Northlanders #6 (DC/Vertigo): There were two elements to this wonderful new book that just reached up and punched me in the brain. One, while Sven is a magnificent warrior, he’s not simply a mindless brawler. He observes, he takes in the feedback of those around him, he collates the information, and he learns how to be more strategic. It’s clear that Brian Wood is in this for the long haul and is building a truly layered character. Two, Davide Gianfelice’s visceral art is a perfect match for this book, I can think of no one better suited to give life to such a tale. Between this and Riccardo Burchielli on DMZ, Brian Wood has to be the luckiest guy in comics right now, look at all of the fantastic collaborators he’s working with! Grade A.
X-Force #4 (Marvel): From page one, this script is totally engaging. Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost move us along deftly through X-23's narration, Rahne’s attack, religious extremism, and transforming otherwise throw away characters (talking to you, Elixir) into people we actually care about. We’re treated to chilling lines like the “Apocalypse strand” that stop us in our tracks when we recall a connection to a certain character. For me, this has become the little X-book that could. I’m almost apologetically saying that I’m surprised to be enjoying this as much as I do. I came in with low expectations and have been dazzled for four straight issues. It’s simply on fire and building steam with every forthcoming release. Artistically, Clayton Crain reminds me of Bill Sinkiewicz in a way. When he started on New Mutants, there was nothing like his art in mainstream comics, it was different, it was not the neat look that was common in the Marvel stable, it was initially easy to dismiss it as off-putting. Yet, the more you saw it, the more it grew on you and you developed an appreciation for the subtle nuance. Here, with Crain, I find myself pouring over his images to notice stray wisps of hair, piercing eyes, or simple snowfall juxtaposed against a tree. X-Force is becoming a pleasure to read, whodathunkit? Grade A.
All-Star Superman #11 (DC): Unlike the written-by-committee approach of say… Final Crisis, this is the good Grant Morrison - with a singular voice and vision worth exploring. Lines like “He stinks of the irrational” and the bizarre inclusion of instantly fascinating characters like Luthor’s niece hum vibrantly along as big engaging ideas that are played out as small human dramas. Along with Quitely’s extraordinary art, it’s the perfect blend of imagination and accessibility. Grade A.
Dan Dare #6 (Virgin): It strikes me as a little BSG-influenced when they start speaking of jump solutions and light plus drive, but this was otherwise a bloody good time. I really enjoy the inborn fatalism of the characters, the sense of duty, and the quiet nobility with which they face insurmountable odds. Quiet and confident lines like “Once more…” as if to infer “…into the breach” are refreshing and straightforward compared to the complex calamity of the event driven madness exemplified by another book this week. Grade B+.
Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (Marvel): Delays and extraneous issues aside, the end of Whedon’s run really feels a little untidy. I’d honestly thought that Agent Brand had died, though I’m glad she didn’t and she gets some really cool revealing moments here, it all played a little confusing. The Cassaday two page spread of Spider-Man over New York was cool, but then I noticed the photo background blended in. On one hand, this was a cool little experiment. On the other, it was unnecessary and not in keeping with the artistic choices in the preceding 24 issues. Whedon’s adoration of Kitty Pryde (which I share) is evident as her mutant power and sheer force of will save the planet, but then weakened by forcing her to be “lost in space” indefinitely. And umm… how would she breathe or stay warm in the vacuum of space inside a hollow point metallic projectile anyway? What should/could have been a nice hefty bookend style wrap up to an overall solid 24 issues turns out to offer quite a few cliffhangers. Will Kitty be found? Why wasn’t Peter more determined, nay – mad, about the team’s reluctance to find her? What happened with Scott being able to control the optic blasts? What will become of Beast and Agent Brand? Why was the mind control of Earth’s heroes never explained? Will the incoming creative team of Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi follow up on these dangling bits or will this shitty denouement be left unresolved? As usual, Cassaday’s pencils delight, especially the depictions of Kitty, Scott, Emma, Agent Brand, and Logan. They’re all top shelf, particularly the facial expressions in some of the reaction shots. I loved this arc, but the disappointment of seeing enough material for another couple of issues crammed into one for a quick but inefficient wrap up seems to sting a little. I’m disappointed as this clocks in with a Grade B+.
Marvel: 1985 #1 (Marvel): I think some of Mark Millar’s lines are supposed to read as kitschy industry meta-commentary, but instead they hit me as inbred and self-serving. “What’s the point of collecting these books if I’m missing the title where all the big changes are happening?” I hope that’s rhetorical, because I have quite a few ways I could dissect that sentence and point out that it was this sort of self-loathing nonsense that much of the Kick-Ass backlash was rooted in. I, myself, like Kick-Ass, but I’m just saying… At times, Edwards’ art can be a bit too blocky and angular for me, yet when the inking and coloring are clicking it looks quite nice. I was genuinely surprised that Marvel Editorial let the Love & Rockets and other indie mentions go by. Sometimes Millar’s characters become caricatures. The dad here is really too much of an upstanding guy to be believable, taking this one quality and exaggerating it beyond plausibility. Has anyone ever been that complimentary of their ex-wife and ex-wife’s new husband? Would anyone really turn down thousands of dollars worth of comics out of the goodness of their heart? I can’t quite buy some of this, and the everyman POV has been done to death, but this does still have the potential to be an interesting personal story about “real” life in the Marvel U. Grade B.
Final Crisis #1 (DC): Dude, where to start here… I thought it was neat to see Anthro on the first page. I thought JG Jones’ art was great. Then it all sort of goes downhill. The opening scenes had a very “monkeys with the monolith discovering weapons at the dawn of time all 2001: A Space Odyssey” style. I couldn’t really figure out that was Orion until someone actually said his name. I don’t know who the narrator is or why that’s significant. There are some very expository moments, as evidenced by Savage’s little monologue. “My creed is Luthor” is one of the most hoary and overwrought lines I’ve heard in a while. I though it was pretty ethnocentric for New Earth to be considered the “foundation stone of all existence.” I think I’m just officially “event’d” out. I’m tired of rough jump cuts between seemingly disparate scenes. I’m tired of too many players being moved onto the board to focus on a single story thread or character arc in any satisfactory way. I’m tired of being asked to discern meaning where there probably isn’t any. I’m tired of characters (in this case, Orion and Martian Manhunter) being “killed” and rather than caring, mumbling to myself how and when will that move be undone? I’m tired of reading about the adverts for 8 other Final Crisis tie-in, spin-off, mini-series that go nowhere. The true crisis is DC’s sense of triumph at publishing empty fabricated spectacle rather than character driven stories. Perhaps it’s fitting that DC’s parent company is AOL-Time Warner, which owns Warner Brothers, which holds the rights to an old Looney Tunes character named Foghorn Leghorn. This book reminds me of that gregarious chicken-hawk. It's all bluster and fury. It’s all spit and noise, with no real content. Grade C.
I also picked up;
Skyscrapers of the Midwest (AdHouse Books): Joshua Cotter’s wonderful tale finally collected in a handsome little hardcover. As Warren Ellis puts it, “this is one odd fucking book” worthy of wider readership and recognition.