Amazing Spider-Man 516 – “Skin Deep, part 2”
By J. Michael Straczynski, Mike Deodato, Jr., and Mark Brooks
The Story: Following the disastrous results of last issue, Spidey tries to track down Charlie while reminiscing about another of their schoolday encounters.
The Good: Well, everything JMS did right this issue, he did last issue. He’s using this arc to showcase the character traits and lessons that have made Peter Parker into the character we all know and love. Last time out, it was about helping people when they’re down, and this week, it’s about knowing when to stop helping. Tough love. And it’s a stroke of brilliance that the conveyor of this lesson is that pre-eminent absent character in the Spidey mythos, Uncle Ben. Who, courtesy of the flashback, gets to show off his badass side, something we haven’t really seen too much of in the past.
I also like how the similarities and differences between Charlie and Peter are played up. Charlie is Peter without Uncle Ben, and the “but for the grace of God” element this places underneath the story brings out some pathos, not just for Peter, but for Charlie. I ended up horrified and a bit disgusted by all the things Charlie’s done, probably the same reaction Peter has, but I can’t help pitying him as well.
I continue to enjoy Deodato’s art on this book. He has a really nice handle on Spidey, Peter, and the always-luscious MJ. He especially shines on the cover this month.
The Bad: The pixelation on the shading in the flashback scenes continues this month, which leads me to believe it’s not a printing mistake, but possibly intentional. I reserve the right to still dislike it.
There’s an unnecessary dig at DC comics on page 5. It’s not just unprofessional, it’s also bad storytelling. Whoever is responsible for this should be ashamed.
The Quote: “What Ben understood is that sometimes, if you don’t intervene in time, things have a way of blowing up in your face. Who knew the metaphor would end up being this literal?”
The Final Word: I’m knocking it down a letter grade for the dig, but other than that, some excellent Spidey storytelling.
The Grade: B
Fantastic Four 522 – “Rising Storm, part 4”
By Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo
The Story: Johnny confronts Galactus with his own origin, but will it be enough to stall the Devourer of Worlds until the rest of the team arrives?
The Good: And, once again, Waid shows off how well he gets these characters. This Johnny-specific arc has been an excellent journey for readers and the character, showcasing the character depth some fans thought had been forgotten. It’s ironic that the Human Torch would have to lose his powers to shine brighter than he has in a long time.
There are also some wonderful mini-moments, reminding us that these characters are (a) professionals who’ve been at it for a long time and (b) a close-knit family. One in particular (you’ll know it when you get to it) really got to me, as it underscores how even the people closest to us can still be full of surprises.
‘Ringo turns in another fine showing on the art. His style, while a bit cartoony, is great for the science-fiction aspects of the series. I won’t say his work’s Kirbian, because it’s not, but it’s maybe like what Kirby would dream up if he were just starting out today. And that’s a compliment.
The Bad: Dammit, am I going to miss this team.
The ending didn’t quite work for me, mostly because I’m not 100% sure what happened. I trust this will all be explained next issue, but maybe a little more info could have been squeezed into this story.
The Quote: “You replaced me already? And also, with Quasar?”
The Final Word: I continue to enjoy the ever-lovin’ heck out of this book, and as much as I’m looking forward to McKone and JMS, I’ll be sad to see this team go.
The Grade: A-
Uncanny X-Men 454 – “Cardinal Law (Chasing Hellfire, part 3)”
By Chris Claremont and Andy Park
Cover by Paul Smith
The Story: While half the team faces off against Donald Pierce, Rachel battles her oldest nemesis: Selene.
The Good: No puppies were murdered to make this comic. At least not that I’m aware of.
The Bad: Okay, so *why* am I supposed to care about this story again? Selene wants Rachel, Pierce wants to kill Shaw, the Hellfire Club wants… hell if I know, and Sage gets to go all Mary Sue, but for the love of Lieber, what’s the frelling point? I have no interest in any of what’s at stake here. A reader less familiar with the characters will fare even worse, adding bewilderment to boredom.
I’ve been trying, I really have, to get into this book. Claremont started out this run with some interesting ideas, but he appears to have abandoned them for far less interesting plots. If you want to call this plotting. Yes, stuff happens, but it all seems hollow. There’s nothing of import going on here, as is underscored by the fact that none of the characters grow or change in any way, at least not that I can see. I think the final straw was when the B-plot (or possibly the C-plot; this damn book fragments so much it’s hard to tell) with Emma and the slavers was resolved by an off-panel deus ex machina. I didn’t care for it that much in the first place, but seeing as how it was the whole reason Rachel and Emma were even in Hong Kong in the first place, you’d think it would go somewhere. Apparently not.
