Category Archives: Reviews – Quick Critiques

Quick Critiques – April 7, 2008

American Splendor Vol. 2 #1 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Harvey Pekar & various artists

DC’s labelling of this new series as the second volume of Harvey Pekar’s journal in comics form is hardly accurate; Pekar’s been at this for decades, and this is far from the second American Splendor comic to boast first-issue status. Regardless, it’s nice to know that Pekar’s well-known, black-and-white remembrances of small, curious moments from his life possibly getting a higher profile in comics shops, given that it’s published by DC now. I’ve not followed Pekar’s comics all that closely over the years, and I wanted to see more. This anthology of rather ordinary experiences struck me as honest and genuine, but I can’t say I was entertained. Pekar certainly doesn’t embellish; he doesn’t spice things up in order to play up humor or drama, or to arrive at a central moral or theme. This reads like a random collection of journal entries adapted to the comics medium, nothing more, nothing less. My reactions to Pekar’s stories (and for some segments, I use that term loosely) ranged from bemusement to boredom. The artwork stands out as the book’s greatest strength. I enjoyed seeing the work of some big names from the world of indie/alternative comics, such as David Lapham and Dean Haspiel. The comic also introduces us to some lesser-known or new names in comic illustration. The visual highlight of the book was the art of Zachary Baldus. His airy, highly detailed artwork captures the era in which the story is set incredibly well. It looks as though graphite is his favored artistic tool, and he manages to achieve a lovely, painted look with it. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – March 30, 2008

All-Star Superman #10 (DC Comics/All-Star imprint)
by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant

This series has been almost universally praised since its debut; the Eisner blurb on the cover is the tip of the iceberg. Some critics felt Morrison’s recent Bizarro story, though entertaining, didn’t boast the same strength as previous issues. With this episode, he returns to the main storyline — Superman’s impending death, and he does so in a surprisingly touching way. This issue is filled with impossible feats of science-fiction, alien culture clashes and rampaging robots. And even with all of those dazzling, wondrous elements, there’s an undeniable undercurrent of emotion. Superman’s determination is accompanied by a quieter sense of sadness about his plight. He seems not so much afraid of death but mournful of what he’ll leave unaccomplished and the pain his demise may cause others. The inclusion of the citizenship of the Bottle City of Kandor carries with it the potential for throwing off casual readers, but Morrison’s script manages to provide just enough exposition for those less familiar with Super-lore to get what they need. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Morrison’s script is how he transforms our own mundane world and its long history into something magical, depicting it as a magical creation. I love how the story comes full circle as well, bringing an interesting metatextual element into play. Quitely’s artwork casts the Man of Steel as an all-powerful god, and it’s fitting, given the experiment that unfolds in his Fortress of Solitude. Quitely’s style is certainly over the top, so he exaggerated the weakness the title character experiences as well. It’s effective, as it drives home the notion of the urgency at play. That’s not easy to do; the readership knows Superman won’t die, not really. But the creators open the door to the possibility that this incarnation just might. 9/10

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Quick Critiques – March 25, 2008

Judgment Day trade paperback (Checker Book Publishing Group)
by Alan Moore, Rob Liefeld & various

More than 10 years ago, I reviewed the first issue of this event-driven limited series from Rob Liefeld’s Awesome Entertainment, and I wrote that while I didn’t care for Liefeld’s art, I was impressed with Alan Moore’s efforts to build worlds and myths with Liefeld’s stable of extreme, Kewl characters. I compared some of Moore’s work to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (I was, and remain, a big fan of that 1986 comic event). Revisiting the story in the 21st century thanks to Checker’s reissue of the trade paperback, I’m left with some of the same feelings. Moore brings some magic to Liefeld’s otherwise flat characters; the links he forges over the course of this unlikely murder mystery/courtroom drama put me in mind of the intricacies of his “Twilight” proposal for DC Comics (which never saw publication). But even Moore’s inventiveness isn’t enough to rescue this book. Liefeld’s designs are uninspired and generic, and his artwork is as painfully inconsistent as you might remember. There are a handful of the multitude of contributing artists who bring polish, brilliance and wonder to the mix, though, such as Gil Kane’s visions of masked heroes in the Old West. The Storybook Smith “testimony” was a highlight of the book as well, both in terms of writing and artwork. I’m not sure how much of an audience exists for this book; Youngblood, even though it’s been relaunched at Image Comics (see below), isn’t exactly at its apex of popularity. In 2008, it’s a little known corner of the super-hero comics market, and I question whether or not Alan Moore’s name is even big enough of a draw to lure readers to buy this mild curiosity. 5/10

