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Is It Wednesday Yet?

04 August 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.

Aliens #2
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 22 July 2009
Writer: John Arcudi
Pencilers: Gabriel Andrade and Zach Howard
Inkers: Zach Howard, Mark Irwin, and Marcelo Mueller
Colorist: Wes Dzioba
Letterer: Blambot
Cover: Brad Anderson
Cover price: $3.50

Review: Chris Johnson
After letting the Alien and Predator franchises rest for a bit, Dark Horse is starting production back up with a pair of miniseries. This latest entry in the Aliens saga follows the lone-survivor of a group of soldiers stranded on an alien planet. While preparing to take off for parts unknown, he happens upon the signal of a young woman trapped in a canyon. Alone, she requires rescue or she'll meet her death at the hands of the monsters we know as Xenomorphs. As he journeys to the cavern, we see glimpses of the soldier's recent past, a past that sets the reader up for the twist ending.

Apart from the appearance of the trademark aliens, this didn't really feel much like an Aliens story. I find that the series is a mixture of science-fiction and horror, and while the science-fiction aspect is here, the horror element is not. And I don't mean the blood and guts type of horror, that's present right on the first page. I'm referring to suspenseful horror that has you on the edge of your seat. Part of what plays into that is the terror of the Xenomorphs. While this is difficult to replicate on an unmoving page, it can be done. But whatever horror the author tried to bring to the Xenomorphs was thrown out the window by the protagonist's ability to take out quite a few of them armed with a machine gun. And the ending was certainly one I didn't see coming, but I have a sinking suspicion things are going to get very Twilight Zone by the end of issue three.

My main problem with this issue is the artwork. On the positive side, while there were two artists, I didn't notice much of a difference between their styles. Unfortunately, I found the art to be inappropriate for the tone of the story. It was light and slightly cartoony, when it should have been dark and gritty. Considering the design of the Xenomorphs, I almost think that a digital artist would have been a better choice, to give the aliens an eerie edge.

While not a bad story, the issue comes off more like a typical sci-fi comic book than an Aliens series. Skip it.

Fantastic Four #569
Publisher: Marvel
Published: 29 July 2009
Writer: Mark Millar
Script: Joe Ahearne
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inkers: Wade Von Grawbadger and Scott Hanna
Colorists: Paul Mounts and Dean White
Letterer: VC's Rus Wooton
Cover: Bryan Hitch
Cover price: $3.99

Review: drqshadow
This is it: the ultimate showdown between The Fantastic Four and the latest in a long line of ultimate nemesis from beyond our own reality. This time the bad guy goes by the name of the Marquis of Death, he's already established himself as Victor Von Doom's superior in each and every way, and he's convinced just about every last alternate version of the Four themselves to aid him in his quest. It's time to put up or shut up, with the fate of reality left to hang in the balance, and just one family standing between our world and the brink of eternity.

Though this is a somewhat larger-than-normal issue, the pace never attempts to slow down. For his grand finale with the team, Mark Millar tries to cram as much action and resolution into a single issue as I think I've ever seen in a standalone edition. The end result is roughly one major finale every page and a half, perhaps six issues' worth of storytelling in little more than a single month's page count. If that sounds like it moves pretty quickly, that's because it does, and it's not always for the best. It's great that this arc is coming together so quickly (and the timing really does feel just about right), but when gargantuan battles are both begun and concluded within just a few panels, the magnitude of each moment is unfortunately tossed by the wayside.

While I appreciated the slow, intellectual pace taken during the first few steps of his run, Millar pays the price for that decision here. The issue holds a great lump of wonderful ideas that seem destined to go unappreciated, even unrecognized, because they're so abundant and rapid-fire. It's good stuff if you have a microscope and the patience to figure everything out with minimal explanation.

Fresh off a lengthy run with Brian Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man, Stuart Immonen has stepped in to cover for Bryan Hitch, providing artwork for the final leg of this storyline. It's a bit odd that Hitch couldn't manage to produce more than the cover for his swan song with the team, but if such a replacement really was necessary I can't argue with Marvel's selection. Immonen made quite a name for himself aboard USM, more than adequately filling the shoes of longtime collaborator Mark Bagley, and he proves to be up to a similar creative challenge here. His rendition of the publisher's famous first family carries a more mature flavor than his preceding efforts with Spidey and pals, but lacks none of the panache.

Immonen doesn't shy from the same incredible timing, deep personalization and knee-shaking perspective that made him an instant favorite in his previous gig. His take on the four has a slightly different slant than his rendition of Peter Parker they wear their years and accumulated wisdom on their sleeves but they still bounce around the page with boundless enthusiasm and limitless energy. If he hadn't already done so beforehand, Immonen really solidified his status as one of Marvel's greatest, most consistent talents within this issue.

