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Is It Wednesday Yet?

31 August 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.

Deadpool #26
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 18 August 2010
Writer: Daniel Way
Penciler: Carlo Barberi
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letter: VC's Joe Sabino
Cover: Dave Johnson
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Michael David Sims
Deadpool quits the job he inadvertently took, then tussles with Ghost Rider before we're given a portion of Wade's origin. And, that's it.

I'm not really sure what the point of this issue was. As far as I can tell, it's a one-and-done, but maybe it plays into the larger story of Deadpool's road to heroism. If that's the case, then I guess it did its job, but it was so flatly delivered that I don't see anyone but Deadpool fans caring. Then again, considering the lack of fourth-wall-breaking jokes and witty inner monologues, maybe not.

This isn't the Deadpool anyone expects, and that's both good and bad.

Bad, because fans and the curious alike want what they know or have heard about. Upon reading this, they'll be left wondering what happened to the humor and crazy violence. "Where's Deadpool," they'll ask.

Good, because it's a change of pace for a character that too many people frown upon. If Deadpool is going to be taken seriously as a hero and as a character, this is the direction he needs to head. That said, there needs to be more depth and heart for anyone to care. Showing Wade in pain means nothing if we don't give a damn about the man behind the humor.

Me, I have a casual relationship with Deadpool. I neither hate nor love him. (Well, I love him in the Wolverine portion of Hulk vs., and hope to see more of that Deadpool down the line.) I won't buy a book because he's in it, but neither will I turn away because he's making another cameo. For me, he's just there, but he has the potential to be a favorite of mine. If his writers can find the right balance between wacky humor and genuine heart, then he'll turn a lot of heads down the line — including mine.

And yes, that's what Daniel Way is trying to do here, but a lame fight, few jokes, and a flashback to Wade's entry into the Weapon X Program isn't going to do the trick — especially when there's no substance to it. Dig in deep, find that element we can all relate to, make this cartoon character real, and we'll be on the hook.

The art, too, is off. Yes, a Deadpool comic should look a little bouncy and bright — despite the violence — but when Ghost Rider comes a'callin' and the flashback is supposed to be dark and grim, an artist with a style to match the story would have been a better editorial call. Though Carlo Barberi's panel-to-panel work doesn't flow as well as one would like, one can see why he was given the reigns after Paco Medina exited the title; they both share a cartoony, fluid style that's great for the character and nature of the comic. But not for this issue.

If Daniel Way can find Wade Wilson's heart and give him a moral code, all while balancing the humor and violence of Deadpool, we'll see him taken more seriously by fans and superheroes alike in the months to come. As it stands, this is a very tiny step in the right direction, but it isn't a big enough one to fully recommend: flip through it.

Ex Machina #50
Publisher: DC Comics / Wildstorm
Released: 18 August 2010
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Tony Harris
Colorist: JD Mettler
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Tony Harris
Cover price: $4.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
As seems customary for the final arc of any series, this last romp with Mayor Hundred and his staff has been fairly brutal. Hundred, able to influence and control machinery as though it were subservient, has never fully understood the source of his powers. It also never occurred to him that he might not be alone. Well, there was that odd guy with the similar ability to speak to rats, but by comparison that's a pretty weak power and he was promptly disposed back in the mayor's earlier days as a superhero. Lately, though, a more serious threat has manifested itself in the form of Mitchell's on-again, off-again girlfriend Suzanne. It seems that, along with the sister ability to control human minds, she's developed a case of the crazies and set out for the Mayor's head. After massacring his mother in cold blood, she got the man's attention and last month Suzanne finally got her comeuppance. So what now? Good question.

As the final issue of Brian K. Vaughan's latest epic, Ex Machina #50 is facing a lot of loose ends before it can finally close the lid on the superpowered savior of the South Tower on September 11th. I might as well level with you right out of the gate: there aren't enough pages to answer or even acknowledge most of them. In fact, Ex Machina's final issue is as much a product of the 49 episodes that came before as it is a swift, complete bookend. This is a series that's thrived on stalling readers for as long as it can, absorbing itself in comparably mundane distractions when the world's falling down outside the window. It's a tale that keys on Hundred's actions on that grim September day, while never actually taking the time to relive them in much detail.

Vaughan's tendency to concentrate on minutiae in the place of linear storytelling is on proud display again this month, as the aftereffects of a citywide riot and an honest-to-god portal to another dimension opened wide on New York streets take a back seat to a quiet conversation at the office and a UN press event. That's not to say there's no closure — because eventually the mood does shift to something more appropriate for final sentiments — but I couldn't help but watch the quickly dwindling page count as the story meandered along without much concern for its brief remaining timeline. This issue is half-full of payoffs and finality, but also half-full of filler that would've fit every bit as comfortably in a nondescript issue crammed between major storylines. It's a conundrum, and in many ways that's perfectly fitting.

