Category Archives: Reviews – Quick Critiques

Quick Critiques – Feb. 10, 2013

Avengers #4 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jonathan Hickman & Adam Kubert

I like Jonathan Hickman’s writing. I like how it challenges the reader and approaches familiar genre subject matter in new ways. That being said, this issue — a welcome, standalone story — doesn’t quite click the way in which it was meant. I appreciate the narrower focus on Hyperion. While the character has been floating around the Marvel Universe for decades, his status today and how he came to be a member of this broader team of Avengers aren’t clear. Unfortunately, after reading this issue, I’m really not much clearer on the situation. The removed tone of the narration is meant to reflect the disconnected feel of the central character, who’s lost his own world and friends, but rather than a connection to and understanding of Hyperion, the disjointed, vague qualities of the script cause him to seem even more alien and enigmatic. I enjoyed Hickman’s portrayal of A.I.M. as a bunch of evil scientists intent on mad experimentation rather than terrorism and profit. I applaud Hickman for taking time out to focus on individual members of this new incarnation of the Avengers, but I feel he might have explored the wrong one here. At the end of the previous issue, our attention was focused on the new Captain Universe, and the plot and script in #3 certainly piqued my interest about this new character. It seems like it would’ve been a more natural progression to delve into her story now rather than Hyperion’s (it appears she may get the spotlight in #6, but it still strikes me as a couple of issues too late).

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Quick Critiques – Jan. 12, 2013

Variant coverBefore Watchmen: Moloch #2 (DC Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Eduardo Risso

I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of this two-part series thanks to writer J. Michael Straczynski’s successful humanization of a seemingly inhuman criminal, but the conclusion of the series disappointed. The reason is clear: Straczynski tries to add to and arguably even alter the narrative of Watchmen here, as his plot catches up to the events of the mid-1980s series. It’s a significant misstep on his part. Before Watchmen generally works when it’s used to explore new stories featuring the classic characters from the source material, but mucking about with Alan Moore’s story is definitely the wrong way to go. In Watchmen, while Ozymandias was the villain, he was always portrayed as being distanced from humanity. Other people were inferior in his eyes, but not the enemy. Here, Ozymandias glares at Moloch with contempt. Furthermore, Straczynski’s additions don’t jibe with elements from the original plot. In Watchmen, Moloch is portrayed as living in squalor in a slum, but in the time leading up to his death, this story has him earning big bucks from his employer. This script supports the argument many made when Before Watchmen was originally announced that DC ought not tinker with Watchmen at all.

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Quick Critiques – Dec. 15, 2012

Variant coverVariant coverAvengers Arena #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dennis Hopeless & Kev Walker

When the concept for this series was announced, there was a swift, negative reaction, and I can understand. The notion of a random group of characters being brought together for a homicidal battle royale is an uninspired and rather derivative concept (which writer Dennis Hopeless acknowledges in the script with a reference to the book that inspires Arcade’s choice). Of course, the controversy was likely part of the plan for this book from the start; it’s why I decided to read the comic in the first place. I likely wouldn’t have given it a second look otherwise. Ultimately, the problem with the writing here doesn’t lie with the focus on killing characters. Instead, it’s the fact it just doesn’t make much sense given the context in which it’s set. The notion that 16 young heroes — including wards of the Avengers — could go missing and there’d be no chance of the elder heroes of the Marvel Universe to find them is too big a pill to swallow. I also have little idea who most of these young heroes are, and therefore, I don’t feel as invested in their fate.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 25, 2012

Variant coverAmazing Spider-Man #698 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott & Richard Elson

This issue is quite Shakespearean in tone, and by that, I mean it’s much ado about nothing. The big reveal at the end of this issue (which I won’t spoil) has a lot of readers talking and boosted demand for the comic book. And honestly, I don’t know why. It’s kind of a ridiculous concept that lacks any real tension, as any major change to the title character’s status quo is bound to be temporary. But more importantly, it’s hardly the newest idea for a super-hero plot. I was immediately put in mind of the premise behind DC’s Silver Age event from 12 years ago, which was wisely crafted as a fun, fleeting diversion rather than a serious story, as is the case with Slott’s plot (hee, rhymes). To give credit where credit is due, Slott’s script is pretty accessible even though it’s founded on several recent changes in Spidey’s world in recent years. Accessibility is a smart move for this issue, as the publicity it’s generating is bound to attract new or lapsed Amazing Spidey readers.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 17, 2012

Variant coverFantastic Four #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley & Mark Farmer

