10.07.2009

10.07.09 Reviews

Planetary #27 (DC/Wildstorm): Sure, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday turning in 27 issues in 10 years is laughable, but the final issue of one of the best series in the Modern Age is actually pretty good. For me, Planetary was always at its best in the micro moments, the isolated genre send-ups that seemed to distill the essence of a set of storytelling tropes down into just a single issue. I was never that enamored of the more macro plot elements about Ambrose and the larger conspiracy. It’s the same way that I hated all of the convoluted X-Files conspiracy crap that never got resolved, but relished the taut done-in-ones like the episode titled Ice. This issue of Planetary definitely focuses on resolution of the macro story and it does so in fine fashion, all the while providing thinly veiled meta-commentary about the act of creating comic books. It opens by telling us how much Planetary (the corporation) would be able to change the world with its discovery of technologies and their rapid advancement into society. It serves as a reminder that Planetary (the book) was equally advanced and paradigm challenging in its heyday. Fictional character Dowling’s literal creation of an alternate Earth is not unlike our creative team’s process of creating a fictional reality in the comic book. The entire issue runs this self-reflexive gauntlet. Elijah Snow is the idea man, full of “mad science” that fuels the adventure. He’s not much different than Warren Ellis as a writer. The Drummer is the “technical wizard” who turns the mad ramblings into reality. He’s got quite a bit in common with John Cassaday as the series artist. Jakita Wagner feels like an innocent bystander at times, but occasionally is able to add a sense of clarity to the proceedings. I’m wondering if that’s how colorist Laura Martin feels? In their quest to save Ambrose and “save the future,” it begs the question – what does Ambrose represent? Is he the comic book industry? I think that’s the million dollar question. I can’t definitively say that’s the answer, but it’s my guess for now. At least until I go back and reread the entire series in its entirety. At times, Ellis’ technobabble rivals Stark Trek's Geordi LaForge: “a natural description theory engine” with a “non-physics bubble around himself.” Ok. Whatever. When you’re discussing basic time travel paradox, it’s bound to get a little dicey. As Jakita says “oh my god, just stop.” Overall, it’s a satisfying and rousing conclusion, but I can’t help but feel a little sad it’s ended. Jakita probably says it best, deliberately for all of us, “it feels like all the adventure is over.” Grade A.

Dark Reign: Zodiac #3 (Marvel): Joe Casey and Nathan Fox continue their subversive romp through the Marvel Universe. I saw an interview at CBR with Joe Casey indicating that this creative team will be putting out future projects together and I couldn’t be happier about that. Their rendition of Norman Osborn is funny and arrogant. Fox’s pencils have always reminded me of Paul Pope, but here they feel almost more accessible than Pope’s work, yet simultaneously manage to squeeze in even more copious amounts of detail. His designs for Red Ronin, Ms. Marvel, Reed Richards, they’re all winners right out of the box. I dig the swagger that this Zodiac cat just exudes. “I’ve never been much of a worker bee myself. Y’know… all good work is done in defiance of management.” Zodiac is a true agent of chaos, but his brand of anarchy is especially dangerous because he comes with a purpose. That makes him infinitely more foreboding than someone like The Joker. With his acquisition of The Zodiac Key, it’s clear now that what’s past is prologue. I can’t wait to see what's next. Grade A.

Strange Tales #2 (Marvel): To Catch A Watcher by Nick Bertozzi once again opens the issue, and it’s a hilarious framing device that’s an instant winner. Grade A. Iron Man by Tony Millionaire is a beautiful looking piece of work, complete with period Iron Man armor, great design sense for Baloney-Head, and full of wacky fun like a villainous Dwight D. Eisenhower. Grade A. Anything but Retail by R. Kikuo Johnson features Alicia, Ben, and Pupper Master spouting lines like “Fifteen grand for a semester – that’s a crime!” That coupled with a nice riff about art snobbery earns a Grade B. Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca deliver Brother Voodoo trouncing around a drug war in Harlem. Combine their faux-retro aesthetic, modern sensibility, and characters “whacked out on heroin, horse cocktails, and 95.2% pure Colombian sizzle” and you get a strong Grade A+. Modok ‘N Me by Jhonen Vasquez continues the strong Modok work that the first issue began. All I really have to say is… oh… poor, poor Donnie. Grade A. The Unfortunate Three by Max Cannon seems to be a direct comic rebuttal to James Sturm and Guy Davis’ critically lauded Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules. It’s full of biting sarcasm and the glaring implausibility of the early and outlandish Silver Age stories. Grade A. Lookin’ Good, Mr. Grimm! by Jacob Chabot is penciled extremely well and has a few good lines like “tending a ‘stache is just something men do,” but ultimately falls a little flat when the competition in this issue is so strong. Grade B. The Incorrigible Hulk by Peter Bagge has garnered a lot of attention for its initial delay, but I’m left wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s funny, sure. “Slutty girl talk too much. Make Hulk head hurt.” But I’d hardly consider that grounds for “banning” a strip. Grade B. The Jonathan Hickman pages, umm, “Recruitment Ads for Heralds of Galactus,” for lack of an actual strip title, has all the typical strengths and weaknesses of Hickman’s Image work. It’s a good idea on paper, but the execution is uneven. The sense of graphic design is impressive, but it’s not nearly as funny as it wants to be. It’s plagued with typos. Grade B-. Black Widow by Matt Kindt is the best of the bunch for me, not in terms of pure humor, but in craftsmanship. Kindt brings his outrageously strong retro-noir-espionage feel to the Marvel Universe and his silky lines work very well. I remember seeing a few pages of this at the San Diego Con and the final payoff is worth the wait. Grade A+. Overall, Strange Tales manages to avoid the huge pitfall that most anthology style books succumb to, and achieves a consistent level of high quality in the strips. Grade A-.