Tony Harris, who's stuck around as artist on this series from the word go, hasn't been without his struggles. Particularly as the story began to wind down, the rush to meet a deadline became painfully obvious as Harris' formerly strict, disciplined style gave way to more rushed, less thoughtful compositions. Fortunately for all, Harris managed to snap himself out of that funk for the book's final chapters, which may or may not have something to do with why they've taken so long to ship. Whatever the reason, the work Harris hands in this month is worth the wait; it's a fine return to form that showcases his versatility and control. Tony's job hasn't been easy over the years, juggling the stale dιcor of city hall and a variety of black suits with fever-dream landscapes and a colorful supporting cast, but it's an act he's perfected along the way. This issue serves as a terrific swan song, a final chance to show us what he's learned from that experience.

A great two-man partnership is always something I'll celebrate, and Vaughan and Harris have proven they fit the bill. While Ex Machina hasn't been the most consistent title on my pull list over the years, the climactic moments have been grand enough to keep up-to-date for, while the less thrilling chapters did just enough to maintain some momentum. I'll mourn the vacancy in my monthly subscription, but I applaud the decision to step away when the timing is right. It's a suitable, if slightly odd conclusion to what turned out to be a grand series. Borrow it.

The Last Phantom #1
Publisher: Dynamite
Released: 18 August 2010
Writer: Scott Beatty
Artist: Eduardo Ferigato
Colorist: Vinicius Andrade
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Alex Ross
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
I'm a big fan of The Phantom. No, not because the 1996 movie starring Billy Zane was a watershed moment in cinema. I'm a little more old school than that. My Phantom teamed up with Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician to form the beloved cartoon super-team Defenders of the Earth. Of course, this means my Phantom was a little less pulp adventure and a little more supernatural tiger-strength than the original creators probably intended. Nevertheless, I always thought he had a sweet costume (not hard compared to his teammates) and a fair amount of intrigue about him. As a result I've had a passing interest in seeing the character brought back in his various forms. Right now Dynamite seems to be focused on bringing The Ghost Who Walks back into the limelight.

Cover first. I'm not a fan of the new outfit. Whilst the idea of a hero coating himself in blood or whatever as an outfit might sound cool initially, it has immediate and obvious drawbacks. Firstly, blood isn't purple unless this is Star Trek VI and it's from a Klingon. Secondly, in the tropical environments which the Phantom frequents, the high humidity and seasonal rainfall means that the costume will wash off any time he leaves shelter. Thirdly, it makes him look like he's coated in afterbirth.

On the plot and writing front, this isn't anything new. Perpetually grinning muscular white family man Kitridge Walker is the ruler of a chunk of Africa, with his own entourage and trusted compatriots. Anyone with the slightest familiarity with The Phantom knows what comes next. In fact, the writer seems so sure that we know what's coming that he just goes through the motions without creating any reason for us to invest in the characters. The Phantom is a walking superhero archetype here: half Punisher, half Black Panther, all seen before. This isn't the way to introduce new fans to a classic hero; it's all just so unforgivably bland that it hurts.

On the art front, it's a mixed bag. For the most part it's perfectly acceptable, but it does suffer a little from limited face types. A mercenary character has exactly the same face as our hero, for example. As previously stated, Afterbirth Phantom looks really bad, and the loincloth makes his legs look really skinny compared to his body. Throw in the gun belt and boots and you'd be forgiven for thinking this Phantom is a niche male stripper rather than a dangerous vigilante.

Skip this. It's just massively bland. If you read this and it's all new to you, you've obviously never encountered the notion of narrative fiction before.

Supergirl #55
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 18 August 2010
Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciler: Jamal Igle
Inkers: John Dell, Marc Deering, and Richard Friend
Colorists: Jamie Grant and Jim Devlin
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Amy Reeder
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
Despite DC's continued lack of a recap page (not a company policy that's likely to change any time soon), I can't complain too much that I don't know what's going on here. After all, I reviewed #54 a few weeks ago. So, those of you who took my advice to flip through that issue, please join me again for part two.

Something to immediately like here is the cover. It's far more cartoonish than last time around, but it's actually based on the events of the book, which is always preferable. The previous cover, whilst not unattractive in itself, didn't even accurately reflect Kara's mood in the issue. This time all the cards are on the table; it's Supergirl v Bizarro Supergirl with a heavy dark reflection vibe going on. It helps that it's not un-reminiscent of Amanda Conner's work on the book, which was probably the high watermark for the current series.

Writing a good Bizarro is incredibly hard. The extent to which the reverse-speak is taken tends to depend on the commitment of the writer and their estimation of the patience of their reader. The last time I read a book with a Bizarro in it was Grant Morrison's All Star Superman, where every sentence was reversed. This worked extremely well when Superman was there, so we could empathize with him and share his frustration. Sterling Gates on the other hand has abandoned the reverse-speak almost entirely, which threw me completely when I started because it meant I was misreading all of the dialog. However, because we have flashbacks featuring only Bizarros, it's best that they didn't go the whole hog. It makes stretches of this one far more readable than they might otherwise have been, especially for those unfamiliar with the Bizarro concept.

