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Is It Wednesday Yet?

08 September 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.

Dark Wolverine #77
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 26 August 2009
Writers: Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu
Penciler: Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inker: Onofrio Catacchio
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Leinil Francis Yu
Cover price: $2.99

Review: drqshadow
Well, it seems like not every member of Norman Osborn's Avengers is completely onboard with the maniac's plans to oust Marvel's most popular superteams from power. Not directly, anyway. Osborn's "Dark Wolverine," Logan's son Daken, has stepped out on his own, forming a complicated series of alliances with several of the former Green Goblin's most visible targets, particularly Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four. Just how honest Daken is acting in these negotiations is, naturally, up for debate it seems his only true allegiance is to himself but he's valuable enough of a wild card that members of both sides seem willing to deal with the consequences for a chance to get him on their side.

The story this month, provided by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu, features more of the team than the last two issues of Dark Avengers combined. If you've ever needed a bit more proof of why the concept of a squad comprised of loners can never work, look no further. Osborn's Avengers are going in 30 different directions at the same time, and they're not only on different pages, they're often doing everything they can to thwart the goals of their teammates. More so than even the group's brave leader, Daken plays the role of the instigator, constantly doing everything in his power to turn and rankle his fellow Avengers in a way that's sure to lead to fireworks. That's a welcome change from the character's usual role as the silent guy in the corner with a pair of claws popping out of his hands and it fits him well. On the large scale, Way and Liu don't quite have the knack for each character's personality that Brian Michael Bendis does, but they're close, and their actions here will likely have big ramifications on the main series once it returns from a crossover-induced hiatus.

Daken's snide, self-serving taunts of Ares coupled with the hot-headed God of War's natural reaction in this issue's opening moments give artist Giuseppe Camuncoli a great opportunity to get his foot in the door with a few intense visuals, and he takes it in stride without so much as a glance over his shoulder. By going out of his way to highlight the gigantic size differential between the two, Giuseppe casually shifts what would've been a rather ho-hum scene into something else. He keeps the action moving like a good martial arts movie, with a sense of selective slow motion thrown in to highlight the fight's most explosive moments. Even during the seconds of fleeting pause in between thrown punches, there's always something moving: an airborne set of dumbbells here, a collapsing door frame there. The dude knows how to put together an exciting fight scene.

Giuseppe performs just as well away from the action, although he isn't quite as comfortable with the Fantastic Four as he is with Daken and the Avengers. Dark Wolverine's uncomfortable little chat with Venom provides a great display of how restrained body language can often tell more story than a glob of extraneous dialog, but the artist's renditions of Reed and Sue are shaky, over-muscled, and unfamiliar. I guess not every swing can be a home run.

If you're as infuriated with the lack of forward progress offered by Dark Avengers since it was lumped in with the "Utopia" crossover last month, you might want to give Dark Wolverine a chance to play pacifier. It's not on the same level as what Bendis was offering, but it's close enough to make for a decent surrogate until he's back in the commander's chair. Borrow it and reevaluate when things return to the status quo.

Gotham City Sirens #3
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 26 August 2009
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Guillem March
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Guillem March
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Aaron Robinson
When I came into Gotham City Sirens, I knew a few things about it: I knew that it was about Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman banding together to do their own thing, and I knew it was a book notorious for its cheesecake. So I was kind of surprised when I started reading a story about E. Nigma (formerly known as The Riddler) solving a series of murders with the help of Batman. The "sirens" appear only briefly, loosely tying the story to the first two issues. Basically, if you're reading this in the hopes of finding out what happens to the three girls, you'll be very disappointed. This book feels like an inconsequential, self-contained story that's been wedged into an existing story arc.

Still, judging this on its own merits, it's actually pretty good. The bits of banter between Nigma and the new Batman are fun, as Nigma quickly figures out that it isn't the Batman he's long-known. They trade witty remarks, each decide on a set of goals to help solve the case, then go along their merry ways. The reveal behind the murders isn't quite as well-executed as I'd have hoped, but it feels like an issue that was rushed out the door, so I'm amazed it's as good as it is. I really don't care for the dueling caption boxes, as both characters share their thoughts and feels on each other. It's not a bad idea, but it makes things a lot more cluttered than they should be.

March's artwork here toes the line between being cartoony and realistic, falling more towards the realistic side most of the time. The end result feels a little uneven like he's not quite sure what style he wants this book to be but he's consistent and a good enough storyteller that it doesn't really matter. I doubt anyone will be picking up this book for the artwork alone, but there's little I can say that's actually bad about it.

