Now that the storm of controversey has passed, it’s time for us all to step back, join hands, and come together as one once again. Because really, if there’s one thing that can unite us all, regardless of language or borders, it’s this:
A common love of a good old-fashioned foot-based tooth-loosener.
That’s right, folks! It might be coming at you a day late, but with a boot to the chops like that at the top, you know you’re looking at the Internet’s Most Often-Imitated, Never-Duplicated Comics Reviews from the ISB!
Here’s what I picked up this week…
Thursday Friday night would be complete if I didn’t get right to the action?
Annihilation: Conquest – StarLord #4: With the last installment of the prologues and the first issue of the main series released this week, Annihilation: Conquest is shaping up to be one of the best Marvel crossovers since… well, since Annihilation, actually, now that I think of it. In any case, a lot of that has to do with StarLord, where Keith Giffen and Timothy Green II prove that you can produce an “event” tie-in that not only works on its own as a great story, but also stands as one of the most fun adventure comics in a long time.
It’s a book that more than lives up to the potential of its concept, and considering that its concept can pretty much be summed up as “The Dirty Dozen, but with Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Bug from the Micronauts,” that’s saying something. And Giffen just runs with the concept for four solid issues, lacing the story with his customary humor and clever plot twists and ending up with something that’s far more entertaining than the sum of its parts. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a gorgeous book just to look at, either: Green, inker Victor Olazaba and colorist Nathan Fairbairn do some absolutely incredible work here, with distinctive, stylized pages that never look silly, even though they’re depicting a space-war involving a talking raccoon and his friend the giant tree. It’s just a great book, and not only is it the most enjoyable by far of the Annihilation titles–which, truth be told, are pretty good company for any comic to be in–but it’s easily one of the most fun mini-series Marvel’s put out all year.
Astonishing X-Men #23: If there’s one thing we enjoy here at the ISB–aside from, you know, comics where Batman beats the crap out of a bear or something–it’s a story with a good trick to it. As much fun as it is to piece things together and figure it all out before the big reveal, the surprise of seeing a story where the heroes run a scam on the villains and the reader at the same time is always a joy to see.
Of course, none of that matters if the trick doesn’t work, but with this issue of Astonishing, Joss Whedon got me hook, line and sinker without one bit of cheating, and came away with a perfect example of why this book’s been so fun. In a way, it’s a lot like Ocean’s Eleven, except that instead of getting a shot of Brad Pitt’s smiling mug after he pulls off the heist, it’s got Cyclops just wrecking some dude with his optic blasts, and really: Which one do you think I’d rather see?
The only problem, of course, is that the actual setup for the trick came out back in August, and while that’s not an insurmountable lapse between issues (especially given Astonishing‘s track record to date), I had a hard time recalling that the scene repriesed in this issue’s Big Reveal had actually happened already until I went back to check. Still, it made for a good read, but at this point, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Astonishing‘s still the best X-Men title on the stands.
Except First Class, I mean, if only because that one’s awesome and comes out on time.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #8: So in this issue, Eliza Dushku takes a bath with a super-powered heiress, then puts on a white shirt and wrestles Buffy in a swimming pool. Review: Over.
Okay, so there’s slightly more to it than that, including the face-kicking depicted above, some well-done character moments, and the type of great cliffhanger ending that Brian K. Vaugahn’s known for, but let’s be real here for a second. If the concept of girl-on-girl pool-wrestling that actually happens for at least a slightly plot-oriented reason doesn’t appeal to you, then you’re probably not going to want to read Buffy anyway.
Criminal #10: Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips bring another brutal crime thriller to a close with this issue, and it’s exactly the kind of gut-wrenching conclusion that shows just why Brubaker got the Eisner for Best Writer, and why Criminal got it for Best New Series.
Not that Brubaker’s a slouch on his other titles or anything, but when he’s workin in crime drama–like Scene of the Crime, Sleeper (also with Sean Philips), and even his relaunch of Catwoman–there’s a passion for the genre that comes through just as much in the story itself as it does in the essays he (and others) write in the backmatter regarding their favorite crime films.
It’s a book that consistently works as a beautiful example of the medium, where everyone’s out for revenge, and most of them wind up getting it whether they needed it or not, and it’s a shame that this is going to be the last issue ’til February of next year, owing to the fact that Philips needed time to get Marvel Zombies 2 pencilled. All things considered, I think I’d rather have Criminal, but Philips certainly doesn’t shortchange his readers on the way out: Like every issue so far, his heavy, moody artwork suits Brubaker’s story perfectly, with a sequence that might just be the start of Philips dethroning Kenichi Sonada as the King of Car Chases.
Which, of course, is no surprise at all. It’s two great creators on a book that’s well beyond good every time it comes out, and if you haven’t read it already, you really ought to.