The cliffhanger from last week is avoided in pretty cheap fashion. Even after reading it several times, it's still unclear exactly how we got the result we did. I don't mind a cliffhanger — and as they go, last issue's was a pretty interesting one — but when they need a page to explain the so-called science behind how it was escaped, it sorta loses its impact. However, little issues like that aside, Gates has this whole universe down cold. His side-plots are ticking over nicely. I particularly like the way that he depicts the Daily Planet as little more than a Superman fanzine. It's nicely satirical of the main Superman books. In particular, Supergirl feels dead-on in this issue, making perhaps unpopular choices that she feels are nonetheless the morally right ones. She doesn't really have a moral grey area, but that doesn't make her a simplistic character; it just makes it more interesting whenever she's in a situation where she has to find that line between right and wrong. I'm starting to dig what Gates is doing with this book. His take lacks the bubbly fun of previous writers, but it has substance and feels like he's in for the long haul.

I'm not sure why Bizarro Supergirl decided to go with the whole dress outfit rather than having Supergirl's exposed midriff. Maybe the opposite of Supergirl is someone with a degree of modesty.

As usual the art is quite nice, with perhaps hints of Gary Frank this time around. For no reason, there's still a heavy reliance on red tones by the colorist, but I can't let that spoil this too much. I'd really like to see Jamal Igle on a higher profile book; he's done some work on Green Lantern in the past, and I'd be interested to see if its as good as this. I wasn't wild about a couple of frames of his Perry White, but if that's my only problem then he's doing well.

My personal affection for this book is growing, and I'm likely to check out the next issue based on these two. This time I'm going to have grade Supergirl a borrow. You probably won't be an instant convert based on this one issue, but there's enough being foreshadowed that at least for me this is a book worth keeping up with.

Wolverine: Weapon X #16
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 18 August 2010
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Davide Gianfelice
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Cover: Ron Garney
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
Nightcrawler, an X-Men mainstay and one of Logan's few close friends, is dead. A fatality of the team's desperate battle with Bastion, Kurt Wagner left his comrades with little more than hope, a fistful of memories, and one final wish: that Logan deliver a $20,000 piano to a remote Venezuelan church. The catch? That congregation is located at the top of a towering mountain, inaccessible via modern means of transportation. Wolverine's going to have to haul the thing up a long slab of rock to fulfill his friend's last request.

In Weapon X #16, the final issue of the short-lived series, author Jason Aaron doesn't celebrate with a traditional hokey epilogue. Instead, he cuts the central character to his core, investigating an under-explored human side to Wolverine that's often lost in the red mist of another violent black ops mission. Splitting time between a piano-laden present and a confrontational series of flashbacks, the issue dissects Logan and Kurt's long friendship over the years and slowly reveals how it changed each of them. In their own way, these two were the mutant version of the odd couple: one a slim, agile man of faith and introspection, the other a thick, powerful brawler who'd rather rely on his beer-drenched senses than his mind. And while death may be every bit as fleeting as life is in the world of comic books, the realization that half of that duo is gone still tugs at the heartstrings thanks to a simple, clever premise and some slick, emotion-soaked writing.

A great deal of this issue is spent examining Logan and Kurt's arguments over faith, religion, and the afterlife, with one playing the dedicated man of devotion and the other the incendiary skeptic, neither able to budge the other's position, both leaving the discussion frustrated. Logan may have the final word on that matter in terms of physical presence, but in reality Kurt's taken the right for himself, giving his friend a mission of solitude, a chance to dwell on the heart of their lifelong argument for lack of any other stimulation. Aaron doesn't pass on the opportunity to elaborate, and while the line he draws at the end of the issue may not be entirely true to the character, it does make for a stunning final page and an appropriate conclusion to the relationship.

Alongside such deep, existential commentary, artist Davide Gianfelice's loose, curvy, energetic style doesn't always feel appropriate. Particularly during the flashbacks, when Wolverine and Nightcrawler appear in full costume, Gianfelice's artwork is completely out of place – exaggerated to the point of distraction, regularly bright and cheery when the subject is about as dark as it gets. While his take on Kurt feels just about right, Davide's renditions of Logan are inconsistent and unfamiliar. Both characters appear thin, lanky, and European, as if he's only comfortable with one body type, and the only differences between the two come by way of skin color, hair, and wardrobe. Gianfelice has his merits, particularly in his compositions and backgrounds, but his rambunctious technique was a poor match for this kind of story.

There's no question that too many Wolverine books are still flooding the market, so I can't mourn the loss of this title (especially considering it's being immediately replaced with another), but it is a bit disappointing that we're losing this series just as it's beginning to reveal new facets of the character's personality. This self-contained story is well written and easy to appreciate, and while the artwork is mismatched, it's also not bad. Borrow it.

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Dread Media 882
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