Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Aug. 16, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 16th, 2014

Avengers World #11 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Nick Spencer & Raffaele Ienco

A few days ago, I praised the writing in another Avengers title, noting Jonathan Hickman’s of an impossible but intriguing ethical question really served as a nice payoff of his run on that title. Avengers World features another one of Hickman’s larger-than-life Avengers concepts, but this one is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of strength. Written by Nick Spencer (with whom Hickman co-wrote this title for a time), it features the young future heroes from the Avengers Next direct-to-video animated movie coming back to the past to save the day in one facet of the multiple-hotspot crisis the title team has been facing over the course of this title. This aspect of the conflict with A.I.M. is resolved thanks to a miraculous plot device that I would imagine any hero, not only those travelling through time, could have employed. Why these future heroes had to come back to deal with the crisis is never made clear. Furthermore, while we’re meant to believe it, they’re never portrayed as particularly more powerful or adept than their present-day predecessors in the Avengers dynasties.

Compounding the shortcomings of the story is the artwork. Raffaele Ienco is a new name to me, but it seems obvious he still has some development as an artist ahead of him. He fails to convey the youth of the future Avengers children, nor do their powers seem particularly dynamic here. The reader often has to rely on the script to communicate what s/he is seeing in the visual component of this book. His work pales in comparison with series regular Stefano Caselli, and it just doesn’t boast the polish and drama one has come to expect from this usually cerebral take on super-heroes. 4/10

Dark Ages #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Culbard’s name is a new one to me, but the artist’s work on this new story from Dark Horse demonstrates some solid storytelling ability. The style reminds me of a cross between those of such artists as Darwyn Cooke and Chris Samnee, with a hint of Mike Mignola thrown in for good measure. The designs for the creatures that beset upon the medieval mercenaries look specifically inspired by the latter artist’s work. Culbard’s muted colors work nicely with the subject matter as well, and he conveys the chaos and confusion of the initial battle adeptly. I’d be quite surprised if we didn’t see much more work from Culbard on other projects and from other American publishers in the not-too-distant future.

Dan Abnett’s story is a somewhat familiar one, as he injects a tried and true sci-fi/horror concept into another time, at unlikely characters. He thrusts a group of sword-wielding warriors into situations one can find in such movies as Aliens and Cowboys and Aliens. As a result, there aren’t a lot of surprises here and the story plods along predictably. Nevertheless, it makes for an undeniably entertaining read, probably because the script is so focused and the two main protagonists seem so well realized despite a temporal and cultural divide between them and the audience. The book struck me as something of a pitch for big-screen treatment, which isn’t uncommon for such limited series from smaller publishers these days. In any case, the first issue of Dark Ages is a fun read, and that’s something a lot of other comics can’t claim. 7/10

Variant coverNew Suicide Squad #2 (DC Comics)
by Sean Ryan, Tom Derenick, Scott Hanna, Mark Irwin, Norm Rapmund & Batt

I recently picked up a page of original comic art from artist Luke McDonnell from his run on Suicide Squad v.1, and I’m thrilled to own a piece of it. I’m a big fan of the Suicide Squad concept, but wow, has DC completely missed the mark with its latest attempt at the super-villain team. I really can’t tell if this is meant to be the farce it comes off as, and I have to assume it wasn’t, but it’s not amusing. Sean Ryan’s approach to the story seems to be to give each character a counterpart with which to bicker and fight. the motif keeps repeating, and it never works here. The only character that’s the least bit convincing and appropriate for the premise is Black Manta, and he’s the only one without an opposite number off which to play. The lack of diversity in the lineup of characters (and I don’t mean cultural or racial diversity) is astonishing, given the wide array of villain characters DC could have used in this book. That was one of the things that made the idea in the 1980s so much fun: the disparate nature of the roster.

Tom Derenick has proven himself to be a solid performer for DC in a pinch, but he boasts a generic super-hero style that just doesn’t work with the over-the-top violence of the Suicide Squad. The property calls for an edgier, darker look, and it’s not to be found here. It seems pretty clear Derenick was called to pinch-hit for or even replace Jeremy Roberts, who was the artist on the first issue. Bringing in a fill-in penciller on the second issue isn’t a good sign, and neither is the use of four different inkers to get the art produced. The only positive things I can say about the visuals for this book are the slick new Rocket Red designs and ample proof that Black Manta’s impossible design stands out as being quite cool no matter what context it appears in or what artist renders it. 2/10

Variant coverStar Spangled War Stories #1 (DC Comics)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Scott Hampton

While I give DC credit to trying to keep non-super-hero genre work among its lineup of New 52 titles, I honestly dismissed this new title as being as doomed as Men of War and G.I. Combat. But the manager at my local comics retailer urged me to check out this comic that I’d overlooked weeks before, and I’m thrilled he did. Though I saw the twist coming before it was revealed, it was a great use of horror-genre elements in a crime-drama setting. The story doesn’t boast any hint of a connection to the DC Universe, and I’m a bit puzzled why it’s been released as such. This would have worked well as a new Vertigo or Image release, but I’m guessing the writers have something planned in a future issue that calls for a link to the shared continuity of a super-hero universe. Or maybe it was felt the DC logo on the cover would simply bring to the attention of a wider audience. In any case, the characterization, plot and dialogue are wholly captivating, and despite the avoidance of swear words, there’s an edge and embrace of harshness that really sets this apart as a mature-readers comic.

Just as satisfying as the script is the artwork from industry veteran Scott Hampton. We don’t see nearly enough of his work these days, and his efforts here will be please newer readers who might not be as familiar with his work. I love how he brings a sexy quality to the main female character without sexualizing her. It’s her confidence and swagger that are attractive, not her physical form. Hampton also separates Carmen from the rest of the characters (almost entirely men) with a brighter, softer color palette, but it’s not a means to lessen her, to portray her as weaker somehow. Instead, it instills her with energy and draws the reader to her. 9/10

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