Review: Scarlet #1

By now, a small contingent of readers have been prefacing anti-Bendis rants with “While I loved Alias” or “Besides Powers” or “Torso excluded” for so long it’s almost absurd.  Brian Michael Bendis made his name writing dark crime stories, gritty, witty books about murder and betrayal, and even Bendis’ latter-day detractors (including the fine folks here at read/RANT) were forced to admit that the man had a damnably impressive back-catalog.  Do you miss that writer?  Well, then, you owe it to yourself to pick up Scarlet.

Scarlet is a woman with a purpose, though that purpose unfolds very slowly over the course of the issue.  Broken (or at least beat up) by tragedy, Scarlet is an interestingly damaged woman, and to help introduce her to us, Bendis jumps around freely in her timeline.  We see her, in one pretty damn fantastic three page sequence, from birth through college.  We see her murder a police officer in the issue’s opening pages, and we see her get ready to kill more people as it closes.  And, perhaps most importantly, we see the tragic incident that made her the woman with whom we start and end the book.

Maleev’s art is spectacular and underwhelming in almost equal measure, though his work here is never bad.  Given how much of the book is dedicated to either Scarlet’s monologue or to conversation, I might have hoped for an artist with a stronger handle on conveying emotion through body language and facial expressions, but Maleev’s command of the atmosphere and colors often makes up for it.  Meanwhile, it’s impossible to look at those first three pages, Scarlet ensconced in shadow after an act of shocking violence, and not be impressed, or that final, haunting image of Scarlet standing above a shadowy, eerie cityscape of Portland, looking out at us.  Maleev’s art helps sell the atmosphere of the book, even when the sometimes-repetitive monologue threatens to undermine it.

Most of the tricks have been tried before, particularly the fourth-wall breaking narration, but Bendis wields them here with an unusually deft hand, giving me a great deal of hope for the future of the book.  It isn’t without flaws, of course.  The clumsiest use of the narration comes at the beginning of the issue, when Scarlet says, “I’m sorry to be right in your face like this.  I know you were looking for a little diversionary fun. I know you were subconsciously hoping you could just watching without any of it actually directly involving you,” a statement that seems faux-edgy, a betrayal of the fourth-wall breaking narration.  It is particularly out of place given the issue’s conclusion, which makes the same point, but far more subtly… and to far greater effect.  The frequency with which Scarlet reminds us that the world is broken and horrible, in case we didn’t pick up on that from the actual content of the issue, is another problem.  Both suggest a lack of trust in his audience, and one that I hope he gets over soon, because, at its core, Scarlet is the most promising project I’ve seen from Bendis in a long, long time, and one of the most promising #1’s I’ve read this year.

This is how you do a set-up issue well: keep us engaged, keep us on our feet, keep us informed, and keep us guessing.  At the end of the issue, we’ve still only met one, maybe two, major players.  That’s it.  We have no idea what the issue-to-issue reality of the book will be, not really.  But we want to know.  Divorced from the guaranteed selling power of Marvel’s biggest names, Bendis and Maleev rise to the challenge and deliver a powerful introductory issue.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Review: Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #1

SpiderW

There’s no question that print media is slowly being supplanted by digital formats.  Marvel and DC have both been slowly trying to diversify the types and formats of their publications, and this is the latest move along those lines.  Though Spider-Woman #1 is hardly the first motion comic, it is a pioneer in that it is the most high-profile, and the first to begin as a motion comic and then be changed for future print publication.  Unfortunately, Marvel choose a poor book with which to launch this particular endeavor: though the format proves impressive, the story within is… less so.

Bendis’ dialogue may have become a staple of his comics, but here, read aloud, it just doesn’t work.  The voice actors – Nicolette Reed, Stephanie Thomas and Geoff Boothby – offer relatively stilted line-readings throughout the production, but even the most gifted voice actors on the planet would have a hard time with lines like these:

“This is a very cool doohickey you can’t buy at any stores.”

“This is what we call bull-caca.”

“We have a rendezvous point thingamajig and we’ll get out of here.”

Maleev’s art, on the other hand, works extraordinarily well in motion.  The striking visuals give the production a haunted look as we pan over the dimmed neon glow of Madripoor, see Drew fight against a Super Skrull, or watch her have a shadowy conversation with Abigail Brand.  Anyone who had their doubts about the viability of motion comics should have some of them put to rest as they see how well it can work here.

