Is It Wednesday Yet?
16 September 2008
16 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 tomorrow (17 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.
Guardians of the Galaxy #5
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Penciler: Paul Pelletier
Inker: Rick Magyar
Colorist: Guru eFX
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Clint Langley
I've never been one for cosmic comics. They're usually loud, hard to follow stories filled with space jargon and character names that lack vowels. For me, they fall flat on their face. However, the occasional work has piqued my interest, and Guardians of the Galaxy tries. It really does. And for what it's worth, the issue had my interest by the end. But whether that's due to any sort of gripping narrative, or more because the ending has all the subtlety of a nuclear detonation, is hard to say.
After Annihilation, the Guardians have been formed to protect the fragile galaxy. And they argue. A lot. Actually, pretty much every page of this issue is filled with arguing. With seven people and a raccoon on their team, it can be hard to keep track of everyone. The only characters that took my interest were Cosmo and Drax the Destroyer. One, because he's a talking dog. The other, because he's the only person not content to sit around and bitch about the situation. Looking like Kratos after a dip in green paint and a few doses of growth hormone, Drax is portrayed as a hardened soldier and sharp tactician, as his approach to a three-on-one battle leaves no question as to who will be walking away. He's the star of this book, and in terms of making me care about his situation, this book succeeded.
It's with this book that I've also decided that Paul Pelletier should be the only person allowed to draw anything set in space. He's carried over his gorgeous work from Nova, and while his humanoids have always been good, it's his aliens that really shine. Each race is striking yet revolting. Exciting yet terrifying. And his action is impactful while still being easy to follow.
I'm of two minds on this book: it's pretty decent, but not something I'd run to buy. I'll say flip through it and decide for yourself.
Marvel Apes #2
Writers: Karl Kesel and Tom Peyer
Artists: Ramon Bachs and Karl Kesel
Colorists: Javier Mena Guerrero and Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher and VC's Cory Petit
Cover: John Watson
It's tough to remain impartial about a miniseries when the very premise seems to be no more than a thin, bad joke, but such is my task this afternoon. Behold the Marvel Apes: discovered through a chance series of events involving a scientist, DNA, a villain masquerading as a lab monkey and an interdimensional portal, these simians populate a universe in which man never rose to rule the planet. Naturally that means the responsibility of dressing up in spandex and fighting crime has fallen to the chimps, and they've embraced that call of duty.
In the two stories crammed into this extra-sized issue, Karl Kesel and Tom Peyer each take a turn at penning the apes' adventures. The authors are virtually indistinguishable, delivering two heaping armloads of bad puns and a surplus of shamefully unfunny parodies of mainstream superheroes. Doctor Ooktavius? The Mighty Thorangutan? Are you serious? This is a collection of the very worst elements of Marvel's history, the homage to a path blazed by Spider-Ham that I'd been dreading for years. While there's a serious plot running through the ridiculous gimmicky faux-humor, it's bargain-basement at best and utterly buried beneath a mountain of cheese.
That's not to say that the book's tone is its primary handicap. There's certainly a place for comedy in mainstream comics, even goofball humor like this. Deadpool has been the star of that style of book for years, and he's no worse for wear. No, where the Marvel Apes train sails off the tracks is about six inches away from the terminal: the problem is with the premise itself. Was there really a need for this? Was anyone banging on Marvel's door, demanding a horror-tinted world of simian superheroes? Even if they were, is this actually entertaining them? Every time I think the story can't get any dumber, it manages to top itself on the very next page.
Ramon Bachs and Karl Kesel provide the artwork for this month's stories, and they too produce very similar results. Neither can decide if this issue should be filled with apes who walk like men or men who act like apes. They lumber around the page with strange proportions and stretched anatomy, rarely resembling monkeys so much as they do furry, flat-faced humanoid aliens. Each successfully delivers the light tone that the bulk of the story demands, just not in a way that I found even remotely appealing. Maybe I was disturbed by the image of the more scantily clad ladies of the Marvel line as apes, or maybe these artists just had a tough time coming to grips with what they were being asked to illustrate (unlikely, since Kesel actually wrote the primary story). Either way, this ain't pretty to look at.
Marvel Apes #2 is punishment. If you've been reading Marvel Comics for any length of time, chances are good that at some point you've come across a moment that made your eyes involuntarily roll. I'm a diehard Marvel fan, but I can't deny its lasting tendency to cross the line occasionally. This issue is like a roundup of every such moment. It's terrible. Skip it.