The art… there’s nothing really wrong with it, but there’s not much right, either. Half the time, I don’t really know what’s going on, but that’s just as much the script’s fault.
Y’know what? That’s it. I’m done. This book is never going to go anywhere, and I’ve got too much on my plate right now to pay for a book I’m not getting any satisfaction from. Next issue looks to be more of the same, so I’m gone. Bye-bye, Uncanny.
The Quote: Nothing in this issue bears repeating.
The Final Word: An evil plot and fight scenes aren’t enough; the story has to mean something.
The Grade: D
Legion of Super-Heroes 2
By Mark Waid and Barry Kitson
The Story: Brainiac 5 chafes when the Legion responds to a crisis on Dream Girl’s home planet of Naltor, where someone’s robbing the world’s teenagers of their prophetic dreams.
The Good: Well, first of all, I like the concept at the center of the story. It melds character-driven drama (Brainy’s disdain for Dream Girl’s powers) and an interesting sci-fi concept. Brought together in a well-handled plot, it makes for some excellent space opera.
Waid’s characterization is a bit of a cheat, since he can give these characters any traits he wants, but he manages to come up with some well-thought-out personalities for the target Legionnaires that both make sense given their unusual nature and also help them stand out as people, and especially as teenagers.
Last issue’s climax sparked much debate on the Internet over what some thought was a far too black-and-white portrayal of the “Kids vs. Adults” conflict that’s at the heart of this series. I didn’t have a problem with it then, and I have less of a problem with it now, as the Legion gets thrown into a real “damned-if-you-do-or-don’t” situation in this story. The choice they make is obviously the right choice for the Legion, but the story leaves the readers with enough to wonder if the other way, or a third solution, might not have been better.
Barry Kitson works wonders, not so much with his figures as with his backgrounds. Despite its humanoid inhabitants, Naltor looks like an actual alien world, something we don’t always see from SF. Which is not to say there’s anything wrong with the rest of his art; the fight scene with the Precommandos (another cool idea, by the way) and Dream Girl’s vision are both nicely done indeed.
And hey, for once we get a nice done-in-one story that, while setting up future events, still manages to work well on its own. Waid doesn’t forget that the story he’s telling right now is the most important thing here. Again, it’s something that should be very simple that many writers have a tough time pulling off.
The Bad: Brainy’s trick with the Flight Ring relies on the readers’ knowing that the rings remove their wearers from the Public Service. Unfortunately, that piece of information has only been revealed in the prologue story in the Titans/Legion special, not in the series proper. For something rather important to the plot, it should be made clearer.
The Quote: “You’re referring to a conversation we haven’t even had yet! Stop being so defiant! Cause, then effect. Cause, effect. Cause, effect!”
The Final Word: Some top-notch space opera, and already one of my favorite books of the new year.
The Grade: A
By Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
The Story: Cornered by the military, the unit must face down the horrific Animal Weapon 4, with little chance of survival.
The Good: And so our story comes to a close. And what a story it is. This comic, and this issue, has smacked me in so many emotional places, I don’t even know where to begin. The hopelessness of our heroes’ situation is almost crushing, as is much of the confrontation with AW-4. You can’t help but be torn apart by what’s been done to these animals, especially juxtaposed with the covers. By the way, M&Q, you guys are total bastards for making the cover to this issue so damn adorable. Nobody’s made me cry like that since high school, you sons of bitches.
But there’s some hope in here, too, thankfully. Bandit’s scene with Dr. Roseanne, the courage in all the animals as they face their fate, and the somewhat surprising but wholly heartwarming climax leaven out the despair. While I still cried, I ended up glad I read this series, which is more than I can say for my first reading of Where the Red Fern Grows (which now stands as one of my all-time favorite books, just so you know).
And god damn, do I love Quitely’s art here. The tension, the layouts, the figures, the expressions (up to and including the animals”… he doesn’t miss a trick.
The Bad: This isn’t a “bad” per se, but what happened in this issue was almost totally the opposite of what I expected to happen. I liked where it went, but it made the first read-through disconcerting. But, really, this is more my problem than the book’s; I include it only for the sake of complete honesty in relating my experience.
The Quote: “The name on your collar was ‘Bandit.’ U. R. Bandit. Run, Bandit! Run far!!”
The Final Word: I love this book. I love, I love, I love this book.
The Grade: A+