2.04.2009

2.04.09 Reviews (Part 1 of 3)

Secret Warriors #1 (Marvel): Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman really bring out the best in eachother. From Bendis, we get the realistic dialogue that flows naturally, contains pauses, and overlapping interruptions. It's the Mamet/Sorkin influenced stuff that he was really known for when he burst onto the scene. From Hickman, we see engaging story threads, historical references, and the realistic procedural jargon with bite that's infused everything from The Nightly News to Pax Romana (my favorite of his creations). Stefano Caselli illustrates the densely compressed story about new-ish heroes like Quake (who unfortunately looks suspiciously like Maria Hill) and Fury's Datacore "Caterpillar" files. There's a lot to like here with plenty left to play out, we've got clear motivations, shocking revelations, and bonus material that's absolutely trademark Hickman in design. As much as the next person, I'm not really thrilled at paying $3.99 as a standard price for a comic (though I'll surely do it for something I subjectively judge to be of high quality based on my unique personal criteria), but it's nice to see Marvel apparently at least conscious of the price junp and making an effort to offer just a little more in most cases than the standard 22 pager. Grade A-.

Agents of Atlas #1 (Marvel): Art Adams is always fun to see on cover art, but wow, those are sure some gravity defying boobs on Venus. They look like helium filled party balloons that I could... Ahem... loved the first page of “Continuity Catch-Up” by Ken Hale. Carlos Pagulayan seems to be Marvel’s go to artist lately. Originally, I wasn't a huge fan of his work, but here you can really see why they have faith in him and continue to provide him with fairly high profile opportunities. It also helps that he's inked and colored beautifully here. Having worked there, that’s not really what ATF ever did/does, but uhh, yeah, I guess it’s different under the fictitious Marvel U and Norman Osborn. This is really a pet peeve, but how would Namora know who "The Fonz" is; what is it with all these 80’s references? Are the writers of my generation finally the ones occupying these creative positions? That's cool, but man, you gotta’ shake those lame writing tics! Jeff Parker really pours it on here, his script recapping the first series and more, basically in one page. I enjoyed Jimmy Woo doing his best Skywalker-hologram-in-Jabba’s-Palace routine. Nice intro of a potential adversary tied to the Marvel U and a fun back up story to justify the $3.99 price point. What I appreciated the most about this title was the way it doesn't insult the audience's intelligence. A good example is the teased Mark Twain quote, we get just enough to make the point and catch the reference, but none of the characters explain it for us. That's just classy. Grade A-.

Adventure Comics #0 (DC): While the $1 price point is surely attractive, maybe it would be nice to offer a one page explanation as to what all this is for. I’m assuming that after the mess that was Shooter’s disappointing run just ending, and Geoff Johns' much ballyhooed Legion of Superheroes threeway vis-à-vis Final Crisis, that this title is relaunching? Err, something? The reprint belts out lines like “crashing the time barrier and sailing 1,000 years into the future” with a sort of quaint irreverence that’s unfettered by the multiverse, time travel and quantum physics logic, etc., but otherwise doesn’t have much to do with anything. Scar? Black Lanterns? Luthor? Brainiac? E.T. jokes? I suppose this was ultimately clear in its intentions (Superboy returning! Huzzah?), but not a very effective journey or tease for more since it really doesn’t offer any sort of callback to the title or reprint, nor does it rouse my interest in returning for the ongoing series. Overall, a mish-mash of semi-related things, feeling like just a platform for the house ads; thin even for a dollar. Grade C-.

Astonishing Tales #1 (Marvel): You’d think Marvel would have learned their lesson with the recent Marvel Comics Presents anthology. You know, if you keep trying to the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome, some define that as insanity. I like hitting myself in the head with a hammer, because it feels so good when I stop! Here we go… so, we have Daredevil, Spider-Woman, and Elsa Bloodstone on the cover. None of them appear in the book, that’s quite annoying. Although, unless Warren Ellis was writing Elsa in the Nextwave style, I wouldn’t care anyway. The first story is “Madripoor Mix-Up” starring Punisher and Wolverine. I’ve never warmed to C.B. Cebulski’s writing ability, as usual here, it fails to engage with flat Wolverine sex jokes and a high concept plot that involves, wait for it… fighting some Hydra Agents! Ken Rocafort’s pencils are fun enough (at least they’re inked and colored well), but ultimately all we’re left with is a silly cliffhanger. Grade C+. “Iron Man 2020” is next in the line up and probably the worst of the lot. We’ve got an ugly suit design from an artist I’ve never heard of, whose style boasts a resemblance to J. Scott Campbell. The writer I’ve never heard of offers awful dialogue and a plot that goes nowhere other than introducing an ugly vehicle that boasts zero pollutants. Ohh Fun! (Please Note: Sarcasm) As Lee Donowitz said in True Romance, “I’ve got more flavor in my penis.” Grade D-. Third up in this debacle is “Iron Man: Making an Appearance,” featuring another new creative team. There was one line that showed some promise: “For the benefit of the greater good, I show the world a fake smile and exploit myself.” Now that could be ok, I appreciate a good turn of phrase, but when you then explain it away with two more lines, it sort of drains away any effect it might have had. The made up celebrity names and TMZ references have a long way to go before they’d enter the realm of hip. The pencils are serviceable enough, but when all they’re used for is to introduce a character named Visage (yawwwwnnn…) and make a simplistic point, you get a Grade D. Last in this circus of pain is “Bobby & Sam in Mojoworld.” This one is probably the best of the bunch, with Jonathan Hickman doing his best Bill Sienkewicz on art, followed by Nick Pitarra penciling in the style of the late Seth Fisher, some really beautiful stuff! On the writing front, Hickman’s got a bad case of the exposits, delivering amazingly self-introductory lines like “Sam Guthrie can’t handle the grind” and “Your best friend, Roberto da Costa, is sure to provide it.” That aside, the Mojo writers strike was probably a fun concept, but I was so exhausted from the first three stories that it was hard to tell at that point. Grade B+. With regard to the overall package, doesn’t it seem off that two of the four stories contained here were Iron Man stories? Aren’t there plenty of (good) Iron Man books going on right now? Do we really need to see more of Iron Man in an anthology book? Doesn’t it also seem off that three of the four stories housed here were not even self-contained? Why oh why would I ever want to go chase down just a couple pages in an upcoming issue for $3.99? Aren’t you supposed to lead with your strongest material to hook a potential audience? If this is the best Marvel has to offer, then it’s no wonder their anthology format is dead. Each story should really be strong enough to stand on its own – that’s the true test of quality. If not, why would I want a whole collection of sub-standard material? Inconsistent sub-par nonsense is the reason often cited for anthologies being doomed to fail. Wrapping it all up, let’s see… nothing enjoyable, nothing accomplished, no real talent on display, repeating the formatting mistakes of the past, yes, I’d say that’s completely useless. Grade D+.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer #22 (Dark Horse): Different issue, same story. Picked this one up for a coworker, but gave it a read. Still don’t get it. These one-shots are really bombing. Good to see Georges Jeanty back on art duty, but otherwise this was a mess. Flat humor, expository dialogue about Buffy’s pseudo-titillating lesbian experience, and not a single character I recognized. Sure, I watched the show too - and it would be nice if there were anything here even remotely related to it other than the gratuitous cameo shoehorned in at the end. It’s a little sad when the best thing about the issue is a Dollhouse ad with Eliza Dushku and seeing Whedon alum Summer Glau in an ad for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This was caca de toro. Grade D-.

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