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Is It Wednesday Yet?

03 February 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.

Faces of Evil: Deathstroke
Writer: David Hine
Penciler: Georges Jeanty
Inker: Mark McKenna
Colorist: JD Smith
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Cover: Ladronn

Review: Guest
Quick note to anyone looking for a good review: cut someone's head off within the first three pages. I'm not above such cheap attempts to get my attention, I assure you.

With such a misleading title, it may come as a shock to you that this one-shot is about Deathstroke. Despite being a walking orgy of death, Slade is one of the most complex characters in the DC Universe. As such, he's one of the few villains they have that can truly garner sympathy despite his nature.

After being stabbed in the heart, Slade isn't doing much of anything when we first see him. He's laid up and having nightmares about his rather twisted family tree, most notably his daughter, Rose. When she's told that daddy is on the verge of death and is holding back his healing factor so that he can finally meet his sweet oblivion, she finds it hard to believe. What results is a family reunion consisting of spin kicks and suplexes which I suppose doesn't sound too out of the ordinary for any of you out there with in-laws.

What progresses out of all this is a pretty effective, if not entirely mind-blowing sidebar of a story. While you're most assuredly given a bit more of an outlook on what makes cranky old Mr. Wilson tick, there's also nothing here that would exactly break your heart if you happened to miss it.

The art starts off well, but seems to go downhill a few pages in. Once Jeanty has finished grossing us out with gore and splatter, he seems almost bored drawing people with their limbs still attached. Things pick up a bit more when the action comes back, but the roller coaster of consistency is bothersome.

The issue does exactly what a one-shot is supposed to do: it prepares the next book Deathstroke appears in for a change in the status quo. On that level, it succeeds, and the ending in particular opens up a lot of possibilities for the future. But the issue seems to be missing that "must-read" quality. Perhaps that's not really what this issue intended to do, but it needs to be stated that I can't really give this a buy based on what you get here. I'd say it's a solid flip through, which should be more than enough for you to digest all of the developments here.

Fathom #5
Writer: JT Krul
Penciler: Ale Garza
Inker: Sal Regla
Colorists: John Starr
Letterer: Josh Reed
Cover: Ale Garza

Review: drqshadow
As someone unfamiliar with Fathom, I felt like a fish out of water before I'd finished the first sentence of the recap page and not just because it was written in a font the size of a single atom. If you're unfamiliar with the character and her mythos, if you don't understand the difference between the Blue, the Black and the Humans, it's best to step away right now because this is some complicated business and it hasn't the time or the inclination to slow down for you.

Although the lore will fly over your head, JT Krul keeps his writing concise and approachable. He doesn't overload the page with monologues and diatribes, although I'm sure the temptation was great since the bulk of its cast consists of a network of military leaders with complicated master plans. As a result of the light narration, the plot moves along at a brisk pace, sometimes too much so. When we left Fathom last month, one of her arms had been turned into a giant, bulky mass of stone. At the outset of this issue the arm is still a problem, but when she casually repairs it without a hint of panic or even a fleeting touch of concern, it left me wondering if it was even worth mentioning in the first place. Was that last month's cliffhanger, remedied without a second thought after just a page and a half? If so, what does that say about the "all new precedent" this issue promises to deliver in its dramatic conclusion?

The book's penciler, Ale Garza, works a clean, exaggerated style that's reminiscent of Joe Madureira, just without as much discipline. On some panels he manages a perfect balance of line weight, mixing thick blobs of shadow with sharp, jagged edges. In others, his focus wanes and the page deteriorates into a shoddy, overly stylized mess. At his best, he's able to transform a relatively mundane scenario into an elaborate visual experience, adding atmosphere, personality and suspense that probably wasn't there in the script. At his worst he achieves the polar opposite, draining every bit of energy from a particularly startling situation and punching out supporting characters so faceless and boring they wouldn't pass as extras in another book. Garza is a far cry from the tight, detailed technique employed by late series creator Michael Turner, and while the stylistic change alone is no cause for concern, I really expected this to look much better than it actually does.

Despite its big talk, complicated plot threads and moving pieces, the story at the core of Fathom #5 isn't all that monumental. The title character herself only appears in a small handful of uninspired panels, and while there's no shortage of action in the closing moments, it's so quick and matter-of-fact that it doesn't have a whole lot of impact. This is a story that's heavy on backdrop and light on elaboration, matched by artwork that's only noteworthy a small percentage of the time. It isn't an outright failure, but I'd still recommend you skip it.

Mighty Avengers #21
Writer: Dan Slott
Penciler: Khoi Pham
Inker: Crime Lab Studios' Allen Martinez and Danny Miki
Colorists: Jason Keith and Guru eFX
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover: Khoi Pham

Review: drqshadow
Huzzah, the Secret Invasion is finally at an end! But alas, the giant crossover left both rosters of Avengers shaken and dissipated, particularly Tony Stark's band of merry men, the Mighty Avengers. In the aftermath of Stark's removal from power, the team has been virtually left for dead. But when natural disasters suddenly strike dozens of cities around the globe, a new group of heroes find themselves working together to defeat the common enemy.

