Category Archives: Reviews – Quick Critiques

Quick Critiques – July 3, 2007

Fantastic Four #547 (Marvel Comics)
by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar

McDuffie is in the midst of one of the most fun Fantastic Four stints I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and he manages to pull off the impossible. He handles the Torch/Thing interplay incredibly well, but he also manages to make the Black Panther and Storm funny as well. The science-fiction elements he brings to the mix are as inventive as anything one would find in a Warren Ellis script, and McDuffie manages to offer a nice blend of wholesome, playful super-hero fun with some compelling moments of drama and tension as well. McDuffie brings a classic sensibility to the title team despite the unconventional nature of the lineup, and the sense of wonder is infectious. The writer acknowledges other developments in Marvel continuity as of late (such as Civil War and the Marvel Zombies story arc from Black Panther), but knowledge of those minor footnotes aren’t required to appreciate this story. I was surprised that he decided to bring the new FF together with Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman so soon after the team was rearranged, but I love that Reed doesn’t actually interfere with the new leadership dynamic. Pelletier’s art is a perfect match to the enthusiasm and bright, flashy super-hero action upon which the plot is constructed. The cosmic sequences look great and show the artist’s imagination, but he manages to catch the reader’s eye with the characters’ personalities in the everyday sequences. I’m at a loss, however, why Marvel has decided to adorn these comics with covers by Michael Turner. His sleek style (which is thankfully not as sexed here for this cover as it usually is) emphasizes intensity and a certain Kewl factor that just isn’t in keeping with what readers can find beyond the cover art. 8/10

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Quick Critiques – June 20, 2007

Annihilation: Conquest Prologue #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mike Perkins

Though Civil War lit up the sales charts for Marvel in 2006 and 2007, one could easily argue that its Annihilation brand was a bigger success. The various Annihilation limited series didn’t sell Civil War numbers, but the creators behind those titles managed to grab readers’ attention with a number of third-tier, space-faring characters that no one really cared about at the time. The first round of Annihilation was so successful that it spawned a new hit ongoing title (Nova) and this sequel event. My concern was that the writers would tread the same territory as before, but Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning introduce a creepy new threat. The tension in this script is palpable, and it really draws one into this cosmic drama. More importantly, though, the writers are careful to bring these impossible heroes down to earth. With the new Quasar, they do so with her relationship with Moondragon and her insecurities about living up to heroic legacies. With Star-Lord, it’s his charisma and humor that make the cybernetically enhanced hero seem like a regular guy. Mike Perkins was an excellent choice as artist. His style brings a dark sense of drama to bear as well as a creepy, almost supernatural air to it. More importantly, the photorealistic leanings in his art makes these alien beings seem like people, not impossible figures on the far side of the universe. The design for the physical manifestation of the technological infection that drives the story forward is simple but thoroughly effective in instilling a sense of foreboding. it also makes it clear to the characters and readers that the infestation is deeply rooted and seemingly impossible to overcome. 8/10

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Quick Critiques – June 14, 2007

Countdown #46 (DC Comics)
by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Jesus Saiz/by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund

You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of DC Universe characters than me, and I love to see lesser known characters put to use in adventure stories and cosmic crossovers. So Countdown should be firing on all cylinders as far as I’m concerned, right? Wrong. This sixth issue of DC’s current weekly series disappoints in a number of ways. The more traditional tone to the super-hero story is lost when we see Mary marvel against a demon made up with the souls of stillborn babies. Stillborn babies? Who thought that was a good idea for a mainstream DC super-hero book? To be fair, it’s an interesting concept and definitely evokes an emotional response from the reader, but it would be more at home in a Swamp Thing or Hellblazer comic from DC’s Vertigo imprint. The new character introduced in this issue, Forerunner, doesn’t stand out in any way. All we know of her is that she’s a speedster, but the design looks generic inspired by the empty, Kewl mode of super-hero comics of the early 1990s. I remain interested in the Jimmy Olsen plotline, and Jason Todd’s detective skills help him stand out as an interesting character. I’m also a fan of the Flash’s Rogues Gallery, but the writers prove with this issue that including Piper among their number once again just doesn’t jibe with past continuity. Saiz’s art is pretty solid here, especially the Mary Marvel scenes (and his design for the unsettling demon is quite powerful). The “History of the Multiverse” backup story just doesn’t work in this format. The cosmic recap of DC’s past just doesn’t work in four-page spurts. Furthermore, Rapmund’s inks sometimes get in the way of Jurgens’s normally crisp, dynamic lines; the Monitor crowd scenes always look rushed, and the small distinctions among the Monitors are rarely clear. 3/10

