5.20.2009

5.20.09 Reviews

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1 (DC): I’d have never guessed that a Final Crisis tie-in book would ever take the best of the week slot, but here it is thanks to Joe Casey and ChrisCross (who I’ve been awaiting the return of ever since a little book called Xero). It’s hard not to fall in love with Most Excellent Superbat, Big Atomic Lantern Boy, Shiny Happy Aquazon, Shy Crazy Lolita Canary, Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash, and their PR handler Justin Hanover by page 3 when we see the Super Young Team’s “FaceSpace” profiles. Joe Casey brings his usual fascination with Gen Y (or “The Lost Generation”) and their new means of technology and communication convergence that we saw on his incarnations of Wildcats and The Intimates. He hits celebrity branding hard, with his mocku-style “Twitteratti” feeds and iPhone apps, essentially stressing that everyone from the old DCU big gun heroes to Ultraman are as dead as the old media that spawned them. Casey’s progressive cultural observations are often times more interesting than the ostensibly fun stories they’re contrasted against, and this is no exception. Lines like “Who Clocks the Clockmen?” and “Nobody keeps me behind the rope, honey! Nobody keeps me out of the club! Or their pants!” bristle with some fresh energy that the DCU, and the Final Crisis milieu in general, has been lacking for some time. I hope to see Casey continue to both channel his inner Grant Morrison (who created the Japanese superteam in 52 and originally envisioned them as Fifth World versions of The Forever People) and continue his exploration of his own media fascination with this title. On the art side of the house, ChrisCross is on fire! He’s aided by no less than 4 inkers (including himself and the wonderfully talented Mick Gray), but you’d never know it since the overall style is seamless and grand. The pencils look especially polished, with the detail of Geoff Darrow, the sleekness of Frank Quitely, and the smooth broad appeal of someone like Carlos Pacheco. “No Life Without AntiLife” reverberates against the tired notions that created this line of titles and makes me think this could be one of my new breakout favorites from DC. Grade A.

Punisher #5 (Marvel): It’s bittersweet that Jerome Opena’s pencils are so terrific here. On the one hand, he has the tone of this title down pat, his style is perfectly suited to handle the gritty street level detail that this series demands, whether it’s the grand one page introduction of Frank (notice the Punisher emblem on the Ant-Man helmet) or something relatively simplistic like the detail of the tats on Millie. On the other hand, oh no, we learn that next issue will feature a new creative team in Tan Eng Huat and Lee Loughridge. I enjoyed Tan Eng Huat’s pencils on the attempted Doom Patrol revival that broke him out, but he’s going to have some big shoes to fill here. This issue focuses almost entirely on Frank’s one man assault of The Hood compound, we see a nice balancing act with Henry proving himself and Microchip offering a desperate empassioned plea. Family aside, these two men have perhaps known Frank the best, and it’s a treat to see one on the decline of friendship and one emerging as a close confidant. There’s plenty to enjoy here, crystal clear action sequences from Opena that boast forced perspective shots and great camera placement choices, an inventive twisting plot from Remender that feels like a smart chess game with equally adept opponents, the reveal of a chink in Osborn’s armor as some light is shed on his lies, and some resurrected baddies courtesy of a summoned Dormammu(!) Simply put, this could be the best Punisher series I’ve seen. Grade A.

