Action Comics #900 (DC Comics)
by Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Jesus Merino & many other creators
I heard some good things about this comic book (not from Fox News, obviously), so I decided to check it out. First of all, while this is issue #900, it isn’t the 900th issue — it’s the 902nd (remember issues #0 and #1,000,000). The strong storytelling that a friend told me about wasn’t to be found in the main story, which wraps up writer Paul Cornell and artist Pete Woods’ lengthy Lex Luthor arc, and it falls completely flat. While the inner conflict that ultimately proves to be an omnipotent villain’s undoing is a nice bit of super-hero genre writing, the path that gets the audience there is dizzying. I’ve read a lot of “The Black Ring,” and I honestly don’t know what’s going on here, even with all of the exposition. Furthermore, the inclusion of “Reign of the Doomsdays” plot elements interrupts the main story; it’s like a square peg being jammed into a round hole. The shifts back and forth between the two disparate plotlines is jarring, and Jesus Merino’s rough linework pales in comparison with the more polished, interesting work Woods offers up. Of course, I’m not always clear on what’s happening in those Superman/Luthor sequences either; they’re pretty, but often vague.
David Goyer’s story in which Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship is much ado about nothing; the character isn’t turning his back on the States but instead dedicates himself to the entire planet. The story itself is oversimplified and overwrought; it’s a good think it was a short story and not a full issue of the series. The storyboarded Richard Donner screenplay was quite disappointing. Not only is the plot uninspired, the decision to use rough storyboards instead of reinterpreting the script as a comic-book story was a misstep. The Geoff Johns/Gary Frank Legion story is a fun concept, but unfortunately, they don’t really see it all of the way through. The strength my friend told me about is Damon Lindelof’s small contribution to the Superman mythos. It’s incredibly effective and engrossing, and it’s thanks to the misdirection in the piece. Ryan Sook’s rich, textured artwork is absolutely lovely as well. 4/10
Fear Itself #2 (Marvel Comics)
by Matt Fraction, Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger
I love the way this book looks. The designs for the new hammer-wielding pawns of the Serpent are striking, achieving a nice balance between sci-fi elements and imagery that puts one in mind of Norse runes. Immonen also conveys a lot of drama through the characters’ expressions, and inker Wade von Grawbadger brings a nice, crisp polish to the pencils. Furthermore, Laura Martin’s brilliant colors reinforce the magical and cosmic nature of the conflict without making things seem too bright. I also thoroughly enjoyed the wide array of characters that are included in the story. One really gets the impression that the story is spanning and involving the entire Marvel Universe (even though we’ve really only seen characters that are already spotlighted in other titles).
Odin’s role in the story is an ongoing point of contention. I just don’t buy into his short-sightedness and willingness to sacrifice an entire planet full o people, especially since we haven’t seen what sort of threat the Serpent and its forces represent. But most frustrating is the fact that nothing really happens in this issue. The same scene keeps repeating, as we see heroes and villains alike transformed after touching enchanted hammers that have crashed to Earth from space. After the second instance, it stops being interesting, especially when one finds out later in the issue that some of the scenes that begin in this comic book will run their course in other titles I don’t planning on purchasing. Since the story doesn’t advance here, this comes off more as an exercise in marketing than storytelling. I don’t mind big crossover event books as long as the story is good, and I’m still waiting for a story after two issues and eight bucks. 5/10
Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1 (Image Comics)
by Mark Andrew Smith & Armand Villavert
The manager at my local comic shop recommended this comic highly, and I was already curious about it, as the colorful cover caught my eye when it hit the stands a couple of weeks ago. Furthermore, given Image’s track record as of late in publishing strong, original new titles, that was enough to get me to check this comic book out. Unfortunately for me, I found that Gladstone’s didn’t continue the trend of strong storytelling that we’ve found in such titles as Nonplayer, Undying Love and other recent Image releases. This comic, about a school for super-villains, is hardly reinventing the wheel. Gladstone’s is basically a spin on the Hogwart’s concept. The character concepts are fairly generic — cute, but rather familiar, truth be told. Still, there’s a lot of energy in the book once the focus turns to the students. Unfortunately, the first third of the book focuses on the history of the school, and it’s really not information the reader needed in order to appreciate the story and characters. The title itself tells the audience almost everything it needs to know.
