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Cowboy Ninja Viking #1 – Review

by AJ Lieberman (writer), Riley Rossmo (artist)

The Story: Dr. Ghislain is the creator of a program that that trains people suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder to become killers known as Triplets.  Duncan, living his life as a Cowboy, a Ninja, and a Viking, is one of these Triplets and remains Ghislain’s greatest success, even if he/they want to kill the good doctor.  When another Triplet goes rogue, Ghislain and Duncan must put aside their differences to track him down.

The Good: Cowboy Ninja Viking has proven itself to be a very different kind of story, and that’s a great quality to possess in an industry saturated with mediocrity.  Lieberman has hit the ground running with a plot that is clearly aware of the many genres it draws influence from and unapologetic in wearing those influences on its sleeve with pride.  At the same time though, Lieberman’s not afraid to have a little fun with the story, and you can see that in the way he approaches the Triplets.  I enjoyed Duncan’s multiple personality commentaries and thought the uniquely-styled dialogue bubbles were a fun touch (the Cowboy has a six-shooter, the Viking has an axe, and the Ninja has a sword).  I wasn’t a huge fan of Rossmo’s art on Proof, but his style has definitely won me over on this book and feels more appropriate here, where the grainy linework gives the story the feel of an epic grindhouse movie.

The Not So Good: This issue is largely set up and explanation as the cast of characters needs to be introduced and fleshed out, and the plot needs to be laid out enough to give readers a sense of what the hell is happening.  This was a necessary evil for what I suspect is going to be a skillfully complex story, but I have to admit it made for some slow reading.  I was also left wondering what the point is, if any, of training people with Multiple Personality Disorder to become killers, beyond being a quirky plot twist.  This is one detail I feel Lieberman needs to address at some point if he wants to retain readers.

Conclusion: Cowboy Ninja Viking is a complex tale of action, espionage, and psychosis from a skilled creative team, and I’m definitely on board to see what happens next!

Grade:  B-

-Tony Rakittke

Gotham City Sirens #4 – Review

By Paul Dini (Writer), Guillem March (Art), and Jose Villarrubia (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: I thought the last issue of Gotham City Sirens was the best one so far. That’s not necessarily a good thing, however, because Paul Dini didn’t write the book and the main characters were limited to about two pages. What’s that say about the strength of the concept?

The Story: Harley Quinn’s not in the best of positions. She’s unknowingly in the clutches of Hush and also a target of the Joker. Lucky for Harley though, she’s got some backup. She’s just not aware of it yet…

What’s Good And What’s Not So Good: I know I say this in some way for every Gotham City Sirens review, but it is one seriously nice-looking series. From the dynamic scene composition (Joker’s splash page and Ivy’s plant communication scene comes to mind) and storytelling to the character work and action, Guillem March continues to impress. And thanks to Jose Villarrubia’s flawless color work, every panel looks vibrant and feels very alive.

Both March and Villarrubia do wonders for what is, in all honesty, a pretty bland script. While Paul Dini definitely gets across the characters and tells a story that’s decent enough, it all feels somewhat uninspired. That said, I do really enjoy the part where Joker and his thugs play in Gotham City Sirens #4. The thugs because of their fairly smart conversation, and Joker because of his body language (credit to Guillem March for that one) and the way he goes to some interesting lengths to bring down Harley Quinn.

It’s tough to really come down too hard on Gotham City Sirens #4 because it’s, at worst, average. The book certainly gets the job done, yet at the same time it leaves something to be desired. My hope is that eventually, Dini creates some sort of compelling hook that makes Sirens a solid part of my pull list as opposed to a book that’s making the cut solely because of the artwork.

Conclusion: Gotham City Sirens #4 delivers a lot more of the same. That’s a good thing as far as the artwork is concerned. That’s a bad thing as far as the script is concerned.

Grade: C+

-Kyle Posluszny

Dark Avengers #9 – Review

By Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Mike Deodato (Art), and Rain Beredo (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: With Utopia out of the way, I fully expect Dark Avengers to get back to being a favorite of mine. With a kick-ass cover and the promise of a guest appearance from Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors, it’s a pretty safe bet that Dark Avengers #9 will deliver.

The Story: Ares discovers that his son, Phobos, isn’t exactly heading off to school during the day. Meanwhile, something strange is going on at Avengers Tower while some of the Dark Avengers chat it up about funny heroes.

What’s Good And What’s Not So Good: Before I really get into the review, I have to first toss out a quick suggestion: Do yourself a favor and try to ignore the cool image on the cover of Dark Avengers #9. While Ares goes on a little rampage and some stuff is destroyed, Brian Michael Bendis (I almost want to say, “as usual”) opts to let dialogue do almost all of the work in the latest issue of Dark Avengers. Is this a bad thing? Turns out, it’s not at all.

Bendis’ decision to let words bring resolution to an explosive situation works extremely well because of how the scene plays out. It gives the characters involved a little extra depth and goes a long way towards humanizing a character that, most recently, has been little more than muscle in superhero battles. I do, however, have one major issue with the dialogue in regards to how Phobos is portrayed. Bendis handles him as though he is a normal kid afraid of his father. While that works as far as what’s happening is concerned, Bendis’ take on Phobos seems to go against what Jonathan Hickman is doing with the character. It’s hard to really call what Bendis does a negative, but it is something that must be mentioned.

So the Ares/Fury/Phobos scene is pretty great. Thankfully, the rest of the book doesn’t disappoint. The exchange at Avengers Tower is something really close to hilarious, and the weird stuff happening left me thinking “WTF!?” in a good way. In short, it’s clear that the series is back on track and I really couldn’t be much happier. That said, I do wish that the Dark Avengers would stop being stuck as the supporting characters in their own series. I buy Dark Avengers to read about the Dark Avengers damnit…

The artwork in Dark Avengers #9 is, as expected, moody, gritty, and impressive all around. The unfortunate thing is that there really isn’t a whole lot of ways for Mike Deodato and Rain Beredo to show off given the script. The characters look good and the emotion on display certainly works, but it’s clear that neither artist is really being put to the test.

Conclusion: Dark Avengers fans… it’s safe to come back to the series now.

Grade: B+

-Kyle Posluszny

Invincible Iron Man # 18 – Review

By Matt Fraction (writer) Salvador Larocca (pencils, inks), and Frank D’Armata (colors)

The Story: Tony Stark’s number is just about up as he takes a last ditch effort to save his body by utilizing the first armor he ever built. However, his mind is past saving as he makes one final move while Norman goes in for the kill. Meanwhile, H.A.M.M.E.R. and Osborn are attacked by an unexpected character that inflicts heavy damage, while trying to rescue Hill and Widow.

What’s Good: First of all, thank you Marvel for only making readers wait two weeks in-between the last two issues. Its kind of like fanboy nirvana to have a great series released bi-weekly (this is why some of us are such big webheads). But besides that general great attribute, this issue is just as stellar as the last. Fraction’s character work is great and Larocca really brought his “A” game here. He draws a few panels that are really novel in perspective, like the view from Stark’s chest as he holds a gun to his chin.

Although Fraction does great work with Stark, he even surpasses that effort with his take on Osborn. He pegs the maniacal, unhinged, genius perfectly. You feel his excitement to kill Stark. The best part of Osborn’s whole mission is that his confident exuberance is only going to lead to his shock as the sabotage back on the H.A.M.M.E.R. Headquarters will definitely lead to a level playing field between him and Stark.

What’s Not So Good: My only complaint is that Stark’s inner-monologue didn’t match the story so far. Last week, Stark was practically Lenny from Of Mice and Men, but this week, as he talks to himself, he is using polysyllabic words and waxing poetic. Maybe he was scarfing down ginkoba on his flight to Afghanistan? Anyway, I loved this monologue, but it just didn’t fit with the momentum from last issue.

