Category Archives: Reviews – Quick Critiques

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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Quick Critiques – Dec. 4, 2006

52 Week 30 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett & Ruy Jose/Mark Waid & Duncan Rouleau

This weekly series has proven itself to be a major success for DC Comics, and this particular issue, given its cover and content, should have been something of a milestone for the title. Sure, there have been Clark Kent appearances earlier in the series, this is the first time one of DC’s big three characters has been the focus of the plot. Unfortunately, the writers don’t provide enough detail and context for the Batman/Bruce Wayne story to allow the readership to enjoy it. For example, there’s no indication where on the globe the plot begins, and there’s little indication as to what has finally broken the Bat, what has caused this personal crisis. What I did appreciate in the plot is Renee Montoya’s gradual transformation into the Question’s replacement. I love that we’ve really seen the character grow over the course of the past 30 weeks. The art by Joe Bennett is fairly standard fare, but some lack of clarity in the visuals also contributes to the confusion in the Batman plotline. The two-page Metal Men origin story that serves as a backup feature is, not surprisingly, a lot of fun. Given Dr. Will Magnus’s prominent role in this series, it’s too bad the creators didn’t get around to it sooner. Duncan Rouleau’s art for the feature is some of the best work I’ve seen from him. His exaggerated style suits the morphing characters, and Rouleau offers up some tight, crisp linework here. 5/10

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 27, 2006

Incredible Hulk #100 (Marvel Comics)
by Greg Pak, Carlo Pagulayan, Gary Frank, Jeffrey Huet & Jon Sibal

This oversized, milestone issue is an excellent value. The main story continues the Hulk’s adventure on an alien planet, with more of the same regular readers have come to expect. Pak wisely offers an accessible script for new readers who haven’t sampled the “Planet Hulk” storyline. Adding to the value of the book are reprints of classic Hulk stories in which he’s taken to task for his “crimes,” but the real treat is an appearance by Richard Nixon! The strongest segment in this large comic is the second story, in which Greg Pak revives a little-known character from a short story in Amazing Fantasy v.2 #15. Mastermind Excello is a wonderful character. Not only is he defined by his intellect, but he’s a youthful rebel. In terms of inventiveness and sheer genius, he’s the equal to Reed Richards and Tony Stark, but the character something extra to set him apart: his youth. He’s a rebel but with more than enough savvy and resources to further any cause, even championing the Hulk. Pak’s script not only paints him as a genius, but as something of an innocent whose perspective manages to cut through politics and shades of grey. If Marvel doesn’t direct Pak to do more with this wonderful character, and soon, it’s wasting some great potential. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 13, 2006

Batman #658 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert & Jesse Delperdang

I’ve been enjoying Grant Morrison’s “Batman & Son” story arc for the past few issues, but with its conclusion, the star comics writer drops the ball. Nothing is resolved regarding Damian, the Batman’s alleged son by Talia Al Ghul, and his dichotomous adulation of his father and contradictory ethical beliefs. Furthermore, we don’t see the emotional impact of these developments on the title character himself. Given how he is driven by the loss of his family as a child, I would expect to see some kind of chink in his emotional armor, but it’s not to be found. Furthermore, Talia’s characterization in this issue isn’t at all consistent with what we’ve seen of her in the past. Where once she operated covertly and cared about others around her, now she’s presented as an over-the-top, cackling evil mastermind with a flair for the dramatic. Kubert’s angular, explosive artwork suits the loud, action-oriented tone of the script, and his design for Damian-as-Robin is sharp. Actually, it reminds me a bit of the work of one of my favorite Batman artists, Norm Breyfogle. He also conveys the monstrous nature of the Man-Bat ninja soldiers (who seem to be dispatched far too easily in this climactic chapter, by the way). 5/10

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 5, 2006

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

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

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

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