The Lone Ranger #18 (Dynamite Entertainment): I really enjoyed the smart and quippy dialogue in this issue, like the weather metaphors for vigilante identity. The scenes between the Sheriff and our heroes reminded me of the best moments in early Commissioner Gordon scenes with Batman, that brand of uneasy trust and respect compelling the relationship forward. The Sheriff’s actions are such an excellent depiction of one’s ability to judge a person’s character. He’s quickly becoming a favorite b-character here. “I need you to know… I love you. And the boy. Very much.” Damn, we’ve been waiting like two years through uneasy flirtation and caring for that one line; what a payoff. It’s rushed, unexpected, and not perfect, but honorable, realistic, and believable. Overall, these singles always feels so damn quick. Brett Matthews is so good at trusting Sergio Cariello as an artist that his dialogue is free to be extremely minimal. That makes for a fantastic creative effort, but also makes it a lightning fast read, I always have to force myself to slow down in order to savor the images and unspoken meaning in a fleeting attempt to make it all last just a bit longer. Grade A.
Invincible Iron Man #18 (Marvel): More than ever, Fraction eschews the confines of dated continuity and syncs up his Iron Man saga with that of the hit movie. There are a lot of balls in the air here and they’re all juggled deftly. Maria Hill and Black Widow seem to be much needed chess pieces that have suddenly been taken off the board, and Tony appears to be running solo. There’s an ingenious bit of lettering from Joe Caramagna used to depict Morse Code in the most intuitive, simple, and elegant way I’ve ever seen. I like the way Maria Hill isn’t dismissed as deranged, but gets some respect from “Madame Masque,” which turns out to be a little foreshadowing of a brazen move. Larroca’s art barely carries the vestigial traces of photorealism that he began the title with. A year and a half of working his craft diligently has yielded great results and eliminated the more obvious and distracting usage; it’s been fun to watch him grow more confident and not overly reliant on a common artistic aid. The scenes with the internal politics at HAMMER reveal more about Osborn’s manipulative personality (doing his best W, due process be damned!) better than any amount of expository dialogue ever could. The fun little touches keep on coming, such as the translation of the Mark 01 suit, and the focused shot on the Stark handgun. It’s a nice bit of observational commentary that his (any) technology is capable of both abetting and hindering. I did find one small little glitch in the art when he disarms the kid. Tony is racking the slide to eject a chambered round, but his hand is covering the ejection port where it would actually eject from, kind of negating the whole process. That minor firearms training quibble aside, there’s a totally awesome twist that I didn’t even see coming, which makes me want to go back and re-read a couple issues. I can’t wait to see their next move on the Helicarrier. Grade A.
Batman & Robin #4 (DC): Look, I just call ‘em like I see ‘em. I’ve been saying all along, Philip Tan is a good artist. He uses plenty of detail, doesn’t phone in the background work, gives us a dynamic title page here, and is able to produce clear competent storytelling. But, Frank Quitely dude. Frank Quitely. He’s the other half that helped make this package magical. You can’t take a classic savory and sweet peanut butter and jelly sandwich and suddenly remove the peanut butter, substitute Nutella and expect the same results. I like Nutella, don’t get me wrong. It’s good on sourdough toast. I like watching Giada De Laurentiis cook with it (of course, who wouldn’t? I like watching her do just about anything, but that’s… wow, I’m totally digressing here). I even like Nutella and jelly sandwiches. And, it too – like the peanuts in peanut butter, is based on a nut, the hazelnut to be precise. But I’m just saying, it’s not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and it never will be, especially if that's what you're accustomed to. Anyway, we get some visceral moves (the throat slit was particularly unexpected), coupled with a chilling bit of social networking. Dick’s doing his best imitation of Bruce’s aloof playboy detachment from Wayne Enterprises, even as he maintains the meta-illusion that Bruce isn’t really dead. Overall, I’d say this feels more like Morrison’s previous… good/intriguing/uneven run on Batman than the… great/consistent/treat that Morrison paired with Quitely on any title can deliver. It’s lost some edge, and that’s distracting. Morrison gives us his typical Easter egg mini-clues that make you want to do web research, like “riddle of the corn dollie” and the (not coincidental) use of “Oberon,” deliberately conjuring the image of the Faerie King from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I don’t know… which Morrison is it? Is it the good Morrison, who can show bouts of strong authorial intent and coherence? Or is it bad Morrison, the drunken Scotsman standing up and shouting random strange things at DC Nation panels, who can be a little too obtuse and random for my enjoyment? Without Quitely’s disproportioned confection to occupy my focus, this dilemma rears it’s ugly head. Though I will say that Dick smacking Damian was kinda’ priceless. I guess time will tell how this Red Hood and Scarlet arc pans out. Interesting that Dick instantly recognizes the Red Hood's voice, but not Oberon’s. Hint, Hint. Grade B.
