The comicbook that’s more of a soap opera with every issue!
The comicbook that’s more of a soap opera with every issue!
Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Santi Arcas craft an awfully compelling debut issue about a reluctant super-soldier in a dystopian future.
I’ll admit, part of the reason you haven’t seen too many reviews of The Punisher popping up lately is, I lost interest. Though the book opened strong, a detour featuring the Vulture was too campy to keep up the tone of the book, and a tightening financial situation made me decide to drop it. But I like Rucka and Lark too much to stay away for long, and with sales on the title dropping like a rock and a bit of Christmas cash in my pocket, I decided to dive back in and see where things stood while I still could.
In such a great decade for comics, you always hear an awful lot of praise for the writers. When you hear people talk about Watchmen, a great deal of attention is paid to Alan Moore; when you hear people talk about Wanted, lovers and haters all talk about Mark Millar. But a comic book is primarily a visual medium, and a talented artist can make a so-so book better, a good book great… or a great book only average. Witness the art problems that plagued, for example, Grant Morrison’s ground-breaking run on New X-Men.
But this decade had its fair number of stars, art-wise, artists whose style and intensity nearly defined the titles they worked on. These are our picks for the Top 10 interior artists of the 2000’s.
Brian Michael Bendis, for all his massive talent on books like Powers, Alias, Daredevil, etc… has a serious and fundamental problem with event comics. Specifically, with the ideas of ’cause’ and ‘effect’. Which is to say, his conclusions have nothing to do with the stories that precede them. After a few issues of exciting or emotional storytelling, it often peters off into a confused mess of nonsense meant to have ‘gravity’ that really just functions as a way to say “This is where Marvel wanted the status quo to be at the end of the story.” But with Siege limited to four issues, I figured it was worth it to give one of my formerly favorite writers another shot.
Siege: The Cabal is for the most part utterly disposable. While some things of note happen, the only BIG one is telegraphed on the book’s cover – the falling out between Doom and the overstepping Norman Osborn. Still, Bendis actually does a good job here of giving people motives and then following through on those motives, making the proceedings believable, enjoyable and intense. Each of the main players are distinctly characterized, the dialogue is quick and functional, and the brief action is exciting and surprising, though he plays a particularly obnoxious game in his efforts to hide Osborn’s super-weapon from us.
Lark turns in good work, as Lark always does. While most artists have little trouble keeping action scenes energetic and exciting (and Lark is definitely capable of that), a strength of his art here is that he (along with Gaudiano and Hollingsworth on inks and colors respectively) also does an excellent job with Bendis’ extended talking heads scenes, using the layout, shadows and angles to help keep the reader’s attention where it needs to be.
Siege: The Cabal also provides a brief, unnecessary preview of the upcoming event that does little to flatter it. Even Loki essentially says, “This is how Civil War started – let’s do it again!” If you enjoy minis with dimwitted heroes accidentally murdering thousands of people in an effort to start a frankly unbelievable witch hunt against a subsection of the population, well, then it looks like you can either read Siege or just go read your back-issues of Civil War. For now, however, those who are excited for the upcoming event will probably find something to get excited about in Siege: The Cabal. It may be disposable, but it’s still well-crafted.
– Cal Cleary
And the Summer’s over! Really? That…went fast. I had fun, though. Hope you all did, too. Back to school, kiddies! I read 20 comics in August, and these were the best.
5. Invincible Iron Man #16
Matt Fraction’s writing is absolutely top-notch. Yes, this story will read better as a whole, but our connection to Tony, Pepper, and Maria is so strong, it hardly matters. The only thing that brings this issue, and the entire series, down, is Salvador Larroca’s Greg Land-esque art.
4. Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1
Speaking of Summer, you like those blockbusters that accompany the season, right? Well then, this is the comic for you! Just some awesome-kickass, supercool fun! Mark Millar gives it to ya, and Carlos Pacheco makes it look pretty. This opening salvo features a bombastic helicopter fight and a terrifying new villain.
