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Is It Wednesday Yet?

25 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.

Heroes for Hire #2
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 12 January 2011
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Penciler: Brad Walker
Inker: Andrew Hennessy
Colorist: Jay David Ramos
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Doug Braithwaite and Sonia Oback
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
Disintegrating completely after a pretty rough run of things during World War Hulk, it's been a little over three years of inactivity for Marvel's ragtag group of mercenaries, the Heroes for Hire. Appropriately enough, since it was a companywide summer crossover event that led to their split, it was Daredevil's recent mega-storyline, Shadowland, that brought them back together again albeit with a significantly altered and noticeably more powerful roster. Missing are the lesser-known creations that had formerly populated the squad; now their slots are filled by heavy hitters like Elektra, Ghost Rider, The Falcon, and Silver Sable.

Frequent collaborators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning known for their work on Nova and the similarly galactic-faring crossovers Annihilation: Conquest and Realm of Kings quickly prove they can work just as well inside Earth's gravitational pull. Their rendition of the team is straightlaced and professional, in contrast with the more freewheeling, seat-of-their-pants demeanor of the previous squad. It's also a revolving door of sorts, with faces from different corners of the Marvel Universe popping in for a guest spot, then disappearing a few panels later. The only real constant is Misty Knight last woman standing when the previous group met its end who's pulling the strings from a mysterious control room deep within an undisclosed location.

The prospect of an ever-shifting cast with a connection to the publisher's upper class opens up a lot of doors for this series, and cuts away some of its previous limitations as a small cluster of C-grade supporting characters. Granted, I don't expect any of the Avengers to show up on Misty's payroll any time soon, but the obvious increase in available firepower is just what the new series needed to declare its own identity. Abnett and Lanning have retooled Heroes from a fringe mercenary series into a genuine international operation locked, loaded, and already hip-deep in the action.

Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy, who teamed with Abnett and Lanning for the majority of their run on Guardians of the Galaxy, are back at the duo's side for Heroes for Hire. They're a great fit for the shadowy, action-with-flair style intended by the story, with an explosive knack for the big moments, and an uncanny ability to add depth to the small ones. Walker and Hennessy's characters are thick and substantial, holding true to their larger-than-life stature, with each guest spot treated with the kind of familiarity usually reserved for the regulars. Walker and Hennessy know that, in order for a team-up book to really find a degree of success, it's crucial to spotlight and showcase each character's individuality. And if this early showing is any indication, they're most definitely up for the task. The pair handles everything from demonic flames to duck-and-cover firefights with the same degree of panache.

Keep this team together as long as you can, Marvel, because this is a formula that works. Abnett and Lanning are ready, willing, and able to deliver nonstop action with reckless twists and turns, and with Walker and Hennessy at the wheel, I'm confident we won't end up in a fiery wreck at the end of the road. Heroes for Hire is an exploding barrel's worth of fun, loaded with just enough star power for that to really mean something. Buy it.

Secret Six #29
Publisher: DC Comics
Released: 12 January 2011
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Marcos Marz
Inker: Luciana Del Negro
Colorist: Jason Wright
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Daniel Luvisi
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Hannah Krueger
Courtesy of angel Ragdoll, we are caught up on how Luthor hired the Secret Six to take out the immortal Vandal Savage. Of course, Scandal and her father are still on as awful terms as ever, and a final standoff has begun between Lex and Vandal, who only want each others' death. The team gets stuck in the middle of it all, mainly because of that whole daughter connection.

It's been a while since I've picked up Secret Six, and the last time I did was just before the Blackest Night tie-in. Not too much seems to have changed in terms of the roster and dynamics, except for the addition of Black Alice. I have no clue who she is, but she seems to function as a nice grab bag of save-your-ass powers.

The recap was a definite help, because without it, I wouldn't have had a damn clue what was happening. Obviously, this is the tail end of an ongoing, multi-issue arc, and while the recap does its best to bring you up to speed, there's only so much it can do. The story seems to come to a pretty logical, though anticlimatic conclusion, especially if you know Luthor and Savage; they do their best to outmaneuver each other while using the Six as their less than amused and willing pawns.

There's a great character bit with Scandal at the end of the issue, however I wish that it could've been tacked onto something else. As much sense as it makes here, it just fails to make the emotional punch that Simone intended it to be.

The art's good enough from a distance, but close-ups offer some really bizzare facial builds, expressions, and shading especially on Luthor and Vandal. That said, the inking could be to blame for this, especially when it comes to the faces. Also, the crying. Colorist Jason Wright adds a nice touch, though.

All in all, flip through this. It's not anything spectacular, especially given Simone's earlier run on Secret Six, but it's not awful, either.

Spawn #200
Publisher: Image
Released: 12 January 2011
Writer: Todd McFarlane
Pencilers: Todd McFarlane and Michael Golden
Inker: Todd McFarlane
Colorist: Fco Plascencia
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Cover: Todd McFarlane
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
Like the reanimated corpse at its epicenter, after 200 issues and 18 years of publication, Todd McFarlane's Spawn is still slowly lurching forward. But as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and despite the intimidating volume number and a new protagonist, this series is still in virtually the same place it was way back in 1992. A borderline giddy, nebulous, all-encompassing evil still pulls the strings, while the modern carrier of the monster's symbiotic battle armor fights a losing battle to loose himself from the fate that's befallen generations of similarly strong-willed souls in the past. The identity of the two may have switched places a few times over the years, but it's ultimately the same game with mildly different players.

After toying with dedicated creative teams for decades, original writer / artist / creator Todd McFarlane has recently reclaimed both roles, perhaps inspired by the semi-recent creation of his second creator-owned property in as many decades, Haunt. Sadly, many of the same handicaps that befell the once-talented artist in his first pursuit have not passed with age. Reading McFarlane's writing is like drinking gruel through a straw: frustratingly ineffective, it's ultimately unsatisfying. His cryptic, uncertain script is rife with hyperbole, fruitless diatribes, and forced jokes. And, despite the ever-expanding word count in his scripts, the legendary creator still can't concoct a legible plot thread. After 60-plus pages, I'm still not entirely sure what I was supposed to take away from this issue. The story threatened to go somewhere several times, but upon reaching the final page, I wasn't surprised to find it still treading water.

With well over a decade's worth of neglect in its past, McFarlane's loose, undisciplined, modern artwork is a limp parody of his better years. This month, faced with the prospect of an oversized anniversary issue, he wisely splits pencil duties with Michael Golden, who can only do so much to reign in the madness that surrounds him. There was a time, particularly during the first year of Spawn's publication, that McFarlane's artwork was a revelation. At once elegant and disturbing, an uncommon marriage of excess and restraint, McFarlane was the hottest name in the industry for good reason. His experiments in layout were a breath of fresh air, his pin-ups worth the price of admission by their lonesome. In his modern work, McFarlane goes through many of the same motions, but they're lacking the dedication and devotion that made his work sing in the 1990s. Spawn #200 spills over with rushed, incomplete renderings; dull, half-hearted panel arrangements; and bland, stiff action scenes. It's like buying an album from your favorite band and realizing they just don't have it any more.

Though it's spent years trying to shake the preconceived notions of what it's all about, 200 issues of Spawn have done little more than supply its critics with more ammunition. This issue's non-story delights in nonsensical prose and ruthlessly illegible character interactions, but where past arcs could always fall back on the artwork to bail them out with a randomly-interspersed battle, that means of escape seems no longer available. It's an ugly, clunky tale paired with an artistic showing deserving of the same adjectives. Skip it.

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