9.03.2009

9.02.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Invincible Iron Man #17 (Marvel): Welcome back to the consistently best ongoing series Marvel currently has to offer. Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca have been quietly deconstructing Tony Stark (quite literally at times) for months now and it’s amazing to see them tear him down in karmic retribution for the Skrull debacle. Hopefully we’ll also get to see the team rebuild him in upcoming arcs. For now, they revisit the ingenious email communication idea, only to see Tony use it incorrectly, which is a fantastic bit of plotting that’s paid off. Though there is some overlap with the broader sweep of Dark Reign, and we see great characterization for folks like Maria Hill, Black Widow, Madame Masque, Captain America, and Norman Osborn (as informed by Warren Ellis in Thunderbolts), Iron Man has essentially been a self-contained story since it’s inception, and I really appreciate that amid all of the other event hoo-ha in the Marvel U. We’re getting all of the benefits of a shared universe, without any of the continuity baggage or superfluous crossover porn. It’s a perfect balance, great characters, clever technology, entertaining action, no glaring holes in the logic, and even a couple instances of dialogue homage to The Hunt For Red October. Grade A-.

Strange Tales #1 (Marvel): In the Modern Age, Marvel isn’t exactly known for the strength of their anthologies, so I’m wondering why they chose to release this now? I hope it’s not their answer to Wednesday Comics, because while some of the strips are entertaining, it just can’t compete at that level for long. Nick Bertozzi’s opening Uatu story is like a shot across the bow that instantly sets the tone for the book. Lines like “jiggling voluptuous chaos that is the human female form” and She-Hulk’s “proud firm buttocks fidget and dance” is just about all you need to know. Grade A. Paul Pope’s Inhumans story is a tongue-in-cheek romp that works well if you’re into something like Joe Casey’s Godland. Annihilus spouting lines like “you have permission to grovel” coupled with Pope’s trademark pencils make for a diverting tale. His rendition of Psycho-Man is quite Kirby-esque and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of him drawing sultry, curvy, full-lipped women like Medusa. I was sort of hoping for something with a little more gravitas, but apparently that’s not what this whole thing is about. Grade A. John Leavitt and Molly Crabapple absolutely nail a Victorian aesthetic with Jennifer Walter’s Wedding. I wasn’t really that taken with the story, but it was a treat to look at. Grade B+. Spider-Town from Junko Mizuno employs flat humor and a manga influenced art style, but ultimately goes nowhere. Grade C. Dash Shaw’s Dr. Strange was one I was looking forward to and he really captures the psychedelic era that spawned the title. Grade B+. James Kochalka’s Hulk story was… boring. I don’t get it. I’m actually not a huge fan of Kochalka’s work. Nor am I a fan of Hulk. So, obviously this strip wasn’t for me. Grade C. Johnny Ryan’s Marvel’s Most Embarrassing Moments made me smile. Grade B. Johnny Ryan’s Punisher goes nowhere. Grade C. Michael Kupperman’s Punisher story joins the “goes nowhere” ranks with a Grade C. Peter Bagge’s Incorrigible Hulk was very funny, well drawn with plenty of flourish and detail, and includes some sly social commentary along the way; Bagge’s clearly having fun here. “It violate Hulk’s Civil Liberties! I violate yours!” and “Slutty girl not afraid of Hulk?” are some favorite lines. Grade A. Nick Bertozzi’s M.O.D.O.K. quickly becomes an existential struggle, examining M.O.D.O.K.’s hopes and dreams through the ages. The great detail in the miniscule figures and deadpan humor all heighten the reading experience greatly. Grade A. Nicholas Gurewitch (The Perry Bible Fellowship) offers up two very quick vignettes that are basically one-liner jokes. Grade B. Jason’s Spider-Man story is over quick, has no time to develop (which is something his work usually needs), and ultimately falls flat. Perhaps it’s my loathing of Spider-Man, but despite my love of Jason’s creator-owned work, this is a Grade B-. I really did expect more gravitas from this book, I didn’t know it was all going to be humor, but considering the creators I guess I should have. It just feels like it’s ultimately of no consequence. It appears that Pope’s Inhumans, Bagge’s Incorrigible Hulk, and Bertozzi’s M.O.D.O.K were designed to be the main focus, since they are the longest and strongest of the bunch. And that’s fine with me since they were my favorites. At a $4.99 price point, we average out at a Grade C+. I’m inclined to weight the scoring somewhat since the good strips were a bit longer than the duds, so let’s go with a generous Grade B-.

