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Is It Wednesday Yet?

22 March 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.

Amazing Spider-Man #654.1
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 16 February 2011
Writer: Dan Slott
Penciler: Humberto Ramos
Inker: Carlos Cuevas
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Paulo Siqueira
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
You know, it sucks to be Flash Thompson. He joins the military, does his tour of duty, comes back home, and then 40 (real world) years later he rejoins the army, and heads to Iraq, only to get his legs blown off. I mean, why is the military employing Vietnam veterans as frontline combat troops anyway?

This isn't really an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, it's more Venom #0. Now that the symbiote is off of Eddie Brock, it looks like it's going to be hopping from one host to another. Post-Mac Gargan, the military has their mitts on it, and they're using it for covert ops. All they needed was a willing guinea pig to send out into the field as a temporary host, which is where Flash comes in.

Dan Slott's really been doing a great job with Spidey and his supporting cast since Amazing went twice-monthly. Flash has been fleshed out through minor storylines to the point where him getting his own series is a welcome change to long-time Spidey readers. The premise for the new comic is pretty cool; Flash is assigned to be the host, and act as an operative in the field. Due to the addictive nature of the symbiote, the military is keeping a close eye on Flash, especially since he's a recovering alcoholic and the suit allows him to walk. It's a neat concept, especially since they've put a limit on the number of times they're willing to let him go out on missions. Presumably that means this is a comic with a built-in expiration date, which means that either Flash is going to have to give up the symbiote or full-on become the new Venom, possibly on the run from the law and succumbing to the animalistic impulses it generates. I'm honestly intrigued to find out how this one goes.

Ramos is, I think, an acquired taste, but his style is very well-suited to Venom and this issue in particular. The switches between the secret-agent tuxedoed Flash, hardcore military Venom, and full symbiote beast demonstrate a real range in styles on his part. It's a fun, kinetic action comic as well as being expressive and interesting when it has to be. I've always liked the way that Ramos distinguishes his characters, particularly in a book like this with a combination of old and new faces. It helps one take notice of the new people.

This is strong stuff. If you were interested by the premise, I'd recommend you borrow it.

Herculian #1
Released: 02 March 2011
Writer: Erik Larsen
Artist: Erik Larsen
Letterer: Erik Larsen
Cover: Erik Larsen
Cover price: $4.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
Though it may not appear to be the case from the cover, Herculian is a bit more than a simple, tongue-in-cheek homage to the bygone days of superheroic excess. Granted it's not without such dalliances, but on the large this single-issue package is more like a stream of consciousness playground for one of the industry's quirkier imaginations. Erik Larsen, who's been virtually absorbed by Savage Dragon for the last two decades, obviously relishes this opportunity to open the cellar doors and let his inner miscreant out into the streets for a bit of off-color chaos, and that prospect alone is quite refreshing.

Herculian's self-contained set of short stories, backed by a full-color print of "Guy Talk," Larsen's ever so slightly more straight-laced 24-hour comic, constantly test the limits of good taste to a variety of results. In this rare break from the stricter limitations of a regular ongoing series, he seems like a beast unchained, lashing out in all directions with unexpected vigor. With Larsen at the wheel, we're on a hell-bent joyride that swerves from acidic surrealism (the pathetic adventures of Cheeseburger-Head) to sardonic black comedy ("Mickey Maus," which is exactly what it sounds like) to indie fodder (the feature length chat of "Guy Talk"), with brief stops everywhere in between.

Naturally, not all the directions Larsen takes are good ones, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes he nudges the envelope a bit too far into the realm of discomfort, others he'll keep pressing on a gag that just isn't working, but amidst the tragically failed experiments are an equal number that really get the job done. None are so memorable that I'll be carrying them around with me for the rest of my life, but for a rapid-fire array of short diversions, they're generally worth a glimpse.