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Quick Critiques – March 16, 2008

The Lone Ranger & Tonto #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Brett Matthews, John Abrams & Mario Guevara

You know what? I have no idea if this is Dynamite’s second Lone Ranger title, a newly titled relaunch to replace the other book or a one-shot. I wasn’t able to find any information in this comic itself or on the publisher’s website. I hope it’s one of the two former options, because this stands out as the best Lone Ranger comic Dynamite has produced thus far. I attribute my appreciation of the book mainly to my appreciation of the artwork by Mario Guevara. His name isn’t familiar to me, but I’ll be looking for it in the future. His detailed, gritty and sometimes extreme style looks something like an amalgam of the styles of such artists as Joe Kubert, Barry Windsor-Smith and Ladronn.  His linework, along with the colors, really drives home the arid nature of the Wild West landscape. The story doesn’t seem to merit the extra page count (and accompanying price hike), so that might be a bit of a sticker for some. I think my favorite part of Matthews and Abrams’s story is the strong sense of community one gets from the title characters’ interaction with the kindly shopkeepers. I really enjoy the contrast of character between the Ranger and Tonto. The latter is something of a pragmatic adviser, and the former is driven by his idealism and compassion. Perhaps one reason the story worked so well for me is that I’ve seen examples of the kind of eye-for-an-eye attitude of the masses when faced with an unspeakable crime and the reality of mental illness, but the tragedy that drives this simple plot forward is a compelling one. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – March 1, 2008

Action Comics #862 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal

The current story arc — “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” — stands out as perhaps the strongest writing we’ve seen from Geoff Johns since his earlier projects for DC, such as Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and The Flash. While there is definitely respect and affection for past DC stories and characters in this story, in this instance, continuity doesn’t seem to drive the plot the way it has in other Johns efforts. Nor is the point of this story a major event, as we’ve seen in Johns’s various Green Lantern comics in recent years. the writer achieves a nice balance between his homage to the Paul Levitz era of the Legion of Super-Heroes and a strong degree of accessibility for readers who may not be all that familiar with these heroes from the far-flung future. Now, the story has been fairly standard, as we’ve been presented with darker versions of bright characters in a dystopian future, but this chapter demonstrates the writer’s recognition of the importance of fun and a sense of wonder. With the inclusion of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, Johns brings a level of humor that was missing from the earlier episodes of this arc. Gary Frank’s designs for these slightly gritty takes on Silver Age characters are sharp, reminiscent of the kind of mature credibility that Keith Giffen brought to the property in the 1990s. Nevertheless, there’s still some campiness to the characters’ looks. Like the script, Frank’s artwork achieves a nice balance between the goofier side of this super-hero adventure and the more serious, dramatic leanings. When it comes to Superman comics today, most eyes are on Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman, and for good reason. But Johns and Frank are playing a somewhat similar tune. 8/10