3. Secret Six #12
Like my previous selection, this too is filled with action and good times, only with more twisted villainy. But this comic also has character and soul, and that counts for a lot. This is Jeannette’s issue to shine, and I think she blinded me. Carlos Pacheco’s beautiful interiors certainly contribute to UCA’s placement, but you know what? I’d put Nicola Scott up against Carlos Pacheco any day. Yeah, you read that right.
2. Batman and Robin #3
Holy hell, Batman! This series just gets better and better! The first and second issue topped my list in their respective months, and it’s only by some Marvel miracle that this one didn’t. Since I don’t have a proper review of this issue, I want to go over a few things:
Professor Pyg’s “sexy disco hot.” Who else had this song in their head?
Any guesses on who was watching Alfred? Could it be the same person who spied on Bruce & Jezebel all those issues ago?
Awhile ago, DC said, “Scarlet isn’t who you think she is.” That was a damn lie, and I’m pretty sure Red Hood is who you think he is too.
1. Daredevil #500
A phenomenal conclusion to what turned out to be a great run. Brubaker did DD proud, and definitely cast away Bendis’ shadow. On top of that, you get a great short story and a reprint of possibly the best Daredevil comic ever! Yeah, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t just the best comic in August, it’s the best Marvel comic of the year.
Brubaker’s run concludes, and delivers on the promise to shake things up. Bendis’ run ended with Murdock in jail, and while I won’t directly spoil the new status quo, I’m pretty sure you can guess from this upcoming Daredevil cover that Marvel released before this issue. It’s a satisfying change, and while it may not be the most original, it has the potential to provide some great stories from new Daredevil scribe, Andy Diggle. Speaking of Diggle, one of this issue’s special features is a preview of Diggle’s first DD issue, The List, the upcoming Dark Reign special. It’s underwhelming, but mostly because of Billy Tan, and going from Michael Lark to Billy Tan just exacerbates the problem.
Michael Lark produces some stunning work, as he always does. Whether it’s the opening, tender shots of Matt and his tortured wife, Milla, or the electrifying showdown between Daredevil, Lady Bullseye, and the Kingpin, Lark hits all the right notes. Matt Hollingsworth, the colorist, also does a fantastic job, and it should be noted that Andy Diggle isn’t the only one with big shoes to fill. I hope Roberto De La Torre will step up to the challenge, and from what I’ve seen, it looks like he will.
The first special feature of this anniversary issue is the aforementioned List preview. After that, former Daredevil scribe, Ann Nocenti, provides the story, 3 Jacks. Nocenti was known for her controversially preachy storytelling, but she’s a better writer now, and the subtext is subtler. Nocenti is also smart enough to give her collaborator, the brilliant David Aja, a bone-crunching fight scene to render. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with a back-story. I’ve longed for more Aja output for awhile, but now, I want more Nocenti too.
After that, we get a wonderful pinup gallery rendered by a variety of artists from Brian Michael Bendis to Patrick Zircher. The standout is the one you see above you, from the Brazilian artist, Rafael Grampá. He’s pretty new to America, but he’s already won an Eisner, and after seeing that Daredevil, I think he’s going to go far. Check out his Batman and Robin!
Rounding out the extras is a reprint of one of, if not the best, single issue from Frank Miller’s run, Daredevil #191. Remember when Matt plays Russian roulette with a paralyzed Bullseye? Yeah, that one.
You put that all together and you get one of the best comics from Marvel all year! Brubaker concludes everything, and leaves his mark on Daredevil, giving him a bright future ripe with possibilities.
I haven’t been keeping up with Immortal Iron Fist, post-Brubaker/Fraction/Aja. I loved their run – it introduced me to Matt Fraction, who’s done impressive work all over the place now, and David Aja, who I still consider to be among the best artists working today when it comes to dynamic, exciting, downright cool-looking action scenes – but the high-cost of Marvel’s trades and the low-pay of minimum wage work meant that I have to stop reading some things, and when Fraction, Brubaker and Aja left, so did I.
