X-Factor #5 (Marvel):
Ryan Sook has officially left the building on interior art chores. Ryan, you'll be missed! I gotta' represent for the hometown San Jose boys done good! Dennis Calero is of course not my first preference as artist, but it is very refrshing to see a single artist work throughout an issue. By the end, I was appreciating his consistent style. All in all, this issue was fucking hot! What a creepy captor Siryn has! Very uncomfortable and disturbing dialogue, which is a tribute to Peter David's scripting ability, the notion that he can provoke an intense emotional response. He excels at these personality driven stories that focus on the effects of events on people's fragile psyches. Our relief comes with such a sweet, private, quiet, shared moment at the end, as Rictor carries Siryn off to safety. I was having a conversation over IM with a coworker as I wrote this and we were discussing how middle ground books seem to be the majority and the exceptional works are on the fringe minority. This book proves that the safe stuff like Ultimate Fantastic Four and Iron Man this week are basically boring and forgettable, while something like this sticks with you and requires further thought. That's art. Grade A.New Avengers #17 (Marvel):
Crappy, awkward, and flawed are the lexicon for this issue. Downright ugly pencils from Mike Deodato (who I used to really like), rough panel to panel transitions that pushed me out of the story asking "wait, what just happened?" along with some inconsistent looks for different characters. The most annoying thing about the art? Very odd camera placement that skewed the perspective to make 8 year old kids look nearly as tall as Wolverine or Spider-Woman. But surprisingly, the most annoying things here weren't even the art! Bendis' script was absolutely phoned in. "Russell, where you been all after--" should have read "Russell, where you been after all--" (presumably "these years"), but the last 2 words are transposed. That's just laziness, from either the writer or the editor. "Stop dealin'. Stop the hustle. Or we will beat the hell from you." We will beat the hell from you?
What the hell does that even mean? Bendis can usually capture pretty convincing "street" dialogue, but this fell short. As does the whole "Luke Cage: Ghetto Enforcer" riff. Like I guess I can see Cap saying, "Hey Luke, you wanna' lead this mission? It was your idea after all." But Luke Cage as Avengers' paterfamilias *still* reads a bit awkward. And then there just happens to be a camera crew there which serves as nothing more than a framing device for Cap's expository explanation of what's going on. Which brings us to the core premise of "impact police work" as Luke Cage calls it. I hate to break out the old Criminal Justice degree here, but umm, yeah, they actually tried that in LA in the 70's and 80's and proved that it doesn't work. All it does is temporarily displace crime to another neighborhood, the overall rates usually stay flat. In some cases, it even escalated the recidivism rate because criminals would be encouraged to commit additional crime when the cops left their part of the 'hood. But I digress. Next problem. Yeah, so great pains are taken to inform us that the X-Men and FF are busy and that Alpha Flight is down. Aren't there like dozens of reserve Avengers?! Just broadcast the distress call, man. The simplest, most elegant solution is conveniently ignored. Last item, before I grow weary of this crapfest... If the fate of the world is in my hands and I have to select a leader of "Team Two" to go back to the inbound SHIELD Helicarrier and figure out how to stop this threat, and my choices are eternal doofus Peter Parker, or brilliant inventor, skilled military tactician, and CEO of a major international defense contracted corporation, Tony Stark, I'm betting the farm I'd select Tony. But no, we get Peter. For no other reason than to prove this issue is deserving of Grade D-.Ultimate Fantastic Four #28 (Marvel):
Not much to say here. Spectacular art rendering. Nifty idea to explore that Ben, as the only non-superhuman, would be the media star. All in all, crafted very well, but there's just something flat about it. Perhaps it's knowing that all of this time travel, extra dimensional hoo-ha is going to be null and void in a couple issues anyway, so it's hard to be too terribly engaged by it. Grade B.Nextwave #3 (Marvel):
Not as in-your-face funny as previous issues, but still a blast. This is just good old fashioned entertainment which shuns the decompressed storytelling technique and cuts right to the chase. It's all about what is happening, not how we got there. Look to the sign that says "Very Small School With Lovely Children Inside" as evidence. That's really all the explanation we need in a book like this, isn't it? It gets us right where we need to be in a single, smirk-inducing panel. And I don't know, there's something very Hemingway-esque about Dirk Anger. "I'm so alone" is such a crisp, short, declarative moment. Stuart Immonen offers up some great action sequences with Tabitha. "Drive on the proper side of the road, Colonial scum!" reminds us that Ellis just wants to give us a fun, intelligent ride. Literary analysis of Toto's song "Africa" in lieu of a letter column? Ha! Grade A-.Iron Man: The Inevitable #4 (Marvel):
Despite a lot of action, felt a little flat. I'm kind of starting to lose sight of what the focus of the story throughline is, but I'll blame that on feeling incredibly under the weather and not Joe Casey. I kept doing the shoulder-shrug "so what?" move that I was doing with UFF up above. For now, Grade B.Squadron Supreme #1 (Marvel):
We start with a very believable review of the team via a military briefing that reads seamless instead of expository. Straczynski then pulls off an amazing balancing act, bringing new readers and long-time fans alike quickly up to speed on the team's past. He introduces new characters, facilitates a transition to a new line of books, and weaves in strong doses of governmental control, coercion, and media spin, such as "friend of the Earth" instead of "alien" in reference to Mark Milton. Found it... interesting... the way Kingsley can't be naked anymore because the public won't understand, of course it has nothing to do with switching from the MAX line. Which sort of begs the question, did we pull of the switch and maintain the book's gritty edge? A resounding yes! I'm glad to see there are still some challenging concepts to be found here, despite the title moving away from a "mature" line of books. Grappling with those difficult concepts was really the hook and heart of this series, not the occasional exposed breast or f-word. Gary Frank's art is as strong as ever, brilliant details in the fore and backgrounds, revealing facial expressions, and believable proportions of characters. The last minute curve ball makes for an impressive new debut. Grade A.Supermarket #2 (IDW):
Beautiful establishing shot on the first page. I wasn't really taken by the first issue, but my Brian Wood high from DMZ and Local compelled me to return. My faith in the writer was rewarded, glad I was here for this issue! I like that Wood is now positioning his anti-establishment narrative as being more embedded in the character's internal monologue as opposed to him just "soapboxing" directly at the audience. Kristian's art is very solid, the mad dash out of the library was so kinetic, it reminded me of the animated sequences in the movie Run Lola Run. It's easy to empathize with the lead character as we find out more about what's going on right along side her, like the parents' vidmail from beyond the grave. Nice semi-twist to see our protagonist caught in the middle of a presumed showdown between the warring Yakuza clan and the Swedish Porno Guild. I like the ending shot which leaves us with a strong message of being off and running on this adventure. Also, cool ads for John Law and the next issue of Popbot! Grade A-.