Conclusion: Finally an event that lives up to the hype – well, besides Batman and Robin, Blackest Night. So let me rephrase that: Finally a marquee Marvel arc lives up to the hype! Really, I have no idea what is going to go down next issue. Fraction has made no allusion, nor planted any foreshadowing that Stark is going to survive. It’s a fun exercise to guess what will happen, but really, I’m clueless. I can’t believe that he will be killed off for real, but I can imagine him missing or in hibernation or going into a coma while this series focuses on Iron Woman and Maria Hill. Personally, Stark is the only reason I buy this series, so if Fraction is going to pull a Brubaker (Captain America) or Pak (Hulk) and take the lead character out of their given series, I’m out as well.

In any case, I’m not going to start to sweat the future, but rather enjoy the present where this is one of the best series running. If you’re not following this series, I suggest you buy these trades and spend a couple sleepless nights getting caught up so that when Iron Man#19 hits the stands, you’ll be able to read it.

Grade: A

-Rob G.

Secret Warriors #7 – Review

by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Alessandro Vitti (art), Sunny Gho (colors), and Dave Lanphear (letters)

The Story: Fury and the Caterpillars get some much needed funding and Baron Strucker asks for help from a surprising source.

What’s Good: The opening sequence of the issue, which sees Fury and the Caterpillars pulling off an old-fashioned bank heist, is easily one of the best scenes of the series thus far. It’s definitely my personal favourite, anyway. It’s just flat-out cool and sees nice touches of characterization as well. It also reminds me just how much more attached I am to the kids than I am with the older Howling Commandos. It’s great to see them being the badasses and the focus for the second issue in a row.

Hickman also continues to write a perfect Nick Fury. Gruff and uncompromising, Fury this month again shows a sense of humor in his unwavering resolve, even if that humor comes at the expense of the kids.

JT, and Alex in particular, are also given some needed characterization this issue. JT provides the usual humor, while Alex is a fun character, as “wise beyond their years” children always are. In just a couple of pages of dialogue, Hickman makes these two incredibly likable in a light-hearted way.

I also enjoyed the conversation between the Baron and Osborn. Hickman gives a good sense of the war of egos going on here, and apparently the term “it takes one to know one” applies to megalomaniacal sociopaths as well. Seeing Strucker and Osborn call each other out for their obvious failings was fun and fresh.

What’s Not So Good: Stefano Casselli isn’t drawing this. Alessandro Vitti’s art is very good overall, but coming after Casselli, it’s hard not to be extra critical of his work here.

That said, there are some obvious “first issue jitters” for Vitti. Several characters, Daisy and Osborn in particular, look different from panel to panel. Nastasha Romanoff also just doesn’t look quite like Natasha Romanoff.

Vitti’s style also shows some difficulties as well. When drawing close-ups, his work is absolutely outstanding. However, the moment the camera pans out, so to speak, there is a huge drop in detail. It’s as though Vitti puts in a huge amount of work for his close-ups, only to slack off on the other panels. At times, it’s as though the guy doing the close-ups is a different artist. It’s certainly very odd.

Furthermore, while I enjoyed the dynamic of Strucker and Osborn’s conversation, I’m still not entirely certain how Strucker is getting Osborn to do his bidding. The logic here is a little hazy and it’s never exactly clear why Osborn actually decides to help Strucker. Also, I had no idea we were entering a full-fledged crossover with the Thunderbolts; I’m a bit burned out on crossovers at the moment, and I doubt I’m the only one.

Conclusion: It’s still a good issue and a fantastic comic, but it’s hard not to see this as a transitional comic, setting up a crossover and a Dark Reign-related conflict. It’s a book that’ll read better as a chapter in a trade. Also, Vitti, while good, isn’t in Casselli’s league.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans

Green Lantern Corps #39 – Review

by Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (inks), Randy Mayor (colors), and Steve Wands (letters)

The Story: The black rings assault Oa, Arisia’s work on Daxam reaches its unfortunate conclusion, and Mongul finds a new base of operations.

What’s Good: Strangely, I actually enjoyed the bits divorced from Blackest Night the most in this issue.  That’s not to say the Blackest Night stuff was bad, just that I really like the ominous background threats of Mongul and the incurably xenophobic Daxamites. The Sinestro Corps’ invasion has had a particularly nasty effect on the Daxamites, making them even more violent and racist, but also super-powered.  The menace they pose is definitely palpable. Meanwhile, I loved the short Mongul bit. The reveal of his new base planet is a real gut-punch.

As far as the Blackest Night stuff goes, this issue is, more than anything, another “credibility builder.”  Much like the last issue of Green Lantern, this issue of GLC is all about putting forth just how unstoppably powerful the black light really is. Watching the rings go through a shield as if it were nothing gets that point across well. Meanwhile, while it’s a futile struggle, I’ve never seen cryptkeeper Morro look so badass.

Gleason’s art continues to be fantastic. He does a great job of detailing all of the chaos that the rings brings, but manages to keep it comprehensible. With thousands of little black rings flying all over the place, that’s no small feat. Furthermore, his work depicting Morro is awesome and a good part of the character’s badassery this month comes thanks to Gleason’s efforts. I also loved Senator Diro’s facial expression during his conversation with Arisia. If that doesn’t say “this dude is monstrously evil,” I don’t know what does; Gleason made Senator Diro reach black lantern levels of frightfulness.

What’s Not So Good: With so much going on with Mongul, Daxam, and, of course, Blackest Night, Guy’s quips about Kyle’s romance with Soranik just seemed out of place this month.  It felt a little forced, crammed into an already packed narrative, and hence a little unnatural.  I love Guy, so I did enjoy the dialogue, which is of course in his trademarked “meathead” vernacular, but it just didn’t seem like the time or the place.  Oa is being assaulted by power rings, and Guy’s really going to bring up Kyle’s relationship with Soranik?  Yeah, I don’t buy it.

While fantastic, the scenes with Mongul and Arisia also almost feel too detached and distant from the rest of the book.  Blackest Night has become such a dominating presence in the GL world that when there are simultaneous strands running through this issue that, right now, have no connection at all to it, it just feels off-putting. If anything, it dilutes the Blackest Night stuff.

Also, I’ve gotta say that if you didn’t, on page 1, predict the identity of the resurrected Black Lantern coming for Kyle at the end of the book, you need to have your head examined

Conclusion: A solid issue that feels a little scattered. Neverthless it’s still a fun issue.

Grade: B-

-Alex Evans

Incognito #5 – Review

by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (art), and Val Staples (colors)

The Story: Ava Destruction and Zack Overkill go to ground before Zack discovers the awful truth about his origins.

What’s Good: Everything you’ve liked about Incognito returns for another month.  Sean Phillips’ art is a key example of this; completely consistent in its style, tone, and quality without any dips or hurry. It continues to capture Brubaker’s weird mix of dark, hard-boiled noir and bizarre, ray-gun toting 60s sci-fi.  Incognito has been nothing short of excellent every issue, and #5 is no different.

I said it in my review last month and I’ll say it again now: I really, really like Ava Destruction as a character. Once again, despite her clear mental imbalances and homicidal tendencies, she remains impossibly likable. In that sense, the reader’s own relationship to her mirrors Zack’s. She’s dangerous, bloody, and generally awful. Yet relentlessly attractive and compelling.  It’s her very strangeness and ruthless and carefree violence that pull us towards her. And when Brubaker adds a level of vulnerability to her this month, it only makes us embrace her all the harder.

The twist regarding Zack’s origin occupies a central place in this month’s issue, and while it conveys, thanks in no small part to Phillips’ art and Staples’ neon colors and that throwback grindhouse/sci-fi feel, it also truly is a culmination of Zack’s existential struggles. In fact, Zack’s discovery and the subsequent conclusion of this issue are both beautiful in their being a concrete yet almost surreal manifestation of Zack’s loss of identity. Indeed, it fits the title “Incognito” perfectly. Despite its reliance on strong interior monologues, this series once again serves to question the nature of identity and whether the concept carries any validity at all. At the end of this issue, I’m leaning towards “no,” and yet paradoxically, I still see Zack as a distinct person that I’m invested in. This is testament to Brubaker’s skill as a writer that avoids clear answers.

Simply put, this is a highly intelligent issue that takes the book’s themes to an extreme new  level, setting up a bloodbath finale that is sure to define what it is to be “Incognito.”