Armand Villavert’s artwork is highly reminiscent of the style of Michael Avon (Powers, Takio) Oeming. Like the character concepts, the character designs are cute but somewhat derivative. Of course, the creators often explore archetypes here rather than actual characters, so I suppose that’s to be expected. I was disappointed to find that the backgrounds throughout this comic were lacking. Given the setting, there’s a lot of opportunity for imagination and invention, but there’s never a strong sense of place, of what this unusual school actually looks like inside. The most striking thing about the artwork on this book is colors. Colorist Carlos Carrasco employs an exceedingly bright palette. The colors — almost Day-Glo in their brightness — really dominate almost every page, every panel. I get what he’s trying to do. It looks as though he’s trying to strike a balance between a lighter, more playful look and an eerie, even surreal mood. But the colors end up overwhelming the line art as a result. 5/10
Herc #2 (Marvel Comics)
by Greg Pak, Fred van Lente, Neil Edwards & Scott Hanna
While I didn’t read Chaos War, the event that resurrected the “deceased” Hercules and led to this title, I was looking forward to it, as writers Pak and van Lente did an excellent job with the title character in his previous series, The Incredible Hercules (which had taken over the run of Incredible Hulk for a while). Pak and van Lente have continued their incorporation of Greek myth in greater detail, but some of what I enjoyed about Incredible Herc is missing from plain ol’ Herc. Absent is the joy. The humor and irreverence that one often found in that previous series are lacking here. Also missing is Amadeus Cho. Incredible Herc really had two main protagonists, and removing Cho from the equation here definitely weakens the Marvel’s modern Hercules brand. The interplay between the brawn and the brains really made those prior comics a lot of fun to read. When I read this issue and last month’s debut, I didn’t have fun. Arming the character with an arsenal of mythic weapons is a good idea, but the darker, urban tone of the plotting and premise overwhelms that more colorful concept.
The art is capable and clear for the most part, but again, there’s no fun here. Penciller Neil Edwards tries to render the Hobgoblin in a realistic fashion, and the approach just doesn’t suit the character. Hobgoblin looks odd rather than monstrous. I also find it odd that while Hercules’ new costume is depicted on both the cover and the teaser for the next issue on the last page, it makes no appearance at all in this issue. He’s still in his old, look-at-my-chest-hair togs, and the new outfit should really be here to serve as a visual cue that this is a new direction for the character. 4/10
Richie Rich: Rich Rescue #1 (Ape Entertainment)
Those looking for an all-ages read here need not bother, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good comic book. It’s a good comic for kids, not all ages. The creators here have reinvented Richie Rich, more from a visual perspective than a conceptual one, though. Gone is the Harvey Comics house style that we normally associated with the character. In its place is a more contemporary but cartoony approach; in fact, this looks like a platform for a 21st-century take on the title character as a globetrotting adventurer/philanthropist for animation. The balloon-headed character designs are replaced with more… well, realistic isn’t the right word, but slightly more appropriately proportioned looks for the characters. I was a little disappointed with a couple of the newer elements; Cadbury is reimagined as a lantern-jawed, barrel-chested muscle man rather than the lean, bald, stoic butler we got to know in Richie Rich comics of the past. The plotting is simple but serviceable for a younger audience. The colors on the stories featuring these retooled characters are a little too gaudy for my taste; there are lost opportunities to set a slightly darker (though fun) mood when called for.
I was pleased to find that the producers of this comic book take care to acknowledge where the property came from. There’s an essay by Richie Rich co-creator Sid Jacobsen that outlines the character’s history (with hyperbole that would do Stan Lee proud), but more importantly, there’s a “classic” style Richie Rich story included in this comic as well. At first, I thought we were looking at a reprint, but artist Ernie Colon’s apparent use of computer art for some elements made me think differently. It’s a cute story, but incredibly simple and not entirely logical at times. It’ll entertain the tykes, but there’s not much here for the older set. 6/10
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