Groo: Hell On Earth #1: Sergio Aragones is probably one of the few comics creators who it’s likely that you can be a huge fan of without ever actually reading any of his comics. At least, I’m hoping that’s likely, because otherwise it’s just me.
As should surprise nobody (especially given the presence of a massive hardcover of Don Martin’s work on this week’s shopping list), I’ve been a fan of MAD Magazine for as far back as I can remember, and there’s nobody that I associate more with the magazine than Aragones. Even as a kid, I remember being amazed not only by the fact that his work was so funny, but that he was able to pull off so many fantastic visual gags in such a limited space without even using a single word. It’s a mastery of his craft that continues to surprise me even today, but when it came to his long-form work in comics–like, you know, Groo–I never seemed to be able to find any. Thus, the first issue of Groo I ever read was last month’s 25th Anniversay Special, but I figured I ought to hold off on giving my thoughts about it until I hit an issue that actually had some story to it, and I can say with all certainty that I’m glad I jumped on.
It goes without saying that Aragones’ work is absolutely beautiful–and that his style’s just inherently funny–but after so many years of seeing it in black and white (and often in tiny “Marginal Thinking” size) in the pages of MAD, I’d forgotten how beautifully detailed it can be, and under Tom Luth’s colors, the whole thing just takes on a beautiful storybook quality that’s just irresistable. As for the story, well, with two comics under my belt, I’ve already caught on to the formula, where Groo shows up, screws up, and then heads for the hills in the aftermath of disaster, mostly because Aragones and collaborator Mark Evanier make sure to tell you that’s going to happen at every opportunity.
And that’s the beauty of it: The joke is explicitly telegraphed, and it’s still funny. That’s a trick that takes an amazing amount of skill to pull off, and these guys make it look effortless every time. Very, very fun stuff.
Immortal Iron Fist #10: In the back pages of many of Marvel’s titles this month–but not, oddly enough, this one–there’s an interview with Iron Fist co-writer / ISB Favorite Matt Fraction describes his approach to the character as “Three words, baby: KUNG FU BILLIONAIRE.”
And that, friends, is why I love this comic.
Incidentally, he also says that writing it is so fun because he and Ed Brubaker are “constantly trying to out-awesome one another,” which explains a lot about how we ended up with a plot concerning the All-Reality Martial Arts Tournament starring Fat Cobra, Dog Brothter #1, and the Prince of Orphans.
In any case, despite their unabashed love of Danny Rand, Brubaker, Fraction, and series artist David Aja (along with Kano, who handles the flashbacks) offer up an issue this week with a conspicuous lack of our title character–who’s busy learning about his predecessor and the Harem Harlots of Harlem over in Iron Fist Annual–and instead focus on the other factors of the Tournament in the Heart of Heaven, whether it’s the combatants or the scheming powers behind them, or the army of Shaolin Terror Priests sent to Earth on a mission of vengeance. And unsurprisingly, given the amount of fun I had just typing up that little summary, it’s another flat-out awesome installment.
And not just because I thought it was absolutely hilarious that the gothed-up “delicate porcelain flower” takes her top off, it reveals a horrible mass of deadly spiders. Seriously, that cracks me up every time.
The Order #4: Given the review immediately preceding this one, it should come as no surprise that I’m enjoying the hell out of a title written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Barry Kitson (late of Mark Waid’s highly enjoyable Legion of Super-Heroes relaunch), but it might be of interest to note that this is by far the best issue of the series yet.
And no, that’s not just because the phrase “nothing but hungry children kicking each other” appears on the first page.
It does, of course, in the “confessional” style sequence that’s marked the first story-arc for the book, letting us know the characters by letting us see what essentially amounts to their job interviews. And it works, too, and what makes it even better is the way that later events in the story come through to change what we’ve already seen about them.
Take, for instance, “Calamity” James Wa, who ended his “starring role” last issue with a scene where he tracked down the guy that cost him his legs and confronted him with a baseball bat. It’s pretty chilling, given what we already knew about him fron the interview sequence, but with this issue’s reveal that he spent that time talking to the guy–and playing Wii, an increasingly common activity of the Marvel Universe–we learn a lot more about him. Which is good, because I was really hoping that the folks in the Order would turn out to be decent people.
And from this issue’s focus on Maggie, who plays the Hollywood diva while building orphanages, we see that they are, and that’s what’s really heartening. But it’s even better when it’s presented in a book where so much is happening. I’ve griped often and at length about how there’s no excuse for a boring comic book, and in a world where so many comics indulge in an overabundance of decompressed storytelling, The Order is just crammed full of fun and action. This is, after all, an issue that gives us Maggie’s origin story, a fight with the Zobos, the M.A.N. from S.H.A.D.O.W., and–as mentioned–the motion-sensitive controls of the Wii, and it’s all well-written, beautifully drawn, and most importantly, a lot of fun to read. If you’re not already, give it a shot.
Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK’s 11 #5: Earlier, I made a comparison to Ocean’s Eleven as a trick on the audience that really works, and now, a few hours later, I’m thinking that I probably should’ve saved that one for here, where it would’ve been a lot more appropriate.
Then again, it’s the obvious route to go with this one, but it does ring true: Under Fred Van Lente’s script and Francis Portella’s pencils, MODOK’s 11 is another great Marvel mini-series that does a great job of living up to its premise, and it’s a high concept that anyone who loves fun would find almost impossible to resist. It is, after all, a story where a giant floating head with tiny arms and legs and a power-hungry mad scientist hash out their relationship issues through a complex sequence of bribery, deception and explosions, and the payoff alone is worth the price of admission.
And that’s before we get to the army of guys with little MODOK helmets that should be at the heart of every Marvel crossover from here on out. Seriously, those guys just crack me up.
Supergirl #23: Despite the fact that I didn’t take to the streets in protest of Adam Beechen’s run on Robin (owing to the fact that I actually thought it was really good), I’m a pretty huge fan of Kelley Puckett’s run on Batgirl. It was a book that was always entertaining while he was on there, so even though I was hoping Tony Bedard and Renato Guedes would stick around for a while, I was interested to see what he’d do with Supergirl.
Unfortunately, the result could best be described as “disappointing.”
To be fair, Drew Johnson does a great job here: His art hews far more closely to what Guedes was doing than to, say, Ian Churchill (or God forbid, Mike Turner), and even stands as something of a departure to what I remember of his work on Wonder Woman. He’s got a few good facial expressions, and in the ten-page stretch with no dialogue whatsoever, he does a fantastic job of keeping things moving. It would’ve been nice, though, if I had any idea what happened at the end here.
And I don’t think that’s Johnson’s fault, either: The book ends with Supergirl coming home and suddenly realizing something, but I have no clue what she realized or what that means for the story. There is, of course, the possibility that it might just be me, but for obvious reasons, I’d rather assume that it wasn’t. It’s not something I’m planning on dropping the book over–after all, it took the second issue of Batgirl for me to really get into that book–but I’d rather have something I could get into right from the start.
The Middleman: The Third Volume Inescapability: Over in a review on NeedCoffee.com, a fellow called Widge asserts that with plot points like a giant mutated shark-man, an army of mystical luchadores and a gang of mobster gorillas, Middleman creators Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine aren’t creating a comic so much as they are, “in reality, doing a psychiatric thesis on the id of Chris Sims.”
He’s not wrong.
Seriously, The Middleman is hands down one of the most fun comics I’ve read in my life, and just from the examples in the paragraph above, you can probably see why I have no trouble believing that it’s been scientifically calibrated to appeal to me specifically, but since you’re the one reading a website known primarily for an emphasis on super-heroes punching out grizzly bears, there’s a pretty good chance you’d enjoy it, too. And how could you not?
Grillo-Marxuach’s scripts are almost unbelievably sharp, and it’s not just the wackiness of the Middleman’s adversaries that makes them so enjoyable. Rather, it’s the effortless way that he blends that lighthearted, manic action with engaging characters, adding depth to them in the scenes between ninja battles for an end result that zips right along, but not without telling a pretty incredible story.
As for the artwork, well, Les McClaine’s pretty darn phenomenal. Everything he draws–which in this volume runs the gamut from deaf-mute illiterate ninjas in Kendo armor to elephant polo to an assassin/henchwench named “Martini” and the always-adorable Wendy Watson–is just beautiful. I often find myself using the word “clean” to describe art that I like, and with McClaine, there’s no better description I can think of: Strong, crisp lines that make up amazing facial expressions and action sequences, with backgrounds that move from detailed (yet uncluttered) to stark and full of speed-lines. It’s a book that’s every bit as good-looking as it is good, and even with the bar set so high in terms of pure entertainment by the first two volumes, he meets it.
They both do, and it makes for a pretty darn fantastic read. A read that, just to reiterate here, involves its protagonists fighting off a giant mutant shark man in what isn’t even the most exciting sequence of the book. So yeah: You’re gonna want that.
And that, at long last, is the week! As always, if you have any questions or comments–or if you just want to hear me gush at length about the beautiful 26-pound bundle of pure comics joy that is The Completely MAD Don Martin (which features like forty pages of introductions from guys like Nick Meglin and The Far Side‘s Gary Larson)–feel free to leave a comment below.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here refamiliarizing myself with the sound made when Mary Worth gets punched in the face for not minding her own business.
It is, for the record, “KWONK.”