Thursday, August 23, 2007

Not-So-Weekly Comic Reviews!

Okay, so last week I took the week off, but I gave you a monster breakdown of basically every monthly I read. That's a fair trade off, especially because not much came out last week.

Well, much came out this week. Much. All in all, a totally awesome stack of books, and I'm not even through it yet.

But before we get to the reviews, I need a rating system. So I was hemming and hawing and I decided to take the questionable step of ranking each book based on poker hands.

Astonishing X-Men #22 - You know, I think this issue deserves its own spoilerific post. For now, suffice it to say, it's a pretty shocking issue. But apart from the sure to be talked about ending, the issue seemed a bit off. The pacing was weird, the X-Men re-unite off panel, and Cassiday's art seemed a little flatter than usual in places (particularly the panels with Danger). Emma's confrontation with Danger was good, but its resolution was rather unclear. Of course, when you're done, you won't even remember what happened in the first 18 pages or so, and five years from now, this will just be one chapter in the Whedon epic.
Bottom Line: Odd final score of Shocking, Solid, Off. I'll say it's Three of a Kind.

Black Summer #2 - Damn. This issue cranks up the everything. The action drives the moral questions, the moral questions drive the character development, and all of it drives the plot. It's very, very rare that you see that balance working this well. At the same time, there's a manic pace to everything, which ratchets up the tension on a "What's our next move?" scene that another writer might botch (cough, Bendis, cough). Really quality stuff, Ellis at the top of his powers. Of course the art is typical Juan Jose Ryp, taking over-rendering to the point of stylization, but the biggest problem with this issue is that it's very clearly been written for the trade. It begins, and you feel like you missed a page, and the ending is absurdly random. It's like Ellis wrote the thing in one big chunk and then wrote "To Be Continued" every 22 pages.
Bottom Line: Gripes aside, this is a badass book. Full House.

Batman #667 - In my review of last issue I was a bit dismissive about the "nice bits of craft." Well, I went back and re-read that issue, and let me tell you, that sells it way short. Every page has something very cool and innovative going on with the page layouts, even when it's very subtle. This issue is much of the same. Tense script, killer artwork and layout and design that refuse to be boring. I don't know how much of this stuff Morrison is putting in the script and how much Williams is doing himself - let's give Williams the lion's share of the credit - but the design work is singlehandedly raising this arc from run-of-the-mill slasher mystery into something that's fascinating to look at and read. Bottom Line: It's by the numbers, but with Williams drawing, who cares? Straight.

Thunderbolts #116 - I don't think I've ever read a superhero title as disturbing as Thunderbolts. In what could very easily teeter into hit you over the head allegory, Thunderbolts instead just feel creepily familiar. You see how fucked up the Marvel Universe is, and it rings terribly true with how fucked up our own universe is. It manages to be totally compelling, without investing us in a protagonist or even rooting interest. This issue starts a new storyline and gives some much-needed screen time to Penance, who it finally looks like Ellis has a plan for beyond editorial shoving him on the team. It's kind of unclear if this takes place after the Desperate Measures one-shot or not, but whatever.
Bottom Line: Solid issue in this vivid nightmare of a book. Straight.

Amazing Spider-Man #543 - So. Here we have the conclusion of the much-hyped Back-in-Black arc. I know it's the conclusion, because it says Back in Black Part 5 of 5 on it. Only one problem: there isn't anything even vaguely conclusive about it. The plot centers around a bizarre caper wherein Peter and MJ illegally transfer Aunt May to another hospital. Which sounds like 10 times more fun than this story actually is, as Peter spends the whole time recriminating about all the laws he's breaking. And at the end, I really don't even know what the point of the whole thing was - the coppers'll never find her at this other hospital! It's all just stupid. This is what Pete's having a major moral crisis about? Come fucking on.
Bottom Line: Is JMS' run over yet? It's not? Sigh. Junk.

The Order #2 - The problem I'm having with this book is that I can barely keep straight all the new characters, much less care about them. But it's starting to get better - it seems each issue is set to focus on one team member, while keeping them all involved and there, kind of similar to what Lost did in its first season. This issue's character is Becky, a child actor and teen star, and that story is very cool. We also get nifty character moments from the armored-lookin' one and the fast ones.
Bottom Line: It's good, but I'm not yet blown away. I was hoping to be blown away, Mr. Fraction! Two Pair.

