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Is It Wednesday Yet?

18 January 2011 — 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.

Avengers Prime #5
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 05 January 2011
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Mark Farmer
Colorist: Javier Rodriguez
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Alan Davis
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
The classic Avengers squad of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America may have finally reassembled into a single formidable unit once more, but they're still badly in need of a group hug. After alien invasions, assassinations, and superhuman registrations, the three heads of this superhero stable still have some major issues to work through. And, fortunately enough, they've stumbled into the closest thing to a weekend retreat the Marvel Universe has to offer. Transported into separate mystical realms by a mysterious force, the trio has fought their way through trial after trial and, ultimately, come together as one to tackle the renewed threat of Hela, Goddess of Death. Looks like this is the month their new partnership gets its first real trial by fire.

Kudos to Brian Bendis for trying something different with the scenery in this arc, trading the standard orgy of plasma-based laser blasts on city streets for a simple struggle between black magic and cold steel, but I'm just not feeling it. By stripping all three heroes of their most iconic weapons — Steve of his shield, Thor his hammer, and Tony his technology — Bendis had a good chance to reinforce the classical personalities behind those powers. This, one would think, would be essential to their mutual reconciliation. Instead it plays like a handicap, something the three have to deal with for the duration of the big fight before the status quo is restored and everybody gets to reclaim their crutches. Stark and Rogers don't even seem all that upset about it, merrily smashing random foot soldiers throughout the issue while Thor tackles the more risky challenges. Their constant wisecracks, while often amusing, also rob the story of its serious undertones. How solemn can the son of Odin's life-and-death struggle really be if his cohorts are too busy coming up with their next zinger to pay him any mind?

As with almost any of his previous collaborations, Alan Davis' artwork grants the issue a deep sense of legitimacy and respectability. His illustrations greet each character like an old, familiar friend, and ground a tale that might otherwise have flown a bit off the handle. Davis is a master, no question about it, and while a few of this month's illustrations do seem a bit dated and restrained, there's always a more exciting panel just a page or two away. In particular, he delivers on pages spotlighting Hela and her dark army of undead monstrosities, in which the ink is thick and the tone is sinister. It's a good showing, if perhaps not on the level of the work he was pumping out in his prime.

As the ultimate resolution to a clash of personalities that's been unfolding for 10 years, this was amazingly unimpressive. It's a resolution, I can give it that, though not a particularly interesting one. The three classical heads of the Avengers have taken the first real step toward resolving their longstanding differences, which should be a landmark moment in the history of the team, and here I am feeling like it wasn't really much of a moment. If medieval fairs and tear-stained beards are your thing, this is the place to be. If you're after a moment with a bit more electricity, turn your eyes elsewhere. Avengers Prime is just painting by the numbers. Flip through it.

Ian Churchill's Marineman
Publisher: Image
Released: 05 January 2011 Writer: Ian Churchill
Artist: Ian Churchill
Colorists: Ian Churchill and Alex Sollazzo
Letterers: Comicraft's Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt, and JG Roshell
Cover: Ian Churchill
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
You've got to be kidding me, right? Don't get me wrong, I like Aquaman and think he's by and large an underrated character, but the guy is a walking punch line and can't support a solo comic. So why is Image releasing a book about his knockoff? Upon reading it, I remain utterly mystified.

Marineman is the alter ego of Steve Ocean, marine biologist and TV celebrity. Because when you have secret sea-based powers the best way to hide that is by dressing in a suspiciously superheroic looking wet-suit and jumping into the water at every given opportunity whilst cameras are trained on you. His dad is some sort of commander and Steve spends most of the issue showing an impossibly curvy new female lieutenant around. Neither of them really wants to, but his dad is insistent that he at least try to nail her, and Steve agrees because he's not ready to tell his father he's secretly in love with his best friend, Jake Clearwater. Yes. That is genuinely the character's name. Okay, most of that is subtext, but the only way to make this remotely interesting is by randomly going off on tangents inside your own mind in a desperate attempt to avoid reading the complete and utter blandness that is Marineman. I'd rather watch competitive plate tectonics than read issue three. It should be a poke at heroes like Namor or Aquaman, pointing out the limits that their adventures face and having a bit of fun with a comic book archetype that is, for want of a better word, floundering. Instead it jumps from cliché to cliché: he fights a shark, the military wants him, there's an evil scientist, he jumps over a rail to save someone from a watery death (hi, Superman II), and underneath it all is the nauseously earnest Steve Ocean and his equally earnest supporting cast. There's also a two-page back-up feature about a real marine biologist, which I couldn't even pretend to be interested in. This isn't a comic; this is something you hand out in primary schools for the kids because if they draw willies on this at least that's one less day they'll spend ruining their actual textbooks.

