Hawkeye #9 widens the world of Fraction’s story but maintains it’s almost unbelievable quality in a story that focuses on the ladies of Hawkeye’s life – Mockingbird, Black Widow, Spider-Woman, and Kate – finding out just how deep a hole Clint has dug for himself.
Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #5
Dance continues to be a pleasant surprise, though one that is running a bit too long. The first three issues did little besides establish a status quo – one that was reinforced time and time again throughout. #4 picked it up again, however, and #5 continues to show some signs of improvement as we race towards the finish line, including the book’s most well-constructed fight-scene as the team confronts Rising Sun and a great teaser for the next issue. A fun read from start to finish, the issue was also helped by yet another replacement artist – Eduardo Pansica. Pansica manages to keep the energetic cartoonishness of ChrisCross without sacrificing his own style, which is a bit more crisp than ChrisCross’. One of the book’s strongest issues.
Immortal Weapons #3
Last month’s Immortal Weapons one-shot focusing on the Bride of Nine Spiders was disappointing enough to have me rethinking my commitment to the series. After all, with a revolving team of creators and no linking idea or theme beyond the back-up feature, not only was there no guarantee of quality, there was no way to know at all what you’d be getting. This issue proved that point, though for the better: though Aaron’s “Fat Cobra” story was slightly stronger, Spears brings an unpredictable, emotional issue that manages to flesh out the mysterious Dog Brother #1 amidst the ravages of the Opium Wars. The story is quick and tragic, expertly illustrated and quite memorable.
Faring less well is Foreman’s replacement on the Immortal Iron Fist back-up feature, Hatuey Diaz. Diaz’s style is extremely exaggerated and cartoonish, which is a rather sudden break from not only Foreman’s crisper style, but also any of the other artists working on the mini. There may be many books to which Diaz is suited, but his action scenes – one of the things that Immortal Iron Fist has rightfully become recognized for – are static and a bit sloppy. The Immortal Iron Fist back-up is hardly the strongest thing about the mini, at least when placed against this month’s “Urban Legend” or the stellar “The Book of the Cobra”, but, as brief as it is, it should at least be consistent. Swierczynski’s story, potentially gripping though it may be, moves along slowly, and Diaz slows the book’s momentum down significantly.
– Cal Cleary
And the Summer’s over! Really? That…went fast. I had fun, though. Hope you all did, too. Back to school, kiddies! I read 20 comics in August, and these were the best.
5. Invincible Iron Man #16
Matt Fraction’s writing is absolutely top-notch. Yes, this story will read better as a whole, but our connection to Tony, Pepper, and Maria is so strong, it hardly matters. The only thing that brings this issue, and the entire series, down, is Salvador Larroca’s Greg Land-esque art.
4. Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1
Speaking of Summer, you like those blockbusters that accompany the season, right? Well then, this is the comic for you! Just some awesome-kickass, supercool fun! Mark Millar gives it to ya, and Carlos Pacheco makes it look pretty. This opening salvo features a bombastic helicopter fight and a terrifying new villain.
3. Secret Six #12
Like my previous selection, this too is filled with action and good times, only with more twisted villainy. But this comic also has character and soul, and that counts for a lot. This is Jeannette’s issue to shine, and I think she blinded me. Carlos Pacheco’s beautiful interiors certainly contribute to UCA’s placement, but you know what? I’d put Nicola Scott up against Carlos Pacheco any day. Yeah, you read that right.
2. Batman and Robin #3
Holy hell, Batman! This series just gets better and better! The first and second issue topped my list in their respective months, and it’s only by some Marvel miracle that this one didn’t. Since I don’t have a proper review of this issue, I want to go over a few things:
Professor Pyg’s “sexy disco hot.” Who else had this song in their head?
Any guesses on who was watching Alfred? Could it be the same person who spied on Bruce & Jezebel all those issues ago?
Awhile ago, DC said, “Scarlet isn’t who you think she is.” That was a damn lie, and I’m pretty sure Red Hood is who you think he is too.