What’s Not-so-Good: The short pair of scenes with Zoe Zeppelin didn’t feel particularly integral, especially given how awesome the rest of the book was. They’re clearly there as to explain the S.O.S’s presence in next month’s battle royale, but I can’t see why they couldn’t have been shortened, or combined into one scene. Then again, I’m biased as I really just want more Ava.

Conclusion: As I said last month, Incognito is a book that has given one of the best writers in comics today the freedom to do what he does best.  This is a writer in his prime, without constraints, making his ideal comic book.  Bottom-line? Buy the book, buy the trade, just read it!

Grade: A

-Alex Evans

The Darkness #78 – Review

By Phil Hester (Writer), Nelson Blake II (Pencils), Ryan Winn (Inks), and Arif Prianto of IFS (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: I’m glad that it looks like Phil Hester is about to get The Darkness back on track. While I’ve enjoyed the re-launch of The Darkness quite a bit, there’s no denying that something has been missing.

The Story: Jackie wants to regain some measure of control and power. To do so he must take out the Sovereign…

What’s Good and What’s Not So Good: The Darkness #78 tells a cool little story that not only works well as a (temporary) conclusion to the Sovereign arc, but also as a standalone story about Jackie Estacado being a total badass. It’s clever, it’s brutal, and it’s written/framed in a way that effectively adds to Estacado’s mystique as someone that’s not to be messed with. In addition, The Darkness #78 does a nice job of setting up the near future of the series which, from the looks of it, seems to be all about getting back to what made Jackie’s story such a hit to begin with.

Nelson Blake II is the big surprise of the latest issue of The Darkness. I’ve seen Blake’s pencil work before, but I don’t recall it ever looking quite as good as it does in The Darkness #78. Thanks to Ryan Winn and Arif Prianto, Blake’s work is bright, clean, and stylish in a way works far better than you’d expect; considering what an issue of The Darkness normally looks like. While the art isn’t really a prime example of the typical “Darkness” style, it still proves to be a nice change of pace for the series.

Conclusion: The Darkness #78 isn’t groundbreaking or particularly exciting, but it delivers as a solid piece of entertainment. The art impresses and the writing effectively sets the stage for the next chapter of The Darkness.

Grade: B

-Kyle Posluszny

The Unwritten #3 – Review

by Mike Carey (writer), Peter Gross (artist), Chris Chuckry & Jeanne McGee (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Tom Taylor begins to explore his memories and unlock the secrets of his father’s villa, which also happens to be the location of Frankenstein‘s conception.

What’s Good: Though it’s by no means a comedy book, I did find that dialogue-wise, Carey turns up the humor in this issue.  Taylor has said the odd line in past issues, but this month I really think he’s put in his best deadpan performance yet.  In fact, both Tom and Lizzie are starting to sound like protagonists out of a Brian K. Vaughan comic, and that’s never a bad thing.  What I didn’t expect, however, was for scythe-wielding bad-guy Pullman to make me laugh, but he managed to do just that.

I also really enjoyed the intertextuality this month, paralleling Frankenstein to the comic itself; the idea of Tom Taylor as a possible parallel to Victor’s monster is intriguing and Peter Gross’ rendition of Shelley’s novel at the beginning of the issue does perfect justice to the Gothic masterpiece.  It provided a great framing structure to this issue.

Again, metafiction plays a heavy part this month as a writer’s workshop of horror authors debate the nature of their genre. What ensues is humourous and accurate of the sort of scuffling that goes on in genre fiction and horror fans will no doubt have a blast. It’s great fun and Carey is clearly poking at some of his fellow writers.

Finally, it’s great to see Carey really rounding out the personality of his characters for another month.  After reading this issue, Lizzie only intrigues me all the more, while Tom’s memories only make him feel all the more human. With every passing issue, we feel a little closer to the characters just as we feel a little closer to the mystery. It’s still all cast in shadows, but we learn just enough to tantalize us for next month.  At the very least, a murderous Pullma guarantees action next month.

Meanwhile, I swear that Gross’ art is getting better with every issue.  I enjoyed it even more this month, as Gross seems to go for a “simpler is better” approach without ever feeling rushed, sloppy, or lacking.

What’s Not So Good: A minor quibble is Lizzie’s manner of dress.  I’m starting to wonder if she’s going to become a sufferer of “shrinking clothes” syndrome.  It’s all the more jarring due to the conservative dress of all of the other characters, as well as Lizzie’s own personality/character, which doesn’t exactly say “sex bomb.”  I’m not sure what Gross is after here.

Impatient readers may also be a bit frustrated that nothing is revealed this month in Tom’s explorations of the villa.  Even the sought-after maid isn’t questioned yet.  Pages of unintelligible, “overheard” dialogue return once more, this time from Tom’s dad. Although it’ll make sense once we find out the truth, it’s still a bit irritating at the moment, especially given that Carey has already done this to us before.

Conclusion: Carey and Gross go three for three in the best new series of 2009.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans

Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth #1 – Review

By Victor Gischler (Writer), Bong Dazo (Artist), and Jose Pimentel (Inks), and Matt Milla (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: Did they really need another Deadpool series? I like the character as much as most people (probably more), but Deadpool is going to turn into the next Spider-Man or Wolverine at the current pace.

The Story: Deadpool gets hired by A.I.M. to recover a package located in the Savage Land. The merc runs into Ka-Zar and Zabu, some natives, and the contact that is supposed to have secured the package.

What’s Good and What’s Not So Good: The art is easily the highlight of the new Deadpool series. Bong Dazo is a great artist for a character like Deadpool, and simply put, his manic, lively, exaggerated style is a perfect fit for a series like Merc With A Mouth. Dazo’s work saves a script from being baf all around.

Victor Gischler writes a solid Deadpool (I like the Fallout reference) and puts the character in a fun situation, but there’s nothing about Merc With A Mouth #1 that makes it a must read. That said, the debut of this new series proves that there is actually room for two Deadpool comics. The Daniel Way series is Deadpool doing his thing in relation to the current Marvel status quo. On the other hand, the Victor Gischler series is, from the looks of it, all about telling entertaining stories about an entertaining character. That’s something I can get behind.

Conclusion: Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth #1 is worth checking out if you are either A) a fan of the character or B) someone that would rather read a Deadpool book that doesn’t pay much attention to the current Marvel U. situation.

Grade: C

-Kyle Posluszny

Uncanny X-Men #513 (Utopia Chapter 2) – Review

By Matt Fraction (Writer), Terry Dodson (Pencils), Rachel Dodson (Inks), and Justin Ponsor (Colors)
Some Thoughts Before The Review: The Uncanny X-Men and Dark Avengers crossover, Utopia, got off to an unremarkable start. It laid the foundation for some interesting things though, so I look forward to seeing where Matt Fraction takes the story now that most of the pieces are in place.

The Story: If the Utopia oneshot was all about setting the stage, then Uncanny X-Men #513 is all about introducing the rest of the arc’s players. As riots continue in California, Norman Osborn institutes a curfew and introduces a new team of X-Men. Lead by Emma Frost and Charles Xavier (is it really Xavier?), Cloak, Dagger, Beast (from another timeline), Namor, Daken, Weapon Omega, and Mimic makes up the team, ordered to restore peace between humans and mutants. Meanwhile, Cyclops regroups with other mutants to plan another move. As for the hospitalized Simon Trask? Let’s just say that he’s got something else up his sleeve…

Simply put, Uncanny X-Men #513 feels a whole hell of a lot like the Utopia oneshot; which is a good thing in some ways and a bad thing in other ways.

What’s Good: The solid looking second chapter of Utopia continues building momentum for what looks to be a promising crossover. While it’s too early to make any real judgments, the Dark X-Men team shows a lot of early potential. It’s made up of a few interesting, oft-ignored characters (Cloak, Dagger, Mimic, etc.) that could turn out to be the breakout stars of the crossover if Matt Fraction handles them right (he’s definitely on the right track).

