9.26.07 Reviews

Immortal Iron Fist #9 (Marvel): What I came to appreciate most about this issue (and this arc, by extension) is the deceptively subtle, but really grand concept of The 7 Mystical Cities converging on an interlocking plane to form The Heart of Heaven. In the hands of lesser writers, this would seem like a bunch of mystical mumbo jumbo, but instead of sounding like empty made up hoo-ha, it really plays nicely, providing an ethereal vibe to the intense, kinetic, and inventive kung fu action layouts that Aja's art pushes foward. I found myself grinning ear to ear as I once again found the red circles indicating strike points that first made me fall in love with Aja’s art in the Civil War: Choosing Sides story. It was also a nifty bonus to discover Danny's “sister” in the form of his predecessor’s daughter. On the scripting end, tying Luke and the new Heroes for Hire back in as their quest for Jeryn continues was also a nice treat. Grade A.

Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1 (Marvel): This was sort of a throw back to the lost art of the annual. It expands the mythos and history of the titular character in a fairly significant way, but is not so obtrusive that missing it hinders one's enjoyment of the main title. There's also the reveal of a really important point (unbeknownst to me at least, as a passive Iron Fist fan up until this point). Healing powers!? By merely touching Ernst Erskine, the healing properties of the dragon granted (some would say cursed) him with unnaturally long life, ala Tom Hanks in The Green Mile. The artistic rotations were a nice treat (the Dan Brereton cover bringing to mind his ThrillKiller fun), but was still a bit jarring since the styles were so wildly different. Grade A-.

Justice League of America #13 (DC): Joe Benitez's pencil lines come off kind of wonky and erratic at first glance, but then they grow on you and settle into a lean, clean look. Check out Dr. Light, who for once looks cool and menacing instead of just… well, lame. Dwayne McDuffie might not carry the “star” power that former scribe Brad Meltzer did, but I’m already warming to his writing style much better. His script flows with an affable, naturalistic ease and the dialogue is playful but serious, in a way that the over the top multi-thread narration of Meltzer just never did without feeling like blatant grandstanding. This creative team could be one to watch. Grade B+.


9.19.07 Reviews

Wasteland #12 (Oni Press): There’s just no other way to say it, all hell breaks loose this issue! The city gate is under siege, lies are told, some bonds are strengthened while some begin to dissolve, old alliances are tested while new ones are seeded, the council’s hold on the city comes under fire, conspiracies are revealed, and faulty assumptions are made while disinformation is spread. How Johnston and Mitten can make a book so dense with such weighty concepts and juggle so many plot threads, while simultaneously making it read so smooth and linear as it jumps from scene to scene is like a craftsman’s tutorial in scripting and panel to panel storytelling. Special thanks again to the gang at Oni Press for including a pull quote from 13 Minutes on the back cover! Grade A.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1 (Dark Horse): I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed this more than the FCBD sample, which actually read a little flat to me, despite much critical praise. I loved the flashes forward and back through time. With an assist from Gerard “My Chemical Romance” Way and budding pop star artist Gabriel “Casanova” Ba, Dark Horse may be properly positioned to have another BPRD-like hit on their hands with a heaping dose of familial dynamics and a dash of interstellar intrigue. Grade A.

Ex Machina #30 (DC/Wildstorm): In many ways, this felt like a return back to Ex Machina’s roots. The political monologues are still present and appreciated for their ability to raise the level of public social debate, but are also nicely intertwined with the adventures and plot devices, rather than just a series of talking heads walking around the mansion. Grade A.

Checkmate #18 (DC): In a similar return to greatness, Rucka pours on the tight scripting and engaging dialogue, with a set of complex but easy to follow plot threads boasting reserved political intrigue and wild espionage thrills. If only the art were upgraded slightly and consistently, this would easily be in "A" range. As is, Grade B+.

World War Hulk #4 (Marvel): There are some grand spectacle style fight sequences to be found here as The Hulk pushes the retribution so far that even his cadre of interplanetary cohorts begs him to stop. Entertaining, if a little over the top. Grade B.

I also picked up;

Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality (DC): Simply put, the best mini-series from DC in a long, long time. Bravo to DC for publishing this independent of The Spectre lead story (which was a real stinker) that made up the Tales of the Unexpected book. In addition to some downright endearing characters, the creative team gives us a tight deconstruction of storytelling, with actual creations taking on their creators in self-aware and fourth wall breaking hilarity. Any fan of the genre should do themselves a favor and snap this overlooked gem up. Grade A+.

