The Week In Ink: December 16, 2009

First Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, now kicks to the face?

 

 

Sean McKeever knows what I like.

And what I like is comics, and it’s a good thing too, because it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Christmasy Comics Reviews! Here’s what I bought at the shop yesterday…

 

 

…but those aren’t the only great comics you can find this week! One of them we’ll be talking about in a moment, but for those of you who missed the fanfare, I dropped the latest Instant Classic of the Action Age of Comics last night: The Christmas Chronicles of Solomon Stone!

It’s an all-new nine page holiday adventure from the World’s Greatest Half-Vampire Skateboard Champion Private Detective, written by me (my second Christmas comic!) and drawn by the phenomenal Matt Digges. If you haven’t, give it a read, and enjoy the comic that took a Christmas Miracle to pull off.

Okay, melodrama over. Now, the reviews!

 


 

Captain America Reborn #5: Aaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Okay, okay, sorry, it’s just that… Look, I’ve been waiting for Ed Brubaker to drop a full-on MODOK appearance in his Captain America run for like five years now, and although he came close with the MODOC Squadron, which were basically dudes in MODOK cosplay (MODOCosplay?), this one just… I mean… There’s a whole damn two-page spread… and..

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahaha!

Okay, I’m good this time. I’m good.

Anyway, I’ve heard some griping about this book’s pacing from the usual quarters, and while it’s been a slow build, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A strange sentiment, I know, but the slow burn of plot threads coming together is what makes an issue like this one–which is just a flat-out super-hero adventure with body-swapping and laser cages made by Nazis to trap robots and… well, you know–so great to read, even if Bryan Hitch is still refusing to give Captain America a proper A on his forehead.

 

Chimichanga #1: Eric Powell’s latest project dropped this week, and the big deal with it–aside from it having the most appetizing title since Richie Rich’s Beach Boys Barbecue Blowout Bash Blast–is that he’s self publishing it through Exploding Albatross Funnybooks, which hasn’t had much to do since The Goon found a home at Dark Horse. As such, as much as Powell’s a guy who has recent work on Superman–the diametric opposite of self-publishing–it’s got that indie-comic feel, not to mention that heavy ink smell.

Of course, a lot of that probably has to do with the subject matter, which–like The Goon–is set in a nebulous world of traveling circuses, monsters and freaks. It’s a setting that, like the references to hobo culture that crop up in Goon from time to time, is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this story could’ve taken place any time in the past fifty years, with a kid’s bluetooth headset being the only thing that pins it down to nowish. The end result is something that, for the start at least, has the same kind of fun you’d expect if you’re a fan of Goon–which I am–but with less scarred-up mobsters and with more bearded little girls.

 

El Gorgo! #3: Earlier tonight, I said that along with Solomon Stone, there was another awesome comic that you could read online for free, and I’ve got to say: If you can only read one, well… you should probably read El Gorgo!.

I mean, look: I try hard, folks. I really do, and I’m helped out by the fact that I’ve got some phenomenal artists to work with, but man. McGee and Jakab didn’t just drop 32 gorgeous, full-color pages of a time-traveling gorilla luchador surf guitar super-scientist teaming up with a dinosaur man from the future who wore the gorilla’s lucha mask because his culture literally worships him as the god of punching monsters so that they could battle Dagon. No, they did all that… and then introduced it with a news report given by a foxy television journalist… who was also herself a luchdador.

That is pure genius, and I honestly don’t know if I can compete with that.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to, as El Gorgo!, like the comics we put up at the Action Age, are completely free to read online or download, and you can grab #3 right here. There’s even a print version if you want to throw some scratch their way, and I’d suggest you do, because these guys are the future. And that’s real.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures: For those of you who might not be familiar with the Rocketeer, here’s how it works: Dude finds a jtpack. Dude wears jetpack to fight Nazis. Dude’s girlfriend is a frequently naked analogue of Bettie Page. It’s as awesome as it sounds. Now about this new hardcover…

Holy cats, is this thing beautiful.

That’s no surprise, of course; The Rocketeer‘s been a good-looking comic for as long as it’s existed. That’s kind of its deal, and while it was the late, great Dave Stevens’ amazing design sense, expressive faces, sultry women that caught the eye, it was the fun, pulpy adventures he constructed to showcase them that made this book what it is.

But this hardcover, man, dang. Stevens was great to begin with, but for the hardcover, IDW got Laura Martin–hands down one of the top two or three colorists working today–to recolor the whole thing, and it’s incredible. It compliments the original work, it’s not overdone, and it gives the whole thing such an incredibly slick appearance that I’ll be absolutely shocked if this thing doesn’t take home a stack of awards next summer.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a page–chosen at random, I assure you–as it originally appeared:

 

 

And the same page with Martin’s colors:

 

 

The difference is incredible, and like all good coloring, it really brings out Stevens’ artwork, and makes this volume more than worth the $30 cover price. In other words, I highly recommend it.

 

Yotsuba&! v.7:

YOTSUBA KIOWAI

 

 

…burns with the intensity of a thousand suns

 


 

And that’s the week! As always, any questions, concerns, etc. can be left in the comments section below. But will Yotsuba’s intensity replace the Fried Ice Cream picture as my preferred way of responding? That is up to you.

The Week In Ink: December 10, 2009

You know what’s weird? I read a comic that had actual ballet in it this week, and yet it’s Catman who looks like he’s trying out for Swan Lake:

 

 

Or maybe that’s just the bitchin’ pink lightning.

In either case, it’s Thursday night, and that means that it’s time once again for the Internet’s Most Somnambulistic Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought about ’em!

 


 

DC Holiday Special 2009: Given the amount of time I’ve already spent this month talking about Christmas Comics, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I picked this one up, even given my Halloween Special. And I’m glad I did, too: Maybe it’s just that I like Christmas more than I like Halloween (owing to the fact that I like Christmas more than I like 99% of other things, period), but this special’s a million times better than the last one.

