Comic Rankings

Be sure to check out Jon Haehnle's new venture, Comic Rankings, hosted by PopCultureShock.com: http://www.popcultureshock.com/introducing-comicrankings/43098/

It's a great idea for a service that collects all of the scored comic reviews on the web (including 13 Minutes) and produces an aggregate score, complete with review links, excerpts, etc.


2.27.08 Reviews

Kick-Ass #1 (Marvel/ICON): Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. cut right to the chase and hit us with the most enjoyable first issue of 2008! Their hero is set in a narrative that has a down to Earth, everyman quality to it, which is really rich. We’re immediately introduced to a realistic world where Falcon-inspired wings malfunction, Armenians abound, and electrodes strapped to your testicles is about as glamorous as the superhero game gets. There’s a simplicity to the storytelling here that I just have to applaud, check out the way the secret origin is called out, announces itself plain as day. We’re brought into a familiar, self-aware world, with self-referential nods to the greater Marvel U. Along the way, Millar poses some interesting questions about the people that society chooses to idealize and obsess over. This kid’s mind is insightful, he views himself as different, and he’s contemplative on that different path, even as he’s getting the shit kicked out of him. This is the title to watch. Grade A+.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #3 (Archaia Studios Press): The word that continually springs to mind for me when I read David Petersen’s work is… rich. The details around the way the Guard Mice do even the simplest task is so well thought out. Listen to the way the bats tell their tale, how they were shunned by the Earth bound creatures because they had wings, and likewise shunned by the other fliers in the sky because they had fur. It adds authenticity so a fictional world, it makes you want to read more and absorb the carefully considered elements of a crafty writer. Speaking of craft, look at the pipe smoke as Celanawe reveals a piece of his origin… is that a fingerprint that was used in the ink wash to create that effect? Brilliant. Grade A.

Action Comics #862 (DC): Sometimes I think about which books I would let my daughter read (when she’s old enough to read, anyway). This issue definitely falls into that category. I think all of the messaging about rejection and believing in yourself and taking constructive criticism without giving up or becoming cynical is really positive. I also enjoyed the way that Legion tryouts were instantly modernized with the psychological profiling of Saturn Girl’s mental scans. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank offer us a really believable drama here, which is punctuated with intense action and thought-provoking, valuable ideas. In short, this arc really has a lot to offer. The text is dense, in the sense that you feel you’re getting your money’s worth, but not slow. There’s so much commentary about prejudice, power, and ego all embedded in the story. The substitute heroes also show us that it’s not necessarily your powers that win a fight, but your brain and the trust you have in your team. There’s also some “haha” moments like “The ferns cry out for retribution and they’ll have it!” Again, a lot to offer here. Grade A.

Dan Dare #4 (Virgin Comics): “Time you were out of your scratcher, ducks.” What? No idea what that means. I’m a fan of language and different cultures’ speech patterns, but this is a bit too much of a UK-ism or something. Conversely, the diction of The Mekon is really interesting, it really makes him (it?) sound like a true alien. The “confession” scene just drips with exposition. The typo in which “out of this word” was used, rather than “out of this world” really upset me. All of that was really improved upon by a rousing, if predictable, action sequence and some exceptionally well mannered military-procedural jargon during the convoy attack scene. This title started a bit more unique to me (with some offbeat political maneuvering), but now seems to be degenerating to a more standard space-faring action story. Grade B+.

The Circle #4 (Image): Wasn’t this solicited as a four issue mini-series? It really caught me off guard that this wasn’t the last issue and another is coming out. There were some bits here that played in a very derivative way, such as the “Team 7” style throwback pin up of the original international Circle squad and the “Last Crusade” motorcycle set. I think I’m frustrated by The Circle because it’s a bit uneven. It had aspirations of being a more unique spy/espionage thriller, but is falling a bit short for me. The CIA “biscuit” bits are phenomenal, but then we get a really odd dislocated shoulder scene (how does that get you free of handcuffs per se?) and a really gratuitous topless scene. When Ilona finally escapes, the first thing she does isn’t make a plan to escape, discuss how to stop the train, or even grab a weapon, it’s… strip off her top? Ooo-kay. Grade B.