Finder: Sin-Eater: Book 1 (Light Speed Press): This attractively designed digest-sized hardcover was just too nice to pass up. I really like Carla Speed McNeil’s art (even have a few pages of original art framed up from her Queen & Country run. That said, I have tried a few stray issues of Finder in the past without much success, so I decide to give it a final chance in one sitting from the beginning. It’s also a deal at this price for 15 whole issues in hardcover format.


9.12.07 Reviews

DMZ #23 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood further demonstrates that he's got a lot of tools in the toolbox when it comes to his DMZ offerings. Rather than jump straight into another arc featurnig Matty's exploits, we're treated to a stand alone (will the whole arc be comprised of stand alone stories? please?) story that does not feature Matty or any of our familiar cast of characters. The tale runs a nice dual narrative that shows us life just before, and just after, the war breaks out, all from the perspective of a local graffiti artist. Though the final reveal is a bit telegraphed, it's beautiful nonetheless, and provides some nice commentary on the value of contemporary art, particularly when society at large seems to be in decay around you. Grade A.

Casanova #9 (Image): It's official that I do indeed prefer Gabriel Ba's art to that of brother Fabio Moon, but you can't fault Ba for picking up the work on the upcoming Umbrella Academy over at Dark Horse. I think Ba's lines are cleaner and tighter, and I just personally prefer his style. Nonetheless, you can't beat the Casanova (and Fell) price point of $1.99 for rolicking, manic time jumping sexual marathon spy robot multi-armed regional candy fixated adventure. Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #8 (Dynamite Entertainment):
For some reason, this issue didn't resonate as strongly with me as others have. I came into it feeling like I'd missed an issue as it played like "all middle." Cariello's usually strong art work felt a little hurried, a little flat, with minimal backgrounds, and minimal panel rendering. By the end, the script sorta' made up for it with a strong villain and some nods to the theme song and titular character references. Grade B.

Fear Agent: The Last Goodbye #3 (Dark Horse):
Though it does read quite dense with the crowded panels, and claustrophobic with the volume of characters at times, it's been a treat to get the origin of Heath Huston. Like Casanova before it, anything featuring moon base warfare is an idea that is too seldomly used and welcome in these parts as it opens up all sorts of fun possibilities. Grade B.

New Avengers #34 (Marvel): This book is one of those books that stays pretty fun if you don't think about it too hard. And I must have been in a pensive mood this week, because it felt a little light. Feels like this arc is being drug out too long, like all we did was rehash the "who trusts who" content from the last issue. The Skrull business isn't even resolved yet and we're now introducing Spidey Venom Clones attacking Avengers Tower? I sense impending dangling plot threads. And yeah, Doctor Strange's two page spread of the inner character astral projections was fun and all, but why didn't he do that already? I am pleased to see that Yu's art is keeping up with a (mostly) monthly schedule and that a creative team can stick with a book for more than 5 issues, but I think Bendis needs to focus just a touch more to avoid that not so fresh, phoned in feeling. Grade B-.

Suicide Squad #1 (DC): I say this as a fan of the original and all of the previous incarnations of the Squad, but this was pretty boring. Even stalwart characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang weren't all that engaging. I really never got the Rick Flag story because him not being present at Jotunheim at the end made the intro narrative feel like a deceptive cheat, like we had an untrustworthy narrator (ala: The Usual Suspects, but without any sort of payoff whatsoever). I'm just not getting what the point of all this is. I dug Javier, err... Javi Pina's art on Manhunter, but it feels really mis-proportioned and flat here. Grade C-.

I also picked up;

Hellboy: Volume 7: The Troll Witch & Other Stories (Dark Horse): An eclectic mix of small little two issue mini-mini-series and some misc. short stories from the Dark Horse Book's Of ______ make for a nice collection.


