Top 5 Best Comics of April 2010

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I read 25 comics this month, and these were the best.

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Review: Thor #600

(****)

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.

Desiato’s Top Ten Single Issues of 2008

I did this last year (obviously before the blog existed), and even though I’ve got a pretty durned big DCBS box coming next week (25 books. Yay!), I don’t necessarily expect them to crack this top ten, so I’m just going to jump the gun and publish my list now. Ha ha! It begins…

Going to skip putting the cover images on here because I am lazy and it takes up too much space.

10. Fables #75
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciller: Mark Buckingham
DC’s Vertigo Imprint

Ah, Fables. If there’s one thing you do well (and believe me, it’s a lot more than one thing), it’s big milestone anniversary issues. You could argue that this book had a lot to live up to considering the quality of issue 50 and its positioning as the climax of the War and Pieces arc. I love the way Willingham and Buckingham depict war (the March of the Wooden Soldiers trade pretty much assured that I’d be reading this book until it ends), and this issue caps off the arc while giving us a window into what else we get to look forward to.

9. Kick-Ass #3
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Marvel’s Icon Imprint

Is it late as hell? Yup. Is Millar more interested in the movie than the comic? Probably. Doesn’t change my opinion of this issue. This book revels in being over the top, and does not pull any punches in the violence and blood department. There’s more to it than that crazy final battle sequence, but we shouldn’t exactly be looking for a lot of depth in a book like this. Review is here.

8. Thunderbolts #121
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Mike Deodato, Jr.
Marvel Comics

Ah, watching the Green Goblin go nuts. Who hasn’t seen that before? Well, me, honestly. Never really read much Spider-Man, mostly due to lack of time. This issue is the last of Ellis’ run, and it delivers on what we’ve been wanting to see since he started writing the book post Civil War. And that’s not all of course. You’ve got Bullseye with one of the best lines of the year, and the rest of the inmates attempting to run the asylum while Norman flies all over the place and just throws pumpkin bombs indiscriminately. Fantastic stuff.

7. Terry Moore’s Echo #3
Writer: Terry Moore
Artist: Terry Moore
Abstract Studio

Most of the awesome in this issue came from the last page reveal, which is that kind of true holy crap moment that gives you a little glimpse of what could be coming over the months as this series continued. We have a new character introduced out of the blue, all kinds of craziness and over the top dialogue. It forces you to pause and try to cope with what you just read, and the only words you can think of are “Damn. Didn’t see that coming.” Contrast that with a crushing interaction between the main character and her sister, and you have a wonderful issue of a wonderful book. Review is here.

6. Nova #15
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Penciller: Wellington Alves

Yes, I love Galactus. Yes, this was one of the better Galactus stories I’ve read in recent history. Any of the three issues of the story arc could have been on this list, but I think the way that the Harrow B plot was resolved was a great moment. Wellington Alves did a great job with the big G, and the way he was used as this disinterested party hovering in the background of panels was excellent. Review is here.

5. Superman/Batman #51
Writers: Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
DC Comics

You can only read so many depressing ass comics (and considering my top four could all easily fit in that category except Iron Fist) before you need a break. And what works better as a break than the madcap fun of the two issue “Little Leaguers” arc from Superman/Batman? Not much at all, really. Super fun silliness that just makes you feel good inside. Sure, either issue could have been put here, but I went for the first because I flipped a coin. These things need to happen sometimes. Review can be found here.

4. The Twelve #6
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Artist: Chris Weston
Marvel Comics

This is probably the best issue of this series so far (and this is pound for pound the best mini series that has come out this year, despite delays), mostly because JMS really poured on the despair in a way we hadn’t seen yet or since. That’s really what this series is about: despair. It’s another very quiet book similar in style and scope to Thor (and really, this is where JMS seems to be most at home). This issue features the actual fate of Rockman, and dear lord is it heart-wrenching. Check out my previous review for some more insight.

3. Thor #11
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Olivier Coipel
Marvel Comics

More JMS love here. This is a recent one (and oddly enough, takes the same place on the list as Thor #3 last year), and I might be high on this one because it’s fresh in my mind, but the quality is there nonetheless. I LOVE what JMS is doing with this book. It is nothing like what someone would necessarily expect from a character like Thor, but it perfectly fits into his world. Gods with flaws as an interesting literary device dates back to the tragic plays of Ancient Greece to me, and that’s the same kind of feel that I get from this Thor run. It’s such a quiet, slow burn. This issue is similar to that third chapter that I loved so much, in this case we’ve got Thor getting some closure concerning the death of Steve Rogers. He wasn’t around when it happened, so in this book he manages to contact Steve’s spirit and just talk to him for a bit. Coipel’s art in these pages is gorgeous, and he really makes such a simple story device sing. You’ve also got the continuation of Loki’s manipulation of Balder, as well as a callback to the fate of Lady Sif. Fantastic storytelling in every way.

2. The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California (One-Shot)
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli
Marvel Comics

This to me was just a beautiful throwback to the 1920’s noir style starring a character I’ve enjoyed quite immensely since his creation by Fraction and Brubaker. Swierczynski had written some Iron Fist work prior to this, but I think this issue is what really made me believe that he would be a worthy replacement for the original creative team. I think this ended up being better than Fraction’s Green Mist of Death one shot simply due to the layered references to Pygmalion and Metropolis, as well as the general feel of the book being more akin to what I look for in an Orson Randall tale. Here’s the review.