Still, at the store on Wednesday, I noticed the absolutely gorgeous cover for Immortal Weapons: Fat Cobra on the shelf, saw that Jason Aaron was the writer, and was intrigued enough to pick it up. And I have to say, I’m glad I did. Immortal Weapons: Fat Cobra continues the Immortal Iron Fist tradition of having rock-solid spin-off minis and one-shots to flesh out the retro-pop pulp aesthetic of the setting and characters.
Fat Cobra, one of the Immortal Weapons we met in the Brubaker/Fraction/Aja arc “The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven,” is a massive, surprisingly quick warrior and hedonist who has lived for over a hundred years, and his lifestyle has taken its toll: he remembers little of his past, if anything at all. To that end, he hired a researcher to discover his glorious past and compile it all into a book. And thus do we get to know Fat Cobra.
It’s hardly an original device, but as Aaron delves into the character, he shows us why it works well here – Fat Cobra is a proud, powerful man, but his origins are far from either. Seeing the effect these discoveries have on him is almost as tragic as the story itself. Despite all the inconsistencies in the quality of the art (there are 7 artists in the Fat Cobra portion alone), the story is simple and potent.
On top of that, Immortal Weapons: Fat Cobra has an Immortal Iron Fist back-up by Duane Swierczynski, dealing with an errant pupil of Danny and Misty. The back-up is brief and to-the-point, though clearly incomplete – it seems as though the back-ups of the Immortal Weapon stories will be the thread that ties the issues together.
Overall, this is an excellent first issue. As an origin story of Fat Cobra, it is both effective and interesting, with a great deal of potential to lure in new readers. Immortal Iron Fist has always been a book that combined larger-than-life stories with a pulp kung-fu sensibility, and Fat Cobra definitely continues that trend. With 37 pages of excellent content, it’s worth a read.
– Cal Cleary
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?
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.
As I’ve said, Lady Bullseye has been one of Brubaker’s most entertaining Daredevil stories yet. Part 5 was indeed a satisfying conclusion. It’s not quite as epic as I had hoped a few issues ago, but Brubkaer still managed to set this story apart from the usual “Let’s destroy this hero” villainous plot. The characters actually address how often that’s been done.
The action scenes don’t look as good as they should, but I think my imagination filled out the gaps nicely. I’ve watched plenty of Shaw Brothers Kung Fu Movies. Michael Lark has done a decent job. However, it’d be nice to have a little artistic diversity in Daredevil. Ever since Alex Maleev did his thing, artists have tried to mimic his work on this title. It’d be nice to see someone like Ed McGuinness. Ok, he’ll never be on this book, but you know what I mean. Someone who can break away from the scratchy and gritty look we have now.
Lady Bullseye, The Hand, White Tiger, Black Tarantula, Iron Fist, old Zatoichi guy, and Daredevil caught in the middle. A good dust up, wouldn’t you say? If nothing else, Lady Bullseye has been a hell of a good time.
So, rather than save my Christmas money*, I did what any sensible person would do – I bought comics! Sure, I can’t pay rent for February, but I got some quality reading done in the meantime, so all is good, at least in my head. Without further embarrassing personal detail, onwards!
Northlanders: Sven the Returned
While the adherence to modern slang and language might be off-putting, it soon becomes subsumed in the tale of a stubborn Viking who just wants people to quit fucking with him. Entertaining and violent, with just a touch of the dramatic, the first trade nevertheless fails to surpass the standard Viking revenge tale. Still, the hint of promise shown within make me hopeful for future offerings.
Scalped: Indian Country
The hype from Jason Aaron’s reservation-life Native American noir is heavy, and this opening trade fails to deliver. Standard art combines with a story that barely serves as more than an introduction to make a disappointing first volume. There’s promise to be found in the filth the book revels in, but it takes some digging to find.
Scapled: Casino Boogie
Scalped: Casino Boogie
The second trade, however, delivers in all the ways the first one didn’t. Introducing new twists to the story, the book does it in a creative and entertaining way, each issue taking place over the span of the same day, but from a different point of view. Here we finally get in deep with the various players on the reservation, and here we finally have a reason to care. Count me among the converted.
