Monthly Archives: July 2011

Quick Critiques – July 27, 2011

Captain America and Bucky #620 (Marvel Worldwide)
by Ed Brubaker, Marc Andreyko & Chris Samnee

I dropped this title a short while back when it was called just Captain America, right after the “Trial of Captain America” storyline. I’d lost interest in the book, because I felt the espionage/intrigue series that Brubaker had been writing for so long had slowly changed into a straightforward super-hero comic. I’ve returned to the series not for the new direction and historical backdrop, but rather because of how it looks. I’m a big fan of Chris Samnee’s artwork and have been since he illustrated the latter part of The Mighty from DC. Samnee doesn’t disappoint here. In fact, he seems to have stepped things up, offering smoother lines and greater detail in his comic art. It’s still quite attractive, and his original style still shines through. I hope he doesn’t abandon the simpler approach in his work completely, as it serves as the foundation of his compelling artwork. Samnee maintains a dark atmosphere throughout this issue, which works with the focus of the story, which is the pain that Bucky tries to hide and heal with violence. I’m a bit puzzled as to why Ed Guinness provides the artwork for the regular-edition cover, as his bombastic, cartoony style runs contrary to the tone of the contents.

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Laundry Day

The Rinse #1
Writer: Gary Phillips
Artist: Marc Laming
Colors: Darrin Moore
Letters: Steve Wands
Cover artists: Francesco Mattina/Paul Azaceta
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $1 US

Gary Phillips is a comics writer with a focus on the crime genre who consistently offers up compelling drama and strong characters, but with The Rinse, he’s really outdone himself. This is not only the most compelling comic book Phillips has written, but it stands out as one of the best crime comics I’ve read in some time. The Rinse, with its riveting, knowledgeable narration, is just as good as Ed Brubaker’s Criminal, and that’s really saying something. Phillips is joined by a talented artist who does an excellent job of capturing a sense of realism here, and a convincing look reinforces the strength and intelligence of the script. The main character is a thoroughly likeable figure, well-rounded and quite charming. But the character that really steals the show isn’t a character at all but rather than underworld trade that serves as the core premise of the book.

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Star-Spangled Cinema

Captain America: The First Avenger movie
Actors: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke & Kenneth Choi
Director: Joe Johnston
Screenplay: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Studios: Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios
Rating: PG-13

It’s amazing how much expectations can affect the perceived quality of a piece of entertainment. When I saw Green Lantern, it had been panned so much, I went in with low expectations but left thoroughly entertained and satisfied. Now, Captain America was clearly a better constructed film, boasting a more focused vision of what it wanted to be. The positive buzz and early reviews of Captain America raised my expectations, and when I left the theatre, I didn’t feel quite as dazzled. In retrospect, I enjoyed Cap a great deal, and it offered some interesting surprises. There are a couple of thoroughly clever moments throughout the movie, and members of the supporting cast do a wonderful job with their roles. But as I watched the film, I was always aware of its construction. There was a greater emphasis on myth-building here, as Cap serves as a direct launching pad for Marvel Studios’ Avengers movie. While entertaining, Captain America unfortunately never lets the audience forget that it’s taking in a product, not a story in and of itself.

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Quick Critiques – July 21, 2011

Daredevil #1 (Marvel Worldwide)
by Mark Waid, Fred van Lente, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin & Joe Rivera

I have to admit I was surprised that Marvel opted to get Daredevil back in the game so quickly, but any chance to get a new Mark Waid-penned comic every month is one I welcome. Waid takes the character in a new direction, focusing on a brighter, more traditional approach to the title character that’s in keeping with his early, Silver Age adventures. On the other hand, he doesn’t ignore what’s come before. The dark, difficult elements from the Bendis, Brubaker and Diggle runs on the character in recent years are acknowledged here. Waid wisely doesn’t ignore what’s come before. In fact, the backup story focuses specifically on the shift in tone within the context of the character, hinting that not all is as bright and shiny as Matt Murdock purports it to be. That made for an impressive bit of character-driven writing. The main story offers up some fun super-hero action, but more importantly, it demonstrates that Daerdevil’s biggest conflict these days is dealing with the public’s knowledge that he’s lawyer Matt Murdock (even though it’s no longer a proven fact in the public eye). My only qualm with the comic is something I normally applaud: accessibility. While it’s important to give the reader everything s/he needs to understand the character and follow the story, information about Daredevil’s origin is offered up repeatedly here. The first page (penned by Fred van Lente, for some reason, and illustrated beautifully by Marcos Martin) recaps his origin, but Waid’s script offers some of the same information on the very next page, making for an irksome redundancy. Still, it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise well-crafted comic book.