Of course, that’s not really saying much–any comic with the right number of pages and two staples is well on its way to being better than that waste of ink–so a few specifics. As with most anthologies, the majority of what’s in here averages out to just inoffensive, although again, that’s a step up from what I was expecting and there’s still neat stuff to it. Superman fighting the Golem on Hanukkah, for example, is great based on concept alone, and while it’s well-done, it feels like more could’ve been done with it if it only had a little more space. There’s a fun Captain Marvel story, a Red Tornado story that unfortunately stars Red Tornado and makes no sense, although it’s not aggressively terrible (again: a step up from Halloween), and while Sterling Gates’s Doom Patrol story is more than a little maudlin, if you can’t get away with sentiment on Christmas, when can you? It’s also pretty interesting to note that this is the first time I’ve seen a holiday special with two war stories (both of which are based on actual events), and while Billy Tucci’s style for Sgt. Rock didn’t work for me on the mini-series, it’s pretty well done here. The only real clunker is the Deadman story, which, to be honest, I didn’t even get through.

The standouts, however, are where the real action is. Fred Van Lente does a fun Martian Manhunter story that feels like he packs in a lot more than the 6 pages it actually takes up, but the best thing in the issue is one glorious page of Angel and the Ape by Andrew Pepoy, which I seriously hope leads to more. I love those guys.

Oh, and B’wana Beast wears a Santa Hat.

Still, I do think it’s a bit overpriced at $5.99 (again, while it’s fun, there’s nothing in here that’s worth paying a price you could get two issues of Batman and Robin or Incredible Hercules for), but it’s still further ahead of the game than Marvel, who put out a Holiday Special this year that, while magazine-sized, was mostly reprints and set the reader back ten bucks. I don’t care if Santa Claus does get the Inifnity Gauntlet in that book–okay, well, yes, I actually do care about that, but odds are you don’t–that’s an awful lot to drop on single comic.

 

Ghostbusters: Past, Present and Future: Continuing tonight’s theme of Christmas comics, we’ve got this one, which represents the first Ghostbusters comic I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong: I like the hell out of Ghostbusters, but I don’t really have much of a desire to follow the characters into other media, for reasons that I’ll get to in a minute.

Still: Christmas Comic. At the very least, while it’s been done before the idea of the Ghostbusters fighting Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas is one that pretty much sells itself, and in this one it ends up being pretty fun, though there are problems. To start with, the art is inconsistent and overinked to the point where I’m wondering if the artist holds stock in the Sharpie corporation, with faces that go from almost Richard Corben-esque to Geocities fan-art and back in the span of two pages. Nick Runge’s cover might not get the likenesses down, but it’s clean, well-composed and the spirit of the thing (no pun intended) is there, whereas large swaths of the interiors are just a mess.

The other problem, and one that I suspect is probably endemic to the franchise, is that it just feels off. Not bad, per se–like I said, it’s fun enough that I had a good time reading it and there’s a nice little twist at the end that’s executed very well–but just not quite what it should be. But then again, I imagine that probably owes a lot to the fact that it wasn’t written by Harold Raimis and I didn’t have Bill Murray standing there reading Peter Venkman’s lines.

Hopefully they’ll remember to include that for the trade.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

PunisherMAX #2: This comic is amazing.

When the first issue came out, I mentioned that it felt like Jason Aaron was following in Garth Ennis’s footsteps on the Punisher, but with this issue, it’s becoming clear that he’s taking the ideas that Ennis brough with him during his eight year run and turning them into something that takes this book to its next natural progression: By making someone that’s even worse than the Punisher.

Just like the first issue, Frank Castle’s barely in this one. And why should he be? We’ve had eight years to understand what makes him work as an unstoppable, almost one-dimensional engine of vengeance. Now, Aaron’s using that as an implicit fact of the book, and when he does show up, it’s as a reflection to further define the Kingpin. In the meantime, Aaron’s focus stays on Fisk, and over the course of the issue he’s shown to be even more ruthless, brutal, and implacable as the Punisher, with a cold detachment that hides the thing that really does make them the same: No matter how cold they are, these are two guys for whom everything is personal.

There’s even a symmetery to their methods that Aaron sets up (and that Dillon pulls off amazingly) with the fact that they both display the tools they’re going to use beforehand, and the way they differ–with Frank shooting his guy in the head once he gets what he needs and Fisk dragging things out for his own satisfaction–is a brilliant way to set them up as opposites.

Admittedly, I’m a total sucker for an Evil Opposite story, but it’s rare that one comes along that’s done so well.

I’m sure I’ll be talking about this more when it’s time to do comics reviews on the next episode of Ajax, but here’s the short version: It’s incredible stuff, and you ought to be reading it.

 

S.W.O.R.D. #2

ADAM-X

 

 

THE X-TREME!!!!!!!

 


 

And that’s the week. As always, any questions, comments, Adam-X fan-fiction or discussions on how absolutely gorgeous the new Iron Man cover designs are can be left in the comments section below.

The One-Sentence Week In Ink: December 2, 2009

It’s the Holidays!

 

 

Yes, if this year’s musical Advent Calendar wasn’t a good enough tip-off, we have officially entered the Christmas Season on the ISB, and that can mean only one thing: Shipping Delays!

Yes, Thanksgiving has shoved this week’s comics back ’til Thursday, which means I actually haven’t had a chance to finish reading them all just yet. In fact, I considered taking the week off of reviews, but since I did that last week and got readers who were absolutely scandalized that I chose to take the day off for an actual federal holiday instead of spending Thanksgiving writing comics reviews (Tick was fantastic and Superman: Secret Origins was surprisingly awesome), I decided to dust off an old technique: The One-Sentence Week In Ink!

