Review: Winter Soldier #2

Winter Soldier #1 ended with an amusing bang last week by having a gorilla mercenary open fire upon Winter Solider and Black Widow whilst yelling, “Death to America!” in flawless Russian.  The second issue begins exactly where the first left off in a showdown with the aforementioned gorilla mercenary.  Winter Soldier and Black Widow get outsmarted by the gorilla and in a Thunderball-esque exit the gorilla escapes via jetpack.

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Review: Fatale #1

Fatale #1

Look, we like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips here at read/RANT.  Throw in Dave Stewart, perhaps my favorite colorist currently working, and you’ve got yourselves a winner – as evinced by naming Criminal: The Last of the Innocent the best graphic novel of 2011.  So you can imagine how excited I was to see the team reunite so soon after the most recent chapter of Criminal concluded.  I went in to Fatale pretty much completely blind, having missed the preview that came out during my fairly relaxed holiday season.  And while it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, Brubaker and Phillips have come up with a satisfying blend of crime, pulp, and straight-up horror.

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Review: Criminal: Last of the Innocent #2

Part of the genius of Criminal that I’ve always underplayed in my reviews is the art of longtime Brubaker collaborator Sean Phillips.  The two work together flawlessly, and there’s a reason most of Brubaker’s best work was done with Phillips, but for the most part I’ve always given the lion’s share of the credit to Brubaker.  I can’t do that in Criminal: The Last of the Innocent.

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Top 5 Best Comics of December 2009

I read 20 comics in December, and these were the best.

5. Hellboy: Bride of Hell

Another classic Hellboy one-shot. Richard Corben, showing the whippersnappers how terrible they are, produces wonderful work that surpasses his Eisner-winning accomplishment on Hellboy: The Crooked Man. That alone makes this comic special. But, Mignola’s there too, providing a riveting, tragic tale.

4. Captain America: Reborn #5

This might as well be the conclusion of Reborn. We all know how it’s going to end. Even before Marvel ruined it, we knew. I’d rather have it end here. Sharon Carter in the hands of Red Skull. Sin destroying Vision with an Arnim Zola contraption. Crossbones, and his army of robotic killing machines, shooting the heroes. Red Skull, in the body of Steve Rogers, battling Bucky on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, while the Red Skull duels Steve in his own brain. This, rendered by Bryan Hitch and written by Ed Brubaker, is good stuff.

3. Astonishing X-Men #33

Ellis & Jimenez make larger-than-life superheroics look easy, when few books actually do it well. Fraction may be writing a great, diplomatic Cyclops over in Uncanny X-Men, but Ellis’ Cyclops is a bitter, war-forged mutant with the power of a nuke in his eyeballs. He cuts through a Brood-fused Krakoa like butter. Ellis provides humor, entertainment, and enough X-history to make the fanboys squeal, and Jimenez makes it all look pretty.

2. Irredeemable #9

Nine issues in and Waid continues to keep things fresh. This is extremism at its finest. Demons crawling out of mouths, villains hiding in friends, and “upgrading” used for torture, are just a few of this issue’s memorable moments. If Waid’s not commenting on Internet trolls, he’s commenting on the corruption of power. But, have no fear, there’s plenty of entertainment to be found. The subtext is just the icing on the cake.

1. Detective Comics #860

The final part of Kate’s origin feels more than a little Year One-esque, and Williams continues to give his best rendition of Mazzucchelli. We see the natural progression of Kate’s vigilantism evolving into so much more. Kate and the Colonel bond over the experience, which makes the issue’s Shakespearean conclusion all the more painful. Of course, Williams and Stewart, the best art team around, are the stars of the show, but Rucka pulls his weight and then some. With Batwoman at the helm, Detective Comics is, once again, the best comic of the month.

-Bruce Castle

Top 10 Writers Of The 00’s!

Welcome!  As the decade comes to a close, just about everyone under the sun begins to bust out their BEST OF THE DECADE lists.  Best books, best TV shows, best movies… well, we here at Read/RANT are nothing if not trend-followers-setters!  So, with that in mind, and with a few weeks left in 2009, we bring you the first of three BEST OFs.