Iron Fist #8 - This issue makes last arc make a lot more sense. So that's good. It's setting up the big mystical martial arts tournament for this arc and frankly, which should be awesome. Nothing much actually happens in this issue, but it's not boring or slow, it's necessary set up, bringing in a host of very cool foes for Mr. Rand, setting the stakes and giving his origin an interesting extra layer.
Bottom Line: A good jumping-on point (if people still do that) for a good book. Three of a Kind.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My Pull List

So, there are 100 things I should be doing right now.

And this ridiculous blog post is not among them.

But it's what I'm doing anyway. Topic: Comic Books.

So, one of the problems in reviewing comics is that they should be reviewed more by a run of issues than by the single installment. That used to be easier to do, back before the emergence of the six-issue arc as the predominant storytelling form. Now, monthly buyers basically need to wait half a year to figure out if a series is any good.

So, here's my little corner of fixing that. What I'm going to do is rate my pull list, the books I'm reading every month, from top to bottom, with notes. I'll update it every, say, two months. That should give a really good track on those titles. If other blogs do likewise? The world will be a better place. This doesn't include books I'm reading by trade - those apologies at the end.

Okay, so my pull list, as of today:

Cream of the Crop
1. Casanova - Holy shit. Here is a book that does not know how to mail it in. Every month is a fucking incredible smorgasbord of over-the-top insane sci-fi action, dense as all get-out, yet so light on its feet you never feel bogged down. This title moves at a breakneck pace and trusts you to be smart enough to keep up. Sometimes that means rereading issues, but hell, that's why you bought them right? Kickass art, kickass story, and hey, look, it's even a dollar cheaper than everything else on the rack.

2. The Spirit - I'll admit, I didn't really see the point of putting out a monthly Spirit book in 2007. The greatness and charm of the Spirit stories always lay mostly in Eisner's craft, not the mostly generic lead. That is until Darwyn Cooke decided to showed up and did a book so bursting with charm and craft, Eisner must be pulling it in heaven. Cooke is on writing and art chores here and he's not mailing either in. He's taken the Spirit, recognizes everything that made it great and modernizes it. Remember those great splashes? Well why not make them two page spreads! Eisner used his full 8 pages to craft one tight story - why not use all 22 of the modern book? And did I mention the oh-so-necessary re-invention of Ebony? It's the complete package, a smart, smile-inducing, gorgeous book that demands to be read and reread.

3. All-Star Superman - It is very rare that you find a talent quite as unique as Grant Morrison. We might never see quite this mix of brilliance and insanity again. Everything you love about Morrison is here: the masterful grip on metaphor, powerful vision, virtuoso writing style and most of all, a sense of flat-out fun. Morrison delivers on everything that makes Superman great - the whimsy, the supporting cast, the bigger-than-life adventures - and packs it so full of new ideas that it's a joy to read. And you know, that Quietly guy can draw, too.

4. Captain America - This has been Marvel's best offering for a while now, but I always forget about it until a new issue comes out. Then I sit and bask in it and for a week, I remember just how good it is. Brubaker's story is masterful, working in everything you loved about Captain America into one giant epic with distinct, satisfying arcs that all play in together. It's good. The art is even better. Epting - with a major assist from colorist Frank D'Armata - is drawing his ass off here, and every issue looks gorgeous.

5. Astonishing X-Men - Speaking of pretty art, I will buy almost anything John Cassiday draws. Couple that with a quipy, action-packed and cinematic script from Joss Whedon that nails all the characters and puts them in an extremely fun space epic, all without using a single standard-issue X-Villain? You've got one damn good funny book, my friend.

6. World War Hulk - Yeah, it's an event book. Yeah, the tie-ins are crap. But if the Hulk fighting the entire Marvel Universe for five issues doesn't sound like a good time to you, maybe you're not a real comics fan. This series is delivering that in spades, with every issue bringing the savagery in a story whose end I can't predict right now.

Good Stuff

7. She-Hulk - Jumping Hulks, if you haven't been reading Dan Slott's awesome She-Hulk run... well it's basically too late to start now, it ends next issue. But it's worth buying the trades. This is the funniest funny book out there, kemosabe.

8. The Immortal Iron Fist - Despite one or two semi-confusing issues, this Kung-Fu book remains a thing of beauty - gorgeous artwork highlights a balls-out martial arts story dripping with grit and almost retro-cool.

9. Thunderbolts - Six issues in, Thunderbolts has managed to live up to the hype. This book stands out because it's not so much fun as disturbing. You're not rooting for the Thunderbolts. You're watching in horror as they run roughshod over any concept of decency. Toss in Deodato's dark, realistic art, and the book really comes together.