Tonight, I’ll be reviewing my comics as I go through the stack, giving you my thoughts about this week’s offerings in exactly one sentence–well, two if you count the alt text. So let’s get to it!

Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s one sentence each about what I thought of ’em!

 


 

Black Widow and the Marvel Girls #1: Despite my initial disappointment that this was not in fact a series about Black Widow teaming up with a ’60s girl group to solve mysteries–I’d originally read the title as Black Widow and the Marvelettes–I loved this book, as it teamed up the always-awesome Paul Tobin with Salva Espin, the phenomenal artist of Jeff Parker’s late, lamented run on Exiles.


 

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1: I think I may have mentioned during my appearance on the Between the Panels podcast that I’m not much of a Blackest Night reader, but since Greg Rucka’s run was like one of two times in 70 years that Wonder Woman was actually good, I picked this one up and found it to be a good read, with absolutely beautiful art by Nicola Scott that’s worth the price of admission by itself.


 

Dingo #1: This new series from Boom was colored by Stephen Downer, an Action Age veteran who colored my own comic, Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N., which means you should all buy multiple copies and give them to your loved ones on the holiday of your choice.


 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Empowered: I’ve gone on at length about my love for Adam Warren in general and Empowered in particular before–mostly based around the fact that for a series rooted in fetish commissions, it’s actually got one of the most emotionally resonant stories super-hero books have seen in decades–so here’s the short version: There’s a character in this book named Shithouse Rat, and while I didn’t even know that’s something I wanted to read before tonight, I can’t even imagine not having it now.

 

Fall of the Hulks: Alpha: Just in case I needed another reason to love Jeff Parker, he has now given us a story where M.O.D.O.K. teams up with the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes for underwater adventures.


 

Jonah Hex #50: It’s been a while since I’ve picked up Jonah Hex–I’m thinking at least three years–but there was no way I could resist the siren song of a Darwyn Cooke-illustrated issue of everyone’s favorite scarred-up Western bounty hunter, and the end result was a solid issue with an ending that evoked the brutality of a Peckinpah film, which is one of the highest compliments I can give.


 

Uncanny X-Men #518: If there is one thing that I have learned from comic books in the year 2009, it’s that Matt Fraction loves two things: Futura and Cyclops.


 


 

And that’s the week! As always, if you’ve got a question about something I read, or if you just want to talk about how the fact that we’ve gotten two weeks in a row with comics written by Benito Cereno–one with art by Les McClaine and the other with art by Nate Bellegarde–means that we’re moving towards a finer world, then feel free to leave a comment below.

The Week In Ink: November 18, 2009

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’ve got a weight problem, but I’m pretty sure that if the sound of someone kicking you in the face ends with a double-F, you should probably look into long walks and a personal trainer.

 

 

And with two boots to the face of the morbidly obese, it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Two-Footed Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought of them!


 

Adventure Comics #4: This is without question one of the funniest comics I’ve read all year.

I was thoroughly entertained by the final fate of Superboy Prime, who was fated to live out the rest of his days in the hellish existence of the Message Board Troll at the end of Legion of Three Worlds, and while I was pretty sure that was the last time I ever needed to see that guy, the fact that this issue opens with Prime being just as displeased as I was at finding himself in one of my comics did a lot to set the tone. And it just gets better from there, which is honestly something I never thought I’d say about a comic where Earth-3 Alexander Luthor comes back to life as a zombie and fights Superboy Prime.

What it all comes down to is that there’s a self-awareness to this story that’s largely absent in Geoff Johns’s other work. Despite a few token attempts to be serious–which generally involve casting Prime as that kid from the Twilight Zone who sent people to the cornfield for listening to Perry Como, which is itself a concept that is goofy as all hell–this story is essentially functioning as a parody of Blackest Night by the guy who is actually writing it. Through Prime, Johns not only points out the ludicrous aspects of the crossover–Prime knocking over short boxes as he yells an explanation of what the Black Lanterns are, which is interrupted by Zombie Luthor because he finds the DC Comics message boards more interesting than another infodump–but even skewers his own turgid prose by having Prime offer commentary on his own battle cries. Luthor’s even got the same kind of “You’re the fastest man alive, Barry–but you’re always slowing down!!” speech that Hal Jordan gives in BN #3, but geared towards explicitly calling out inside jokes, which–for me at least–makes it a bigger laugh than even Luthor’s summation of the Internet.

Admittedly, that might all be attributed to co-writer Sterling Gates, but given that it’s the same kind of tongue-in-cheek fun–and there’s a word you can’t apply to too many Johns books–that capped off LO3W, I’m inclined to believe that it’s both of them, having a laugh at their own expense. And I’m laughing right along with ’em.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #612: A couple of sharp-eyed ISB readers have noticed that I haven’t been picking up Spider-Man for the past month or so, my reasoning being that a) Clone Saga stuff–even when it involves Kaine, the living embodiment of Marvel’s excess circa 1994 that a 12 year-old C. Sims thought was the tops–just does absolutely nothing for me, and b) as I may have mentioned before, I’m pretty much done with Joe Kelly. This week, then, was Spidey’s big return to my stack with the Dan Slott-scripted Dark Reign tie-in and the start of Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta’s “The Gauntlet,” and I’ve got to say that I was a little let down.

Admittedly, a lot of that’s my fault: I’d assumed that “Gauntlet” was going to be just a straight-up throwdown with Spider-Man’s villains, and it’s not. Of course, I assumed this because that’s the impression I got from the promotion for it, and the fact that it’s, y’know, called “The Gauntlet” which tends to either mean a rapid series of increasingly high-stakes fights or a wizard insisting that he needs food badly. Instead, it’s the type of solid (if run-of-the-mill) super-hero story with a clever twist that Mark Waid excels at.

