Foilball’s Review Roundup #28

Checkmate #26 (-)

Bruce Jones is a hack. A despicably vacant wreck of a talent. This issue was awful. And to be perfectly clear, I mistakenly pre-ordered this mess out of habit and boy did I pay the price for that one. In one swift stroke, Jones destroys any and all credibility earned by the Checkmate organization during the Greg Rucka run. What’s most appalling is that he sacrifices said credibility in order to give the world this monstrosity. What. The. Fuck. Hyperbole? I think not. I’m positive that anyone who’s actually read this issue knows exactly what I’m talking about. I’m burning this travesty, just as soon as I hit the publish button.

Fantastic Four #557 (***)

As far as opening arcs go, this one was an interesting choice. Millar stated that he wanted to get back to telling family oriented stories… doesn’t everyone say this about the Fantastic Four?… but I found these last four issues to be curiously devoid of any real depth. It’s not enough to say your plot is about Sue and Reed’s relationship, you actually have to write about said relationship. Maybe I just couldn’t handle all the subtext, but I just don’t see how this issue’s payoff scene was adequately built up in the preceding issues. Ok, that’s enough about what I didn’t like. Wait, this was stupid as well. The idea of the Anti-Galactus suit comes from a place in Millar’s head where he’s way too pleased with himself. Okay, okay, what I liked: Dangling subplots! This is something Lee and Kirby really excelled at in their legendary run and I’m glad Millar is tapping into this.

+Subplot #1: The fate of Nu-World!
+Subplot #2: Johnny and his new flame!

The Nu-World thing will most likely get addressed by the end of the run, but I’m not so sure about the “banging your villains” issue. Could this be just another one of Millar’s attention-grabbing ideas that go nowhere? Maybe. Oh, and with regards to that scene, couldn’t he still handcuff her after they finish? I’m sure I saw that in a movie once starring Joe Don Baker.

We’re still in the opening stages here, and I usually love the Millar/Hitch pairing, so I guess I can cut them some slack. And let’s be real, writing the FF is not the easiest assignment in history. Doing it right could be one of the toughest jobs in comics, second only to writing a good Superman book (Yay, Geoff Johns!). So, yes, I complain, but my heart is in the right place. Oh and… Enter: DOOM!

X-Force #4 (*****)

As each part of this story unfolds, the complex plot turns faster and thicker. In this issue, we focus on X-23. Now, I haven’t read much X-23, so I had no idea she was this emotionally damaged. And then she’s a cutter? Good, God! This happens after Wolverine just rips into here (not literally, at least not yet) about innocence and sacrifice. I love how violently Wolverine reacts, as if he feels personally indicted by X-23’s inhumanity. And rightly so, I would think. She is your clone, dude. Later, after the cutting, X-23 confronts a wolfed out Rahne Sinclair A.K.A. Wolfsbane. Just before going wild shit crazy on the drugged up lassie, X-23 hears Logan’s damning words in her head… and proceeds to drop her guard. Extreme violence and blood loss follows.

Which brings us to my one complaint about this entire series: the art, although wonderful, is sometimes so dark that it’s difficult to read the details. And maybe there’s too much blood? This is a nitpick, I admit. I am old and could probably do with some reading glasses. Anyway…

GAH! So much happened in this one issue! Why is Wolfsbane attacking her friends, specifically Angel? Oh, well because she’s under the control of Mathew Risman, of course. What a twist! And Bastion has no idea what Risman’s doing behind his back! Another cool twist! Shit! Those are Archangel’s old wings, right? A choir of Archangels?!? And speaking of Archangel, look who’s back… Archangel!!!

This is my book of the month. I had no idea how much I would enjoy reading it and it has completely surpassed all expectations. Consider me a believer. If you’re not reading this book, do yourself a favor and click the links. Gah, all I can say is that I wish I had access to this art a month ago. Sigh.

Quick Hits:
1985 #1 (**1/2): Meh, I think the solicitation was more interesting than the actual product being solicited.
Action Comics #865 (***): Well written, as always, but what was the point of retconning Toyman’s character history?
Fables #73 (**1/2): I wish the war was over already. I don’t think I care who wins. I don’t think I even like these fables anymore.
The Immortal Iron Fist #15 (***1/2): This was fun. Shockingly. I dread the day Brubaker and Fraction leave the book.
The Programme #11 (*): Oh, finally, time for the super soldiers to fight?
Spawn #178 (****): I really like what Hine has done with this book. And now… and NOW I read that McFarlane is coming back and he’s going to turn it back into a superhero comic? WTF? EFF YOU, TODD!!!
War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #3 (***1/2): Okay, I get it now. I think I like this book.