Wednesday Comics #9 (DC): Batman uses some nice visual callbacks to The Dark Knight Returns, but in the end the dialogue (story?) is not terribly engaging. I’m realizing that I just like looking at the art here. Grade B. Kamandi is more text heavy than usual this time out, but it’s still gorgeous, particularly the long wide panels like the one of the White House in ruins. Grade A. Superman offers a sudden data dump that has nothing to do with anything. The story is awful and the only redeeming quality was the design of the energy crackle being used as panel gutters. Grade C+. Deadman (as are all the strips) is ¾ of the way through and I still have no idea what’s going on. I’m kinda’ thinking that’s a problem. I do like that all the women look like Darwyn Cooke drew them. Grade C. Green Lantern solidly captures the spirit of the property. I love how Hal’s suit hangs on him like realistic clothing and doesn’t appear painted on, as so many superhero costumes seem to. Nicely paced with a great cliffhanger, Grade B. Metamorhpho: Oh, it’s the other half of the Periodic Table of Elements. It turns out that was one time too many. If I have to sit through another Java gag, I might just gouge my eyes out with a dull rusty spoon. Grade C-. Teen Titans: When Wednesday Comics has run its course, I’m going to cut all these panels out and then rearrange them to see if I can make this story make any sense. Grade D. Strange Adventures: It’s really all worth it if I keep getting panels like that very last one with Adam Strange. Grade A. Supergirl seems to have returned to its norm after a couple of standout issues. There’s lots of Dr. Mid-Nite exposition without any of the funny I was enjoying. Looks great, but reads dull. Grade B. Metal Men now feels like the identical strip has run for about the last six issues or so. Someone yells at Pretorious and then some metal jokes are attempted. Grade C-. Wonder Woman made me think that some of the panels were actually neat, check out the big red one with the inset circle. However, I still can’t get past 3 panels without my eyes glazing over. Grade C-. Sgt. Rock wins the award for being most consistent, Grade B+. The Flash is a crafty and inventive thing of beauty that expressively provides homage to the Sunday Strips of Old. A higher grade than Paul Pope? WTF?! Grade A+. Demon & Catwoman made me literally say to myself: “Now what was this all about again? Hey, there’s The Demon. That’s Catwoman, I guess(?) Oh, it’s over now.” Grade D. Hawkman relies on a little too much Dr. Ian Malcolm and feels short on story, but is still breathtaking visually. Grade A-. Once again, let’s build our visual ranking and see what’s what;

The Flash
Strange Adventures
Kamandi
Hawkman
Sgt. Rock
Green Lantern
Batman
Supergirl
Superman
Deadman
Wonder Woman
Metamorpho
Metal Men
Teen Titans
Demon & Catwoman

What we’re seeing is the continuation of a dynamic I described previously – a thin(ning) top tier, a rapidly dissipating middle tier, and a heavily weighted bottom tier. We’ve got 27% at the top, 27% in the middle, and a whopping 46% at the bottom. The Flash made a surprise jump which helped, the usual top three (Strange Adventures, Kamandi, and Hawkman) didn’t budge, and some middling items either held on or slipped to the bottom. Overall, the grades average out to a slightly-down-from-last-week 67%, or Grade D+, with an adjustment up for format to Grade C+.

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