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Death, Be Not Proud

Captain Marvel: The Death of Captain Marvel hardcover collected edition
Writers: Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart & Doug Moench
Pencils: Jim Starlin & Pat Broderick
Inks: Jack Abel, Bruce Patterson & Jim Starlin
Colors: Jim Starlin, Carl Gafford, Glynis Wein, Ben Sean & Steve Oliff
Letters: Tom Orzechowski, Elaine Heinl, Diana Alberts & James Novak
Editors: Roy Thomas, Roger Stern & Al Milgrom (original)/Mark D. Beazley (collection)
Cover artist: Jim Starlin
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $24.99 US

A couple of years after I started reading Marvel comics in the mid 1980s, I discovered its line of graphic novels, though today, they’d really been seen more as graphic novellas. They were squarebound, but about the size of a thin magazine. I think the first one I read was Revenge of the Living Monolith, and not long after, The Death of Groo. One of the best known of these graphic novellas was The Death of Captain Marvel, and while I wasn’t familiar with the character, the fact that it was about a hero’s struggle to come to grips with his approaching (and that it featured just about everyone in the Marvel Universe) appealed to me. I never ran across a copy though, so when I saw this reprint edition, collecting that novella and other material, on sale at a discount, I decided to check it out. What I discovered was that original graphic novella was as good as I thought it might be, but the supplementary material leading up to the character’s curtain call was confusing, contrived and somewhat disconnected from the real point of the book.

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Comic of Former Quality (or Ex-Caliber)

Camelot 3000: The Deluxe Edition hardcover collected edition
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Pencils: Brian Bolland
Inks: Bruce Patterson, Terry Austin & Dick Giordano
Colors: Tatjana Wood
Letters: John Costanza
Cover artist: Brian Bolland
Editors: Len Wein (original series) & Scott Nybakken (collected edition)
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $34.99 US/$39.99 CAN

I picked up a slightly dinged copy of this hardcover book at my local comic shop not too long ago. As someone who was around at the beginning of the direct-market comic shop in the early 1980s (even though I was a kid with no such store in my area), I’ve been aware of Camelot 3000 for ages, as well as the fondness so many who read the 12-part series when it was originally released have for it. The title was a landmark one, as writer Mike W. Barr attests in his introduction in this reprint collection. Predating Watchmen by a few years, it embraced the concept of a finite but longer-term series, later dubbed a “maxi-series” as opposed to a mini-series, and it represented material specifically developed for a more mature audience in the burgeoning direct market. I have no doubt that at the time, it represented an edgy and riveting bit of storytelling, but as someone reading it in the 21st century looking back, it serves more as a historical curiosity about the craft and business of comics, as well as a glimpse at the development of Brian Bolland as an artist. While I’m pleased to add this volume to my personal comics library, I’m also pleased I was able to do so at a significant discount. Those shelling full price for the book might be a bit disappointed.

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Quick Critiques – July 17, 2011

Green Lantern #67 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen & Mark Irwin

“War of the Green Lanterns” comes to a satisfying though convoluted end, but the big cliffhanger, to be continued in the relaunched title in September, really grabbed my attention and got me excited about the new direction for the book. I didn’t even realize there was going to be a new direction, so to discover that writer Geoff Johns is shaking up the status quo here significantly has me anxiously anticipating what he has in store. Johns’ use of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s talent as an artist is fun, but the problem is that he doesn’t provide nearly enough information about the Book of the Black, in which Kyle draws to manipulate the book, for the scene to have a real impact. Furthermore, the resolution of the Krona plotline is disappointing because in it, we see a hero behaving unheroically, killing his opponent. It certainly makes for an appropriately climactic moment, but the fact that the killing, justified or not, goes against what the character believes isn’t addressed at all.

