Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's Comic Time! (3/11/09)

Things pick up a bit this week with new issues of G.I. Joe and Fables. The biggest title this week is the beginning of finding a new Batman... even if delays have prevented the last one from wrapping up first. The latest issue of the greatest monthly there is, Ex Machina, is still a month away, so another special fills the time. Action Comics begins a world without its regular star and a couple of Marvel titles round out the week. As always, please beware the spoilers below the cut. They're very sharp.

Comic Reviews for the Week of 03/11/2009

ACTION COMICS #875 - "The Sleepers"
Written by Greg Rucka, Art by Eddy Barrows

And so the latest version of a world without Superman begins. And as bad as the build-up starting with the arrival of New Krypton, this issue actually improves a little over the first issue of the World of New Krypton maxi-series. I might actually crack a smile if James Robinson continues this trend on Superman. Rucka's book focuses on the characters of Nightwing and Flamebird that have been popping up here and there in the DCU for a few months now. And while the reveal of their identities makes very, very little sense, Rucka does a fine job with both. The former head of Kryptonian security, Thara, who apparently has some history with the group's first villain (Ursa) is running an assault of various sleeper agents the Kryptonians have set up on Earth. And ignoring the set-up in previous issues and how sleeper agents have been established in the two or three weeks since they were freed from Brainiac's ship, it's a fun plot that gives these new characters an immediate and traceable goal.

The other member of this new duo, Nightwing (not the Dick Grayson version), is actually a rapidly aging Chris Kent. Hopefully, that growth will end shortly. We don't need another SuperMAN. I certainly turned around on the idea pretty quick. But now the book doesn't feel like an ultra-compressed editorial-mandated exercise in plot summary. And Rucka's a good enough writer to get this unfamiliar storyline rolling and Barrow's art adds a good sense of depth and understanding to each scene. His facial expressions are terrific... so much so that Lois Lane manages to make an impact in only two or three panels with no dialogue.

As far as the decision to age Chris Kent... I have to say I'm not sold on it. The idea of a SuperKid was too fun to only last a couple months. But Teens will have to do. At least things aren't as confusing and morose as Supergirl has been for years now. After one month though, its looking like a fun ride.

Final score: B-

BATMAN: BATTLE FOR THE COWL #1 (of 3) - "A Hostile Takeover"
Written and Art by Tony Daniel

While it would have been nice if Andy Kubert could have finished Neil Gaiman's last Bruce Wayne arc before this started off, I won't waste time complaining about another title here. Batman's regular artist, Daniel takes up the writing duties and while he makes it all look fabulous as usual, the writing's a nice surprise. He's no Morrison (I mean that in a good way), but he spins a nice yarn out of what for me at least is a simple concept. See... there always has been and will be one rightful successor to Bruce Wayne and that's the first Robin, Dick Grayson.

It's a novel concept that without the threat of Batman, Gotham is spiraling downward with gang wars and violence in the streets. That even Nightwing (Grayson version here), Robin, Damien Wayne, the Knight and Squire, Huntress, Black Canary, Wildcat, the Man-Bat, Batwoman and Batgirl are having trouble holding back the tide is a little hard to believe. But the ante is certainly upped in short order with Black Mask freeing most of Batman's rogues gallery and destroying Arkham.

Robin actually puts on the costume this week, but I don't think that will last. Tim's still a bit young. I mean, who would be his Robin? And even his voice-over indicates it isn't his job to have. The main theme of the series seems to be getting Dick over his grief and accept his destiny/responsibility. With everything set-up in this first issue, it looks to be a fast-paced and eventful little series here. Honestly, it felt like there was enough action for a longer series. As long as the resolution isn't tacked on in the eleventh hour, everything might just work out for a nice reboot of the Batman series here.

Final score: A-

EX MACHINA: Special #4 - "Grassroots"
Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Art by John Paul Leon

I couldn't be much happier to have Vaughn become such a success in Hollywood, working on Lost and whatever other projects chance his fancy. But for now the man has some unfinished business. And this special can't help but feel like filler. It's been three months since the last regular issue of this title and at least another month to go before the next. And even if the issue is better than most of the titles of the shelf, it isn't quite on par with a regular issue.

Any of the special fill-in artists fall short of series regular Tony Harris. The book is as much his as it is Vaughn's. So the credible, but fairly basic approach this month just doesn't live up to the type of expectations this book normally has.

This issue's story does a fine job setting Mayor Hundred in a more realistic setting with a villain that doesn't rely on anything more than insanity to cause problems in the Big Apple. Unfortunately, the regular background characters seem stuck a bit more on the periphery, but that's to be expected with Vaughn introducing new characters, resolving their stories and still give Hundred time to shine. And of course, the mandatory flashback to the gold old Great Machine days. And that flashback is the highlight of the issue, the one scene where the artwork really popped for me.

