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Quick Critiques – July 17, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on 17th July 2014

Dark Engine #1 (Image Comics)
by Ryan Burton & John Bivens

Image Comics has garnered a strong reputation for superb, cutting-edge comics, but the titles that get the most attention, understandably, are those by established talents in the comics industry. So it’s easy to sometimes overlook other titles being offered by newer names, relative unknowns. Dark Engine is one such comic book, and it shows a lot of promise, both from writer Ryan Burton and artist John Bivens. Dark Engine kind of strikes me like a cross between East of West and Prophet. It’s got an interesting contrast going between a cerebral tone and a sense of brutality and savagery that grabs the reader’s attention. The purple prose that characterizes the narration and the dialogue for the dragon figure at the beginning of the book is, I have to admit, a bit off-putting. I was immediately taken back to a number of Thor stories set in Asgard that I didn’t like — too many flourishes and lofty phrases in the script. The human characters who appear later in the issue temper that a bit, as they speak more normally, offering just a hint of something familiar with which the audience can connect. The use of lower-case lettering for the narrative captions is an unfortunate choice, as the font doesn’t work well with the harshness of the premise and book’s overall look. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – July 10, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on 10th July 2014

Daredevil #5 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

Daredevil, as guided by Mark Waid and his creative partners on these various series, continues to stand out as one of Marvel’s best titles, mixing Silver Age fun and traditions with more modern, sophisticated sensibilities. That being said, this was one of the more lackluster issues in Waid’s tenure. This episode answers the question as to how and why Foggy Nelson’s death was faked in between the previous series and this relaunched one, but it wasn’t such a deep mystery that it required a full flashback issue. Still, there are some strong characterization bits to be found here. I am starting to get a bit tired of Waid’s repeated use of the original Ant-Man as a cure-all for any sci-fi/super-hero-genre plotting challenge that arises. If Waid took the time to foster a stronger link between the title character and Hank Pym, a developing friendship, his repeated appearances mightn’t seem so jarring. Mind you, I can’t deny that Waid’s use of a wider and more colorful array of characters and concepts from across the Marvel Universe in Daredevil’s previously small little corner of it continues to entertain.

Samnee’s art is a wonderful match to that more wondrous feel. Most striking visually in this issue was his depiction of Foggy, thin and frail but not seemingly deathly ill. He seems so much like a regular guy, and the way his body moves under Samnee’s hand looks quite natural. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 29, 2013

Posted by Don MacPherson on 29th September 2013

Forever Evil #1 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, David Finch & Richard Friend

I’m a sucker for big super-hero events that bring disparate and normally unconnected colorful characters together — or at least, I used to be. I’ve been cooling to the event book for years now, but I have to admit, Forever Evil had its moments. The four-page spread featuring the Crime Syndicate’s address to the world’s super-villains was fun and reminded me a great deal of Crisis on Infinite Earths #9, the villain-driven issue. I also appreciated the opening scene featuring Luthor as a ruthless businessman and the closing scene in which we see him both cast in the role of the hero and longing for his longtime enemy to arrive to save the day. That being said, Forever Evil is an inherently flawed concept that just doesn’t work. the villains tell the masses the Justice League is dead; the reader knows this to be untrue. There’s never a moment of real tension for the audience, but it knows How These Things Work. How the heroes will return or the day will be saved, we don’t know, but we do know those things will happen. Maybe writer Geoff Johns will take us on an interesting journey at arrive at that destination, but I fear it’s shaping up to be a long road trip during which many will keep asking, “Are we there yet?” Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 2, 2013

Posted by Don MacPherson on 2nd August 2013

Variant coverCollider #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Simon Oliver & Robbi Rodriguez

When Vertigo founder and editor Karen Berger left DC Comics, many feared what it would mean for the publisher’s mature-readers imprint. Recent evidence would seem to indicate Vertigo is in good hands with longtime editor Shelly Bond, as recent releases have offered entertaining, intelligent and exciting creator-owned stories. Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s The Wake as proven to be a bonafide hit for the imprint, and people who enjoy that title ought to give Collider a look. Similar in tone to The Wake, Collider reads a lot like a Warren Ellis comic. It should also appeal to readers who are into Image’s Nowhere Men and The Manhattan Projects, with its realistic take on super-sciences and the smart people who create/deal with it. Oliver’s hero, Adam, is almost too perfect; he’s living an idyllic life full of action (both on the job and socially), but the writer humanizes him by rooting him in his connection to his late/missing father. Oliver’s move to blend manipulative politics into a world of physics gone haywire makes the impossible notions in the plot easier to connect with socially and intellectually. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – July 3, 2013

