Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Nov. 5, 2006

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 5th, 2006

Criminal #2 (Marvel Comics/Icon imprint)
by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Well, it’s official: the strength of the first issue was no fluke. But then, any of us familiar with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s past collaborations already knew it wasn’t a fluke. Brubaker’s plot advances briskly, much to my surprise and pleasure. I had thought this series might embrace a slower pace in order to allow Brubaker to focus on characterization, but the plot gallops ahead. It allows the writer to surprise us. The quicker pace means anything can happen — and does. The writer still shares strong characterization, especially when it comes to Leo. This issue demonstrates just how smart he is and how resourceful. The dichotomy of his concern for Ivan and Greta and his prioritization of always saving his own skin above all else is engaging.

Sean Phillips’s gritty art is, of course, a perfect match for the harsh world into which Brubaker guides us. I’m particularly taken with the muted colors Val Staples brings to the book, though. Staples’s past work has usually incorporated bright, garish hues, but he’s toned things down significantly here to achieve an appropriate atmosphere for this crime drama. 9/10

Detective Comics #825 (DC Comics)
by Royal McGraw, Marcos Marz & Luciana Del Negro

I’ve enjoyed the past few issues of this series, mainly because the scripts, penned by Paul Dini, have achieved a nice balance between traditional Batman stories and darker, more modern sensibilities. This issue isn’t penned by Dini, though. Writer Royal McGraw has got the traditional side of things down pretty well, but as for a more modern, mature tone… well, that’s lacking. And when I say he’s got the traditional thing down, I mean a rudimentary, obvious story that belongs in the 1960s or ’70s. The narration and dialogue are mired in obvious details, and the plot is a cliched one that was stale before the Silver Age came to an end. The artwork aims for a photorealistic tone, but it comes off as extremely stiff. On top of that, Marz’s eye for anatomy is sometimes lacking, and the characters aren’t rendered in a consistent manner. Marz definitely has potential, and I think it’s good that DC is trying out new talent. But the penciller definitely has some development ahead of him. It’s my understanding that Dini and penciller Don Kramer return to the title next month. It comes as a relief. 2/10

Fantastic Four: The End #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Alan Davis

These alternate-future stories set in shared-continuity settings are usually a good bit of fun for fans of the super-hero genre, and this title is no exception. Davis crafts a script that incorporates much more than the Fantastic Four’s own little corner of the Marvel Universe. The Avengers, Dr. Strange and more play pivotal roles here. I like that the sci-fi premise driving the story forward actually has a strong socio-political element to it. Ultimately though, this is a story about the title team drifting apart, and more specifically, about the world’s smartest man being oblivious to what’s going on in his own life. Yes, it’s a familiar theme for these characters, and the story unfolds somewhat predictably. But Davis’s script stays true to the characters and relishes in the personal and emotional strengths of the other three members of the team. What’s really wonderful about this book, though, is Davis’s artwork. His vision of a utopian future is dazzling and fanciful while still maintaining the strong sci-fi vibe that’s an inherent part of the property. One of the visual elements I found most intriguing was how much the monstrous new form of Dr. Doom, as depicted on the cover and in the opening flashback scene, reminded me of the Fury. The Fury was an unstoppable, robotic killing machine from the Captain Britain comics of the 1980s, illustrated by, you guessed it, Alan Davis. I wonder if it was an unintentional similarity, an homage to past work or a hint that Doom had co-opted the Fury technology in this alternate future. 7/10

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #2 (Marvel Comics)
by Robert Kirkman, Phil Hester & Ande Parks

I appreciate what Robert Kirkman is trying to do here. He’s presenting a regular guy in irregular circumstances. Eric O’Grady is no hero, but he’s not a villain either. We’re not meant to like him, since he only ever looks out for himself (thus the Irredeemable in the title), but that seems to be all there is to the character thus far. He’s rather pitiful at this point, and I’m just not that interested in him. Furthermore, Kirkman’s decision to link this origin story to the events of Wolverine: Enemy of the State still doesn’t work. I have no problem following along, given that I read the original source material, but new readers might feel left out of the loop. Furthermore, it introduces extraneous material that isn’t germane to the plot or characters. Despite my misgivings about the plotting, you won’t hear any complaints from me about the art. I’m over the similarities between the new Ant-Man design and Spider-Man’s new costume, as the extra arms/legs here really give the title character a greater insectoid look. I love the shadows Hester and Parks bring to the book; they add an edge and air of drama to what is otherwise a rather goofy story. 6/10

