4.26.06 Reviews

Astonishing X-Men #14 (Marvel): Joss really turns up the sexual heat in this issue. Emma and Scott are playing a very dangerous game of dominance and psychological intrusion that really digs into the heart of what makes these characters tick. Meanwhile, Kitty and Peter are just having a good ol' fashioned romp in the sack - finally. Anxious to see how this all plays out. When I first read this issue, I was kind of like, what the hell was that? That's pretty divergent in tone from previous issues, I almost dismissed it as an attempt at shock value. But then it started lingering with me for hours, that conversation between Emma and Scott, this is powerful stuff. And of course, tremendous pencils from Cassaday. Grade B+.

Ion #1 (DC): Ugh. That's really all I can muster. I remember commenting to myself at the comic shop that "I don't really like Ron Marz's writing, but I like Kyle as a character, so I'll give this a shot." What we got here is typical Ron Marz scripting, which means it's totally flat, not engaging, extremely expository, employs overstated dialogue, and overtly telegraphs its moves, like the obligatory Kyle Rayner history lesson and the introduction of the love interest. He swiped some techniques from Frank Miller, like the "script bleed," where some dialogue finishes up on a subsequent panel in which the art has already progressed to the next scene, but he sure didn't learn about script/art dichotomy. Meaning that when the words and the pictures are essentially conveying the same message and there's no dramatic contrast, it's BORING AS HELL AND DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF THIS MEDIUM. Schuyler accuses Kyle of just "pushing paint around the canvas" and not finding a voice or point to make, which to me is hilarious as hell, though I'm sure the irony wasn't intended, since Marz and Co. are basically just pushing words around the comic page here with the same lack of precision or consequence. The art is basically incomprehensible in spots and the inking has a murky... "globby" quality to it that looks amatuerish at best. Ugh. Grade D-.

Checkmate #1 (DC): I like procedural stuff. Military acronyms, cop lingo, House MD on Fox, that abbreviated shorthand that some professions use is great, lends a feel of authenticity. And crisp radio traffic does get me kinda' hot. "SAS-5 to base, I'm assuming IC" will always get my blood flowing. But, it did get a little thick here. "Black Queen to White King's Bishop's Knight," sorta' makes me scratch my head and have to refer back to the org chart that the UN was using on pages 4-5. But all in all, interesting character choices and a pretty engaging ride from Greg Rucka, with competent, though not *amazing* by any means, pencils from Jesus Saiz. I'll hang for a couple issues to see where this goes. Grade B-.

The Sentry #8 (Marvel): Well, that was certainly the long way around the mountain to shed some light on the The Sentry's origin. And after the exhaustion of that long trek, we get right back to the tired, used up concepts of the Weapon X Program and the Super-Soldier Serum? Oh, *that's* creative as hell. This book was just like The Sentry/Void conflict it chronicled. For every neat idea, there is an equally boring one pushing back in infinite repetition. I did like the concept of the megadose of the serum being ingested by an "average joe" with schizophrenia, producing these divergent personalities within Robert, both The Sentry and The Void. But, this convoluted, red-herring filled, doubling back on itself style of relaying his origin really wore me out. To go through all that to ultimately deliver a simple message of love and hope seemed inefficient and arbitrary and played anti-climactically. Did we really need 8 issues to do *that*? At the end here, I feel let down by Jenkin's script and that I was lulled into thinking this was better than it actually is due to the stellar art work from John Romita Jr., which pushes the grade up slightly to a B-.

Iron Man: The Inevitable #5 (Marvel): I really enjoyed the fact that Casey is making a deliberate effort here to maintain some synthesis with Warren Ellis' recent run on The Invincible Iron Man. I also don't mind Frazer Irving's bizarre art style that makes me feel as if I'm viewing this through a kaleidoscope at times. Where I lose it is the overall direction of this story. Like what exactly is going on here? Tony getting naked in front of Doc Samson for no apparent reason? What is the compelling need for this story? One issue to go and I still don't really know where it's going or what the point is. Grade C+.

