Review: Dark Avengers #7

Writing: Well, if you’ve been waiting for some action, here it is. Although, the fight may not be what you think, but fighting isn’t the point. It hasn’t been the point in anything Fraction’s written. What Fraction presents is a series of events that are logical, while entertaining, of course. Every move the characters make feels organic, and that, if nothing else, is the strength of this crossover.

Art: The word is that Luke Ross was a last-minute addition, since Deodato had been tapped to draw the conclusion, Exodus. Ross was probably rushed here, but, to his credit, it doesn’t really show. Those who just saw his work in Captain America will get a different look here, paying homage to Deadato while doing his own thing. It would’ve been nice if Ross wasn’t rushed, and Deodato had rendered the issue as planned, but I guess Tom Brevoort, the editor, didn’t have anyone left in his bullpen to draw the last special.

Final Word: Fraction is dealing with over a dozen players here, and he pulls it off with ease. And, don’t worry. Thanks to Fraction’s witty introductions, and those handy-dandy recaps that Marvel provides, you won’t be lost, even if you haven’t picked up the first two parts. We’re halfway through this crossover now, and the tension is percolating. I can’t wait to see the payoff.

Grade: B+

For more comic goodness, go here.

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.

Review: Captain America #45

Captain America #45 (Villain Variant Cover Edition)

(***)

First off, I’d like to apologize to the people who read my review of Captain America #44. I jumped the gun. I said that the mysterious figure was Death-Stalker. It isn’t, it’s the “man with no face”. Although this new character does look an awful lot like him, and given Brubaker’s love of old DD villains, it’s safe to say that the man with no face was at least inspired by Death-Stalker. And really Brubaker, could you please either change this characters name or get rid of him? I really don’t want to type “man with no face” in my future Captain America reviews.

Anyway, this is the conclusion of the Time’s Arrow arc. There was a definite dip in quality here. This is kind of Bucky’s first adventure as the established new Captain America (Until now, we’ve been dealing with the death of Steve Rogers) and I am not impressed. We see another villain’s grand scheme falling into place. This issue also features a reveal related to Cap’s past.

Luke Ross was the new artist on this arc. He did a decent job. A foul here and there, but for the most part his work looked dynamic. The real unsung hero of this book’s art department is Frank D’Armata. His colors have given this series a nice uniformed look. Thanks to him, the pencil changes aren’t jarring.

I have a few complaints, but Captain America #45 is still a good issue. It continues the theme of past and present. A previous battle and a present one are juxtaposed to demonstrate the difference between the way Winter Soldier operates and the way the new Captain America does. This series has always been solid and I hope that can continue in the next arc. “Onward and upward” as they say.

Bruce Castle Presents: Brubaker Books Come Together – Spoilers!

Captain America #44

Captain America #44 (***)

Wow, this was the worst issue in a long time. Sure there are some cool things and it’s not bad, but there are a few things that bugged me. So this series’ (And Captain America’s) theme of the past continues. Remember that kid Bucky saved last issue? Well, in the 60’s as the Winter Soldier, Bucky tries to kill this guy. That’s fine. Back in the present now and business is usual. Bucky beats up guys for info, that’s also fine. We see another “mysterious figure” talking to Batroc. Really Brubaker, more mystery? Next comes the best part of the issue and it also gives Luke Ross a chance to show off. Bucky chases Batroc on a motorcycle and they have an awesome fight. That’s fantastic, but then a “mysterious figure” shows up. Back in the past, Bucky confronts that dude and someone arrives to defend him. Who you ask? Fucking Death-Stalker!? Really? Brubaker just brought back Mr. Fear in DD and now this? Why does Brubaker love old shitty Daredevil villains? I love DD, but his villains suck!

Daredevil #113

Daredevil #113 (****)

Brubaker finally hits his stride! Most of his DD run has been mediocre, but this arc and the last have been pretty great. How can you not love this stuff? Daredevil! Dakota North! Iron Fist! The Black Tarantula! The Hand! Lady Bullseye! And now in this issue, Zatoichi arrives! Ok, he’s not really Zatoichi, but he is a blind swordsman. What’s that? Another blind character? I really do hope Daredevil is printed in Braille. If you haven’t been reading this arc, it’s about the Hand taking away everything Daredevil cares about. That villain gag never gets boring does it? Lady Bullseye is still cool and she even fights DD in this issue. That’s pretty sweet right? Oh, and what’s the OMG ending? Lady Bullseye kills the White Tiger. Yeah, I wish it was somebody more important too, but at least it’s something.

Bruce Castle Presents: Brubaker’s Secret Secret Invasion Tie-Ins!

Captain America #43 (****)

Jeez, Brubaker is already referencing that fight in Secret Invasion #7? It just came out this week and that battle isn’t even over yet! It’s always a bit hard to review this book because how many times can I say it’s a solid series? It’s boring! So I’ll just talk about some random observations. We have a new penciler this time, Luke Ross. His work is okay, but thankfully the colorist, Frank D’Armata, is still on the book, so all the art on this book still looks the same. There’s an interesting scene in here when Black Widow is nude. Her bed sheet does weird things to cover her butt the entire time. It almost looks like Luke Ross drew Natalia’s ass and then Marvel covered it up. Seriously Marvel?! This is a teen book and you can’t show a bare butt?! That’s BS and to hell with Janet Jackson for making America even more sensitive to nudity. Am I forgetting something? Oh yeah, Batroc, Captain America’s greatest villain shows up! Screw that Nazi Skull! Bring on the cheese-eating surrender monkey!

