Category Archives: Reviews – Quick Critiques

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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Quick Critiques – Jan. 29, 2007

Civil War: The Return #1 (Marvel Comics)
by Paul Jenkins, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna

After reading this one-shot, I was left with one nagging question: what was the point? The latter story, featuring the Sentry and his struggle to decide which side of the superhuman civil war to support, seems completely redundant when one considers another writer explored the question in New Avengers and that we’ve seen the Sentry side-by-side with Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man in the core Civil War title itself. That means we’re left with an extended and rather unimaginative fight scene with the Absorbing Man, resolving with the stereotypical revelation that the Sentry has too much power for the villain to leech from him. The main story, though, is the one that’s going to have comics fans talking… at least longtime readers familiar with the dead hero returns in these pages. I suspect many will scream that this story mars a rather poignant story of an atypical but rather human death in the Marvel Universe, but what strikes me about it is how unnecessary it is. The connection to Civil War is tenuous at best, and there’s little reason for the hero to act as he does. I do like the concept of a man living his life knowing exactly when and how he’s going to die and how that might mess with one’s noggin, but Paul Jenkins really doesn’t have the space to explore that idea all that much. Tom Raney’s art is quite strong. He brings out an appropriately pained look on the resurrected hero’s face. The colors are bright and crisp throughout the issue, reinforcing the cosmic energy that’s at play. 5/10

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 21, 2007

Fantastic Four #542 (Marvel Comics)
by Dwayne McDuffie, Mike McKone, Andy Lanning & Cam Smith

Writer Dwayne McDuffie takes over the regular duties as FF scribe from J. Michael Straczynski with this issue, and the good news is that it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the storytelling at all. In fact, the transition is fairly seamless. McDuffie’s take on the Civil War plot points is as smart and sharp as Straczynski’s, perhaps even moreso. He makes Reed’s decisions in the divisive crossover event make sense to a certain degree. Once again, his emotional side has been engulfed by the scientist in him. I love how McDuffie writes Reed and the Mad Thinker as respecting one another’s intellect. These are lifelong enemies, but their dedication to science and knowledge trumps their disdain for what the other represents in terms of social position. Johnny’s dialogue in the opening scene is plausible and clever, and I like that McDuffie manages to maintain the character’s grounded tone while not resorting to depicting him as a dullard. McKone’s art is as crisp as ever, and the softer tone he brings to the characters’ faces emphasizes their humanity above the sci-fi trappings and impossible super-powers. The Thing’s adventures in Paris aren’t really holding my attention anymore. It was a cute diversion for an issue, but the Odd Couple riff between the rocky hero and the City of Lights isn’t something that works long term. 8/10

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 7, 2007

All Star Superman #6 (DC Comics/All Star imprint)
by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant

Of all the comics in my reading pile this week, this was the one to which I looked forward the most. Morrison offers up yet another imagination-fueled story with some poignant emotion, but this stood out as a somewhat flawed issue as compared to previous episodes of the series. There’s a slight disconnect in the plot when it comes to the revelation of a temporal monster. It feels as though there’s a panel or page missing. I don’t believe there actually is a missing piece. Rather, I suspect Morrison is playing around with perception and time given the sci-fi/super-hero concepts that come into play. What’s most striking about the script is how well Morrison distinguishes between a young Clark Kent on the cusp of adulthood and the grown, confident figure we’ve seen in previous issues. It was also a treat to see the return of not only Superman 1,000,000 but the Unknown Superman hinted at last year in this very title. Quitely also does an excellent job of conveying Clark’s youth and naivete and the fragility of his elderly parents. I also love the various alternate Superman designs that turn up in this issue (though at least one was previously established in DC continuity, so it can’t be attributed to Quitely). Jamie Grant’s computer colors really pop and drive home the purer, Silver Age qualities of the storytelling. 8/10

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 1, 2007

Detective Comics #827 (DC Comics)
by Paul Dini, Don Kramer & Wayne Faucher

Given the breath of fresh air he and Bruce Timm breathed into the world of the Batman on TV in the mid 1990s, writer Paul Dini is a natural choice to fashion and introduce a new version of the Ventriloquist. I have to admit, his script is executed quite well, offering a surprising twist rather than the stereotypical resurrection we’re set up to expect. Dini’s script paints Gotham’s underworld as something more akin to the dark corners of Dick Tracy’s world; it’s not just the super-villains, but every thug has a gimmick now. This issue doesn’t represent penciller Don Kramer’s best work. The figures are stiff throughout the episode. Anatomy seems off, and movement isn’t at all convincing. However, his depiction of Scarface is striking. A gun-toting puppet could be a laughable visual, but he manages to depict it as an intimidating presence. Though I was surprised, the plot is otherwise by the numbers, and I really don’t see what the point is beyond establishing the Ventriloquist as a viable member of the Batman’s rogues gallery once again. Furthermore, the new villain’s motives are unclear; the intent seems only to eliminate a threat that was unaware of the new criminal mastermind’s existence in the first place. 6/10

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 17, 2006

Bullet Points #2 (Marvel Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Tommy Lee Edwards

Straczynski’s alternate history of the Marvel Universe might seem mildly interesting to the devoted fan of the publisher’s extensive library of characters, but ultimately, the point of these tweaked events is elusive. Sure, it’s fun to see Steve Rogers cast in the role of Iron Man or Peter Parker as the Hulk, but the writer doesn’t seem to be saying anything new or different about any of the characters. The narration about bullets, the science of ballistics and the history-changing power of projectiles is effective, but it’s also growing a bit old; by the end of the series, I expect it’ll be tired. I’m also disappointed that the writer doesn’t give the audience a clearer picture of the time in which the story is set. Tommy Lee Edwards’s art remains as strong as ever, of course, and I like how his pseudo-painted style nevertheless manages to capture the charm and simplicity of Silver Age incarnations of familiar, iconic figures. I’m particularly taken with how Edwards’s colors tend to glow. The visuals are often bright, but the artist never sacrifices the darker, tragic quality that’s inherent in Straczynski’s script. 5/10

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 12, 2006

The Escapists #5 (Dark Horse Comics)
by Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Shawn Alexander & Steve Rolston

The plot takes a couple of unusual turns in this issue, turns that test one’s ability to suspend disbelief a bit. Max’s deduction of who’s behind Denny’s legal woes and Case’s encounter with the corporate lawyer are a bit difficult to swallow, and those moments took me out of the story for a bit. But overall, I remain thrilled with the storytelling techniques and the personal, slice-of-life focus of the plot. The most striking scene in the book is the final one, as we visit with Denny in jail. Vaughan brings a surprisingly harsh element into play. It’s such a divergent turn in the story that it packs a real emotional impact, but it’s an effective one. The writer drives home the notion that what’s happening is serious, not just off the wall. Jason Alexander’s dark artwork is as sharp as ever, but I like that the darkness doesn’t translate into grim-n-gritty territory. The script still maintains a traditional, light tone in the storytelling. Rolston’s artwork continues to impress as well. It reminds me of the styles of such other comic artists as Philip Bond, Tim Levins and Cameron Stewart. 7/10

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