Is It Wednesday Yet?
06 January 2009 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!
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.
The Flash #247
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 24 December 2008
Writer: Alan Burnett
Pencils: Carlo Barberi, Jim Calafiore and Andre Coelho
Inks: Jacob Eguren, Drew Geraci and Andre Coelho
Colorist: Tanya and Richard Horie
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover: Brian Stelfreeze
Well, this is it. After 246 issues as bearer of the Flash's crimson and gold uniform, Wally West is officially calling it quits. With Barry Allen set to return to the role in a new ongoing series, the only real question this month is whether Wally will live to see the day his mentor resumes his work. Facing a rejuvenated Queen Bee wouldn't normally be cause for much concern, but with his powers on the fritz and his family in trouble, the modern Flash isn't exactly running at full speed.
Writer Alan Burnett has drug Wally to the end of his rope. Confused and frustrated by the slow degradation of his powers, furious over the abduction of his children, shaken by his wife's sudden turn for the worse and incensed over what little his friends can do to help, West isn't immediately recognizable. His temper may be excusable, considering the severity of the situation, but as a parting shot it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As a former Teen Titan and longtime member of the Justice League, Wally must have faced similarly trying times in the past. Watching his emotional breakdown, lashing out at his friends in a crisis, whining and complaining rather than immediately confronting the problem is one of the most awkward farewells I can imagine.
Even stranger is the inconsequential way the whole ball of wax is resolved. West and company spend more time bemoaning their predicament than they do actually resolving it, so when it's all said and done I was left wondering if things were ever really as bad as they seemed. Burnett did a great job of building hurdle after hurdle for Wally to deal with, but the payoff is so brief and matter-of-fact that it nearly spoils the entire ride.
Carlo Barberi, Jim Calafiore and Andre Coelho split the artwork duties, resulting in a book that looks like an afterthought, fired off to satiate longtime readers and nothing more. I won't pretend to know which artist was responsible for which portion of the issue, but the constantly shifting style and quality of the artwork is blatant and distracting. One moment Wally and company seem vibrant and three-dimensional, the next they're flat and stoic. The lack of visual continuity is distracting and disturbing; it often removed me from the moment and explained that the conclusion of this series was nowhere near as much of a priority as the launch of its successor.
As the culmination of Wally's career, this issue left a lot to be desired. For all his efforts to the contrary, Alan Burnett never convinced me that this adventure was any different from the hundreds that have come before, which in turn makes Wally's decision to call it a career at its conclusion difficult to comprehend. It's less like he's chosen this for himself and more like he's been elbowed out of the way to make room for the next big event. Even longtime readers won't find much to celebrate here. Skip it. It isn't an ending so much as it is a discontinuation.
Grimm Fairy Tales Annual 2008
Released: 24 December 2008
Writers: Raven Gregory, Mike Kalvoda and Ralph Tedesco
Artists: Claudio Sepulveda, Axel Machain, Martin Montiel and Siya
Colorists: Garry Henderson, Jason Embury and Blond
Covers: Ale Garza, Al Rio and Mark Sparacio
As someone that has a Zenescope calendar hanging on his wall, I feel it appropriate to once again point out that this is going to be one of those times when my bias is unavoidable. Zenescope was one of my favorite publishers last year, and their Return to Wonderland series was one of the most stylish, gorgeous and entertaining storylines I've read in quite a while.
For those that don't know the deal, the Grimm Fairy Tales line is basically what would happen if all of our childhood stories were being told by Tim Burton's amateur porn director cousin. This is just as fantastically weird as it sounds, and I love it. It's as if they literally took every bit of cheesecake that disappeared from comics in the new millennium and decided to bring it all back in one book. But it's not just a parade of nearly naked women, as there's a bit of whimsy and horror here. There are four different stories with just as many artists, and each one is true to the publisher's style while still bringing something unique to the table.