There's a little bit of everything here: sci-fi adventuring, brutal action, brainy meetings of the minds, warm romance, the works. Problem is, it often borders on (and occasionally leaps beyond) the line of excess. There's so much going on that it can be difficult to stand still and savor the moment. It's well-written, despite a few lines of corny dialog from guest scriptwriter Joe Aheame, and the visuals are genuinely outstanding. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right. It's worth borrowing, at least, because when it's good it's really good. Just expect a bit of whiplash.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #5
Publisher: DC Comics
Published: 22 July 2009
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: George Perez
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Nick Napolitano
Cover: George Perez
Cover price: $3.99

Review: drqshadow
Let's get this out of the way right now: I may be precisely the wrong person to be reviewing this series. Then again, maybe I'm exactly the right guy to give it an honest run through the wringer. Let me elaborate: historically I haven't been one for the larger DC Universe. I've always been a Marvel guy first and foremost, with a bit of a soft spot for DC's big players and something of a curious ignorance of the publisher's lesser-known heroes. Throw me an issue of Detective Comics or Green Arrow and I'm right there with you, but the majority of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths was lost on me. I just couldn't keep up.

I'm no DC historian. If that's who the series is aimed at, it's going to land well short of the mark with me, not to mention the vast majority of its potential audience. I do like to proudly proclaim myself a frothing superhero fanboy, however. If it has capes and good writing, takes an interesting direction, and doesn't require too much of an encyclopedic knowledge of the back catalog, I'll gladly climb on board and enjoy the ride. And that's exactly what I tried to do, but this issue lost me within the first four pages.

The potentially interesting content within Legion of Three Worlds was way over my head. The few moments I could actually comprehend were so overstuffed with corny dialog and the reckless use of superpowers that I was shaking my head and blinking with every new panel. Geoff Johns has produced fine work in the past, so I know he's capable of better, but if this is his love letter to the DCU of the 1980s, as it seems, perhaps it's material best left remembered and not revisited. It's one excessively complicated scenario after another, with a random, nameless hero stealing the spotlight around every corner. Sure, if you're a big fan of one particularly obscure character that never gets any page time, you might be able to look really closely and make him or her out somewhere in the scenery. But is that really enough to keep something like this afloat?

Even worse, the central storyline that's supposed to tie it all together is dependent upon the existence and exploitation of a loophole in time and space itself. Right, because things weren't convoluted enough before the introduction of time travel and a routinely rewritten history. God help us.

Furthering the throwback flavor of this series, the legendary George Perez is on hand to provide its artwork which should have been expected, really. Nobody can manage to toss a hundred unique characters onto a single page as effectively as Perez, and he proves up to the task yet again here. He's at his best during the superpowered gang wars that erupt throughout the issue, but his work does show some of its age when the focus shifts to a single character. Of course, good compositions will never be dated, but it's difficult to imagine anyone managing to balance so much action with so many word balloons without making a few sacrifices along the way. Perez does all he can, which is often good enough, but isn't without his own moments of weakness.

I'm sure this issue is going to hit all the right notes with a very select portion of the comic book audience. I just can't count myself among them, and neither will any curious new readers who happen upon the issue and, impressed by the cover artwork, decide to give it a chance. It takes so much for granted, crosses so many lines, that I can't imagine more than one or two out of a hundred even understanding what's going on, let alone enjoying it. The only thing I gained out of this experience was the knowledge that I shouldn't have read beyond the second page. If you haven't already purchased and devoured it, you should keep your distance. It's not for you, or for me. Skip it.

Justice League of America #35
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 29 July 2009
Writer: Len Wein
Pencilers: Thomas Derenick and Pow Rodrix
Inkers: Marlo Alquiza, Dan Green, Rob Hunter, and Walden Wong
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Eddy Barrows
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Chris Johnson
Before the new ongoing team of James Robinson and Mark Bagley take over, Len Wein has been tapped to write a three-issue story featuring the Royal Flush Gang. In this, the first part of the storyline, a Justice League comprised of Vixen, Firestorm, Dr. Light, Red Tornado, and Plastic Man come together to rescue hostages held in a casino by the gang who's following the orders of someone called Wild Card, whose identity and true intentions are revealed by issue's end.

This issue is an interesting one in that it's a meeting of sorts between the old and new schools. Len Wein's script has a very Bronze Age feel to it, from the purple prose to the dialog to character moments. (What stood out most for me was the portrayal of the Royal Flush Gang. Though there have been many incarnations of the gang, the one I'm most familiar with is the one seen in Batman Beyond a crime family with a very posh demeanor. I figured their comic book counterparts would be different, but they turned out to be vastly different than even I expected. This Royal Flush Gang functions more like a criminal organization with laser staffs.) It isn't a great story, but it will tide you over until the new team arrives.

In contrast to that, the artwork is quite modern, being close in style to that of previous Justice League of America penciler Ed Benes. It serves the story well enough, but it doesn't make you sit up and take notice. (One of the highpoints of the art was a panel in the Watchtower between Vixen and Firestorm, with Vixen in the foreground and Firestorm in the shadowy background. The effect of Firestorm's hair and bands standing out against the darkness was nicely done and added to an otherwise simple panel.)

Considering the various elements interacting in this issue, this is one that will ultimately come down to personal preference, so give it a flip through and see if it's your cup of tea.

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