Beginning his career as an artist, it should be no surprise that the most interesting portions of Larsen's work remain the visuals. In Herculian he's decided on a weatherworn style, complete with colors printed slightly out of registration and pseudo-dog-eared pages, a simple but effective means of loosening up his readers' expectations and transporting them back to the more carefree days of their youth, when a beloved comic would absorb food stains and lay under the couch for a year, not slide into a plastic sheath and hibernate in a long box. Larsen's style could never be accused of seeming overly disciplined, especially in more recent years, and that trend continues throughout this issue. In "Guy Talk," which went from blank slate to completed project in a single day, his typically rushed compositions are surprisingly fleshed out and complete considering the circumstances. Seeing a similar haphazard approach applied to the rest of the issue gives the whole package a measure of sketchbook appeal, which I found perfectly suitable to the kind of throwaway gags he's dispensing on each page.

As an anthology of silly concepts and short-changed ideas, Herculian certainly could've been much worse. It delivers a few laughs, some interesting experiments in page layout, and a few brow-furrowing shocks, but thankfully doesn't make the mistake of taking itself very seriously. Larsen completists will want to add this one to their collections right away, but more casual observers of his career should use discretion. Flip through it.

Justice League: Generation Lost #21
Released: 09 March 2011
Writer: Judd Winick
Penciler: Fernando Dagnino
Inker: Raul Fernandez
Colorist: Hi-Fi Color Design
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover: Dustin Nguyen
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Hannah Krueger
Spoiler warning!
So, things have kind of gone to shit. Magog went 'splodey, taking Chicago with him, and now there's radiation poisoning happening. Oh, Maxwell Lord has caused all of this, and he's killed Jaime Reyes. (Maybe.) The rest of the Justice League International team uses this issue to process and react. Also, Booster feels guilty about not being able to prevent another Blue Beetle from being killed by Max.

I think you know where this is going. There have been a lot of legacy characters knocked off in the fallout from Blackest Night and Brightest Day in the last few months, such as the latest Firestorm and Atom. And you probably thought Jaime was potentially the next one in line after last month's issue, right? Well, I'm here to happily announce that the trend of the legacies getting killed seems to have finally stopped, though that may have been because the character is so near and dear to Dan DiDio's heart.

The problem is that most of the plot for this issue revolves around team-wide angst over Jaime's death and what Booster thinks are his failures all of which is invalidated when Jaime is revealed to be alive on the last page, complete with the knowledge needed to defeat Maxwell Lord. Because of that revelation, it makes the issue feel like padding at best and completely pointless at worst. Granted, all of these insecurities are completely valid angst, but they're all precipitated by Jaime's death and the fact that he died so young. Take that away, and none of this issue would have happened.

Aside from Jaime and Booster, I know almost nothing about this team, except that Tora's in a relationship with Guy Gardner and she's pretty awesome. The other people? No clue. And this comic really relies on you knowing them in order to get what's going on. So, without context, their issues went over my head, making this not the best way to come into the series.

No complaints on the art here. It's very pretty, well-drawn, and conveys the emotions well.

Skip this. Even if you've been following the series prior to this, the only thing you really need to know is that no, Jaime is not dead, and he knows what's up with Max. Whee!

New Avengers #10
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 09 March 2011
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mike Deodato and Howard Chaykin
Colorists: Rain Beredo and Edgar Delgado
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Mike Deodato
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Tom Hemmings
I'm starting to feel like they need to retell Marvel history from the beginning again just so I can keep it straight. It's not a spoiler because it's on the cover, but a lot of this issue deals with a team of Avengers formed in 1959, including Namora, Dum Dum Dugan, Sabretooth, and Kraven the Hunter. Considering this story takes place 52 years ago, they're all still in pretty good nick. Apart from Sabretooth. And I guess Kraven was dead for a chunk of it. And Namora got poisoned for a while.

See, this is what I'm talking about. So much stuff has happened that it's hard for any but the hardest of the hardcore to keep it all straight. Throw in whatever insanity Hickman is writing over in SHIELD and Brubaker's retelling of World War II, and you have a history so complicated that it's surprising only Wolverine got stuck with chronic memory issues. How Nick Fury keeps it all straight I'll never know.