Unthinkable #1 (Boom!): [This title was not released this week, but like the Evil Galactic Empire, Sea Donkey Strikes Back and didn’t have it when it was originally supposed to ship] Mark Sable and Julian Totino Tedesco (whose art strikes me as a blend of Michael Gaydos and Steve Epting) offer up an interesting premise. While there are a few lines that don’t make much sense when you scrutinize them, like “The Operator – a man whose files are so classified even he can’t access them,” overall a ton of information is packed into one single issue. We have a clandestine government agency that hires top thinkers and creative minds in their fields to dream up doomsday scenarios to ensure the government is ready to respond. The scenarios actually start happening years after the project is shut down, and it is indeed an eerie claustrophobic vibe that's achieved. This is a great look into modern paranoid culture, and can even be applied to something like the recent Swine Flu hysteria. So uhh, is it over? There is talk of CDC and WHO raising the alert level again to Phase 6, which is full on pandemic, but it's suprisingly not really on CNN anymore. It's interesting to contrast Swine Flu to the big pandemic of 1918 that killed about 50 million people. The symptoms in 1918 were pneumonia and bloody homorraghing. The Swine Flu symptoms are... sniffles and a cough? It's hard not to feel the media hype here, the regular ol' influenza virus (aka: "the flu") kills around 36,000 annually, yet nobody breaks out the masks (which do nothing, by the way) and starts stockpiling Tamiflu. So far, Swine Flue has infected... what? 3,000 people globally, with only a dozen or so deaths? If you want to buy into some conspiracy oriented theory, there's actually a lot of evidence available to suggest that the government created the virus, "accidentally” lost a sample, then fuels the media to hype up consumers, who then rush out and spend millions on drugs, Johnson & Johsnon, GlaxoSmithKline, aka: "Big Pharmaceutical," etc. see record stock prices, Wall Street surges, and suddenly we're pulled out of the recession, or that's the thoery anyway. We all know war is good for big business, so instead of fighting Hitler or the "evildoers" in the Middle East, let's invent a "superbug" as the new enemy for the 21st Century. Anywho, I'm not sure how much government conspiracy I buy, they can't even seem to fix the pothole outside my house, so how can they engineer a global conspiracy? I'm totally digressing. Unthinkable is nevertheless a thought-provoking title that is well suited to our times, and probably even informed and inspired by them. It's good, but not sure (yet) if it's 4 bucks good. Grade B+.

Uncanny X-Men #510 (Marvel): And once again, the urge to drop this title rears its frustrated head. Matt Fraction and Marvel Editorial are practicing a strange brand of what I’ll call “selective continuity enforcement.” If you look carefully at the broad depictions of Astonishing X-Men, Cable, X-Force, and Uncanny, sometimes current continuity is adhered to and the audience is made certain the creators are acknowledging it. Other times, it’s simply thrown out the window when convenient. The best example is that the x-books have all been crystal clear that Wolverine, Laura, Elixir, Domino, X-Force, etc. are time-jumping in the future to aid Cable and protect Hope. Yet, here are Logan and Laura miraculously at the HQ in Marin County (and isn’t it odd that so much emphasis is placed on the X-Men being in San Francisco – yet anyone familiar with the Bay Area will tell you that their Mutant HQ is in fact, in Marin, an entirely different county than San Francisco. But I digress…) Greg Land’s art is simply awful in terms of consistency, and I’m really not the only one who thinks so. On the cover, take a look at Emma’s left breast. It’s totally preposterous in shape, position, and appearance, defying all laws of anatomy and gravity. Land turns out some impressive facial details (Logan’s stubble) and a gorgeous scene of Scott’s torment, filled with “dead” friends like Jean, Kitty, Banshee, and Thunderbird, but then will move on to offer absolutely zero panel backgrounds and incomprehensible panel transitions. I continually have to re-read action sequences to puzzle together exactly what’s going on. The fight between the Red and White Queens is a good example, some is mental, some is physical, I can’t tell which is which and then Emma’s physical bonds suddenly disappear for no reason, almost as if the creative team isn’t even sure what’s happening and is hoping we won’t notice. Why would Deathstrike, err Spiral, err… Red Queen. Wait, who’s in charge again? Why would they explicitly tell Emma about the Phoenix tease? Makes no sense. Emma is consoling a person in a purple shirt, I have no idea who that is. There are attempts at gratuitous titillation, such as Elixir (who is also in the future with X-Force, by the way) and his flirtation with the Stepford Cuckoos. The scenes with Empath are boring. Pixie does shine though. I’m confused. I think I’ll be checking out around issue 512 if this continues. Grade B-.

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