And that’s the problem: The twist–Electro raging against the government bailout by promising to give (groan) “power to the people”–is not just a little too cute for its own good, it’s a story that already feels dated. That might just be a side-effect of the fact that it takes place during a summer heat wave when it was released smack in the middle of November (as opposed to last year’s “Sometimes it Snows in April,” which was actually released in April), but something about the setting of Electro’s grassroots “shock-ins” feels old hat even when you can tie it to stuff like the Douchebagger Teabagger protests from two months ago. It might just be media fatigue on my part, but it feels like Waid & Co. might as well have just stamped “SEPTEMBER 2009” on the cover and included a single of “Poker Face.”

As for the backup, well, I’ve already gone into my feelings about Joe Kelly’s Spider-Man work on the ISB before, and this thing didn’t do much to change that. Which is a shame, as it’s Kelly reuniting with JM Ken Niimura, with whom he collaborated on I Kill Giants, a book that I actually did enjoy. Niimura’s art is fantastic, and it’s exactly the type of thing I’d like to see more of, especially on the Spider-Man books, but Kelly’s script just turns me right off with its clumsy injection of melodrama into what is essentially a story about how Spider-Man and the Black Cat getting it on constantly.

Throw in the Dark Reign special that opens with a page where Adam Kubert decided to give Spidey two Christmas geese for thighs, and it’s not exactly the return to form I was hoping for.

 

Conan the Cimmerian #16: I’ve had my criticisms of Tim Truman’s Conan the Cimmerian before. I generally like his work, but since the new series started, I’ve felt like he’s devoted a lot of time to flashbacks and side stories about people who Are Not Conan, and that’s not why I’m putting my money down.

But this issue opens with Conan sucker-punching a velociraptor.

All is forgiven.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Punisher #11: Last week, I was talking to Chad Bowers, my writing partner and the creator of Monster Plus, and he told me: “Chris, a comic is coming out where the Punisher’s dismembered body gets hauled off by the Man-Thing so they can stitch him up into a Frankenstein’s Monster. Truly, the Action Age of Comics is upon us.”

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anybody that I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was announced, as my love of the High Concept is pretty well-known by now, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for the first issue to be quite this good. It is without question the best issue Remender’s done with the title, upping his game to a level that I’ve come to expect from guys like Jason Aaron with the way that he’s throwing concept after concept at the reader and hitting with each one. It’s not just the Punisher as a Frankenstein’s monster, but the idea of the Legion of Monsters returning to protect Monster Island against a gang of renegade super-samurai monster hunters. Everything about it is so gloriously over the top that you can’t help but see the fun Remender and artist Tony Moore are having with it, coming through with an “isn’t this awesome?” sort of vibe rather than one that’s self-congratulatory.

As for Moore’s art, most readers are probably already well-acquainted with him from his six-issue run with Robert Kirkman on The Walking Dead [Note: I’d originally thought he’d done the whole thing, but I was wrong. Sorry, Charlie Adlard!], and while his work here definitely draws on the strengths he built there, with expressive faces and a knack for grotesques, this is the best of his that I’ve ever seen. Of course, that might have a lot do to with the fact that he’s drawing full-color shots of things like a sheepish Orrgo the Unconquerable, who I would read about all day long.

As excited as I’ve been, the true test of a high concept is how it fares under the actual execution, and with this one, the team behind it is really living up to the potential. It’s a hoot, and I can’t wait for more.

 

Spider-Man 1602 #2: And speaking of high concepts done right, here’s a story where a Colonial-era Spider-Man fights pirates.

I went on and on about my affection for Jeff Parker and how pleasantly surprised I was by this book when the first issue came out, and as all that holds true here–Jeff Parker’s still awesome, Ramon Rosanas is still awesome, the book’s still an incredible amount of fun–I’ll just add this one note: The sound of Ye Olde Spider-Man’s webs is “Thwippe.” That alone is worth four bucks to me.

 


 

And that’s the week! As always, any questions or concerns can be left in the comments section below, so if you want to discuss how awesome Jason Aaron’s dialogue is in Wolverine: Weapon X–“He’s… he’s got chainsaws for hands.” “I know, isn’t he just amazing?”–feel free to chime in!

The Week In Ink: November 11, 2009

I’m pretty sure this was meant to be a martial arts-style kiyai!, but every time I look at it, I hear it as Roger Daltry’s punchline to David Caruso’s set-ups:

 

 

If only the panel before had involved sunglasses.

But enough of that! It’s Thursday night, and that means it’s time for another round of the Interenet’s Most Hustlin’ Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought of them!

 


 

Batman/Doc Savage Special #1: Earlier today, Kevin Church pretty much nailed this one on Twitter when he said that if your story ends with Doc Savage telling everyone Batman didn’t commit a murder because Batman uses a different kind of gun, then you’re doing it wrong. And that, I think, is my biggest problem with this one: I just don’t get Azzarello’s Batman.

To start with, Batman’s using guns, and aside from a few awesome or hilarious exceptions, that’s a pretty big hurdle to get over right from the start. I mean, I know that Azzarello’s doing something different here with a more pulp-styled Batman to fit the motif he’s building, but it doesn’t even make sense in the context of the story. Yes, Batman packed a sidearm for a brief time in his early apperances, but he also used it to kill people, and it’s mentioned in this issue that the murder that drives what little plot there is would be “Batman’s first kill,” implying that–like “our” Batman–this one doesn’t. So then the question becomes why he’s got guns. Is he good enough to shoot people without accidentally killing them? Of course he is, he’s Batman. But then why not just stick to the things that make Batman unique instead of casting him as a watered-down version of the Shadow (who, again, kills people) that lacks the charm of either?

If you’ve got a pulp vigilante who packs twin .45s, giving him a code against killing is just goofy. Pick one and stick with it, or we have learned nothing from Mr. Miyagi.