This is basically two stories told alternately. There's no reason for this other than to make sure you keep reading the 1959 sections; one has nothing to do with the other. The New Avengers are mopping up some post-HAMMER freelancers, and in the past Nick Fury is running around recruiting for a black ops team from amongst that era's more obscure and available faces.

The great thing about the modern New Avengers is that they're generally fun. Bendis took a lot of likeable characters (and Mockingbird) and put them on a team together to kick ass and crack wise. Ben Grimm is the breath of fresh air that Spider-Man was back when they first formed the New Avengers, Cage and Jessica are as fun as ever, and I'll never get tired of seeing Spider-Man team up with people instead of just being the pariah of the hero sect. There's nothing particularly remarkable about the storyline, but it's the sort of breather that works in team books every so often, it's more about them interacting than any specific villain or plot. Bendis can write great dialog and is clearly having fun with this. As for 1959, it's your basic getting-the-team-together issue.

Now, the art. I'm sorry, but I don't like Chaykin. I don't mean to say that I don't think he's talented, it's just that his work is better suited to other people's tastes. His bodies and faces are so awkward, with massive jaw lines and frequently prominent teeth that for some reason he applies far too much detail to. These issues aren't helped when he's frequently switching back and forth with Mike Deodato, a master of the current comic book style. When Jessica Jones in jeans and a T-shirt looks sexier than an evil secret agent in lingerie, Howard Chaykin is clearly doing something wrong. Deodato has such complete mastery over his incredibly detailed character models that it takes the breath away. His use of shading might be deemed excessive by some, but for fans like myself it's a hallmark of his work, something I've enjoyed since he was illustrating Peter David's stories on The Incredible Hulk. I've commented on this before, but in my mind the principle reason to use two artists to illustrate two eras is to encapsulate something of the visual style of each time period, and I don't think Chaykin's work fits that description. I might well enjoy it in another context, but it didn't feel appropriate here.

This felt a little like New Avengers needed someone else's plot to fill out their comic so it wasn't all banter. I'm sure that when these stories come together it'll be interesting, and I'll definitely keep up with this. For now, though, borrow this one. It's a decent place to give this book a try even if it's not the strongest issue.

Outsiders #36
Released: 16 February 2011
Writers: Dan DiDio and Joe Bennet
Penciler: Joe Bennet
Inker: Jack Jadson
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Phillip Tan
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Hannah Krueger
Black Lightning and the rest of the team are on the run 'cause, apparently, they're enemies of the state. So he decides that he wants to check up on his daughters, which has been his main driving factor for most of the series, it would seem. However, it doesn't go well for Black Lightning and the rest of his painfully stereotyped teammates. Also, Geo-Force is possibly crazy because of his maybe-not-dead sister. This also is not a good thing. Oh, also, Doctor Fate and Amanda Waller show up.

This is obviously leading to some sort of endgame, and the issue mostly seems to serve as set-up for the last two issues, which are clearly going to be some all-out spectacular or as much as DiDio is going to try and make it.

There's some really painful sexism and what might be racism going on here. As I've mentioned, the focal character of this issue is a black superhero named Black Lightning, and some pretty unfortunate absentee-father parallels can be drawn to him. There's also another black superhero on the team, Freight Train, who is the personification of every awful black male stereotype: womanizing, sexist, a drunk, and disrespectful. It made me cringe. Also, one of the daughters spends her entire appearance in a bathrobe, and the only other female character that's not in flames is in a stomach-bearing tank top and skimpy underwear for the whole comic. And Stargirl is posing in a ridiculously suggestive way with her staff. Classy.

The cheesecake is forced, the poses are awkward, and random shadows are cast everywhere to avoid drawing faces. In the two panels where we see Amanda Waller's face, there is literally no difference from one to the other in expression and background. It's like the artist just gave up, like he was ashamed to be associated with this book.

Skip this. It's no surprise why this is series is ending soon.

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