Speaking of Matt Fraction, he does a nice job of juggling an extremely large cast of characters while still moving the story forward at an acceptable pace. What’s especially notable is the way that Fraction quickly and efficiently introduces the mutants that the average reader might not be instantly familiar with. Cloak, Dagger, Mimic, Weapon Omega, and Dark Beast all benefit from Fraction’s occasionally/usually annoying/clever – pick your pair note boxes.

What’s Not So Good: The biggest problem I have with Uncanny X-Men #513 is that it feels filled with stuff that probably should have been put into the Utopia oneshot. Remember all that filler I talked about in my review of the book? Well most of that filler should have been taken out in favor of using the space to do almost everything that’s done in the latest issue of Uncanny.

More time is spent introducing characters and establishing the current social climate than moving the story forward in a satisfying way. In other words, in Uncanny X-Men #513, plot threads are still being created while most remain unused. While the pacing is still acceptable, it’s also somewhat frustrating. To add on, that’s not all that’s maddening.

The visuals, while solid, are a bit of a headache at times. I’m usually a fan of Terry Dodson’s attractive art style, but it’s a poor fit for Utopia because the crossover is absolutely packed with characters. Too many faces look exactly the same, some panels are way too oversimplified, and a few scenes look a bit silly. Also, why does Venom/Dark Spider-Man look like a snake?!

Conclusion: The second chapter of Utopia feels a lot like the oneshot that introduced the crossover. So much so, that it gets the same grade, but for different reasons.

Grade: C+

-Kyle Posluszny


By Brian Reed (Writer), Chris Bachalo (Pencils & Colors), Tim Townsend (Inks), and Antonio Fabela (Color Guides)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: I’m a huge fan of Chris Bachalo’s artwork and I’ve enjoyed nearly everything that I’ve read from Brian Reed. So, needless to say, Sinister Spider-Man #1 was an easy purchase. I expect good things…

The Story: Mac Gargan is Spider-Man… The Dark Avengers’ version at least. Posing as Spider-Man while the Venom symbiote messes with the stability of his mind, Gargan stops a bank robbery, hits a strip joint, and comes up with a plan to get back at the one that made him who he is, J. Jonah Jameson! Meanwhile, a mysterious figure that calls himself The Redeemer wants to help some of the people that Spider-Man put away…

What’s Good: Dark, twisted, funny, stylish, and also a little bit obnoxious, Sinister Spider-Man #1 kicks all sorts of ass. The writing compliments the visuals and vice versa in such a way that the first chapter of Mac Gargan’s Dark Reign tie-in reads and looks like something truly unique. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the start of the Sinister Spidey mini just might be one of the most fun comics I’ve read in quite some time.

Brian Reed’s take on Mac Gargan hits all the right notes. It brings to mind what Warren Ellis did with the character during the critically acclaimed Thunderbolts run that reintroduced Venom to the masses. The one key difference is that Reed’s Gargan is a little less psychotic and a little more comfortable with what he’s become. It’s a fair trade considering how Gargan has to take front and center as opposed to strictly playing off other teammates. Reed’s Gargan is a crass, sarcastic lowlife that’s pretty satisfied with his new position of power and ready to take advantage of everything that the new position offers. There’s a number of great lines throughout the book and leaves you feeling as though Gargan is written exactly the way he should be for a book about a Sinister version of Spider-Man (which, brilliantly, feels like an extension of the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man series).

I can’t say enough about how awesome the work by Chris Bachalo and the rest of the art team looks. It’s very distinct and proves to be a great fit for the crazy tone of the book. Bachalo’s characters are loaded with personality and his unique panel layouts do a great job of reflecting the feel of each individual scene. Also worthy of note is how striking the few black and white scenes are. While they look a bit simplified at times, they serve as a neat look into Gargan’s twisted mind.

What’s Not So Good: Simply put, Sinister Spider-Man #1 isn’t a book for everyone. It’s every bit the “love it or hate it” book that I assumed it would be when I first heard about it. Chris Bachalo’s artwork is clearly going to divide audiences and Brian Reed’s dialogue is most definitely going to offend some (Dead stripper dark humor…’nuff said).

Conclusion: Sinister Spider-Man #1 is awesome…IF you are the type of person that can get into what it offers.  I expected good, what I got was great.  While I certainly can’t recommend it to everyone, I can still give it the grade I feel it deserves…

Grade: A

-Kyle Posluszny

Captain Britain & MI:13 #14 – Review

By Paul Cornell (Writer), Leonard Kirk w/Adrian Syaf (Pencils), Jay Leisten w/Craig Yeung (Inks), Brian Reber (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: With only two issues of Captain Britain left, I hope Cornell and his team really make them count… The under-appreciated series deserves to go out with a bang.

The Story: Unfortunately, I really can’t go into much detail about the issue without wading into heavy spoiler territory.

What’s Good and What’s Not So Good: Since I really can’t say a whole lot about Captain Britain and MI:13 #14 without ruining things, I will keep things short. Paul Cornell overcomes what is initially a disappointing opening with some great character work, awesome dry humor, and clever use of a past arc to bring make the latest chapter of “Vampire State” a very good read. As for the art, it’s absolutely solid all around as Leonard Kirk and his team do a fine job of delivering action that could easily come across as muddled or confusing.  While some of the artwork looks a bit rushed, there’s enough good stuff to make up for it.

Conclusion: You can rest assure that the creative team behind Captain Britain is in no way half-assing the final issues of a tragically canceled series.

Grade: B+

-Kyle Posluszny

Four Eyes #3 – Review

By Joe Kelly (writer) Max Fiumara (pencils, inks), and Nestor Pereyra (colors)

The Story: Our protagonist Enrico, full of pure innocence and unbridled optimism, goes on his first dragon egg hunt with a pack of unseemly and desperate characters. While working out his pervasive sense of loss over the death of his father, he meets other members of Boccini’s crew, as he travels into a dead-end, dragon-infested cave; where he meets this comic’s name sake.

What’s Good: Alright, I’m gonna try not to gush like a fanboy and keep some objective editorialism (yeah, I know, I made that last word  up), but really, this comic is magnificent. As much as I am in awe of Joe Kelly’s scripting and plotting, it’s Max Fiumara who gets to put a star on his refrigerator for this issue.  I wouldn’t believe he could top the dragon designs in the past couple issues, but he did. In fact, he destroyed them. The pandemonium in the cave, “when dragons attack,” was gloriously drawn. The scenes were emotive in the sense that I could feel the terror the humans were experiencing as the dragon tore into them. All the action in each panel was clear and the unique style that characterizes Fiumuara’s pencils remained in tact. Characters were expressive and natural. Setting, depth, and perspective were all precise.

Now, onto Kelly. This whole project works on so many levels and this issue exemplifies them all. First off, like any good story, it all hinges on the characters that comprise the story. From Fawkes, the tough as nails foreman with a soft heart, to Enrico’s caring mother, the whole cast is great. Obviously, Enrico is the motor of the whole story and he is an easy character to fall in love with. The way he handles his father’s death, specifically his near-euphoria in following in his footsteps even though it is clearly an almost certain death sentence, is very powerful and a depiction true to human nature.

The overall story here is classic and formulaic, especially the ending, and many aspects of the tale feel familiar. But perhaps ironically,  this doesn’t detract from the novelty of this tale. I mean we are talking about dragons and the great depression here–not exactly a common concept. Also, the fact that this is told masterfully, even the predictable events are highly enjoyable to read.

What’s Not So Good: With this comic as it stands on its own? Not a thing. However, the release dates and stability of this series is a real issue. But, let’s save that for the….

Conclusion: Obviously, the lateness of this issue’s release and the uncertainty of when the next issue is coming is frustrating. Very frustrating, in fact. I applaud Joe Kelly for owning up to this problem and formulating a plan to get back on track. But the reality is is that this stability is over half a year away, which is really disappointing from a customer’s perspective. Ultimately, the strength of this series will overcome the disastrous logistical end of it. Yet this is still a major gripe.