Daredevil #112 (****1/2)

The whole Elektra Skrull situation is in this issue. Does that explain my title? Can we move on? Good. Man, I think Rucka slapped some sense into Brubaker. Two issues in and this is already Brubaker’s best solo arc. There are so many loveable characters written well here. Daredevil (obviously), Dakota North (so awesome), Black Tarantula (remember how awesome that Blood of the Tarantula one-shot was?), and Iron Fist (um, yay)! You even have ninjas too! Oh, and Lady Bullseye is so much better than it sounds. She may even be respectable soon. If you bailed on DD, now is definitely the time to get back on the trolley!

Top Ten: Comics That Work Best As Monthlies

Recently in the comments section of this post, I brazenly asserted that Batman, by Grant Morrison & Tony Daniel, fails as a monthly comic reading experience. Basically, I feel the plot is too convoluted or complex for easy monthly digestion, although I’m sure it’ll go down very easy in trade.

So, what makes a good monthly comic? A couple of things:

Comics that put “character” first!

Comics that tend to focus more on character than plot are inherently more readable as monthlies. When jumping into the middle of a six issue arc, its character that pulls you in and fills in the holes. With the exception of Fantastic Four, every comic on my list stars a single character.

“Done-in-One (or two)” Stories!

There’s no need to wait for the trade if each arc is only 1-2 issues long, right? Again, this type of story goes well with character writing. Since the plot isn’t required to sustain itself for 3-6 issues, it can be pared down and used primarily as a vehicle to reveal the titular hero’s character. Batman and Zatanna team up to stop the Joker!?! Reading that story you find that it’s not really about catching the Joker as much as it’s  about developing Bruce and Zatanna’s relationship. Also, without really sacrificing the overall plot, these “done-in-one” stories can be framed like TV episodes that when viewed over an entire season combine to reveal a hidden master plot. Think Buffy, Heroes, etc… As many of us know, it can be very intimidating for a new reader to jump onto a book with a long running story, so hiding the plot in this manner is a great way to eliminate that intimidation factor. It also allows the writer to integrate sub-plots with clearly defined conflicts into the background that can be slowly developed and brought to the forefront at a later date, as Mark Millar does in Fantastic Four.

Cliffhangers that punch you in the face!

I mean, does this one really need explanation? There are quite a few comics (many on this list) that use the “final page splash” to great effect in almost every single issue. The rush you get from experiencing these in a floppy is much different than when experiencing them in a trade. Actually, it doesn’t even come close.

Getting that “OMG I can’t wait for next month!” Soap Opera feeling!

Of the four I’ve listed here, I think this last one is probably the most important (although it is very closely related to the Cliffhanger thing). For me, it’s the most important factor in deciding whether or not to wait for the trade. I ask myself, as many of you probably do, “Can I go more than a month without reading about BLANK?!?” If you answer “NO!”, then you obviously have a great monthly in your hands!

With the pretentious explanations out of the way I present to you, in no particular order, my “Top Ten Comics That Work Best as Monthlies”:

ACTION COMICS by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

I could NEVER read this comic in trade; I just love the characters too much! And the cliffhangers are the epitome of punch you in the face. There haven’t been many done-in-ones in the Johns run, but that’s okay, since at least half the comics on this list barely utilize that comic book storytelling device. But Johns does love the sub-plots, wherein he writes some of the best (or, THE best) character moments in comics. CONS: More done-in-ones would be nice.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN by “The Spidey Brain Trust”

With the exception of the current arc, “New Ways To Die”, Brand New Day has been nothing but 1-, 2-, and 3-issue arcs filled with character, character, character… the Soap Opera mojo has been strong. Because of the weekly shipping schedule, the Spidey team has been using the last page splash to great effect. CONS: Actually, maybe there are too many characters? Sometimes it gets confusing.

CAPTAIN AMERICA by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting & Luke Ross

All of the above? Without all the little Bucky character stuff, I would not be enjoying this book as much as I am. It’s funny, but to me, most issues of Captain America feel like single issue stories set in an epic tapestry whose true significance won’t be seen ‘til Brubaker ends his run. It’s one long, ongoing story that excites me month in and month out.

DEADPOOL by Daniel Way & Paco Medina

We’re two issues in and I’m in love. For now. Plot? What plot? If you’re looking for a story, you’re in the wrong place, duder. This is all about Deadpool. That’s it. Do you need to read issue one to understand issue two? Hell no! Enjoy the funny!

