very lighthearted and is quite funny in places. And much of the humor rewards older fans and would go right over the heads of the target audience. The actual story itself is a little rote and pedestrian; the script helps smooth it over some, though.

Kirk's art suits the book well. It's sketchy and a little cartoony, but very expressive and the storytelling is superb.

This was, in all, a very enjoyable book. The X-Men story was great, and while the Avengers book didn't hit the same heights, it was nevertheless well worth a look. This is a buy, without a doubt, but it's a slam dunk if you're looking for a comic for a kid — and for a girl in particular.

Punisher War Journal #21
Writers: Matt Fraction and Rick Remender
Artist: Howard Chaykin
Colorists: Edgar Delgado with Jesus Aburto
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Alex Maleev

Review: drqshadow
No longer satisfied with tackling the mafia, drug smugglers or gang members that frequent the city streets, the Punisher has shifted his focus to include the superhuman community. Backed by the technology of Rampage, a reformed evil genius, Frank has taken his fight to a whole new level. But in so doing, he's made a lot of angry people even angrier, particularly his old nemesis Jigsaw. Framed for murder (why would he need to be framed?), and on the run from the NYPD for what must be the sixth time this year, Castle was surprised by an attack from the Hand. Though he managed to cut through the guild's ranks in last month's issue, the victory came at great personal expense. Now on the verge of unconsciousness, the Punisher has one more battle in front of him: the Hand's mighty leader, Lady Gorgon.

Earth-2.net whipping boy Howard Chaykin is back in the saddle, personally handling the artistic chores for the whole of War Journal's current story arc, and I do not exaggerate when I say that his work here may be the worst Marvel has ever published. I mean ever, as in, throughout the company's entire publishing history. Good lord, this is bad. Chaykin's characters are so under-detailed, so hurriedly thrown down to the page and rushed to the press, that they reminded me of Frank Miller's disgraceful artwork on The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Chaykin's work is painfully awful, not to mention quite telling in several circumstances; Lady Gorgon has a sword with a lopsided blade and hair that can't have taken more than 30 seconds to render, but her nipples are carefully highlighted in every panel. Two characters share a facial expression, though one is taking a kick in the stomach and the other is actually doing the kicking, but their ass cheeks are treated with the utmost care and attention to detail. By the time I finished the first six pages, I'd seen enough to fill an entire issue of Penthouse.

Writers Matt Fraction and Rick Remender have actually pieced together a wonderful conundrum for Frank, but it's so lost behind the atrocity of Chaykin's artwork that I imagine it'll be completely overlooked by the readers. The internal narration that opens the book is personal, emotional and suitable to the situation, but matched with artwork that a child would've tossed away. These writers give Lady Gorgon a legitimately chilling personality and powers to match, but paired with her ass-less outfit and inconsistent appearance it's hard to take her seriously. Noticing a trend? I did too.

Fraction and Remender's story isn't perfect, and it would have to be to overcome the hurdles that Chaykin distributes throughout the issue. While they deliver a cast comprised almost entirely of strong female characters (a real rarity in comics, even today), it's almost impossible to take them seriously when the artwork focuses so exclusively on their sexuality. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, so naturally I can't recommend you do anything but skip it. If you accidentally touch it on the shelves this week, wash your hands. Fast.

Secret Invasion #1 Directors Cut
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Leinil Yu
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Steve McNiven

Review: Dan Toland
The first issue of the blockbuster event of the summer arrives at last!

Well, that is, it arrives again, three months after it arrived the first time.

It's a good thing I'm not a cynical man.

The invasion is well and truly underway. Elektra has been revealed to be a Skrull impostor, and as Reed Richards and Henry Pym examine her body, two opposing teams of Avengers investigate the crash-landing of a spaceship in the Savage Land, because that always ends well. Meanwhile, SHIELD is getting ready to be of absolutely no help whatsoever.

This issue is really doing little more than setting up the pieces before the game actually begins. Bendis touches all his bases, ensuring that pretty much every storyline even vaguely connected to the Avengers (along with SHIELD, SWORD, the Fantastic Four and even the Thunderbolts) is drawn into all the drama in a way that feels very natural. There is, of course, a very glaring omission here. With the exception of Wolverine, there is not an X-Man anywhere within miles of this story. And all I can say is, thank goodness. The X-Men have been virtually separated from the rest of the Marvel Universe for years, and their absence from this story serves to prevent them from completely overwhelming the story, and, in turn, to reestablish the Avengers as the A-list book that it arguably hasn't been since the early 1980s. (Try to imagine the Justice League of America spending 20 years eating the Doom Patrol's dust. It really is kind of bizarre.)

With all that said, how's the issue itself? The story is a good one. It's very much the "widescreen" adventure story that The Ultimates used to do so well. It's starting things off a little slowly, assuming that the reader is at least somewhat familiar with the happenings in the Marvel Universe over the past couple of years, and relies heavily on a pair of shocking twists, one of which was leaked by Marvel months before the issue came out, and the other of which is now fairly common knowledge.

And this is the point where I come out and say that I've never really been a huge fan of Leinil Yu. I can understand his appeal, but to me everything he draws is hellishly over-rendered, and while he draws some really exciting poses, they look like just that: poses. You can almost hear Spider-Man mumble, "Hurry up and take the picture." Now, with that said, he turns in some great work here. The man does action really well. And when Bendis wants the reader to know just how screwed someone is, Yu sells it.

But wait, "This is the 'director's cut,'" I hear you cry!

Well, yeah, but don't get too excited. Added to the book is an 11-page prologue which had previously been available on Marvel.com, largely dealing with the story behind how a particular character was replaced. It's interesting, but hardly essential. After this, and the meat of the story itself, they've included Bendis' original script, which has been spruced up with some of Yu's artwork. Also here is a page reprinting all of Greg Horn's amazing "Who Do You Trust?" promotional images, followed by pencils-only pages from Yu, before finishing off with the various Secret Invasion #1 variant covers by Gabrielle Dell'Otto, McNiven, Mel Rubi and two by Yu. Of all of these extras, the most interesting is undoubtedly the original script, which contains a few touches that never made it to the final printed story, as well as Bendis' panel descriptions (some of which Yu followed pretty faithfully, others not as much), but it's interesting to see Bendis' original, unfiltered, unfettered vision.

Some of the extras are mildly appealing while others are fairly blatant filler, but they don't add nearly enough value to warrant purchasing a story you already have. If you haven't already picked up or read Secret Invasion #1 and your shop is sold out of the original, then by all means buy this. Otherwise, you really aren't missing anything if you skip it.

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To hear reviews of American Dream #5, Astonishing X-Men #25, Patsy Walker: Hellcat #1, Secret Invasion: Front Line #1 and Squadron Supreme #1, download Earth-2.net: The Show, episode 238.

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