Godland #10 (Image): Recent issues still don't feel as strong as earlier ones, but still enough weird presence to keep me engaged. There's an insanely funny self-referential line here about Casey's book The Milkman Murders pencilled by Steve Parkhouse. Grade B.

New Avengers Annual #1 (Marvel): Woo-hoo! The wedding of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. After just reading the Alias Omnibus in about 2 sittings, I was really pumped for this event. Then I got a zillion pages of fight scenes with the Adaptoid, some mumbo jumbo about a Black Widow that I've never met before, and only like 3 pages dedicated to the actual wedding. So, aside from a really nice pin-up page of the New Avengers' roster and some awesome pencils from Olivier Coipel (*dug* his Legion of the Damned and Legion Lost work, which *still* hasn't been collected by DC!), this was kinda "whatever." Moments that were meant to play grand, like the "fastball special, Avengers style" just sort of sat there. Grade C.

X-Factor #6 (Marvel): This issue was just really... solid. Peter David's scripts are humming along, portraying nice character banter amid all the assorted personalities. And Dennis Calero's art is starting to grow on me. Good comics. Grade B.

Solo #10 (DC): Damion Scott. Loved his work on early Batgirl issues. This was quite a mixed bag of stuff. Which is cool. That's why I like the Solo project. It's like a box of chocolates, you never know wh-- eww, no, that's just wrong. So, I like experimental things, really I do, but when they're so pushing the envelope that you can't really understand what's going on, that's problematic. Like the first piece involving the Flash. It did really incorporate Scott's graffiti art, which is what he said he was gonna' do, but it just didn't work for me. There were some very cute moments with both Batgirl/Robin pieces here, so that was cool. The highlight for me was actually his series of Superman pin-ups. Loved the forced perspective shot of him soaring over Metropolis, it had a real Fritz Lang meets MC Escher quality to it. Though everything didn't click with me, still proof why DC's Solo project is one of the best things to happen to comics in a while. Grade B-.


4.19.06 Reviews

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #4 (Marvel): I'm still enjoying this book, but it's admittedly not as strong as the first two issues. On the humor barometer, it's not "laugh out loud" funny anymore, it just sort of makes me smile and chuckle to myself. I like the odd mix of characters that Ellis brings some interesting life to, The Captain's random origin story, the silly banter, and the bold and blatant beating of a cop. Grade B.

New Avengers #18 (Marvel): Basically crap, except for one single panel which I really enjoyed. Cap issuing an override command to the Iron Man armor. That was creative, cool, and believable. Grade C-.

The Invincible Iron Man #7 (Marvel): Well fuck, that didn't take long. Exit Warren Ellis and Adi Granov as the creative team. Enter the Knauf boys and Patrick Zircher. Exit anything remotely intelligent or interesting. Enter a bunch of stuff that isn't the least bit engaging visually, out of character dialogue, and a gratuitous slugfest. Exit me continuing to buy this book. Enter me picking up the hardcover trade of issues 1 through 6 and calling it a day. Grade D+.

Squadron Supreme #2 (Marvel): For 18 issues of the MAX line and the first issue of this series in the regular Marvel U, I was totally on board and never questioned the quality of this book or my enjoyment of it. Until now. Still maintains the overall dark tone of the series, but I don't know, a little... wordy? preachy? condescending? overly explanatory? in spots. I felt like this issue was talking down to me, taking one extra panel or page here and there to make its points. It lost some subtlety and that hurt in a big way. Also, the cast now feels too big to manage, something Straczynski even seems to know since he addresses the entire team being sent on this mission with some of the character's dialogue. Better start killing some fools off, JMS. Even Gary Frank's usually stellar art felt a bit uneven or rushed in spots. I don't think I've ever given an issue of this book lower than an A-. Typically, there is at least one scene, one piece of dialogue, or one "hook" in every single issue that clicks with me and I say to myself, ah, that's why I buy this book and will be back for more. That hook was painfully absent for the first time ever. I'm sad. Grade B-.