All that aside, this is my favorite comic on the stands right now, as it even ranks up there with my all-time favorites. I cannot remember being as sold on a series so early on as I am with Four Eyes. I am psyched about the ability of this series to appeal to a wide and diverse audience and I hope it catches on. This is a series that is good for the whole comic medium and its advancement.

Grade: A

-Rob G.

Agents of Atlas #5 (Dark Reign) – Review

by Jeff Parker (writer), Carlo Pagulayan (pencils), Jason Paz (inks), Jana Schirmer (colors), and Nate Piekos (letters)

The Story: Atlas takes on the New Avengers in one big, mighty brawl.

The Good: Well, after how awkward the whole Captain American debacle was last issue, I expected this to be a complete disaster.  After all, if one non-Atlas character was poorly written and out of place, surely the presence of that character’s whole team would only make for an even worse affair, right?

Well, that should be the case, but thankfully, Parker writes a fantastic Spider-Man.  Spidey sounds like and acts like Spidey and his naturally humorous character and zany edge actually make him a very good fit in an Atlas comic.  Parker seems to realize this and also appears to recognize that Spidey is easily the Avenger he is best able to write.  As a result, Spider-Man probably says more and does more of consequence in this issue than the rest of the Avengers combined.  And that’s just fine.  Parker is just fore fronting his strengths and hiding his weaknesses.  The Spider-Man/Atlas dynamic is funny and superb; watching a lovesick Spidey be hypnotized by Venus or hearing Gorilla-Man yell threats at him is just funny.

Also, I really enjoyed Parker’s use of Spider-Man’s spider-sense here.  If Atlas is faking, how would this work with this power?  It’s a very, very clever and interesting situation.

Other positive things going on in this issue were Temugin beginning to cement his place on the team and M-11 recognizing Wolverine’s voice from the team’s run-in with Logan in Cuba in 1958 (way back in issue 1).  Seeing Temugin cooperate made him strangely likeable and creates a more interesting, less directly adversarial.  Meanwhile, the M-11/Wolverine thing was just damn smart.  I knew they’d be facing the New Avengers this issue, but I’d forgotten that they’d already met Logan once before.

Art-wise, Pagulayan’s pencils are solid, pretty, and sleek.  Nothing groundbreaking, but they get the job done.  The real star though, is Schirmer’s work on the colors, which take Pagulayan’s art to the next level.  Everything is bright, beautiful, and glimmering; making the art go from solid to very good, while managing to add a more unique look.

The Not-So-Good: Well, giving Spider-Man the heaviest place on the Avengers works well, because while he does carry it, there are still moments where Parker has trouble writing the other Avengers.  Luke Cage in particular, though only saying 2-3 lines, has some particularly poor moments, especially at the beginning of the issue.

Also, I really do miss the parallel 1958 flashback story.  The parallel story structure was what made this series unique, and it all feels a little more typical without that element.  I truly miss it.  The last couple of issues have seen the 1958 portion as probably the most interesting, so it’s a shame that it’s gone at the moment.  I really hope that this removal isn’t permanent.  The parallel stories really added something unique, both from a writing and art standpoint, particularly as I enjoyed the art in the flashbacks more as well.  The longer the 1958 segments are removed, the more I worry about this comic getting lost in the shuffle.  The interlocking stories were probably the freshest part of this comic, and they need to be brought back.

Conclusion: A really fun comic.  The Spider-Man/Atlas dynamic is no small amount of fun and the action sequences are definitely enjoyable.  I’m really looking forward to the very logical conflict with Namor next issue.  With Namor and Dark Reign, it makes a lot of sense.  That said, with this issue, I can’t overstate how much I missed having a 1958 story.  I feel like the comic, while still having the same great characters, has lost a part of what made it special.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans

Punisher #5 (Dark Reign) – Review

by Rick Remender (writer), Jerome Opena (art), Dan Brown (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Frank lays siege to the Hood’s big base in New York City in the conclusion of Rick Remender’s first story arc.

The Good: With every issue, I love Jerome Opena’s art more. It’s incredibly unique and a perfect fit for Punisher. He is simply one of the best artists that the Punisher has ever had. His work is exceptional in this issue; gritty as all hell, yet never feeling messy. It’s hard to have heavy pencil shading and thin inks without looking rushed or a rough draft, but Opena falls into neither of these traps, maintaining a hard-boiled feel while keeping an impressive level of detail. As a side-note, Opena still draws a great Hood and also does a fantastic job of making ridiculous C/D-string villains look genuinely scary.  Also, I have issues with Dan Brown’s colours in the first three issues; I find that they are at points jarringly washed out and bright. However, in this issue his colors work as he darkens things up a bi.

In the end, this issue is another solid effort by Remender, who clearly has a good understanding of the Punisher’s voice. Remender has hit a nice stride with Frank’s dialogue. He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does speak, it’s hard-hitting or witty.  Just about every word the man speaks is absolutely badass, while humorously dry .

As for the writing, Remender pulled it off. Bringing Microchip back from the dead has really been the one thing grating on me thus far about this series.  The dialogue here ALMOST made me buy into it.  The bizarre situation of Microchip offering to resurrect Frank’s family was really a very clever situation and a great means of exploring Frank’s psychology.  I hope this “offer” is explored further in later issues.

Oh, and rock on to the 3 Inches of Blood reference!

The Not-So-Good: Not enough Hood! I said it in my last review, but Remender writes possibly the best Hood next to Vaughn’s original.  Mean, nasty, and psychotic, yet somehow, his presence is muted/minimalized here, and we don’t really get that vicious craziness, which is a damned shame.

What’s worse is I think everyone anticipated some sort of fight between the Hood and Frank here, but we never get it. In fact, we don’t even get a conversation between them, only a distanced staredown, which left me feeling a little tricked and underwhelmed. The action was all a bit underwhelming as it made this issue feel less important than it should have been.

Also, Microchip aside, I’m not comfortable with the Hood suddenly having the ability to bring back WHOEVER he wants from the dead.  It just stinks of being a convenient plot device that can be returned to repeatedly. I hope Remender doesn’t resort to this crutch, but the potential is dangerously there. The dead never staying dead has always been an unfortunate cliché of comics, but when one character’s powers lead to him resurrecting people by the horde.. It’s just too much.  If we brought back Microchip, why stop there?

Conclusion: A very solid Remender Punisher issue with lots of action, hard-biting Frank Castle one-liners, and awesome artwork. With that said, while the action is explosive, those expecting a “final showdown” will be disappointed, as this issue really doesn’t resolve a lot. Rather, it lays seeds for the future. Of course, while I am a little miffed, it’s clear that Remender is setting the Hood as Frank’s continued arch-nemesis, which I like.

Grade: B-

-Alex Evans

Wolverine: Weapon X #2 – Review

by Jason Aaron (writer), Ron Garney (art), Jason Keith (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Logan seeks out the new Blackguard Weapon X commandos as, he heads to Columbia. Meanwhile, reporter Melita Garner decides to try to figure out who exactly Wolverine is.

The Good: Jason Aaron really has a knack for Wolverine’s character. Not only does he write a great Wolverine, but it’s clear that he has a lot of affection for the character as well (“little hairy dude who likes to skewer bad guys”). Aaron writes a great Logan. The textboxes are fantastic, and Wolverine sounds like Wolverine, with a good use of Logan’s trademark, gruff slang that doesn’t become so dominant as to render Logan an unintelligent “badittude” hillbilly. Logan’s voice suits the character with its affable nature, but also sounds as if it’s clearly coming from a smart character.

The massive action scene at the end with Wolverine fighting a pair of “Adamantium Men” was high-paced and thoroughly enjoyable. Much as Aaron has a clear grasp of the Wolverine character, he’s also showing a real talent for plotting out action.  The blow-by-blow, move-by-move frame sequencing is incredibly fluid, and natural.  It’s clearly well thought-out and logical, while also thrilling and indisputably “superheroic.” One frame led very naturally to another despite the speed. It’s good work.

Aaron also infuses the comic with a little humor. Logan’s booze-riddled existence is as much a laugh in this issue as it was last month. However, the real highlight is during the big brawl at the end. Wolverine does his trademark roar, looking to rush into combat; yet only to end in a hilarious frame of him scampering off into the distance, running right by his opponents, who are as stunned as the reader.

