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Is It Wednesday Yet?

12 October 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.

Green Arrow #4
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 29 September 2010
Writer: JT Krul
Penciler: Diogenes Neves
Inker: Vincente Cifuentes
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Mauro Cascioli
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
This is supposed to be a review of Green Arrow #4, so imagine my surprise when I opened this up only to find I'd already read the first dozen pages. Where did this happen, you might ask? Brightest Day #9, a comic released a month ago. In fact, to put the events of the original comic into context, this issue of Green Arrow was released in the same week as Brightest Day #11, so it's not even as though this is concurrent with the story they're attempting to tell in that book. Upon realizing this, I immediately felt like I'd been robbed of my precious time, so I decided that rather than judge this book by itself, I'd judge it next to the comic it was... copying? Plagiarizing? Ripping off? No matter how you look at it, unless after reading this you gain some special insight into these twice-told events, I think you'll agree it's just a blatant grab for a script to fill time in this issue.

JT Krul is not one of my favorite writers. You may recognize his name from the widely lambasted Rise of Arsenal miniseries. When I heard he was taking over Green Arrow — possibly my favorite DC character of all — I was downhearted to say the least. However, I can't say for sure that my problems with this issue are entirely his fault. No doubt this was to a degree editorially mandated. I'm sure the direct contradictions arising from comparing the dialog of Martian Manhunter and Green Arrow in the two issues stems from editorial problems; that's why this comic reads like an unfinished first draft of the Brightest Day edition. Also, when it comes to the art, one of the main action shots was from exactly the same angle as the original in Brightest Day. I'm certain the artist here saw an unfinished version at some point and copied it.

What I can tell you is that 90% of what's interesting about the original scene is what's going on in J'onn's head, and we see none of that in Green Arrow. What we get is half this book being taken up by the uninteresting half of the original story, with zero additional insight. Oh, and if you thought the rest of the issue might be a step up, you're dead wrong. Without the crutch of the Geoff Johns / Peter Tomasi script to help him past the midway point, Krul seems completely lost when trying to craft his vision of Star City and its characters; Arrow seems especially dense. When a police contact makes a reference to two murders being potentially linked (without actually explaining anything about one of them), Green Arrow asks him to look for connections between the two — which he obviously already did since he's linked them together. So either Ollie thinks the detective is a moron, or Ollie is one himself. That's just one example. The leaps in logic by Green Arrow make the Insane Clown Posse's "Miracles" video seem like a rigorous exercise in scientific reasoning.

In critiquing one of his own routines, the comedian Stewart Lee once said, "The first half of it was plagiarized, and the second half doesn't really work." That fits this perfectly. Any problems with this issue that can't be blamed on Krul and his sub-generic grip on comic book writing can be laid at the feet of the editors. If it were only Krul's writing at fault this would be a mere skip, but because DC decided to insult their readers by essentially reprinting a below average version of a story they sold us a month ago, I have to go lower. Avoid this like complex bowel surgery: babychest.

Machete #0
Publisher: IDW
Released: 29 September 2010
Writers: Robert Rodriguez and Aaron Kaufman
Artist: Stuart Sayger
Colorist: Jay Fotos
Letterer: Neil Uyetake
Cover: Juan Doe
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
As the introductory chapter to a full ongoing series, coming your way this December, Machete #0 opens the door to a crazed adventure on par with the character's crimson-drenched feature film debut. With both tales taking their hints from a paper-thin joke of a trailer in 2007's Grindhouse, there's plenty of room for elaboration here — but also no shortage of opportunity for gratuitous, mindless, mesmerizing violence. A rarity in the landscape of movie tie-ins, director Robert Rodriguez himself has taken on the writing duties (with an assist from Aaron Kaufman), which in theory should ensure an unusually close relationship between the two properties.

To a degree, that's true. The story rips along like a Harley from Hell, distributing punch-outs, dead hookers, drug cartels, and bad cops around every turn. Like the film, there's no question of the issue's commitment to telling a serious story; it's about as genuine as a midnight wedding in Las Vegas. Rodriguez and Kaufman play with stereotypes at every opportunity, which sometimes works as genuine parody, while others feels like wanton excess for their own amusement. Particularly noteworthy are the Mexican pedestrians who alternate between Spanish exclamations and English conversation, often more than once in a single sentence. Does anybody really speak like that, or is it just a joint invention by Hollywood and the Marvel Bullpen to minimize their investment in subtitling? I'm not sure if this issue is embracing that clichι or calling it out.