Phonogram: Rue Britannia
I have trouble explaining how much I enjoyed this from relative newcomer Kieron Gillen. Ultra-masculine Brit hipster David Kohl is forced to search for a dead goddess of Brit Pop music and find out just what it going on in the ether that’s causing him to change in drastic (to him and no one else) ways. Even given my relative unfamiliarity with the bands and trends being mentioned, I nonetheless could relate to the sheer power music has in the lives of these people. An intriguing story and a fascinating setting just a little to the left of our own work together with simple (but clean and gifted) art to provide a book well-worth your money. A story about reinforcing why you love what you love, about coming to terms with it and its influence on your past.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wolves at the Gate
The Whedonisms of the book are beginning to grate, and while it is still an undeniably enjoyable book, some of the particular thematic and writing tics of the book are wearing. Nonetheless, the book continues to excel at humorous, heartwarming, heartbreaking relationships, and fans of the TV show will continue to enjoy the rapid-fire wit and excellent dialogue.
Andy Diggle, writer of The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One, seemed like an odd choice of writer to take over the Hellblazer writing chores after award-winning horror novelist Denise Mina, and Joyride is his first collection, a series of stories meant to bring John back from the brink where he’s been hovering through the last couple writers. The story is entertaining and suitably dark, a good set of arcs to set up what Diggle seems to hope to accomplish. Expressive, dark art from Manco and strong ties to the recent Hellblazer run of Mike Carey combine to make a standard, but competent story.
Gotham Central: The Quick and the Dead
The fourth trade in the Rucka/Brubaker masterpiece bringing a refreshing bit of realism to the gritty uber-epic Batman mythos, The Quick and the Dead might be the weakest trade in the series thus far… but given the strength of the characterization and dialogue, it still serves the series well, and shows time and again how Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya got where they are today.
Matt Fraction’s tiny little piece of insane pop action is well-introduced in this first volume. While stylistic art takes a little adaptation to those of a more traditional bent, it nonetheless complements Fraction’s hyperkinetic action hero well. Fun fluff, well worth the shot for fans looking for a little something more from their action espionage comic books.
Yet another obscure entry from Grant Morrison, the Filth almost delights in being obtuse. Filled with crazy, creative ideas, it boils down to a cranky old man who just wants to be alone with his cat in its dying days. Weston had his work cut out for him, but he steps up to the task admirably and delivers on many of the absolutely horrifying concepts Morrison bandies about with creepy ease. Absolutely not for everyone – not even for most people – the Filth nonetheless may offer some readers a glimpse into the darker side of Morrison’s work, that they might better understand where he’s coming from in the lighter works.
Young Liars: Daydream Believers
The first disgusting trade of Young Liars is finally available, and well worth a gander. Like Mike Carey’s so-so Faker, Liars focuses on disgust, betrayal and selfishness, but the refreshing blitz of Sadie, teamed with the self-loathing love of young Danny, make for far more compelling interactions. The attitudes of the book may be a turn-off for many, and some bizarre stylistic choices in terms of background and dialogue can be confusing, but it is nonetheless worth a gander.
Fables: War & Pieces
Willingham’s epic seems to move in waves. Alternating between stories with a great deal of creativity, heart and action all laced together with a healthy dollop of bastardized mythology and a series of stagnant set-up arcs with a lot of introduction and even more nothing-really. So, it should be no surprise that after that strength of The Good Prince and Sons of Empire, War and Pieces reads as a perfunctory conclusion to the first major conflict in the Fables-verse. An important book plot-wise with (as always) impressive art, War and Pieces is nonetheless another dry spot in the ongoing story. Not bad, just not up to the standard the book set for itself.
DMZ: On the Ground
Brian Wood’s breakout hit about a the only on-location journalist at ground-zero of America’s second Civil War appears to be almost entirely a setting-building exercise that also happens to casually examine the horrors of war with which we are all pretty familiar. Still, the excellent art provides a certain touch, and Wood’s story excels where many such stories fail in its compelling cast of supporting characters and slice-of-life stories, like the sniper romance. Wood doesn’t let us revel in a single aspect of war atrocity on home soil, instead taking us through a series of small arcs to see the effect of the civil war and troop involvement in New York City itself. Thanks to its easy familiarity with a cool cast, DMZ proves itself a consistently entertaining read with just a touch of the frighteningly familiar.
