Thursday, November 11, 2004

Reviews for 11-10-04

Marvel Knights Spider-Man 8 - “Venomous, part 4”
By Mark Millar and Frank Cho
The Story: Spidey and the new Venom tear into each other.
The Good: Well, Millar’s got Peter Parker down pat. With the exception of one bit of dialogue, the character is spot on in his actions and reactions. In fact, Millar uses this new Venom as a great foil for Peter, maybe even a better one than Eddie Brock was.
Then there’s the bit with Jameson, which hit me right over the head with how obvious a solution it was. It works as a great gag, but it also leads to yet another wonderful Peter moment. Stuff like this reminds me why Spidey’s my favorite character.
Frank Cho makes a great fill-in for the Dodsons. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but I have nothing but high regard for his art here. You wouldn’t think the guy responsible for Liberty Meadows could draw some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in a comic all year, but here it is. Speaking of LM, there’s an easter egg for fans of that series here that’s fun without being obtrusive. Just don’t have Spidey fight any evil cows.
The Bad: Okay, so Venom kills an innocent bystander wearing a Spider-Man costume. Fair enough, but the way it goes down, you pretty much have to disregard the entire page leading up to the killing. Millar tried to have his cake and eat it here, and it doesn’t wash. He should know better.
While “Venomous” was a nice diversion, it didn’t move the overall plot of this 12-issue arc along very much; the whole “Aunt May’s Been Kidnapped” thing literally took a backseat to Millar playing around with a villian who, quite frankly, was tapped out. Maybe it’ll make sense next issue, but right now this feels less like Act II and more like Intermission.
The Quote: “Face it, Tiger, you were just too well-raised…”
The Final Word: Good Spidey stuff, but the money shot doesn’t work, and the fluff nature of the last four issues makes me feel led on.
The Grade: A-

New Thunderbolts 1 – “One Step Forward…”
By Fabian Nicieza and Tom Grummet
The Story: The team makes its debut when Atlanteans attack, but it’s hardly the happiest of reunions.
The Good: A page-one setup bar? A complete story in one issue? Third-person narrative captions? This is a Marvel comic in 2004?
You’re damn right it is. Great Gods, this is a breath of fresh air. I like cutting-edge stuff as much as the next guy, but there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned superhero comic that isn’t ashamed to be a good old-fashioned superhero comic. The old formulas still work fine when they’re applied right, and there’s no better proof than this book.
The characterizations made the old series, and this series is no different. While the cast isn’t complete yet, we get a very clear picture of those who do show up. We get a clear introduction to who each of these characters is and why they’re here (except Songbird, but since the point is even she doesn’t know why she’s here, that doesn’t count). Toss in some tension between characters, and you’ve got a wonderful little yarn.
And hey, stuff actually happens, too. There’s some nice setup for stories to come, including the prerequisite last-page shocker. It’s not quite the “oomph” that came at the end of the original Thunderbolts 1, but it’s got me just as eager for issue 2. So few comics these days give you a reason to stick around past issue one beyond “trust me, this si going somewhere.” This isn’t one of them.
Grummet’s art, I’ve got no problem with. He’s perfectly suited to the simple, unadorned style of storytelling. He also gets the chance to draw some cool sea monsters, which never hurts.
The Bad: The cover’s kind of a cheat, since three of the characters on it don’t show up at all. But there’s really no other option for the first issue of a team book, and it sure does look pretty.
The Quote: “Someone else has to become that light –that beacon- to help show the way.”
The Final Word: Like slipping on a favorite pair of shoes you thought your mom had thrown out.
The Grade: A