1. Daredevil #500
A phenomenal conclusion to what turned out to be a great run. Brubaker did DD proud, and definitely cast away Bendis’ shadow. On top of that, you get a great short story and a reprint of possibly the best Daredevil comic ever! Yeah, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t just the best comic in August, it’s the best Marvel comic of the year.
Brubaker’s run concludes, and delivers on the promise to shake things up. Bendis’ run ended with Murdock in jail, and while I won’t directly spoil the new status quo, I’m pretty sure you can guess from this upcoming Daredevil cover that Marvel released before this issue. It’s a satisfying change, and while it may not be the most original, it has the potential to provide some great stories from new Daredevil scribe, Andy Diggle. Speaking of Diggle, one of this issue’s special features is a preview of Diggle’s first DD issue, The List, the upcoming Dark Reign special. It’s underwhelming, but mostly because of Billy Tan, and going from Michael Lark to Billy Tan just exacerbates the problem.
Michael Lark produces some stunning work, as he always does. Whether it’s the opening, tender shots of Matt and his tortured wife, Milla, or the electrifying showdown between Daredevil, Lady Bullseye, and the Kingpin, Lark hits all the right notes. Matt Hollingsworth, the colorist, also does a fantastic job, and it should be noted that Andy Diggle isn’t the only one with big shoes to fill. I hope Roberto De La Torre will step up to the challenge, and from what I’ve seen, it looks like he will.
The first special feature of this anniversary issue is the aforementioned List preview. After that, former Daredevil scribe, Ann Nocenti, provides the story, 3 Jacks. Nocenti was known for her controversially preachy storytelling, but she’s a better writer now, and the subtext is subtler. Nocenti is also smart enough to give her collaborator, the brilliant David Aja, a bone-crunching fight scene to render. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with a back-story. I’ve longed for more Aja output for awhile, but now, I want more Nocenti too.
After that, we get a wonderful pinup gallery rendered by a variety of artists from Brian Michael Bendis to Patrick Zircher. The standout is the one you see above you, from the Brazilian artist, Rafael Grampá. He’s pretty new to America, but he’s already won an Eisner, and after seeing that Daredevil, I think he’s going to go far. Check out his Batman and Robin!
Rounding out the extras is a reprint of one of, if not the best, single issue from Frank Miller’s run, Daredevil #191. Remember when Matt plays Russian roulette with a paralyzed Bullseye? Yeah, that one.
You put that all together and you get one of the best comics from Marvel all year! Brubaker concludes everything, and leaves his mark on Daredevil, giving him a bright future ripe with possibilities.
You’ve got to hand it to Marvel. Even though most of their comics cost 3.99 now, they always make sure you get your money’s worth on the big, anniversary issues. Captain America #600 is a billion pages long, and features an army of artists, most of them great. However, even with all the weight and pretty art, is the giant page-count necessary? I actually don’t think so.
We start off with a two-page reprint from Paul Dini and Alex Ross. It’s great, but it’s a reprint, so who cares? Up next is an “In Memoriam” story (I’m saving Brubaker’s tale for the end). It ends well, but it goes on way too long, and is ultimately just filler. After that comes a story from Mark Waid and the newly Marvel, Dale Eaglesham. This tale promotes memorabilia, and, especially after seeing Pixar’s “Up,” that message seems worthless. The real treat here is to get an early peek at Eaglesham’s Marvel work. It looks great, as always. What follows is a brief letter from Captain America creator, Joe Simon. It too is meaningless filler. And, of course, the issue ends with an old Captain America reprint written by Stan Lee. The problem? It’s not drawn by Jack Kirby! The Kirby estate must have a problem with Marvel. Otherwise, why in the hell wouldn’t Kirby’s art be part of a Captain America anniversary issue?!
Final Word on Bonus Stuff: Skip it, unless you really, really want to see a brief, but bad, Mark Waid and Dale Eaglesham story.
Now, onto the main event. Well, seeing as how this issue came with the Captain America: Reborn news, and the fact that issue #50 didn’t contain anything big, and the expectation that a big, anniversary issue would contain some startling events, you’d think the world would explode, right? Nope. This is one of the two major problems I have with Brubaker’s Cap. It’s too much setup and not enough payoff.
