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Is It Wednesday Yet?

06 September 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.

Angel & Faith #1
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 31 August 2011
Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Rebekah Issacs
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Cover: Steve Morris
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Hannah Krueger
Twilight, the big bad from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight who possessed Angel, has been defeated. However, Angel, while possessed by Twilight, snapped Giles' neck. And defeating Twilight also somehow destroyed all the magic in the world and ended the Slayer line. Good one, Buffy. So Angel needs the whole redemption thing again, but he fucked up so badly this time that even Buffy has given up on him. However, Faith hasn't. So, he and Faith are working their way through Giles' Watcher files to finish up whatever loose ends he may have left hanging like, say, a young girl possessed by a demon that will remain dormant until such time as Giles can get someone with stronger magical ability than him to unpossess her. Meanwhile, darker forces are moving to make sure that what Twilight started is finished.

As some of you may already know, I'm really not pleased with the last "season" in the Buffy comic, and having to recap some of the points I disliked was physically painful. But, for something spinning out of a situation I would like to pretend never happened, this isn't half bad.

Angel & Faith feels like the initial seasons of Angel; Angel's attempting to redeem himself by saving innocent lives while kicking ass Batman-style. His ridiculously brooding character has been toned down, too. On top of that, it's fun. Seeing as the demon here specifically requires magic (which doesn't exist anymore) to exorcise it, we get to see Angel and Faith think up a pretty neat way to get around the magic requirement to save the little girl.

The fight takes up half the issue, while the rest focuses on what appears to be the overarching plot for this book. We get to see a lot of the Slayers' resentment for Buffy's actions, their hatred for Twilight and the vampires he spawned, and we meet another Slayer who looks to be a fairly major character.

This, in turn, leads to my only sticking point: Angel's path for redemption.

Faith was the one who was all "let's go through the Watcher files, wrap up Giles' loose ends, and do redemption that way." This is the way Angel had been doing it over in his own series. But, no. Angel wants to redeem himself another way, which, in theory, would be a pretty damn good way to redeem himself. But, without going into spoilers, doesn't always work so well in the Buffyverse.

The art is done well here. Both Angel and Faith bear really good resemblance to Boreanaz and Dushku, but not to the point that they look like carbon copies of the actors. The action scenes are drawn incredibly well too, which is a major component of this series, so that bodes quite well.

Borrow this. How you feel about the story might depend on whether or not you followed the recent Buffy comic. But so far, it's looking to be pretty fun.

Planet of the Apes #5
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Released: 31 August 2011
Writer: Daryl Gregory
Artist: Carlos Magno
Colorist: Nolan Woodard
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover: Scott Keating
Cover price: $1.00

Review: Sean Lemberg
When this issue rolled into my review box, I momentarily paused to consider how such a lucrative franchise had managed to avoid this medium for so long. After all, the intelligent blend of sci-fi and fantasy seen in the Apes series has typically fared very well in comic books, and without any concern for prosthetics and special effects to get in the way, the concepts and ideas behind the story itself could be reasonably expected to succeed. Well, a quick Wikipedia search later and the facts stand revealed: the 2011 edition is far from the first adaptation attempted with this license. Since the original film landed in theaters, no less than a dozen different publishers have tried their hand at the simian landscape, including several mangas, a three-year run at Marvel, and a Dark Horse tie-in to the 2001 Tim Burton-helmed remake. Learn something new every day.

Despite that long tradition of ill repute, Daryl Gregory's new interpretation might just wind up being the one that finally sticks. Like this year's big screen relaunch, it seems like Gregory can see beyond the masks, make-up, and long-lasting catchphrases of the first film to the enduring message buried beneath. On the surface it's a sci-fi adventure with ape-men riding saddled-horses and humans thrashing wildly in their cages, but beneath that lies a complex, relevant message about segregation, society, and racism of all shapes and sizes. Not only does the new series meet these issues head-on, but it does so with a hefty, diverse cast, a large-scale primary storyline, and dozens of intelligent minor plot threads. And though this issue can at times be intimidating for new readers, its pace is deliberate enough for fresh faces to catch up quickly without feeling completely overwhelmed.

