Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's Comic Time! (2/25/09)

It's a busy week for That's a Wrap comic reviewing. A pair of Avengers books each perform better than expected, but Captain America is still the standard bearer for Marvel. Over in DC, the impossible happens twice with Geoff Johns performing beneath expectation in a pair of titles. At least James Robinson is almost able to start his own brand of storytelling in Superman and Gail Simone holds her own in Wonder Woman. And I figured it was about time to introduce you to Terry Moore's Echo. So buckle up, beware spoilers and click below to continue.

Comic Reviews for Week of 02/25/2009

CAPTAIN AMERICA #47 - "Old Friends and Enemies: Part 2 of 3"
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Butch Guice

In this middle issue of Ed Brubaker's latest arc is a slight step back from the first issue thanks to regular artist Steve Epting sitting out in place of Guice. Their styles are similar, but this issue was clearly drawn by the apprentice, not the master. The facial expressions are slightly lacking, more similar to Billy Tan than Epting and with most of the issue taking place at night, Guice crosses the line from using the shadows to set a mood to letting them confuse the picture.

But aside from the weaker effort on the art, this issue continues in much the same excellent manner we've generally been enjoying for about four years now. Enough credit can't be given to Brubaker, who in resurrecting Bucky, creating his history as the Winter Soldier and developing him as our new title character, took his "definitive" take on Captain America to a higher level. In this issue, Brubaker continues to draw the different aspects of Barnes together.

Really this issue's larger issues, of Bucky accepting and moving past his rather less than savory past to his new role, literally getting past wearing the garb of a killer. That we get to work in a mad scientist as the villain (as opposed to a skull-faced Nazi or and intergalactic warlord) only adds a slight touch of the fantastic, keeping this book more rooted in Brubaker's own noir corner of the Marvel Universe.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5

ECHO #10
Written and Art by Terry Moore

Most of you have probably never heard of this book, let alone read it. And I doubt there are many fan's of Moore's first solo project, "Strangers in Paradise." I actually never got that into his first series. It came about in a time when I wasn't following comics for a ten year stretch. But it at least convinced me to give this series a chance. Now this is much more up my alley. We've got four or five absolutely incredible regular characters and a terrific sci-fi hook. And while the lead character, Julie, is wonderfully flawed, she isn't the highlight of the story.

Without a doubt, the focal character of the opening scene, Ivy Raven, is the best creation in the title. Just about the smartest detective you've ever met, this female version of the Mentalist is cold and collected at all times, but has a practical warmth to her. This lets her rise above the level of bad guy... which of course she very well might end up being.

The artwork is often rather simple, but given that Moore does both, I give him a bit of leeway there. This is mostly forgiven anyway given how exceptional he is at drawing expressions. It's an incredibly important aspect of the art given how the conflicts come few and far between here with most the action of the variety of two people talking to each other.

This issue's opening is a bit of an exposition explaining the technology of the suit that exploded back in issue #1, which gave Julie a gnarly breastplate. The remainder is a nice back and forth phone conversation between the female leads. And while Ivy is generally reinforcing the idea that she's too cool for school, Julie comes off well in her role of very human and confused. A nice little cliffhanger at the end still works here because we haven't known anyone long enough to be certain they'll survive except for Julie.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5

GREEN LANTERN #38 - "Rage of the Red Lanterns: Part 4"
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Juan Reis

Now that's just plain weird. Johns absolutely nailed this arc which started back in the Final Crisis plugged Part 1. While its great to see the various ring Corps really getting into the swing of things and the cliffhanger last week seemed to set us up for an absolutely spectacular take on the real power of Hal Jordan - his incredible willpower, the resolution just lets down. There's a somewhat cool moment, but its for a rather unspectacular character we just met a few months ago. And the arc totally leaves us hanging on the main character and then he appears back on Earth, looking perfectly fine in the Origins and Omens backup story.