Batman & Robin #5 (DC): Conceptually, I really like the idea of Dick and Damian fighting more extreme versions of themselves. And Philip Tan is really trying here. Look at the level of detail in Sasha’s face during the opening sequence, or when Robin throws the first batarang. In isolated instances, his storytelling isn’t as clear as it could be, and he’s still not Frank Quitely (who is?), but it’s not as big of a distraction as it was last issue, and damn if he isn’t turning in the best work of his career here. Hopefully that fact won’t get lost in the unavoidable comparison to the first arc. I like how Morrison is able to craft arcs that can stand independently of each other, but also connect in a few ways, Scarlet, The Penguin, the dominoes, there are larger factors at play here. However, his meta-commentary about the Batman brand and the role of a sidekick all comes across a little heavy-handed. In the end, the action carries a payoff and compensates for minor sins in the work. The taser to the neck, the panic as Damian is stabbed, Dick being shot at point blank range despite the Kevlar… wow. Gotham has really become a screwball place in the wake of Bruce’s “death.” Grade B+.

Astonishing X-Men #31 (Marvel): Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez deliver a fun product here, but unfortunately you have to suspend logic at times. It seems relegated to be mindless fun. They’re more concerned with action than logic. I love seeing more of Abby Brand, and I’m guessing that’s The Brood(?). There’s good procedural jargon to be found, and the seeds are planted here for what could be a fun ride, but let’s look at some inconsistencies. The script makes a big deal out of the fact that Abby’s escape pod is going to crash in 7 minutes. By the time Scott walks in to tell Hank, he’s careful to point out that they now have 6 minutes left. Okay so far. However, with 6 minutes left to save Abby’s life, the X-Men… wait for it… all take time to change into their uniforms before they board the X2!? The ship is clearly seen departing from a hangar in the Marin Headlands, but over in Uncanny X-Men the team is now living on some Magneto island base thingamajig. When we see Abby attempting to pilot the ship, she’s just… talking to herself. Total exposition in an effort to fill the reader in. Emma is front and center in this issue, but she has total control over her powers. Over in the last issue of Uncanny X-Men she’s apparently stuck in diamond form. During the rescue, Storm makes it a point to say that the air is thin up there, denoting its relative lack of oxygen, so she won’t be able to manipulate the air patterns to slow Abby’s craft. Yet, just a few panels later, Wolverine, Armor, and Abby herself seem to have no problem breathing in that same thin air. If there’s not enough oxy to alter the course of the craft, how is there enough air for the trio to breathe? And what the hell is a “fractal bonding clamp?” Ellis! Grade B.

Justice League: Cry for Justice #4 (DC): This issue was surprisingly better than most, but still had quite a few problems. Why is Supergirl down on all fours on the cover? How does a lightning flash protect you from an explosion? Why do the characters do so much exposition about Prometheus and Clayface? Why is Hal’s ring able to analyze the bomb residue at a molecular level, but was unable to detect the bomb in the first place? Miss Martian and Jay Garrick? Really? Who were those people that Jay visits, and why? Why is there so much b-list Congorilla action? Penny Dreadful? Really? We’re now more than halfway through the series, but we’re still assembling the “team.” It’s becoming increasingly apparent that this isn’t designed to be a stand alone story, but is more of a prologue to James Robinson’s impending JLA run, especially when we see Mon-El and Guardian shoehorned in for half a page. Ollie and Mikaal decide suddenly via dues ex machina crisis of conscience that vengeance and blood are not justice now. Ok, where were they for the preceding three issues? Generally speaking, the dialogue isn’t as hoary as it has been; it’s lost some of its ridiculous edge. This book still isn’t great, but unfortunately it’s also no longer so bad that it’s fun. It’s just mediocre now. It’s just ok. It’s boring. It’s all over the map from a narrative standpoint; there are too many character sets being juggled and I don’t get the sense they’re going to ever coalesce. I did enjoy the tease of Batwoman. Cascioli clearly had some fun with the page layouts too, including making a panel take the form of part of her cape. That was fun. I also seemed to enjoy the overwrought melodrama of the friction between Hal, Ollie, and Ray, culminating with Ray’s dig “…we were never friends.” Freddie has some great observations about Batman. I enjoyed the appearance of The Shade. Overall, it seemed like there was a lot of “stuff” going on, but no actual plot advancement, nothing resolved. On one hand, I applaud DC for throwing in some extra material to justify the $3.99 price tag, but it really felt like filler. There doesn’t seem to be a point to the text pieces; it’s just Robinson talking. It’s full of digression, typos, and I’m sorry, but calling your own work an “opus” is a little off-putting. Grade C-.

2 Comments:

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Matt C said...

I like your idea that the characters are the fictional counterparts to the characters - you may or may not be onto something, but with Ellis you can never be sure!

I have to say that I did really like all the conspiracy stuff, thought it held the whole thing together well.

Now to book in some time to re-read the series...

 
At 3:00 PM, Blogger Justin said...

For sure, I have a feeling I'll warm to the macro story involving Ambrose as The Third Man vs. The Four more when I read the entire series. I'm looking forward to the inevitable second Absolute Edition!

 

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