Gregory's found himself a great match in Carlos Magno too, whose sharp, vivid artwork is all the proof at-a-glance viewers need to tell BOOM! Studios is serious about this series. Like former Wildstorm golden boy Travis Charest, Magno's work is richly meticulous, but sparingly so. Both artists speak volumes in the details of each panel, balancing the heavier portions of a layout with effective, strategic use of negative space. Naturally, Magno's contribution doesn't entirely benefit from such comparisons, as Charest's work is more evenly stylized and poetic, but the potential for similar growth is there. With a bit more finesse, Carlos could easily grow into a formidable talent. As it is, his artwork is a bargain for the $1.00 asking price.

That last statement holds true for the full issue, as well. At a standard price, this effort would have received a firm "borrow" recommendation and a few words about its potential to move into my pull list somewhere down the line. At less than a third the price of most mainstream comics, though, it easily makes the leap up a level, making it a solid buy. The moody, cinema-influenced artwork might get the first hooks in, but it's the smart, multifaceted storytelling that'll bring readers back for more.

The Rinse #1
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Released: 31 August 2011
Writer: Gary Phillips
Artist: Marc Laming
Colorist: Darrin Moore
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover: Francesco Mattina
Cover price: $1.00

Review: Sean Lemberg
With no shortage of crime drama on the shelves today, it can be difficult for new books in the genre to make their mark, particularly ones without the benefit of a big-name creative team. In the case of The Rinse, new from BOOM! Studios, the goal is to overcome both issues by shedding light on a heretofore under-explored aspect of the shady man's business: the laundering, or "rinsing," of dirty money into clean, suspicion-free, taxable income. This issue's man of the hour, one Jeff Sinclair, became the best there is at what he does through careful dealings, a razor-sharp mind for the business, and more than a few well-placed punches and kicks. He's the under-the-table high-roller's best friend, with a playboy's gift of gab and an attitude like a pulp private eye.

Although we're joining Sinclair at the top of his game with a wealth of experience and a bed of hundred dollar bills beneath him that doesn't mean the first issue doesn't deliver its share of elaboration. In fact, the book's half over by the time Jeff removes the training wheels, leaves the paint-by-the-numbers explanations behind and gets on with the story developments. Thing is, for all the effort author Gary Phillips dedicates to explaining the various hoops Jeff jumps through on any given day, I didn't completely buy into the validity of his work. It all seems too straightforward, too effortless, and too transparent to escape the eye of his enemies. It's a trend that carries over into the forward-gazing plot threads that stretch their legs in the latter half of this issue, where again our rinser's interactions seem far too on-the-surface to be credible. While the charm of a good noir tale is often in the hints and clues that are left unspoken, The Rinse may as well have spelled everything out on a series of flash cards.

Marc Laming's artwork is a curious choice for such a book. His bright, bubbly style and grinning, happy-go-lucky characterizations seem at odds with the street smart tone of the narrator and the seedy underworld he occupies, like a hot dog stand set up inside the front door of a ritzy club. Laming's best work is in establishing shots, where he showcases a slick, minimal knack for rendering vivid landscapes and bustling city street corners throw an important character or some action into the mix and he gets tripped up. The mismatch of styles isn't helped by Darrin Moore's shiny, polished colors. With a subtle, sleazy palette at play, much of the artwork's shortcomings could have been neutralized, but Moore's overuse of warm, friendly shades drives it further in the wrong direction.

For all the small things this issue gets right a suave lead, and an original take on a crowded genre there are a dozen larger issues it gets helplessly wrong. Hammy, vanilla dialog is a cardinal sin in a book like this, but under the right circumstances that can be forgiven. A blunt, predictable plot would take a bit more work to compensate for. Roll all of that up with a badly paired artist, though, and you've got a full platter of problems. Not even a discounted cover price can get this one where it needs to be. Skip it.

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