7.28.10 Reviews

Northlanders #30 (DC/Vertigo): As far as creative teams go, Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, along with (unsung heroes) Dave McCaig on coloring and Travis Lanham on lettering, are an impressive total package. It feels like the first issue of one of the longer arcs, so it’s all about establishing the world and putting the plot in motion, which means I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to say just yet. It’s like reading the first chapter in a book and then trying to tell someone how great the book is. What I can tell you so far is that I’m engrossed by the themes Wood is introducing. There’s a lot of tension from the march of progress, science, technology, and new religion seeking to disrupt the old societal ways. In the middle of this conflict, Wood introduces Erik and Ingrid as two outcast lovers on the run, sort of the Bonnie & Clyde of the Viking Age, drenching the entire affair in the smart crisp dialogue we’ve come to expect from one of the best writers of our time. With each arc designed as more of a standalone mini, now’s just as good a time to hop onto the series as any if you’re still standing on the sidelines waiting to get into the game. Grade A.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4 (DC): No disrespect to Georges Jeanty, but when you’re expecting Cameron Stewart (because that’s what every solicit and advertisement said up until yesterday’s Diamond Shipping List!), it’s kind of a let down. On the one hand, Jeanty brings a finer line which captures the grit of the Old West reasonably well, and I enjoyed the bat belt as bandolier across his chest, but some other poor traits seeped in. The crimson sky at the beginning was an over-the-top choice (probably more the colorist’s fault), and sometimes the action sequences are very difficult to parse. Travis Lanham made me notice the lettering, the voice over text was really rich and intricate. There are some individual bits of Grant Morrison’s script that are fun, the flash of batarangs in between panels, the construction of Wayne Manor, Doctor Thomas Wayne and Judge Solomon Wayne from accepted canon, bounty hunters, spirits, and immortals (oh my!). “Mosewer Sauvage” and “Bonsoir, Mr. Hex. Cut yourself shaving?” are winning lines for these two characters. But there are almost too many Easter Eggs, so that all you’re doing is playing “spot the drop” and instead of it reading like a cohesive story thread, it comes off very choppy and rough, with some Easter Eggs so convenient that they shatter your disbelief, such as the pearls appearing from out of nowhere. We’re four issues in now and overall the whole thing still feels like build up for something (I’m learning) that isn’t ever going to come, not in this mini-series anyway. Morrison let slip in both his Spotlight Panel and the Batman Panel at SDCC that many more mini-series and special one-shots are going to be strung together to actually return Batman/Bruce Wayne to the modern day DCU. It should be no surprise that DC will drag this process out as long as commercially viable. It’s probably a smart business decision, but as a consumer it’s more than a little grating. At the end of the day, all I really care about is who is going to do what, and why, in the Bat Family? For example, once Bruce returns, will he actually be Batman? I’d prefer that they pull a “Steve Rogers” on him and put him in more of a Nick Fury role. This would allow Dick to continue on as Batman and not be shuffled off to reassume the Nightwing mantle or some dreaded new role. What happens with Tim/Red Robin, Damian/Robin, etc.? If Dan DiDio tries to kill Dick Grayson again, well, then I quit. Grade B.

Uncanny X-Men #526 (Marvel): Everything about this issue feels just a little off. Whilce Portacio is up on art duty and his anemic sketchy lines start as almost passable, but then quickly degenerate. Between Rogue’s ample side boob and Tony Stark appearing like a free-moustache-ride-granting Burt Reynolds from a bad 1970’s porno, you start to think he’s really not that great of an artist. Once I saw Hope react WITH A SMILE when she said “my parents died,” I realized Portacio had absolutely no mastery of emotion in his lines. On top of it all, Hope in particular appears completely flat and lifeless, devoid of any sense of humanity beyond her two dimensional ink on paper rendering. There are a couple of redeeming qualities in the script, Scott really trying to connect with Hope, Hope not hesitating in the slightest to jump in and save newcomer Laurie, but then Fraction goes and cripples his own effort. Cypher comes off sounding like a cold clinical imitation of Brent Spiner’s Data, he actually drops a Lady Gaga reference (which will become painfully dated in about, oh, 5 minutes), and the brief scene Kitty gets is all too little, too late for me. The notion of the team monitoring “The Five Lights” of possible mutant manifestations is a cool enough story idea, but it’s really hampered by the art. Portacio’s got not quite seamless storytelling chops. For the flagship X-book, Fraction seems to be endlessly saddled with second tier artists, who do more distracting than enabling. In order for this book to succeed as the powerhouse destination book it ought to be, Marvel really needs to drop in an all star artist, or at the very least commit to a quality second tier man for the duration. I’m thinking of someone like Yanick Paquette, who turned in a great performance back in issue #512. Marvel ups the price here to $3.99 and justifies it by including a back-up story by Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel entitled “Rebuilding.” The story itself is solid, about Magneto’s interest in Wiccan and Speed from the Young Avengers, presented ostensibly as his grandchildren. However, I’m suspicious of the business machinations behind the scenes. I find it odd that “the story continues” in a book that came out last week (isn’t this what editors are for?), and I’m wondering how long it’ll be before the back-up feature gets dropped, we return to standard page count, and the price remains $3.99 without anyone noticing. This is one of those issues that despite fondness for the characters makes me go “ugh, why am I buying this again?” Grade B-.


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