Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's Comic Time! (3/25/09)

DC makes a comeback this week with James Robinson launching his first post-Superman Superman. Meanwhile, our good buddies at Marvel pound out a couple new Avengers books and Cap and Matt Murdock continue to impress with every new issue. So let's pound through some comics.

Comic Reviews for Week of 03-25-2009

CAPTAIN AMERICA #48 - "Old Enemies and Friends: Part 3"
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Butch Guice

Considering how many books get substantively better or worse with each month or every change of a creative team, Captain America has been a consistent rare gem throughout Brubaker's four-plus year run. And with Guice continuing to impress in this small arc, the title now has backup artist. If there's one drawback this week, it's his tendency to make the setting too dark. In an attempt to match Steve Epting's moody approach, the fight scene ends up a bit less exciting than it could have been. But at least it isn't as prominent as it was in the first two issues of the arc.

The rescue of the remains of the Human Torch from an opponent Cap faced as Winter Soldier was an excellent narrative device to help Bucky move past that portion of his life and embrace more of who he was during his days with Steve Rogers and the Invaders. The exciting and sometimes comical appearance of old teammate Namor was a good decision to build upon that main theme.

As good as this book is, I expect it to cost us in the coming months. We're only two issues away from #50 and then a little number realignment to follow-up with #600. But nobody says good things come cheap.

Final score: B

DAREDEVIL #117 - "The Return of the King: Part One"
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Michael Lark

It's both costly and utterly enjoyable whenever Brubaker's two big books land the same week. As good as any writer in comics, his run with Lark on Daredevil has become worthy of comparison to the Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis Eras. While I might question the decision to bring back one of the definitive New York-based villains so soon after his latest exodus, it at least separates this issue for hype if nothing else.

Our main problem this week is the cover. As you can tell by looking above Daredevil and the Kingpin aren't exactly coming to blows over the attacks on each by the Hand. They very well may before the conclusion of the story line, but for now this issue seems more like a second consecutive prelude to the action of the arc.

The writing is as crisp as ever this month and Lark raises his game significantly with an issue set in the middle of a huge snowstorm. And even if there isn't a single substantive fight scene, I;m enjoying both the nice slow burn building up the drama and the ever-present burdens in Murdock's life that continue to drag out from the loss of his wife's sanity (and custody). And the development of his romance with Dakota North has brought another strong character to the regular background. Hopefully, she can avoid any run-ins with Bullseye-like individuals, now that she's grown on Matt and the readers.

Final Score: B-

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #24 - "Li Park, The Reluctant Weapon Vs. Unstoppable Forces of Evil"
Written by Duane Swierczynski, Art by Kano

And another wonderful tradition continues! So many comics fall into the standard six-issue arc ruts, this title continues to do a great job breaking that type of thing up. Even with a strong lead and plenty of other supporting roles, the trip through time to cover the history of another Iron Fist. This version is probably the most original approach (excluding the Iron Fist of the distant future, of course) yet. A pacifist artists, Park, is only selected due to a massive plague and he tricks, rather than defeats, the dragon to claim his place as an Immortal Weapon.

Perhaps it's a bit of a right wing fantasy when he realizes that sometimes you need to forget the thinking and kick some butt. It's somewhat redeeming to have his ultimate victory involve retreating with the survivors of a slaughter and wandering for a decade. To stand out, these one shots stand out, we need a deeper approach than good guy starts, beats bad guy and goes home and the pacifist angle certainly makes it all seem fresh. And yes, I am glad I finished discussing the book without having to write out Swierczynski.

Final score: B-

MIGHTY AVENGERS #23 - "Three Words"
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Khoi Pham

After the painful experience of Osborn's Dark Avengers, the return of the old-school, classic Avengers vibe of this title was just the fix I needed. Wrapping a nice and tidy three-issue story, this latest team concept is right up my alley. Vision and Stature were far and away my favorite members of the Young Avengers, the Hulk is used in limited quantities to hit Gods and what-not, and this title takes the first interesting crack at Hank Pym (as the second-smartest guy in the room with a big chip on his shoulder) in... well, ever. Oh, and we all get to revel in what a jackass Tony Stark is.