1. Casanova #14
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Fabio Moon
Image Comics

If anyone read my ridiculously over the top review gushing like crazy about this book back when it came out, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is my top choice of the year. I’ve gone back and read it probably 15 to 20 times, and it never ceases being absolutely and totally incredible in every possible way. It’s the perfect ending to a story arc. It’s the perfect twist that completely changes (without being cheap) everything that came before it. I think I wrote enough in my review to justify my feelings, so I’ll just point you there. This book is covered in the combined souls of Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Transcendent.

Desiato Reviews Badass Secondary Marvel Titles

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.

Review: Thor #10

We’ve reached double digits for J Michael Straczynski’s Thor, and it’s taken a little more than a year to get there, so I found this to be a good time to sit down and really parse things out for what this series has been and where it’s going from the perspective of its tenth issue. Haven’t done a full review in a little while, so bear with me.

For a book starring a guy who’s almost always had a shoot first, possibly forget to ask questions later mentality (that is, if by “shoot,” you mean “cave someone’s head in with a large hammer and electrocute his body”), there certainly isn’t a whole lot of action in this series. You’ve got a couple of action pieces, like Thor’s smacking Tony upside the head for all of that Clor business, or Odin and Thor tag teaming against Surtur in Valhalla, but it is quite plainly not the real focus of the series in this first series of stories. For the first time, Thor is legitimately the lord of Asgard. He’s in complete control. And the first couple arcs have been about the rebuilding of Asgard post Ragnarok. Thor begins by finding and waking up all the Asgardians sleeping in the bodies of normal humans, and follows with Thor confronting Odin in Valhalla, who basically gives Thor his blessing (as it were), so he can truly begin his rule of Asgard. And when he does…nothing really happens. But not in that bad way that everyone keeps throwing at Secret Invasion (FUCKERS! I mean…um…nice people that like this blog…erm…let’s just ignore that one). I mean, what would happen here? This is all taking place prior to Secret Invasion, so there are no Skrulls to fight (although it would seem pretty damned easy for the Skrulls to infiltrate Asgard, what with their ability to transform into both humans and Asgardians, but Matt Fraction’s going to have to let us know what’s going on with all that). They’re in the middle of Oklahma surrounded by bemused small town folks that only really bother them when a town meeting is afoot. But of course, there’s more to this than meets the eye. Because Loki’s around. And she’s got breasts.

There are a lot of reasons I could go into about the reasoning behind bringing Loki back as a female. I think it’s a stroke of genius not only from the original reveal (Thor is expecting to find Lady Sif standing in front of him…ah, fuck) but as a way of influencing the way the character works and the way others view her. Maternal figures are often innately trustworthy. It’s an instinctual mother/child thing. So why wouldn’t the ultimate deceiver disguise himself as a figure of ultimate trust? And this current arc is all about Loki’s slow infection of Asgard. This is the second issue of Loki’s assault on Asgard, and much like the past issue, she is using Balder as her proxy. You get these wonderful panels (good work, Mr. Coipel) of Loki skulking in the shadows above Balder’s shoulder whispering things into his ear (“Nah, you should totally do that. It would be awesome! Trust me on this one, nobody’ll notice” Not an actual quote, I just have that kind of voice in my head for Loki), manipulating his movements in classic Loki fashion. But what’s so great about this is the way that Loki doesn’t lie to Balder. He doesn’t need to. Because Balder legitimately is a son of Odin and prince of Asgard. And Thor and Odin didn’t tell him. And Loki knows this. Sure, there’s a reason why Balder wasn’t told he was the son of Odin (it has to do with Ragnarok and Balder’s heralding its beginning with his death). But it’s still kind of a dickish thing to do, especially after Thor brought everyone back, and disrupting Ragnarok was no longer a concern, and yet he still didn’t tell Balder of his true nature.

So we get the scene where Balder confronts Thor. And Thor can’t do anything other than tell him the truth, considering Loki is standing right behind him with that look in her eye. So Thor gives him the news and tries to get out of planning a coronation, and of course Loki demands that it happen as soon as possible, because this is a thing to celebrate! And all through this, you can see the look of anger and annoyance and disdain etched on Thor’s face. And none of it is directed at Balder. It’s all about Loki. And even during the coronation itself, where Balder comes out resplendent in fancy new duds and everyone is quite happy, Thor is still brooding in the shadows, because he knows that nothing good will come from this.

It’s a quiet series, and everything unfolds slowly and deliberately in a way that I don’t think anyone was expecting from this series. I mean, it’s Thor, so you can expect a lot of “thee”s and “thou”s and various people and creatures being hit in the face with a hammer. You don’t expect monarchical intrigue. But it works. There is this strange balance between the minutiae of back country folks dealing with a city of gods floating ten feet above their land (Asgard has a mail box. And it’s probably chock full of credit card applications. Which just got a story idea in my head of the Warriors Three getting their hands on a credit card…) and the sort of arch character moments that come from Thor trying to get used to ruling over Asgard for the first time with Loki skulking in the shadows, and being unable to find Lady Sif, and making the conscious decision to not look for Odin and the character questions that arise from that. It’s heavy storytelling, and it’s complex and deep and refuses to conform to the lowest common denominator of superhero books (YOU HEAR ME, JEPH LOEB?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?). And Coipel’s art (along with a couple fill ins by Marko Djurdjevik earlier in the series) has been up to the task from issue one, making sure that JMS doesn’t have to weigh down the dialogue with emotional exposition, because everything each character would ever think about is blatantly drawn out in the art. This is comics with a Shakespearian scope, and I’m eating up every second of it. I mean, between this and what Fraction’s done on the two one shots (and what I assume he’ll be doing with the Secret Invasion mini), it’s a good time to be a Thor fan (unless he’s written by Jeph Loeb. Seriously. Fuck that guy).