Ex Machina Special #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Long time readers know that Ex Mach is simply one of my favorite books. This issue was just... not what I expected I guess. When I heard that this issue would take place largely in the past and tell one of the the old adventures of The Great Machine, I guess I expected more of an origin story or something. These are merely flashbacks. The regular series is littered with flashbacks, it's one of the primary storytelling structures that Brian K. Vaughan employs, so I'm struggling to understand the need to do a two issue mini that is separate from the main book. Just work this tale into the main series, right? I mean a two issue mini that is basically crafted in the same manner as the main book seems sorta' needless. Even the format of the book is the same, it's just another issue, why not combine it into a one-shot prestige format book? I just don't get it. Next problem. Chris Sprouse on art was a huge selling point for me. Love his work. But then he comes in and instead of sprinkling his Chris Sprousey magic atop these characters, he just apes Tony Harris' style, which is a talented feat in itself, but not why I buy a Chris Sprouse penciled book. So yeah, I'm just kinda' lost here. All that aside, the story was pretty great actually. I dug the juxtaposition of this villain who can talk to animals in the same manner that Mitchell can talk to machines. It's a nice science vs. nature riff. Also enjoyed The Great Machine team trying to work out some issues with the suit and Vaughan's typically strong dialogue. So, where does that leave us? For actual content, I'd say, right on, A-. For format and overall logic of this "special," I would really say, huh?, C-, leaving us with an overall noble mis-step of a Grade B-.

Queen & Country Declassified: Volume 2 & Volume 3 (Oni Press): Picked up the softcover treatments of these two mini-series also, which is against my general approach to Q&C. But after being plagued by lateness like two promiscuous teens, I just don't know what's going to happen with these books. Will hardcovers ever be printed? The stories themselves were decent enough, highlighting the pasts of some of the main characters, but I'm still *so* distracted by Oni's publishing attempts. They are just starting to re-establish credibility with this title. I'm looking for hardcovers of these books within 6 weeks, and I'm looking for the main title to get back on track with regular releases that are then collected. If they can do that, my criticism will fade. Stay tuned.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Billy Hazelnuts (Fantagraphics): The theme of Tony Millionaire’s newest hardcover offering is evolution. That may seem like a bold proclamation, but in good journalistic style, I’m trying not to bury my lead. There are numerous elements in this book that represent shifts away from the traditional toward something refreshingly modern.

I wish I had the time to do a deeper dive into this book, but my quick summation of evidence will have to suffice. I loved this book and wanted to push something out before we all miss the opportunity to buy more copies!

The mice will inherit the Earth. Their traditional role evolves as they seem hell bent on a rebellion to overthrow the matron of the house as evidenced by their creation of Billy.

The girl is portrayed as a scientist, not the typical damsel in distress. Notice how she hates the frilly bow as it’s applied to her clothing, shunning her conventional role as a “girly” girl.

Eugene is initially seen as a poet. He is not a knight in shining armor. He’s annoying. He is not a savior. He’s anything but a typical male lead or suitor in this story. Ultimately, he becomes a villain, a pawn in this game.

Billy himself is created as a homunculus, composed of kitchen refuse, flies, and nuts, animated only by creativity.

The tale is not bound by any traditional limitations. Take a look at the girl's rocking horse - it just goes. It literally wheels away with no explanation of locomotion.

Nobody is happy with their traditional roles, broken planets in the dump seek to add value in the quest. Even the sheep want recognition. There is the question of where the moon goes, characters are not happy with answers previously given. Shooting stars refer to Billy as “brother,” proof that the existential dilemma of limited time forces everyone and everything to seek their own meaning. We are all “brothers” in this search.

