Amazing Spider-Man 515 – “Skin Deep, part 1”
By J. Michael Straczynski, Mike Deodato, Jr. and Mark Brooks
Cover by Gary Frank
The Story: A run-in with an old friend starts a tragic chain of events.
The Good: Now this here is an excellent example of how to begin a multi-issue story arc. We get a complete story with themes and events all its own, but it’s also an obvious part of a whole that leaves the reader wanting to see what happens next.
Above all, JMS’s triumph on Amazing has been how well he “gets” Peter Parker. That remains true here; we see some new insights into Pete (especially his younger, pre-Spidey self), but the core values of the character are also reinforced, particularly in his present dealings with Charlie. Pete’s science background even comes up, which you just don’t see too much of anymore.
I also have to say that the plot really hit home for me. The notion of Peter joining in on the harassing of a student even lower on the totem pole than him, I could relate to, because I did the same thing. At the same time, Peter’s shame and later amends keep him at the level of virtue befitting a hero.
This is, in essence, a decompressed Silver Age origin story, and as such, it works very well. You’re aware JMS knew what he was doing going into the script, but by playing it straight, he avoids making the book too kitschy, so the effect is something like “This is something like what Stan Lee would have done if he were writing with today’s sensibilities.”
On the art front, the most impressive point is the use of two separate teams for the “then” and “now” parts of the book. It works very well; Brooks’ high school stuff is a more cartoony, energetic style, somewhat reminiscent of Todd Nauck’s Young Justice, whereas Deodato’s work has the muted, softer quality of adulthood. The intended effect is obvious, and it works, so I applaud the book’s team as a whole for the idea and execution.
Continuity geeks will enjoy the connection of this book to events in New Avengers. Marvel’s promised a tighter, more coherent universe in the year to come, and it looks like this is the start of fulfilling it.
The Bad: Unfortunately, the shading on the flashback sequences got messed up somehow, resulting in a pixelated effect instead of flat black or grey. I chalk it up to a printer error, but this sort of thing is beneath the standards of an industry leader.
The Quote: The question is… is the system fair to the least of us?”
The Final Word: Aside from a technical goof-up, an excellent Spidey issue. Those turned off by Sins Past would do well to come back and give the book another shot.
The Grade: A-
Exiles – “Bump In The Night, part 3”
By Tony Bedard and Jim Calafiore
The Story: With the team caught between Gath, Zarathos, and Selene, Sasquatch’s recent malady is… resolved.
The Good: Considering the number of places the book starts in, it does a pretty good job of bringing them all together and wrapping them up. This is largely due, of course, to the plot device involving Sasquatch, but given the fact that we’re essentially dealing with a Conan pastiche, I’m willing to allow for the relative lack of sophistication in the plotting. What’s important here is where the story goes, not how it gets there. And where it goes will no doubt lead to some very interesting stuff next issue.
That said, there are several good moments here; the fight with Morbius and Wendigo, Selene’s speech at the end, and the overall feeling of menace from Tanaraq.
Calafiore’s art, while not outstanding this time around, is pleasant.
The Bad: With all the plot action going on here, there’s little room for character stuff. I’d like to see a better balance between the two, as in the earliest issues.
There’s also a bit of a plot hole involving just what happened to Spider-Man.
The Quote: “For in this world… where magic and monsters reign supreme… mine shall be the most frightening face in the realm!”
The Final Word: Perfectly serviceable fantasy-action yarn, and some nice setup for future stories.
The Grade: B
Teen Titans – “East Meets West (Titans Tomorrow, part 3)”
By Geoff Johns and Mike McKone
The Story: The kids and Titans East face off against their older selves, and learn just what it is they have to do to prevent this future from occurring.
The Good: Well, thank goodness for that. It’s clear, from Identity Crisis and the buzz for next year’s big event, that the DCU heroes are going to be put through some serious trials and tribulations over the next few years. The Internet is awash with concerned fans and pros who see the turning of a new “dark age,” similar to the post-Watchmen era, when so many books turned “grim-and-gritty” with little rhyme or reason.
With this issue of Teen Titans, Geoff Johns is reassuring the audience that, while things might get hairy, the DCU is not going early Image just yet. This is introduced in the elder Cyborg’s explanation for how the timeline went wrong, reinforced in Robin’s battle with his older self, and confirmed in the last moments with Tim and Conner. For those of you not paying attention, I just named the three most important (and best) scenes in the book. So the overall message is one of hope, and looking forward to the future. Good job then, Geoff.
McKone really outdoes himself here, especially with that gorgeous two-page splash that gives Titans legend George Perez a run for his money. It’s a shame he just signed exclusive with Marvel.
The Bad: When Batwoman was identified as “Batman’s former protégé,” I was hoping against hope it meant Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler. No such luck. I haven’t had hopes that high dashed that low since my prom night.
The Quote: “You hav3 more experience, you may have learned some new tricks. But we have one thing you don’t… We’re still heroes!”