This is another one of the Marvel Now! relaunches that caught my attention with the creative team. Matt Fraction has proven himself with several projects at Marvel, but his best to date has been his run on Invincible Iron Man, in which he demonstrated his skill at conveying futurism, among other things. His script here is in keeping with traditional FF storytelling; longtime fans of Marvel’s First Family will no doubt enjoy what they find here. After I read this issue, I had the same thought I had after reading the first issue of Kieron Gillen and Greg Land’s new Iron Man title: other than an attempt to boost sales, why is this a first issue? Fraction’s story is quite consistent with what we saw from Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and FF. The plot driving this first story arc appears to be the waning of the title character’s powers — again, hardly the newest concept for the team. The family aspect is properly emphasized here, as is the adventure-seeking goals of the group. But if I had to sum up my reaction to the story in one word, it’d probably be, “Eh.” There’s nothing technically wrong with the storytelling here, but there wasn’t anything about it that excited me either. Mind you, I do like that the premise here is opening the door to an oddball new FF, to debut in a couple of weeks in the relaunched FF title, with art by Mike Allred.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 13, 2012

Variant coverBefore Watchmen: Moloch #1 (DC Comics)
by J. Michael Straczynski & Eduardo Risso

Unlike the other Before Watchmen titles, this two-issue limited series explores a title character that’s essentially a blank slate. In the original Watchmen series, Moloch was more of a means to an end; he served to advance the Comedian’s and Rorschach’s plotlines. Writer J. Michael Straczynski develops an origin story that makes it easy to relate to a villain, that explains why he’s opted for a life of crime. Edgar Jacobi is painted as a sympathetic figure here (not unlike his aged, cancer-riddled self was in Watchmen) despite the murders, drug trade and other ills he lets loose on the world. His background doesn’t excuse his crimes, but it does explain them. Now, Moloch is probably portrayed as a little too self-aware in this story, but that’s in part the byproduct of casting him in the role of narrator of his own story and the introspective turning point that serves as a framing sequence. It’s easy to sympathize with and even relate to the young Eddie Jacobi. Everyone can relate to some form of pain he’s had to endure in a life defined by emotional, physical and social abuse.

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Quick Critiques – Nov. 4, 2012

Variant coverVariant coverA+X #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Dan Slott, Ron Garney, Danny Miki, Cam Smith & Mark Morales/Jeph Loeb, Dale Keown & Miki

I had no interest in Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-Men crossover event, but when the publisher solicited this title, I have to admit my curiosity was piqued. I’m a huge fan of the Marvel and DC teamup titles of yesteryear — DC Comics Presents, Marvel Team-Up, The Brave and the Bold and Marvel Two-in-One — and this new series, pairing individual members of the Avengers and X-Men, seemed to promise the same kind of fun. Still, I was leery, but the two stories featured here do boast that kind of fun, traditional super-hero storytelling I so enjoyed in its afore-mentioned teamup title predecessors. The opening story — a Captain America/Cable teamup set during the Second World War — had a solid premise to bring the two distinctly different heroes together. It’s a rather inconsequential story, but that’s the sort of fare that seemed to work best in teamup books. Most of all, the first story brings artist Ron Garney back together with Cap, the character that really put him on the map in mainstream comics.

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Quick Critiques – Oct. 11, 2012

VariantAme-Comi Girls Featuring Wonder Woman #1 (DC Comics)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Amanda Conner, Tony Akins & Walden Wong

Not in a million year did I ever think I’d take a glance, let alone purchase, one of the comics DC spun off from its gratuitously sexual Ame-Comi statuettes of its iconic female characters, but my local comics retailer pointed out this one was crafted mainly by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner, noting this particular creative team has never delivered a dud. I am a big fan of Conner’s work and of much of the writing team’s efforts, so I found myself caving, picking up a copy of the comic (which I believe was initially published online some months ago). Palmiotti and Gray offer up a distinctly interesting take on Wonder Woman, altering her origin in significant ways to set it apart from versions we’ve seen before. In this spin on the concept, Queen Hippolyta sends a reluctant Diana to America to serve as an ambassador, in part to teach her the value of diplomacy over war. It’s like Odin exiling his son Thor to Midgard to teach him humility. It’s a fun read with several elements that will please traditional Wonder Woman fans, those interested in her new ongoing series and those just interested in something a little different. I was also pleased to find the $4 cover price offers 30 pages of story and art. It’s 50 per cent more content for a 33 per cent hike in price.