If you're just reading Gotham City Sirens to see what happens to the ladies, you're probably not going to be all that concerned with what happens here. For everyone else, I'd recommend giving this a flip through.

The Incredible Hulk #601
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 26 August 2009
Writers: Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Artists: Ariel Olivetti and Michael Ryan
Colorist: Guru eFX
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Ariel Olivetti
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Aaron Robinson
For a while now, Bruce Banner has been on the run. With his last encounter with Rulk leaving him unable to transform, Banner has had to rely on his intelligence to get by, doing his best to stay hidden from those who would do him harm. The biggest threat Banner currently faces is his own son, Skaar, who still craves to finally defeat the Hulk. Rather than continuing to hide, Banner decides to take a few of Hulk's weapons, combining them with his own inventions, so he can fight Skaar head-on.

Everything here feels awkward, as there doesn't seem to be much cohesion between events. Banner just seems to be roaming from place to place; even though he says he has a plan, I'm not seeing anything that would indicate that's the case. Even the supposedly touching scene at the start, where Banner stops an abusive father from beating his son, just feels awkward and unnatural. Why would anyone, let alone a giant, powerful, pissed off father, feel threatened by a scrawny scientist? It's baffling.

Olivetti is the same as he's always been; his highly detailed, grossly over-muscled characters aren't for everyone, but they're charming in their own special way. It's a good thing Olivetti puts so much effort into his characters, because he's lacking in other aspects. His backgrounds look strange and unfitting, and the complete lack of cohesion between the characters and their surroundings is distracting. Beyond that everything seems pretty solid, although without much action his talents feel kind of wasted.

Even if you're a fan of the character or artist, there's not much here worth reading. It's boring, dumb, and there's very little action to liven things up. Skip it.

The Red Circle: The Shield #1
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 26 August 2009
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciler: Scott McDaniel
Inker: Andy Owens
Colorist: Tom Chu
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Jesus Saiz
Cover price: $2.99

Review: drqshadow
The Shield is the last in a series of four one-shots to introduce a historical character from the heyday of the MLJ (Archie) Comics superhero division into the DC timeline. Basically a modernized Captain America with a twist and a few additional abilities, our hero was airlifted from certain death on an Afghan battlefield and used as the guinea pig for a radical new suit of military armor. In theory, the nano-machines that comprise this soldier's suit would be summoned and retracted by his thoughts and actions, but seeing as how his wardrobe is the only thing presently keeping him alive, it may be a while before he's ready to test the waters with that particular feature. This, I guess, would actually make him a sort of three-way marriage between Cap, Iron Man, and the Six Million Dollar Man.

Try as he might, J. Michael Straczynski still has a hard time moving the character too far away from his somewhat cheesy Golden Age roots. The technobabble may have been modernized and the scenery shifted from Germany to the Middle East, but the core of the character himself is still somewhat antiquated. Perhaps the brevity of a single issue lifespan has forced Straczynski's hand leading to a few of the seams showing in his storytelling but this simple origin tale feels a bit too rudimentary and straightforward. Too many questions are answered with too much certainty, leaving very little unrevealed about the man, his superiors, and the suit itself. If this was merely intended to be a teaser, why don't I have much of an appetite for the main course?

I used to adore Scott McDaniel's artwork when he was a regular on Nightwing about a decade back. He gave the series an energetic, youthful vibe that was grounded with a certain degree of maturity. It wasn't just another Batman spinoff when he was around, it was the next step of a natural evolution for current and former members of the extended Wayne family. That element was lost for good when he left the series, and as fate would have it, I haven't kept up with his work since.

Not a lot has changed. While he endures a few struggles throughout the issue, particularly in its opening pages, it's not long before McDaniel finds a sweet spot and resumes churning out his excellent, exciting brand of visual work. I may not care much for the character's costume which is bright, cheery, and unabashedly patriotic but it's easy to overlook that when McDaniel has him lifting tanks and punching aircraft with such mesmerizing grace and astonishing ease.

Still, The Shield is average at best. It has a decent origin in place, an eventual conflict built in, and a few eccentricities to set it apart from the books it's likely to be immediately compared with. The lead character is certainly no Steve Rogers; he's more ruthless in battle and less headstrong a personality, and he's missing the charm and flavor of his storied Marvel counterpart. In short, he's less suitable to carry an entire series on his shoulders. This isn't bad, but it's also far from great and some aspects of the story feel particularly watered-down. Flip through it for the better moments of Scott McDaniel's artwork if nothing else.

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