*okay, admission time – it was actually just gift cards, so it wasn’t actually a waste, and some of these were bought before or after Christmas that I just never got around to reviewing. I may begin to review some of my older trades as my pull list (and available cash) dwindles.
Batman #683 (****)
Morrison’s retelling continues. We get to see the shirtless Neal Adams Batman again. The world gets darker for Bruce. The issue ends promising the Dark Knight’s last adventure in Final Crisis #6, but as Morrison has proved over the last few years, Batman can’t die. Even in this issue, Batman continues to beat everyone. It doesn’t matter that Dark Space Gods are trying to screw with his brain, he’s Batman. He’ll always win. He can even make his enemies turn against each other. One of the many gems in this issue is an alternate reality where Bruce never dressed up like a bat. Do you remember that great episode of the 90’s cartoon? It’s kind of like that. Bruce is a bit of a pansy. He even gets conned. Oh, and something bad happens to Dick. Heck, the Joker doesn’t even exist. It’s kind of the Batman version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”. This is a fitting end to at least the first chapter of Morrison’s Batman epic.
Daredevil #114 (****1/2)
We’re half way there. I still don’t know how this will end. What I do know is that this is Brubaker’s best Daredevil arc. Matt continues to get dragged through the muck. There is no happiness. There is no hope. Every glimmer of happiness gets ripped away from him. He even thinks about living in a cave in this issue. Get away from the people he cares about and just be Daredevil full time. Will he lose Milla soon? Will he lose Dakota? And I haven’t even talked about his villain problems yet. Along with the main players, an additional cast of interesting characters are present. Heck, we even get a new villain. I’m still not sure how I feel about Lady Bullseye yet. All she’s had to be so far is threatening. At least she’s achieved that. So if you’ve thought about getting back into Daredevil’s whacky adventures, now is the time.
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 (****)
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.
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!
Ultimate Iron Man 2 #5 (***)
The last issue came out five months ago. How stupid is that? It missed out on all the Iron Man movie hype. I certainly had to read the recap and I still couldn’t really remember much about the previous issues. Kick-Ass also came out this week. It had been quite awhile since that last issue and yet I remembered almost everything about it. That pretty much lets you know about the quality of this mini. There isn’t much of a resolution to this story. This makes 10 issues now of Card’s Ultimate Iron Man and yet the Iron Man at the end of this story still isn’t the Iron Man in Ultimates. So, are there still going to be more of these? But this isn’t a bad issue or even a bad mini-series. It’s even possible that if you read the whole thing back to back, without the 5 month gap, this could be pretty good. This is still well-written. Just about all the characters are intriguing. Ferry’s art gets the job done and it surpasses mediocre. So if you’ve been thinking about picking this up in trade, it certainly isn’t bad and it’s even a bit entertaining, just be prepared for the lack of resolution. Who knows? After Card writes five more of these it may actually link to the current Ultimate Iron Man.
Daredevil #110 (****1/2)
This is the conclusion of Brubaker’s best arc on Daredevil. I suppose this arc isn’t so impressive on the surface, but it was executed flawlessly. This has been a compelling mystery with the ongoing Daredevil theme of redemption. Daredevil’s self centered masochistic nature is examined and he is told by the people he cares about to snap out of it. The supporting characters play a strong role here without overshadowing Matt. Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano handle the art chores wonderfully. They’re always up to the task, whether that be a gritty action sequence or a complex dual narrative. Both of those appear in this issue I might add. What was in some ways the strongest part of this story was Daredevil overcoming some of his flaws, restoring a sense of positivity that isn’t often seen within the pages of Daredevil. That was quite refreshing. If Rucka is indeed responsible for this shift in tone as I suspect he is, I will be truly sad to find his writing absent next issue.