Is It Wednesday Yet?
23 September 2008
23 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 (24 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.
Captain America #42
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Pencilers: Steve Epting and Luke Ross
Inkers: Rick Magyar, Steve Epting and Fabio Laguna
Colorist: Frank D'Armata
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Steve Epting
Sharon Carter, the unwilling assassin of Steve Rogers, is being put through the ringer by the Red Skull, who is being flanked by an impostor Captain America and Sin, who is supposedly against him, but not really. Meanwhile, Bucky is tailing a corrupt politician while Falcon and Black Widow try to save Sharon, who has already lost her baby in the battle. Oh, and Arnim freaking Zola is here, and he's up to no good.
When writers pull out the Zola card, you know they're not fucking around.
It seems everywhere I turn, people are singing the praises of Captain America — declaring it one of the best books out there right now. While the writing is solid and the action is frantic, this may not be the best jumping on point for new readers. From page one, the foot is already on the pedal and there's no time to stop and buckle up; no time to catch your breath, as Bucky quite literally bursts into a room and immediately starts with the ass kicking.
Reading this issue is very much like watching the last five minutes of a really good wrestling match. Yeah, you get to see an exciting finish, but you're more than likely going to need to see everything you missed before it has much of an effect on you. From this perspective, this is a hard book to rate; it isn't exactly to blame for my inability to follow what has come before, but you may be just as well off to wait for the next storyline. For what it's worth, this conclusion is very cool, with some twists and turns that you're likely not going to see coming, and a final splash page that incites both morbid laughter and giddy anticipation.
Steve Epting has a rather distinctive style, and while his work is very good here, his overemphasis on shadows can be grating at times. One has to wonder exactly how poorly lit a Helicarrier would be in broad daylight, but here it's made to look like an alleyway at midnight. Making up for this is his sharp portrayal of the human form, and his females in general are a sight to behold. His Black Widow is the most attractive she's ever looked. Granted, "hot redhead in tight black leather" is a difficult formula to screw up, but I can't begrudge the man for doing it well.
With Brubaker's name on the cover, it's a guaranteed buy, but with a disclaimer: if you haven't been following this arc, do yourself a favor and read the back issues first.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Clay Mann
Inker: Stefano Gaudiano
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC's Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Daredevil is always a breath of fresh air, since it's a book that tends to keep itself grounded in a gritty realism and away from the major events that are overloading other titles.
With his estranged wife still in the loony bin, Matt has been making friendly with Dakota North, former model turned private eye. All the while, a new threat is in the midst, as the mysterious Lady Bullseye has made Daredevil a target.
It's always raining in Matt Murdock's world, and even though this book starts on a rather low-key note, things, as they tend to do, go downhill fast. As with some of the best Daredevil stories of the past, at no point does Matt ever don the red here. It's what Matt Murdock does that makes things so interesting. Dare I say, if you were to eliminate any mention of superhero antics completely, this would still be an engaging read. The characters are written so well (Dakota in particular) that you actually care what they're doing and where they're going, because they feel so damn real. Brubaker's ear for dialog here is some of the best, most natural work I've seen in a while — and it's something to surely be commended.
I can't claim to be awfully familiar with Clay Mann's work, but he's a great fit for this title. While he doesn't do anything particularly innovative, he's more than worthy of carrying the torch his predecessors left behind. His work is grimy and muted when it needs to be, perfect for a street-level book such as this one, but he never loses site of the little details. His visual approach is such that you'd pretty much know the entire story without a word from Bru thrown in, and that is the work of a great artist.
Unlike Captain America, where things are just winding down, this arc has barely gotten started. As such, this is a perfect time to jump in; this is one of the best books in Marvel's' catalog.
I don't think I've ever given an issue of Daredevil anything less than a buy, and I'm not about to change things now.
Writer: Daniel Way
Penciler: Paco Medina
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Clayton Crain
It hasn't even been one month since the launch of Deadpool's new series, and already the Crimson Merc has stirred things up significantly. Attending a summer baseball game at the very moment the Skrulls unleashed their invasion, Wade Wilson single-handedly took down an entire unit of green skins. But when it came time to deliver the deathblow, he hesitated — and then defected. Now he's aboard their ship, yakking it up with the folks in charge, while the planet burns below.