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 22, 2008

Booster Gold #0 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund

This series seems to stand out as something of a guilty-pleasure read… at least for several online comics critics, and one can count me among them. Geoff Johns and co-writer Jeff Katz have crafted a fun comic that makes the most of the shared continuity and history of the DC Universe without being constrained by it. For the most part, the plot and script — which are deeply steeped in past DC super-hero stories — are fairly accessible for new readers. The story here is based on original Booster Gold stories of the late 1980s and a DC Universe crossover event from 1994, and yet, it’s easy for one to follow along. The time-travel riff always allows for exposition to be woven logically into the dialogue. Most important is that the writers make even more room a sense of fun, adventure, action and even a little melodrama. There’s always a colorful array of diverse characters to be found in the pages of this series, and this issue is no exception. Even if one hasn’t checked out previous issues, the zero issue is actually a decent jumping-on point. Dan Jurgens’s art is a perfect match for the old-school approach to the genre. He’s the one who created and designed the title character after all, so he’s captured the 1980s appeal with ease. I remain impressed with Norm Rapmund’s inks. In the past, he’s often brought a rougher look to the line art, but he’s tightened up his inking style for this project. The use of the metallic ink for the cover is a nice treat for those of us who remember all of the zero, crossover issues from DC’s Zero Hour event more than a decade ago. And for those who don’t get the reference, the rarely used metallic look will help this comic book to stand out. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Feb. 6, 2008

Captain America #34 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting & Butch Guice

Brubaker grabbed my attention immediately with this issue, immersing America in more extreme versions of real-world problems. Who would have thought the mortgage crisis would be the result of a super-villain’s machinations? The socio-political foundation of the opening scenes brings credibility to the fantastic story, but this comes as no surprise given Brubaker’s strength as a comics writer. Unfortunately, that strength fades as the plot shifts to the introduction of the new Captain America. His and Black Widow’s confrontation with a bunch of faceless villain henchmen is rather disappointing. It feels so familiar and conventional; it’s a cliched scene that doesn’t merit the space dedicated to it. Brubaker has done some surprisingly good work when it comes to the resurrected Bucky Barnes, but casting this damaged hero as an icon of American patriotism and idealism seems like a misstep. Perhaps he means it as a commentary on the fractured nature of the country in the 21st century, with the focus on red states and blue states instead of the American dream. Still, it doesn’t consistent with the Winter Soldier’s character. Alex Ross’s new Cap design makes sense in this context, as it combines the brightness and iconic qualities of the original cap costume with Barnes’s darker, black-ops nature. Unfortunately, it lacks a visual pop. Epting and Guice’s artwork throughout the issue is strong, in keeping with the realism and social disasters that are integral to the overall appeal and atmosphere of this era of Cap comics. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 20, 2008

Atomic Robo #4 (Red 5 Comics)
by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Zack Finfrock

Judging from the many Best of 2007 lists I’ve read online in the past few weeks, Atomic Robo has developed a strong following in the comics blogosphere, and for good reason. Writer Brian Clevinger has managed to capture the sense of fun and adventure that’s made such comics as Hellboy so appealing; he’s just approach the same sort of adventure comic from a science-fiction perspective rather than gothic horror. Atomic Robo — both the title and the character — boasts a great sense of humor, and I love how Clevinger incorporates real-world figures, past and present, into the oddball action and exploration. The writer also delivers an accessible script that anyone can enjoy; I missed the second and third issues of this series, yet I had no problem diving right back into the fun. The rivalry/enmity between the title character and a certain theoretical physicist stands out as the highlight of this particular issue, and I like how it’s mirrored in the backup story, featuring the continued antagonism of Clevinger’s re-imagining of Thomas Edison. Another big advantage of this premise — and another trait it has in common with Hellboy — is that the creators have crafted a property that allows them to tell stories from a variety of periods in industrial history.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 14, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #546 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Slott, Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines (backups by other creators)

Like thousands of others, I didn’t think “One More Day” was a good or even logical story; it was an unnecessary reboot, but there’s no denying that Marvel saw some solid sales from the event. But despite the weakness of that setup, this new beginning for Peter Parker and his supporting cast isn’t hindered by the shortcomings of what came before it. Given Dan Slott’s and Steve McNiven’s involvement in the title, I was more than willing to give Amazing Spidey a fair shake. And after approaching it with an open mind, I have to admit Slott’s script captured the energy and pace of Spidey stories from the 1970s — and I found I’m completely uninterested. There is a more youthful tone to Peter Parker’s life, as he’s unencumbered by the same responsibilities he once was; maybe that will appeal to a younger demographic, as Marvel and publisher Joe Quesada likely hope. I’m in my 30s, about to be married and house-shopping, so maybe that’s why I was more interested in the more mature mode of Peter’s life. Or maybe this is just too familiar. Stan Lee and other writers have tread this path before, and they got it right the first time.