Art-wise, this is a solid comic, which, for better or for worse, has that sleak “Marvel comic” look.  Nothing distinct or stand-out, but nothing to complain about either.  That said, when the script calls for it, Garney can draw one helluva scary-looking Wolverine. Somehow, Logan’s small stature has been highlighted by Garney, and yet that only leads to him looking more bestial and frightening.

The Not-so-Good: There’s only one big downfall in this issue.  Despite occupying half the issue, the Adamantium Men just aren’t very compelling right now.  I know Wolverine despises anything Weapon X, but I still wish we could see a little more personality or character from these commandos. Right now, they’re simply lame.

Even the art design of these guys is just not that interesting. In an effort to alleviate their blandness as adversaries, Garney tries to make them look more “inhuman” as they have glowing neon-green eyes and similarly colored “energy claws.” Unfortunately, to me, it just ends up looking a little unnecessary.  Shiny eyes don’t make for menacing, compelling villains.  Somehow, it just looks silly and contrived.

That said, for all my whining, I’m sure this will soon be a non-issue.  The commandos mention having a mysterious “boss,” who will probably end up being the real adversary of this arc.

Conclusion: Right now, this is probably the best Wolverine comic on the stands, and at issue #2, the most accessible. With tThat said, fans of Aaron’s breakthrough “Scalped” will also find a lot to love.  In Logan’s rough demeanor and alcohol-swilling ways, the ties are quite clear and it’s more obvious than ever that Jason Aaron was the right man for this job.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans

Soul Kiss #4 – Review

by Steven T. Seagle (writer and letterer) and Marco Cinello (art)

The Story: Nasty twists and turns take place as Lili begins to lose her mind. She goes on a murderous “kissing binge” that leads to the most shocking moment of the series.

The Good: Thus far, this series has really been bumping along, nothing bad yet nothing tremendously good either. This issue really picked things up. Seagle’s jokes are funnier and more frequent, the Devil is as entertaining as ever, and the twist at the end of the issue was massive, opening up a LOT of very clever possibilities for next month’s issue. It left me, for the first time in this series, dying to know what happens next.

I also feel that now, with this second to last issue, Lili has truly found her voice. The internal textboxes and her dialogue are very on point this issue, and I found her to be a lot more lovable, distinct, and human. The series does revolve around her, so the more she is able to set herself apart and distinguish herself from the typical “sassy gal” figure, the better. For the first time, I feel Seagle succeeded with that here, with Lili feeling a lot more real and unique. Considering the series rides upon her voice, that’s a very good thing and also a key reason why I found this issue a lot less ho-hum than the previous three. Her moralizing and her breakdown were well-done; and as mentioned, her biting humour was a lot stronger in this issue, which leant well to my liking her a lot more as a real individual.

The Not-So-Good: I’m not really sure whether Cinello’s art deserves to be considered a “not-so-good,” but it’s certainly divisive enough that I wouldn’t consider putting it in the “good” category.  His work is the definition of “love it or hate it.”  If you’re one of those readers who admires technicality, detail, precision, realism, and anatomical exactitude in your artwork, you’ll hate anything and everything Cinello’s done in this series. I don’t mind stylistic work (Michael Avon Oeming is a favourite of mine), but at times, Cinello’s work does feel a little too sloppy and messy. That said, I will say that things do feel more controlled, particularly the colours, which were utterly insane in past issues.

The other difficulty I have with the book is that I feel Seagle is very constrained by the 5-issue limit. Characters appear that we are meant to be attached to, so that when Lili kisses them, we are meant to feel the tragedy of it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to connect with characters who we’ve only known for 2-3 pages. Regardless of how important they are to Lili, there’s a limit to how bad I can feel about a person’s dying if I’ve only known them for a couple of pages.

I also don’t like the little bit of Satanic deus ex machina here. Lili’s been leaving a trail of dead bodies and the cops are after her.  What’s she going to do? Where can she hide? No problem – Satan just snaps his fingers and no one’s looking for Lili any longer. I mean, see what Seagle’s doing here, and the surrealism is cool, but it still seems pretty lazy. Again, I wonder about the 5-issue constraint.

The Bottom-line: The best issue of the miniseries and a great set-up for the conclusion. Soul Kiss still isn’t world-shattering stuff, but at the very least, I found it interesting, personable, and enjoyable this month.

Grade: B-

-Alex Evans

Green Lantern Corps #36 – Review

By Peter Tomasi (writer), Patrick Gleason (pencils), Rebecca Buchman (inks),

The Story: Things heat up in the Emerald Eclipse arc, as Sinestro reveals to Soranik that he is her father. Meanwhile, shit has hit the fan in the Green Lantern Corps headquarters. An all out riot takes place within the sciencecells and among numerous areas within Oa. Moreover as Oa burns, Sodam Yat prepares to save the intolerant people (that he hates) of his native world, from the power-hungry Mongul.

The Good: The compelling story of Sodam Yat’s return to his home planet, Daxam, and to his xenophobic native people. Every great writer will tell you, a good story is packed with lots of conflict. And from what has been going on in Emerald Eclipse, Sodam Yat’s situation makes up  a bulk of the good of this story. On top of confronting the people he loathes, and with the riot on Oa keeping the Green Lantern backup from coming to his aid, Sodam is forced to set aside his hatred and live truly by the Green lantern oath, when he decides to save his people from Mongul and his Sinestro Corps members. The end result is epic and bittersweet for now.

What’s Not So Good: The pacing seems a little off in this issue; which is no surprise as Tomasi is essentially juggling three stories at once: Sinestro and Soranik, the battle in Oa, and Sodam Yat’s return to Daxam. The story is hurried as the panels are packed with too many forgettable conversations, and as each scene seems to be on fast forward (especially the Oa riot scene which drags on for a chaotic montage).

It seems as though that Tomasi could make this story better if he was able to dedicate an issue for each subplot. Or at least try not to cram everything all at once. There’s definitely something wrong with packing in all three yarns in this issue, as it affects the impact they’re each supposed to have. For example, I was really disappointed that the encounter between father and daughter quickly fizzled. In the previous issue, when we found out that Sinestro is Soranik’s father, we expected some sort of memorable confrontation upon revelation. However, that’s not the casein this issue as Sodam Yat’s story steals the story’s thunder.

Conclusion: Although Green Lantern Corps #36 doesn’t exactly read smoothly, it is probably the most entertaining chapter in the Emerald Eclipse arc. I’m glad that this title is able to hold its own. It has definitely become a book worth picking up, as it manages to keep the readers wanting more from its multiple storylines.

Grade: B

-Raymond Hilario

Titans #13 – Review

By Sean McKeever (writer), Angel Unzuera (artist), Wayne Faucher (inker)

Some Thoughts Before the Review: I’ve been following the Deathtrap storyline from the beginning. I’ve read the pre-deathtrap fights with Jericho too, and they were honestly starting to bleed together. This issue hasn’t changed much for me.

The Story: Jericho holds a bunch of rich people hostage to get the Titans and the Teen Titans to come to him so that he can kill them. The Titans arrive, stand around and don’t do anything. Ravager manages to grab onto Jericho, which inexplicably stops his plan…until she lets go. Then he gets away and blows them all up.

What’s Good: Not much. I’m really struggling here. Jericho’s getaway was clever?

What’s Not So Good: None of what’s going on seems meaningful. Jericho keeps trying to kill the Titans for no reason other than he’s crazy. Each time he fails, he keeps getting away.

Also, it’s increasingly straining credibility that a dozen Titans with all their powers can’t take Jericho out, or even try. I’m not keeping a running tab or anything, but their kid-gloving of Jericho in previous issues has allowed dozens of civilian deaths in this one. Hardly inspiring heroism. Most of them just stand around him and talk. The only person who’s using his brains seems to be Vigilante, but he’s not on the team and he keeps arriving late.

