Category Archives: Reviews – Quick Critiques

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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Quick Critiques – Oct. 26, 2006

7 Brothers #1 (Virgin Comics)
by John Woo, Garth Ennis & Jeevan Kang

I couldn’t resist — though I’m not as taken with his recent works, writer Garth Ennis’s name on a comic book always gets me to pause and take a glance. I’m pleased I did so in this case. This introductory issue is pure setup, but there’s enough going on and enough character elements to pique my interest. This debut issue comes off as a cross between a standard super-hero group gathering plot and a Quentin Tarantino crime script. There’s an emphasis on a much more multicultural cast of characters, and despite space constraints, Ennis’s script allows us to get to know a bit about each of them. What really hooked me on the book is the sense of history and mystery established in the opening scene, flashing back to centuries ago in China. The script and art converge perfectly in that opening sequence. The art puts me in mind of Denys (The Question) Cowan’s art, to a certain degree. The colors help to reinforce the dark, gritty qualities in the main part of the book, but they are outstanding in that opening sequence, really driving home an ancient and historical atmosphere. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 22, 2006

Civil Wardrobe one-shot (Brain Scan Studios)
by Rich Johnston & various artists

There’s a key reason why Internet comics columnist Rich Johnston’s satire of Marvel super-heroes and the publisher’s late-shipping crossover event is so successful: it’s more than a satire of super-hero comics. Johnston takes aim at pop culture, politics, big-box commerce, celebrity-sponsored spirituality and so much more in this one-shot. Some of the most biting satire is reserved for creations that sexualize children or force an artificial maturity and darkness into properties that were originally designed to amuse grade-school kids. The constant shifts in visual style make sense in the context of Johnston’s one-page-gag framework. It’s great that Johnston has managed to recruit the talents of some top industry professionals for this humor book, but the disadvantage is that the more polished, professional artwork makes for a sharp contrast with the more amateurish cartooning. While knowledge of Marvel’s Civil War event (both in terms of plot and publishing gaffes) will definitely add to the reader’s appreciation of this book, Johnston wisely broadens the book’s focus beyond that niche appeal. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 15, 2006

Annihilation #3 (Marvel Comics)
by Keith Giffen & Andrea DiVito

The series reaches its halfway mark, and the good guys’ war with the Annihilation Wave is over. Three issues to go and it’s over — talk about unpredictable. Giffen’s plotting on this event series is compelling, clever and perpetually climactic. The timing of the storytelling enhances the plot as well. At a time when the “Coalition of the Willing” is fighting an insurgency in the Middle East, Giffen offers up a story in which the heroes end up fighting a guerilla war rather than conventional methods. One problem with the book is that there is a multitude of diverse, unconnected characters running around, and it’s not easy to keep them all straight. Several of them are terribly obscure figures from Marvel continuity, and it makes for a slightly inaccessible quality at times. DiVito’s art is full of jaw-clenched, teeth-gritting macho men, but it works in the context of a war story. I love the color and energy of the cosmic elements the art brings out. DiVito’s performance falls short in one respect, and that’s in the depiction of the Galactus weapon. We don’t get a sense of its immensity, and therefore, the overwhelming, unimaginable fear it must instill in the heroes isn’t conveyed nearly as well as it could have been. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 11, 2006

The All New Atom #4 (DC Comics)
by Gail Simone, Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott

Original series penciller John Byrne is nowhere to be seen, replaced by relative newcomer Eddy Barrows. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Barrows before his name started turning up in the credits of 52. He does a solid job of the art on this title, and his style suits the comedic leanings in Gail Simone’s script. What Byrne did better than Barrows, though, was conveying the thoroughly weird nature of the two antagonists involved in this story — the other-dimensional aliens and the “cancer god.” Barrows’s art in this issue barely hints at those elements, even though they play significant roles. I do like his take on the title character better, though, and his style boasts an action-oriented, dynamic look that reminds me of Claudio Castellini’s art. Simone’s script is playful, entertaining and thoroughly accessible. New readers could pick up this issue and figure out what was going on with little trouble. Simone also brings real-world science into this science-fiction super-hero story, which is in keeping with the Silver Age property that serves as this book’s foundation. The influence of writer Grant Morrison — who provided the general ideas and framework for this title — is still strongly felt, but it’s Simone’s sense of humor and punchy dialogue that keeps me coming back. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 7, 2006

Agents of Atlas #3 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk & Kris Justice

It’s not hard to find super-hero stories from the industry’s Big Two that are mired in past continuity, focusing on obscure characters. Such stories are aimed at longtime comics readers and no doubt satisfy them. But for newer readers, they can be frustrating unless they’re crafted just right. Jeff Parker gets it just right. His plot hinges on the histories of these 1950s comics characters, but he provides plenty of exposition, which is made quite palatable thanks to the clever script and strong personalities injected into these campy characters. Parker’s imagination really grabs the reader’s attention, from the unusual first-person manner in which Marvel Boy’s background is conveyed to the character’s dining habits. Leonard Kirk’s art is fantastic. His soft lines capture these somewhat crude characters of yesteryear perfectly, but he brings maturity and credibility to the characters as well. The visual highlight of the book is Tomm Coker’s brilliant cover. These Agents of Atlas covers are some of the best work we’ve seen from him, and now I’m dying to see some Coker interior artwork. 8/10

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 30, 2006

Amazing Spider-Man #535 (Marvel Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski, Ron Garney & Bill Reinhold

In the wake of Marvel’s announced delay of numerous titles and the developments in Civil War #4, readers have loudly proclaimed how disappointed they are in the crossover event. I don’t blame them, and my voice chimed in with that chorus for certain verses. But there is value in the core premise that’s at the heart of Civil War, and select crossover tie-in issues show that. This is one of them. Straczynski handles the ethical and personal conflicts of the event far more convincingly here, so much so that I feel it’s a shame he didn’t have a more direct hand in the core crossover title itself. The new conflict between Spidey and Iron Man works incredibly well, and the scene between Peter and Reed makes the latter’s participation in the registration movement a bit easier to accept. Garney’s incorporates an energetic, traditional super-hero genre look with a slightly edgy, tense atmosphere that’s in keeping with the script. There’s nothing wrong with these ideas; it’s in the execution that they succeed or fall apart. 8/10

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 26, 2006

Checkmate #6 (DC Comics)
by Greg Rucka, Nunzio Defilippis, Christina Weir, Cliff Richards & Dan Green

DC revives the Suicide Squad yet again, and it makes sense of the concept to arise in this series, given that Amanda Waller is a significant player. This story will be thoroughly satisfying for fans of the John Ostrander-penned series of the 1980s. The concept is a solid one, and the writers explore it within the context of the DC Universe at the moment: namely, one in which just about every super-villain is organized under the umbrella of the Society. It’s a suspense-filled, entertaining script… for those of us who are up on all of the details. Those who haven’t read the first Suicide Squad series or Villains United will no doubt feel as though they were left out of the loop. Furthermore, DC can’t seem to decide what it wants to do in regard to the status of the Tattooed Man; I’m not sure, but now there are at least two of them running around, if not three, all with the same powers. Cliff Richards’s fill-in art starts off strong, bringing an appropriately gritty, convincing quality into play. The linework gets rougher as the issue progresses, as though the artists were rushed toward the end. Of course, a side effect of that lesser level of detail and definition later on is that the art looks a bit like that of Luke McDonnell, the first regular penciller on the original Suicide Squad series. 6/10

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