The second problem is that not a whole hell of a lot happens. This thing is 38 pages, and when it’s all said and done, all that happens it that Batman and Doc Savage fight, then realize they should be friends, and then Doc finds something out that he’ll deal with in his own series at some point in the vague future. There’s ostensibly a plot running through it about Batman being wanted for murder, but as the reader can assume from page one that Batman didn’t do it, there’s no tension to it whatsoever, and it’s dismissed as an afterthought by having Savage literally go on TV and tell people he didn’t do it. It’s less a story and more of a trailer, and if that was all they wanted to do, it could’ve been done in a third of the space with room left over to get on with the actual plot, the Golden Tree stuff that’s only barely dropped in here.

Azzarello is one of those writers that swings from brilliant to unreadable at the drop of a hat, and to be fair, there is stuff to like here. I do like the idea of a more brash, lighthearted Batman to contrast with the grimness of the other pulp characters, and there are a few genuinely funny bits mixed in to keep things moving, but if this is the book that was supposed to sell me on the idea of Azzarello’s “First Wave” reimagining (something that I am actually interested in), then a rambling, half-nonsensical story wasn’t the way to do it.

 

Dark X-Men #1: Long-time ISB readers will probably recall that I was a huge fan of Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk’s work on the late, lamented Captain Britain and MI:13, so while Cornell’s Dark Reign: Young Avengers wasn’t my thing, I was more than willing to give this one a shot. And it is a hoot.

One of the things I love about Cornell’s work is that he’s not afraid to throw humor in alongside intense action and melodrama, and by the time Omega is shouting apologies as he destroys a statue of a beloved former mayor and his dog that appears to actually have “Beloved Former Mayor and His Dog” on its plaque, it’s safe to say that his skills in that regard are being put to good use. But what’s really on display here is his knack for crafting characters that instantly engage the reader. To be honest, the Dark X-Men are four characters that I couldn’t care less about, but within the first few pages, Cornell’s managed to get me intersted, especially in the way that he’s cast Mystique as a beleagured team leader saddled with wrangling her teammates, two neurotics and one that’s just completely amoral. It’s an interesting dynamic, and it comes off as effortless here, which is something that only happens when there’s a lot of work involved. And c’mon, I’d be lying if I said Cornell didn’t get a huge nostalgia laugh out of that last page.

As for the art, well, it’s Leonard Kirk, whose work is unfailingly fantastic on everything he does, and this is no exception. It’s got the smoothness of Alan Davis with the expressiveness of Kevin Maguire, and it’s just perfect, especially under Jay Leisten’s inks and Brian Reber’s colors, which are essential for the effects of the book.

So yeah, Dark X-Men #1 is one of the most fun comics I’ve read lately. Who knew?

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

PunisherMAX #1: Jason Aaron’s first issue of the Punisher reads exactly like a Garth Ennis story.

I’m hesitant to even say that, because I imagine one of the worst “compliments” you can pay to a writer is “Hey, you write exactly like this other guy,” but there’s really no getting around it. To be fair, the fact that the art for this one is by Steve Dillon–Ennis’s long-time Punisher collaborator who drew the character-redefining Welcome Back, Frank–goes a long way towards reinforcing the image in my mind, but it’s there. The brutality, the slapstick, the note-perfect interactions between characters–it all reads like a textbook example of Ennis at his best.

And as much as I cringe at saying that, it’s not a bad thing. There are certainly worse places you could take inspiration for a Punisher story, and while most of the guys who have followed Ennis’s eight-year run on the title have done their best to stay in his footsteps with varying degrees of success (Duane Swiercynski’s Six Hours to Kill being far and away the best of an otherwise mediocre lot), Aaron’s the one who has the best chance of actually pulling off what Ennis did before him. Not just because he’s an incredibly talented writer–although he is, and I kicked myself for sleeping on his awesomely fun Ghost Rider run as long as I did–or because his style compliments Ennis’s best work on the Punisher so well, but because it’s clear from this issue that he gets it.

He understands what worked so well in the past and, if this issue’s any indication, that the Punisher’s one of the only characters who works better the more one-dimensional he gets. This is a first issue where the main character only appears on five pages, and while that’s normally a recipe for a boring time, Aaron and Dillon sell it perfectly by setting up the sort of story we haven’t seen in a long, long time. And it works.

So yes, polar bear punching excepted, this is exactly the sort of Punisher story I want to read.

 

S.W.O.R.D. #1: Over the past few months, I’ve talked quite a bit about Kieron Gillen’s recent work for Marvel–first with Beta Ray Bill, then Ares–and as the gist of all that was that it’s pretty awesome, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I think S.W.O.R.D. is great.

I like the concept of S.W.O.R.D. a lot, especially for its potential as a bridge from the Earth-bound Marvel Universe to the cosmic action that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been slowly expanding since Annihilation. Gillen does a great job getting things set up right off the bat, too, especially with the way he’s cast Henry Gyrich as a complete and utter bastard, but one that actually does have a point, and Steven Sanders’ stylized art works very well with sci-fi.

The real treat, though, was seeing the back-up from Gillen and his Phonogram partner Jamie McKelvie, as I could look at that dude’s art all day. And it doesn’t disappoint here, especially under the colors of Matt Wilson (not to be confused with our Matt Wilson), who gives the backup a clean, crisp look that was a bit lacking in McKelvie’s last work for Marvel, a two-issue stint on Cable. They work well together, and the end result is top-notch stuff.

Of course, if I’m honest with you guys, I’ve got to admit that a good chunk of my affection for this series comes from my hopes that it’d be a pretty good place for ROM: Spaceknight to make his triumphant return, in the increasingly unlikely event that such a thing ever happens. Until then, though, I’ll have to content myself with a one-panel cameo from Adam-X–THE X-TREME!–and a special surprise appearance, yes?