Wednesday Comics #11 (DC): Batman is beautiful as usual, but uses some jumps in logic that are really inorganic just to move the plot toward a conclusion. Grade B+. Kamandi makes me fret, did they just kill Orora? Damn. I like how Sook draws her wild red hair and those almond eyes. Grade A. Superman is, I guess, all done whining and apparently all better now. I guess he’ll go save Lois (did we ever actually see her in peril?) and that’ll be it. It’s really all been a blur. This feels like the first issue that an attempt at a story was tried. Grade C+. Deadman mentions Nanda Parbat and I feel my eyes glaze over, they dive toward the chic that looks like Darwyn Cooke drew her and momentarily flicker alive, and then it’s over. Grade C. Green Lantern employs a very clever page layout that emphasizes the manic action. Grade B+. Metamorpho is so hoary. "You forgot one element, bud. The element of surprise!" Yeah, that’s the kind of Silver Age tomfoolery that I don’t like. Grade C. Teen Titans brings its washed out, flat, lifeless colors to the party yet again. “You needed my tech to create your new Trident persona along with the psychic implant to make you believe you were someone else.” Is that lame exposition supposed to explain what’s been going on for the last ten issues? Oh wait, I forgot. I don't care. Grade D. Strange Adventures continues Paul Pope’s dominance in this endeavor, a nice use of mirroring both visually and thematically. Grade A+. Supergirl is still really pretty, but completely devoid of humor. Grade B. Metal Men has gone on long enough. Grade C. Wonder Woman gets the award for most improved, when it began I absolutely hated it. This issue is the first in which I actually was able to read it from beginning to end. I still don’t understand the story, but it “feels” fun now and is cool to look at. Grade B-. Sgt. Rock keeps doing its thing, killing some dudes, two story threads converging as it begins to close up shop. Grade B. Flash is frickin’ beautiful, it's been the most surprisingly enjoyable of the bunch. It's gone and pulled a Vanessa Williams, saving the best for last. Full of killer layouts and emotional impact. Grade A+. Demon & Catwoman has one cool visual moment where Demon spews some fire, other than that, please God, make it stop. Grade C-. Hawkman is still great fun, visually distinct, and if for no other reason than another Aquaman cameo, worth a look. Grade A. For the penultimate time, here’s our visual thingamajig;
Demon & Catwoman
That gives us our usual 27% in the top tier, 33% in the middle of the pack, and 40% in the not-as-bad-as-usual bottom tier. This week’s overall score is a bit higher than usual thanks to the usual players in the usual spots with a couple key anomalies. In particular, The Flash is continuing its upward climb and Wonder Woman decided to show up for a change and be, I don’t know, discernible. We get an overall raw score of a Grade C, with an adjustment up for format to a flat Grade B.
I also picked up;
3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man (Dark Horse): I can’t wait to crack open this Matt Kindt project, especially after I held it in my hands, saw that die cut cover design, and flipped through the pages.