7.02.08 Reviews

Astonishing X-Men #25 (Marvel): Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi’s AXM is really different from the Whedon-Cassaday affair, and I can appreciate both. Rather than reliance on crisp photorealistic art and quippy dialogue with plot lines built around isolated fan-favorite “cool” moments, this team is a bit more subtle and nuanced. The art is darker and less defined; it lends a more subversive feeling that fits well with where the team finds themselves currently, both geographically and philosophically. Even Bianchi’s panel layouts are a bit more experimental than usual and boast a disjointed feel that dovetails nicely into this group's in-flux existence. From a scripting standpoint, Ellis nails the characterization with simple and effective lines like “you have a tendency to self-sabotage” and shows he’s captured the essence of the team, whether it’s the portrayal of the gruffness of Wolverine, eagerness of Hisako, regal stature of Ororo, or the strategist nature of Scott. All in all, a great set up for a markedly new direction with markedly new artistic approaches. Grade A.

Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam! #1 (DC): Mike “Hero Bear & The Kid” Kunkel turns in a very likable first issue here. With a $2.25 price tag, it feels packed with entertainment and we get a lot of bang for the buck. Kunkel captures the innocent sense of wonder that really should accompany Billy Batson, embeds good messaging for younger readers without it playing overt or soapbox-y, maintains a consistent level of humor, and isn’t afraid to expose kids to “big” words like pachyderm. This is a well balanced introduction to Batson basics, complete with the Wizard, Mary Marvel, the alter ego of Captain Marvel, his day job at the radio station, and his counterpoint Adam, all with plenty of adventure to be had. The only real observational criticism I have has nothing to do with the content of the book per se, it’s more directed at DC Editorial. Kunkel’s Hero Bear was wildly popular when it debuted seven or eight years ago. I remember my LCS at the time selling out, droves of fans asking for the title, a friend of mine who is a graphic designer begging me to buy it for him, and even non-comic reader soccer moms entering the shop inquiring about the title. That was seven or eight years ago. Why did it take DC (or any company for that matter) so long to get him on a regular title? If they’d capitalized on his popularity and style at the time, we could have had so much more. Imagine sitting here now in 2008 with 84 issues in the can of this title. Wouldn’t that go a long way toward getting kids interested in the medium again? Grade A.

Northlanders #7 (DC/Vertigo): The lone typo aside (“plnt” your feet), Wood and Gianfelice deliver another entertaining and intriguing issue. What I enjoyed the most about this issue was the sense that many events are coalescing to transform Sven into something grand and dark. Without spoiling, there are major plot marks here related to Gorm and Thora. Much of what Sven does, he derives no satisfaction from and only does out of a sense of duty. The interesting question I felt that continues to be posed is “what exactly does Sven want?” He seems dispassionate about reclaiming a throne that’s rightfully his, or the inheritance that accompanies it. I’m expecting him to reveal some sense of direction about his true desires next issue that propels us into the second arc. But, knowing Wood he'll surprise me pleasantly with something I haven't thought of. Grade A.

Echo #4 (Abstract Studio): This issue feels like “all middle,” but still does so beautifully and with refreshing aplomb. Echo, as a title, swaggers into the room with a calm sense of purpose. I don’t know where it’s going, but it knows where it’s going and continues to march confidently forward with its own vision in sight. It feels like there’s a plan, which is more than I can say for half the titles on the stands right now. Here we’re treated to a convergence of government plots, slowly revealed powers of “the suit,” Annie’s boyfriend, Julie learning the powers, and many different angles to the investigation by different authorities. Echo continues its deliberate and effective approach with a Grade A.


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