Rasl #1 (Cartoon Books): Jeff “He of Bone Fame” Smith gives us something a little different here. There wasn’t actually that much to go on, but what little I got, I enjoyed. The concept of “The Drift” is interesting, not quite a Nightcrawler/Jumper style “BAMF!” but not quite straight time travel either, there are implications of other worlds or dimensions here that have a lot of potential. I really was into the art heist angle (I mean, hey, I work at a museum) and desperately want to see more of that. Overall, a promising new work from a trusted creator that has all sorts of possibilities. Sparse for the moment, but let’s see where this goes. For now, Grade B.


2.20.08 Reviews

Ex Machina #34 (DC/Wildstorm): I like the shift over to focusing on Angiotti, who is surprisingly interesting and by no means one dimensional. I deeply appreciated the realism of the shootout, it happens quickly with no time for smart-ass quips, and is essentially over before anyone even realizes what’s happening. Jack Pherson remains a solid counterpoint of a villain that highlights the dichotomy between nature (him) and technology (Hundred). Vaughan recently admitted that like Y: The Last Man before it, Ex Machina will also have a definitive end planned that’s looming on the horizon. I’m looking forward to all the unresolved plot threads, (like Pherson) and the info provided by the recent Papal arc, all coming together. Reminiscent of the very first issue, Vaughan leaves us with an unexpected last page reveal that’s beautifully depicted, unexpected, smile-inducing, and sweet homage. The Number of the Beast preview offers yet another story that plays around with the pantheon of familiar archetypes and offers little beside Chris Sprouse’s pencils. As an aside, I vote for him to take over as artist on The Brave & The Bold when Perez departs. Grade A-.

Zorro #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): Damn it! Why didn’t my LCS order the John Cassaday cover? The Wagner cover is great, but I want Cassaday! Deep breath. Ok. Ahem. Matt Wagner and Francesco Francavilla (who did a really cool Nightwing sketch for me at the CBLDF booth at the San Diego Con last year) provide a really crisp introduction to the character that’s able to capture the mystery of the legend. Francavilla’s creative page layouts are really enhanced by the lush coloring of Adriano Lucas. You can really see how Diego’s father and his cultural ambition were strongly imprinted upon his son. There are many bits I enjoyed here, including the fox as a totem and the interesting imagery that serves as a precursor to Bruce Wayne’s exploits, however I didn’t feel the emotional hook that Zorro’s “sister” book The Lone Ranger hit me with in the debut issue. A cautiously optimistic, Grade A-.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #6 (Dark Horse): The end of this initial arc feels a bit abrupt, but this is still a fascinating and fun new property. I think the basic character archetypes are actually pretty standard, as is the action and melodrama, but when they’re placed in the nuanced fantastical settings provided by Gabriel Ba’s art, the whole aesthetic becomes a little greater than the sum of it’s constituent components. I think this book is very good, but am anxious to see if it can defy it’s beginnings and become great. Grade A-.

The Brave & The Bold #10 (DC): The narrative flow is quite disjointed as we skip from set to set, but we do get an eclectic and fun tour of some oddball corners of the DCU. The Teen Titans story has a very vanilla sort of innocent charm to it, but the real treat as usual is George Perez’s luscious and detailed art. As Hannibal Tabu over at CBR has so aptly termed things lately, it’s a bit of a “confectionary” treat. It looks pretty with a glossy aesthetic, tastes sweet and delicious, but doesn’t make a lasting or nutritious meal by any means. I dig it, but I need to read something else to be full. Grade B+.

Checkmate #23 (DC): I love the White Queen in crisis management mode, as the script hums with some of the best Rucka espio-speak in recent memory. It’s nice to see the resurgence of the undercover Pawn 502 plotline. Bennett draws a downright hideous Superman, but his inclusion is otherwise fun. The Castellan preparing to brief owes a bit to a Jack Ryan scene in The Hunt for Red October and the Ops Room monitors with mission status are pure Queen & Country, but the issue is otherwise high on originality. I like the simple, but believable little treats like Sasha calling Superman “sir.” Overall, this is a pretty thrilling spy book that’s solidly rooted in the superheroics of the DCU, thus providing a nice balance of two genres I really enjoy. The Titans “preview” does not provide sufficient data to make any strong conclusion. There are two pages of competent art, then two pages of horrific art, all with no story. Grade B.