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 26, 2012

Geek-Girl #0 (Actuality Press)
by Sam Johnson & Sally Thompson

The writer and creator of this project, Sam Johnson, sent along a review copy, and the title boasted a campy charm, so I figured I’d enjoy what I assumed was a satirical take on the super-hero genre. There’s definitely a tongue-in-cheek quality at play throughout the comic book, but the story seems to toe the line between satire and convention. What’s off-putting about Johnson’s writing here is his characterization. Just about every character is distasteful in some way. The title character comes off as opportunistic and petty, determined to steal what eventually becomes the source of her power in order to stick it to a guy she doesn’t like. Supporting players in the story come off as being just as shallow, if not moreso. By the time I got to a thinly veiled reference to casual anal sex in the script, I felt completely alienated by the writing. The scene transitions are awkward as well. The unfortunate thing is the core premise is kind of cute and would resonate somewhat in genre fan culture.

Sally Thompson’s artwork boasts an initial appeal. At first, there’s a softness to the title character’s features, and Thompson’s style at first reminded me of Takeshi Miyazawa’s cute, Amerimanga artwork. But as the story progressed, the quality of the linework seemed to deteriorate. By the end of the book, it looks as though the art was inked using a finger rather than a fine brush or nib. The design for the heroine’s costume is gratuitous in nature, but it’s obvious Johnson’s property is about exploring (or poking fun at) a bookish kind of sexuality that’s popular in geek culture. Geek-Girl strikes me as an amateur effort that would benefit from some editing guidance and more artistic experience. 3/10

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Quick Critiques – Sept. 3, 2012

Green Lantern Annual #1 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, Pete Woods & Cam Smith

This annual certainly feels as though it merits the label. It feels like an important moment in the series, offering not only an end to the previous storyline — the Sinestro/Hal team — but also a launching point for the larger “Rise of the Third Army” crossover story about to run through all four of DC’s Green Lantern-related titles. Unfortunately, the Sinestro/Hal plot isn’t allowed to resolve on its own, and in order to follow this comic book, one is really required to be well versed in the past few years of GL continuity (notably, Blackest Night and the ethical deterioration of the Guardian of the Universe in its wake). There’s something surprisingly satisfying about seeing the Guardians become the villains of the story rather than simply an authoritarian obstacle for the title character to overcome. There’s something downright anti-Republican about their mission to make everyone in the universe to be and think just like them that somehow allowed this space-opera/fantasy story to resonate a little more with me, especially given current events in the United States. I continue to enjoy and appreciate Black Hand as a villain, which 20-30 years ago, when I first encountered the character, I would’ve thought to be impossible. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the feeling the reader has to be a devotee to Johns’s GL comics over the past few years to really get the most out of this story (and so many others before it).

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 15, 2012

Variant coverBatman #12 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan & Andy Clarke

Writer Scott Snyder takes a much different tack with this self-contained issue of the relaunched Batman, and it’s a welcome change of pace. The focus shifts away from the Dark Knight and his war with a secret society in Gotham to a much more grounded character study. Harper Row is impossibly competent and confident. Her skills with Gotham’s electrical grid defy credibility, but it’s easy to overlook how Snyder builds her up. She stands out as an admirable figure, someone who’s far removed from the complexities of Gotham’s better known residents. She’s a rebel but a caregiver, a protector and a nurturer. She finds wonder in things the rest of us ignore or take for granted, and she’s a self-made woman. One can’t help but be drawn to her. Adding to her appeal is the personality artist Becky Cloonan instills in the new character. There’s no doubt about it — one of the main reasons this character study works so well is thanks to Cloonan’s artwork. She somehow imbues the character with credibility despite the more incredible elements I mentioned above. While Harper, as presented by Cloonan, boasts a certain cuteness at times, it’s the strength she exudes that defines her, a quality that’s apparent in how Cloonan has her move, how she carries her face. Though Harper clearly lives as an adult and has become a surrogate parent for her tormented younger brother, Cloonan also grants the character certain child-like qualities as well.

