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.