The Final Word: An uplifting issue that lays to rest my fears about the coming direction of this book and the DCU.
The Grade: A
Legion of Super-Heroes 1 – “And We Are Legion”
By Mark Waid and Barry Kitson
The Story: In a stagnant future society, a group of superpowered youths shake up the establishment.
The Good: Well, I’m in favor of the concept right away. This is just the sort of book DC can use to grab that 13-19 market by the throat, if they market it right. Teens going against their parents and finding a newer, better way of doing things? Yeah, there’s an audience for it.
I have to give credit to Mark Waid for his world-building skills. Through little touches, he’s managed to create a wholly believable future world for the Legion to hang out in. The sequence with the police captain and his subordinate communicating by video while standing right behind each other is just plain brilliant, and serves as an excellent contrast to how the Legionnaires operate. I also like the little bit with the “groupies.”
Obviously, with 20 characters on the team, we can’t get to all of them, but this issue does just fine setting up the Legion concept as a whole. We also do get to briefly meet a handful of the cast, and get a handle on their personalities.
There’s room here for shades of grey, too. Cosmic Boy makes a decision in this issue that could, in some lights, be the wrong one. The Legion is free to screw up and grow here, and I think that will ultimately be a good thing.
Oh, yeah, Kitson. I guess I should mention him. His handling of the battle scenes (and their juxtaposition with Cosmic Boy’s argument with the UP) is perfectly taut. I also like the little Easter Egg he throws into the fight with the giant robot (of course there’s a fight with a giant robot).
Oh, did I mention it’s 30 pages of story for only $2.95?
The Bad: I was hoping ot see more of Braniac 5, given how prominent he is on the cover.
The Quote: “We either put things right or made things worse, depending on the age of who you ask.”
The Final Word: A strong start for this new incarnation of one of DC’s greatest concepts. I’m interested to see where it goes.
The Grade: A
Voltron 11 – Untitled
By Marie Croall, Alitha Martinez, and Clint Hilinski
by Mark Waid and Kalman Andrasofszky
Cover by Clement Suave
The Stories: The team follows a lead that might take them to Sven. In the past, Zarkon’s rise to power and quest for knowledge of Voltron continues.
The Good: This story delves a little bit into Keith’s neuroses, and how that’s affecting his relationship with Allura. I like that, as character stuff is just as important to space opera as spaceships blowing shit up.
The new art team keeps the characters looking pretty much on-model. I also like the landscaping on the planet where Merla and Hagar are.
The Bad: Unfortunately, aside from the Keith/Allura conflicts, no much interesting happens this issue. The team finds… something, but we don’t have a clue what it is. We check in with Merla and Hagar, but only get a quick face-off. I suppose it’s due to the lower page count thanks to the backup story.
Speaking of which, Waid concocts a nice short piece that’s as much about Zarkon’s ruthlessness and cunning as it is Voltron. Unfortunately, in moving that plot along, it doesn’t really tell us anything about Voltron that we don’t already know. Hopefully, this won’t be so in the future.
The Quote: “I’m not willing to take those risks anymore.” “They’re not your risks to take.”
The Final Word: Pretty lacking, compared to past efforts.
The Grade: C+
Wildguard: Fire Power – “Fire Power”
By Todd Nauck
“Where Are They Now: Little Miss Sunshine in Night Patrol”
by Todd Nauck and Sean Galloway
Alternate cover by E-House
The Stories: The team adjusts to its newfound fame, while one member struggles with her role.
The Good: The same sense of fun and exuberance that made the original mini-series a hit is here. The personalities of the members, the self-referential pokes, and the occasional absurdism (like, say a soap star who’s a supervillainess because she got into debt financing her powers) are all back, thank goodness.
And there’s heart, too. The core of Ignacia’s conflict is true and believable; haven’t we all doubted the worth of our contribution to the world? I know I have, and the overall message here, that they’re often disproven by our actions and experiences, is an imprtant one.
In between Ignacia’s stuff, there’s also some excellent setup for future material with Snapback and Freezerburn. One I predicted, the other I didn’t, but both have great potential.
And then there’s a fight scene with a goopy black guy. That was cool. Nauck’s superheroic art has always been fun, and that’s true here as well. He’s got a good hand for fast-paced action with a big cast that nevertheless remains clear at all times. There are some “superstar” artists who can’t boast that claim.
The Bad: The next installment will be out… when it’s ready. *sigh*
I was pleasantly surprised to see the backup about Little Miss Sunshine, as I was one of her supporters during the voting process. Unfortunately, this story takes away her relentlessly upbeat personality and paints her as a Buffy pastiche. The art is also weird and distended, too much of a change from Nauck’s cartoony but still grounded style.
The Quote: “I don’t think powers make a hero or a team. It’s the people.”
The Final Word: I’ll leave this to Peter David, as quoted on the back page: “IF you haven’t read this book, what the hell is wrong with you?”
The Grade: A