Having said that, I really don’t have many complaints about the story itself. Just, for the love of God, don’t expect anything big, only hints of big things to come. Actually, without all of the hype, this would probably be one of the better Captain America issues. Multiple artists are on board, and if the guests aren’t better than the regular team, at least they don’t suffer from the horrible Frank D’Armata coloring. My favorite guest, of course, is David Aja (Get him a good, regular gig, Marvel). He illustrates a wonderful Crossbones and Sin segment. My other major problem with Brubaker’s Cap is Bucky. Since this issue contains multiple perspectives, we only see a little of him, and we’ll hopefully see even less in the coming months!
Final Word: Stellar main attraction, but due to the bloated page number and price, this issue’s overall quality suffers.
The best Captain America bonus:
The best issue of Straczynski’s Thor is here! But, I haven’t been a fan of his run at all, so that’s not saying much. Kudos to Marvel for offering an anniversary issue that is near irresistible. You get a double-sized issue of your scheduled programming, plus a ten or so page tale by Stan Lee and David Aja. Some humorous Mini Marvel action and about twenty pages of Lee and Kirby reprints round out one hell of a package. Though tossing a fin will be troubling, you do get 104 pages for your cash.
Straczynski’s Thor has been meandering and depressing. When Thor re-launched, I gave the first three issues a shot. The first issue was decent, but the second and third were incredibly awful. I later borrowed the first trade and still found it to be bad. Fortunately, the last six issues have been better, but Straczynski’s Thor has got to be one of the most overrated runs that I know of.
The issue begins with a resurrected Bor, Odin’s father. He’s wreaking havoc on New York due to a distortion spell from Loki-Sif. Basically, Loki puts Thor in an unwinnable situation and the rest of the issue is smashing, bashing, and thunder. That makes for a nice jumping-on point as well, since this issue is mostly action. The story, what little there is, is pretty good. It sets up a new status quo for Thor firmly based in Marvel’s Dark Reign for better or for worse. This title has struggled between Straczynski going off on his own, and the fact that Asgard is in Oklahoma. Whether it was Straczynski’s decision or Quesada’s, the future for Thor lies in continuity.
The battle itself is mostly spectacular. Coipel makes this book his own and begs even those most disenchanted with what Straczynski’s doing, like yours truly, to purchase this book solely for the art. Marko Djurdjevic joins Coipel this time, but the two don’t perform randomly like Land and Dodson did on Uncanny X-Men #50o. Coipel handles the normal stuff while Djurdjevic renders Bor’s spell-induced nightmare. Both artists did a remarkable job. Coipel shows the action, emotion, and even an “Avengers Assemble!” masterfully. And Djurdjevic has a lot of fun demonstrating Bor’s distortion, like when Spider-Man appears to be Venom in Bor’s lens.
My main complaint with Straczynski’s tale is perhaps the direction it’s taking. The Dark Reign moments were my least favorite parts. When Thor cries “Avengers Assemble!”, only a few jokers show up. I won’t spoil it, but why would only those guys appear? There must be close to a hundred heroes, and villains actually, that could’ve answered the call. It’s a ridiculously contrived moment. The status quo change is interesting, but the guest appearance on the last page is not. You can count him on your “most appearances in Dark Reign list” along with Osborn.
The bonus material is fun. The Lee/Aja tale is much like the main one; you can ignore the words and just gaze at the art. Aja produced some amazing work and Lee’s “story”… is pedantic to say the least. Thankfully, we’re also treated to some classic Thor stories as well where Lee redeems his good name. Stan Lee is in top form in these reprints and Kirby is, as always, the king, though these are some of the Vince Colletta-inked issues that are very controversial among Kirby fans. The last addition, by Chris Giarrusso, is hilarious. It pokes fun at Straczynski’s run so as you can guess, I had a blast.
The love outweighs the hate here. Marvel offers quite a hefty tome filled with glorious art that makes up for a bit of lackluster story. Good anniversary issues are rare, but you can count Thor #600 among them.
