Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some ole Comic reviews

Thoughts on comics from the last couple of weeks

The Amazing Spider-Girl #23: Have to give Tom DeFalco credit. His little corner of the Marvel universe allows him to play around with the company characters and concepts. He's been titling this arc as "Brand New May", playing off of the "Brand New Day" slogan for the new Spider-man status quos. Meanwhile, the story also wryly touches on an era and concepts that most Spider-fans wish to forget, clones. Like that saga, at the heart of the storyline is the question as to whether the character we've been following for years is the real deal or not. He juggles this against the backdrop of the soap-opera of May's school life, romantic intrigues, and the issues of bigotry and hate groups using the Marvel chestnut of mutants. Ron Frenz continues to deliver on easy to understand yet dynamic artwork. Special kudos also to Irene Lee who has a little fun in designing a re-cap page that perfectly fits in with the tone of the book and shows that even the most humdrum of things can be done with a little bit fun and whimsy.

There's an ad in the book, apparently tiring of zombies, Marvel is borrowing a page from Silver-age DC and going ape with MARVEL APES. Guess the promotion department isn't up on their zoology as their slogan is "with great power comes a prehensile tail". Hmmm. That would be monkeys, not apes. Different animals. The art gets it right though, none of the heroes-turned-ape have tails.

Avengers/Invaders #4: Captain America vs SHIELD's LMD's, the original Human Torch flips out, Namor has growing up to do, Toro's identified as a mutant and Bucky isn't having a good day while Doctor Strange conjures up a Vision from the past. Meanwhile, editorial hasn't seen fit yet to fix the problems with the coloring and too heavy inks (adjusting the penciled art too heavily for shooting from the pencils?). Even the Ross cover is a bit of an eyesore.

Captain Britain and MI:13 #4: A fun book that manages to be enjoyable enough to forgive its oversights and flaws. Like Avengers/Invaders, there are production issues. In this case, it's the fact that pages 1-3 of the story are actually pages 4-6. At least in the copy I got as well as the copy that the person got that posted the online previews as they had the same problem of not quite making sense. The Black Knight has a stone heart? If that were true, that would hardly be the only thing that didn't make sense about his body as Faiza was trying to mystically knit him back together. I had hoped that maybe with her powers, she'd remove his link to the curse as well (seems with everything else she could, healing a stone heart wouldn't be too difficult).

The emphasis on a no-kill clause and Captain Britain's forsaking the sword for someone who hasn't killed doesn't quite make sense after slaughtering all those skrulls and considering the sword Excalibur's own bloody history. Factor in you have another member a man who wears a sword and a half-vampire. I know the skrulls are a special case, it's a war after all, but there seems to be an odd dichotomy that's not really addressed.

Faiza's drawing Excalibur, I couldn't help but wonder about the female Captain Britain that Chuck Austen created. I thought she was a character with potential, it'd be good to see her again even if not as Captain Britain. Likewise Captain Britain's speech about the flag and all, where's ole Union Jack during all of this. He also has links to the Pendragon, a former love of Spitfire and ties to Britain's intelligence community.

The emphasis on Britain's link of magic still doesn't quite carry the weight it should. It raises questions about other areas of magic and other types of magic. Even though the skrulls are stopped here, what about the other places? By addressing this one front, it opens the door for others. And, just because they stopped the invaders here and rigged things to prevent other incursions, the war itself is hardly over, but this suggests that these guys aren't really worried about the rest of the world's problems. A problem by tying in the opening story to a mega-crossover event, it's hard to give a plausible ending in one book while the event is still going on. In for a dollar, in for a pound.

FX#6: Wayne Osborne brings his mini-series by John Byrne to a rocking conclusion as our hero, his not-his-girlfriend and the heroes of the team Front Line storm Olympus and face down monsters and the big villain in efforts to save the soul of his friend and the lives of kidnapped friends and family. Whew. For a first time writer, Wayne does a wonderful job telling an old-fashioned superhero story with likeable characters and manages to introduce us organically to his larger superhero universe, actually making it seem large and with a history and past that the hero FX is linked to. By playing with archetypes, he is able to make the new characters and guest-stars seem familiar enough that we don't need a lot of exposition to get us up to speed but different enough to intrigue us. In fact, if there is a flaw with this issue, I really want to see Home Front in their own series, see more villains. I'm just glad that at the end we see a return of the ghost-knight.

Green Arrow & Black Canary #10: Reports are that with issue 15 there will be a new writer on board. While I liked Winnick on Green Arrow, I think he did a fine job in helping emphasize Green Arrow as a superhero, I think he's a bit tired on the book. Since the relaunch, he never seemed to really grasp Black Canary and the book has become more of a team book, especially in the recent issues, completely losing the focus on the leads. This particular story has been especially drawn out. This issue is mostly exposition, tying the past issues together. Or at least trying to, the kidnapping of Plastic Man makes no sense with what is revealed, this group of would-be assassins are fleshed out but still coming off inept. One character is revealed as a vampire but isn't the least bit scary or have any of the trappings that would make him memorable. It seems tacked on, to give an easy explanation as to why he can tell that the hologram of Ra's al-Ghul is telling them the truth in that he didn't hire them or meet them. However, if he is so good at reading people, how did he fall for the sham-Ra's al-Ghul then? Winnick sets up a big job for himself in explaining he mystery villain's motivation after the big reveal at the end.