The real highlight, behind Reis continuing to get better and better each month to the point that he's now just as crucial to Johns' ongoling GL story as original artist Ethan Van Schiver, is the pulling of Carol Ferris into the ring wars. While Cowgirl was a perfectly fine placeholder, I've been a big Carol supporter since before Hal even returned. I look forward to their eventual confrontation, but its kind of a letdown when the best thing about a book is clearly something in the future. I've gotten used to Johns wow-ing me plenty each month, but for now this arc wraps up too quickly with little internal struggle and all the best stuff looks to be still ahead of us.

Final score: 2.5 stars out of 5

Written by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway, Art by Jerry Ordway

This arc's first issue left me hopeful for the next couple parts, but Ordway's art takes a bit of a step back this week and Johns story is bogged down in a very uninteresting revision of the history of Billy Batson's family and life leading to Captain Marvel. Several pages in the middle lack any real success in establishing space; the location of characters in relation to one another. You're never entirely sure if the entire contingent of the JSA is even in the same room at any given time. And when they do appear on panel together, the story feels disjointed, like we're skimming to catch up.

There's never a proper setting developed. And while I understand the Rock of Eternity is an incredibly mystical and confusing place, it doesn't help matter to have characters taking turns being thrown or floating into the ether and pulling each other back in turn. The teaser for next week only reinforces the idea that we are going to get deeper into Captain Marvel mythology revision. With so many incredible characters already on this roster, Johns and Ordway aren't doing much to convince me it's worth the time to have more adventures with the Marvel Family.

And after the ending of Final Crisis, it's disappointing to see Mary Marvel again turned into a villain (I thought that was over, is she still possessed by Desaad?) with no real explanation of the why or how. She just shows up and starts knocking Stargirl around without a reason. I'd like to think this will all get pulled together, but I was never a big Captain Marvel fan. And as much as I loved the work Johns did for this title since launch and before that for years on the "JSA" book, maybe its time for some fresh blood. I'd just like one more wonderfully drawn issue by Dale Eaglesham before we go. But we'll have to wait a couple months for that.

Final score: 2 stars out of 5

MIGHTY AVENGERS #22 - "The Writing on the Wall"
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Khoi Pham

From the first issue, I supposed this reboot of an Avengers book was just what I was looking for and something I really don't care for. From instant one where the villain overtakes the world and kills the other two Avengers squad (including Captain America, Ahh!) we knew everything would be reset at the conclusion of this three issue arc. Between the pre-established ending and the glancing over of continuity to get Quicksilver to his starting point as a hero possessed by a demon god, we weren't off to a great start.

But the crew Slott assembled and his reason for doing so rings so true and could be the thing to make this book stand out. New Avengers is where the big action is with the big characters like Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man. Dark Avengers is Thunderbolts 2.0. But here an old school Avengers fan gets together characters that don't steal the headlines because they don't have their own books in several cases. And the idea of fluidity in the roster means we can also jettison anybody that will be limited to telling the more off the beaten path adventures.

The main conflict of a demon god taking over the world is actually less interesting than Hank Pym getting over his inferiority complex, personified overall and in this arc by Tony Stark. Ideally it would be nice to get past this first arc and focus more on the character's that should be here long term: Hank Pym and Jocasta, the Young Avengers' Vision and Stature and a reformed Scarlett Witch. That's going to be the big challenge of the next issue. All the good moments might be for naught if Slott can't pull off the beginning of the redemptive arc of a woman that has seriously screwed around with hundreds of thousands of lives.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5

Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Billy Tan and Various

Bendis, you sneaky little bastard! The set-up for a big fight might have pretty much been the plot of issue #49 and every bit of promotional material released seemed to indicate that Osborn's Dark Avengers and Cap's New (Old) version of the team were headed for a big issue #50 punching-fest in a desparate attempt to jack the book's price up a couple bucks. Well, spoiler alert... the fight never happens.