This decade was undeniably good to comics.  Besides seeing old favorites like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore return in some drastically new capacities, we also saw an awful lot of breakout talents.  Masterpieces were produced.  Internet outrage was shouted from the rafters over everything from implied rape in a Spider-Man comic to Final Crisis being strange.  Both Hal Jordan AND Barry Allen came back to life, while both Batman and Superman left the planet.  Marvel’s ULTIMATE line grew, flourished, weakened, literally drowned, and was reborn only months ago.  Captain America became a vital character.  It was, all things considered, a busy, crazy, wonderful decade of comics.

Who are our Top 10 writers this decade?  Well, read on…

10. Gail Simone

Gail Simone is certainly one of the decade’s breakout creators.  While her name doesn’t pull in the same numbers as a few other creators on (and even off) our list, her creative output still stands up to scrutiny.  Simone’s stories tend to be a little quieter, a little smaller in scale, than many of her counterparts on the list, focusing instead on a bizarre, character-driven combination of humor – sometimes incredibly dark humor – and action.  Books like Birds of PreyAgent X and Secret Six perfectly exemplify these trends, attracting loyal cult fan bases and critical praise.  At her best, Simone is capable of switching from laugh-out-loud to heartbreak without any warning, and without detracting from either.  Despite an uneven run on Wonder Woman – and even that is leagues above most folks’ handling of Diana – Simone has improved a great deal over the course of the decade.  While a number of her books ended earlier than they deserved (The All-New Atom and Welcome to Tranquility, to name two of the strongest examples), none of them have been anything less than a pleasure to read.  In an era dominated by high-concept, big-action blockbusters, Simone’s quiet humor and obvious love for the craft have been an oasis.

9. Greg Rucka

Greg Rucka, it’s safe to say, has a ‘type’, a fact that quickly became evident this decade.  Filling your books with savvy, ass-kicking female heroes is a surefire way to flop in today’s market, but Rucka has proved time and again an exception to this rule.  Whether it’s writing one of the strongest runs Wonder Woman has ever seen or trusting fans to understand Renee Montoya’s progression from a cop in Gotham Central to P.I. in the excellent 52 on through her new superheroic identity in two or three more books, Rucka spent the years finding increasingly fresh ways to help his heroines grow, change and find an audience.  Meanwhile, over the course of the decade, Rucka also wrote nearly 40 issues of the excellent Queen and Country with Oni Press, netting him an Eisner and a dedicated fan base.  His increased profile is evident from his latest assignment: he’s the first writer ever to simultaneously write DC’s flagship titles, Action Comics and Detective Comics.  Astonishingly prolific, timely and with a gift for espionage and crime comics, Rucka has been a defining voice for the decade’s heroines, as well as a damnably fun writer to read.

8. Matt Fraction

Only writing in the latter half of the decade, Fraction has already proved himself as a cut above the rest.  His breakout work, Immortal Iron Fist, ended up becoming one of those great, character redefining runs that only come around every five years, if that. Besides making Danny Rand cool, Fraction successfully reintroduced Frank Castle into the Marel U proper. Realizing that the Punisher’s not meant for such a zany world, Fraction avoided the grim & gritty. Instead, Frank fought absurdly stupid villains, with hilarious results. Immediately following those successes, Fraction took the Uncanny X-Men reigns, producing the finest work that title has seen in over a decade. And, last but not least, Fraction helmed Invincible Iron Man, following the wildly popular movie. He managed to easily match the quality fans expected after seeing Favreau’s film. So much so, in fact, that Jon Favreau actually consulted with Matt Fraction for Iron Man 2. As if all that wasn’t enough, Fraction’s independent comic, Casanova, is one of the finest works of the decade. Fraction has a fresh, powerful voice, unafraid of filling his comics with women and, most importantly, fun.

7. Garth Ennis

In the beginning of the decade, Garth concluded his magnum opus, Preacher. Most creators take a break after completing something so brilliant. Not Ennis. He just keeps on writing, immediately moving onto another great project. I’m talking about Garth’s Punisher run, of course. Frank Castle’s been around and loved since the 70’s, but nobody’s left a mark on him like Ennis. Hell, both Punisher movies and a video game were inspired by Ennis’ work. Writing around 100 issues with the character, Ennis took Frank to dark, humorous places, creating one of the most reliable comics of the decade. Never missing a beat, when Ennis stopped writing Punisher comics, he already had a start on his next popular series, The Boys. Ennis’ writing is well-known for its intense, human drama, so it’s only natural that Garth’s passion, War Stories, would be so damn good. Utilizing extensive research, Ennis always writes fabulous recreations of often-unknown battles. There are several worthwhile pojects I haven’t even mentioned. Garth Ennis is a true professional, writing great comics month after month.