10. Buffy: Season Eight - Speaking of living up to the hype, if you were a Buffy fan, you should be buying this comic, period. So far, almost everything you loved about the show is in there. I say almost because, let's face it, drawn hot women just aren't as fun to look at as real ones.

11. Hero Squared - The other quality humor book on the market. Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis do their JLI schtick, and it works really well. Good characters, surprisingly great sitcom/soap opera/super-hero storyline. Now if only the art was a little more crisp.

Solid Reads

12. Detective Comics - It's tough to argue with Paul Dini doing his Batman: The Animated Series thing every month. So I won't. Great one-and-done stories here, although the recent Zatanna two-parter was underwhelming and there have been far too many fill-in issues.

13. Fell - Ben Templesmith is a daring choice to draw a sixteen-page book, but it works. Ellis is always looking to experiment too, which is fun. The only thing keeping it in this section is that sometimes a sixteen page mystery works out exactly as well as you imagine it would.

14. Invincible - If you like old-school superheroics, back when heroes were more into punching things than being metaphors and crap like that, then you should read Invincible. It's a great book that's almost always worth your $3. My only reservation here is that some storylines took a long time to go nowhere (Reanimen, Anton Levy, Mauler Twins), but things have been really picking up lately.

15. Avengers: The Initiative - Every issue of this Civil War spinoff has brought the noise; it even managed to almost make its World War Hulk tie-in work. It would be higher if I cared about the characters more.

16. The Irredeemable Ant-Man - What a fun book. If you haven't been reading - and not enough of you have, because next issue is the last - S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Eric O'Grady is the worst guy in the world, and he's just stolen a new Ant-Man suit. Hilarity ensues. Eric's not a villain, he's just a dirtbag, sinking to new lows each issue. I'd rank it higher, but the terrible World War Hulk tie-in is still bugging me. No pun intended.

17. Punisher War Journal - If I'm buying a monthly Punisher book, you know it must be good. The last storyline went on just one issue too long, otherwise it would be higher.

18. Transformers - I'm actually loving IDW's take on Transformers. It's obviously all been really well thought out. Now if only they actually inked the thing, we might have something here. Seriously, these books mostly just look lousy. Sorry guys, they do. Also, every issue costs $4.

19. Runaways - Whedon's dialog and characterization is spot on as usual, but his run has been a little perplexing. Why are the kids in New York again? Why would they be so stupid as to seek out the Kingpin? And why do the tired old Victorian time-travel thing?

Treading Water

20. New Avengers - Leinel Yu's art is great. The team line-up is great. Some issues I love this book. Others, I start thinking about other ways you can spend $3.

21. Amazing Spider-Man - Here's the thing about Strazinsky's Amazing - it's usually one of the first things I read the week it comes out. Important stuff happens. It's even exciting. The only problem is, it's not really any fun. Is it too much to ask that my Spider-Man book be fun? I don't think it's too much to ask.

22. Ex-Machina - Extremely smart series, but it's often late and doesn't really read well as a monthly. Might switch to trades on this (again).

On the Edge

23. Batman - Reading this, you kind of want to lean over to Morrison and go, "Hey, man, are you sure you're okay to drive?" His Batman is sometimes playful, sometimes confusing, but mostly it's just totally aimless. The thing is, this could STILL wind up looping back around and looking completely fucking brilliant a year from now. Or we could all be scratching our heads going, "What the fuck was up with that Joker issue? Did that happen?"

24. Checkmate - I think I enjoy Checkmate. Really, I do. I think, after over a year, I finally know who everyone is and can follow the really pretty interesting superhuman international politics plot. But it's something of an effort to read, and the recent Outsiders crossover was a big turn-off.

25. Mighty Avengers - It aspires to be old-school. It often succeeds. It's had at least one jaw droppingly excellent fight scene. But Bendis's writing seems a little off, particularly in the non-cliffhangers. It's just not coming together for me yet.

26. Powers - Usually the bright spot in the Bendis oeuvre, Powers pissed me off enough last month to drop this low. Maybe if it actually came out sometimes, I'd have a more balanced view to judge it on. Also, the letter columns, previously the best part of the book, are now a shell of their former selves. Sigh.

27. Action - This book just pisses me off. Stop with the fill-ins. Finish your fucking story line before you start a new one. If the Donner-Johns story wasn't so damn good when it came out, I'd've dropped this, and frankly, there's still time.

Up soon: recently dropped, thinking of picking up, stuff I get in trades

Friday, August 10, 2007

Weekly Comic Reviews!