Ultimately, Spider-Woman #1 offers a bizarre obsession with mentioning Wolverine at least once every 2 minutes, way too much heavily stylized dialogue, and a whole lot of gorgeous art.  With someone like Ed Brubaker, the already noir-touched art might have found a more able companion, and Marvel might’ve launched their new initiative with a bang.  As is, they instead provide an unsatisfying opening chapter to a story we’re given little reason to care about.

Grade: D

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Desiato Returns for the End of Secret Invasion

Currently writing this from back home in Pennsylvania. I finally acquired myself a job, and even though I don’t start until January 5th, things have been quite hectic. Even still, I’ve got some free time right now so I wanted to throw out some reviews before I return to Boston.

Mighty Avengers #20 (****)


This is Bendis’ last issue of Mighty Avengers, and is really the true “requiem” issue for the Wasp (as opposed to Secret Invasion: Requiem, which will primarily be reprints of important Wasp issues). This issue features the Wasp’s funeral, and primarily deals with Hank Pym’s attempts to reintegrate into society after escaping from the Skrulls and discovering the death of the love of his life. We’ve got three artists on this book, with Lee Weeks covering the opening couple of flashback pages, and Jim Cheung and Carlo Pagulayan drawing the rest of the issue. It’s a funny thing, because one of the annoying things about this issue was the device that Bendis used to catch Hank Pym up on the goings on of the world using five silent full page splash collages of House of M, Civil War, Cap’s death, World War Hulk, and Secret Invasion. It’s a waste of pages, but the work Jim Cheung did on these was fantastic. It reminded me a lot of the Young Avengers Presents covers, as well as that double page spread from the first Secret Invasion New Avengers book featuring Spider-Woman’s history. So I didn’t like the pages being there, but they were beautiful to look at. Ambivalence. I loved the funeral scene, and while it’s another example of everyone piling on Tony Stark post Secret Invasion, I think it fits here because of the emotionally charged nature of the scene, and the way Hank didn’t necessarily get the full story of the events he missed when Carol Danvers caught him up. This book did give us a much more appropriate send-off to the Wasp that we didn’t see in SI 8. It’s a strong way to leave the book for Bendis, and I’m looking forward to what Dan Slott plans to do with the book from this point on, because this team seems to be the odd one out.

Secret Invasion: Front Line #5 (****)


Front Line #5 is structured in a very similar way to issue eight of the main series. The title of this issue is “Dark Reign,” and it basically follows the end of the Central Park fight (starting with the Wasp’s doomsday device whatever thingie being activated), quickly finishes that plot thread and moves on to confronting the idea of a world led by Norman Osborne. You can definitely understand why Ben Urich being the main character of the book was done, because it pays off in spades due to Urich’s long personal history as a man from the Spider-Man family with a long history with Norman. The scene where Ben confronts him and both he and the crowd completely blow him off is great. It also does a nice (if perfunctory) job of wrapping up the other characters we saw throughout the five issues. I still like the premise and import of the Front Line idea, and this was a worthy companion to the Secret Invasion event.

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign (***1/2)


Okay, so we all know that Maleev messed up Namor something fierce. Crazy homeless Bendis isn’t exactly what you would expect from the long faced, regal king of the seas. However, I do think Maleev did an excellent job with the rest of the characters in the book (Norman’s hair notwithstanding), and the art in a book like this isn’t as important as the writing. It’s a bit easier to ignore the art in a board room book compared to something that’s heavier on action. And I think that the board room scene itself was well done. The goals for this book are simple. You’ve got six people in a room with explosive personalities and different agendas. You have to find out why they’re all agreeing to work together and how Norman Osborne could keep these people in line. So obviously this is designed from the perspective as a callback to the original New Avengers: Illuminati and Road to Civil War books, and I think Bendis pulls this off creating a twisted mirror of craziness where the trust is completely nonexistent, and no one is looking out for anyone other than themselves. Really, Emma is the only one here who’s acting from the angle of potential altruism, as she seems to be willing to partially compromise her beliefs in order to make absolutely sure that the mutants will be kept safe. I’m not exactly sure what made Bendis decide to bring in the two vingettes about Kitty Pryde and Swordsman, as they could probably be better served in the X-Men and Thunderbolts books, but at the same time, I do also see them as quick little hooks that might make you want to pick up some X-Men or Thunderbolts issues, so maybe that’s why we saw those framing scenes. I think the characters were written well, and I’m looking forward to the other shoe dropping for Doom and Namor, as well as where we’re going to see the continuing story of The Hood. I liked the book for the most part, but it was generally inconsistent in both the writing and art categories.

Bruce Castle Presents: Secret Dark Reign – Spoilers!