Mega Review

So, it’s been awhile.  I keep compiling the books for the week until I reach the point where I am now, with a good 12 almost full reviews written up.  I know, madness.  But…here you go!  The first batch of ’em.

DC/Wildstorm: Dreamwar #1

I normally avoid crossovers.  Whether it’s the idiotic Marvel/DC crossover that had Storm beating Wonder Woman, Wolverine beating Lobo, or Aquaman beating Namor, or the lackluster Captain Atom: Armageddon, the fan-vote thing is rarely the way to go, and the threat is generally…well, uninteresting, to say the least.  Keith Giffen, famous for the critically-acclaimed JLI and Annihilation, takes a stab at this crossover miniseries between DC and Wildstorm.

In the first issue, we know precious little.  It’s all set-up.  It’s generally interesting, well-done set-up, but we still know nothing about why this is happening, why these people.  Of course, this being a crossover, this issue is largely fighting between heroes, because…errr…that’s what heroes do when the meet, I guess.  The notable exception, and the part that sold me on the book, is the JSA meeting the heroes of Tranquility.

As far as crossovers go, it’s definitely competent and definitely better than average.  But not by much, and while all the components work well together, ultimately it’s nothing more than a beginning to a series of seemingly meaningless, random fights.

Grade: C+

DC Universe #0

 

DC Universe isn’t going to be a long review…because it wasn’t really a comic.  It was an ad.  It was a good ad, I thought, but it was an ad nonetheless, dealing with important upcoming storylines.  Most of the ads were compelling three-page previews, though I doubt they sold anyone on anything they weren’t planning on getting already.

It’s greatest failure is that it’s a horrible jumping on book for new readers, and the 50 cent price tag meant that it SHOULD have been the perfect place.  Most of the previews required at least some prior knowledge of the books previewed to understand and appreciate them, meaning new readers would have just been lost and potentially put-off buying any of the books.

Still, it was an interesting experiment, fairly well-written and with exceptionally good art.  I view it as a set of trailers, and some of the trailers definitely whet my appetite for what’s to come for DC.

Oh, and Barry Allen’s back.  I’m sure someone is happy about that.

Grade: B

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle #1 (of 3)

Jim Butcher has done pretty well for himself since starting The Dresden Files in 2000.  The series has become quite popular, coming out reliably every year.  Eventually, it spawned a TV show that was…let’s say, less than impressive, though it got better as it went on.  It has a pen and paper role-playing game coming out soon, and Butcher is working on a movie for when the film rights return to him in a few years.  And now, it’s crossed over to comics with this three-issue prequel to his first novel, Storm Front. 

As for how it was…it was good.  Not spectacular, but good.  A good amateur attempt on the part of Butcher, obviously unaccustomed to the restraints in dialogue space and panel description, it was none-the-less unspectacular.  Still, it will be interesting to note whether or not Butcher improves over the life of this three-issue series, given how much his novels have improved over their 8 year life.

The art, like the writing, is fine but unspectacular.  Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the Dresden Files, you won’t want to miss this competent prequel.  It may even bring in a few new fans to the series.  But this first issue is almost entirely set-up, and not the most compelling set-up I’ve ever read.

Grade: C+

Checkmate #25

Castling pt 3

I’ve been looking forward to this issue, and dreading it, for months, now.  On the one hand, it’s Rucka’s last issue, his finale!  On the other hand…it’s his last issue.  That’s depressing.  But, the first few parts of Castling have been excellently handled, so I was understandably excited for this last part of it.  However, this final issue is something of a let down.

It’s not bad.  But, you know what, Checkmate has, over the past 24 issues, proven that ‘not bad’ is not good enough as it has consistently provided the smartest, best superheroics on the shelves.  This issue was overly hurried to the point that it hurt the book. 

Scenes involving the Rooks weren’t always clear, either in art or in caption, and while the Rooks were definitely enormously competent, Rucka definitely did not have them live up to the hype as some of the most deadly weapons in the DC Universe when it came to covert ops.

Aside from some unclear panels, the art was some of the best of the series.  The action scenes especially were dynamically brutal while maintaining their sense of sci-fi madness. 

Overall, if you’ve been reading Rucka’s run, you’ll pick this up, but don’t go out of your way to find it.  It’s not a bad issue, and the rest of the Castling arc is well worth the read, but as Rucka’s farewell, it left me a little hollow.

Grade: B-

SPOILER

As an aside, what does it say about comics today that the huge, shocking twist at the end is that the Rooks did not murder the infants?

Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters TPB

The Thunderbolts had long lived in relative obscurity.  They had their fans, but they hadn’t been involved in anything important since their admittedly interesting inception back in the Onslaught era.  Civil War changed all that.

