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Is It Wednesday Yet?

10 March 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.

Gigantic #3
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 25 February 2009
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Eric Nguyen
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Cover: Eric Nguyen

Review: Preston Nelson
What if the Earth was pretty much The Truman Show for the entire galaxy? Of course, instead of the delightful Jim Carrey, they get us. And Ed Harris will be played by some kind of creature with folds all over his face and red eyes. Not a terribly original concept, but a solid one. Of course, like with all good concepts, this one was taken out back, shot in the knees and then beaten senseless with a garden hoe. You see, not only is our planet the staging ground for a TV show, but they abducted a little boy and gave him the power to become gigantic. That's pretty much it. He's got some alien bio-armor, and he's fused with some sort of alien.

Gigantic returns to Earth after years of exile, and accidentally kills a bunch of people. But he's most upset about his niece, who he's also killed. His brother, now an old man who never opens his eyes, is reasonably upset about this and does a totally reasonable and not insane thing to his brother: sinks a chainsaw into his shoulder. I don't know where said chainsaw came from, but whatever. Of course, the aliens decide to cancel Earth, some other giant alien shows up and we get a fight at the center of the Earth.

If this makes no sense to you, you're not alone. Remender's story is insane, and not in a good way. It's clunky, disjointed and has some of the most stilted, stupid dialog I've read in quite some time. The hero bounces between having a Messiah Complex and being emo, and his brother goes from slack-jawed yokel to philosopher. And the giant alien talks like Lex Luthor with severe frontal lobe damage. In short, the writing is terrible.

But compared to the art, the writing is Oscar Wilde. Eric Nguyen has no sense of proportion or emotion. I can forgive that stuff on the shots of Gigantic, because he's an alien cyborg, but the shots of the brother are awful. The man is a chimpanzee, by which I mean he has either the shortest legs or the longest arms in the world. Iconoclast, the alien, is a poorly re-colored Doomsday with some tubes sticking out of him. Backgrounds are bland and the character design is stupid in general.

I think our big green baddie said it best to Gigantic: "You're just pale mainstream shit. A dry and inoffensive product to be sold." Preach on, Iconoclast. Skip it.

Savage Dragon #145
Publisher: Image
Released: 25 February 2009
Writer: Erik Larsen
Artist: Erik Larsen
Colorist: Nikos Koutsis
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Cover: Erik Larsen

Review: drqshadow
In these rough economic times, it isn't easy for anybody to keep up with the rent — even walking, talking action figures with fins on their head. Dragon is feeling the crunch, both personally and professionally, and after accidentally punching Solar Man to death (whose powers were unexpectedly shut off, rendering him unusually vulnerable), Dragon's public image is at an all-time low.

As made blatantly obvious by the cover, this is the requisite "Hooray, America didn't vote for the Republican! I'm so motivated by these developments that I will include our new leader in my comic book" issue. I'm not sure if this is Larsen stealing Marvel's idea, Spider-Man thieving Savage Dragon's concept or just an innocent coincidence. Either way, we're looking at more than one Obama tie-in at the same time. The man gets around, and from the looks of things he keeps athletic, garishly colored company.

I didn't read Marvel's "Obama meets Spider-Man," so I can't really compare the two, but I can say Obama's appearance in this issue reads very much like the gimmick the cover makes it out to be. With Dragon stationed in Chicago, having actually endorsed Obama during the election, I'd hoped for more than two pages of ass-kissing dialog, a thin excuse to get the two into the same room and a telegraphed supervillain attack. I'll never fault Erik Larsen for a lack of creativity; he's constantly finding ways to throw his cast into the fire, sparing no one, but his process of actually getting from start to finish really needs some work. When Dragon is so unimpressed by a mega-powered brawl that he carries on a wordy conversation with his old police chief without even slowing down, how can the readers feel any differently?

Like his writing, Larsen's artwork has grown lax over the years. It's unusual enough for a writer to stick with a series for nearly 150 issues, but to do so while also doubling as the book's artist is almost unheard of. It's only natural to expect that the man's work would evolve over the years, but in the case of The Savage Dragon it looks more like a slow erosion. Larsen still has a talent for composition, and his storytelling bears the fruits of his years in the industry, but the illustrations themselves are tough to get past. Never the most detailed, disciplined artist in the first place, the decade-plus of self-employment has made him lazy behind the pencil. His work looks excessively rushed, overly simplified and dramatically unbelievable. On the few panels he really hunkers down and delivers this month, Larsen shows that he still knows how to do things the right way. But his efforts throughout the rest of the issue are propped up by his layouts and nothing else.

Looking back over that review, it sounds like I came in wanting to hate it and got exactly what I was after. In fact, I desperately wanted to like this book. I followed it passionately for its first few years, but the reason I left it behind is precisely the reason I can't enjoy it today; Larsen's efforts, both in his writing and in his artwork, are lackadaisical. I can't believe that he's put his all into this book, on either front. At his best, he's a gifted talent, but when he loses focus and lets the quality of his work slide, the results are almost always underwhelming. Flip through it but don't pay it any serious attention.

War Machine #3
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 25 February 2009
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Colorist: Jay David Ramos
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Francesco "Matt" Mattina

Review: Preston Nelson
Since his inception, James Rhodes has been my barometer of where Marvel is at the moment. Rhodey is a great character for this, because he's always on the periphery. When he took over as Iron Man, the character was written well and nuanced, and, in general, comics were good. In the 1990s, War Machine was covered in guns and muscles, as was everything else. And right now, War Machine is a giant mess, poorly written and dripping with "cool moments" at the expense of the greater storyline.