Posted by Don MacPherson on 3rd July 2013

Avengers A.I. #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Sam Humphries & André Lima Araújo

The good news about André Lima Araújo’s artwork in this debut issue is the fact it’s rather unconventional in tone. He’s clearly influence by manga/anime, but his various aspects of his efforts here reminded me of the styles of such other Marvel artists as Nick Bradshaw, Khoi Pham and Ed McGuinness. The effort to redesign the Vision seems like a misstep; this update pales in comparison to the classic look (which will undoubtedly return at some point in the future). Araújo’s approach to settings is distinct. While he has an eye for detail, every one of the backdrops looks rather expansive in scope, but that’s not always fitting. For deep space or a plaza in front of a hospital, it works, but for an arcade or interrogation room, it’s not the best choice. I also found the manner in which he illustrates characters’ faces (especially Hank Pym’s) to be inconsistent and distracting. This isn’t a bad introduction, though, and I’ll be interested to see how he develops as an artist in the years to come. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – June 15, 2013

Posted by Don MacPherson on 15th June 2013

Variant coverBatman #21 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & Rafael Albuquerque

Because apparently, I’ve created the impression I pan Marvel and DC super-hero comics so I can impress “hipsters”, I thought I’d share some thoughts about this new story arc in DC’s main Batman title. I was quite disappointed in Superman Unchained, not only due to the art, but surprisingly due to being let down by Snyder’s plot. Fortunately, it appears that was an aberration, because his new take on Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming the Batman here is fantastic. As he did with the Court of Owls, Snyder is building a new mythology and history for Gotham City, and he’s doing so by incorporating and reinventing some familiar characters and concepts. In Batman: Earth One, writer Geoff Johns explored the maternal branches of Bruce Wayne’s family tree by transforming Martha Wayne into a member of the Arkham clan. Here, Snyder does something similar, making her maiden name Kane and giving some of those tree limbs a bit of rot. The opening scene, set six months ahead of the main action, just after Bruce took on the Batman persona, hints at an ambitious story arc, one that promises to be much more over-the-top and tumultuous than what we’ve seen before. I look forward to it. The backup story is solidly executed. It should appeal to the Fast and the Furious fans out there, but peppered in the high-octane, high-speed action is a clever and peppy script that barrels ahead as quickly as the car the protagonist is driving throughout the sequence. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – June 2, 2013

Posted by Don MacPherson on 2nd June 2013

The Bounce #1 (Image Comics)
by Joe Casey & David Messina

I haven’t read any promotional material about or reaction to The Bounce, so I have no idea if it’s a reworked pitch for Marvel’s Speedball character, but it certainly reads like one. To be fair, though, that’s mainly due to the specific power set of the main character here, so I feel a bit bad about dismissing the origin of this story as something originally designed for another character. I mean, if the lead hero had invisibility powers, I wouldn’t have blown it off as a failed and retooled Invisible Woman proposal. Either way, the storytelling here stands up fine on its own; nothing feels lacking as a result of it being set outside an established shared super-hero continuity. But there is a problem: the hero isn’t terribly likable. The broad concept of a pothead super-hero might have worked as a purely comedic satire, but Casey plays it straight here. As a result, I found it hard to get behind Jasper. There are a couple of intriguing concepts, but by the end of the story, I wasn’t all that interested in what happens next. And when it comes to episodic fiction, getting the reader care about that is key.

David Messina’s artwork tells the story clearly — except when it doesn’t, but that’s OK, because there’s a psychedelic component that comes into play at the end of the issue. Overall, though, he boasts a fairly generic super-hero style. Beyond the apparent influences in his work (I see touches reminiscent of such artists as Terry Dodson and Bryan Hitch here), there’s nothing all that distinct to be found here. The designs for the superhuman characters are rather ho-hum as well. The Bounce is OK, but it’s also quite forgettable. 6/10 Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 10, 2013

Posted by Don MacPherson on 10th February 2013

Avengers #4 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jonathan Hickman & Adam Kubert