The Thunderbolts became a team of supervillains hired by the government to hunt down unregistered superheroes, and this controversial position has led to, I think, a lot of misconceptions about the point of the book, at least from what the first trade seems to suggest.

Because, if there’s one thing Warren Ellis does well in Thunderbolts, it’s making otherwise C-F list heroes into the rebel heroes many of us secretly wish we were.  They become more than just super-heroes – everyone is a super-hero, there’s little special about that.  Jack Flag becomes a hero.  American Eagle becomes an icon of Anti-Registration spirit.  This book, it seems, is the most anti-Registration book of all.

All is not well, however.  While Ellis does a great job with his portrayals of the problems of such a team working together, and displays heroism among both the Thunderbolts and their victims, I have a hard time buying that the American public is quite as stupid as they’re portrayed here (though, the Edward R. Murrow reference was classy as hell and helped remind me that this isn’t the first time that extreme fear in the hands of the wrong people has led to some…idiocy).  The extreme stupidity displayed by the average American in Civil War was hard enough to swallow, and Ellis doesn’t try to expound upon what drove people to change so much so fast.  In fact, Ellis asks us to further believe that people could forget Osborn’s past, Venom’s past, etc….

Perhaps the most telling moment for me is when the Thunderbolts, in their fight against Jack Flag, blow up a bunch of cars, seriously injuring him.  Their reasoning is that he mined them in a set-up for his last stand, but that’s asking us to stretch our imaginations an awful lot: he booby-trapped an area of the parking lot on the off chance the Thunderbolts would arrive and then detonated them precisely when it would hurt him most and help him least.  It’s not the only moment like that, but it is the one that most stuck out to me.

Ultimately, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters is an interesting opening story-arc to a series that has a lot of potential, and the opening arc sets it up well, but there’s this nagging feeling throughout reading that this is yet another step too far, that, once again, I can’t quite suspect my disbelief that far when it comes to the beliefs of the everyday person.  I just can’t bend myself far enough to believe that the general Marvel Universe population is quite as stupid as Marvel seems to want us to believe they are.

Oh, and Penance is still the stupidest idea in the last 5 years of comic books.

Grade: B

Welcome to Tranquility, volume 1 TPB

Welcome to Tranquility is among Gail Simone’s best work to date, and is very among her worst sellers.  This first volume deals with the murder of Mr. Articulate, one of a great many characters Simone created specifically for this book, and the investigation that digs deep into the dirty secret of Earth’s mightiest and most revered hero.

Welcome to Tranquility is set in Tranquility, a retirement community for super-powered individuals.  Heroes and villains live in (mostly) peaceful retirement with their children and grandchildren, leaving old rivalries behind and just trying to survive.  Simone expertly crafts an entire world from nothing, giving us heroes of every Age – detectives, romances, war heroes, and genuine super-heroes.  Almost everyone is guaranteed to find a new character that suits their tastes.

The book is rarely bogged down from the sheer number of the characters introduced, but at times it certainly is.  The book tries to help with this by introducing occasional 1-3 page ‘old school’ comics, recounting the Golden Age adventures of one or two heroes who will be important to the story.  Those stories are a pleasure to read, and a great way to be introduced to some important characters.  More over, they are referenced in-story, as part of an entire super-hero culture Simone attempts to build.

Like many of Simone’s books, Welcome to Tranquility has a great deal of humor in the book, balanced by excellent characterization and just a smidge of tragedy.  While the first arc is a murder mystery, it’s not one that the book gives you any chance to solve before the story does, and that’s something that can definitely annoy some readers. 

The book also offers a slightly darker take on the Golden Age, portraying them all as real, flawed human beings, building them up as the iconic heroes we know from comics early days only to tear many of them down as we so often do now.

Welcome to Tranquility is worth a read if you’re interested in something new.  New characters, a new setting, all profiting off of comics rich history without worshipping it.

Grade: A-

That’s it for my reviews for the past couple weeks.  Coming soon?  Stormwatch PHD, Blue Beetle #26, and the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, as well as what I pick up this Wednesday.

Review: Checkmate #24

Greg Rucka’s run on Checkmate has been pretty legendary. Not in a ‘this will be remembered forever’ kind of way. Not even in a ‘this is super-popular right now’ way. But, Greg Rucka has done an excellent job of taking a 25 issue run and turning every single issue into a piece of a larger puzzle, illustrating many of the greatest strengths of comics’ serialized format. All the way back in Checkmate #1, they were taking on the hordes of Kobra, a little-used, relatively silly organization dedicated to snake-worship and famed for poison. Rucka’s run, while accomplishing many other things, has made them an organization to be feared, as this issue features the culmination of Kobra’s planning. Continue reading