Category Archives: Reviews – Quick Critiques

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.

Continue reading… →

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

Continue reading… →

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

Continue reading… →

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

Continue reading… →

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

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Sept. 24, 2007

Countdown to Mystery #1 (DC Comics)
by Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong/by Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segovia

This ended up on my pull list by accident, as DC’s previous forays into this new two-feature format (Mystery in Space and Tales of the Unexpected) didn’t appeal to me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that both features here, despite their connections to recent DC crossover events, really piqued my interest. The main feature, featuring a new Dr. Fate, is really, relating the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I tale of an unfortunate soul. Despite this new Kent Nelson’s sins, he’s a sympathetic figure because anyone can relate to his ennui. The Eclipso story is the biggest surprise in the book. I haven’t cared for this incarnation of the character, but her corruption of such a bright and light character as Plastic Man made for a solid, suspenseful story. Sturges not only explores Eclipso as an insidious figure, but he uses the new female spin on the character as something of a dark siren. The art in both features is also well done. Justiniano’s exaggerated, elongated linework suits supernatural plot elements well. Wisely, the general Fate design is maintained for this new incarnation of the character; it’s a smart move, as the sharp but simple design helmet design ought to be preserved. Segovia — a new but notable name in super-hero comics art — does an excellent job of bringing a chilling tone to the story, one that’s definitely called for by the script. Eclipso’s convoluted history is summed up nicely, and the confrontation between villains at the end of this opening episode is a riveting one for readers familiar with the DC Universe. 7/10

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Sept. 16, 2007

Booster Gold #2 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund

In the past, I’ve often viewed Norm Rapmund as an inker with a gritty, loose style, which works with some stories but not so well with others. With this series, he demonstrates that he can provide clean, crisp inks, leading me to believe the past instances in which I was disappointed with his inking (such as on Jurgens’s pencils for backup features in 52) were the result of rush jobs. Jurgens’s traditional, larger-than-life style shines through here, and Rapmund’s inks don’t darken the storytelling or bring a harsher edge to the visuals. The colors by Hi-Fi further reinforce the sense that this is a straightforward, fun comic book. The writers have happened upon a good use for the title character. Since Booster Gold debuted in the late 1980s, he wasn’t around in early continuity, allowing him to explore it without being “recognized” by better-known characters. Johns and Katz provide a pleasantly accessible script that explains not only early DC history but recent developments such as the “Sinestro Corps War.” There are also minor acknowledgements in the script to lesser-known and less important points of continuity that serve as a payoff for longtime DC readers without alienating new ones. The most entertaining aspect of the book is Booster’s non-violent means to resolve the conflict. The story is undeniably light and fun, and I was entertained. However, I also felt the story was rather inconsequential; that Booster would prevent time from being changed is an unavoidable result. There’s no suspense here. One never feels anything is at risk because the reader knows the writers will end up preserving continuity as it stands. The premise is amusing, but there is that inherent flaw in it as well. 6/10

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Sept. 9, 2007

30 Days of Night: Red Snow #1 (IDW Publishing)
by Ben Templesmith

IDW has really been pumping out the 30 Days of Night spinoff series since the success of the original title five years ago, and for a while, I gobbled them up. My interest in those stories waned, though. Obviously, with the advent of the 30 Days movie upon us, IDW is keeping the vampire stories flowing. Red Snow caught my attention, in part because it features the artwork of the original 30 Days artist Ben Templesmith. But what piqued my interest even more is the fact that Templesmith wrote this story as well. He does a great job with the property, offering up the strongest followup since the original limited series. He takes the reader to a different far-north setting from which the property derives its name, but he also takes the audience back in time as well. The result is a fresh take on the notion of vampires running amok during a lengthy arctic night. Three disparate groups — Russian Allied soldiers, German aggressors and frightened Russian villagers — face a horror even greater than the bloodshed of the Second World War. The vampires are clearly the antagonists, but even the victims/protagonists have distasteful souls among their numbers. It makes for a multi-faceted storytelling dynamic that sets Red Snow apart from typical horror fare. Of course, as anyone who’s checked out the original 30 Days of Night knows, Templesmith’s art is perfectly suited to bringing the dark setting and feral villains to life. He does a great job of conveying the remote and decades-old setting. Red Snow boasts an extensive cast of characters, and Templesmith’s three-pronged approach to the story makes for a riveting, unpredictable read. 9/10