An introduction to a very wary Skrull empire provides Deadpool with all the excuse he needs to share the story of his origin, which is thankfully kept quite simple. When you can whittle the very core of a character down to four easy-to-digest pages, that either means his story has been streamlined to perfection or he's a very shallow individual. Writer Daniel Way leaves little doubt in his readers' minds: it's the former. While retelling Deadpool's origin so early in the series may seem a bit excessive, Way ties it into his relationship with the Skrulls admirably. Although his new bosses are suspicious at first, by the time he's finished relaying his tales of woe and explaining how his unique set of abilities can aid the empire, Wilson has the entire Skrull empire drinking his Kool-Aid. Wade is such a personable, fast-talking SOB that it's easy to root for him, even when he's working against humanity's best interests.
I think what's most impressive about this issue is the delicate balance it maintains between comedy and action, two genres that don't always mix well. Many of Wilson's puns are either ignored or written off as a cultural misunderstanding by the Skrulls tasked with analyzing his threat level, which means the aliens play a great straight man. They also keep the narrative moving forward when Deadpool would have otherwise spent most of the issue goofing around and amusing himself. It's a shame this invasion has to end at some point, because Deadpool and the Skrulls make for a better combination than Wilson ever enjoyed with Cable. Never underestimate the value of a creature that can't tell when it's being made fun of.
Paco Medina is given plenty of toys to play with this month, and he capitalizes on almost every occasion. His work, a nice blend of Ed McGuinness' substance, Mark Bagley's action and Travis Charest's gorgeous posturing, brings a lot of personality to the page and never relents. Medina always brings a light visual humor of his own to the proceedings, whether it's in the body language of a frustrated Skrull or something subtle that's going on in the background. Many of Daniel Way's jokes would have fallen flat in the hands of a less-skilled artist, but Medina not only enables them to connect, he enhances them in his own way. He delivers great action scenes, spices up the conversational scenes and keeps the whole package easy to read and exciting to navigate. Thumbs up.
It's rare that a character who's supposed to be funny actually accomplishes that feat, but the current iteration of Deadpool hits the mark with stunning accuracy. This issue is an absolute joyride, and while that kind of story never really seems to accomplish much of anything, this is the exception to the rule. It's a rare mix of raw entertainment, genuine substance and timely relevance — not to mention something you really ought to see for yourself. Buy it. It's a blast.
New Avengers #45
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Jim Cheung
Inkers: John Dell and Jay Leisten
Colorist: Justin Ponser
Letterers: RS and Comicraft's Albert Deschesne
Cover: Aleksi Briclot
I'm going to let you in on a secret: Marvel has a little game called "How do we piss off DW in the span of 32 pages?" The rules are simple: you take the things that I absolutely abhor (horrible artwork, a nonsensical story, chest-babies) and you stick them all in one comic. Whoever can make the ugliest, most mind-numbingly boring book that week wins a $30 gift card to be used at the Red Lobster of their choice. Howard Chaykin is the defending champion, and the writer of Cable is currently in second, but the men behind this book tried their best to take the top spot this week.
Now let me make one thing clear: Jim Cheung's artwork is great, as always. His characters are emotive and his set pieces are epic in scale. I have absolutely no problem with this man, and I want to make it abundantly clear that none of the vitriol that follows is in any way directed towards him. My fury is directed towards one Brian Michael Bendis. For a long time, BMB has steered clear of playing this anti-DW game, but it is with New Avengers #45 that he decided he needed to put his name in the running for some All You Can Eat Shrimp.
This book killed its momentum when Bendis decided to use it to tell largely useless tales such as, but not limited to, what the Skrull Jessica Drew and Hank Pym were doing during House of M. For those scoring at home (or just wondering what to get me for my birthday in two weeks), let it be known that DW hates House of M, and he hates Spider-Woman even more. If a more useless, unlikable character exists in all of the Marvel Universe that isn't named HERBIE, then I'll buy you a yacht full of strippers. "But wait," you're no doubt thinking, "at least we find out what happened to them before being replaced by their Skull impostors!" Well no, that would actually be interesting. Instead, we get to revisit House of M for what feels like the 49th time this month, quickly turning said storyline into that footage of the high school football game your neighbor keeps showing you. Yeah, kicking a 40-yard field goal was kind of impressive the first time, but after seeing it over and over, you would rather gnaw your leg off than have to watch it again.
Nothing happens in this book. No giant mysteries are solved. Jim Cheung's artwork can be seen elsewhere. Skip this and don't lose a moment of sleep over it.