 

Strange #1: Ever since I heard that Marvel was depowering Dr. Strange (again) and passsing off the title of Sorceror Supreme, I’ve been wondering if they were going to just shuffle him off to a corner for a few years, and if not, what the heck you do with a character when you’ve pretty much removed his entire deal.

Well, if you’re Marvel, you hand him to Mark Waid and have him engage in the MU’s most beloved pastime: Baseball! Hey, it’s worked for the X-Men eight or nine times!

In this case, though, it’s a magical baseball game against demons, because otherwise it just wouldn’t be Dr. Strange, and it’s an awful lot of fun. Waid’s gifted at crafting this kind of story, laying a running subplot down under a one-issue high concept, and it works pretty well here. The low stakes and outright silliness of it underscore his loss of power–the guy who almost gets killed during demon baseball isn’t exactly the same dude who’s going to go out to the edge of space and yell at the embodiment of eternity–and Emma Rios and Christina Strain do a bang-up job with the art, all bright colors and over-the-top art to fit the story. But there is a problem.

This issue’s got a cover by Tomm Coker, and while he and Rios are both great, they’re so markedly different that there’s a huge disconnect between the cover and the interiors. It’s not just a clash in style; Coker’s cover just plain doesn’t look like a bright, popping book where Dr. Strange plays baseball against demons, and that’s a shame, because Rios is strong enough that her art oughtta be able to sell the book without jarring potential readers when they pick it up to flip through. That aside, it’s a good read, and worth checking out to see if Waid keeps up his trademark fun.

 


 

And that’s the week! If you’ve got any questions about anything I picked up this week, feel free to ask in the comments section below, although bear two things in mind:

1. If you want to hear about my reaction to this week’s Hellboy, I’ll be talking about it on the next episode of Ajax, and…

2. Wolverine: Weapon X v.1 is a comic where Wolverine fights fake Wolverines who have claws made out of lasers. Of course you should buy it.

The Week In Ink: November 4, 2009

You know, if Sex and the City combined face-kicking and shoe-shopping as well as the new Cinderella comic does, I probably wouldn’t consider the Season 1 DVDs to be the strangest Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.

 

 

It’d probably still be in the top three though.

Yes, another Thursday night, another boot to the jaw, and another installment of The Internet’s Most Mildly Fantastic Comics Reviews! here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought of them!

 


 

Assault on New Olympus #1: All things considered, it’s been a good week for Hercules–which means that means that it’s been a pretty good week for comics readers, too.

To start with, we’ve got this one, which not only kicks off Herc’s next major storyline, with the big reveal of what Hera’s been cooking up with Continuum┬«, plus the wrap-up for the subplot with Hebe, both of which have been running through the book since at least the Dark Reign story. Now, I’ve been pretty vocal in the past about my love of this comic, but these two things in particular are perfect examples of things that I really love about it.

First is the thing with Continuum┬«, which is a perfect example of the Long Payoff. I’ve said it so much that even I’m getting tired of hearing it, but Incredible Herc has followed the mold of Walt Simonson’s Thor, my all-time favorite run of comics. Not just in the fact that it’s a book about a mythological figure that draws equally from the original myths and the Marvel universe–although that’s definitely there, and it’s obvious that Pak and Van Lente have good taste in where they draw their inspiration–but in the way it’s structured. Simonson didn’t just do issues about a guy hitting things with a magic hammer (although when he did do those, like the all-splash-page #380, they were off the hook, the chain, and the charts), he set up complex, interweaving plotlines that built organically over months, and paid off beautifully. And that’s what Pak and Van Lente are up to here, keeping subplots simmering until it’s time to bring them to the forefront in a really fun way.

The art of the long payoff also ties in with the plot with Hebe–we’ve known for a long time that she’s been out there while Herc’s been adventuring–but more than that, it represents something else I love about this book: The amazingly strong characterization. We’ve known for a while now that Hercules has a lovely–if somewhat ditzy–wife that’s utterly devoted to him, and yet there’s been almost as many pages over the course of the run devoted to Herc getting laid as there have been to him fighting bad guys. Namora, Snowbird, Alfyse, they’ve all fallen to his hirsute manliness, but Pak and Van Lente have never shied away from acknowledging that in pursuing them, Herc’s totally pulling a complete dick move. It’s something that they’ve brought up before; there’s a scene with Ares in Against The World where he outright calls Hercules an adulterer (among other things) and can’t understand why we still think of him as a hero. The answer that Hercules gives–and the thing that everything the creators have done on this book have underscored–is that it’s because he’s flawed that makes him so appealing. And that’s true.

Although that said, it’s nice to see those two crazy kids get a happy ending.

Herc’s other appearance this week comes in Deadpool Team-Up, which I’m going to go ahead and talk about here because I don’t have much to say about it and don’t particularly feel like scanning another cover at the moment. I’ve mentioned before that I was a pretty big fan of Deadpool during my misspent teenage years, but I’m completely mystified by his current surge in popularity. Still, this one was a Hercules story by Fred Van Lente, so I picked it up.

The end result? Well, it’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it just feels off. I don’t understand why, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that it might just be leftover leeriness for ‘Pool coloring my opinion, but everything in this story should have appealed to me, and instead it fell a bit flat. Arcade’s one of my favorite villains, and FVL’s proven on other books that he’s a funny enough writer that he should be able to carry the wackiness of Deadpool pretty well. And he’s not un-funny here, just sort of flat, though I do like the idea that Deadpool is a character for whom stabbing himself in the head to solve a problem is a workable option.

Maybe it’s just me, but things just haven’t seemed the same with Deadpool since Gail Simone left Agent X, and I’m starting to think that her run was so good that it ruined him for everyone else.