Conan #49 (Dark Horse): The narrative this issue feels pretty heavy, with scarce dialogue in spots. I liked Conan exhibiting a moment of compassion in the way he chooses to save Princess Ereshka. This allows the story to move forward nicely as they both are indebted to Iniri. This is a good enough story, but is a bit difficult to muster excitement for since this incarnation of the book will conclude next month. Grade B.

The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall & The Green Mist of Death #1 (Marvel): Ok, I say this as a fan of Matt Fraction and as a fan of the regular Iron Fist series. But… this did not work for me. One, I don’t understand why I had to pay an additional $3.99 for material that could have just as easily been included in the regular ongoing title. There are already numerous flashbacks and different artists fleshing out the early Iron Fist lore taking place in that book, why is this content any different? Two, there are way too many artists at work here. When I have to tune my eye to eight (yes, that’s eight, ocho, 8!) different artists, the jumps become extremely jarring. Lastly, there’s just some odd dialogue choices here. They were completely lost on me. I don’t know if they were supposed to be kitschy humor or what, but this preoccupation with “Chores” and “the whites of their thighs” just was not something I appreciated. Your mileage may vary. Grade C-.

I also picked up;

Fear Agent: The Last Goodbye (Dark Horse): Nice to see volume three in the Fear Agent saga collected so soon.

Fablewood Anthology (Ape Entertainment): Basically picked this up on the recommendation of Big Tom over at .newseedcomics.


2.13.08 Reviews

DMZ #28 (DC/Vertigo): There are a couple of nuanced notes in this issue that I appreciated, like the portrayal of futility in the attempts at waging war in the modern technological age, or the interesting imagery that compares war to a senseless hunt, or the polar extremes that the FSA and USA are perceived by Soames to be. In the end, the denoument feels a bit abrupt with little overt explanation as to his motivations. Overall, these stand alone issues were mostly good, and occasionally great, but I’m tired of this arc and glad it’s concluded. Not to damn with feigned praise, that is to say that it will read much better collected, because it will read quicker. Sitting through so many of these done-in-one issues that trickle out monthly with no real thematic consistency, other than a formatting one, is hard. PS – The Young Liars preview looks less than intriguing; is Lapham losing it? Grade A-.

BPRD: 1946 #2 (Dark Horse): I enjoyed Bruttenholm and company’s really creepy exposure to the child Audo, the disturbing Russian narrator girl, and the drop of Vladimir Giurescu, as well as the tale of the trinity of demons. But, that was all hampered to some degree by Paul Azaceta’s art, which feels a little hurried and unfinished around the edges. Best line of the book, which could really sum up the entire BPRD universe if you think about it critically and dissect the word choices: “There are monsters in the world, Sergeant… and I’m afraid we’ve stumbled on one.” In what amounts to a triumph of writing over art, Grade B+.

The New Avengers #38 (Marvel): …or umm, Alias #38, as the continuing adventures of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (starring artist Michael Gaydos even!) gets underway. Bendis has already taken a lot of heat for his talking head scripts and 10-page convo between Luke and Jessica, but I enjoyed it, even if Luke’s stubborn ego came off as more… well, stubborn, egotistical pride than his typical strong willed personality. I loved seeing Jessica so in control, focusing her energies on protecting her child, Carol Danvers’ handling of the whole Luke Cage “negotiation” in the face of fellow Avengers ready to arrest was also played nicely. This really humanizes her and actually stole the show a bit, as far as I was concerned. I always dig the sexual tension between Ares and every chic in the room; that’s just entertaining. For me, the draw here is the human dynamics, and I could really care less about the Skrull “Secret Invasion: The Infiltration” awkward mouthfull-ness. Moving on to continuity gaffes, umm… isn’t Danny Rand a little too tied up in The Seven Capital Cities tournament right now to be apartment hunting in New York? Bendis’ humor ranges from deadpan on (“I’m tired of this answer already.”) to really tired Tarantino references, such as “…walking the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu.” Pulp Fiction references? Really? Jules in the diner scene? Really? Grade B+.