Sadly, though, the comic just isn't as much fun as the initial trailer or the eventual feature film. The action is just as careless and the plot just as transparent, but somewhere along the way we lost track of the charm and machismo that fueled Machete's celluloid romp. Bold visuals and wild creativity can gloss over a lot in the theater, but with both elements removed in this print version, the plot's shortcomings are stripped bare. There's a fine line between playful parody and just plain bad storytelling, and Machete #0 takes several big steps in the wrong direction.

Stuart Sayger's rough, grizzled artwork flirts with both relevance and rebellion on every page. In some panels, Sayger's thick ink splatters and quick, imprecise renderings provide a perfect counterpart for the story's reckless, misdirected aggression. In others, it feels like the only guy in the room who doesn't get the joke. On a few occasions, Jay Fotos's brazen, invasive colors bail out a particularly bad page, but just as many others are irreparably spoiled by a bland color choice or strange composition. It's the very definition of hit-or-miss, but at least Sayger's renditions of Danny Trejo's unmistakably grizzled mug are easily identifiable.

The comic adaptation of this year's most stylishly awful action hit is a perfect match in some regards and a total miss in others. It has the large supply of gunfire, knife fights, and ladies that helped to power the film, but when push comes to shove it's nowhere near as wild a ride. The lines of dialog that would've had me cracking up in the theater just came off as hackneyed and stupid in print. Give it a skip.

The Terminator: 1984 #1
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 29 September 2010
Writer: Zack Whedon
Artist: Andy MacDonald
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Cover: Massimo Carnevale
Cover price: $3.50

Review: Sean Lemberg
Up until now, the mentality of Dark Horse's Terminator tie-ins have almost exclusively focused on expanding the universe with new characters, situations, and settings. They've added layers to the franchise, but the disconnect between those elaborations and the events of the movies themselves have been tough to move past. Fleeting appearances from John Connor, infrequent references to the films' timeline, and entirely original characters have distanced the comic book continuity from the primary plot that's at the wheel of the franchise, which has likely turned off many potential casual readers. With Terminator: 1984, the publisher tries a new strategy: broaden and enrich the events of the catalyzing first film in the series with the story of several concurrent, intertwining threads.

Terminator fans are often afforded a unique perspective of the films' events. We know Sarah Connor's not out of her mind in the second film, for example, when doctors in the mental hospital patronize her for believing so passionately in the idea of a time-skipping robot assassin. We hold our breath, waiting for the moment those pompous docs come face to face with the real thing, never considering the standpoint of the few elite officials further behind the scenes, chilled by the similarities between her statements and the project they just green lit in R&D. That's an angle we're finally allowed to enjoy in the opening issue of this miniseries, as a roomful of decorated military men fret over the video testimony of Kyle Reese, the man John Connor sent back to protect his mother in the first movie. The moment is rewarding — finally, somebody in charge is using their brain — and opens a broad range of intriguing new questions. How do they react to this revelation? How does it affect or alter their plans? How much of a self-fulfilling prophecy is this horrible, machine-dominated future?

Balancing those familiar moments is an original side story, following another soldier from the future who's leapt back in time to intercept Kyle and subtly alter his historic path. Interestingly enough, it's this unknown face who adds the most depth to the story, as he absorbs the mundanities of everyday life through unfamiliar eyes. His childlike reaction to the abundance of food and the crowds of people in broad daylight gives the dark future he calls home an even more sinister shade. It's great storytelling with a noticeable, appropriate shortage of dialog.

Andy MacDonald's artwork is similarly reader-friendly. His work is weighty and solid, grounded and restrained, but spectacular when it needs to be. He paces himself, giving the majority of the issue an unconcerned, almost casual appearance, before ramping up the electricity on the few panels of wild, chaotic action. The story plays out beautifully across his expertly timed panel-work. And while none of the cast is a perfect duplicate of their on-screen counterpart, they remain easily recognizable. Besides, this is a story that depends more on reenacted plot points to familiarize its readers than flawless visual accuracy.

Dark Horse's latest take on the Terminator franchise gives every indication it'll also be their finest. Tying the narrative to a specific, familiar period of time in the saga's mythos was a fine touch that freed the original storyline to focus more on the details and less on establishing itself in continuity. It's a finely imagined addition to fondly remembered territory that both emboldens and respectfully enhances the original. Buy it.

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