The Twelve #7 (****1/2)
So this is the pitch of the series in a nutshell for those of you sad, silly, misguided fools that aren’t reading this book: “Hey Golden Age folks! You guys were heroes 60 years ago (though ‘heroes’ is probably a stretch), so we feel obligated to treat you as such now even though most of you are pretty lame! Oh, and the world has gone to complete shit and you’re going to live long lives of misery, depression and anguish because most of you are barely 30! And all of your families are dead! Aren’t you so glad we found you?” Even taking into account the ending of the issue (Chris Weston remains a master of facial expressions), this one wasn’t quite as emotionally devastating as the kick in the balls that was issue six. JMS still likes torturing his own characters, because we’re now seven issues in and NOTHING good has happened to any of them since their return to the living world. I think I’m getting the idea why many folks consider his Fantastic Four and Spider-Man runs (One More Day notwithstanding) subpar. It seems like big action stories aren’t exactly JMS’s strength. I’ve never gotten the chance to watch Babylon Five, but I’m pretty sure remembering that the show wasn’t designed to be a big action sci fi epic. And you look and what he’s doing here and on Thor; these aren’t action books. But they’re FANTASTIC and practically flawless examples of character work. You get on a big property like FF or Spidey, and you can’t necessarily get away with making it the type of book that JMS seems to excel at. But a book about forgotten Timely characters or a Thor relaunch, both of which are playing out like slow burning Greek tragedy? They’re great (makes you wonder what’s going to happen with Brave and the Bold). There isn’t even a question that this is the best mini series that will be put out this year. It blows Secret Invasion and Final Crisis out of the water. There is no more satisfying read on Earth right now than this book.
Invincible Iron Man #4 (***1/2)
You know, this book would probably be close to perfect if Larocca were a bit tighter with the art. I’m not going to breach the subject of the pros and cons of aggressive photo referencing, but an inescapable problem does arise when Tony and Reed aren’t consistent from panel to panel and page to page. It futzes up the internal continuity of the book and sequential nature of the comics. It’s certainly not as bad as some of the other photo referencing that you’ll see, but it does have a tendency to bleed things together. And there’s always that sort of pseudo blurry Photoshoppy feel to it. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the issue. I did. But I think the art foibles were more noticeable here than in previous issues. It’s a good thing that Fraction is generally writing the holy hell out of this book, because this could have been a turning point issue that could have tanked the series for me. Though I must say that the chess scene is a bit played out in the grand tradition of “two incredibly smart individuals play multiple games of chess at the same time while talking about everything but chess. Aren’t they smart?” scenes that I’ve seen in various movies/books/media. The punch line of the scene was cute, but it didn’t completely save the scene from slipping into cliché. I do think the book is still searching for a bit of an identity between the super heroey stuff and and the “Tony Stark is just this guy, you know?” moments, but we’ve only seen four issues so far, and I’m willing to give a book (especially one that’s got such a compelling foil like Zeke Stane) the time to find its legs.
Punisher War Journal #22 (****1/2)
Holy shit! It got good! Out of nowhere! Are we seeing the case that Remender and Fraction are finally starting to click? This book was so muddy for the first three issues, and once things started to sharpen from a plot perspective last issue, I started to see some signs of life. And this issue really got things going in a clear and concise way that is finally compelling and interesting and not at all clunky or awkward. Praise be to Fraction and Remender! Chaykin’s art isn’t exactly something I would go out of my way to search out, but I don’t actively hate it, and it has a hand in setting the mood of the story as a whole. I do quite enjoy GW Bridge and his band of merry female assassins, and the one Jigsaw appearance was pretty darned fun. It felt like a book with a focused purpose. This book has been given meaning again. They just might save this arc yet. We’ll have to see how this thing ends.