Art might have made this issue more palatable, but unfortunately, the pencils don’t pull this book out of its tailspin. The textures of faces and bodies come across as plastic and the posing and facial expressions are awkward. At one point, the art reminded me of Don Perlin, an artist who ruined the last 60 issues of the Defenders.

Conclusion: I think the Titans need Cyclops to be in charge. Put Scott Summers in charge of Power Pack, tie one hand behind his back, and he still would have outsmarted Jericho three issues ago. Batman could have done it by himself. So could Dr. Light, Shadow Lass , and pretty much anybody telepathic, or whose costume includes opaque goggles, or anyone who is willing to poke Jericho in the eye.

Grade: D

-DS Arsenault

Killer of Demons #3 – Review

by Christopher Yost (writer), Scott Wegener (pencils and inks), Ronda Pattison (colors), and Thomas Mauer (letters)

The Story: ‘Killer of Demons’ Dave Sloan enters the final battle with his boss Kent/Archduke Astaroth, and a lot of people die.

The Good: The art is a lot of fun in this comic. Bright colors and angular figures lead to a real “cartoon” feel that makes for an easy, pretty read.  The visuals are probably the best thing going for this comic and cuts it a little slack, overall.

The comic’s main concern is humor, and I’ll admit that anything involving Dave’s friend, Flop, or Dave’s supervisor is absolutely hilarious.  Those are two really solid characters and almost anything that comes out of their mouths is funny.  Generally speaking, the comedy is by far at its best when the normal characters are forced to react to abnormal sights.  Flop is again great in this respect and the office-drone’s reactions to the Satanic hypnotist are a definite high-point in this issue.

There’s also a hell of a lot of action and violence this issue, and hey, who doesn’t like that?

The Bad: Unfortunately, this just isn’t a very good comic. Even the comic’s greatest strength, it’s fun, vibrant art, has problems.  The panel layout is incredibly boring and lifeless and it really detracts from the art and the story-telling.  Also, that afore mentioned office-drone looks almost identical to Dave.  I honestly got confused and thought that Dave was in two places at once.

The humor, which the series relies on, fails more than it succeeds.  The problem is that Yost seems to feel that the comic is a lot more clever than it really is.  The “satire” of the book falls completely flat, with the depictions of the “amoral” modern world and the temptations offered by the demons and humanity’s reactions to those lures being so ludicrous that they end up being neither funny nor witty.  It’s just groan-worthy.  Also, any slight commentary that the comic tries to make on religion, such as in the opening pages or the general theme of Christians being obsessed with restricting themselves, comes across as vapid and hollow.  The satire on both the morality and religious fronts is truly done in a ham-fisted fashion and it doesn’t bring anything new, mature, or intelligent to the table.  If you want to do a wacky comic about a guy killing demons, do that, but don’t go for satire unless you really have something unique to say and can do so in a smart fashion. What’s worse, Dave’s brother– perhaps the funniest character in the series and one of the few times where Yost’s satire on society actually works, is not present in this issue; barring a single frame at the end where he says nothing.

Also, the final showdown with Kent is a complete disappointment. The series has been building up to this since issue #1 and this is supposed to be the big climax of the arc.  The actual battle lasts two pages.  Two pages.  That is the definition of underwhelming.  Part of me wonders if this has anything to do with Lucifer’s presence in the issue, which might have taken away from the Kent/Dave conflict.  Certainly, I did feel that Lucifer was in this issue far, far too much, considering the focus was supposed to be on Kent and Dave.  If Kent’s on the phone with Lucifer telling him he’ll take care of things, having Lucifer show up for several pages once the battle starts just doesn’t make sense.

Bottom-line: This just isn’t a very good comic, but it’s one that thinks it’s great.  Unfortunately, it’s just underwhelming overall and is much more miss than it is hit.

Grade: C-

-Alex Evans

Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #5 – Review

by Nick Sagan & Mark Long (creators), M. Zachary Sherman (writer), Bagus Hutomo (art), Leos “Okita” Ng (colors), and Sean Konot (letters)

The Story: Shrapnel’s epic conclusion sees Captain Sam Vijaya leading her Venusian militia into the final battle with the Marines led by her old nemesis, Major Bellgrave.

The Good: It’s a Radical comic, so you’d expect excellent art, but this issue is unreal.  The double page splashes are awe-inspiring and the whole book is just stunning.  It’s one of a kind, realistic, and outright gorgeous.  This book needs to be seen to be believed.  This is the best looking issue of the series.  The characters have more definition and things are still gritty, but also a bit brighter to alleviate the confusion that plagued past issues, and did I mention those splashes?  This is a great looking book that’s consistently good from cover to cover. The sheer size and scale of some of the things Hutomo draws in this issue is mind-boggling, yet he pulls it off just as well as he does the claustrophobic scenes in ship corridors.

Meanwhile, Sherman decided to go simple on the writing end, and the comic is all the better for it.  I’ve had issues with Shrapnel before in Sherman’s cramming way too many words onto single pages, even single panels.  That’s gone in this issue; it’s a stripped down depiction of the brutality, emotion, and protocol of war.  Most of the words we get here are the cries of panicked soldiers and the orders of their commanders.  It works really well.  Sherman is trying to do one thing: give an accurate portrayal of a hard SF battlefield, and he does so with flying colors as a minimalist that avoids any overwriting.

And that makes any of the dialogue that does occur all the more outstanding, all the more poignant.  It makes Vijaya’s interactions with her old mentor, Colonel Rossi, all the more impactful.  The scene where he chooses sides or the one where he and Vijaya struggle for command of the ship are brief, but Sherman’s minimalism makes what’s said feel powerful.

The battle scenes are very well done and Vijaya’s final gambit is nothing less than totally awesome.  This issue is epic, beautiful, and engaging.  You really feel the harsh realism, urgency, and chaos of the battle and again, despite the relatively little dialogue, the final double splash page surprised me with how much emotion it raised in me.  That splash perfectly sums up this issue: it had no words, just effective imagery.  Make no mistake; this is a war story without digression, tangent, or side-story.  It’s about a battle and the effects it has on one soldier’s life and spirit, and it’s great.

The Not-so-Good: Some reader’s may be a bit put-off by the minimalism and wish for more dialogue to make this a longer read or perhaps to give a greater sense of depth, complexity, and engagement.  I feel that that would dilute what the comic does, but it’s a fair point.

Also, some of the battle scenes are still a bit hard to discern.  It can get a little blurry and hence a little tough to figure out who’s who or what’s going on.  That said, even the worst frames are comprehensible with a little thought and context.  This problem has haunted the series from day one, but it’s vastly improved here and the confusion occurs far less often than it did back in the first issue.  It’s a weak-point, but it’s better than it was.

The Bottom-line: The best issue of one of the best limited series of 2009 thus far.  Epic, beautiful, and harsh, this is one to pick up.  Better still, it’s 2.99 for a 50-page issue with heavy paper and a glossy cover.  Can’t argue with that.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans

The Flash: Rebirth #2 – Review

by Geoff Johns (writer), Ethan Van Sciver (penciller & inker), Alex Sinclair (colorist), & Rob Leigh (letterer)

The Story: Barry Allen continues to wrestle with existential issues while the mysteries presented in issue #1 tighten.

The Good: After a somewhat modest first issue, this is a huge improvement.  Last month, I wasn’t sure if I’d stay on board but after issue 2, I can’t wait for next month, so obviously Johns is doing something right.

Johns clearly has a story he wants to tell and it looks like a good one, provided he actually tells it.  The investigation into the deaths of the Black Flash and Savitar are very interesting when Johns actually approaches them.  I like hearing about the speed force and I enjoy Barry Allen’s police officer’s mindset.

I also enjoyed Johns’ presentation of Allen’s existential difficulties, hammering home that his return is not at all like Hal Jordan’s.  Allen’s struggle to feel needed or to find direction in the midst of an event as huge as his return from death is paradoxical, and when this is highlighted, it works out well.  The conversation he has with Iris was great here,  “need” and “want,” and Barry’s textboxes continue to impress.