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 6, 2008

Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte! #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Tom Beland & Juan Doe

Ever since Randy Lander, my one-time website partner at The Fourth Rail and other previous online publications, introduced me to Tom Beland’s True Story, Swear to God, I’ve been a huge fan of Beland’s work, and we’ve been lucky enough to see him flex his creative muscles beyond his own wonderful, autobiographical comic. Isla de la Muerte is one such occasion. Those who have read Beland’s creator-owned work are well aware of his love for Marvel’s classic characters, and it shines through in this cute, entertaining story. Beland’s script harkens back to the Silver Age charm of the title characters. He even incorporates references to classic Lee/Kirby FF stories, but the tone of the script remains accessible; the reader isn’t required to know the ins and outs of FF history to appreciate what’s being said. Beland also brings a quality to the storytelling that will appeal to all ages, not just the die-hard, longtime FF fan. The love for Puerto Rico and the environmental message in this book are pretty heavy handed, but I have to admit I was intrigued by all of the information about the former aspect of the one-shot.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 9, 2007

Countdown: Arena #1 (DC Comics)
By Keith Champagne, Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens

My better half was a big fan of the “reality show” Rockstar Supernova, so as a result, I watched much of the run of the series as well. After I read Countdown: Arena, I was reminded of a biting bit of criticism Tommy Lee offered up to a would-be rock star: “That was sautéed in wrong sauce.” Writer Keith Champagne faced an uphill battle when it came to crafting this DC Universe version of Mortal Kombat, that’s a given. But the premise here is ludicrous. Monarch forces heroes to fight alternate versions of themselves so he can amass the perfect army of superhuman soldiers. He’s able to force them to fight with the threat that he’ll destroy their homes, their entire worlds. But if Monarch has that kind of power, what he does he need a Batman for? A Nightshade? Or even a Superman for that matter? Another problem with the book is that its appeal relies heavily on the readers’ familiarity with these Elseworlds versions of DC icons. Champagne’s script offers little background on these characters or why we should care about them.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 23, 2007

Annihilation: Conquest #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna

The first Annihilation event was an entertaining and well-crafted one, and I’ve enjoyed all four limited series leading up to this Conquest series. Not surprisingly, I enjoyed this comic book as well, but not quite as much as I’d hoped. I think writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have included a few too many saviors in this story. Adam Warlock is back from the dead (which is getting a bit old for longtime readers, no doubt), but the Wraith has been established as a powerful figure that can hurt the Phalanx like no other as well. Still, this is early on in the story, so it’s not hard to get past that seeming redundancy. What I did find odd was the villain who stands revealed at the end of this issue. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found the choice to be a bit puzzling. The villain fits in quite well with the Phalanx, but the character is also the main antagonist in a storyline still underway in another Marvel title. I realize that thanks to the character’s unique traits, he can be in two places (or comics) at once, but it just seems redundant to have so many Marvel heroes fighting the same threat in different ways. I was delighted to see Blastarr included among the generals in the war against the Phalanx, and the depiction of the Kree as a race and culture has been interesting throughout the various Conquest titles. I’ve never been one for the Warlock character, but that stemmed from his stoic and distant characterization in the past. This incarnation of the character seems much more grounded and relatable. Tom Raney’s art brings real power and presence to these alien warriors, and the detail he and inker Scott Hanna bring to bear really convey the ugliness of the war that’s at the heart of the plot. 6/10

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Quick Critiques: It’s Not Easy Being Green