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Quick Critiques – May 22, 2007

Delicate Axiom #1 (Tempo Lush)
by Richy K. Chandler

This mini-comic, produced by a writer/artist in London, defies description. At first glance, it’s something of a soap opera. The core premise of this 36-page issue is about two friends estranged from one another as each struggles to come to terms with another friend’s recent death. The people around them try to help bridge the gap between the two friends, as they know the relationship means more to them than even they realize. It seems like a well-grounded concept, but Chandler brings a decidedly surreal quality to the story by transforming some of the characters into figures from the world of fantasy. Mermaids, talking animals and angels are commonplace in this urban setting. Chandler holds off on revealing the fantastic elements, though, which comes into conflict with how the characters perceive them. The reader is meant to be awed, but that doesn’t work when the characters don’t react similarly. Furthermore, the script makes it seem as though we’ve missed out on large chunks of the story. Another friend’s death is the catalyst here, but we’re never told how he died so suddenly. This doesn’t read like an introductory issue. It seems much more like a continuation of a larger saga.

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Quick Critiques – May 9, 2007

Empowered original graphic novel (Dark Horse Comics)
by Adam Warren

Writer/artist Adam Warren turns his attention to an unfortunate quality of super-hero comics, and that’s its gratuitous hypersexualization of female characters, especially in a genre that was originally envisioned as material for younger readers. The designs for the various characters are hilarious, inventive and striking. These sooper-heerows look appropriately goofy, but a couple of the designs are pretty sharp, to be honest. Warren also makes the most of the black-and-white format. There’s a rougher quality to the art and lettering at times, but it never looks sloppy. Warren takes an over-the-top approach to this satirical look at super-hero storytelling, and it’s amusing and wholly effective in making his points. There’s just one problem: it’s repetitive. Warren makes the same points over and over and over again, and the one-dimensional nature of the characters and limitations of the gimmicks aren’t enough to sustain one’s attention all the way through to the end of the book.

To be fair, Warren constructs Empowered to be read in short little bursts, as this is more of a short-story collection than a graphic novel, really. It’s just a shame that it seems to be the same story time and time again. For the most part, the stories are about how inept, vulnerable and easily victimized the title character is. Mind you, there are stories that explore the other characters as well; I was especially entertained by Sistah Spooky’s origin. Overall, I liked the concept, but the longer format didn’t suit the material. Presenting it as a graphic novella, something in the format of Garth Ennis and Amanda Conner’s The Pro from Image Comics a few years back, would have a better fit for this project. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – April 24, 2007

The Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1 (DC Comics/Johnny DC imprint)
by J. Torres & Chynna Clugston

When I pre-ordered this comic book, I hadn’t yet seen an episode of the new Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon upon which this new comic series is based. I managed to catch the first episode just last week (though as yet, no Canadian channel has picked it up, as far as I know), and it’s fortunate that I did. J. Torres’s script retells the events of the first episode of the TV show from different points of view. Though I like the storytelling method, one really has to be familiar with the plot ahead of time in order to get at what Torres is doing. It’s a shame there’s not a strong visual cue to distinguish between the divergent viewpoints as well. Nevertheless, Torres manages not only to convey the same personalities we’ve seen in the cartoon, but to add to them and flesh the characters out more clearly. I can see why Torres opts to retell the story of the show’s pilot, as it introduces the core concept of adding a young Superman to the team lineup. Still, I felt a little cheated; I wanted a new story, not a rehashing what’s already been presented on the tube. I expect future issues will deliver in that regard, though.