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Quick Critiques – Aug. 5, 2012

Black Kiss 2 #1 (Image Comics)
by Howard Chaykin

When I was a comic-loving teen, I was focused exclusively on the super-hero genre. While my best friend didn’t buy and read as many comics as I did, he had a more varied cultural palate and a willingness to delve into more unusual subject matter. As such, he had Chaykin’s Black Kiss lying around his room. I thumbed through it and was riveted… but not by the strength of the acclaimed work. I was a teenager, after all. It was the strong sexual content that grabbed my attention. More than 20 years later, I can’t recall what Black Kiss was about at all, but it’s been mentioned by those in the know with such respect, I felt compelled to check out this followup as someone no longer a slave to his baser desires and as someone who’s actually touched a boobie. To my disappointment, I found a confusing confluence of imagery. The first half of the comic boasts an odd, unwelcoming, stream-of-consciousness-style approach to the narrative. Chaykin does an excellent job of capturing the culture of a different time, but I honestly have no idea what the story is meant to be about. Its sudden shift to a different backdrop — the Titanic — doesn’t help with the confusion. Before the first plotline can take root, the audience is jarred away, whisked to a more coherent, focused narrative that’s nevertheless just as devoid of context and clear meaning.

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Quick Critiques – June 16, 2012

Batman Annual #1 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Jason Fabok

Writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion retcon the origin of Mr. Freeze in this annual, and some fans of the villain concept (perhaps best fleshed out in Batman: The Animated Series) haven’t reacted well to it. But by the end of the opening prologue scene, the writers had me; I was in. They’ve presented a vision of Victor Fries as a much more damaged and unstable figure, but I think he remains just as tragic. The anguish that drives him, rather than stemming from a personal loss, arises from mental illness. These revisions add to the character, in my view, and I also appreciated the more direct connection to Bruce Wayne. The script strives a little too hard to connect the story to the “Night of the Owls” storyline from the Batman line of books, and it’s really not necessary. Snyder and Tynion are clearly trying to suck in a few more readers with the tenuous connection and justify that “Night of the Owls” logo on the cover. Since no Talons or Owls or whatever turn up in this story, though, they’re more likely to annoy readers who picked the comic up specifically for the Owl connection.

Jason Fabok’s art is effective and sharp. It reminds me a great deal of the style of Gary (“Shazam!” feature in Justice League) Frank, and its level of detail and realism really brings out the drama — notably in the opening and closing flashback scenes. Those scenes are particularly striking due to the sparse background detail. The rural setting isolates Victor physically, reflecting the isolation he’ll experience socially and psychologically later in life. The almost blank background in those flashbacks also works as a symbol of young Victor as a blank slate who’s about to be defined by an extreme circumstance. The muted blues and greys in those scenes also convey the cold — both literally and thematically — quite effectively. 7/10

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Quick Critiques – May 22, 2012

Marvel’s The Avengers in RealD 3D movie (Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures)
directed by Joss Whedon

Because one person demanded it, here are my thoughts on the Avengers flick — spoiler free, I assure you. There are two elements that influenced my movie-viewing experience Saturday night, and the first was seeing the movie more than a week after its release. The box-office success and hyperbole I’ve seen from fans and comics professionals alike online really built the movie up. I had people tell me even though they went in with high expectations, Avengers exceeded them. I didn’t feel the same enthusiasm for the film, though I couldn’t really pinpoint anything about it that disappointed in any real way. The movie’s paced well, and it boasts an interesting story, a punchy script, great effects and a strong emphasis on interpersonal conflicts to go along with the widescreen action in the third act. I was also impressed with how well balanced the movie is; all of the players get moments to shine. I was also surprised to find Scarlett Johannson’s role was pivotal throughout the film. The movie’s a lot of fun at times and boasts some great moments of humor, but it also exhibits some strong dramatic tension. The only character that doesn’t really seem like his original comic-book incarnation is Hawkeye. I also appreciated how the second act focuses on a much different sort of conflict than I expected, and the action in the climax unfolds quite differently than what the marketing campaign led me to expect. Nevertheless, while I thought the movie was solid across the board, I don’t agree Avengers the best super-hero movie ever made. The Incredibles and The Dark Knight stand above it for me.

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Quick Critiques – April 30, 2012

Oh man, I’m way behind on my writing for Eye on Comics. It’s been a crazy month, but I can’t attribute the lull on the site entirely to being busy. Some of the blame can be attributed to procrastination and laziness, which I’m assuming was caused by some sort of viral infection my stout frame has managed to fend off by way of a superior immune system and sheer, hairy manliness.

Ahem.

This small collection of capsule reviews has been lying around on my computer for at least a couple of weeks, unfinished and begging to be fleshed out. I finally managed to do so today, because, arbitrarily, I decided I needed at least one more site update before the end of April 2012. Contained herein, you’ll find reviews of Batman #8, Courtney Crumrin #1, Saga #2 and Saucer Country #2.

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