Green Arrow 44 – “Positive (New Blood, part 5)”
By Judd Winick, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks
Cover by Marcos Martin
The Story: Ollie, Conner, and Mia deal with the developments of last issue.
The Good: This time last month, a lot of folks online hemmed and hawed about Judd Winick giving GA’s adopted ward HIV. Because, y’know, nothing like that’s ever been done before. Bitch all you want about activism in superhero comics, but I don’t have a problem with this. And the guy responsible for “Pedro And Me” and “Barry Ween” gets a good deal of leeway from me on matters like this.
And hey, it turns out it’s a good story, or at least half of one. Whereas past HIV comics stories have been about dying of AIDS (anybody else remember being really bummed out by Hulk 420?), this one is about living with it. Part of it is that Winick goes out of his way to hammer home the facts of HIV in the beginning. Explained clinically, it becomes less of a social bogeyman and more of a reality. Silly as it sounds, I believe Mia can get through this because the story tells me so.
Winick also does a good job of farming out the stages of grief to the characters. Ollie’s alternating denial and anger, Mia’s quiet despair, and Conner’s naturally Bhuddist acceptance make the story’s microcosm into a believable representation of coping with illness, and it makes the story’s conclusion that much richer.
Hester and Parks add their usual brilliance to the art. It’s a shame these two are leaving the book; after so long, it’ll be hard to get used to anyone else’s GA. I haven’t felt like this since Bagley left Amazing Spider-Man. This issue, it’s the quite things that stand out the most, as befits the script. The expressions, the body language… subtle things, really. The scene of Ollie looking in on Mia at night has a great emotional power that’s conveyed by a simple opened eye. I wish these guys lots of luck on their next project.
The cover is a very nice, simple piece, and I find myself wishing it was this issue that got all the big media coverage, rather than last.
The Bad: This isn’t really part 5 of “New Blood.” “New Blood” ended last issue, and this is part 1 of a 2-parter about Mia’s coping. But the ironclad mentality of pre-packaging the single-issues with the eventual trade in mind wins over here. I don’t know why; if I can figure this out, certainly a long-term editor like Bob Schreck can.
The Quote: “It’s a start.”
The Final Word: A quiet, moving issue, and a highlight of the run so far for me.
The Grade: A

Identity Crisis 5 – “Husbands and Wives”
By Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales
Cover by Michael Turner
The Story: After last issue, the heroes of the DCU think the killer is gone and the nightmare is over. They couldn’t be more wrong.
The Good: The opening is a powerful scene. I still hate that Meltzer had to go and do this to Tim Drake, but damned if the aftermath isn’t pretty to watch in a ghoulish way. Props to Morales for capturing Tim’s anguish so well. And hey, Batman actually shows some freaking compassion, which points out that, for all his sins, Meltzer at least gets the Dark Knight better than the people currently writing his books. Then again, damning with faint praise.
There’s another revelation in this one that’s bound to raise some hackles, but I’m okay with it. It makes more sense than the one in issue two, and it opens up some big story potential. In fact, if I had to point out this series’ greatest strength, that would be it. There’s a lot of ways to go from what’s going on here, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in some of them.
Visually, the ending works great. Morales builds up to a perfect suspense point that makes me anxious for the next issue.
The Bad: Oh, come on. That’s it? That’s the mastermind behind the deaths of Sue Dibny, Jack Drake, and Captain Boomerang? Professor X as Onslaught was more believable than that. There’s only two ways to explain this; one’s the cheapest out in comics history, and the other makes “Emerald Twilight” look Wellesian in comparison. I mean, come the hell on. After all the hype about “the killer will be revealed!” this is such a crappy payoff.
And speaking of hype, Batman doesn’t exactly live up to the solicitation copy’s promises with his unveiling of the killer. Perry Mason could have done this and still had time to maneuver the guilty party into confessing in open court. To be honest, none of the “whodunit” aspects of this storyline have impressed me very much at all. And this is a guy who was routinely wowed by the Hardy Boys for about seven years.
The Quote: “There are animals out there, Wally. And when it comes to family, we can’t always be there to defend them. But the mask will.”
The Final Word: Some nice bits, but not what I was expecting, and the ending borders on insulting if Meltzer thinks anyone’s buying it.
The Grade: C

Transformers Generation One 9 – “Lost and Found”
By James McDonough, Adam Patyk, and Don Figueroa
The Story: Guess who’s back? I’ll give you a hint: He’s got a gun on his arm,a nd he’s really pissed at Shockwave.
The Good: Megatron is one of my favorite villains ever. Here, he’s an utter bastard, and I love every bit of it. His treatment of Shockwave, and what it says about the core of Decepticon ideology, is just a nice bit of evil revenge. I also like the writers’ use of the Predacons; they’re a great group of characters, visually and storywise, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in action.
Spike and Bumblebee get a scene all their own. I must be one of maybe a dozen G1 fans who liked them, and it looks here like they’ll be taking up their own path parallel to the main story for a while. If it means growth and more good moments for these characters, I’m all for it.
The Bad: This issue feels like filler. It’s either setup for the next arc, or tying up loose ends from this one. It’s nice, but the calories are empty. Actually, there have been a lot of empty calories in this volume; the philosophical undercurrent that was present in the minis is all but gone, and I miss it. It would behoove the writers to take a look back at some of those scripts, especially Chris Sarracini’s.
Figueroa’s humans just aren’t as good as his giant robots. With how realistic the TF’s look, the people are just too cartoony. I recommend Dreamwave taking the Voltron crew’s route and getting separate artists for the human stuff and the giant robot stuff.
The Quote: “Oh, that… I believe the fleshlings would consider it an ‘eye for an eye.’”
The Final Word: A bit disappointing, after the high expectations set so early in the series.
The Grade: B-

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