I've been meaning to do one of these ever since I started the blog. So why not? This review covers only those comics I actually bought this week, so, if you were thinking of buying comics other than those... good luck I guess? Anyway without further ado:

Casanova #8 - If you buy only one comic this week, make it this one. As usual, it's a filled to bursting with off-the-wall, sexed-up sci-fi madness. As usual, at 16 pages and $2, it feels like more story than most $3 comics. This issue's the start of a new arc, and not only is it a good jumping on point, it's more coherent than issue #1 ever was. But don't worry, still crazy. It also brings in new artist Fabio Moon, which I was worried about, until I realized he kicks untold quantities of ass. Seriously, his art - and the book's new single color, blue - look fucking unbelievable. Bottom line - This is my favorite book on the shelves these days. Buy it.

Powers #25 - Basically the opposite of Casanova is Powers #25. Apparently there are 40 pages to this book, which makes it worth a dollar more. Okay, so a whopping eight of those pages are taken up by the letter column, in which Bendis doesn't actually answer any letters. That's okay. Really, we all love re-reading your Newsarama interviews and press releases Brian. The 32 pages of story we did get felt like 20 if that. It's filled with giant splashes and drawn out action scenes that almost make you feel like you're watching the story in slow motion. And honestly, did we need a two page, seventy-panel(!) spread of Walker having sex? Don't answer that. Bottom Line - The story might be going somewhere. It's not doing it quickly.

New Avengers #33 - While we're on Bendis, I've been enjoying New Avengers, almost entirely thanks to the work of Leinil Yu. I may be in the minority, but I think Yu's art makes perfect sense for this book. That said, this issue feels a lot like filler. The Avengers spend the issue sulking. Brian Vaughan's Hood is reintroduced, but not in a way that's really fun or makes sense. Note to Bendis: not only have I read enough crimelord-asserts-himself-by-killing-other-crimelord scenes to last a lifetime, but you wrote half of them. There are two pages here that really work - a marital scene between Luke and Jessica that just nails it. Bottom Line - Yes, the Avengers sure don't trust each other. Now can they do something?

Batman #667 - Grant Morrison veers off from his previous story - the unresolved and nigh-impenetrable three-Batman storyline - for a new romping mystery in a locked castle. This issue is tight, and it's fun, but it's all a little by wrote compared to Morrison's usual boundless creativity. Still, touches of strong craftsmanship, and kickin' art by J.H. Williams make this a solid buy. Bottom Line - It's good to have fun Batman books in our lives.

Punisher War Journal #10 - The Hate Monger story blows up real good, finally. It's appropriately climactic, but it's undermined by a poorly choreographed final fight scene. Olivetti's art has its strengths, but action isn't one of 'em. Some character development happens, but it's not very interesting. My guess is that Punisher will keep killing people. Bottom Line - This storyline wasn't bad, but I wouldn't recommend the trade.

Black Adam # 1 - Black Adam, if you missed the memo, is kind of a badass. Tomasi gives us a Teth Adam who's at once an appalling and compelling. The whole Justice Society plot did nothing for me, though. Bottom Line - If you liked the idea of depowered Black Adam, this ish won't disappoint.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Our Democratic Congress at Work

Note to our Democratic-majority legislature, voted into power not so very long ago.

If you were elected for anything, it was to protect us from shit like this:

My favorite part is the way that the White House is taking the high-road here, and justifying the law with good old fashioned xenophobia:

“It’s foreign, that’s the point,” Mr. Fratto said. “What you want to make sure is that you are getting the foreign target.”

But honestly, I'm not even that mad at Bush. I'm mad at those spineless fuckwits elected in November. Listen guys, I know you can't get us out of Iraq. But you CAN not pass a fucking ridiculous law that gives the Executive Branch unconstitutional surveillance powers and continues our long descent into an Orwellian nightmare. Is that too much to ask?

The Senior Circuit's latest baseball power rankings contain the phrase:

"The NL's best 1-2 punch: Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly."

Hey, who knew?! Congratulations Ted Lilly - you're officially part of the Bronson Arroyo All Stars!

Just for fun, Ted Lilly's stats with the AL's Blue Jays:

Record ERA K/BB HR
2004 12-10 4.06 1.89 26
2005 10-11 5.56 1.66 23
2006 15-13 4.31 1.93 28

Aaaand, vs. the NL:

Record ERA K/BB HR
2007 12-5 3.53 3.31 18

Ah, the Senior Circuit. Helping mediocre pitchers look good since the Clinton Administration.

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