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O Beautiful, For Specious Skies

Captain America #1
“American Dreamers, Part 1”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Pencils: Steve McNiven
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: McNiven & Morales (regular)/John Romita Sr. & Joe Sinnott/Neal Adams/Olivier Coipel (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $3.99 US

When it comes to repeated relaunches, DC has The Flash, and Marvel has Captain America. I’ve seen a couple of sites refer to this new series as Captain America v.5. The relaunch is a marketing strategy, but the bump it provides is usually so fleeting, it hardly seems worth the bother. After all, the big selling point here for comics fans isn’t the new #1, but the fact that longtime Cap writer Ed Brubaker is joined by popular artist Steve McNiven. McNiven really delivers here, offering up visuals that outshine his work on such recent projects as Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Nemesis and Amazing Spider-Man. As for the writing, while it’s clear Brubaker is comfortable with these characters, the plotting comes off a far too familiar.

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Lantern’s Light, Hornet’s Sting

I think I know of one reason why the Green Lantern movie hasn’t fared as well as hoped at the box office.

The movie’s star Ryan Reynolds has enjoyed a pretty comfy relationship with People Magazine as of late. He was named the mag’s Sexiest Man Alive this year, so with a big-budget tentpole flick in theatres this summer, People was bound to focus its peepers on the Canadian actor yet. In the June 27 edition, Reynolds took over the last page of the magazine for a regular feature in which a celebrity is offers quick answers to five questions. Among the topics are hangovers, greeting cards and mixtapes (does anyone even make those anymore?).

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Time Flies

The Red Wing #1
“Learning to Fly”
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Cover artists: Pitarra (regular)/Dustin Weaver (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Oh, how I’ve longed to see that stark, white background/cover design, with the words “” printed on the back cover under a small crest. Writer Jonathan Hickman has made a strong impression in the past couple of years with his work at Marvel, but even his best work with the super-hero publisher pales in comparison with the creator-owned work published by Image that first solidified his reputation in the industry. I’m thrilled that he’s returned to it with this new project. Marvel clearly values Hickman and has its own imprint for creator-owned comics (Icon), but it’s encouraging to see the writer stick with the one who brung ‘im, so to speak. There’s a fairly straightforward idea at the heart of this science-fiction story — time travel as a means to wage war — but Hickman dresses it up nicely with some smart dialogue. But what makes the story worth reading isn’t the convincing, cool science speak or jaunts into the past, but rather a simple story about one person’s struggle with the conflicting emotions of grief and hope.

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Funeral for a Friend

Ultimate Fallout #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Andy Lanning
Colors: Justin Ponsor & Laura Martin
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Bagley & Lanning (regular)/Marko Djurdjevic (variant)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $3.99 US

See, now this is why I loved Ultimate Spider-Man so much when it debuted a decade ago.

Make no mistake, this is essentially Ultimate Spider-Man #161, and it boasts the kind of character-driven, down-to-earth moments that made the series such a draw in the first place. This stands out as one of the best comics Bendis has written in a while. Sure, it boasts a few cliches, as the manner in which some of the characters mourn is predictable and familiar. But there’s some genuine emotion to be found here. Often, it’s been Bendis’ dialogue that really sold me on the characters, but here, he opts for quieter reactions. Sometimes, we’re left to guess what the characters are thinking, and at others, it’s painfully clear. I was also pleased to find some of the nicest Mark Bagley art I’ve seen in recent memory as well. He’s always been known more for his ability to convey action, but he excels in selling feeling in this issue with some thoroughly emotive but not exaggerated expressions.

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Quick Critiques – July 10, 2011

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #6 (Marvel Worldwide)
by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay & Dave Meikis

Heinberg’s plot threatens to collapse under the weight of all of the Marvel continuity that’s such an integral part of the story. It’s as though he looked to some of the most convoluted stories in Marvel’s recent and not-so-recent history and decided to take care of loose threads and unanswered questions. Not only is there an overwhelming amount of continuity to wade through in the exposition-heavy script, but Heinberg has populated the story with crowds of characters. It seems that just about every Marvel hero but the Fantastic Four turns up in this story (of course, the FF’s archenemy has served as the antagonist for the previous couple of issues). At first glance, I would be loath to recommend this comic book to anyone but the most devoted of Marvel zombies, but I have to admit, seeing all of these colorful characters together was a lot of fun. Heinberg manages to include some moments of humanity in between all the continuity references, and while he’s included a lot of Marvel’s history here, he does explain it fairly well in the script. I was reminded of the DC titles of the 1970s and ’80s I read as a kid that sent me scrambling to learn more about the characters and events to which they referred.