That said, the best thing about this issue is, without a doubt, the final three-four pages.  It’s really a very surprising direction that Johns takes and I can’t wait till next month to see where he goes with it.  Honestly, in a series centered on Barry Allen’s return as the Flash, I did not see this coming and it was a refreshing and welcome surprise in a series that has thus far been a bit stagnant.  It’s impossible to see the last page of this comic and not want #3 ASAP.

Lastly, Van Sciver’s art is as gorgeous as ever, packed with detail and flat-out hard work.  Sinclair’s bright colors are also an absolute joy and a perfect fit.  The art particularly shines in the large frames and splashes, with the full-page splash of Barry running across the water being gorgeous and indicative of the art as a whole.

What’s Not So Good:
Johns is caught playing juggler.  He has an interesting story to tell, but he also has to deal with the Flash mythology and Barry’s psychology in dealing with his return.  While not as bad as issue one, we still see digressions that don’t feel necessary and end up wasting space that could be better spent on the actual plot, slowing everything down to a crawl.

The flashback to Allen’s past just wasn’t needed and it really stuck out as clearly the weakest, and most tangential, portion of the book.  I understand that Johns wants to reintroduce us to Allen’s character, but I just don’t see why he can’t do this in a more efficient manner, perhaps through conversations with other characters that can occur whilst moving the plot  forward.  While it’s better than last time, I once again find myself in the strange position of wanting the Flash to move faster.

Also, while the issue’s ending shows promise, I do feel that with so many mysteries, the book feels a bit directionless.  Perhaps I’m a simpleton, but in a big DC Comic, I’m sort of feeling the lack of a central adversary here and the fact remains that we are moving into the third issue of a limited series with only hints of a defined plot.  Villains pass in and out of “Rebirth,” dying the moment they show up.  Perhaps the inevitable reintroduction of that nasty fellow from issue one will solve this and the end of the issue will help, but again, that just shows that things need to speed up.

The Bottom-Line: A much more enjoyable read than last time.  Still by no means perfect, but it’s an improvement, and with it’s fantastic ending, a sign of further improvements to come.  Don’t lose hope on this series!  A solid issue.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans

Amazing Spider-Man #593 – Review

By Mark Waid (writer), Mike McKone (pencils), Lanning and Kessel (inks), Jeremy Cox (colors)

The Story:
“24/7″ continues! When Peter returns from a cosmic voyage with the Fantastic Four he discovers that he has lost two months of his life. However, that was the smallest surprise he is greeted with while the biggest is that J.J. Jameson has been elected mayor of NYC.  In an effort to annoy and trump over the new Mayor, Peter decides to be Spider-Man 24/7, hence the name of this arc.

This issue picks up the story as Peter has walked in on Aunt May in bed with a surprise character–someone who is close to both Peter and JJ. He then must deal with JJ’s spidey hit squad, followed by a memorable encounter with the new Vulture.

What’s Good:
Its hard to say what is better in this issue: the writing or the art. Both Mark Waid and Mike McKone are firing on both cylinders. However, the edge goes to McKone for an outstanding diversity of expression and tone. For example, Peter’s emotions are clearly visible, the fight scenes with the Vulture (and the new Vulture himself) are terrifying, and landscapes and rooms are clean and detailed.

The new conception of Vulture is really well done and unexpected. When I heard there was going to be a new Vulture I was a little apprehensive, but this new vulture is chock full of mystery and seems like a real threat to Spidey, for a change. I also really enjoy the way Waid portrays Peter and narrates his thought process alongside his actions. Of all the writers currently working on Spider-Man, he seems to have the most “authentic” take on Peter. Waid also naturally nails classic Spidey humor and hi-jinx.

What’s Not So Good:
There were some moments in this story that had poor plot logic. Take when Peter walks in on Aunt May and her lover. One would think that Peter would leave the house (where he entered unannounced) and distance himself from the awkward moment, but instead he…takes a shower! At her house! Huh? I understand that Waid had to have a scene where Peter and May talk about what happened, but this particular scripting doesn’t make any sense.

Also, there was a point in the story where Peter reveals his suppressed emotions around Norman Osborn. Obviously, it was interjected as a foreshadow for Joe Kelly’s, “American Son” arc that kicks off soon, but it just seemed forced and unnecessary.

Conclusion: This is good Spider-Man. The ending was particularly well played and I was left with the sense that something important, at least for the short term, had transpired in Spidey Mythos. I can’t recall experiencing McKone’s art before, but he’s made a fan out of me. I look forward to seeing how this arc wraps up think that ASM is coming back to life after the dud of “Character Assassination” and all those plot lines. Interestingly, there had been a lot of banter on the web, especially from our modest web site, for the editors of ASM to lose the focus on new cast of characters in Peter’s life post- Brand New Day. It seems that is exactly what has happened of late and ASM is all the better for it.

Grade: B+

-Rob G.

Agents of Atlas #4 – Review

by Jeff Parker (writer), Gabriel Hardman & Clayton Henry (pencils and inks), Jana Schirmer & Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors), and Nate Piekos (letters)

The Story: Atlas battles Captain America and Bob & company take a trip into Bucky’s mind.  In 1958, the mystery of the ghost pilot comes to its conclusion as the team travels “the Dragon’s corridor.”

The Good: The art is absolutely amazing.  This is a beautiful comic and also one of the most distinct looking books being put out by Marvel.  The 1958 portions look like a comic pulled out of a time machine while the modern portions look slick and bright with a grain of old school sensibility.  Both sides look completely opposite from each other, and yet both completely succeed.  Cap’s “dream sequences” are also really spiffy and introduce yet a third art-style into the issue.

The resolution of the mystery of the ghost pilot is nothing less than a gut-punch.  It’s a really satisfying surprise that’ll make you slap your forehead for not having seen it coming.  Really clever work here by Parker.   I also continue to enjoy Parker’s depiction of the Suwan/Jimmy relationship in 1958.  It comes off as cliché, but this is obviously a self-conscious throwback to classic, sensationalist comics (at one point, as damsel in distress, she’s literally being tied to a tree).  I also love how distinct and well-defined every member of the team is, and this month is no different; Bob’s aloof “eccentricity” is particularly well-highlighted and Ken’s regretting his attack on Cap was a nice touch.

A special mention must also go to how well Parker juggled the modern day and the 1958 sides of the issue.  At one point, the two sides of the comic even fuse, with the modern day Jimmy and Ken entering a 1958 scene we just saw in order to watch themselves; Parker is clearly not satisfied with a simple “Side A/Side B” dynamic and my mind was blown.

The Not So Good:
Agents of Atlas is one of the most unique titles put out by Marvel.  Unfortunately, this also means the comic ends up in the somewhat awkward position of being an indie comic in the middle of the Marvel Universe.  The characters just seem to belong somewhere else.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if they were placed on the outskirts of the Marvel Universe, like Punisher MAX or perhaps Ghost Rider, but of course, without any big names on the team, this is not conducive to sales.  As a result, Agents of Atlas has “Dark Reign” slapped on its cover, Captain America showing up, and a showdown with the Avengers next month.

It doesn’t work and this may very well be the most awkward Dark Reign tie-in on the shelves today, which is a crying shame, as it’s a good comic.

Captain America’s reasons for attacking Atlas are still weak at best.  Sure it “makes sense,” but it doesn’t have anything at all personal behind it.  Furthermore, Cap is written terribly in this issue, coming across as an incredibly bland and even bumbling character.  Cap fighting Atlas just looks absurd and it isn’t convincing.  Atlas is just doesn’t fit in the central Marvel Universe, and as a result, you get unintentional comedy like Captain America getting sucked up by a flying saucer’s tractor beam or Cap whining about a “Day the Earth Stood Still-esque” robot’s arms hugging him too tightly.  It just looks ridiculous and doesn’t work in the slightest.

The Bottom-Line:
The 1958 side of the issue is lots of fun, but the modern day portion is a laughable mess.   That said, this is still a relatively enjoyable issue in an incredibly unique title and the art is more gorgeous than ever.  That said, considering how bad Cap was, I’m really not looking forward to the battle with the Avengers next issue.

Grade:  C+

-Alex Evans


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