Lines like “punching and smashing worsens the situation” can be viewed as commentary on the industry's need for survival, transcending superhero origins, and moving on to include diverse other genres. And I think that’s what Millionaire does here a bit. He includes some obvious and some oblique literary references, such as Moby Dick, The Grapes of Wrath, Noah’s Ark, and then proceeds not to dwell on those, just a mere mention is hinted, but then marches boldy forward with a new story whose art is creepy, imaginative, and endearing. The tone of script is about loyalty among beings and offering friendship with a diverse group. It’s a fully realized world. Grade A.

4.12.06 Reviews

Still trying to get caught up from a two week whirlwind tour of a business trip. Daytime blurring into night, days becoming weeks, sleep deprived and inebriated, the fight to bring you some good comics marches on. Here's a lightning fast recap of some memorable books from last week;

Desolation Jones #6 (DC/Wildstorm): Great wrap up to a quirky, off beat (yes, even for Ellis!) tale that pairs government agents gone deep underground in LA with some ethereal bits. I really enjoyed this series and unlike some Ellis minis, I'll be buying the trade for long term addition to my collection. Grade A.

Shaolin Cowboy #5 (Burlyman Entertainment): How can I possibly review this book, when Hannibal Tabu so cleverly does it for me over at CBR... "Sometimes you go to a party, and there's a girl dancing, and she's just wild -- she's all over the place and grinding up against any hard surface she finds, and she's clearly drunk or high or something, and when you catch her eye there's no telling what can happen. Pretty much every issue of "Shaolin Cowboy" is like that, and this one is no exception, featuring one of the most surreal splash pages in history..." Grade A-.

DMZ #6 (DC/Vertigo): Still quite strong. Grade A-.

Batman: Year 100 #3 (DC/Vertigo): Paul Pope's latest masterpiece continues. Smacks a little of the V For Vendetta movie high concept-wise, but a high point in comics nonetheless. Brilliant sense of design. Grade A.

BPRD: The Universal Machine #1 (Dark Horse): I love, love, love these BPRD series and they just keep getting better and better. Loved everything about this issue, the debate over "death" of a homunculus, the airtime for Kate Corrigan, the eclectic and ominous place she visits, and the promise of Captain Daimio's origin! Grade A+.

The Tourist (Image): I wonder if this was written some time ago by Brian Wood and it's just seeing print now? It's much different in style and tone than some of his more contemporary work. I enjoyed it quite a bit, just felt "out of voice" for this author. Interesting. Grade B+.


4.05.06 Reviews

No time for full reviews this week, but thought I'd do a quick run down on what I picked up;

Planetary #25 (DC/Wildstorm): Ellis and Cassaday. Woohoo! Heard some rumors that this ish may answer some longstanding questions as the series begins to *finally* wind down to its conclusion. Someone wrote that people were jokingly referring to this as the "latest Planetary annual." Haha!

Ex Machina #19 (DC/Wildstorm): Read through this at super speed, don't remember much now except for an interesting convo in a church(?). Anticipating a Grade B+ at a minimum here, Ex Mach never disappoints!

Ex Machina: Volume 3 TPB (DC/Wildstorm): Though I'm still picking up the single issues, I've also been eagerly replacing them with trades so that I can give away arcs of the single issues to others in an effort to hook them on the title. Arc 1 went to pal Jason (who is a journalist by trade, fellow comic head, and dug Tony Harris on Starman, so there just isn't any acceptable reason why he shouldn't be reading this regularly!). Arc 2 is going to artist pal Grant, who will surely appreciate and learn from the panel to panel layouts and emotive line work of Tony Harris. Who will arc 3 go to?

Infinite Crisis #6 (DC): Buying this title is sort of like going to the gas station and washing your windows with that nasty squeegee. It's not something I particularly enjoy or need, I just keep doing it since I'm there anyway. Saw some stuff with Nightwing that hopefully entertains me.

Superior Showcase #1 (AdHouse Books): I will most willingly give this a shot after thoroughly enjoying the Project: Superior anthology. Very interested to see if the quality remains high.