Jim Cheung’s art throughout this series has been absolutely lovely, and the strongest visual he’s offered is his depiction of the Scarlet Witch. He brings such a softness, beauty and kindness to the character that one can’t help but be drawn to her. And liking Wanda adds to the story, as the central plot point now is whether she should be allowed to live just when she’s regained a sense of herself and a sense of happiness. There are times when his linework here reminds me of Oliver (The Mighty Thor) Coipel’s work. Ultimately, though, Cheung boasts a distinct, attractive, clean style, and that it stands out as unique and recognizable is one of the things I like about it. I was also pleased to find that the participation of three inkers for this issue doesn’t lead to any kind of inconsistencies in the visual style of the storytelling. 7/10

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Goo goo g’joob

Snarked #0
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Roger Langridge
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Editor: Bryce Carlson
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Kaboom! imprint
Price: $1 US

Poor Roger Langridge. He’s been crafting some fantastic comics in recent years featuring mainstream, pop-culture icons. He wrote one of the best super-hero comics Marvel has published in recent years, but alas, Thor the Mighty Avenger was cancelled after less than a year of publication. And before that, he did the impossible, making a TV variety/comedy show come alive in comics with The Muppet Show, published by Boom! Studios. Well, I’m pleased the folks at Boom! have given his new creator-owned project a home with its kids’ comics imprint. Langridge’s cartooning brought the same kind of fun and energy to Snarked that it did to The Muppet Show. It turns out that his characters aren’t entirely unfamiliar either… though I required something of an education as the source material and inspiration that led to the creation of this property. Snarked doesn’t have the same kind of recognizable cachet as those Muppets comics and won’t necessarily resonate as much, but it does demonstrate the irreverence and personality that makes Langridge such an appealing comics creator.

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What’s In a Name?

I’m hopeful that DC’s super-hero line-wide relaunch in September will be a success, and I’ve applauded the publisher not only for its dedication to such a massive undertaking but the skill with which company officials have handled promotional efforts. Not only did they make a surprising splash with the initial announcements, but they’ve managed to make the initiative an ongoing, seemingly perpetual presence in industry news and chatter. It keeps rolling out new information and new images. Even the unveiling of a few new logos (and even an old one, for Resurrection Man) has kept the relaunch in the news cycle. It’s likely that DC will also dominate comics industry announcements at Comic Con International in San Diego later this month with more revelations about its ambitious new publishing initiative.

My one repeated criticism of its public-relations strategy is that it lacked a clear brand. DC hadn’t named its own new direction, leading others to stamp such titles as “The DC Reboot/Relaunch” or “DCNu” on it. Well, DC Comics has finally come up with a name for its new line. “The New 52” has its advantages as a brand, but it also has its flaws.

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Coover Girl

Gingerbread Girl original graphic novel
Writer: Paul Tobin
Artist/Cover artist: Colleen Coover
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Price: $12.95 US

I pre-ordered this softcover graphic novel because I’m a big fan of artist Colleen Coover’s work. I didn’t even bother to find out what the story was about before committing to its purchase, so the subject matter was a complete surprise as I made my way through the first few pages of the book. To describe writer Paul Tobin’s plotting and narration choices as unique and unconventional would be an understatement. At first, the storytelling approach and the odd idea at the heart of the story struck me as a bit off-putting, but the premise and the narration quickly started to grow on me. What’s really appealing about this book are the character studies. While the focus is on Annah, the main character, the repeated jumps from one narrator to another offer the writer an opportunity to explore a number of secondary or even inconsequential characters in an unusual way. Of course, the book’s greatest strength is Coover’s charmingly sweet yet ever-so-slightly saucy artwork. Publishing information in the front of the book categorizes this as a mystery book, and it’s a fitting label, as there are no definitive answers but a satisfying read nonetheless.

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