Secret Six #4

Secret Six #4 (****1/2)

You know I love this book right? Well, I do. Please buy this book! Isn’t that cover awesome? I’ve said this before too, but Nicola Scott kicks ass! Our awesome villains start going crazy about this “Get out of Hell free” card. And why wouldn’t they? They’re dysfunctional enough without this. We still don’t know what terrible thing happened to Catman do we? Something about the cats, but this really screwed him up! Well, I guess he was already screwed up but you know. Junior rides around in a potato sack? What the hell is this thing?  Oh and he’s Catholic too, great. My father is Catholic so I’m well aware of all the Catholic bashing in entertainment. Ow dude! Junior beats the hell out of Bane! Will he die? Probably not. Remember in the first issue when that guy answered “They die” and then got killed? Well this new reformed Bane will probably answer “I die” so he might live? A lot of crazy fighting and arms getting ripped off at the end. Oh and Cheshire makes her poisonous return! This book is so fun!

Secret Invasion Dark Reign

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1 (*1/2)

Look at that cover. Loki’s boobs are as big as or bigger than Emma Frost’s now? Fucking Straczynski! Well, I guess that’s Maleev, but I stand by my Straczynski hate. Ok, since I’m on the subject of the art, let’s talk about it. I think Alex Maleev is a lot like Steve Dillon. I consider myself a fan of Dillon as I do of Maleev, but sometimes their art just does not work. Dillon should stay away from superhero books and so should and Maleev. Ok, Daredevil and Punisher could be called superheroes, but you know what I mean. Maleev’s art is borderline ugly here. Osborn’s hair is screwed up and Emma just looks like some blonde. She doesn’t even look that pretty. These are defining characteristics of these characters. Oh and Namor looks like Bendis. Sorry Maleev, but you should probably stick to noir. Ok, art is out of the way. What about the story? Well, this is Bendis’ classic “Talky Room”. A bunch of costumed characters get together and talk. So is this supervillains ruling the world? Not really, which is probably a good thing. It’s basically a crazy man trying to keep a leash on some villains and that man will most likely implode because of it. But as the comic itself asks, “but if he doesn’t?” And Doom answers, “Then we’ll have a battle on our hands the likes of which this dimension has never seen.” So will this be Marvel’s big new summer event of 2009? I don’t know, but if it is, can someone other than Bendis write it? Please? But that’s not the only thing in this issue. One of the framing stories involves Emma crying for Kitty. Ok, Emma is wracked with grief. That makes sense, but shouldn’t this be in an X-book? The other story involves Norman killing Swordsman. This DEFINITELY should have been in the Thunderbolts book. I get that Bendis wanted to show Norman’s madness, but that could have easily been solved by a Goblin freakout. This is just Bendis stealing all the Marvel thunder. “No we have to have a death in this book to make it important”, fuck you Bendis! Wow, I started this review at three stars but I got increasingly more upset. I really didn’t like this issue.

Bruce Castle Presents: Comic Tax

These are books I dread. I have to buy them, but they usually suck!

Uncanny X-Men #504

Uncanny X-Men #504 (***1/2)

Bring on the women! Bring on Terry and Rachael Dodson! Oh yeah! But in all seriousness, has Brubaker left this book? Is this is the end of Fracker?! I thought I read that Fraction was going to write the first three with Land and then Brubaker was going to write the next three with Dodson and so on. Brubaker and Fraction were credited writers are those first three issues, but Brubaker isn’t on there at all anymore. And come to think of it, Brubaker hasn’t talked about this book has he? Fraction seems to be doing all the interviews. So does anyone know what’s going on? Anyway, how was this issue? Let me break it down:

The Crap: Stop trying to be so original and edgy! Now you’re trying to gradually break up Scott and Emma?! You are not Morrison! Yes, Morrison’s run was awesome but let’s move on X writers! I won’t say that Morrison’s run is untouchable, but you certainly aren’t going to surpass him by building on or copying his stuff! Can’t Uncanny just be a lot of fun and leave the seriousness to Astonishing and even X-Force?

The Awesome: So many pretty women. Fraction definitely knows who his artists are. Terry and Rachael are masters of the cheesecake. I loved Scott’s mind. I would think his head would be boring but it was really intriguing. That Dr. Nemesis dude was pretty cool. And I will admit that the finale was interesting. I actually do care about what comes next.

