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Is It Wednesday Yet?
02 September 2008

02 September 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 Thursday (04 September 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.

Ms. Marvel Annual #1
Writer: Brian Reed
Penciler: Mark A. Robinson
Inker: Mark Irwin
Colorist: Studio F's Antonio Fabela
Letterer: Blambot's Nate Piekos
Cover: Greg Horn

Review: Dan Toland
On the streets of New York, just before the launch of the Skrull invasion, cars, street lights and all manner of electronic equipment has come to life. Only one hero can possibly save the citizenry from the immediate danger, investigate the root cause and put and end to this dastardly plot. That would be Spider-Man!

Wait, what?

"But, Dan," I hear you cry plaintively. "That doesn't make sense. After three decades, Marvel is finally on the verge of making Carol Danvers a major star. Brian Reed is closing in on three years of writing her solo title. Surely, given the platform of an oversized annual, this had to be an opportunity for Reed to highlight Carol's untapped potential, all without a Secret Invasion or Civil War tie-in. Right?"

No, boys and girls, the star of Ms. Marvel Annual #1 is Peter Parker himself. Oh, don't worry, Carol's here. Occasionally she helps Peter by staying out of his way while he takes care of everything.

So right off the top, we have a massively wasted opportunity. I gotta say, I don't dislike Ms. Marvel, but she's never been a character I've ever been terribly excited by, either. In the hands of a good writer, she can be interesting enough, and this was a perfect opportunity for Reed to shed some light as to why I should like her. Apparently, if I wait around long enough, another character will come in and be interesting for her.

Okay, other than that, how's the actual issue? Well, it's every bit as inconsequential and lightweight as annuals usually are. This is not to say it's unentertaining. Reed's Spider-Man is very funny, even if he strays a little too far towards the obnoxious side from time to time. This is a very quick read that doesn't have any serious marks against it. The art, on the other hand, did nothing for me. It's extremely cartoony and sloppy in places. People just don't stand the way these characters are standing. And the linework is overdone in a lot of panels.

This is worth a flip through. The script is amusing, and Spidey fans may want to consider borrowing it. But don't spend a lot of time on it, because even if the art was easy to look at, it's still a trivial story you'll finish in no time at all. And the star of the book is relegated to sidekick status — when she's on the page at all.

Secret Invasion: Front Line #3
Writer: Brian Reed
Penciler: Marco Castiello
Colorists: Barbara Ciardo and Amerigo Pinelli
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Juan Doe

Review: Dan Toland
The Skrull invasion has begun, and residents of New York (who've never been exposed to radioactivity and been given superhuman abilities as a result) are finding it difficult to cope. People are trapped in Stark Tower, in the subway tunnels below Grand Central Station and on city buses, and Skrulls seem to be everywhere.

Considering that most of my exposure to writer Brian Reed has been recent issues of Ms. Marvel and last week's Secret Invasion: The Amazing Spider-Man, I was not jumping into this with a huge amount of enthusiasm. Truth be told, though, this has definite potential. It's the third part of a five-issue storyline, and I sense that it's going to work much better as a trade than as a single issue, but there are some things this comic has going for it. There's a definite claustrophobia that the humans suffer in various degrees as they huddle against an onslaught of Skrull warriors, which succeed in creating a sense of unease in the reader. And the Skrulls are treated less like a race of bad guys and more like monsters, giving a horror movie feel to the proceedings. The very wise decision is made not to have the Skrulls speak a word of English, and this serves to hammer home their otherworldliness.

Also, while there's little to no lip service given to the events of the previous two issues (other than the recap page), the story almost doesn't need it, because the humans are clearly in a recognizably bad situation.

The real thing this book has on its side, however, is the art. Once again, the good people at GG Studios (She-Hulk) come through with some spectacular work. The Skrulls are exceptionally creepy and really look like the fierce and scary creatures they should be, without the crutch of Super-Skrulliness. Stark Tower is menaced by precisely one — count 'em, one — Skrull, and he's perfectly capable of terrifying and cutting through the humans all by his lonesome. And what sells it is the beautifully expressive and moody artwork. Special consideration has to go to Barbara Ciardo and Amerigo Pinelli; the colors are absolutely perfect.

I feel like I might be overly generous here, but I have to rate this as a borrow on the basis of the artwork. Keep an eye out for the trade so as to get the whole story, but take the time to enjoy GG Studios' output.

X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1
Writers: Mike Carey, James Asmus, CB Cebulski
Pencilers: Michael Ryan, Chris Burnham, David Yardin
Inkers: Victor Olazaba, Chris Burnham, David Yardin
Colorists: Chris Sotomayor, Nathan Fairbairn, John Rauch, Nathan Fairbarren
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Humberto Ramos

Review: Dan Toland
Whee! It's anthology time!