Chynna Clugston’s art captures the designs and style of the TV show adeptly, but I was thrilled to discover that her own unique, energetic and appealing style wasn’t overwhelmed and engulfed by the strict guides of the cartoon. When I watched the pilot episode of the cartoon, one of the characters I was the least taken with was Triplicate Girl, but Clugston’s take on her brought more personality and style to the character. Guy Major’s colors bring an appropriate level of energy and brightness to the mix, but the lower grade of the paper dulls them somewhat, making for a flatter, slightly darker look. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – April 18, 2007

Nightwing Annual #2 (DC Comics)
by Marc Andreyko, Joe Bennett & Jack Jadson

This self-contained story about the past and future of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s relationship is meticulously crafted, heartfelt and quite grounded despite the impossible circumstances that make up the main characters’ lives. It’s a thoroughly satisfying read, not only for DC readers who have been wondering what came of Dick Grayson’s proposal last year, but for those who sought to understand and appreciate this fictional romance. There’s one problem: Andreyko’s script incorporate a lot of continuity. Some are small and unimportant, but others are vital. Taking the readers back to events from two decades ago could threaten to alienate some readers, but for those of us well versed in these bits of history, it’s an entertaining trip down memory lane. Andreyko’s plot boasts a couple of grown-up moments, which could be a bit much for younger readers attracted to a cover image that harkens back to more innocent days in super-hero comics. Still, it’s a convincing script and an engaging, personal drama. Also, Joe Bennett turns in what is probably his strongest performance as a comics artist to date. He really emphasizes the down-to-earth qualities of the main characters, and his take on the Batman is imposing and impressive. The overall tone of the art is slightly dark, which is fitting, given that these characters are members of the Batman Family. But the art doesn’t seem too dark either. This is a love story, after all, and the overall atmosphere of the story is a hopeful, upbeat one. Andreyko approaches the characters as two people with a lot in common, which has naturally drawn them together, but he also points out that one has to discover himself as an individual before he can be an effective part of a couple. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – April 10, 2007

Dynamo 5 #2 (Image Comics)
by Jay Faerber & Mahmud A. Asrar

Creators Jay Faerber and Mahmud Asrar prove that the strength of the first issue of this novel super-hero title was no fluke with another solid story that combines old-school action with a premise that opens the door to interesting possibilities for characterization. Faerber’s script is thoroughly accessible, and I like how different dynamics, personalities and attitudes are emerging among the protagonists. Slingshot is developing into a natural leader, and Scrap’s tough exterior is balanced by her insecurities about making her dream of a career as a filmmaker come true. Faerber also maintains a strong balance in his portrayal of Maggie Warner; she’s determined and ruthless, but there’s a maternal quality that’s beginning to shine through here. My one qualm with the story is that Whiptail’s motives for rampaging through the city aren’t apparent at all. Mahmud Asrar’s art continues to impress. His work is dynamic and full of energy, and his style is still reminiscent of such strong super-hero artists as Kevin Nowlan and Mike McKone. There’s a darker tone to be found in Ron Riley’s colors. That’s fitting, given that most scenes are set at night, but the approach also brings a slightly more mature tone to the story. I’m pleased that the first printing of the first issue of this series sold out. It seems as though it’s finding an audience. It looks as though Dynamo 5 will be the project that finally serves as Faerber’s big breakthrough. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – March 27, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Carlos Rafael

I don’t watch the new version of Battlestar Galactica that seems to have taken the sci-fi fan community by storm these days, and I have only the vaguest childhood memories of the original TV show from the late 1970s. It’s to writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s credit that he’s able to craft an accessible story that requires only the most passing familiarity with the original characters and concepts in order to follow along. The TV writer tells a story of a civil war in the robotic/cybernetic society of the Cylons and how the human soldiers of the Battlestar Galactica find themselves caught in the middle. We really only get the beginnings of the plot here, and I’m not completely hooked on it yet. But again, I found I was thoroughly impressed with its accessibility. Carlos Rafael’s artwork is clear and easy to follow, and he captures the designs and look of the original property with a slicker level of action in the space warfare scenes. His artwork shows a hint of influence from Rob (Onslaught Reborn) Liefeld’s style, but his figures aren’t nearly as exaggerated. Rafael’s figures are more restrained, and he boasts a stronger eye for design. He does an excellent job of instilling a creepiness in the various Cylon characters, even though they are expressionless. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – March 16, 2007