Punisher War Journal #25

Punisher War Journal #25 (***1/2)

Wow this was actually good! Well, kind of. It finally has the Secret Invasion tag (It was absent last ish) which is funny because this one isn’t really about the Skrulls. Oh sure they’re there, but this story is really about Frank and Clarke. And I suppose that’s what Punisher War Journal was all about. With one issue left to go, we can finally realize that. Frank and Clarke hooked up in the first issue (I think) and they were buds. Then Frank killed Clarke’s girl due to that damn hate ray. So of course Clarke found out and amongst all the Skrull chaos this gets resolved, kind of. I did like this issue, but it’s a bit weird that probably the most important moment in the series takes place in a tie-in. Those new readers are going to be clueless. Anyway, this was a good issue that included emotionality, goofy Skrulls, and awesome sniper Skrulls. Even Chaykin did a good job, kind of. But that last page left a bad taste in my mouth. C’mon Fraction! One issue left! Make it good!

Ultimate Fantastic Four #58

Ultimate Fantastic Four #58 (***)

My God…UFF is readable again. Is that possible? I’m sorry Mike Carey fans but his run was horrible. Pokaski has the unenviable task of picking up the pieces and apparently dealing with the death of the series. Does that surprise anyone? Is anyone even reading this book anymore? Anyway, this is actually an Ultimatum tie-in, but you don’t need to read it. It’s just about what’s going on with Thing and Invisible Woman while Reed does his thing. Oh and Dr. Storm is dead I guess but Johnny is missing. Again, does that surprise anyone? Bottom line, this is an average issue and this series is really just waiting for the abattoir. But I do want to make one thing clear, Pokaski is a good writer. He makes the most of what he has and it will be interesting to see what he will do when he isn’t forced to write tie-ins.

Bruce Castle Presents: Skrulls! Zombies! Giant Lizards! Marvel Is A Scary Place!

Marvel Zombies 3 #1 (of 4)

Marvel Zombies 3 #1 (***)

Is anybody excited about this? Good old Marvel, they take a fun idea and beat us to death with it. Zombie covers! Skrull covers! Ape covers! Aren’t these awesome?! Arrggh! Anyway, Marvel Zombies 3 is the fourth mini-series (When will Marvel Zombies 8 come out?) about these super flesh-eaters. Kirkman and Phillips have left the building to make way for Fred Van Lente and Kev Walker. The new creators have an unenviable task. They have to not only deal with the aforementioned complaints of boredom, but this story also takes place in Earth-616 (the regular Marvel U for those who don’t know). Are you a fan of Jennifer Kale? Siege? The Conquistador? What about the Aquarian? Though I admire the respect for Steve Gerber, I doubt many kids (or anyone) will care about these characters. Part of, if not all, the fun of Marvel Zombies was seeing your favorite characters zombified, Captain America missing the top of his head for example. But because we’re in 616, you pretty much know nothing radical will occur. However, Lente and Walker make the best of what they have to work with. This issue is still filled with comedy, gore, and interesting twists and turns. The only problem is that you can get those same elements in other better comics. The series has lost its uniqueness. So, unless you’re a big fan of Machine Man, Jocasta, Morbius, or the creative team, you can probably skip this.

Punisher War Journal #24

Punisher War Journal #24 (***1/2)

What an odd cover. “Secret Invasion” is absent yet this issue is littered with Skrulls. All we see is this dark haunting Alex Maleev cover featuring Frank Castle in a cell. That is not what this issue is about at all. Entertainment is the name of the game here. After a bit of plot dealing with something that occurred earlier in this series, everything cuts loose. I’m talking Frank riding around in a vehicle decorated with Skrull skulls blowing everything green to kingdom come. This is old school sci-fi fun. Want more proof? How about a Super-Skrull that is part Kingpin part Hammerhead? Yep, that’s in here, the jerk even takes a chunk out of G. W. Bridge. Can’t I have one comic where someone doesn’t get bitten? If you’ve followed Punisher War Journal since the beginning, you’ll know that the series is strongest when it’s a tie-in. That’s true again here, but sadly it’s weaker than its predecessors. That’s because these issues contain so much action and with stuff blowing up, you want it to look pretty. Though Chaykin does a passable job, his art is still not my style at all. Still, if you’re in the mood for some fun that involves aliens and vigilantes instead of booze and broads pick this up!

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #44

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #44 (****1/2)

Does anyone over 8 read this comic? Well, I do have an excuse. This issue features the art of the talented Jonboy Meyers. I doubt the name sounds familiar, but here is some of his work. He recently did some back-ups in JLA as well. He rarely does interiors so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on this. I don’t care if this book is meant for kids. It’s nice to have a wholesome break between my gore. This issue was refreshing and fun. The art is amazing! We get to see multiple lizards, the Serpent Society, and Curt Connors Godzilla-style! There’s some humor in here too and what kid comic is complete without some good lessons? This book has it all!