On to the art. Steve Ocean has the kind of physique where he looks like he even takes special steroids to increase the size of his jaw, because his normal 15-needle-a-day routine isn't making him look absurd enough. He's comically huge; I've seen The Hulk drawn slimmer. His calves are so big they probably qualify as full-grown cows. There's such a thing as a swimmers body — svelte and able to move through the water quickly. Steve Ocean has whatever the opposite of that is; he has the aquadynamics of Buckingham Palace. The female lieutenant is almost as bad. Comically curvy but with a hint of Eastern European shot-putter in her frame, she somehow looks far more feminine when in her military uniform than she does in a dress. She also only has two expressions: mouth slightly open and mouth closed, and even then you get no indication that her teeth aren't glued together. Most of the rest is okay. The backgrounds are nice and almost every other character looks pretty decent, although some of the textures fail to fit in with the art style. However, regardless of good composition or nice detail work, the lead characters remain fundamentally poorly designed from beginning to end, and it cripples the whole book.

I was hoping for something in this, some sort of bright-eyed adventures with a knowing wink and an unhealthy but satisfying chunk of cheese. What they gave us was an encyclopedia of superhero conventions, a complete absence of any kind of self-awareness, an irritating amount of self-righteous preaching, and a block of suspicious discount cheese the size of my house with a sell-by date from somewhere before the birth of Stan Lee. Skip it. Literally, throw it in a skip.

John Byrne's Next Men #2
Publisher: IDW
Released: 05 January 2011
Writer: John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Neil Uyetake
Cover: John Byrne
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
After 15 years, comic book legend John Byrne has returned to his first creator-owned property: Next Men. A pondering on the feasibility of a squad of government-created superhumans in the real world, the series was a moderate hit for Dark Horse before Byrne placed it on the backburner to investigate new ideas in the mid-1990s. Now, in addition to adopting a new publisher, the series seems to be moving in an entirely new direction. Though time travel was never a foreign concept to the original stories, in this modern revival it's become the plot's sole motivation.

By means that have yet to be revealed, the group has been split up, both physically and temporally. They're visiting different times, places, mentalities, and situations, with some handling the predicament more elegantly than others. Byrne, never being one to shy away from a controversy, has naturally dropped his creations into some of the most politically charged moments modern history has to offer. After all, what jaunt through time and space would be complete without a visit to German concentration camps and the Confederate States of America? Though unapologetic stereotypes abound freely in each location, Byrne does make some base efforts to tell stories with a message, something beyond the basic idea that slavery / anti-Semitism is wrong. The stories aren't easy to read, particularly if you'd developed any sort of affinity for the characters he so willingly drags through the worst our world has to offer, but they're also weightier than the simple caricatures they appeared to be at first glance.

Byrne's artwork is sufficient if not spectacular. He places a lot of emphasis on getting each historical setting just right, with appropriate attire, architecture, and attitude, which really helps to authenticate each chapter. His actual execution, though, is often under-thought, uncomfortably exaggerated, and sorely lacking in polish. While his writing is sometimes (though not always) working against the natural tendency to cast the bad guys as a single, faceless mob, Byrne's illustrations only reinforce that idea. Though his plot features countless opportunities for a striking visual or explosive development, his visual chops just aren't up for a delivery. It's a dry, dull look and feel for Next Men.

Like so much of this issue's cast, John Byrne seems to be lost in time, plodding along with a mindset and toolbox that's neither appropriate nor advisable for the era in which it appears. The story's slow, deliberate pace and hackneyed dialog let down a concept that could've had legs. The few moments of excitement that the plot musters are quickly squashed by Byrne's own drab, incomplete artwork. At the end of the day, this seems like the work of a creator who's taken on more than he can handle and, as a result, falls back to his old habits just to get the job done. Perhaps the aid of a dedicated artist or storytelling assistant could've transformed this into all it had the potential to be — or perhaps not. In its present state, I'd suggest you skip it.

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