6. Brian Michael Bendis

Easily one of the most influential writers of the decade, Bendis IS Marvel, and it all happened in the 00’s. Exploding at the start of the millennium,  Bendis wrote several great works that will be remembered: Alias, Daredevil, Powers, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Bendis’ Daredevil is the best work Murdock’s seen since Miller in the 80’s. Ultimate Spider-Man broke the Lee/Kirby longevity record, and it gave Spider-Man fans a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Sadly, Bendis’ work in the latter half of the decade is hated by many, and rightly so. But even if the poor characterizations and decompression are bringing you down, Bendis can still be admired for his wonderful ideas. There’s a reason why he’s been behind nearly every Marvel event this decade. His high concepts are exciting and ambitious. With Bendis’ return to Powers, Ultimate Spider-Man surviving Ultimatum, and that Daredevil project on the horizon, Bendis may have another great decade ahead of him.

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5. Robert Kirkman

Breaking onto the comics scene at the birth of the new millennium, Kirkman took the world by storm with Battle Pope! Ok, maybe not, but a couple people at Image liked it, and after a few years, Kirkman was given the chance to write two ongoing books for the company in 2003. Invincible, an amalgam of every superhero trope in the benday dot covered book, and Walking Dead, a George Romero-inspired zombie epic, eventually became two of the most successful Indie books ever. Then, like all fresh-faced comic writers, Kirkman spent some time at Marvel, penning books like Marvel Team-Up and the insanely popular Marvel Zombies. Also like many writers, Kirkman grew tired of Marvel. However, few leave in such intriguing fashion. Along with that startling video came the news that Kirkman was made a partner at the company he loved so much. That was only a year ago, and already Kirkman’s been instrumental in making Image cool again.  Teaming up with Todd McFarlane to create the monstrously successful Haunt, and reuniting all the Image founders on Image United, Kirkman’s like the young D’Artagnan, inspiring the old Musketeers.

4. Brian K. Vaughan

Brian K. Vaughan was a relative unknown at the start of the decade, having penned a few single issues here and there.  In the early 2000s, he was still working on a string of small arcs, jumping from book to book, though the profile of the books – Wonder Woman, JLA, X-Men, Batman, Detective Comics – had risen significantly.  Still, it wasn’t until 2002 that he really broke out.  With the release of Y: the Last Man, Vaughan proved himself.  60 issues later, one of the defining comics of the decade came to a conclusion with a few of the most heartbreaking moments we’ve seen.  If Y were all he achieved this decade, it would still be a rock solid body of work, but Vaughan also created Ex Machina over at Wildstorm, an impressive post-9/11 political superhero story, and the powerful Pride of Baghdad.  He also had a successful time over at Marvel Comics with the enjoyable (if ultimately unsuccessful) Dr. Strange: The Oath and Logan, and the vastly more successful The Hood.  Finally, he did something that has become nearly impossible in today’s stagnant modern environment: he created a successful new franchise for Marvel in Runaways.  Vaughan’s work has run the gamut from teenage rebellion to the end of life as we know it, and throughout, he’s kept it honest, emotional and fun.

3. Ed Brubaker

Ed Brubaker’s pre-2000 work largely consisted of a string of mostly unknown independent single issues.  In the late 90s, however, a few small Vertigo projects apparently got him enough attention to net him a few small issues on Batman, Robin and Detective Comics, and it wasn’t long before Brubaker took off from there.  An impressive array of noir-influenced crime superheroics followed, from his surprisingly successful and critically acclaimed relaunch of Catwoman to his collaboration with Greg Rucka on the stellar Gotham Central.  Meanwhile, over in Wildstorm, Brubaker began to push things in a different direction.  Ideas like Point Blank and the following Sleeper began to take a more active interest in meshing the superhero genre with the pulp criminal underbelly.  There, he could push things further and do what he needed to do to his brilliant cast of dark characters and he managed to shape the Wildstorm Universe for a good few years.  His move to Marvel seemed at the time to be a strange fit, but no one can deny that his relaunch of Captain America has been the single most successful take on the character in years, and he proved an inspired choice to follow Brian Michael Bendis on the surprise hit Daredevil.  Working with Matt Fraction, he turned The Immortal Iron Fist into a successful franchise that lasted beyond the creative team’s departure.  And, finally, he reunited with the gifted Sean Phillips to lend some much-needed gravitas to Marvel’s ICON imprint with two books: the pulp supervillain story Incognito and the superior critical darling Criminal.  Following a loosely-connected group of crooks in exciting, heartbreaking standalone arcs, it is almost hard to believe that Criminal has gone on as long as it has, but it remains an impressive accomplishment, and one of the decade’s most enjoyable books.

2. Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis came out of the last decade on an impressive high note: halfway through his stellar Transmetropolitan and having just completed his brief, game-changing run on The Authority.  Transmet was a near immediate success, being taught in Political Science courses, a rare mainstream success for comics, and it would have surprised no one if he’d channelled that success into more high profile, mainstream work at the Big 2.  Instead, he used his new pull to launch a string of relaunches and creator-owned projects that ranged from good to absolutely stellar.  Nextwave was a gloriously fun satire on the genre.  Global Frequency was a brilliant combination of sci-fi and horror, and if the premise didn’t entirely make sense, the execution more than made up for it.  His creation of The Authority in 1999 and run that lasted well into 2000 quite nearly defined how mainstream action comics would work.  Meanwhile, he repeatedly launched increasingly impressive array of books with Avatar Press, from the gritty supernatural Gravel books through the dark examination of super-heroics in Black Summer and No Hero and on into glorious sci-fi worldbuilding books like Doktor Sleepless and Anna Mercury.  Very few writers have displayed the sheer versatility that Warren Ellis has, and the decade saw him gather an impressive array of titles under his belt.  It’s my humble opinion that he could’ve made the list off of nothing but Transmetropolitan and Planetary, but Ellis is hardly the type to rest on his laurels.

1. Grant Morrison

I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re all big Morrison fans. We could produce a “Top Ten” list using Morrison’s work alone, and that list would have more quality than half the lists you’ll find on the Interwebs. Kicking off the decade with the most radical X-Men run ever produced, breaking away from the dusty, old Claremont mold and replacing it with a new shadow for the franchise. Many fans prefer the safe, crowd-pleasing Whedon run, which is amusing, since Whedon’s run couldn’t really exist without Morrison’s. Before leaving Marvel, Morrison wrote Marvel Boy, a wonderful Marvel love letter, while maintaining that Morrison freshness. Many people have forgotten it, especially since Noh-Varr has recently been bastardized, but Marvel Boy is a great example of what Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line should’ve been. Returning to his beloved DC, Morrison produced the experimental Seven Soldiers, a bold comic introducing several great, new characters. Moving into the latter half of the decade, Morrison began his run on Batman, pitting Bruce Wayne against madness, Satan, and his bastard son, Damian. Morrison also helmed his first major company event, Final Crisis. It’s a summation of nearly every Morrison work to date, and it was too earth-shattering for many to handle, but it’s one of the finest events ever produced. Though Morrison’s known for being odd and extreme, few could complain about All Star Superman, a work so tender and pure. Not only is it Superman’s finest adventure, it somehow enriches every other Superman comic. So much accomplished, and I haven’t even gotten to Morrison’s fabulous Vertigo work, which includes We3, The Filth, and Seaguy. Morrison remains one of the strongest, boldest voices in the medium, and his enormous amount of successful output makes him a perfect candidate for best writer of the decade.

… and there you have it!  Our TOP 10 list has what I’m sure many people will consider to be some significant omissions.  Like any Best Of, it’s limited by what we read, how we assessed it, the context in which is was read.  It was limited by the consistency with which they produce their best material, and how much we keep talking about it, months or even years later.

So, anyone who’s interested: what’s your Best Of list look like?  Who were comics’ strongest writers, this decade, and why?

Join us next week as we bring you our Top 10 Artists of the decade, and have yourselves a happy holiday season!

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Criminal: The Sinners #1

Criminal

After taking a number of months off to collaborate on their recent hit series Incognito, Brubaker and Phillips return to their critically acclaimed Criminal with “The Sinners”, their first arc to revisit a protagonist.  After the events of the stellar “Lawless” from a couple years back, Tracy Lawless finds himself in deep with the wrong kind of people.  Working as a hitman for a major criminal, Tracy quickly begins to outweigh his usefulness, insistent on investigating his targets to ensure that only the bad men die, so when his boss offers him an out – find out who’s been knocking off the town’s major players – he jumps at the chance.