DETECTIVE COMICS by Paul Dini & Dustin Nguyen

Current master of the 1- or 2-part story (yeah, yeah, I know the RIP tie-in breaks the rules). Reading Detective for the last two years I remember more about Bruce sex life (obv lack thereof) than I do the details of any of the stories. And to me, that’s awesome writing. Dini has made Bruce likable. This is new, folks. Bruce Wayne as an actual character in comics? Not since pre-DKR, I would think, have we seen the identity of Bruce Wayne written as a real character. Ah no, I disagree with you, Morrison’s Wayne is a flimsy piece of cardboard. Maybe he had something at the beginning of his run, but fleshing out Batman’s alter ego took a back seat to RIP setup long ago, maybe around the time Adam Kubert left the book. Anyway, yes, Dini isn’t writing Batman, he’s writing Bruce Wayne as Batman. And there is a difference, and that difference is quite refreshing.

FANTASTIC FOUR by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch

The character stuff is lacking, but the sub-plots, cliffhangers and OMG moments make this a top of the stack must-read. Here’s a recent review that reads more negative than it actually is.

GRAVEL by Warren Ellis, Mike Wolfer & Raulo Caceres

The way the current arc is framed, it works wonderfully as a series of single issue stories filled with scenes exploring the character of William Gravel. Oh, you know what? Thank God Ellis finally got around to fleshing this guy out. Gravel started life as a boringly hollow SAS thug who starred in a series of idea-driven minis. In those minis, there was never anything particularly exciting or compelling about the Gravel character and the fact of the matter is, I probably only read them because they were written by Ellis. Now, under the watchful eye of Mike Wolfer, I really grown to like this guy and each month I can’t wait to read Gravel’s next adventure. Shocking. That’s good stuff, brother.

HULK by Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness

Heh. I really do love this book. Honest. HA!

INVINCIBLE by Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker

Ever since the #51 reboot, this book has been one of the most anticipated monthlies in my stack. LOVING IT… happy now, Bruce?

JACK OF FABLES by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham

Awesome title character? CHECK!
Outstanding sub-plots? CHECK!
Cliffhangers? CHECK!
SOAP OPERA?!? TRIPLE CHECK!!!

Foilball’s Review Roundup #54 – The Final Bits… of AWESOME!

Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam! #2 (****1/2)

This is one of my favorite new books and I don’t care that I’m just about 20 years past the target demographic. This comic rocks. It’s better than 90% of the “adult” super heroes comics being published today and here’s why: 1) It’s super fun. 2) The art is Amazo-ing. I love the whole “unfinished sketch/storyboard/panels within panels thing Mike Kunkel has going on. It’s brilliant! 3) It’s fricking cheap! $2.25! Who cares if the paper isn’t glossy!?! It’s $2.25! 4) OH! And every issue has a section in the back that’s in code and you have to use “The Monster Society Code” to break it! FUN!!! 5) And for those interested in continuity, this book is a direct sequel to last year’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil mini series by Jeff Smith. I loved that book, but I have to admit, Mike Kunkel’s Shazam is miles better. No lie. Apparently, Kunkel used to do a little book called Hero Bear that I’d heard of but never read and consequently missed the boat on. Totally feel like an idiot. So, if you like fun and great art, give this book a try. If you don’t like it, then you, sir, have no taste.

Fables #75 (****)

Ah, this really hit the spot. Finally. This is the type of Fables war story I’ve been waiting for. Huge epic battles combined with intimate character moments. It took him 75 issues, but Willingham finally forced me to care about Prince Charming! And the art was also superb. Mark Buckingham grinds out another fabulous issue. What an underrated talent that guy is, right? This isn’t the final issue of the series, but it could easily have been so. My only complaint is that I kind of wish Boy Blue and Bigby had died. Boy Blue’s charm has been running thin as of late and I’m sick and tired of the “all-powerful” Bigby wolf. Like, the guy isn’t God, or Jesus, or Moses even. Get over yourself, you hairy monster.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 (****)

Sometimes, and I may get blasted for this, but sometimes I can’t take George Perez pencils. They just… bother me. His layouts are busy and a lot of his faces start repeating. BLAH. What I’m trying to say is that this time I enjoyed his art. It was still uber-busy, of course, but somehow Geoff Johns expert dialoguing mitigated the groan factor. As far as this being a Final Crisis tie-in, I don’t know. How does this story fit exactly? Isn’t Superman zooming through the Multiverse at this point in the FC plot? And what does the Legion have to do with anything? This mini, unlike Revelations, feels like it could’ve been just as well served without the FC banner. Could I be missing the obvious link to FC? Maybe. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Green Lantern Corps #28 (***1/2)

I really want to love this issue, and this arc in general, but the art is just SOOOOO pedestrian. Boring. It feels like fill-in art on some crappy mid-90’s Marvel book. I really like this Sixth Sense character though. I bet Johns and Tomasi are gonna get a ton of mileage out of him once “Blackest Night” starts.

Spawn #182 (****)

Again, WHY? Why are they changing directions? YET! AGAIN! When the story has been so good lately! ARRGH! Admittedly, this issue was a bit of a dip in quality, mostly due to the extraneous amounts of exposition… but… it was still better than 90% of the first 100 issues. At what point do I finally cut my losses and break up with Spawn? Is it time? Yes, I think it is.