Green Arrow: Year One #6 (DC Comics)
by Andy Diggle & Jock

This limited series comes to a rather conventional and predictable, lacking in the edgier and intense atmosphere that allowed it to stand apart from DC’s regular super-hero fare. Mind you, that’s to be expected. This is, after all, the conclusion of a super-hero origin and part of the new lore behind a property DC has invested a lot of creative and marketing efforts as of late. The more vanilla tone found in this final issue is easy to understand and even accept as a result. Diggle has done a great job of updating Green Arrow for the 21st century. As far-fetched as this origin is, the writer has brought a greater complexity and more personality to it, and in the process, he’s also brought a slight degree of credibility to the title character as well. It’s no surprise that Jock’s linework brings the story to life so well; Diggle and Jock proved they had plenty of creative synergy with their Vertigo series, Losers. The subject matter has proven to be surprisingly comparable despite the different genres, and Jock’s eye for big-screen-like action served this story well. But Jock’s work has really shone when it comes to his covers for this series, and this one may be the best of the bunch. The simplicity of the arrowhead shape is balanced by the convincing anatomy of the hero in the foreground and the rich, glowing tones that allow the image to leap out from the black background. My comments here are rather glowing, considering I found this issue to be rather conventional (which is reflected in my rating). But while this was something of a whimper than a bang, there’s no denying the series as a whole is a solid piece of work. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 24, 2007

Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith #4 (Marvel Comics)
by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Hotz

This series started out on a really strong note, bringing together science-fiction with a Western genre feel, but that was lost by the time the plot reached its conclusion. Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s story for this final issue is a typically cliched ending about the triumphing underdog in the midst of a sci-fi war. Despite his efforts, there’s no dramatic tension to be found here. Furthermore, the Wraith’s angst and a message from his dead father come from out of nowhere, interrupting the flow of the storytelling and shifting away from the edgy intensity that made the title character so cool in the first place. I did enjoy the Super-Skrull’s role here, but Praxagora’s presence adds nothing to the story at all. It’s not clear why she’s been included. While the story is a misfire in just about every way, artist Kyle Hotz does just as solid a job here has he has on previous chapters. His vision of the Super-Skrull’s shapeshifting powers strikes me as different from what we’ve seen before, emphasizing the character’s alien origin rather than making him look like a Plastic Man knockoff. He also does an excellent job of presenting Ronan as a huge, imposing and powerful figure; that makes for a great contrast with the desperate, wailing man he becomes by the end of the issue. My only qualm with the art is the two-page spread toward the end; it’s not at all clear what’s happening. Of course, the script’s description of the deux ex machina resolution is confusing as well. Despite my appreciation of Hotz’s work, this was a disappointing conclusion and a sample of squandered potential. 4/10

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 16, 2007

Drafted #2 (Devil’s Due Publishing)
by Mark Powers & Chris Lie

I gave a lukewarm review to the first issue of this unusual sci-fi series but noted that it showed a lot of promise. With this second issue, writer Mark Powers carries on with his socio-political examination of what might happen if aliens visited the earth. Crises of faith, violent opposition and quiet acceptance all categorize the various reactions to such a world-changing event. The main focus in this issue is to show the aliens’ recruitment drive, as they hand-pick a select group of human beings to join them in a coming war. The stronger and more character-driven focus I felt was lacking in the first issue is found in the second episode, and the storytelling is more compelling as a result. Still, it feels as though the plot is moving ahead at a snail’s pace. The issue is padded out with some cliched alien-arrival moments, but there’s definitely the feeling of forward movement here. Artist Chris Lie manages to provide a truly impressive visual with a splash page featuring the dismantling of a piece of military technology. He captures an awesome level of detail while also conveying the invisible energy and movement of an impossible moment. The art in the rest of the book is a mixed bag. Sometimes, the characters look sharp and realistic. At others, the heads are too squat. The characters in the scenes set in Hong Kong don’t look at all Asian, and there’s no cue in the script that indicates they’re supposed to be Caucasian. Sometimes, it’s just the minor details that seem off while the dominant visual elements are well done, but even those minor bits can distract. 6/10

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