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

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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: Batman: Streets of Gotham #1

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With Batman R.I.P. selling a bajillion copies and generally being a big (if controversial) hit so soon after The Dark Knight was an even huger hit with even more people, DC seems to have decided to cash in on the Batman brand, launching eight or nine new Batman-themed books of varying quality.  As you all may recall, Batman & Robin #1 (Morrison/Quitely) was a huge hit with us and many others, while Batman #687 (Winnick/Benes) and Red Robin #1 (Yost/Bachs) were a little more mixed, here and in other places.  Today saw the beginning of yet another: Batman: Streets of Gotham #1, the first of two books by excellent Bat-scribe Paul Dini.

This particular book deals with the supporting cast of Gotham City, at least for the most part.  Though this gives the book a slightly schizophrenic feel at first – and Dini sometimes does an absolutely terrible job at introducing us to some of the lesser-known members of the cast – for the most part it works out quite well, feeling in a lot of ways like the pilot to a great ensemble TV show like Freaks and Geeks in the way it jumps from characters to character, plot to plot, while maintaining an overarching theme.  In this single issue we see Jim Gordon, Harley Quinn, Batman, Robin, Huge Guy I’ve Never Seen Before, Hush, and, finally, the villain of the first arc: Firefly.  Many of these character narrate brief segments of the book, a standard writing device that somehow manages not to feel cluttered at all in Dini’s hands.

Nguyen does an excellent job on art, his slightly cartoony style adapting well to both the book’s darkest moments and its lightest.  While there’s nothing revolutionary about the art, it’s fun, and flows just as naturally as the narration along the many winding paths the book takes, a task I would imagine to be more difficult than it sounds.

Along for the ride, for those that didn’t know, is the return of Marc Andreyko’s critically-respected Manhunter.  Kate Spencer is the new D.A. of Gotham City.  Her first task: tracking down who murdered the last D.A.!  Andreyko is joined here by Georges Jeanty who does an excellent job (and whose art seems to fit quite well in the book with Nguyen’s) despite the extremely muted, slightly off-putting coloring.  

Andreyko doesn’t have a whole lot of space here, but he makes the most of it – in a small amount of pages, he manages to explain why Kate made the decision to move to Gotham, dealt with her leaving her son, Ramsey, she met a few of Gotham’s major players, shook down a snitch, beat someone up, etc….  If all the back-ups are written so concisely and so well, this should be an immensely successful move for DC.

Despite the raised price tag, this is Dini, Nguyen, Andreyko and Jeanty doing some great work, and it’s worth every penny.  

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Saturday Night’s Alright for Mini Reviews

There are few advantages to having a heavily sedated social life (which will gladly no longer be the case come September), but it does afford me the opportunity to read some books from Friday’s DCBS shipment and throw down some reviews. I’ve decided for consistency’s sake (between the work of Billy and Bruce Castle, as well as the format of the Pull List podcast that is new to Realms Radio) to switch from letter grades to a five star system. So let’s get this started.

Sky Doll #’s 1 and 2 (****1/2)

I can’t remember what exactly compelled me to order Sky Doll. It got an extra discount for the first issue, and was only a three issue mini, and despite the $6 cover price, the standard 40% off the second and third issues definitely made it seem a lot more affordable. I ordered these prior to seeing anything about them beyond the cover, and was heartened when I read the preview from the free Soleil Sampler that shipped a few months back. Well now we’re two issues in and I feel comfortable enough to take a look at what we’ve seen so far. Some background: this is the first of the books translated and reprinted by the partnership of Marvel and French comics publisher Soleil. It follows the story of Noa, one of the titular Sky Dolls (who are basically religion-based sex robots) who manages to escape her fate and go on an adventure with two emissaries of the Lodovica papal regime. Lodovica is the twin sister of Agape, who has her own set of followers and has thus let to unrest and full out religious Civil War. I am very surprised and enthused by this book. I wasn’t expecting this kind of story, rife with religious persecution and oppression framed by the desire for spiritual freedom for one that was not designed for anything of the sort. There’s a lot more going on here, but that main theme is certainly enough to keep me interested. The six dollar price tag hurts, but each book is 44 pages with no ads, so that certainly helps to cushion the financial blow. But the main reason to pick these books up is Alessandro Barbucci, the artist of the series. This is a book of ceaseless imagination, from wild cityscapes to wild characters, and Barbucci fits so much character and uniqueness to all of it that you’re seeing a world created in front of you eyes. The writing is much deeper than I was necessarily expecting, but the real draw is the art. The whole package is incredibly intriguing and imaginative, and were it not for the $6 price tag, this would be an easy five star review. Still, if you have any desire to read something entrenched far outside the box, get this. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Booster Gold #10 (**)

As this arc comes to a close, it really wasn’t handled well at all. This is not the case of Geoff Johns alienating me via esoteric characters and past DC events (there’s some of that in the reunion of the JLI, but I could work with it to the point of not being actively distracted), but rather the case of Johns and Katz just not writing very good comics. One of the big mysteries for this arc is why John Carter (Booster’s father and one of the two wearers of the Supernova outfit) is a member of the Time Stealers (alongside the Black Beetle, Per Degaton and Despero)) despite being a complete failure and inveterate gambler in Booster’s timeline. Well, we find out what’s going on. And it lands with the unmistakable thump of being both illogical and convenient without having the emotional weight that a reveal should have. I was surprised, but disappointed. And then things kept going aggressively downhill. There were hints along the way of this issue that led me down a path that would have blown my mind and redeemed this story arc. It would have been more logical and far more interesting than what they decided to go with. As such, I officially no longer care about this series. They had me for a while, but there was always a sense of apathy behind it all after those wonderful first issues. I would heartily recommend the first trade to any DC fan, but only the hardcore Booster Gold fans need stray any further beyond those first six issues.

Nova #14 (*****)

Yep. This arc still kicks ass. And Wellington Alves is a pretty big reason for that. I love the way that he frames the Nova/Surfer fight from the scale perspective of Galactus, so they look like insignificant flies buzzing around his massive head. And I love the way that Galactus doesn’t say a damned word to anyone because he’s GODDAMNED GALACTUS and an eternal and essential cosmic being that has no time or concern to listen to the pleas of a flea like Richard Rider. And the way that Surfer is still completely ambivalent about being a herald again as he tries to find ways to complete his task without too much collateral damage or loss of life. Or the way that the Harrow was not forgotten, as has put our boy Nova into quite a predicament for the final issue of this arc. Or the way that the central conceit of Nova and the Worldmind bickering back and forth like some deranged buddy cop movie still hasn’t gotten old after all this time. Abnett and Lanning are writing one of the best books on the shelves right now, and this arc has been masterfully executed. This is an epic scale, and that’s what is necessary. And I love every second of it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #15 (*****)

I haven’t really reviewed Buffy very often. Don’t really know why, but I guess it’s never really struck me as a book that requires reviewing. That’s all changed with the current arc. Drew Goddard wrote the hell out of the last fpur issues, and the climax we hit here is some whacked out crazy fun that brings me right back to the television series. This is easily the best arc of a series of good arcs from Buffy 8, and it’s amazing how much these last couple issues (more so even than the ones written by Joss) have felt like the TV show. That wonderful mix of action, ludicrous situations, drama, humor. It’s all back. And it might end up lessening my enjoyment of future issues, because I seriously doubt the quality is going to remain this high. Ah well, might as well enjoy it while I can.