First up is Carey and Ryan's Iceman story. Bobby is suffering from an inability to regulate his body temperature caused by his recent run-in with Mystique, and feels an overwhelming coldness at all times. He and his girlfriend take a Blackbird from New York to San Francisco to have Hank McCoy give him a once-over. On the way, it turns out that not everything is as it seems, and we're left on a cliffhanger.

Of the three stories in this issue, this is the only one that leads into an ongoing storyline, so this is almost purely eight pages of setup. Carey is an inconsistent writer, but he generally does characterization well enough to get by, and his Bobby has some good points. It's nice to not have him be the class clown, which is the role he usually fills. It's less nice that he has no sense of humor at all, however. I don't hide my attachment to the character (did you know he had a four-issue limited series written by JM DeMatteis in 1984? I do, because I was the only guy who bought it), and it frustrates me to no end that no one has ever given him a memorable voice. Still, it's okay, and the artwork is pretty good. Also, the de-aging of the X-Men continues unabated, as Bobby looks to be about 18.

Next up is Asmus and Burnham's story about Tabitha, or Meltdown, or Boom Boom, or whatever the hell she's being called these days. It's short. That's nice. Burnham's art is maybe a little overdone in places, but on the whole it mostly looks pretty good. And the coloring is quite striking. It's extremely bright and cheerful; pinks are pink, blues are blue and subtle tones are nonexistent. The story, however, is dreadful. The jokes aren't funny, the slang is obnoxious, the antagonist is lame and Boom Boom is just as annoying as she's always been. And when Beast makes a snarky comment about Internet social networking sites, there's a little editorial caption letting the reader know that in a few panels he'll want to know how many friends his profile has on the same site. Oh, no, I'm sorry. I'm rereading it, and that caption's not actually there. I think my brain just assumed it was, due to the stultifying obviousness of the setup of the punch line.

Finally, we have Karma (who, as has been mentioned before, likes girls), in a story by Cebulski and Yardin. It's basically a quick recap of her life story, framed by Emma Frost's concern that Shan's ability to mentally control people could prove dangerous in the event she should ever lose control of her emotions. Cebulski's story isn't bad, and does its job in catching the reader up with Karma. The art, however, is positively outstanding. Shan is incredibly realistic, and is very noticeably Vietnamese in Yardin's depiction of her. She's not, to be honest, particularly attractive, which serves to make her all the more real. This is amazing artwork.

As always, anthology books can be extraordinarily inconsistent. You're almost never going to get an issue filled with outstanding work. By and large, this is a flip through, entirely on the artwork alone. One of the stories will stick with you, but there are some very pleasing pictures in this book. Hopefully some of these artists will get on something a little more high profile.

X-Men Origins: Beast
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: JK Woodward
Letterer: VC's Russ Wooton
Cover: JK Woodward

Review: Dan Toland
The latest entry into the X-Men Origins series of one-shots gives us the story of Henry McCoy, the Beast. It's a story you've heard a thousand times: boy looks like gorilla, boy takes a ration of shit from bullies due to said gorilla-like tendencies, bald guy in wheelchair rolls into town to mind-wipe everyone and takes gorilla-boy away from all this. Really, it's such a clichι.

Anyhoo, Carey's script does a fine job in exploring the young Hank McCoy and his struggle to fit in. Hank's interesting, because he doesn't have wings or a tail or anything like that; he looks (at this point, of course) normal enough to get by, but he's different enough to believably get hassled at school. It makes him extremely relatable in a way that few other X-Men have ever been. "Oh no! My beautiful, glorious wings are making this custom-tailored silk Armani suit bulgy and uncomfortable! Why am I cursed so?"

Also, for the first time I can recall in recent memory, Carey is trying to reconcile the young Hank from the earliest issues of X-Men (the brainiac with the thesaurus at the ready and the scientific aptitude) with the "Oh my stars and garters!" Hank from The Avengers (the one with the quick sense of humor and the ability to relate to women). I like this Hank a lot and wouldn't mind seeing him more often.

Where this comic really stands out, though, is the artwork. Woodward's painted pages are stunning. Painted comics can look stiff and unexciting — even Alex Ross is guilty of this at times — but these pages are vibrant. While the action scenes, as brief as they are, look wonderful, it's the quiet moments that especially resonate. Emotions. Light. Color. This looks so great. It's not perfect — a character with red hair in the beginning is suddenly blonde at the end — but the look on the coach's face when he sees what Hank can do comes damn close.

It's always a real pleasure to find a book that shines a light on a criminally overlooked character. And when it's well-written, that's a bonus. And when it looks as good as this book, that's a buy.

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To hear reviews of Dead of Night Featuring Devil-Slayer #1, Marvel Apes #1, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #2, Sub-Mariner: The Depths #1 and Venom: Dark Origin #2, download Earth-2.net: The Show, episode 263.

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