Rhodey is saving his friend's wife from some faceless government contractor, in armor that could exist in no sane world. It has at least a dozen guns, laser beams, tank treads and a face that is straight out of a James Cameron movie. (Terminator, not Titanic.) Rhodey kills a bunch of innocent soldiers, who probably have children and wives that love them very much. Just as he's about to off a corporate CEO, Ares shows up at the behest of Norman Osborn.

I like Ares. A lot, in fact. In Mighty Avengers he was an ass-kicking, axe-swinging, chauvinist pig who was constantly trying to decide if he wanted to nail Black Widow and Ms. Marvel between bouts of reveling in senseless bloodshed. In short, he's awesome. I don't know what Ares Greg Pak was reading, but it wasn't the right one. This Ares talks like a supervillain: "Blah, blah, blah, respect me, blah blah, I'm your inspiration." It's just terrible.

And while I'm on the subject, War Machine's HUD displays a kill count for whomever he looks at — where the information comes from we never know — but Ares kill count displays at 3.7 billion. Going on some basic math and historical knowledge (Greek civilization was founded 4000 years ago, roughly) we're supposed to believe that Ares has killed 925,000 people a year, every year for 4000 years. That's 2534 people every single day. And that doesn't even account for his "boning Aphrodite" and "pissing off Athena" breaks.

And honestly, that's a nice little microcosm for this book. Someone said, "This sounds cool," and wrote / drew whatever came to mind without stopping to think if it made any sense. The art is, at worst, stupid (War Machine). At best, it's boring (everything else). Skip it.

Youngblood #8
Publisher: Image
Released: 25 February 2009
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Derec Donovan
Colorist: Bill Crabtree
Letters: Rus Wooton

Review: drqshadow
Relaunched yet again, the latest, greatest Team Youngblood is standing on the verge of widespread public acceptance. With a heavyweight PR team, government support and a specially selected enemy presence delivered right to their front doorstep, all the heroes need to do now is dress up, knock out the threat and smile for the cameras. Shame, then, that nothing's ever quite that easy — especially when nobody remembers to tell the bad guy he's supposed to be throwing the fight.

Truth be told, the concept behind Youngblood was never its downfall. In fact, the thought of a federally sponsored team of oblivious superhumans inspires countless ready-made storylines from the word go. The trouble has always been Rob Liefeld's writing, which never seemed concerned with that central plot point. He always seemed more interested in one-upping himself in terms of tasteless clichés and horrific dialog than planning any sort of sensible, forward-thinking storylines. Thankfully, this isn't a failure that's mirrored by the book's current writer, Joe Casey.

A handful of redesigned Youngblood originals are still hanging around to tie the team's new adventures in with their old ones. They're joined by a troupe of new faces who, while not nearly as well-designed visually, bring a degree of depth and individuality to the squad that was sorely lacking in the past. One of the new characters, Cougar, has the facial features of a hairless house cat but still manages to grow a long, braided goatee. This gives the impression that he's constantly working on swallowing Mario Batali.

Under Casey's careful watch, though, the team has finally blossomed. At its heart this remains an action story, so if you're looking for rocket science, prepare to be disappointed. However, it's ultimately graduated to something I can read without rolling my eyes every third panel. Casey knows better than to make things too complicated, and the end result is a straightforward, exciting fight in the heart of a major metropolitan area. The pair of villains he's created to oppose the new team are original (a real feat considering the sheer number of characters already out there), and it's a lot of fun watching the heroes work together to discover the best way to take them down.

It's no longer a prerequisite that you turn off your brain before opening this series, but it still might not hurt. My one gripe is that Casey closely echoes Liefeld's love of celebrity, throwing in cameo appearances by recognizable stars that do more damage than good. Really, did this issue need appearances from Oprah Winfrey, Howie Mandel and Ron Burgundy?

Derec Donovan's accompanying artwork is also quite nice, providing the stylistic change of pace the series needed to distance itself from the dark days of the 90s and Liefeld's overdone, confusing visual mess. Donovan's work is restrained and free-flowing, casual and inspiring. Where Liefeld's squad consisted of two unique male body types (one of which was reserved exclusively for Badrock), the book's new artist allows small but important variations from one team member to the next. His action scenes bounce right off the page, but he can still manage a quiet, personal conversation between a poisoned Badrock and his concerned father. Donovan is a nice find and his bouncy, Saturday morning cartoon style is a great match for the sugar-infused storytelling that Casey's brought with him to the title.

But, as if two identical gimmicks by other comics weren't already enough, this month's issue of Youngblood closes with a back-up story that covers the team's meeting with, you guessed it, President Barack Obama — written and illustrated by Liefeld himself. It's terrifying. Six pages of hyperbole, hyperextended lower backs and a curious lack of feet that made me want to cry. This was like going back to the Stone Age after catching a glimpse of the airborne highway in Back to the Future II.

Seeing the contrast of the new creative team against the back-up story provided exclusively by Liefeld is incredibly telling. Casey and Donovan have finally delivered the breath of fresh air that the book's creator has been looking for all along, but if next month's solicitations are to be believed, this marks the end of their run. The almighty Liefeld returns to both write and pencil the series with issue #9, and that's sure to kill any traction the new series had developed thus far. It was fun while it lasted. Borrow this one while it's still around, because I fully expect the wings to fall off almost immediately next month.

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