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Is It Wednesday Yet?

20 July 2010 — 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.

Brightest Day: The Atom Special
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 08 July 2010
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Penciler: Mahmud Asrar
Inker: John Dell
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Gary Frank
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
There's a moment in this book where the text reads "left hook," but for some reason the artist drew an uppercut. Sometimes it's the little things that get to you.

Ray Palmer is probably the highest profile DC character that I've never read outside of big events — probably because he's been unable to sustain his own comic in the time I've been reading — but for some reason DC seems to have a lot of time for him. For me, his background and abilities are so generic that unless you delve into him going super-tiny and fighting carpet mites like he's in Clash of the Titans, there's not much you can do with him that doesn't feel like Hero Comics 101.

This is one of Jeff Lemire's earliest stabs at a Big Two character, and he clearly did his research (in that he knew more about Atom than I did, no great feat admittedly). You immediately get the feeling that this is picking up on a long-term dynamic of Atom solving crimes, while working with his rubber-faced sidekick / mentor. This is a good jumping on point for anyone who's never read Atom before; his history is clearly explained, although for some reason the fact that his wife murdered someone and become a supervillain is never mentioned. It's almost as though that never happened, which is crazy since it's the thing that's defined the character since Identity Crisis. Even stranger is that this entire history is being explained by Atom to his mentor, the one guy that was actually there for all of it, and thus the one guy who absolutely doesn't need to be told. It would be like Batman explaining to Alfred how his parents died and why he became Batman; it makes no sense in the context of the story.

The art is pretty good throughout. The rubber-faced sidekick has a couple of issues panel to panel, Ray Palmer looks all of 17 when he takes his mask off, and of course there is the aforementioned confusion about the nature of a left hook, but I feel bad picking holes in this too much. It's clean, crisp, detailed, and full of expression when it needs to be. It feels like veteran work. It's not outstanding in its beauty, but it is competent modern superhero comic book art. It's surprising that Mahmud Asrar's only been given the odd issue up until now in his work for Marvel. Perhaps that will change now that he's on board with DC.

Is the world aching for a mid-level science hero who isn't much with witty banter and has a strikingly bland origin? Coming out of this I think I knew less about Ray Palmer than I did going in. It feels like it was set prior to all his recent trials and tribulations. I'm not at all sure what this has to do with Brightest Day, either. There's no mention of Ray becoming an Indigo Tribe member, no mention of the recently toppled next-gen Atom Ryan Choi, and no acknowledgement of a wider hero universe outside of a single panel showing the Atom as a part of the Justice League. There's not too much wrong with the actual issue, but it's just so bland and really only tells you half the story when it comes to the character. I can't give this more than a flip through.

Casanova #1
Publisher: Marvel / Icon
Released: 08 July 2010
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon
Colorist: Cris Peter
Letterer: Dustin K. Harbin
Cover: Gabriel Ba
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
This is a rerelease of the first issue of the Image series but with colored artwork, so the nuts and bolts of this issue are actually about four years old. I hadn't read it, but you may well have. Despite my affection for Fraction's work on Invincible Iron Man, Immortal Iron Fist, and the Thor one-shots, for some reason I never got around to reading his work outside of Marvel, which is something I truly regret. If you like a writer, if you think he's putting out great work, then I think you almost owe it to him to seek more of his stuff — especially the personal works that got them to that point. Casanova is a book I've heard a lot of positive noise about over the years, and after this first initial contact it's easy to see why.

Casanova (who looks like a young Mick Jagger) is a super-spy in the most ridiculous sense of the words. His father and twin sister work for the international law enforcement agency EMPIRE, but Cass himself works freelance in a world where hi-tech robotics and genetic material for cloning are commodities. Hoverbikes, reality jumping, and freaky supervillains are commonplace here, too. This issue doesn't stop for a second, and the one point where you'd think it would slow down, it abandons text and shows us the highlights before getting straight back to business. This frenetic pace doesn't prevent nice introductions for characters (especially the villains) and it ensures a few plot points that Fraction wanted to pass over could be avoided until a later date. I would say, though, that in playing the international man of mystery thing up to the hilt there could be a perceived edge of misogyny here; women are either unthinking sex objects (literally in one case), or dead before we ever meet them. I really hope that future issues introduce some strong female characters that move beyond the sexed up excesses of these Bond-style floozies. Fraction isn't unaware of this element, however; the second story in the issue is devoted entirely to the perspective of one of these hussies, satirizing how these characters define themselves by contact with the hero and fall in love at the drop of a hat. This isn't dumb cheesecake. Fraction knows what he's working with.