Claudio Sepulveda could just as easily be drawing an issue of Hellblazer, with his attention to horrific details. Axel Machain balances a muted port town with an explosively colorful garden. Martin Montiel's work on "Humpty Dumpty," of all things, is perhaps the highlight of the book, and it's at this point that you finally understand that beneath all of the visual splendor, there is an actual weight and feeling to these stories. Humpty isn't suddenly a gun-toting wise guy with a cigar in his mouth, nor is he an egg; he's a dying murderer. The turn the story takes near the end is the first legit shock of the year. It's both terrifying and beautiful. The last story, "Hush Little Baby," almost evokes a sense of crime noir with Siya's artwork, but then quickly becomes something all the more disturbing, proving once again the golden rule that children are creepy.
Not only should you buy this, but you should use this as a starting point for other Zenescope projects. They're doing utterly fantastic work, and it's time that people start to take notice.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #36
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 24 December 2008
Writer: John Jackson Miller
Artist: Bong Dazo
Colorist: Michael Atiyeh
Letterer: Michael Heisler
Cover: Dan Scott
I hate Star Wars. A lot. I don't care about the universe, the characters, none of it. I wouldn't bat an eye if all of the movies, books, cartoons, comics and everything else related to the property just ceased to exist. Now, I'm not saying this to start a fight with my editor, or get on anyone out there that dreams of being a Jedi Master. I just need to make it very clear that I am not the audience for this book. You have a better chance getting Desmond Reddick into the Garth Ennis Fan Club that you do getting me to like this.
From what I can gather, this all takes place long before the movies, hence the "Old Republic" in the title. This story follows con man Marn "Gryph" Hierogryph (that's his actual name) and his band of marry misfits on their quest for fun and fortune. My keyboard doesn't have enough vowels to type all of the other characters and planets involved here and, ultimately, they don't matter anyway. There's actually a guide in the back to help pronounce the names of the characters. That should tell you something right there.
I'll try to walk you through what happens, but if anything manages to make sense at some point, I assure you that it's incidental. Gryph is a hobbit with a pig head, and is undercover in order to get into an auction house that takes bids on planets and other treasures. At some point his friends show up and pretend to be space pirates, but don't actually do anything. There's also a giant anteater who's upset about something and our heroes run away. Actually, it's more of a jog away, and it doesn't look like they're being chased, likely because it's not exactly clear what they did. An alien Foot Clan shows up, as do a bunch of not-Stormtroopers. We're then stopped by some young heartthrob with a lightsaber.
Though it looks like Bong Dazo had a lot of fun drawing the book, it's too crowded. We're at the point that if a Star Wars comic ever comes out with less than 65 different characters per panel, I'll eat my hat.
To understand this you absolutely need to be the sort of person that picks up every piece of Star Wars fiction. If that's you, you're going to buy this anyway. Any hey, more power to you. But for the rest of us, don't bother. Just skip it.
Released: 24 December 2008
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: David Finch
Inks: Danny Miki
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letters: Richard Starkings
Cover: David Finch
Everything was swell in Marvel's Ultimate Universe. Reed Richards had just proposed to Sue Storm, Spider-Man was planning a lazy day with friends and the X-Men were headed to Broadway for a little R&R. And then the bottom dropped out. A massive thunderstorm sent a tidal wave crashing into the heart of New York. Everyone in Latveria, save Dr. Doom himself, was suddenly frozen in time. And at the center of it all, Magneto sat in his floating citadel, Thor's hammer by his side.
If you enjoyed Jeph Loeb's work with The Ultimates 3, this will probably be right down your alley. It's bursting at the seams with the same action-focused / summer blockbuster / pseudo-storytelling / disregard for continuity that made me drop that series after the second issue. Ultimatum's inhabitants may look familiar, but they act like brand new people. As a supporting character in Ultimate Spider-Man, Carol Danvers has evolved into a smart, confident, well-rounded individual. Within moments of her first appearance here, though, that's all thrown out the window as she strolls into the scene wearing an outfit that's straight from the 90s (complete with padded push-up bra and top-to-bottom zipper) and lugging a pair of guns so large, they'd make Cable quiver. Although she's become the leader of SHIELD in Nick Fury's absence, evidently the promotion involved a partial lobotomy, because she sounds every bit as stupid as she looks. I won't even get into what Loeb is doing with Reed Richards.
