Amazing 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.
The art for this particular issue is clear and clean, and it’s never confusing, so that’s good. But at the same time, the style is inconsistent. Richard Elson’s name is a new one to me, so I can only guess he’s still developing his own approach to comic art. Sometimes his work reminds me of Frank Cho’s work, and at others, like Stefano Caselli’s more detailed, expressive characters. At others, there’s a simpler tone that dominates the art, looking a bit like a cross between the styles of Ron Lim and Todd Nauck. They’re all fine artists, but the end result is the comic book looks as though it was illustrated by a team of pencillers, not a lone artist. Furthermore, Elson’s work boasts a lighter look for the most part, which doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the tone for which Slott strives. 5/10
Captain America #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Rick Remender, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson
It’s always a pleasure to see John Romita Jr. taking on a new project. More JRjr art is always a good thing. Klaus Janson’s inks make things a little too loose and undefined at times. The other-dimensional minions are too cartoony to seem terribly menacing, and the young girl in the scene doesn’t look like a young girl all the time. The train scene doesn’t flow all that well either. But despite those glitches in the visuals, the artists redeem themselves with a fantastic portrayal of a classic Cap villain. The big reveal unfolds perfectly, and it draws the reader into the story quite effectively.
Like many of the publisher’s Marvel Now! relaunches, there’s little reason for the renumbering approach. This just reads like a new story arc by a new creative team, and it doesn’t stand out enough to feel like something particularly new and worthy of a new first issue. The story is fun, mind you, reminiscent of the kind of thing one might have found in Cap comics of the 1960s or ’70s. The opening scene features a throwaway character dubbed “the Green Skull,” an environmental terrorist who’s modelled himself after the Red Skull for some reason (this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Green Skull, though, as those who read the DC/Marvel Amalgam comics of the mid 1990s will recall). Writer Rick Remember manages to portray him as a real threat despite the campiness of his weapons (a root gun?). The other-dimensional adventure that serves as the main plot for this arc, though, seems a bit outside the title character’s wheelhouse, and despite the otherwise old-school tone of the story, Remender includes a somewhat gruesome torture/experimentation scene that really didn’t need to be quite so over the top. Cap’s special shield trick in a pivotal scene was a bit hard to swallow as well. Most frustrating is the train scene. We’re never told why people are boarding a mystery science train, and it’s not clear what Cap’s mission is when he boards it. Overall, this is a somewhat clunky but traditional super-hero story that ultimately feels somewhat unremarkable. 5/10
Comeback #1 (Image Comics/Shadowline imprint)
by Ed Brisson & Michael Walsh
Another week brings another strong debut issue from Image Comics. The premise is one full of potential. The focus is on an underworld organization that profits by selling its time-travel services to the loved ones of people who have died within the past couple of months (as there are limits to how far they can travel safely). What’s most interesting about the writing here is the focus isn’t on the technology being used to save lives. It’s about making money, and as a result, the science-fiction elements are eclipsed by the harsher side of the enterprise. In short, this reads more like an organized-crime drama. And while the premise and edge of the story are compelling, writer Ed Brisson introduces us to a couple of characters that ring true despite the illegal nature of their work and the fantastic aspect of the plot.
Michael Walsh’s artwork serves the tension, edge and intrigue of the premise and plot quite well. If I hadn’t looked at the credits on the inside front cover first, I could have easily mistaken Walsh’s linework for that of Paul (Talent, Amazing Spider-Man) Azaceta, Michael (Daredevil, Gotham Central) Lark or perhaps Greg (Sword of Dracula) Scott. Walsh boasts a simpler style that captures the dark excitement of the story and conveys a convincing look with its grittiness and his strong eye for anatomy. Jordie Bellaire’s dark colors reinforce the cloak-and-dagger/crime-genre atmosphere as well. Walsh also does an excellent job with the one gruesome and fantastic visual scene in the book, and it’s so out of place and perfectly timed, it really has an impact on the reader. 8/10
Journey Into Mystery #646 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Kathryn Immonen & Valerio Schiti
Of all of the new creative teams debuting this month on Marvel titles, this one is likely to get the least attention, which is unfortunate, because it was the one I was most interested in seeing. I didn’t read writer Kieron Gillen’s stint on Journey Into Mystery, as I’m generally disinterested in Marvel’s Asgardian characters. But when I heard Kathryn Immonen was taking over the writing reins on this book, I immediately emailed the manager at my local comic shop and asked him to add the title to my pull list. Immonen’s weird and quirky plotting and scripting on a Patsy Walker: Hellcat limited series a few years ago turned me into an instant fan, and she brings the same sensibilities into play here (albeit not quite so over the top this time around). Though I worry about support from both the publisher and comics buyers for a comic book featuring a lesser-known heroine penned by a woman, it merits that support. What’s most interesting about Immonen’s story is how Lady Sif apparently serves as both the protagonist and the villain. Ultimately, her story appears to be about what can be lost when one places too strong an emphasis on security for one’s home, thereby sacrificing personal ideals.
Valerio Schiti’s art is a good match for Immonen’s work. He adopts an angular but flowing style for the action-oriented sequences that reminds me of David Lafuente’s kinetic style from the afore-mentioned Hellcat series. But for the quieter, conversational scenes, there’s a softer look at play, notably in the characters’ features. Furthermore, consummate Thor artist Walt Simonson’s influence quietly looms over the whole book. It shows through in Sif’s general look and is even more apparent in the design for the corpse-eating dragon the heroine seeks out in the second act. 8/10
Justice League #14 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Tony S. Daniel, Matt Banning & Sandu Florea/Johns & Gray Frank
I didn’t care for Tony Daniel’s art on the first issue of the relaunched Detective Comics last year because it looked like a jigsaw puzzle made up of various Batman artists’ interpretations of the dark characters. Daniel’s fill-in work on Justice League is far more pleasing. Yes, he’s riffing on Jim Lee’s style here, but he’s not aping it outright. There’s a bright, crisp look at play here that suits DC’s flagship title. Though Geoff Johns’s script strives for a serious tone, the art, with Tomeu Morey’s vibrant colors, establishes a fun one instead. When Johns established a focus on a single Wonder Woman villain in the previous issue, I was intrigued, as it seemed like an unusual plot for a Justice League story, but one that offered a chance some characterization potential and some background on the New 52 incarnation of Wonder Woman. But the plotting here is repetitive and scattered. The South American tribe’s quest to kill Barbara Minerva is just abandoned with no resolution, and the revelation of the character’s true nature as a criminal rather than a victim of a supernatural mishap drops like a cow on a Saturday Night Live set from the 1970s.
(Oops Department: My reference to South America was wrong. The story is set in the Congo.)
The Shazam! backup focuses on the villains of the piece, and while Johns’s plot is far more predictable here, it’s also pretty satisfying. I think what’s holding my interest here is the radically different take on Sivana the writer offers. Furthermore, his take on Billy Batson has far more self-centred in his early exploration and use of his powers makes a lot of sense, and it’s surprising when someone manages to instill a small measure of credibility into the Shazam! concept. Gary Frank’s art is in keeping with the more dire and mature tone Johns and DC are seeking to inject into the property, and his detailed linework is quite attractive. But ultimately, this effort to craft a darker and edgier take on the World’s Mightiest Mortal and his villains seems ill-advised. It didn’t work six years ago with The Trials of Shazam!, and it didn’t work in the 1980s with Shazam!: A New Beginning. The property has always been at its best as something lighter, playful fare. 5/10
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