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Aug. 22, 2007

Birds of Prey #109 (DC Comics)
by Tony Bedard, Nicola Scott & Doug Hazlewood

The post-Gail Simone era for Birds of Prey begins, and writer Tony Bedard demonstrates he has a strong grip on the characters. The cover proclaims the central plotline to be Barbara and Dinah’s discussion of the latter’s possible nuptials, and while it’s nice to see such a conversational, slice-of-life notion at the forefront of a super-hero book, it really doesn’t ring true. Generally, people don’t flat out tell their friends that the loves of their lives are pigs. They may think it, but they don’t say it. Unfortunately, the real point of this issue seems to be addressing continuity points. Through Oracle, Bedard addresses the ugly history of the Black Canary/Green Arrow relationship, but only those up on those past stories will really appreciate the transgressions being discussed. Furthermore, Bedard deals with the apparent dissolution of Simone’s Secret Six (I assume, thanks to Deadshot’s renewed involvement with the Suicide Squad, as seen in Countdown). On top of that, the storyline that really drives this issue forward is the ongoing “Death of the New Gods” concept, launched in Countdown as well. With Knockout and Big Barda associated with this title, I suppose Birds of Prey was a logical venue for a tie-in, but it just doesn’t fit with the espionage riff that’s part and parcel of this property. Inexplicably, there’s no overt cue that this is a Countdown crossover issue or that it would be of interest to fans of the late Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters. Nicola Scott’s art is straightforward; she’s offers standard super-hero visuals here. But the storytelling is solid, and she manages to convey the strength of the more experienced heroines and the innocence of the younger characters. 5/10 

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Aug. 16, 2007

Batman #667 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison & J.H. Williams III

My God, how I’ve missed J.H. Williams’s art. It’s been more than two years since his and Alan Moore’s Promethea came to an end, and we’ve seen far too little of his work since that time. His contribution to this new story arc makes it clear just what we’ve been missing. He captures a sullen mood incredibly well while still presenting some of the super-hero characters as dramatically intense and dynamic. Williams manages to blend a mature, dark and modern tone with the campy qualities inherent in characters whose roots are firmly planted in the Silver Age. Williams makes the notion of grown men in silly warrior costumes seem plausible and almost normal. Dave Stewart’s dark, textured colors are almost solely responsible for the palpable tension throughout the book. Grant Morrison employs a classic mystery/thriller premise and some kitschy, obscure characters from yesteryear and takes them in an unusual direction. The writer opts to present some of the characters are impressive and imposing and others as laughing stocks, pale imitations of the accomplished men they once were or once believed themselves to be. I remember reading about the Batmen of All Nations from DC’s Who’s Who profile series in the 1980s, and I’m surprised Morrison was able to make use of them in such a dark story. In addition to the creepy mood, there’s a B-movie feel to the story as well that makes it all the more intriguing and entertaining. Morrison’s work on Batman has finally lived up to the promise we’d all hoped for when he was announced as the title’s writer. 9/10

Continue reading… →

I Oni Have Eyes for You

What follows is a few Quick Critiques, which aren’t uncommon for this site. The difference this time is that all of the comics reviewed in this entry are published by Oni Press.

Oni may not be a Goliath in the comics industry, but it’s demonstrated over the past decade that’s definitely a David. Continue reading for brief reviews of brand new Oni offerings and one from earlier this year…

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – Aug. 2, 2007

The Chemist #1 (Image Comics)
by Jay Boose

Writer/artist Jay Boose takes the reader into the criminal underworld, employing an unusual protagonist as a guide. The hero of the story is Vance Laroche, a chemist who has become obscenely rich reverse-engineering drugs for the underworld. This slick scientist becomes a fugitive, running from his crooked employers. Boose’s story is full of action, and but the fast pace of the story is balanced nicely by the inventiveness, resourcefulness and intellect of the protagonist. Boose combines a 1940s noir sensibility with high-octane, high-tech elements of today, making for a riveting read. I loved the more cosmopolitan touch he brings to the piece with the change in settings from Boston to Montreal. The woman whom Vance rescues from certain death makes for a perfect counterpart to his in-control, always prepared attitude. Alexis’s tough but clueless personality manages to bring the story down to earth a bit. She’s not stupid, but she’s definitely in over her head; her carefree outlook keeps her from freaking out and allows her to just enjoy the ride. Boose’s artwork looks like a cross between the styles of Tony (Ex Machina) Harris and Jason (Body Bags) Pearson. While detailed and realistic, Boose uses colors to immerse the story in a dark mood that’s in keeping with the classic, nostalgic look of crime-genre stories that have come before it. Sin, style and sexuality blend perfectly here for a story that reminds me of the sort of thing one might get from an issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s award-winning series, Criminal. 9/10

