Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wow Them in the End and You've Got a Hit

The New Thunderbolts team make some very well-shaded Avengers and yet another Bat-book shuts down for the indefinite future. Robert Kirkman takes a nice break from the ongoing arcs in Invincible and one of two X-books we review this week sufficiently blows my mind-hole for a second month in a row.

As always, spoilers below the post, but in an effort not to get on Peter David's bad side I won't mention the big one.

Comic Reviews for Week of 02/18/09

Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Mike Deodato

In the latest Bendis take on Marvel's mightiest franchise, I just can't help but think of it as the flashier and less substantive evolution of "Thunderbolts." That series' penciller Mike Deodato's still here with his overly prevalent shadows, which certainly helps this Avengers book live up to its moniker visually. There's not an easy way to voice my problems with this book without being a bit hypocritical, but Bendis moves things too fast. After dragging out the start of "New Avengers" for more than a year assembling his "original" line-up, here Bendis throws them all together into their new status quo and jumps straight to the requisite big fight.

The difference was that in "New Avengers," we were dealing with a more established rosters of stars like Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, etc. that we had known for years and the more marginal members like Ronin and Sentry were advanced over time... a lot of time. Here, we have a new Wolverine who has only been introduced in a book that nobody reads, a new Captain Marvel only seen in a pair of miniseries, a war god whose paper-thin character was never fleshed out in the "Mighty Avengers" title and numerous other characters in new uniforms. And there just isn't much time to get the characters down.

Bendis decided to dive into the deep end of the pool here with rather unestablished characters. To take that road, you better have a kick-ass villain to take down. And let's just say that Morgan Le Fay (wearing a dress that can never cover more than one hip at a time) isn't that much more interesting than the naked female Ultron that kicked off the similar approach of "Mighty Avengers."

Back to Deodato's art for a moment, while it's obviously a very detailed and impressive effort, the attempt to darken the mood is taken about three steps too far. The shadows do more to obscure the characters and their expressions than set the mood. And of course, I'll be the 5,000th review to mention that his Norman Osborn being played by Tommy Lee Jones still pulls me out of every issue.

Final score: 1.5 stars out of 5

Written by Robert Kirkman, Art by Ryan Ottley

Rather than spending an issue setting up the Image crossover event taking place in issue #60, Kirkman takes a side trip to tell a relatively compact story from the perspective of a new villain. A very nice job is done setting up the motivations of Powerplex and we can understand how he was driven to become a "villain" and how he remains a hero in his own eyes, as most well-developed antagonists are. But the idea of his happy and picturesque suburban family being down with the plan as well and so... cute about it... comes off as untrue.

Of course the eventual payoff of that somewhat unrealistic part of the story doesn't have the impact emotionally that it could. It hurts that his wife doesn't have any of the same anger towards Invincible until the final scene. If she felt some more of her husband's pain convincingly enough, we'd be able to be more invested in it. I do have to credit Kirkman for showing a similar amount of guts in showing the same maturity of plot here as in the far more violent "The Walking Dead."

And I do enjoy that unlike the last few issues before number 50, the next big event in the title isn't taking over months of storyline. And it's a credit to the universe that Kirkman and Ottley have built up that they can so often break away from the title character more often than you might think they could.

Final score: 2.5 stars out of 5

ROBIN #183 - "Robin Dies at Dawn"
Written by Fabian Nicieza, Art by Freddie Williams II

Like the recent conclusion of the "Nightwing" title, another of the Bat-books wrapped up this week. A couple did actually, but since I left "Birds of Prey" shortly after Gail Simone, we'll stick with the Boy Wonder this week. The mostly introspective vibe of the Bat-books recently continues without getting too deep into their relationship with Bruce. Nicieza sets up his story behind Tim Drake reflecting on the friends and women in his life before a battle with Lady Shiva.

Not to be all spoiler-ish and shit, but Tim lives and the resolution to the fight is a nice nod to where Tim's greatest strengths lie. He isn't the martial artist on par with Shiva, or Batman or Nightwing either for that matter. But he's now the best detective in the DC Universe... that isn't stuck in the Cretaceous period.

Williams has been a staple for this title for a few years now and maintains his normal standard of adequate, but somewhat cartoon-ish appearances. And two big bonuses to Nicieza are reverting the Bat-signal that was stupidly transformed into a Robin-signal at the end of the last issue and actually making his Origins and Omens back-up story stand up on its own.

Final score: 2.5 stars out of 5

Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Terry and Rachel Dodson

Since Whedon and Cassaday checked out, "Astonishing X-Men" has failed to impress in even the slightest. The formerly adjective-less book now follows the mostly isolated adventures of Charles Xavier and most of the others have just been painful. The one standout in quality has been this title with storylines that significantly effect the remaining mutants of the Marvel Universe as they settle in San Francisco. The recent change from Greg (The Tracer) Land to the Dodsons for the full-time art duties has resulted in one of the better looking books on the shelves.

Fraction continues to balance several intriguing threads between Colussus getting over the loss of Kitty Pryde, the future of the mutant race in society and Emma being torn between being standing besides Cyclops while leading the mutant race and signing on with Norman Osborn's Dark Reign shenanigans. The dual journeys of these two characters questioning themselves has paralleled one another nicely and its refreshing to see these characters team up by the end of this month's issue.

However, Beast's assembling of a rogue coalition of mad scientists to solve the problems of creating a new generation of mutants, has been a little distracting. Those scenes would probably play a lot better if they weren't so condensed amongst everything else going on the last few months. The characters could use a little more time to breath and honestly inter-cutting this storyline with the events in San Fran distracts from both.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5

X-FACTOR #40 - "Slings and Arrows"
Written by Peter David, Art by Valentine de Landro

Ay Caramba! I have to tip my hat to Mr. David here for salvaging the book. The last several months before issue #39 came out, "X-Factor" had become unreadable. The art by Larry Stroman was perhaps the worst I've ever seen in a comic. I couldn't comment too much on the story since I really couldn't get through the once fantastic book on a monthly basis. But I wasn't counting on one thing... our old buddy Peter David.

Big spoiler alert for the previous issue: this month picks up some time after David revealed Siryn and Madrox's newborn son, Sean, as the spawn of a duplicate which he promptly and permanently reabsorbed. Outcast from his former friends and teammates at X-Factor Investigations, our now beard-sporting former fearless leader Madrox has apparently walked from Detroit to St. Paul. As much as I'd like him to have adventures wandering the earth like Kane in Kung Fu... David has been all about pushing the story forward as promptly as possible lately. The premise of the issue, that Madrox goes to confront the dupe he left to be an Episcopalian minister about the child he was able to touch, confirming it seems that the child is not actually the dupe's son. And even if the preacher isn't a real person... he still carries that Multiple Man-angst fairly well.

The art by De Landro might be nothing exceptional, but compared to what this title has suffered through recently can't help but appear spectacular in comparison. I honestly hope he remains indefinitely since the quality of art in the book hasn't been this high in at least a year.

The final twist... for the second straight month, David pulls something and begs us not to reveal. While this month's ending is properly built up throughout the book so it isn't just coming out of nowhere, it is something a bit more common than the baby's fate was. We've seen this kind of surprise moment before, so it isn't exactly breaking any new ground. And this new twist is a set-up for a continuing story, and lacks both the instantaneous emotional payoff and the sense of resolution we had before. To sum it up, last month was WOW, this month is wow. But still... wow.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5

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