X-Force #1 (Marvel): Clayton Crain’s art runs the gamut from looking clean and mean to being overly photo-referenced and CGI influenced. Overall, the inking suits the mood of the wet work, black ops, Stormwatch Black, Checkmate Black coverty goodness it’s going for. There are some solid text pieces between Logan and Scott, though I’m not really certain how Emma (the telepath!) wouldn’t know what they’re up to and could be effectively kept in the dark. Rahne’s presence (which I find quite interesting) is never really fleshed out, nor is the MacGuffin of what was stolen from SHIELD. Are we to assume it’s a component of Nimrod? Though it’s never positively identified, merely shown in voice over, the vials of “stuff” don’t appear to be Nimrodian in nature. There are also a couple of rough jump cuts in the scripting department that didn’t read smoothly and caused confusion between the William Stryker and Matthew Risman sect(s) of The Purifiers. It’s interesting that this team was previously assembled and is already falling apart. It’s a different artistic choice to depict, instead of a typical “assembling the team” issue, a couple individuals struggling to keep it together despite earlier losses and setbacks. At the end of the day, my curiosity is piqued on the story side and the fight scenes are a frenetic bloodbath that actually do not glamorize the violence, but instead offer a remorseful and horrific clinical detachment from it. An actually-better-than-I-thought-it-would-be, Grade B.


2.06.08 Reviews

Scalped #14 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron opens this issue with a fascinating Lakota lore lesson that segues the audience into his cold as hell world, typified by effective and simple prose like “that ain’t my case.” Shelton, who would be a throw away character in the hands of a lesser writer, becomes a nice foil to Bad Horse, who begins to see shades of himself in someone else’s story. As usual, we’re given a spectrum of escalating evil here, with crooked local cops, deceitful FBI handlers, and Red Crow himself, who appears to be the modern day trickster promising a world to his people that will never quite pan out right. Aaron nails the inverted morality system here as the one thing Bad Horse should care about (his mother’s death), he doesn’t. And the thing he does care about (seeking justice for an out of control fellow FBI agent) is the one thing he’s not allowed to address. Along with R.M. Guera, Aaron presents a difficult, fucked up world that’s accurately and beautifully depicted. Grade A.

Wasteland #14 (Oni Press): With the help of guest artist Joe Infurnari, writer Antony Johnston gives us a nice look at Michael the “Ruin Runner’s” mysterious past. Infurnari’s sketchy lines and lack of panel borders establish an ethereal dream like quality that matches the mystery of the tale perfectly. In addition to some commentary on religion and belief systems after “The Big Wet,” Johnston drops a couple more cryptic clues, such as “Flad-Si-Dee” (Flat City?) for his audience of code-breakers to attempt cracking. Grade A-.

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #1 (Dark Horse): Jason Shawn Alexander (whose gritty detail I enjoyed on a brief stint of The Escapists) is right at home in the stable of Mignola collaborators, here depicting what should be a milk run of a mission for rookie BPRD Agent Abe Sapien. As soon as I saw the dirigible descending and a man brandishing two guns drop out, I knew I’d enjoy this book. That action sequence is set against a poemic verse that immediately defied my preconceived prejudice that this would somehow be a droll and boring story. Tidbits like the line about Jack the Ripper and the history of the Lipu Daggers add an air of authenticity that makes this story of the early(er) days of the BPRD extremely engaging. Grade A-.