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – July 29, 2007

The Immortal Iron Fist #7 (Marvel Comics)
by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Travel Foreman, Leandro Fernandez, Khari Evans, Derek Fridolfs, Francisco Paranzini & Victor Olazaba

Writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have brought a sense of legacy and history to Marvel’s martial-arts hero property, and that’s opened the door for stories like this one. This self-contained issue introduces the reader to a new character, someone else who bore the Iron Fist mantle at a previous point in history. It’s great that the first of these stories features a female protagonist. The writers are bringing a greater diversity to the world of Iron Fist with these alternate takes on the concept. It reminds me a bit of the flashback stories James Robinson would occasionally provide during the course of his landmark Starman series for DC Comics. What’s most striking about this story, though, isn’t the history, culture or feminism, all of which are integral parts of the tale. Instead, it’s the humor. This story of a woman warrior in a long-past period in the Orient could have easily followed more predictable lines, with purple prose and archetypical plot developments to capture the classic elements. Instead, there are some great jokes serving to ground the historical fiction in a tone to which the reader can relate. In other words, the script is damn funny. Like the other issues that preceded this one, multiple art teams are employed to bring the visuals to life, and again, it works surprisingly well. The shifts from art team to art team aren’t the least bit jarring; there’s a strong visual flow at play in the book.

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – July 19, 2007

All Flash #1 (DC Comics)
by Mark Waid, Karl Kerschl, Ian Churchill, Manuel Garcia, Joe Bennett, Daniel Acuna, Norm Rapmund & Ruy Jose

While I thought Geoff Johns did an admirable job of filling his shoes when he took over the writing reins of DC’s speedster icon, there’s no doubt that no one had a better grasp on the Flash in the past two decades (or more) than writer Mark Waid. Is his return to the character reason to celebrate? I honestly don’t know yet. This special — bridging the gap between the previous, short-lived Flash series and the renewal of the title Waid wrote for so many years — focuses on points of recent continuity. It explores the notion of who gets punished for the previous Flash’s death and who metes out the punishment, for example. Waid also tries to answer some questions that arose from Wally West’s return last month in Justice League of America #10, but the title character and script also dodge a number of them, holding out the promise of more answers in the future. All Flash boasts an accessible script that manages to boil down the convoluted history of the Flash — with its connections to time travel and mysterious, spiritual, pseudo-scientific forces of nature — into something newer readers will be able to follow. It’s also clear that Waid’s approach to writing Wally West, whom he knows so well, will not just be a regurgitation of what he’s done before. Instead, this is Wally trying to live up to more than a heroic legacy, but to responsibilities as a family man. The artwork for this special ranges from quite lovely to frustratingly ordinary. The use of multiple artists to get this project completed may have been expedient, but that comes to the detriment of the storytelling. The shifts from Karl Kerschl’s vibrant, Joshua Middleton-esque visuals to Churchill’s run-of-the-mill super-hero style is not only disappointing but jarring to the reader as well. We also get a taste of what artist Daniel Acuna has in store with his stint on Waid’s new Flash run, and while I like his work, his style seems too stiff for a speedster protagonist. 6/10

Continue reading… →

Quick Critiques – July 15, 2007

Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Hotz

Writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, best known as a creative contributor to TV’s Lost, returns to pen another Annihilation mini-series, and he introduces a new character in the process. Actually, one of the things about this script I enjoyed is that the mysterious alien warrior that serves as the protagonist is never named; he’s not even referred to as “Wraith.” Grillo-Marxuach’s story may be set in space, but it’s more of a blend of Western and martial-arts genres, dressed up as science fiction. I’m pleased to find that the reader need not be familiar with the Annihilation brand or even the events of Annihilation: Conquest – Prologue in order to follow this tale. It holds up well on its own. The mystery surrounding the title character draws the reader into the story, and his use of his morphing weapon in battle makes for some cool sequences. Given the seemingly ghostly nature of the hero, Kyle (The Hood) Hotz was an excellent choice the artist for this limited series. I don’t think he really captures the creepy, personally invasive nature of the antagonists all that well, but the action flows incredibly well. Gina Going-Raney’s colors further enhance the eerie, spectral quality of the protagonist, and they make his weapon — a gun, sword and more — seem more supernatural in appearance than technological. Of the Conquest titles Marvel announced a couple of months ago, I was really only leery of this one, but I’m pleased to discover it’s a solid member of the Annihilation line. I remain impressed with how Marvel’s handled the brand to date. 8/10

Continue reading… →