Final score: B

FABLES #82 - "Waiting For the Blues"
Written by Bill Willingham, Art by David Hahn

What the heck is this??? A standard rule of thumb when you have a guest artist whose characters looks almost nothing like the readers expect, you should probably make sure the colorist is at least consistent. From the first page I'm soured on this issue because of a red-haired Beauty and a Beast that looks dark-skinned. Basically I thought it was Rose Red and Sinbad. And that's just the start of problems. The entire book has no more impressive art than a newspaper cartoon... and a bad one at that.

And Willingham's script is all over the place, setting up far too many ideas and visiting too many characters. The dialogue between Beast and Bigby at the end of the issue is just awful and does a poor job setting up the next month's confrontation. It's like reading a bad episode of Heroes with people fighting for no real reason... at least none that the writer presents convincingly. I know it's a comic book, but this is the type of disjointed crap you'd expect out of bad Teen Titans issue... certainly not the book I used to call the best on the stands. This issue is the type that reminds me that I once said something similar to the Daredevil movie.

For a while now, I've thought that the first 50 issues were probably planned out ahead of time, but ever since then, Fables has been drifting along like a ship without a rudder.

Final score: D

G.I. Joe #3
Written by Chuck Dixon, Art by Robert Atkins

Three issues in and I've come to accept the biggest problem with this reboot of one of my favorite franchises. The stories might have restarted, but the characters are still the same. It's the same problem I had with much of Marvel's Ultimate line. If the new world and characters aren't very unique from the source material, then we just end up with a long and drawn out journey down roads we've already traveled. We know Snake Eyes is a good guy. We know the Baroness and Destro will end up together. Even with Cobra out of sight and mind for the time being, there's still too many different plots each month. So instead of one arc being significantly explored and developed, we end up with five or six spinning their wheels.

The fight between Baroness and Destro isn't very interesting because so little is shown. Perhaps ten or fifteen seconds of a fight makes it seem rather unimportant. Too much time is spent with the Joes shooting at robot spiders... wait, don't get your hopes up, it wasn't that interesting. Let's just say that a couple little toys with guns built into them probably wasn't the "Grab the audience by the neck and never let go" opening action scene this book needed.

A bigger problem for the book is the light and airy tone. The book looks too much like a cartoon and I certainly prefer the darker and moodier approach we say at the start of the America's Elite book. Right now, this main book is far less enjoyable than Larry Hama's Origins book, which actually feels like a fresh approach to the line, which has been more exciting in its one issue than the three of this one.

Final score: C-

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #23 - "Escape From the Eighth City: Chapter Two"
Written by Duane Swierczynski, Art by Travel Foreman and Various

Maybe it's because I've been pretty uninvolved with Marvel lately, but that's only made my return the last few months all the more enjoyable. And nothings been more fun than catching up with Swierczynski's Iron Fist saga. This latest issue picks up with the Immortal Weapons trapped in their Hell Prison. After taking care of the set-up last month, this issue focuses more on the beginnings of an escape. A cute trick is introduced to allow the various prisoners to communicate with each other. By the end of the issue, however, they've disregarded it to a degree. But hopefully the messages they leave one another will come back into play.

Foreman's art seems a bit rushed this month, nailing the fight scenes, but little else. And the final page focuses more on the background then it needed to. It really ruins the effect of the splash page. But when the fight scenes work, they're bloody, ultra-violent and fun. And the various guest artists are very strong, especially the opening three pages by Tonci Zonjic.

Another thing the issue does well is establishing the threat of this city in more detail than the brief opening segments in the previous issue. It's nice to see a problem that can't just be punched a few times to be defeated. As long as Swierczynski keeps the main arcs relatively short the book is fine. He still hasn't proven he could manage a full six issue arc like his predecessor on the title, Matt Fraction. And even after only two issues, I don't think this story has more than two issues left in it.

Final score: B+

Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Salvador Larroca

Speaking of Matt Fraction, he's done a pretty damn good job repairing the image of Tony Stark. For so long he's been the resident butt-pirate of the Marvel Universe, it's nice to see him take his share of beatings avoiding Big Brother Osborne. This month's friendly showdown with War Machine comes off as pretty exciting even though we know it won't go too far. And

Larocca's art remains a strong selling point for this title. It's not perfect, but the issue works best with the characters in sleek and stylish armor. That approach helps hide the fact that most of his faces look too much alike and bodies are rather clunky. But a guy barreling through the sky in a shiny metal suit... that's right in his wheelhouse.

Between Pepper beginning to get a handle on her Iron Woman armor (I promise that isn't nearly as corny as it sounds), Maria Hill off doing her spy thing in Texas and a guest appearance by Henry Helrung (star of The Order), Fraction continues to keep the book from relying fully on Stark. It's sometimes a fine line between things dragging out without end and getting too distracted with too many plots. Here the characters are more complimentary than distracting and things hum along nicely in this classic Man on the Run tale.

Final score: B

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