I wish I could say the story's consequences made up for these shortcomings, but if anything they compound them. As the latest imprint-wide event in the Ultimate line's short history, Marvel intends this one to mean something, and they're putting their money where their mouth is by discontinuing both Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four immediately following its conclusion. This issue takes full advantage, throwing a handful of familiar faces into serious danger, but the circumstances are so complicated and bizarre that it's hard to take any of them seriously. The sheer number of characters in trouble is hard to keep track of, and the fact that they all supposedly spiral from the same source is asking too much of even the most impassioned reader. This story is a mess, it's difficult to follow, it's poorly written and no matter how many heroes may be on death's doorstep, nothing seems to carry any weight.
I've generally been a fan of David Finch's artwork, especially of late. While his contributions here are typically very strong, particularly when he's given a splash page to work his magic on, many pages are overloaded with so much content that he doesn't leave room to breathe. Finch's heavily detailed style is gorgeous when it fills the page, especially when he deals with the wreckage of New York City this month, but when he's crammed into too many small panels, that patented level of detail becomes a handicap. The artwork isn't the problem with this issue, although even at his finest moments Finch does seem to have rushed for the finish line. He's still producing quality work, but I find myself wondering if he peaked with New Avengers.
Ultimatum is like a bad dream; it floats from one hardship to the next with only the barest of narratives, focuses on shock value without a firm supporting plot and ultimately leaves me wishing my alarm clock would go off. This is miserable work, and it's a shame that it's being featured on this large of a stage. While it doesn't skimp on its promises to shake things up, the style in which it does so is almost laughable. Skip it.
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 24 December 2008
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Rick Leonardi
Inks: John Stanisci
Colorist: David Baron
Letters: Steve Wands
Cover: Walt Simonson
DC's new Vigilante series is, in actuality, a relaunch of a remake. The original character, a Wild West hero, fought crime in Action Comics beginning in 1941. In the early 1980s a second Vigilante appeared on the scene. Inspired by the Punisher, the new character launched an assault on crime after the murder of his family. Take a wild guess which one we're revisiting today.
Marv Wolfman, the writer who originally defined the re-imagined character alongside George Perez, is back at the steering wheel for this new series. And though his inspiration may once again be the Punisher, Wolfman adds in enough fresh ideas to make the issue (and the character) his own. His decision to blend the shady, criminal elements of a noir series with the bright, shiny superhero community has resulted in a series that's both vaguely familiar and appealingly original. And from the hints he's dropped in this issue, the first storyline could be one for the books.
Frankly, I was worried that Wolfman's long years in the business would show here, particularly when he focuses on the grunts working the streets. If a writer has lost touch, the first place it's going to show is in the dialog and actions of a supposedly street-smart group of thugs. Fortunately, Marv passes that test; his work still feels sharp and authentic, and none of the characters talk or act like they belong in a period piece. Time hasn't passed him by just yet, and his writing is as relevant as ever.
Wolfman's partner this time around, Rick Leonardi, provides artwork that's quite reminiscent of Frank Miller's efforts with Batman. It's not the most proficiently illustrated work, with a style that's extremely loose, but he owns a very firm grasp of the fundamentals and his compositions are often enough to compensate for his shortcomings. In fact, as with Miller, Leonardi's work grew on me as the issue carried on; his grungy take on a dark subway tunnel enveloped me, and his under-detailed rendition of the title character enhanced the mysterious air surrounding him. It's strange, because while the style of his artwork is very much in the same vein as Miller's Dark Knight Returns, the story is more in line with the famed creator's preceding work on Daredevil. If Frank had jumped back to Daredevil after his stint with DC, I have to imagine this is how it would've looked.
As first issues go, this one was very strong. Though the lead character has a deep backstory, an encyclopedic knowledge isn't necessary to jump right in and enjoy this series. Vigilante is smart, but not stiflingly so. It's not as heavy as some of its crime-focused contemporaries, but not as fluffy as a lot of the mainstream superhero fare it's sharing the shelf with. Borrow it and see for yourself. It's not an instant classic, but it could easily grow into one.