I like Jonathan Hickman’s writing. I like how it challenges the reader and approaches familiar genre subject matter in new ways. That being said, this issue — a welcome, standalone story — doesn’t quite click the way in which it was meant. I appreciate the narrower focus on Hyperion. While the character has been floating around the Marvel Universe for decades, his status today and how he came to be a member of this broader team of Avengers aren’t clear. Unfortunately, after reading this issue, I’m really not much clearer on the situation. The removed tone of the narration is meant to reflect the disconnected feel of the central character, who’s lost his own world and friends, but rather than a connection to and understanding of Hyperion, the disjointed, vague qualities of the script cause him to seem even more alien and enigmatic. I enjoyed Hickman’s portrayal of A.I.M. as a bunch of evil scientists intent on mad experimentation rather than terrorism and profit. I applaud Hickman for taking time out to focus on individual members of this new incarnation of the Avengers, but I feel he might have explored the wrong one here. At the end of the previous issue, our attention was focused on the new Captain Universe, and the plot and script in #3 certainly piqued my interest about this new character. It seems like it would’ve been a more natural progression to delve into her story now rather than Hyperion’s (it appears she may get the spotlight in #6, but it still strikes me as a couple of issues too late). Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 12, 2013

Posted by Don MacPherson on 12th January 2013

Variant coverBefore Watchmen: Moloch #2 (DC Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Eduardo Risso

I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of this two-part series thanks to writer J. Michael Straczynski’s successful humanization of a seemingly inhuman criminal, but the conclusion of the series disappointed. The reason is clear: Straczynski tries to add to and arguably even alter the narrative of Watchmen here, as his plot catches up to the events of the mid-1980s series. It’s a significant misstep on his part. Before Watchmen generally works when it’s used to explore new stories featuring the classic characters from the source material, but mucking about with Alan Moore’s story is definitely the wrong way to go. In Watchmen, while Ozymandias was the villain, he was always portrayed as being distanced from humanity. Other people were inferior in his eyes, but not the enemy. Here, Ozymandias glares at Moloch with contempt. Furthermore, Straczynski’s additions don’t jibe with elements from the original plot. In Watchmen, Moloch is portrayed as living in squalor in a slum, but in the time leading up to his death, this story has him earning big bucks from his employer. This script supports the argument many made when Before Watchmen was originally announced that DC ought not tinker with Watchmen at all. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 15, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on 15th December 2012

Variant coverVariant coverAvengers Arena #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dennis Hopeless & Kev Walker

When the concept for this series was announced, there was a swift, negative reaction, and I can understand. The notion of a random group of characters being brought together for a homicidal battle royale is an uninspired and rather derivative concept (which writer Dennis Hopeless acknowledges in the script with a reference to the book that inspires Arcade’s choice). Of course, the controversy was likely part of the plan for this book from the start; it’s why I decided to read the comic in the first place. I likely wouldn’t have given it a second look otherwise. Ultimately, the problem with the writing here doesn’t lie with the focus on killing characters. Instead, it’s the fact it just doesn’t make much sense given the context in which it’s set. The notion that 16 young heroes — including wards of the Avengers — could go missing and there’d be no chance of the elder heroes of the Marvel Universe to find them is too big a pill to swallow. I also have little idea who most of these young heroes are, and therefore, I don’t feel as invested in their fate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 25, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on 25th November 2012

Variant coverAmazing Spider-Man #698 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott & Richard Elson

This issue is quite Shakespearean in tone, and by that, I mean it’s much ado about nothing. The big reveal at the end of this issue (which I won’t spoil) has a lot of readers talking and boosted demand for the comic book. And honestly, I don’t know why. It’s kind of a ridiculous concept that lacks any real tension, as any major change to the title character’s status quo is bound to be temporary. But more importantly, it’s hardly the newest idea for a super-hero plot. I was immediately put in mind of the premise behind DC’s Silver Age event from 12 years ago, which was wisely crafted as a fun, fleeting diversion rather than a serious story, as is the case with Slott’s plot (hee, rhymes). To give credit where credit is due, Slott’s script is pretty accessible even though it’s founded on several recent changes in Spidey’s world in recent years. Accessibility is a smart move for this issue, as the publicity it’s generating is bound to attract new or lapsed Amazing Spidey readers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 17, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on 17th November 2012

Variant coverFantastic Four #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley & Mark Farmer