It makes sense, because the hero's plan to lure Osborn to them is laughable in its predictability and execution, that the bad guys wouldn't show. Instead the big mission of Dark Reign (that the villains of the MarvelU: Loki, the Hood, Dr. Doom are all in league) brings the villain organization run by the Hood into the fray.

While Tan's artwork continues to drag the book into mediocrity, so I'm all in favor of the decision to use a massive amount of guest artists to tell the story of the battle from each Avenger's point of view. The double splash page by Bryan Hitch that starts the multi-artist procedure was a bit of a let down given my stratospheric expectations for him. Most of the others are fine with the work of David Aja, Alex Maleev, Steve McNiven and Steve Epting rising above the rest.

The highlight of the book is Bendis' conclusion, where Clint Barton goes on television to take a stand against the world seemingly forgetting the man in charge of an international peace-keeping initiative is violent sociopath and a murderer, in fact a super-villain. It actually puts the big fight to shame... one guy sitting in front of a camera talking. It's that good a speech.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5

SUPERMAN #685 - "The Long Goodbye"
Written by James Robinson, Art by Javier Pina

It's not so much of a long goodbye. It's actually far, far too quick and try as he might, Robinson just can't make it work convincingly. Sure enough, the arrival of Mon-El and the nice little deus ex machina to avoid his rather quick death is resolved almost without any explanation in the first six pages and requires no wonderous action by the main hero besides sticking his head in the next room and having the solution handed to him. I know we're being set-up for an ongoing mystery, but it makes Superman look stupid. Stupid that he never realized the solution was literally right in front of him the entire time and rather cuckolded that he does nothing of consequence. Not to mention the fact that it yet again completely craps all over Legion continuity, just as it appeared the Legion of 3 Worlds might help standardize it.

Pina's faces are just awful, looking either utterly blank or rendered in the most simplistic of expressions. But he does do a nice job with the final splash page of Superman flying away in the background and Lois in the foreground.

Everything comes off as the most forced and editorial mandated muck since J. Michael Strazynski's One More Day arc in "Spider-Man." The motivations for Superman leaving Earth to live on New Krypton could have been much better explained and handled with a more deft touch. Perhaps Robinson was frustrated being pulled in too many directions or he was too anxious to get onto his stories with Mon-El and the Guardian running things in Metropolis.

While I'm sure Superman: World of New Krypton will be a change of pace, I'm not sure if it's the right one. Does DC really want to write out Superman from most of their stories (which they had better - this entire enterprise will seem pointless if he's still in Justice League or making guest appearance every other week) and the same time Batman is on a half-year hiatus? After a few years of great Geoff Johns stories in Action Comics, I just remain hesitant about this new direction and thoroughly unimpressed with everything since the conclusion of the Braniac arc.

Final score: 1.5 stars out of 5

WONDER WOMAN #29 - "A Changed World"
Written by Gail Simone, Art by Aaron Lopresti

Well, we're supposed to be one month away from the big reveal of the new champion of the Olympians and I will give Simone this: she isn't letting up on dragging Diana through the trenches from almost every direction. Between the machinations of Dr. Psycho and Cheetah taking the fight to Wonder Woman, Genecide's continued rampage (and command of the lasso), Jason and Euphemus declaring war on America's navy, Zeus assaulting and beating of Milohai, the deity that supported Diana while the Greeks were away and the kidnapping of Diana's best friend. She's had a tough week. It's nice to finally see our old buddy Steve Trevor show up again since his dear wife Etta Candy has been kicking ass and taking names alongside Diana for months now.

Lopresti certainly shines with the old dual fight editing we've seen often enough before. The biggest problem with this style is the repeating of images or visual elements and character movement. Until the last page of the issue, Lopresti does a fine job avoiding that pitfall as often as possible.

My one complaint about the issue is the quick way the Donna Troy rejects Diana. It's painfully obvious that something else will eventually be revealed to explain her massive uncharacteristic reaction (either the after-effects of Genecide or something more), but it would have been better to play it with a softer touch while still in the middle of so many other significant events.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5

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