And so begins the next chapter of the Brubaker/Phillips noir masterpiece.  Despite being a direct sequel to “Lawless”, the book stands easily on its own, what meager exposition is necessary quickly given in a few terse sentences.  Lawless remains a compelling character, and a good choice on which to hang a sequel, and it only takes a couple pages to get back into the rhythms of Brubaker’s brief, dark dialogue.

Phillips fares better here than he did on the nonetheless-excellent Incognito.  While he is talented enough to have adapted to the superheroic style there, his dark, static images function much better in the shadowy world of these particular lowlifes.

Criminal: The Sinners #1 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t need to.  Brubaker and Phillips made crime comics cool again, and the effortless ease with which the pair slides us into their world makes it easy to see how.  Fans of the series are sure to embrace this latest entry, while new readers don’t need to worry about alienation.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Catch-Up Mini-Reviews

Detective Comics #856

Tec3

Greg Rucka’s story in Detective Comics isn’t particular deep.  It’s a relatively simple story, in fact: Batwoman learns that the new leader of the Religion of Crime is coming to Gotham, goes, confronts her.  It’s a pretty standard adventure comic, with Rucka’s usual capable plotting and dialogue.  In fact, the more concise, fun Question back-up in the book features slightly sharper writing thus far… but no one will confuse that for the better read.  Hamner continues to turn in clean, dynamic work on the Question back-up, while J.H. Williams III’s work on the main feature remains stellar.  The book is gorgeous and well-written, and consistently worth your time.

Grade: B+

Wonder Woman #35

Wonder Woman

Gail Simone finishes up this brief arc with a few revelations and a lot of aftermath left over from “Rise of the Olympian”, including some dark promises and new powers.  All of it sets up the next big story, but it’s done in one of the book’s most engaging, fun arcs Simone’s run has produced.  She goes a way too heavy on the fan-worship of Black Canary in a number of awkward, uncomfortable internal monologues from Wonder Woman, but the arc otherwise offers action with gorgeous, fluid art from Lopresti paired with a simple story setting up another major new chapter in Diana’s life.

Grade: A-

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #4

Ink4

Ink continues to be a pleasant surprise for me.  Fiorentino’s art, while occasionally muddy, is improving, and he’s demonstrated himself to be an apt choice to illustrate just how formidable the Tattooed Man can be.  Wallace’s story, meanwhile, generally maintains its pleasant mix of urban crime drama and superheroics, though the more action-oriented approach to this issue meant that it sacrificed a little bit of the drama in favor of the superheroics.  A late game plot twist took that shift a little too far, however, and the issue ends somewhere between the ridiculous and the parodic.

Grade: B+

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #4

Dance4

Dance finally pulls itself out of the slump the mini had been in and starts moving forward.  Though the last issue was of a high quality, the mini really wasn’t going much of anywhere.  With the team broken up, however, and the media blitz that had blinded them for the first few issues fading, Most Excellent Superbat finally has time to check up on his home country.  Not all is right in Japan, however, and he’s forced to get the team back together again.  Casey’s writing of these new teen heroes remains relatively sharp, while Chriscross’ cartoony art more than keeps up with the book’s humor and energy.  If only DC’s other teen heroes were even half so interesting right now…

Grade: B+

Incognito #6

Incogni

Brubaker and Phillips complete the first arc with the strongest, most exciting issue yet.  We learn even more about the origins of the Overkill brothers, learn about why Yuri was created, and see a massive showdown between Zack and his old allies.  All the action is well-illustrated by Sean Phillips in some of his most exciting fights yet.  The book is undeniably over the top, but it loves living up its pulp roots.  Though it’ll be quite some time before we get the next issue, the news isn’t all bad – the reason for the long delay is because Brubaker and Phillips will be returning to do a new arc on Criminal.

Grade: A

Runaways #13

Runaways

Immonen was responsible for last year’s manic, excellent Patsy Walker: Hellcat.  Unfortunately her Runaways, which finds her teamed with Sara Pichelli, lacks both the momentum and the cleverness of her debut work. Pichelli’s art is clean and cartoonish, giving the book a sense of energy, but it isn’t enough.  It isn’t enough, however.  After subpar runs from Whedon and Moore, Immonen and Pichelli needed to start their run off with a bang.  Unless the end of the arc offers up some pretty massive surprises, it’s safe to say that she’s failed to do so.