The Last Defenders #6: The book ends where it should have started or at least been around issue #2 or 3. If this storyline had been part of an ongoing, it might have worked, but for the most part, it just feels like a "why bother?" To completely deconstruct the team, take Kyle Richmond out of the costume only to put together a new team at the very end? And, anyone reading comics for any length of time can bet how long that will last. If a writer or the company doesn't have concrete plans for a new character or group, they fade away as soon as the mini or series is done. Just as Casey felt like he had to create his own team and completely discard the previous members, what makes him think this will have more lasting power? Especially as he didn't do anything with them as a team or even really make them work together beyond cosmic fiat that is basically a fictional stand-in for "because I'm the writer and I said so". Thus, Krang is a better choice than Namor, Joaquim is a better Nighthawk than Kyle (conveniently ignoring that Kyle has powers and was created to be able to go toe-to-toe with Captain America). For five issues we've seen Kyle being torn down as a character, a complete putz who cannot get his act together, that the conversion in the final issue is as unconvincing as the rest. A waste of some good characters and opportunities.

Star Trek/Assignment: Earth #4: John Byrne's artwork is top notch in this series. Wonderful attention to detail, especially in portraying period detail. And each issue has been a complete story. The only short-comings really have been the lead characters still come across as cyphers. Beyond his job, we don't really know anything about Gary Seven. He comes across almost as unemotional as Spock, totally dedicated to his mission but with less of a sense of humor.

Superpowers #5: Some great superhero action. The painted coloring has improved, giving the proper mood though still too dark at times. Especially odd is a scene of Pyroman flying on page 3 where the bottom half of his body is missing. But, that's a minor quibble. Krueger steps up the story and the problems for the heroes as Dynamic Man manages to maneuver the situation that paints them as turning bad. And, at least Kruegar has seen fit to leave Hydroman, the Flame and Pyroman largely intact as their GA selves despite Pyroman's misleading moniker. Even Ross didn't feel a need to heavily re-design them.

The Target and the Targeteers aren't so lucky. The three are linked, talking and acting as one. It's an interesting gimmick, but the characters already had an interesting gimmick. They were part of a small sub-set of GA heroes, where (usually 3) men put on similar costumes and fight crimes. They had the added wrinkle that the leader of the trio was a pseudo Doc Savage in that he better at many things overall than the others as well as being a scientific genius and designed the bullet-proof costumes they wore (hence the large targets on their chest).

Turns out it was V-Man who got the abilities to transmit some kind of disease and not Miss Masque, playing on Poe's "Masque of the Red Death". It's hard to find a more obscure patriotic hero than V-Man and an odd story-direction for the character with a cast of so many characters and many we haven't seen yet. Considering that the Face cannot take off his fright mask and seems to have some powers, the 'Devil is now mute, maybe Krueger has a problem with non-powered heroes and feels the need to change them to give them each his own defining characteristic?

A nice look at the giants of Superpowers: the Green Giant (notably, his name ISN'T changed), Phantasmo, Boy King's golem Giant (with the normal sized Boy King standing on his foot) and the villainous Claw.

The Twelve #7: The plot moves forward. The police investigate the killings of the last issue coming after the most likely suspect, Dynamic Man. And, he has an iron-clad alibi as I already figured it would play out. He was conspicuously hanging out at the mansion right by a clock showing the time. As a mystery, it's fairly obvious that he's using Electro. Being an android, Dynamic Man is probably aware of the surveillance the team is under thus setting his alibi and is able to control Electro without the use of any devices. Although it could reasonably play out that he's unaware he has the link with Electro and the robot is carrying out his sub-conscious wishes. Being the obvious choice, it's always possible that it's someone else, but JMS would have his work cut out to make it plausible other than a deliberate and complex frame job. Because for that to work, the police have to be aware that Dynamic Man is an android and could control Electro, that his alibi is not sound. In that sense, JMS really could be going after a Watchmen vibe as each hero is undone. Electro is hauled off by a descendant of its owner, Laughing Mask is sent to prison (maybe not a coincidence the police still had that old evidence), the Phantom Reporter is about to find out the Black Widow's dark secrets that could have dire results for one of them. Then, the arrows would point to Mastermind Excello, as it still hasn't been addressed how they happened to walk conveniently into a Nazi trap that he didn't foresee that would put them in suspended animation into the future.

Otherwise, the story is more of the same as Captain Wonder is visited by his old sidekick, emphasis on old. And, it's yet another sad story. This is JMS being literary and realistic as the emphasis in storytelling is all on character flaws and the negative aspects of life. Yes, you live long enough and life will deliver pain, heartbreak and loss. But, life has joy, fun and beauty as well for most of us. There's none of that here. Those that seem to get any kind of joy or fun out of life in this storyline, it's either a bit delusional (the Blue Blade), or the kind a bully gets from beating up his favorite wimp (Dynamic Man, Laughing Mask).

Meanwhile, Laughing Mask, the Witness, and Mister E are completely absent from the issue and the Fiery Mask is barely there.

And, this is the writer Dan Didio thinks is perfect for reintroducing the MLJ characters to the DCU?

The War That Time Forgot #4: I love Russ Heath's artwork and it's a beautiful dinosaur cover. Yet, looking at it, it looks more like "The Love That Time Forgot". At least it does accurately illustrate a scene in the book. The book continues along with shifting status quos and alliances as people from such different backgrounds time periods are unable to work with each other for any length of time. Jones continues giving most of the face time to his Mary Sue characters when Tomahawk or the others could just as easily been used. Still a fun book if you're tired of Final Crisis/Secret Invasion stuff.

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