Sunday, October 23, 2005

Comic Reviews for OCtober 19, 2005

"The Other" continues, She-Hulk returns, and more.

Marvel Knights Spider-Man 19 - "Denial (The Other, part 2)"
By Peter David and Pat Lee

I'm going to start by saying up front that if Peter David weren't writing this, I wouldn't be buying it. Pat Lee has made a lot of people angry in the comics industry, and I'm one of them. I'm still on the fence about buying his further work on "The Other," especially if each issue of Hudlin and Straczynski's months is as self-contained as the PAD stories have been. At least I don't have to give him a good art review; his figures look too similar (I thought MJ's stalker was Peter at first), his attempts at cross-hatching are sad, his expressions are nonexistent, and his panel layouts and viewpoints are wholly uninteresting. Viewed against 'Ringo's work last week, this contribution is sorely lacking.

On to the story. David takes an interesting tac by presenting this issue from Mary Jane's POV, so that Spidey's battle with Tracer (with Iron Man guest-starring) is largely absent, focusing instead on MJ's worrying. Through the flashbacks and a scene at the end, David does sort of a good job at justifying the resurgence of MJ's stressing over Peter's heroice, but not quite. I can believe her worrying, but I can't believe her taking the worry to the extreme she does here. I just don't believe she would believe that Peter is the deathseeker type, so that moment goes completely wrong for me. Was this forced on by "The Other?" I don't know, but I know I don't like it.

In between those moments are several interesting character bits that keep me going to the end, and I once again applaud David for his handling of MJ's relationships with Peter's fellow New Avengers. But between the art and a character moment that I just can't buy, this issue, and the overall "Other" storyline, suffers.
Grade: C+

She-Hulk 1 - "Many Happy Returns"
By Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo
Cover by Greg Horn

So the cult favorite of 2004 returns after its brief hiatus, and things are kind of the same, and kind of different. The overall character arcs from the previous volume are continuing, but in enough different situations to keep things interesting. A new living situation for Jen, continued identity crises, and several new faces around the law offices; all good ways to create new tension and reinforce the ongoing serial nature of the stories.

The issue itself is largely setup for the new status quo, but two pretty big plotlines do start up. The first, reestablishing Jen's rivalry with Mallory Book, is a bit problematic, suffering from the first big legal mistake I've seen from this series. If I read this right, the two villains get off because Stature and Vision didn't have a warrant to search their hideout. But unless the Young Avengers get deputized by the NYPD in a future issue that takes place before this, they didn't need one. So that bit falls flat.

The other, the long-awaited "return" of Hawkeye, is more like what I expect from this book: a clever comic-book application of the law, and a situation for Jen where the stakes are more than just winning or losing a case. I'm not convinced that Hawkeye will really be back by the end of issue 2, but that's not really what the story's about; the story is about the inner demons that drive Jen to risk her career to save her friend. That is something I'm definitely interested in reading.

Juan Bobillo, the series's original artist, returns with this issue. His style is somewhat different from the norm these days, with more simplified figures and linework. It's good for what it is, though, and he does a good job of distinguishing between Jen and She-Hulk while still making it believable that one turns into the other.

The funny's still here, the love is still here, and where it's going looks interesting. Welcome back, green lady.
Grade: B+

Runaways 9 - "East Coast/West Coast, part 1"
By Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
Cover by Jo Chen

One of the better arcs from "Season 1" was the short two-parter where the team met Cloak and Dagger. It brought the Runaways firmly into the Marvel Universe while establishing its own idiosyncratic identity within that universe. This story serves as a sequel to that arc, taking the team to New York and introducing them to some of Marvel's brightest stars. Or at least it will, as this issue is largely fallout from the last arc and a setup for this one.

Vaughan has set up a good mystery with Cloak's new fugitive status, and brought back an old one that has potential to shake up the team's dynamic even more. We also get to see a surprising new side of Chase, as he comforts Nico over her recent loss. And there's the usual Molly cuteness, expressed in all its kawaii goodness by Mr. Alphona. It's good to remember that, for all their trauma, these are still kids, and vibrant ones at that.

I also like Alphona's designs for the little guard demons; very reminiscent of the Henson Workshop.

This issue is more low-key than most, but it still has the fun and youth that have become a hallmark of the series.
Grade: A-

Transformers 0 - "Prelude to Infiltration"
By Simon Furnam and EJ Su
Optimus Prime cover by Milx

No, really, it's by "Milx."
Anyway, after the last iteration of the Transformers (of which I shall not speak), it was probably a smart idea for IDW to just go its own way and pretend 2002-2004 never happened. It was definitely a smart idea to sign on TF guru Simon Furman to launch "Infiltration." As has been said in the press, the story's choosing to focus on the "Robots in Disguise" model, presenting the Autobots and Decepticons as fighting a hidden war that most humans are unaware of, but that pops up on the conspiracy websites.

Enter into this Verity Carlo, a drifter who stole something she really shouldn't have, and Hunter O'Nion (no, really), a conspiracy theorists out to prove that alien robots really are among us. This preview focuses on them, introducing the human element into the story while also setting up (partially) a MacGuffin. It works as a sinister chase story largely because we know that they're being shadowed by something far more menacing than road hogs and military jets, and are more aware than they are of how close they are at every moment to destruction. Su helps here by drawing out the pacing before the big double-page money shot, keeping the reader on edge with just enough teasing of peril.

I don't know if I'll pick up the "Infiltration" mini in January, but I applaud IDW for presenting a tantalizing preview, and for taking the story in a place we might not have expected.
Grade: B+

Astro City: The Dark Age 4 - "Execution Day"
By Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson

This is it: the story AC readers have waited a decade for, the final fate of the Silver Agent. Busiek pulls no punches with the script, showing the depths to which Astro City and the nation sink in their fear and loathing. Set against the backdrop of cataclysm built up slowly over the previous three issues, the story gives us the final extent of what the Agent's death meant to the world he swore to protect.

Of course, the story is also about Charles and Royal, and their tumultuous encounter with the Blue Knight. This plays as a counterpoint to the Agent's story, setting up a three-way confrontation that reinforces the mistrust and shame of the main arc (or maybe this is the main arc, and the Agent's story reinforces it). Whatever the case, we get a humbling story, and a sense that, for all that a cloud has lifted, there are still worse times ahead.
Busiek does drop a ball in the conclusion, though, as he teases perhaps too much of future events in the Agent's saga (which hasn't ended with his life). I would have been fine merely knowing that everyone was unsure, without knowing what I know now about the Sterling Foundation and the Mad Maharajah.

An ending and a pause, both leaving me uncertain as to how I feel. I feel ashamed for the people of Astro City, sad but resigned for the Agent, and worried for Charles and Royal. I guess that's a victory for the story, but now that we've removed the rudder, where will the current take us?
Grade: A-


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