This is another one of the Marvel Now! relaunches that caught my attention with the creative team. Matt Fraction has proven himself with several projects at Marvel, but his best to date has been his run on Invincible Iron Man, in which he demonstrated his skill at conveying futurism, among other things. His script here is in keeping with traditional FF storytelling; longtime fans of Marvel’s First Family will no doubt enjoy what they find here. After I read this issue, I had the same thought I had after reading the first issue of Kieron Gillen and Greg Land’s new Iron Man title: other than an attempt to boost sales, why is this a first issue? Fraction’s story is quite consistent with what we saw from Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF. The plot driving this first story arc appears to be the waning of the title character’s powers — again, hardly the newest concept for the team. The family aspect is properly emphasized here, as is the adventure-seeking goals of the group. But if I had to sum up my reaction to the story in one word, it’d probably be, “Eh.” There’s nothing technically wrong with the storytelling here, but there wasn’t anything about it that excited me either. Mind you, I do like that the premise here is opening the door to an oddball new FF, to debut in a couple of weeks in the relaunched FF title, with art by Mike Allred. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 13, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on 13th November 2012

Variant coverBefore Watchmen: Moloch #1 (DC Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Eduardo Risso

Unlike the other Before Watchmen titles, this two-issue limited series explores a title character that’s essentially a blank slate. In the original Watchmen series, Moloch was more of a means to an end; he served to advance the Comedian’s and Rorschach’s plotlines. Writer J. Michael Straczynski develops an origin story that makes it easy to relate to a villain, that explains why he’s opted for a life of crime. Edgar Jacobi is painted as a sympathetic figure here (not unlike his aged, cancer-riddled self was in Watchmen) despite the murders, drug trade and other ills he lets loose on the world. His background doesn’t excuse his crimes, but it does explain them. Now, Moloch is probably portrayed as a little too self-aware in this story, but that’s in part the byproduct of casting him in the role of narrator of his own story and the introspective turning point that serves as a framing sequence. It’s easy to sympathize with and even relate to the young Eddie Jacobi. Everyone can relate to some form of pain he’s had to endure in a life defined by emotional, physical and social abuse. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 4, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on 4th November 2012

Variant coverVariant coverA+X #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott, Ron Garney, Danny Miki, Cam Smith & Mark Morales/Jeph Loeb, Dale Keown & Miki

I had no interest in Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-Men crossover event, but when the publisher solicited this title, I have to admit my curiosity was piqued. I’m a huge fan of the Marvel and DC teamup titles of yesteryear — DC Comics Presents, Marvel Team-Up, The Brave and the Bold and Marvel Two-in-One — and this new series, pairing individual members of the Avengers and X-Men, seemed to promise the same kind of fun. Still, I was leery, but the two stories featured here do boast that kind of fun, traditional super-hero storytelling I so enjoyed in its afore-mentioned teamup title predecessors. The opening story — a Captain America/Cable teamup set during the Second World War — had a solid premise to bring the two distinctly different heroes together. It’s a rather inconsequential story, but that’s the sort of fare that seemed to work best in teamup books. Most of all, the first story brings artist Ron Garney back together with Cap, the character that really put him on the map in mainstream comics. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 11, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on 11th October 2012

VariantAme-Comi Girls Featuring Wonder Woman #1 (DC Comics)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Amanda Conner, Tony Akins & Walden Wong

Not in a million year did I ever think I’d take a glance, let alone purchase, one of the comics DC spun off from its gratuitously sexual Ame-Comi statuettes of its iconic female characters, but my local comics retailer pointed out this one was crafted mainly by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner, noting this particular creative team has never delivered a dud. I am a big fan of Conner’s work and of much of the writing team’s efforts, so I found myself caving, picking up a copy of the comic (which I believe was initially published online some months ago). Palmiotti and Gray offer up a distinctly interesting take on Wonder Woman, altering her origin in significant ways to set it apart from versions we’ve seen before. In this spin on the concept, Queen Hippolyta sends a reluctant Diana to America to serve as an ambassador, in part to teach her the value of diplomacy over war. It’s like Odin exiling his son Thor to Midgard to teach him humility. It’s a fun read with several elements that will please traditional Wonder Woman fans, those interested in her new ongoing series and those just interested in something a little different. I was also pleased to find the $4 cover price offers 30 pages of story and art. It’s 50 per cent more content for a 33 per cent hike in price. Read the rest of this entry »

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