And despite promises of numerous changes in roster throughout Slott's run, hopefully we can get used to these characters a bit. So much time is spent in these three issues establishing the threat, getting the players in place, setting up a second villain, defeating the first, establishing and developing the tension between Stark and Pym, etc., etc. Most interactions seem hollow (including all references to Daughtry), but hopefully that will improve as we see more of a cast that's been mostly ignored by other titles for several years.

But the big problem is Pham's style. It's too hectic in the action with so few things even looking clear with a general lack of movement. The problem is most prevalent in the face where's no real sense of emotion.

The big final reveal of the issue is the actual identity of a founding member of this newest team of Avengers. While the callback to the good old days is worth a smirk, it will most likely be resolved quickly because it violates Slott's main thesis for a team of characters without significant ties to other books. Hopefully it won't kill too much time in this team gelling together to deal with and resolve the impostor. For a creative team that zipped out a quick three issue story, Slott still seems to be dragging his feet too much.

Final score: C+

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

It takes an issue full of other artists to remind me how awkward and lifeless most of Tan's work appears to be. Especially in light of the stellar opening pages by Chris Bachalo, where his take of the hell-reality of the demon Dormammu makes the most of a limited amount of room. Nobody does tortured souls and a harsh reality like the sharp lines of Bachalo. His pages throughout are without a doubt the highlight of the issue. It's that scene and the conversation between Dr. Strange and Wiccan of Young Avengers (man they sure are getting around since their book shows no signs of coming back) that highlights the issue. Most of the scenes with the actual Avengers team are just killing time to pace out the story here in the first issue of a new arc. All the interesting things happen to characters that aren't featured on the main team.

The majority of the book belongs to Tan, who doesn't differentiate well between gender, facial expressions, panel positions... it's like looking evokes words like Finch-ian.

Hey, remember when Spider-Man's identity was known to numerous members of the hero and villain community? Remember the biggest event in the pages of Civil War was him revealing his identity to the world? Remember how Marvel retconned that change like 15 seconds later with Brand New Day? Well, now he reveals his identity to the Avengers... this has all happened crappily before and... yada yada yada.

Bendis deserves some credit for pulling our attention away from the significance of the reveal by diverting into one of his on-occasion amusing side-track discussions. And here it works for the most part, Jessica Jones' reaction to Peter Parker manages to massage the moment into the background. It annoys me less. And I suppose that's something at least.

Final score: C-

SUPERMAN #686 - "Yesterday and Tomorrow"
Written by James Robinson, Art by Renato Guedes

Even after the mediocre job building up the movement of Superman to New Krypton, the decent start to the World of New Krypton maxi-series and very strong opening in Action Comics' World Without Superman actually had me near giddy to see what Robinson could do without forcing in the beats of an editorial staff. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the weakest of the three. I still have faith that Robinson can improve things, but for now he's still wasting time in the past with Superman telling Guardian, Mon-El, Jimmy Olsen and Steel. The further this book moves away from the Man of Steel and establishes it's own identity, the better. With only a year to tell these stories before the big guy returns, we're looking at two or three main arcs and then time's up.

Guedes isn't one of my preferred artists, but the care he takes with his splash pages and a very impressive establishing image of Ironworks highlights the issue. He's also handles the addition of shadows nicely, establishing differences between interior and exterior scenes and times of day. They might be a little too prevalent, but at least isn't a big distraction and adds an extra dimension to visualizing the cityscape.

Mon-El's secret identity is annoying on several levels. Why does he take the last name Kent? To annoy me by flaunting some of the inherent kookiness of the Superman mythology. Why does is take a job with the Science Police? It's retreading the same ground we've seen Wonder Woman cover in previous years. Some of his better ideas revolve around the ways he makes characters unique. Harper isn't touched on too much, but Mon-El as a man with nearly the power of Superman, but no experience. If Superman battled Rampage, he'd know exactly how far he could go without killing her and his strategy would never leave a human not being hurt to chance. But for now we've got a kid learning the ropes. I can only hope him joining the SP will tie a couple of stories together and let Harper get a little more face time and become something more than a guy in yellow and blue giving orders to cops. Ah well, nobody ever built a background overnight.

Final score: C

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