Civil War: The Confession #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

With the release of last week’s Civil War: The Initiative and a slew of Fallen Son specials on the way, Marvel’s readers are no doubt getting sick of the fallout from the publisher’s Civil War crossover event. The anti-climactic tone of the final issue of the crossover series was unsatisfactory, but this latest one-shot provide a quite sense of closure for the central Captain America/Iron Man conflict. Bendis — with his strongest Marvel Universe script in recent memory — manages to humanize Tony Stark and cast him in something other than a villainous or corrupt light. Stark’s dedication to his cause makes sense here; one isn’t more likely to agree with him, but at least his behavior makes sense in the context provided here. This is a quiet, emotional story about two friends who feel forced into enmity, and Bendis’s script really gets to the heart of the hurt both men feel. Alex Maleev’s artwork might seem like a poor match for the sleek, technological qualities of Iron Man, but the dark, gritty tone in his style is a great match for the emotional pain that’s at the heart of this epilogue story. Colorist Jose Villarrubia brings some added texture and realism to the visuals, and given Bendis’s effort to achieve a realistic tone, it bolsters the gravity of the story. It’s a shame that the bulk of the plotlines from Civil War were so frustrating, because there is clearly potential in the concepts. Bendis demonstrates as much here, just as other writers — such as J. Michael Straczynski in Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four — did in various tie-in issues. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – March 9, 2007

Captain America #25 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

I found that the previous three issues of this series, which tied into Marvel’s Civil War, were actually quite strong, definitely better than the crossover series. The same holds true of this latest issue, which flows out of the ending of Civil War. To be honest, the storyline here is really not all that dependent on the events of the crossover. This is the climax of months of subplots from this title, not other Marvel books. The Red Skull/Dr. Faustus plot offers a shocking and gut-wrenching twist (though not an entirely logical one, as it requires the reader to ignore the fact that no one and nothing witnesses the actual source of Cap’s fatal wounds). I also remain impressed with what Brubaker’s doing with the Winter Soldier. Now lucid and centered, he’s a much more interesting character. Also fascinating is how Nick Fury is maintaining such a presence and power over events even though he’s never seen. Obviously, the greatest hindrance to this story is the reader’s knowledge that there’s no way Steve Rogers is actually dead. Though the story is titled “The Death of the Dream,” ultimately, it’ll no doubt prove to be “The Absence of the Dream.” Epting’s art is effective, achieving a nice balance between a realistic look and a grittier, edgier style. The most fun aspect of the story is that it’s not about the death of a super-hero icon or the American ideal, but rather the beginning of a fascinating tale of espionage and deceit. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 22, 2007

Civil War #7 (Marvel Comics)
by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines

I’ll give Millar credit for ending this series in a wholly unexpected way. This ending would suggest that it’s been Iron Man and the government that’s been in the right all along. I don’t agree, but I appreciate that Millar brings the story full circle to the ethical debate rather than a huge super-hero fight scene. Marvel gets points for the unexpected ending, though things here wrap up a little too neatly. The sudden appearances of cavalries for both sides at key moments in the conflict are a bit hard to swallow, and the villains’ dominance in battle dissipates so quickly that it lacks credibility as well. McNiven’s art boasts the same kind of detail and expressiveness that’s made it so attractive in the past, but I found the generic costumes for the new, registered heroes to be far too reminiscent of what we’ve seen in The Ultimates and Squadron Supreme. This final issue sets up an ambitious new status quo for Marvel’s America as something of a totalitarian regime, with Big Brothers galore, all colorfully clad, watching over everyone. It seems as though Millar and company have failed to actually tell the whole story. We’re missing an ending, which is something that happened at the end of House of M as well. Ultimately, this final issue felt surprisingly anti-climactic, with the final act serving as promotional material for new titles to spin off out of this crossover event. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 18, 2007