Northlanders #3 (DC/Vertigo): Like DMZ before it, Brian Wood’s latest hit pairs truly disturbing action sequences with quiet introspective moments that reveal universal truths about the human condition. A great example here is the twinge of regret that’s evident in Sven’s voice as he explains how he’s been using Thora (sexually and otherwise) to gain information about his usurping uncle. Grade A-

The Circle #3 (Image): Brian Reed and Ian Hosfeld’s espionage thriller started pretty strong for me, but has witnessed a couple mis-steps along the way. This issue is no different. The art isn’t as crisp or dramatic as I recall in the first issue; here it’s merely competent, boasting none of the inspiring images that stuck with me from the debut issue. The dialogue also feels really stiff and wooden in spots, with some blatant exposition: “I don’t know what to do right now. I tried playing the game the way we always do, and it didn’t work this time.” Oh, thanks for explaining how you feel and what you did in a completely inorganic and unnatural way. The biggest gaffe that pushed me out was seeing a cell phone ring and the caller ID displaying “MI-6” as the caller. I get that Wallace isn’t a field agent and all, but that’s just ludicrous. Not to mention it’s not really necessary given the context of the story, the caller later identified himself as an MI-6 handler anyway. But, the main issue here is that all intelligence officers (even if they’re not field personnel) from the major global agencies (CIA, MI-5, MI-6, Mossad, etc.) have a training module that’s loosely referred to as “basic tradecraft,” which is generally comprised of firearms training, some martial arts, how to spot/lose tails, etc., and as targets, basically avoid compromising their own safety abroad. That said, there’s just no way in hell someone even loosely associated with MI-6 would label their cell phone that way, it would most likely have their handler’s name, or even a pseudonym for a handler, but certainly not the name of the damn “secret” intelligence agency they work for. I’m intrigued enough to buy one more issue, but my excitement has cooled off immensely. Grade B.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

The Last Musketeer (Fantagraphics): That damn Norwegian strikes again. Jason is building up an immaculate library of works, his latest is another in the series of ostensibly simple anthropomorphic adventures. But... look closer and you find his typical intensely emotive lines, sweeping drama, and commentary on the human condition. More than anything, I really enjoy the way he experiments with different genres and time periods in each successive work. You have something like The Left Bank Gang, which chronicles Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, and Pound in Paris and all of the embedded social commentary of that era's literature, he then deftly moves onto something like Why Are You Doing This? and plays with Hitchcockian mystery, suspense, and voyeurism. Finally, we arrive at this book which is an interesting hybrid of Ming The Merciless from the pulpy Flash Gordon era and add a dash of the trinity of French Cavaliers. It's getting boring reviewing Jason's work, in the best way possible. As usual, this is excellent; not to be missed. Our highest, Grade A+.

From Munich to Stuttgart

I never thought this day would come.

I’ve owned 5 BMWs. I owned an M3 for heaven’s sake. This is not me bragging, but a mere statement of fact to illustrate what a huge departure this is. While my dad was off toying with his Porsches (he really hated when I would casually refer to his 911 as a “VW Super-Beetle”) and my pals Sean and Jeremy were convinced that Audis were where the German auto market was at (“It’s AWD, Justin!”), I was a fiercely loyal BMW guy.

I know all about the history of Bayerische Motoren Worke (that’s Bavarian Motor Works to you), that the “roundel” (that’s the blue and white emblem) had actually begun as a graphic representation of a spinning propeller blade back when they built aeroplane engines, I can tell you what the difference is between a Bimmer and a Beemer (that’s a car and BMW motorcycle, respectively), the wins of legendary racer Hans Stuck, have competed in auto-crossing events through BMW Car Club of America (San Francisco: Golden Gate Chapter, thank you very much), convinced my sister to purchase an X5, tinkered with limited run 320is models and Euro spec quasi-illegal 323i models of the E21 chassis variety, can tell you the difference between the “ti” and “tii” designation, was on a first name basis with the guys at Bavarian Autosport in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (even visited the shop once during a business trip, my buddy Jeremy setting the land speed record from Logan International Airport, through rush hour Boston traffic, across the border into New Hampshire before they closed, all in a hooptie rental car), have stood in the garage at aftermarket tuner Dinan Engineering, lusted after my M3 partially because it was “Dakar” yellow, named after the fabled Paris-Dakar rally, and had lofty dreams of one day restoring a 1974 3.0 Csi in "Polaris" silver. The list goes on…

After the recent accident that totaled my car, I really had the impulse to try something new. I suppose in order to truly appreciate my 2007 Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport, it’s DOHC V6, and all of the AMG add-ons, I’m going to have to learn all about Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, who is credited as the inventor of the world’s first “true” automobile, coupling it with an internal combustion engine in 1885 and…