 

Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love #1: A few months back, Chris Roberson wrote Jack of Fables #36, which was the first thing for Fables that didn’t have Bill Willingham’s name on it. And what’s more, he did it with something that had to have made Willingham and Matt Sturges to slap their foreheads for not thinking of it first: the all-gorilla issue.

As ISB readers might expect, this sort of thing was right up my alley, and I was thrilled to see Roberson come back to Fables to elaborate on Cinderella, as the reveal of her being Fabletown’s master spy is one of my favorite bits from the series. The idea that her story’s plotline of repressed hatred, disguise and Fairy Godmother-enabled subterfuge translates into unsurpassed skill at espionage is not only something that shows exactly how the hook of the series as a whole functions by adapting characters to a modern-day setting, but it’s just a neat little idea to go from bippity-bopping to Casino Royale while keeping a sense of humor about it. And Roberson does keep his sense of humor, and while this issue’s mostly setup for the rest of the series, it feels more intriguing than padded, and with as much as Willingham and Sturges have managed to include in the series so far, it’s nice to see that Roberson was able to put together a plot based entirely on what they’ve left out.

I’m an unabashed fan of the series, but this issue was still better than I was expecting, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

 

Conan the Cimmerian #15: For this week’s issue of Conan, they pretty much just put a girl with no shirt on right there on the cover.

I’m not gonna lie, that’s pretty awesome.

 

Secret Six #15: Rather than the usual script from Gail Simone, this issue’s a fill-in from John Ostrander. Outside of his recent battle with glaucoma–which led to one of the most genuinely heartwarming examples of the comics community coming together–Ostrander doesn’t get a whole lot of press, but it’s important to remember that he’s the guy that wrote one of the best comics of all time.

Even putting aside his other work, like The Spectre and Manhunter and the creation of Johnny Karaoke (the best worst Batman villain of all time), the man’s a legend just for Suicide Squad. I’ve mentioned my love of Squad here and there over the years, but the fact of the matter is that it was probably the best DC Comic being produced at a time when DC Comics as a whole were better than they’ve been since, and it’s obvious from Gail Simone’s work on Villains United and Secret Six that she feels the same way. Her stories in those books strive to build the tension and comedy that seemed so effortless in Ostrander’s books, and every time he comes back to those characters, it’s obvious the old magic’s still there. I was actually a little worried when the recent Squad miniseries was solicited because I know how hard it can be for writers to come back to a book they’ve moved on from (for every Grant Morrison coming back to JLA, there’s a Chris Claremont coming back to X-Men), but he didn’t miss a step.

And the same goes in this one, with a book where Ostrander focuses on Deadshot, the character that he defined over the course of 60+ issues. Like From the Ashes, it fits right in with the series, and it makes for a pretty thrilling read on its own, and–not to knock Gail Simone–a nice shift to a more personal story after the broad action of the series so far.

It’s well worth picking up to see Ostrander at the top of his game, and seriously, DC: Suicide Squad not being in paperback is damn near criminal.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Stumptown #1: Earlier tonight, I was talking to Kevin Church about Stumptown, and in between various permutations of “How good is that booK?” “So good,” he came up with the observation that with this book, Greg Rucka was “just straight up Brubakering.” In addition to my love of making verbs out of names, I latched onto this because I immediately got what Kevin was saying: There’s no flash to what Rucka’s doing here; it’s pure craft.

It’s not really fair to compare Stumptown to Detective Comics, as one’s a gritty, independent crime drama and the other’s a high-action super-hero book, but they make an interesting study in contrasts that can come from the same writer. Rucka’s completely on point with both, but there’s a level of flair to ‘Tec that comes through in JH Williams’s artistic tricks and the shouldn’t-be-that-good gimmick of a super-villain twin sister who only speaks in quotes from Alice in Wonderland. Stumptown, however–and this goes with the territory of it being grounded in a more realistic setting–is far more personal, with incredible art by Matthew Southworth and Lee Loughridge that’s good in a completely different way, with heavy moodiness that echoes Sean Phillips and fantastic facial expressions.

There is one trick that Rucka uses in the story, though, and it’s one that–as at least a couple of you know–I am a total sucker for: The teaser-opening that goes into a flashback for the rest of the issue. But even with this, Rucka tweaks it a bit, reinforcing the mood by doing it as a countdown to what we’ve already seen, and it works beautifully. It’s the kind of issue that shows you exactly how it’s done, and I cannot wait to see the rest.

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai: I mentioned earlier that this has been a good week for Hercules, and while that’s true, it’s been an even better week for Usagi Yojimbo fans. Not only did we get Stan Sakai doing a samurai Hulk story in the otherwise lackluster Strange Tales #3, but this week also saw the release of the first ever full-color Usagi graphic novel. And it is awesome.

I’ve given the standard rap about Usagi in the past, and while pretty much everything I said there about skill, craftsmanship and economy of storytelling applies here as well, the hardcover is just superb. The entire presentation of it, from the design of the cover to being able to see Sakai’s fully-painted art is just wonderful, and more than worth the price of admission.

Storywise, the actual plot is relatively simple–Usagi fights ghosts! With a sword!–and as such, it’s a great little stand-alone that even people who have never read a page of Sakai’s work could pick up and enjoy. In essence, it’s just an extra-long, extra beautiful issue of the series, and there’s no better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary than with more of the deceptively simple work that makes it such a great book to begin with.

 


 

Annnnnnnnnnnnd that’s the week! As always, if you’ve got any questions or concerns about something I picked up this week–like if you want to talk about how great Jeff Parker, Salva Espin and Casey Jones’s late, lamented Exiles, or if you want to call me out on always talking about Simonson’s Thor but never mentioning the run on Fantastic Four that I love almost as much (the best issues of which are out this week in trade)–then feel free to leave a comment below.

The Week In Ink: October 28, 2009

With Halloween fast approaching, it has fallen to Patsy Walker to show the most efficient and effective way of dealing with the living dead:

 

 

By rocking them with a kick to the face.