Wolverine: Origins #28
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Mike Deodato
Colorist: Rain Beredo
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Mike Deodato and Richard Isanove
Life's little more than one great big circle, really. Take Wolverine for instance: the man's spent most of his adult life uncertain of who he is, where he's been and what he's done. Logan didn't even know he had an adult son until recently. And while the kid doesn't accept his old man's excuse that years and years of brainwashing and torture have robbed him of his memory, that might be about to change. The two have come to blows repeatedly since finding each other, but now that Daken has forgotten his own name, it seems father and son may have finally found something in common.
While this storyline with Daken has drug on for what seems like ages, Daniel Way's writing has constantly found a way to keep the character fresh and unpredictable. Every time I start to think he's overstayed his welcome, Daken's story replenishes itself; this time it's a sudden bout of amnesia. Was the gimmick necessary? Not entirely, but it does add an interesting new dynamic between the two, and that's good enough for the time being. This long arc does need to start thinking about wrapping itself up, but for now it still has a bit of gas left in the tank. Whether Way is content to keep driving until it creeps to a halt on the side of the road remains to be seen.
Mike Deodato's art is quite moody, shadowy and atmospheric, but he works with such detail that the ongoing narrative is frequently in danger of being lost. His characters carry enormous weight, almost to the point of distraction. Logan looks and feels like a short, stocky warrior, and when he recalls his final battle with Sabretooth in a flashback, Creed may as well be the boogie man. He's treated so ferociously, towering several feet over Wolverine, that it pushes the boundaries of good taste. Does it make for a striking visual? Absolutely, but it's also so close to the line between believability and imagination that it threatens to pull readers out of the moment. Deodato's style immediately gives this arc an entirely different tone and flavor than the series had enjoyed under Steve Dillon's watch, which suits the sudden change in the dynamic between Wolverine and Daken. The issue is fogged over by a much darker, more complicated atmosphere, and that's as much a result of the change in artists as it is the revelations in the storyline.
The actual storyline takes a back seat to Logan's memories for the better part of this issue, and it's those flashbacks that provide the real entertainment value. At the expense of moving forward with a storyline that's already gone on a bit too long, this month's Origins allows Wolverine an opportunity to lose himself in the past. The alternate perspective this issue offers to some of the character's older battles are valuable and entertaining, but they're anchored by the nagging knowledge that eventually we'll need to shift our attention back to Daken. As a standalone reflection on past adventures, this would've stood fine on its own. As a random step away from the primary story, it's not quite as successful. Borrow it anyway.
Writers: Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost
Artist: Mike Choi
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Sonia Oback
Cover: Mike Choi
When there's a mutant menace that needs containment, one usually needs look no further than the X-Men. But when that deed is too foul, too risky or too controversial for the regular team(s) to handle, Cyclops calls upon X-Force. A lean, mean squad of select mutants that aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, X-Force is one of Cyclops' most closely guarded secrets.
Following the imprecise success of their first mission, X-Force is back at home this month, resting from the physical tolls suffered in the field. It's a dramatic change of pace from the breakneck action of the first arc, and despite what the narration would have you believe, the team doesn't seem to be at ease within the supposedly friendly environment. It's like watching caged predators stalk back and forth inside their pen, restlessly waiting for their first opportunity to break free.
This isn't a series that should be focused on domestic issues. We get enough of that in Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor. If the publisher wants to sell me on a series that promises to explore dark, uncharted corners, they need to pull back on the heavy-handed BS that's prevalent in X-Force #7. I don't want to see Warpath commune with his dead brother in a heartbreaking moment of grief, I want conspiracies and action. Something that tells me why this isn't just another rendition of the same old story. I'm not getting that this month.
In providing a break from the lush painted artwork that Clayton Crain had brought to the first arc, Mike Choi doesn't benefit from the comparison. With the aid of colorist Sonia Oback, Choi tries to mimic Crain's style as much as possible, but it just isn't working and in the end he'd have been better off trying something new. His renditions of familiar characters look and act more like wax models than living, breathing individuals. Even the typically rough-edged Wolverine wears a smooth, unblemished face during his strolls around the mansion. Maybe this is just how Logan looks when he's got time to shave? Either way, there's something unsettling about the combination of blank, faceless expressions and oddly reflective skin tones worn by this issue's combatants. Under Choi's watch, the series has lost the jagged, violent visual undertones that set it apart from the other X-books. It feels artificial, forced and far too conventional for what the series is trying to do.
This is a change of pace issue, and from all indications it's back into the fire next month. I'm aware of that, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Writers Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost are much better suited to the dark action of this book's first six issues than the moments of internal strife depicted here. The slow pace and dull subject matter drag this issue into the depths, and the weak artwork makes sure it stays there. Skip it.