A lot of what helped me forgive this element was the art. If Rob Liefeld had drawn this, I'd have dismissed it as sexist trash and moved on with my life. However, the charming, cartoony nature of the art tells you not to take this too seriously. Gabriel Ba is also known for his work on The Umbrella Academy, and here as there his style is distinctive by its deliberately odd proportions and kinetic vibe. You never feel like anyone is standing still. Ba's twin brother, Fabio Moon (with a twin art style), provides the back-up story for this issue. Between both tales, this weighs in at a hefty 40-ish pages of relevant material, so it does justify its $3.99 price.

This book isn't going to change your world, but it's decent, the art is nice (if you're okay with the style), and it has definite potential going forward. Borrow it to see if you like it.

Hellboy: The Storm #1
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 08 July 2010
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Duncan Fegredo
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Clem Robins
Cover: Mike Mignola
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Preston Nelson
In the depths of comics, there are few characters that work for me like Hellboy. Gruff and armored, but rarely brooding, Hellboy is soaked in an acerbic sense of humor, despite being faced with Lovecraftian apocalypses on a regular basis. We meet up with our red hero in England, sitting in a church, overlooking three empty coffins. This being a Hellboy book, it's safe to assume that no grave robbery occurred; these guys just got up and walked away, even though they've been dead since the Middle Ages. Since he's the world's greatest paranormal investigator, Hellboy is intrigued.

The story is pretty straightforward: Hellboy and his current paramour, a redhead named Alice, investigate the walking dead knights. Admittedly, while the main story is good, too much time is spent setting up how Hellboy has come to be here. A good chunk of this book details Hellboy leaving the BPRD, drinking himself into a stupor, almost dying, and becoming the rightful King of England. Yeah, it's complicated. But trust me when I say that it actually works in context.

And while it works, I don't need to know this. I read these books. I keep up with where Hellboy is going because I like the character. I'm not sure that this miniseries is going to pull in a ton of new readers, so I don't see why all of this was needed. The only thing that is semi-relevant is the King of England stuff, and that's only touched on.

I've said it before, but any Hellboy book that isn't drawn by Mignola needs a totally different style of artist. Fegredo is a fine artist, but he doesn't draw anything with his own flair. And I think it's unfair to the fans. On one hand, I do appreciate this unified style across the BPRD Universe, but on the other, if Mignola is going to be such an overwhelming influence on the art, he should draw it himself. That said, Fedrego does do a few things better than Mignola ever has, especially in the fight scenes, which are dynamic in a way that most Hellboy books aren't.

It's a solid little intro to a miniseries that should be fun. If you're a fan of Hellboy, give this one a shot. I think it certainly merits a borrow.

Hit-Monkey #1
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 08 July 2010
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Dalibor Taljic
Letterer: VC's Joe Sabino
Cover: Dave Johnson
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Preston Nelson
Without a doubt, this is the dumbest comic book I have ever read. Utterly fucking brainless. This book is about a monkey with guns. His whole pack gets murdered and he swears revenge, like a tiny, hairy Punisher. You know the score — blood for blood — so he picks up his guns and starts murdering Japanese politicians, guided by the spirit of the assassin that lead to his pack's death.

My brain just hemorrhaged from how much I hate this. The whole thing feels like some shitty idea someone came up with after a long night of bad weed. This whole concept is psychologically painful to me. If I could bottle the venom that this thing procures from me, I could sell it as a biological weapon. In short, I'm not a fan. The story is both brain-rendingly stupid, as well as terribly clichéd. Daniel Way is so much better than this. The only remotely original thing is that the main character is a monkey. And that's too stupid for words. Cliché upon cliché, with pointless, dragging dialog. And a cliffhanger that means nothing. It's basically the comic book equivalent to getting shot in the eyes with broken glass.

If the writing is awful (and it is), the art is just bland. The artist has a rough, sketchy style that, I admit, I do like, but he never really cuts loose and has fun. He draws like it's his job, which isn't something I want to see. The lines are restrained and tight, almost constricting the art of the book. The guy has some decent panel to panel skills, but I really don't think he was trying, at all.

My greatest criticism of Hit-Monkey is simple: it reeks of everything that is wrong with the comic book industry today. In the hot to trot world of Internet journalism, where even an idiot like me has a soapbox to stand on, comics are changing faster than ever. This book is an aborted attempt at a meme. This book is Deadpool. This book is Cry for Justice. This book is Countdown. This book is the modern industry's attempt to come up with something to please the niche fanboys by mashing two random things together. And, admittedly, sometimes, it works. As was the case when zombies met superheroes. But more often than not, it's going to fail. Trying to play a monkey hitman as a serious, tragic character is a failing. I don't care that his pack is dead. He's a monkey. You already had a tragic figure executing criminals in an attempt to cry out for his family, and you turned him into a fucking Frankenstein's monster. Skip it.

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