Jonah Hex #13 (DC Comics)
by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Jordi Bernet

This is the first episode of a three-part story arc promising to deliver the untold origin of Jonah Hex. DC promoted it as such, but that’s not what drew me back to this title. Instead, it was Jordi Bernet’s participation that served as the real appeal. And he doesn’t disappoint. His line art here reminds me of the styles of such classic, legendary talents as Alex Toth and Joe Kubert. He conveys the brutality of the world in which the title character lives without resorting to showing the gory details of the violent conflicts. The artist doesn’t aim for a realistic look with his thick linework and inky shapes, but he achieves a convincing effect all the same. Rob Schwager’s colors add to the tension and drama of the story nicely, but the most striking visual in the book is the crucifixion image teased on the cover. Bernet really drives home the fragility of Hex’s health and the overwhelming exhaustion. Gray and Palmiotti’s script is rather predictable, even familiar. It really tells us little new about the title character, save for how he managed to get his trademark grisly visage. Still, while the plot is by the numbers, it suits the character and entertains. 7/10

Pirate Tales #1 (Boom! Studios)
by various writers & artists

Thanks to Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski, pirates are hot pop-culture commodities these days, and perhaps no other medium has capitalized on the trend more than comics. Boom! Studios offers up this thoroughly entertaining anthology. The good news is that even the weakest of the stories found in this book are solidly entertaining. The better news is that there are a couple of stories that are truly outstanding. The loveliest gem in the lot is a modern-day pirate story involving a cruise-ship captain who was forever denied his family’s traditions and legacies thanks to modern technology. It’s penned by John (Blue Beetle) Rogers, one of the publisher’s mainstay creators, and it’s got it all — strong characterization, action and realism tempered with an unusual tone of a fantasy come true. Lee Carter’s dark, grey artwork brings some real gravitas to the short story, and I just love the hazy look. Jean Dzialowski’s artwork on writer Joe Casey’s contribution is a real standout as well. The sketchiness of the linework and the yellow tinge to the art (courtesy of colorist Sunder Raj) really capture a sense of historic. There’s nary a single story nor a single visual style in the book that’s off-putting, and that alone is an achievement for any comic-book anthology. 7/10

Seven Soldiers #1 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison & J.H. Williams III

DC, Morrison and Williams asked readers to wait an awfully long time for this conclusion, and man, was it not worth the wait. Don’t get me wrong — the art is stunning in its detail and diversity, while the script is often challenging and always ambitious. And it’s been so long since I read any of the earlier Seven Soldiers material that I spent half of the book completely lost. Ideally, this bookend comic should flow from the original #0 issue that got the whole experiment underway. I don’t see such a flow. Morrison also spends so much effort keeping the title characters apart from one another that it interrupts the flow of the storytelling, so much so that at times, sequences seem like they are completely unconnected in the first place. This is most notable with Morrison’s take on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters here. Honestly, I was disappointed there wasn’t more interaction among the characters. The repeated shifts in storytelling approaches — both visually and in the script — were jarring as well. I think what ultimately sinks this concluding issue isn’t the lateness but the fact that Morrison places a greater emphasis on the intricacies of this genre experiment rather than entertaining his readers. 5/10

3 Responses to “Quick Critiques – Nov. 5, 2006”

  1. Hellhound Says:

    I have to agree with the Seven Soldiers review. Not only don’t the characters interact, but most of their story lines don’t seem to even have any real bearing on the overall storyline with the Sheeda.

    The disjointed ending might not have been so disappointing if the other miniseries had actually been as standalone as Morrison promised.

    Instead we got the worst of both worlds with interconnected minis that were supposed to be standalone and a mish-mash ending that failed to really tie everything together as foreshadowed.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Well, Seven Soldiers: The Guardian was pretty much self-contained, and save for the final issue, so was Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein.

  3. Joseph Johnson Says:

    I loved Criminal #2. I can only see it getting better and better.