Uncanny X-Men #505 (***)
Do we really want this man writing the X-Men?
I think it’s official, Brubaker has left the building. Did Fracker break up? I don’t know, but that picture is awesome. And Tony was right. Anyway, I feel sorry for this book. It’s become Marvel’s answer to JLA. One of the terrible things about the current JLA is that the book has to keep servicing other books. It spends too much time talking about events that it can’t tell its own stories. That’s exactly what Uncanny X-Men is. This issue spends so much time talking about X-Force, and M-Day, and Astonishing X-Men and now Dark Reign. Fraction only gets a few pages to tell the stories he wants to tell, but it has little impact. It barely makes sense! The Dodson’s continue to impress and the fact that this book isn’t terrible demonstrates Fraction’s ability as a writer. Please Marvel, give the man some freedom!
Invincible Iron Man #8 (****1/2)
Everything about this book is perfect. Except the art of course, Larroca can’t draw people. I know I know it’s Iron Man, but this book is about the characters. It’s not about the iron. Although the few panels involving technology do look sweet. It’s still amazing how Fraction manages to write this cast so well. Tony, Maria and Pepper are so lovable even though they’re definitely human and flawed. You know what else is in this issue? Comedy! I’ve said a thousand times but I’ll say it again, if you liked the movie you’ll enjoy this. Last thing, Osborn is the new Skrull. It’s only been two weeks and already I realize how much I’ll type the name Osborn in the coming months.
Thor: God-Sized #1 (****)
The writing is great. The art is great. There are four art teams working on this thing and yet they’re all pretty cool. I enjoyed the part three artist the most. It was very old-school, cartoony, and fun. So this is a quality issue, but I’m sure a lot of you will ask, “What’s the point?” It’s a tribute. Along with the 38 new pages, you’ll also receive a reprint of the classic Thor #362. Walt Simonson had one of the best runs on Thor ever. It easily rivals the Lee/Kirby era. But you know what? You can’t even get a trade that contains Thor #362. They were reprinted in trades but they’re sold out now. That’s why this issue is important. If you haven’t read Walt’s run, it’ll let you know what you’re missing. If you have read his run, you’ll quickly be reminded how great it was. The reason why I loved part three so much was because you got to see all the classic Simonson costumes, Balder in his armor, Thor with his beard, and so on. Of course this issue isn’t all about Simonson, it’s also about Skurge. He was a tragic and important part of the Thor mythos. I highly recommend this issue.
Hello again. Long-time no review. I’ve been reading a lot of comics, though. That, I have been doing. Here are some of them.
Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge #1
FC: RR was up there with Legion of Three Worlds and Requiem as the minis I wasn’t particularly excited for. I’m not a big fan of Geoff Johns at all. Still, I enjoyed Rogue War alright from his Flash run, and the I have generally enjoyed his take on the Rogues in general. Given all that they’ve been through lately, I thought it would be interesting to see how this has changed them all.
Rogues’ Revenge turned out to be pretty well-handled all around. The art is average, but Johns’ characterization of the Rogues is rock-solid as always as we see them ready to retire, turning down the offer of Libra’s Secret Society in favor of retirement and a life outside the public eye. An inciting event keeps them in costume, of course, and sets them on a collision course with Professor Zoom and Inertia and, I suspect, Wally and Barry. The issue doesn’t have a lot of twists and turns, but it’s solid set-up for a mini-series, and I hope that the next issues live up to this one.
Madame Xanadu #1-2
Madame Xanadu is one of Vertigo’s newest books, the first using mainstream DC characters in quite some time, as it tells the origin of characters like Madame Xanadu, The Demon Etrigan, and (okay, not the origin, but early uses of) the Phantom Stranger. The book, beginning at the twilight of Camelot, is okay – but nothing special. And that’s the key phrase when describing the book so far. Nothing special. The art is solid, the writing is solid, the story is solid, but nothing stands out as particularly worth it, especially when we’ve already gotten a much more impressive ‘fall of Camelot’ in Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight.