Grade: C

Doktor Sleepless #13

Sleepless

After a lengthy delay, the good Doktor returns.  Things are heating up in Heavenside, mostly according to the Doktor’s plans.  The issue reads like a montage of the city going to hell, and while it isn’t the most creative or compelling issue Ellis has turned in thus far, it is nonetheless immensely satisfying to see everything come to a head like this.  Rodriguez continues to improve as his design becomes more confident and his figures become less stiff.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Detective Comics #855

Doktor Sleepless #11

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #3

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #3

Incognito #6

Runaways #12

Wonder Woman #34

Top 5 Best Comics of August 2009!

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.

My Review

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.

My Review

 

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.

DC Lebeau’s Review

 

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.

Seventh Soldier’s Review

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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.

My Review

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Daredevil #500

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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.

Grade: A

For more comic goodness, go here.

Captain America: Reborn #2

 

Writing: Brubaker produces another well-written Captain America issue. Everything is technically good. However, if you have more than a passing knowledge of Captain America, you probably won’t get much out of this issue. Either you already knew it or, if you’ve been reading Brubaker’s run up to this point, you saw it coming.

Art: What we can appreciate in Brubaker’s writing, is that he let his art team strut their stuff. I didn’t review the last issue, but, if I had, I would’ve criticized the art. Either Hitch and Guice were rushed, or maybe they just didn’t work well together. Whatever it was, it’s been fixed. This issue’s art is a massive improvement over the opening chapter’s. This looks like the Hitch that many people fell in love with during The Ultimates or The Authority.

Final Word: Marvel is marketing this comic as some sort of event. It’s not. Captain America: Reborn’s counterpart is Geoff John’s Green Lantern: Secret Origin. Both are retelling a classic character’s origin story with a twist, and both are forwarding the ongoing epic being told in their respective monthlies. The only difference is that unlike Secret Origin, Reborn is being told in a mini. That’s a smart move. Though you may already know a lot of the details, this comic makes up for it with its art, and the hint of something grand.

Grade: B+

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Incognito #5

I want to apologize for the tardy reviews this week.  Over the past month or so, my graduate program has been winding down, culminating in today.  I finished writing a grant proposal and a few other assignments, and have now finished all my coursework for my Master’s degree.  Though it’ll be a little bit longer before I officially graduate, it’s almost assured that I will, at which point I will be unemployed and unable to afford comics.  So let’s hope the next couple weeks brings us some good stuff!

Incognito

I have been lax, very lax indeed, in my reviews of the new collaboration between Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  Though #4 made last month’s Top 5 list for me, there was no review, and hasn’t been one for a number of issues.  Now, I remedy that.

Incognito #5 picks up pretty much right where the last issue left off, with rogue supervillain Ava Destruction finding Zack Overkill, taking out his protection and joining him on the run.  The issue is fairly light on the action compared to some past installments, but it’s still one of the best to date: it gives us some much needed backstory, both on the world and on Zack Overkill’s place in it.  The book gives us a number of origin stories in broad strokes, introduces a number of new conflicts, and generally just keeps the book moving at a breakneck pace.

Phillips is as good as ever, jumping seamlessly from flying cars and mad-science labs to rustic inns and dive bars.  His shadowy, angular art, always a perfect fit for Brubaker’s noir-tinged worlds, is a surprisingly excellent feel for the sci-fi superhuman parts, too.

Incognito is a book that isn’t afraid to shake up the status quo.  It seems like almost every issue features a fairly drastic change to Zack’s life.  Somehow, though, the tone of the series has remained remarkably consistent, each issue satisfying in and of itself while still feeling as though they are all building towards something greater.  Incognito remains one of Marvel’s most satisfying reads, a great addition to their Icon imprint, and definitely worth a look for those of you not yet read.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Review: Captain America #601

Writing: This issue is all about Gene Colan. More on that later. Brubaker is writing to service Colan’s art here, and provides an Annual of sorts that could be read at any time. Yes, friends, this really has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a fun Cap & Bucky tale with vampires. Although, there is a hint of something in the beginning of the issue that never gets resolved. So, that’s either bad writing or a clue of what’s to come. Brubaker’s writing is good, as expected, but there are a lot of unnecessary scenes here.