9.05.07 Reviews

Scalped #9 (DC/Vertigo): Hrmm, how else can I pay Scalped a compliment? I seem to be running out of ways... oh yeah, what about those covers by Jock? They capture the mood of the book and from an artistic design standpoint, I think they certainly hit a high point in terms of innovative ability to draw potential readers to this book sitting on the stands. As usual, Jason Aaron continues his thought provoking social commentary about an isolated enclave ebmedded within a larger society. This time out, he hits on some more spiritual notes and I really enjoyed R.M. Guera's graphic representation of various character's spirit animals. Red Crow's is a sickly, beaten, vile creature, seemingly gasping for a last breath, while Granny's is the might visage of a bear - the dichotomy plays extremely well. One thing that really struck me this time about Aaron's scripting ability is how he's able to balance dialogue with well timed narrative that offers counterpoint perspective. This narrative also employs simple and effective prose that strikes me as a style reminiscent of a modern day Hemingway. Case in point: "If ya' listen to the Christians, they'll tell ya' that everything that's wrong with the world is the fault of a snake, an apple, and a little red devil. That's the biggest crock of shit I ever heard. The snake is a sacred animal. A symbol of rebirth. Apples is good eatin.' And the devil...? In my experience, there ain't no goddamn devil... 'cept the one a man carries inside himself." Grade A+.

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #1 (Dark Horse): There's no doubt that the long awaited Lobster Johnson mini-series has started with a pulp inspired bang. It's a burst of adventurous fun with an eclectic and interesting supporting cast that's seamlessly introduced. Jason Armstrong's pencils fit right into the Mignola-verse and depict the flow of the dialogue with likable ease. And what I really appreciated about this (after experiencing the opposite with Hellboy prime lately) is that the story isn't too bogged down in its own mythos to distract or push the reader out of the story. Grade A.

Iron Man: Enter The Mandarin #1 (Marvel): Naturally, the beautiful art deco inspired cover that harkens back to The Rocketeer grabbed my attention and absolutely drew me in. But then, the interior art takes on a wildly different stylistic note with it's sketchy lines and sharp angles. Naturally, the name Joe Casey on the cover as writer means an automatic purchase for me. But then, I find a dialogue heavy, un-engaging story that really lacks any sort of gravitas. The Mandarin comes off as a hokey, pontificating, stock villain, while we all know that Iron Man really isn't in any sort of peril whatsoever. I don't know if Casey is trying to emulate a more dense homage to Stan Lee, but it's really not what I expected, not playing well, and I won't be coming back for more. I'm bummed that I'm so disappointed by this. Sigh. Grade C.

I also picked up;

DMZ Volume 3: Public Works (DC/Vertigo): Between Scalped and DMZ, Vertigo is really firing on all cylinders right now for me. I've been picking up single issues of DMZ, then passing the arcs onto friends and coworkers as I upgrade to the trades. DMZ is consistently strong and I hope it stays around for a long while!

Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm (DC/Vertigo): The pencils are beautiful and being that it's based on the real life (mis)adventures of an underground Hip-Hop artist, this was an easy sell.

The Arrival (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books): I picked up a free poster for The Arrival at the Scholastic booth at the San Diego Con and never thought much of it. The casual flip test revealed a boldly told narrative, sans dialogue, that looks to be a beautifully rendered alternate reality take on immigration to America; I'm really excited to sit down and take this in.


Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month

Notes For A War Story (First Second): There's really no other way to describe Gipi's master work than to mimic much of the essay material it contains - it's about boys and their guns. This tale that won the 2006 Best Book of the Year at Angeloume is about impressionable youth and the seduction of the gun. I can think of no better way to desribe it than to quote one of the most intelligent and crisp excerpts that I've come across in quite some time: "Of course, in the attempts of the powerless to gain some kind of power, guns provide an essential shortcut. For those who lack the opportunity or know-how to change the course of their lives, the ability to destroy provides a thrilling feeling of control." Though this story takes place in an un-named (assumably Balkan) country, the commentary on societal breakdown and the assumptions of power can be compared to everything from Lord of the Flies to modern urban gang violence. This book shouldn't be missed. Grade A.

PulpHope (AdHouse Books): Finally! This is truly the coffee table book that every Paul Pope fan has been waiting for. It's chock full of personal essays, a retrospective of his career, fold out posters, lush prints and sketches, and the closest I've seen to a complete bibliography, chronicling the early THB issues, all the way up to the Eisner Award winning short "Teenage Sidekick" from his issue of DC's Solo series and Batman: Year 100. Any fan of the modern pop design star icon simply can't miss this effort. It really makes you think that Pope is this generation's last hope. Heck, I even bought my new boss a copy and had it signed at the San Diego Con. Alas, if AdHouse had only done a limited edition hardcover, that would have secured the + to the Grade A.