Ultimately, the story tries to have a few twists. Nimue – who we are led to believe will become Madame Xanadu – did not betray Merlin, but instead was a pawn in the evil, maniacal manipulations of a mad mage as he tried to gain immortality. But the changes ring hollow, made, seemingly, to make us more sympathetic to Nimue. And if you have to change the myth so completely to make us sympathetic to a character, why use that myth in the first place? Beginning Madame Xanadu at the fall of Camelot was an interesting choice, but so far, not one that has had any sort of pay-off within the story. I’m hoping it does in future issues, though, because Madame Xanadu only has one issue left to impress me.
Captain Britain and MI:13 #1-3
Now THIS is what a tie-in should be like. This has nothing to do with the main story – but it could. If the heroes here fail, then it will completely change the main battlefield over in the American-based books. This isn’t just an extension of that story – you don’t have to be reading this, there aren’t any HUGE REVEALS, and this isn’t where the back-story is. It is, however, an entertaining and well-illustrated book dealing with interesting characters stuck in a terrible situation.
When it comes to Secret Invasion, for me, this is the place to be.
Ambush Bug: Year None #1
Ambush Bug is another Keith Giffen project created long ago to satirize the industry and long-since forgotten. This book is Giffen’s way of mocking the recent grimness of the DC Universe, the pomp of their SUPER HUGE EVENTS, and certain trends in modern comics. While parts of it are genuinely hilarious and clever satire of the industry – the main story of the issue is the murder of Jonni DC (DC’s oft-ignored kids line is called Johnny DC, and comics are becoming more and more violent), there are a number of small, clever touches, such as a few fourth wall breaking moments, Ambush Bug’s part in Identity Crisis, and just try and count how many dead women litter the pages of the comic. But, in the end, it’s just trying too hard to be funny, going for the easy laugh as often as not. It’s like modern Saturday Night Live – it strikes solid gold every so often, but you have to slog through the mediocrity to get there.
Wonder Woman #22
The penultimate chapter in the current Wonder Woman arc, this one definitely picks up the pace as we finally meet Wonder Woman’s nemesis here, a extra-universal devil who has been demolishing planets and universes. Stranded from her allies, betrayed, the arc features a few twists, but more than that, it features a few great moments between Stalker and Wonder Woman. The issue is funny, exciting, and just a little dark. All-around solid.
The Immortal Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven
All I can say is, David Aja might be one of the best artists in the industry today when it comes to action scenes, but he’s also a solid all-around talent, one well worth watching. And teaming him up with Matt Fraction? That’s a match made in heaven, as the first arc, The Last Iron Fist Story, proved. This, the second arc on the series, isn’t quite as good as the first one, largely due to a sad lack of focus – and an even sadder lack of awesome ass-kickery. I had hoped to see a little more of the tournament than we did, but what we got was solid gold, and the main story-line of a revolution in heaven was equally well-handled.
Easily, the weakest part of the trade was the Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1 put right in the middle. While the story it contains is certainly important, the art was an extreme departure from Aja’s quality work that came off stiff and wooden – which certainly hurts action books. The story was long, and while it’s always great to see Orson again, this was the weak link.
Still, when the cards are down, Immortal Iron Fist offers unparalleled action, great banter, amazing panel layout (you know it’s either really good or really bad when you have to stop and notice it), and an excellent supporting cast. If any of you aren’t reading this, you should be.
This is what’s funny about the way my mind works. I had actually written down my own little twist on the famous TS Eliot line (in this case, “this is how the comic ends, not with a whimper, but with a BANG”) before I realized that I had just commented on that line changed in a similar way by Brian Reed in Ms. Marvel #28 in my review of all those Secret Invasion books. And I’m aware that commenting on it as such pretty much accomplishes the same silliness as the original intent. Except with more words. And commenting on this addition of words is wasting yet even more words. And now I’m rambling. And wasting YET EVEN MORE words. So I’m just going to move on, refuse to self edit and get on with the comic review.