Art: As I said, Colan is the main draw. If you aren’t familiar with the man’s work, now’s the time to remedy that. Colan’s a legend, but he’s had some health problems recently, and this could very well be his last comic. Thankfully, he goes out with a bang. His stuff still looks great! Marvel was even nice enough to provide a pencil version of this comic, giving you a tough decision to make, since Dean White does a beautiful job on the colors.

Final Word: Reading this felt like listening to a legendary rock band. Sure, they’re not as good anymore, but they can still bring the house down. And, hey, Brubaker does provide a fun little yarn. Though this issue isn’t required reading, Colan makes it required viewing.

Grade: B

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Captain America: Reborn #1

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I have a confession to make – I’m not reading Captain America.  At least, not in monthly form.  A combination of factors caused this, but largely it’s because I didn’t hear about how good his run was until it was over 20 issues in… and I didn’t believe it until I managed to pick up that first omnibus (which managed to sell me on his run completely).  I keep relatively up to date on what’s happening, though I try and avoid spoilers.  Still, when the title of the mini is Captain America: Reborn, you face the reality that there are some spoilers you just can’t avoid.

Still, I thoroughly enjoy Brubaker, I enjoy his take on Captain America, and Marvel is marketing this as a mini-series.  By doing so, they are clearly courting a larger audience than merely the one that regularly reads Captain America.  So the question here is, does Captain America: Reborn work for audiences both new and old?  Yes, it does.  And that’s not always a good thing.

This issue is extremely heavy on the exposition.  And I mean, there is exposition, sometimes quite lengthy exposition, on almost every page of the book, sometimes overloading the action going on in the foreground of the panels.  It’s framed in a number of different ways, it’s well-written, and Brubaker makes sure that what’s happening on screen as he infodumps is generally pretty interesting, but it is nonetheless a whole lot of exposition covering the entirety of Brubaker’s run.

Hitch and Guice provide static art that’s always just a little bit darker than it really needs to be.  Which is not to say it’s bad – there’s a great deal they do right. A few of the fight scenes seem to be fairly dynamic, and the more conversational panels are done extraordinarily well.  The panels seem to sweep around the room in a few conversations, making it feel almost like a movie in the way it’s set up.  But Hitch is an artist who’s never quite worked for me.  In struggling to be too realistic, he loses some of the motion, some of the essential humanity of his characters.

I realize that this sounds particularly negative.  I assure you, Captain America: Reborn #1 is not a bad book.  Brubaker clearly knows what he’s doing, and there’s the sense throughout that you’re watching something enormous and unexpected unfold, like a massive Christmas present being unwrapped.  Even if this issue is almost entirely set-up for what is to come, it is still capable, relatively enjoyable set-up that offers a great deal to future issues.

In other words, Reborn #1 does what it needed to do – informed new/returning readers of what’s been going on while still moving the action forward – and that’s definitely to its benefit.  But that’s about as ambitious as it gets.  If this issue is any hint, Reborn will be as excellent as the rest of Brubaker’s run, but the issue doesn’t make me need to read the next one.  I’ll wait for the trade.

Grade: B-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

SeventhSoldier’s Top Five for June

There were a lot of honorable mentions this month – June 2009 was one of the best months for comics in a good long while.  From Gail Simone’s always fun Secret Six to the sleeper hit of the month for me, Rucka’s Action Comics Annual #12 – and, spoiler alert, tomorrow’s review of Kathryn Immonen rock-solid first issue on Marvel’s Runaways – June made this a pretty damn hard call to make.  I’ve given out a few pretty bad grades this month, but for the most part, the average was high – there were more A-‘s than B’s for the first time in my reviewing history on the site!

To my surprise, as someone who doesn’t particularly care for Batman as a character or as a mythos terribly much, three of the best books I read this month were newly-launched Bat-books/arcs.  Also a first?  Two different Marvel books were edging in on the top 5.  Any other month, Runaways #11 or Captain Britain and MI:13 #14 would’ve had a strong shot at prime placement.

Edit: Since I hadn’t put the review up yet, I forgot, but a Marvel title actually did make the Top 5.  Sorry, Paul Dini.

#5 Incognito #4

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There hasn’t been a bad issue yet of the Brubaker/Phillips collaboration Incognito.  I don’t yet know if it’ll be able to match Sleeper or Criminal – two absolutely stellar works in a similar vein… and yes, they have one or two other things in common with this book – but this issue kept the story moving along faster than I could believe and with a great deal of style and a sense of pulp adventure.  Incognito is a blast to read, without a doubt.