Moon Knight #22
Writer: Mike Benson
Artist: Mark Texeira
Layouts: Javier Saltares
Colorist: Dan Brown
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Arthur Suydam
Ever since the conclusion of Civil War, Marc Spector has been struggling to come to terms with his place in the new superhero paradigm. His violent nature and frequent public brawls made Spector less than an ideal candidate for registration, but he was surprisingly accepted into the program after passing a psychiatric evaluation. However, it wasn't long before Moon Knight was butting heads with Iron Man. When Iron Man revoked his registration card, Spector merely went on the lam, continuing his violent crusade on the wrong side of the law. But now that he's raised the ire of Stark's immediate superiors, Moon Knight is faced with his most difficult challenge yet: the assault of the Thunderbolts.
Mike Benson's storytelling immediately benefits from the inclusion of the government-sponsored 'Bolts. In Norman Osborn's team, Benson finds a ready-made spoiler for his confused, unstable lead character. While it's been difficult to take Moon Knight's troubles seriously, what with Stark wearing his kid gloves and most of his enemies unwilling to go to the same lengths as Spector, the government's squad of reformed bad guys have no such qualms or limitations. These are the guys that big brother calls in when he's had enough of you.
Fortunately, Benson doesn't rush into any sort of final showdown. In carefully setting that stage beforehand, allowing Stark and the Thunderbolts to race each other for the chance to take down Moon Knight, he's captured my interest and imagination. Of course, he still trips over many of the same basic problems that have plagued him since day one, but at least there's finally more to this than an endless, sterile conversation between uninteresting characters, occasionally interrupted by a random ass whuppin' or two.
Mark Texeira remains Moon Knight's regular artist, working over the layouts of Javier Saltares, and continues to stomp all over his legacy. In the 1990s, Tex was one of the finest artists in Marvel's stable: largely delivering cover artwork, his infrequent ventures into full-blown interior work were beautiful. One would imagine that his traditionally rough, violent style would make an excellent counterpart for the carnage that's followed Marc Spector for the last few years, but it's not. Strangely, Tex has abandoned that style in favor of a much more dull, lazy take for the duration of his run on this book. His artwork feels incomplete and boring, not to mention tough to follow; backgrounds are left untouched and characters that aren't speaking stare at nearby walls like robots. When Texeira introduces his readers to Venom, it's almost laughable. Not really the effect I think he was going for.
I've loathed Moon Knight for the last year and a half, and while it still contains many of the faults that led me to hate it initially, the new faces and surprising twists have reinvigorated my interest for the time being. Extremely poor artwork and cumbersome dialog continue to hold the series back, but at least the storyline is finally going somewhere. Worth flipping through at best. It's still miles from a recommendation, but we're finally heading in the right direction.
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Artist: Laurence Campbell
Colorist: Guru eFX
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Dave Johnson
We all know The Punisher formula: Frank goes in, shoots his guns, takes the occasional name and kicks some ass. But if we're being honest, not all of the stories have been winners. We've seen Frank go through pretty much everything — from drug dealers to armed goons to having Howard Chaykin draw him — so I was not expecting much here. So imagine my surprise when this issue kicked my ass seven ways from Sunday, then kicked me back to Monday just so I could be kicked a third time.
With the departure of Garth Ennis, I had a feeling that The Punisher was in for some hard times, but with this team at the helm, the series looks to be in good hands. Dare I say that this is the best portrayal of the character that I've ever seen. He's good at his job, almost to the point of being bored with it. One would have to wonder how a man in his 50s could be so effective, and too often in past arcs, it's simply been a case of the bullets not hitting him. But here, it's his mind that proves to be his greatest weapon. His ability to see inside people and break them, to predict their behavior and nullify it, that's what makes him so dangerous.
Though it's the second part of an arc, this issue stands completely on its own, with a narrative structure that takes your expectations and slaps them right in the face. The ending alone is a jaw dropper, and actually has me wanting to review #63 just to see where it goes from here.
Laurence Campbell is another welcome addition to the book, as his sharpened noir style captures the tone of the work perfectly. It's dark, somber and just gritty enough to pull you in, but not so gritty that you commence with eye-rolling at the overbearingness of it all. Granted, if he were to ever do a flashy superhero book, it would look absurd, but he's perfect for this character and the world he occupies.
Buy this book. Right now. I don't care if you're in your underwear getting ready to make some mac n' cheese. Run to the store and pick this up. It's that good.
Squadron Supreme #3
Writer: Howard Chaykin
Artist: Marco Turini
Colorists: Guru eFX
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor
It's been five years since the world's greatest heroes — the Squadron Supreme — vanished without a trace, suddenly leaving a beaten-up, worn-down planet to fend for itself. As a means to move on with their lives, humanity has shifted its sights to lunar exploration. But when the first set of astronauts return from their voyage and begin demonstrating superpowers, it sparks a new superhuman age. The skies have begun filling with costumed warriors once again, whether the Earth is ready for it or not.