But let’s be honest: That’s probably something ISB readers already knew, so instead of elaborating on what scholars have referred to as The Billy Jack Method, it looks like it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Laughlinesque Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I picked up this week:

 

 

…and here’s what I thought about ’em!

 


 

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #10: In this issue, by Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade‘s Landry Walker and Eric Jones, Batman is transformed by Hugo Strange into a giant kaiju monster and then fights the Atom, who has also grown giant-sized, which may cause him to explode.

The Diamond order code you want is AUG09 0192.

 

Dark Avengers: Ares #1: I’v ebeen looking forward to this one since it was solicited, owing largely to the fact that, starting with the Oeming/Foreman series and moving through appearances in Incredible Herc that are pretty much tailor-made for my particular tastes, Ares has steadily become one of those character sthat I really look forward to seeing. But even so, I honestly didn’t expect it to be this good.

Really though, it’s not too much of a surprise. I mean, I already knew that Kieron Gillen was an extremely talented writer, but a story about Marvel’s God of War training a hand-picked squad of Norman Osborn’s soldiers is about as different as you can get from Phonogram while still having a cover and two staples. And yet, he tackles it with the same sense of thrilling excitement that he brought to the table on his recent work on Beta Ray Bill, and much like he did with ol Spacehorse, it’s clear by page two that Gillen’s a guy who just flat-out gets Ares.

And not only that, but he even manages to lay it all out in a scene that’s not only clever and well-structured–complete with a bit of Herc‘s humor–but that never actually feels like a scene where a character has to spell out his motivations. “Subtlety” is the wrong word for it, but Gillen nails the character’s voice so well that a three-page speech in front of a Patton-esque American flag just feels natural. And it doesn’t hurt that Manuel Garcia, Stefano Gaudiano and Mark Pennington’s art has the right mix of grittiness and expressiveness to carry it all off, either.

It’s great fun, and the fact that Gillen’s pulled off cosmic battles and Earth-bound gods so well in such a short span of time gives me even higher hopes for his upcoming run on Thor.

 

Detective Comics #858: Okay, look: At this point, we’ve all talked about J.H. Williams III and how he’s consistently making ‘Tec the best looking book on the stands, and while it’s starting to feel like Greg Rucka’s getting the short end of the stick on the critical side of things, it pretty much has to be said:

Holy cats, J.H. Williams is awesome.

Not just because he’s a great artist, which I think is pretty self-evident at this point, but because of the way he’s able to switch things up. In the stories up to now, it’s been more a matter of panel layouts and Dave Stewart’s coloring–switching up the style based on whether the story’s following Kate or Batwoman–but in this one, it’s a completely different style. If it wasn’t for the credits, I would’ve sworn it was someone like Michael Lark doing the flashback sequences, but no, it’s Williams, pulling off the same trick he used on The Black Glove–where every character was drawn in the style of a different artist–but expanded for a whole issue.

But again: Rucka’s working on this book too, and with the start of the new arc, he’s finally fleshing out Batwoman’s background, showing her to be more than just a bored socialite who used to date Renee Montoya, for whom things are also picking up in the face-kickingest co-feature we’ve yet seen from DC. It’s a welcome change, as the character’s been around for three years now, but the way that it’s been built up has done a lot to increase its impact.

It’s another issue of incredible creators collaborating to make incredible comics, and while that’s not exactly news, something this good always bears mentioning.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Fantastic Four #572: The old cliche about the Fantastic Four is that they’re not just a team, they’re a family. It’s a tenet about the team that’s been repeated ad infinitum over the past 40-some years, but like most things that stick around to reach cliche status, it’s also at the core of some really great stories, and this is one of them.

I’ve had the feeling since this arc started that there was a reason we were seeing a bunch of Reeds without a single Ben, Johnny or Sue–of the entire Council of Cross-Time Reeds, only “ours” actuallly has the FF’s 4 on his chest—and while it didn’t end up playing out quite the way I thought it would, it took the idea of asking what it would take to solve everything and built something incredibly enjoyable around it. Kicking off a run with what really amounts to a Reed Richards solo story seems like a pretty bold move, but the way Hickman and Eaglesham have executed it is so well done, with the character rooted it in the idea that even with countless versions of himself tooling around the Multiverse, “our” Reed stands apart from the others because for him, there’s no such thing as a Reed Richards solo story.

It’s a simple premise, but like I said, it’s one that’ flawlessly executed, with enough twisting and turning to keep it feeling fresh, and it’s quickly made FF one of the books that I’m looking forward to the most.

 

Invincible Presents Atom Eve & Rex Splode #1: I’ve been talking quite a bit about Benito Cereno and Nate Bellegarde over the past few weeks, mainly because their latest Hector Plasm collection is the textbook example of how a Halloween special should be done, but the fact is that those guys just make good comics together. With this one, they’re following up their origin for Atom Eve with a look at the Secret Origin of the recently deceased Rex Splode–another one of those wish-I’d-thought-of-that-name supporting cast members that Kirkman has stocked his books with–and the result is predictably entertaining.

Benito’s script keeps things rolling along with a great mix of comedy and action–including scenes I’m incredibly jelaous of that are set up like jokes, with the punchline being political assassination–and under Bill Crabtree’s bright, vivid colors, Nate’s art coming off as good here as it does on Hector. I’ve gotta say that as much as I liked what they ended up with for Atom Eve, this one’s off to an even more promising start.

 


 

And that, more or less, is the week. I’ll have a few more reviews–most notably my opinion on the start of the whole FrankenCastle story that’s running through Punisher on next week’s thrilling episode of Ajax, but until then, feel free to pepper me with any questions you have about this week’s titles, like whether “Old Man Logan” was as stupid as I thought it was going to be (yes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing) in the comments section below.