#4 Batman and Robin #1

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Splashy, gorgeous art?  Check.  Interesting new villain?  Check.  Rousing adventure?  Check.  Batman and Robin #1 has all that along with great panelling and the coolest sound effects you can imagine.  Morrison and Quitely make quite a team, as they’ve illustrated numerous times in the past, and this looks to be no exception.

#3 The Unwritten #2

the-unwritten

Carey and Gross continue on with a second issue every bit as good as their first in one of the strongest Vertigo launches I’ve seen in awhile.  There are so many small touches that go into making this book great that I can hardly list them, but this is definitely a title to be on the lookout for.  If you aren’t picking it up monthly, be sure to be on the lookout for the trades.

#2: Detective Comics #854

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Together, J.H. Williams III and Greg Rucka delivered a stellar opening issue to Batwoman’s stint on Detective Comics… and that’s before you add the talented Cully Hamner into the mix with his and Rucka’s The Question backup.  The book was fast-paced and exciting while still introducing a supporting cast, a new villain, and a personality in the formerly personalitiless Kate Kane.  It did a whole lot in a tiny space, and left me eagerly awaiting more.

#1: Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3

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God, what a strange, strange book.  Wonderful, though.  As a surreal adventure books, Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye is a satisfying book with a sharp edge of humor and a knack for innovation.  As a meta-commentary on super-hero comics, it was cutting, clever and fun.  As the finale of a threeissue mini that wrapped up the middle-child of Morrison’s planned three-volume Seaguy trilogy, it was pretty nearly perfect.

– Cal Cleary

May

Read/RANT

Review: Daredevil #119

The Writing: Brubaker is placing all the necessary pieces for the endgame. He does so with ease. The issue flows nicely and it left me wanting more. Yes, just as Brubaker finally hit his stride on DD, he’s out the door.

The Drawing: This book looks beautiful. Well, as beautiful as the dirty, murky city of Daredevil’s New York can. Lark & Gaudiano do their job well, as always, but, to me, Matt Hollingsworth’s colors almost steal the show. I’ll be sad to see this team go as well.

Final Word: Just a completely solid comic, in every way. It looks like Brubaker is setting Daredevil up for more tragedy. Poor, poor Matt. Why do writers love the taste of your tears?

Grade: A-

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Daredevil #118

Daredevil #118 (Variant Cover Edtion)

(****)

I’ve complained about Brubaker’s run. It wasn’t bad, but after Bendis wrote some of the best Daredevil stories ever, Brubaker just didn’t impress. However, ever since he wrote that arc with Greg Rucka, Brubaker has finally hit his stride. What? Now he’s going to leave the book? Well, that sucks, but what doesn’t suck is this arc. We’re on part three of Return of the King. The first two installments were my favorite books of the week. Thanks to Neil Gaiman (Close-up of Daredevil in the rain as he shakes his fist at the heavens yelling: “Damn you, Gaiman!”), that’s not the case this week, but DD would probably be my second pick of the week.

The same praise for improvement should also go to Michael Lark. Don’t get me wrong. I like the man’s art, but now, with David Aja around (Doing nothing, apparently), Lark can’t really compare. Aja captures the same look, rendering things better. This issue, however, I was quite happy with the look. The characters, the expressions, and the setting were handled beautifully. New York is a prominent character, as she should be.

Kingpin puts a villain on the board. Matt might actually end up with Dakota. Foggy has some harsh words.

Review: Captain America #49

Captain America #49

(***1/2)

I loved every minute of it, until the end.

“The most important issue of Captain America since issue 25 is finally here!”

That’s from Marvel’s solicitation. That is complete bullshit. What we have here is a wonderful issue starring Sharon Carter. Bucky isn’t in here at all, which is great for those of us who don’t like that guy. What’s included here is the realistic, Sharon Carter POV juxtaposed with some psychedelic nightmares. It’s fascinating. We also check up on Sam Wilson and “Bad Cap” (That’s his official title now). There isn’t any action at all in this issue, and that’s fine. What’s not fine, however, is the retelling of the events in issue #42. If you’ll recall, those events were shrouded in mystery when they originally occurred.  Considering Marvel’s promises and the storytelling logic of “Don’t show the same event twice unless you’re revealing something”, I thought we were finally going to get some answers. NOPE! You have to keep reading folks!

I loved every minute of it, until the end.