This is Matt Fraction and David Aja’s last issue on Iron Fist. It’s a bridge issue. It wraps up most of the loose threads left from The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven (which, admittedly, there weren’t too many) as well as set up a new status quo and series of problems for incoming writer “Guy with a really long and confusing last name whose first name is Duane” (AKA Duane Swierczynski, or that guy who’s writing Cable) to solve. It’s a bit of a thankless task at face value, but you can tell that both Fraction and Aja really care about Danny, and it’s just not right for them to finish their run on a flashback one shot. We get to see Danny come down from his last adventures and deal with the aftermath, as well as just live his life for a while. There’s no fighting. There’s no kung fu. In truth, there’s no real conflict until the last page. Unless you consider Danny trying to turn Rand Corporation into a not for profit charity organization. And you get to see fun little moments like Danny teaching martial arts to the local children while preaching the importance of math, in a scene that plays as kind of, well, adorable, which is somewhat amazing coming from the mind of the guy that created the relationship between Casanova and Zephyr Quinn (and I’ll leave it at that. All confused by this statement need to READ CASANOVA. And yes, I put that in bold as a way to subliminally affect any and all that only skim this review. Ha!)
Now, I’m going to devote a pretty solid chunk of this review to the last four pages of this book. I’m not going to actually give away what is discovered on the last two pages (just that it’s a very interesting way to go about things that is going to allow for a lot of story potential for that Cable writer whose name I refuse to reproduce, despite the wonderful power of cutting and pasting), and I really want to deal with the two pages before that in more detail. How exactly do you wordlessly evoke the process of meditation? Well, if you’re Matt Fraction and David Aja, you create 26 sequential panels of the mind’s free association while in such an altered state. An eye becomes a lotus petal becomes an egg becomes a skull becomes a frog jumping into a pond, whose ripples become a linked chain, which breaks apart to morph into Chinese characters, which become the book of the Iron Fist, which leads into the revelation of the last page. We live in an age of big, expressive panels done with a widescreen sensibility. Sure, there’s reasoning behind that, and quite a lot of the reasoning involves movie option checks, but it remains a very arresting experience to turn a page and see so many panels. And they flow so effortlessly and beautifully into and out of each other. I don’t know who was responsible for that, whether it came from Fraction’s script or Aja’s mind or a combination of both, but it is the absolute highlight of the book (and in a book that features Fat Cobra, that’s an accomplishment). And really, what this issue does is make me wish Aja didn’t have to pull back so much on the second arc. He’s a superstar. Beyond the amazing work on what is basically a dream sequence, you’ve got the hypnotic effect of the wallpaper in Misty Knight’s bedroom and the little character tics and reactions simply involved in Danny and his accountant having a conversation in an elevator (which itself was very reminiscent of a beat from the recent Buffy Season 8 arc). All of it is wonderful. And it’s all Aja, which I believe is a first for the entire series.
I’m going to miss this team on this book. I would have been perfectly fine if Brubaker left and Fraction and Aja stayed on, but once Aja’s schedule became impossible for a monthly book, it’s fitting that they all left at once. Do I wish that this team could have become the next Bendis/Bagley collaboration of over 100 issues? Of course. I really think this was easily one of the strongest creative teams for a single book at Marvel Comics, and was right up there with the Geoff Johns/Ethan Van Sciver/Ivan Reis work on Green Lantern and Sinestro Corps. I’m the type of guy that can easily be swayed by one incredible section of a book, so the meditation sequence was enough for this thing to be five stars for me, and short of reading Casanova (Ha ha! That’s two!) this might be the strongest single issue Fraction’s put in at Marvel. Oh, and I dig the hell out of that cover.
So I put a little more of myself into this review than usual (from the perspective of stream of consciousness parenthetical asides that don’t automatically have anything to do with the task at hand…Ooh! Like this one!). I think a little of it has to do with being a bit punch drunk from a full Monday of work. Who knows the cause? But I would like to know if I pushed it too far or it got distracting for the folks who actually take the time to read this blog and read my posts. I’m here to please to the best of my ability, and I’m always looking to improve my writing. So let me know. Comments, please!