Howard Chaykin is the latest in a line of big names to pen the adventures of this notorious squad, and quickly demonstrates he's a much better writer than he is an artist. Of course, I don't think I could care any less for his artwork, so that isn't much of a compliment. Regardless, his writing here is solid, if somewhat slow-moving. Chaykin works with an extra-sized cast, but still manages to give each of them a unique voice without weighing down the issue with a lot of meaningless dialog. That's not to say there aren't a lot of word balloons in this edition, because there are, but the strength of Chaykin's cast and his knack for believable dialog ensure that the book is never a laborious read.
Where the heroes of Mark Gruenwald's original Squadron Supreme were clearly based on prominent members of the DC family, the four astronauts at the center of this story bear more than a passing similarity to the Fantastic Four. A set of space explorers (three guys, one gal) return to Earth and exhibit powers: one of the four is freakishly disfigured, the loudmouthed blonde brat creates crystal from thin air (which somehow enables him to fly), the squad's leader has an intimate relationship with the lady and all four of them flee into the desert to figure things out. Fortunately, most of the similarities end there. The group is nowhere near as closely knit as the FF. Instead of the old "all for one" pep talk, this team speaks more like the self-absorbed generation of today than the classic nuclear family. What's more, they each have secrets darker than anything Reed Richards could ever imagine. If he was going to borrow from a well-known origin, Chaykin could have chosen worse. At the end of the day, this more modern, relatable take on a classic tale benefits from the comparison, rather than feeling like just another knock-off.
Artist Marco Turini adds a flavor to the book that's hard to describe. The simplicity of his linework and effective use of crosshatching is often reminiscent of the efforts of John Romita, Jr., but Turini's work lacks the vibrancy and constant sense of motion that sets Romita's style apart. While Turini's compositions are generally very effective and easy to follow, he does have a strange tendency to hide central figures in the scenery. Whether they're turning their backs to the camera or hanging around behind a few props, his cast never seems that interested in taking center stage for any length of time. To a certain extent, that gives the issue a subtle voyeuristic angle, as though we're merely a casual passerby, eavesdropping on these events — and that works well with the tone of Chaykin's storyline. Turini's work with architecture and skylines is spectacular, far and away his greatest strength, but he doesn't bring that same level of ingenuity and dedication to the rest of the book.
I enjoyed this issue: it's a smart, mature read. Chaykin's work holds up a funhouse mirror to many of Marvel's most famous individuals, distorting and altering a few very important details and coming out the other side with a fresh, if strangely familiar cast of characters. Marco Turini's artwork has room for improvement, but it does enjoy its moment in the sun. If Chaykin can deliver some fireworks on the home stretch, this could be something to keep your eye on. For now, just borrow it.
Uncanny X-Men #502
Writers: Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Greg Land
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Greg Land
As someone that pretty much read nothing but X-Men in the mid 90s, it's amazing to me just how utterly indifferent to them I am now. Maybe Wolverine hogged the spotlight one too many times. Perhaps I grew tired of figuring out why everyone was without their powers that week. Then again, maybe I was sick of waiting for Gambit to steal one of those mutant-inhibitor collars, and gave Rogue the business like we all know she wanted him to.
Either way, Marvel's mutants aren't what they used to be. They're shacked up in San Francisco, and have already gotten into a donnybrook with the Hellfire Cult because they severely injured Pixie. And, oh yeah, Dazzler's here, too.
The entirety of this issue is the X-Men preparing for a fight. That's it. There's nothing to spoil because nothing really happens. I'm utterly dumbfounded that it took two men to write this. One decent writer, and one great one, mind you. This absolutely screams of "writing for the trade," as it's literally a 32-page intro to a fight. You're still being introduced to characters 28 pages in. This is, without a doubt, the tradiest issue of a comic I've read in a long time. Yes, I just invented a word. No, you can't use it.
This wouldn't be so bad if it actually accomplished something, but at no point do you really get a sense of why these guys need so desperate an ass kicking, and why the X-Men are going to bring them hell when the moment comes.
If there's anything positive to be said here, it's that Greg Land's art is stunning. It's sheer beauty throughout, making this one of the best-looking books on the rack today. While his faces can tend to look same-ish, the detail he puts into every muscle and the impact he brings to every frame is damn impressive. His cityscapes are nicely done as well. San Francisco actually looks like San Francisco, with sloping streets and cramped housing throughout. It's his work that saves this book.
That's not to say it's horrible; it's just rather uneventful. It's really damn pretty and it has Nightcrawler in it, so for those reasons alone you should flip through it. But skip those useless Dazzler pages.