New writer Dan Slott has the unenviable task of following Brian Michael Bendis on this series, and though I can't fault him for trying to set a different tone, I'm really not a fan of the new direction. Under Bendis' watch, this was inarguably a superhero title first and foremost, but that was tempered with an unrelenting serving of action and a boundless mind for adventure. I may not have liked everything he did, in particular those early experiments with bringing thought balloons back, but I could at least count on him to deliver a worthwhile story that made sense in the grand scheme of things. At its best, Mighty Avengers was both a love letter to the glory days of Marvel storytelling in the 60s and 70s and an homage to the heyday of the smart action flick.

Slott's interpretation is similarly injected with an inspiration from the past, albeit a much less positive one. Between the unnecessary new threads flashed by familiar characters, the revisionist flashbacks that don't really make any sense and the mindless plans flaunted by its villains, reading Mighty Avengers #21 is akin to flipping through a mainstream back issue from the 1990s the dark ages of good storytelling. It's filled with changes nobody asked for, a mismatched roster that I can't imagine functioning as a single unit and an evil mastermind so dull I was ready for a nap after his first appearance. For all its huff and puff, this storyline spent the better part of the issue going nowhere, and when it finally got up and did something, the results were so spectacularly bad that I wished it would go back to doing nothing.

I've enjoyed Khoi Pham's artwork elsewhere, but found nothing to get excited about this month. Pham has always shown a tendency to lose focus and rush his work from time to time, but that's never been as obvious as it is here. Though he's given dozens of characters to try his luck with this month, some of which he's worked with in the past, he fails to connect with any of them. His contributions are universally tame, under-detailed and disproportionate. Having seen and appreciated his artwork in the past, seeing Khoi's work fall so flat on a stage of this size is disappointing.

I've been a Mighty Avengers subscriber since the word go, and though the series has survived some lean times in the past, this issue has left me seriously considering dropping it altogether. I'm always willing to give a new creative team the chance to prove themselves, and for the most part Marvel has been very good with such changes over the last few years, but this is just plain bad. Skip it whether you're a longtime follower or an unfamiliar reader looking for a new fix.

Street Fighter Legends: Chun-Li #1
Writers: Erik Ko and Ken Siu-Chong
Artist: Omar Dogan
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Cover: Omar Dogan

Review: Guest
Being a Street Fighter fan can be pretty rough, especially if you're looking for any sort of supplemental media based on what is quite soundly the best fighting game series in the world. Sure, there have been movies, comics, manga and a TV series, but none of these are very good. Even the animated movie, which is considered by most to be the best adaptation of the Street Fighter mythos, can be pointed out for some questionable decisions in its portrayal of the characters. Perhaps no character has been more mistreated than Chun-Li. While in the games, she is one of the fastest and most effective characters, elsewhere the First Lady of Fighting Games has been typecast as everything from a news reporter, to a tour guide and even a lovesick teen after the affections of Ryu. When Canadian-based UDON acquired the license, they brought with them a glimmer of hope, that finally these characters would be treated properly by a group of people that actually cares.

Honestly, they couldn't have done a better job.

Now, I've read this series since its inception, and I've been genuinely surprised just how true the characters are to their video game counterparts. And perhaps even more surprising is the amount of time that's taken to make these iconic characters into actual people. Granted, there is a certain over-the-top anime quality to the stories, as there is in the art, but Chun-Li is, for the first time, an actual police officer, just as she's always been intended. It's also worth noting that a genuine patience is being given to the narrative. You're not getting 37 characters shoved into every orifice of the book, instead, you get merely four familiar faces: Chun-Li, Dan, Bison and Sagat, and they all have a significant impact on the events to come. Sagat in particular is made to look so lethal that you can't help but want to cheer for him, despite the evil that he is about to commit.

UDON is home to some of the best artists in the world, comics or otherwise, and Omar Dogan is no exception. His work here is a thing of absolute beauty. Often more resembling animation cells than comic panels, there is a certain bright, kinetic quality to the images that cause them to leap from the page. His Chun-Li is strong and gorgeous without having to resort to underwear shots every two pages. (There is a changing room scene, but after deliberating over that page for about five minutes or so, I've decided to allow it.) It's seriously worth picking this book up to see the sort of things UDON is doing that no other comic publisher in the West is even attempting at this point. There is a strong Eastern influence at work, breaking it away from the square-jawed, gritty superhero comics surrounding it.

In probably the least surprising grade I've ever given, this is an absolute buy from me. It's fun, pretty and even those that don't know the source material should have no trouble following it.

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