Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Nov. 23, 2008

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 23rd, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #578 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Waid & Marcos Martin

When the cover image for this issue was released a couple of months ago, a lot of people complained that the creators seemed to be out to replicate a classic Spidey story in which he was trapped under tons of rubble, unable to free himself. A read of this new issue will reveal a different kind of story, one that taps into classic Spidey concepts but nevertheless boasts a more modern feel as well. Yes, the story hinges on a couple of hard-to-swallow coincidences, but those have been mainstays of the genre for decades. Ultimately, I think Mark Waid delivers a smart script and a fascinating new subplot in the form of an addition to the supporting cast of characters. After seeing his work on the Brian Vaughan-penned Dr. Strange: The Oath, just about everyone knew Marcos Martin would excel when he finally took on Spider-Man, given the wonderful Steve Ditko vibe in his style these days. Martin’s earlier efforts boasted a simple tone, and that’s still felt here. But there’s also an incredible level of detail to be found as well; just check out the linework that goes into bringing the weather and Spidey’s webbing to life on the opening splash page. Rather than trying to convince us of the reality of Spidey’s world, though, the detail is more about driving home a mood.

Since it relaunched as a thrice-monthly title, I’ve found Amazing Spider-Man to be incredibly frustrating. I enjoyed Dan Slott and John Romita Jr.’s “New Ways to Die” story arc and Waid and Marcos’s offering here, but other recent issues did little or nothing for me. I’m not following the title, but rather, certain creators. I’m checking to see who’s working on a particular issue before committing to purchase, and I’m not sure if rotating the creative teams is serving the book that well. 8/10

Batman: Cacophony #1 (DC Comics)
by Kevin Smith, Walter Flanagan & Sandra Hope

I’ve read a number of criticisms of this new Batman comic, many of which revolve around writer Kevin Smith’s incorporation of low-brow humor into the Batman’s world. I think those criticisms are valid, but fortunately, those elements are few and far between here and easily ignored, given how poorly they fit in with the rest of the materials. Others have blasted this as a rather stereotypical or even hum-drum Batman story, and on that point, I disagree. Smith incorporates some great plot concepts in this first issue. I thought he handled Deadshot (and his unfortunate fate) incredibly well, and the notion of a criminal adapting the Joker’s deadly poison into a euphoria-inducing street drug strikes me as a great story idea. Furthermore, I really like Onomatopoeia as a villain. Others have dismissed him as a gimmick, but I find him to be surreal and chilling in nature. I’m also thoroughly surprised at the strength of Walter Flanagan’s artwork. To be honest, I expected weak visuals, as I figured Smith just finagled a DC art gig for his buddy. But Flanagan proves himself to be a capable storyteller. His work here seems like a cross between art of Barry (The Order) Kitson and Kelley (Sandman) Jones. His depictions of the Joker and Maxie Zeus are a little too cartoony, but overall, I thought the visuals were solid. The visual juxtaposition of Deadshot and Onomatopoeia was particularly effective. 7/10

Last Reign #1 (Boom! Studios)
By Michael Alan Nelson & Ed Estevez

This property (the creation of Walt Becker, the front and inside covers proclaim) is another in a long line of sword-and-sorcery books that are fairly common in the world of comics and genre fiction. As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve never been much of a fan of the genre, but I have to give writer Michael Alan Nelson credit for holding my attention with this first issue. I found the connection between warrior-king Lord Darius and his son to be convincing, making the stereotypically tragic ending a compelling moment rather than a tired one. Nevertheless, the plot here is more than a little familiar, and the twist (the hint at the “true” of this seemingly magical, centuries-old landscape) isn’t all that novel either. Ed Estevez’s artwork is fairly strong throughout the issue. His art here reminds me of a cross between the styles of J. Scott (Danger Girl) Campbell and Ron (Skaar, Son of Hulk) Garney. The characters are easily distinguishable from one another, and the younger characters actually look younger, not just like stubby adults. The interior artwork is quite unlike what one finds on either of the two covers. Estevez boasts a conventional style one might find in a typical super-hero comic; the detailed, harsh look on the covers isn’t really to be found within. I think the greatest visual strength to be found in this comic book are the airy colors by Cris Peter. The lighter pastels reinforce the magic and fantasy over the grim side of the story, and I found that to be a refreshing change of pace. Overall, while the by-the-numbers approach to the plotting was a little off-putting, it ought to appear to fans of the genre, or to those who enjoyed such CrossGen fantasy titles as Scion, Sojourn and Meridian. 6/10

Terra #2 (DC Comics)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner

I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of this series. It seemed as though the writers had established a different, distinct corner of the DC Universe that the title character could explore, and Amanda Conner’s bright art seemed like a perfect match for the more traditional, old-school approach to the super-hero genre. Unfortunately, the first thing we find in this second issue is an overabundance of completely gratuitous female nudity. The writers try to play it up for laughs, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen bawdy visuals from Conner. Nevertheless, I found the focus on the young heroine naked form to be incredibly jarring and out of place, especially when the writers finally revisit the beginnings of the main plot from the first issue, in the form of the new villain who made his debut. This second issue, instead of dwelling on Terra’s heroics, instead lingers on the topic of her origin and the history of the Terra name. Unfortunately, the writers provide no answers, only more questions, and given that there’s only two more issues to go, that strikes me as an odd choice. By the end of the issue, the story is so immersed in DC history and continuity — referring to two previous Terras and taking the audience to Markovia — it seems as though it’s gone completely off the rails. Still, the undead baddies introduced in the Markovia scene were a lot of fun, leaving me to believe that the strength from the first issue could easily return. I’m disappointed in this second chapter, but I plan on picking up the third issue on the promise that came before. 4/10

12 Responses to “Quick Critiques – Nov. 23, 2008”

  1. Wayne Says:

    I’ve felt that Amazing Spider-Man has been jumping from strength to strength ever since “New Ways To Die.” It was decent before that storyline with a few really bright spots (Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo’s arc, Dan Slott and Marcos Martin’s Paperdoll story), but post-”NWtD,” it’s just been consistently great, to me.

    Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo’s Hammerhead two-parter, Zeb Wells’s one-shot Punisher story with Paolo Rivera–and now Waid and Martin’s arc? Personally, I think this is the best Spidey’s been since Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo’s highly under-appreciated run on Sensational Spider-Man in the late ’90s.

  2. Michael Hoskin Says:

    Re: Batman: Cacophony

    There’s another month ’til Christmas, Don. Bit early to be handing out presents.

  3. Nick Piers Says:

    I haven’t even bothered with Spider-Man comics for a very long time. Pretty much since the whole “Osborne boinked Gwen” and the end of Paul Jenkins’s run on Peter Parker: Spider-Man (which I THINK occurred around the same time).

    Since then, there have been endless events to attract new readers. “The Other,” the new armour, the unmasking, etc.

    Then, there was “One More Day.” Personally, I couldn’t care less about the “divorce” because Peter and MJ have split so many times since the marriage that it’s inevitable they’ll get back together.

    No, what bothers me is that these two very moral characters made a deal with the devil. This is the same Peter who turned down deals from gods, overlords and criminal masterminds on numerous occasions. And then he makes a deal with Mephisto, essentially the devil. Not only is it out of character for either Peter or MJ, but it was a horrible deus ex machina and a quick fix to a problem only Joe Quesada had a problem with. The fact that they used that one thing to magically sweep away Spidey’s different powers, his public identity and Harry somehow being back is ridiculous and just bad writing.

    What’s worse is that since then, we’ve seen no mention of Mephisto since. So, basically, every single issue of “One More Day” that comes out means that the bad guy is winning and continues to win.

    THAT is not a superhero comic I want anything to do with, no matter what creative team is on it.

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    Nick wrote:
    THAT is not a superhero comic I want anything to do with, no matter what creative team is on it.

    I don’t really get the sentiment. Given the long histories of characters such as Spider-Man, there are always going to be directions, ideas and interpretations some readers won’t agree with. Some good storytelling can still arise in the wake of one bad story.

    If the point is to send Marvel as a publisher a message, then wouldn’t the appropriate approach be to ignore all of its titles? After all, the creators who worked on “One More Day” aren’t attached to Amazing Spidey any more.

  5. Nick Piers Says:

    Well, the main person attached is still at Marvel: Quesada. This whole nonsense started when he wanted to split the couple up.

    I don’t argue that good stories can arise in the wake of a bad one. It’s just that the idea of “One More Day” sets up that the bad guy essentially won. And he’s continuing to win with every new BND issue being released. What’s worse is that he (Mephisto) hasn’t even been mentioned or appeared since. There should be some strings attached to this or a soul being sacrificed or something.

    My biggest beef is that OMD left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t even buy it. I haven’t bought a Spider-Man comic (outside of Ultimate) in years. I’ll continue show my dislike with my wallet.

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    Nick wrote:
    Well, the main person attached is still at Marvel: Quesada. This whole nonsense started when he wanted to split the couple up.

    But Quesada is essentially attached to all Marvel comics, including Ultimate Spider-Man. I’m just saying I don’t see how ignoring Amazing sends the message.

  7. Brian Woods Says:

    By not buying the title, Nick deprives Marvel of a sale. That’s the short of it, I think.

  8. alex Says:

    Hey i am a big fan of Steely Dan, but Mr. Walter Becker has a new album called Circus Money, What a great album it is, just had to share that with all the Steely Dan Fans.

  9. Don MacPherson Says:

    Alex wrote:
    Hey i am a big fan of Steely Dan, but Mr. Walter Becker has a new album called Circus Money, What a great album it is, just had to share that with all the Steely Dan Fans.

    Wrong Walt Becker, Alex. The Walt Becker in question is best known as the director of such movies as Van Wilder and Wild Hogs. The Steely Dan musician is another guy entirely.

  10. Dwight Williams Says:

    I think the complaints are tied precisely and specifically to that one title, Don. The rest of the line didn’t get this kind of attention from the E-i-C, attention he had been promising for the better part of two years in spite of repeated requests in various forae to back off of this particular goal.

  11. Steve Says:

    Personally I’m not really sure if they’ve done the best thing with OMD but with a few exceptions the newer books have a good ol’ Spidey feel to them which, for now, is keeping my attention.

  12. Murray Says:

    I missed the first issue of Terra. It sold out before I could snag a copy. But I picked up the second and third issue and quite enjoyed them. Given that they’ve chosen to name their character after a different character with a huge history in the DCU it’s going to be inevitable that they deal with any connections to the original Terra. And, by the end of the third issue, they’ve dealt with those connections. In an entertaining way, for me at least. I’m not sure that everything makes sense, but really, the history has been dealt with and the story can move forward. Well, it was always moving forward, in my mind, because there were other things going on while they delved into Terra’s backstory.

    Plus, the art is beautiful… there’s a cool setting for the stories, and there’s a sense of fun infused throughout. I’m enjoying the series and hope to pick up issue #1 somewhere.