Astonishing X-Men #20 (Marvel Comics)
by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday

I’ve been enjoying this series, despite its sporadic publishing schedule, pretty much since the start (well, since #2). and there’s a lot to like about it. Cassaday’s art is always breathtaking, and even though his detailed style tends to lean toward a more dramatic, stoic atmosphere, he still manages to capture the whimsical elements writer Joss Whedon tosses in. Whedon’s dialogue really makes these characters come alive, and he’s brought some intense action and innovative plotting to the mix. And despite those strengths, I just didn’t enjoy this issue. After reading it, I sat back and wondered how the plot shifted so suddenly and dramatically from a super-villain assault on the X-Mansion to a space opera. Whedon seems to refuse to allow any particular plotline to resolve before throwing the characters waist deep into their next catastrophe. It’s dizzying. The frenetic pace of the multiple plots almost seems desperate in tone. On top of that, this notion of the X-Men’s strongman as a prophesized destroyer of worlds strikes me as an awfully hard pill to swallow. Furthermore, Agent Brand fails to come across any kind of character, but rather the voice box for every all-too-convenient plot device that allows the impossible action to leap forward from scene to scene. Whedon strings together small, clever ideas about the application of the X-Men’s powers here, but the plot serving to link to those scenes just doesn’t work. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 10, 2007

Action Comics Annual #10 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner & various artists

There’s been some debate as to whether or not DC is actually trying to develop a more traditional tone in its super-hero line. Darker, edgier stories are popping up in some titles, but the publisher’s better known icons seem to be headed in a lighter direction. Action Comics Annual #10 certainly serves as evidence of that trend. Johns and Donner deliver a package that’s clearly Silver Age in its inspiration (as if the cover wasn’t enough of a clue). The stories and features have that old-school charm and simplicity to them, but the dialogue and pacing bring a more modern tone, a greater credibility to this super-hero storytelling. The fact that this annual is an anthology also provides the opportunity for the reader to enjoy a number of different visual styles without the concern of the art changes interrupting and interfering with the flow of the story. Arthur Adams’s four pages are spectacular, and Joe Kubert’s contribution was a surprise and a delight (even if the writing didn’t provide much in the way of an actual plot). Though the approach will tickle the fancy of longtime comics readers and those who appreciate where the medium has been in the past, this volume is also an excellent introduction to the world of Superman for new, young readers. It’s a shame this comic wasn’t available when Superman Returns hit the big screen last summer, as it would serve as the perfect comic-book companion for kids who might be hungry for a major re-introduction to the Man of Steel. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 4, 2007

Billy Acres and the Gold Miners’ Treasure OGN (I.B.O. Ltd.)
by Lee Blum

Writer/artist Lee Blum has wisely found a way to make his independent storytelling effort stand out from the crowd. This Western adventure/comedy for younger readers is billed as “the first interactive graphic novel.” The concept, though perhaps new to comics, will be familiar to those of us who remember the “choose your own adventure” children’s books of yesteryear. Blum has simply adapted the idea for comics. One might expect the approach would translate well to the visual medium of comics storytelling, but I actually found the process of flipping back and forth through this oversized softcover book to be somewhat irksome. Blum has wisely used varying border colors to distinguish between two different segments that begin on the same page, but the panel layouts are awkward and inaccessible. The writing is so dumbed down so as to be tedious for the adult reader; this is clearly children’s fare alone, not an all-ages read. The artwork boasts a rather basic, crude tone as well. There’s no sense of depth of field; everything looks pretty flat. The figures move awkwardly, and the action unfolds in a similar fashion. The colors are appropriately bright, given the target audience for the book and the more playful tone of the storytelling. Billy Acres is an interesting experiment, but I think Blum (or others) may want to refine the process significantly before declaring such an experiment a success. 3/10
For more information about this graphic novel or for purchase, check out the book’s website.

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