Sunday, October 02, 2005

Comic Reviews for September 28, 2005

Okay, okay, here they are. Now leave me be, you damned brain monkeys!Young Avengers 7 - "Secret Identities, Part 1"
By Allan Heinberg and Andrea DiVito
Cover by Jim Cheung

Heinberg has an unenviable job this issue of trying to follow-up a stellar opening-arc, and takes what's probably a smart tac of switching tones to a much more down-to-Earth story. Instead of Kang, the team fights the Shocker and Mr. Hyde (not together, although that would be a neat teamup), and instead of "OMG, Iron Lad is Kang, WTFBBQ?" the emotional weight comes from the team's interactions with their families, and a brewing subplot with Patriot that takes an unexpected turn. Oddly enough, he relies on largely the same bag of tricks: excellent character interaction and an infectious love of the genre, to get this across. The scenes with the Kaplans and Elijah's grandpa are touching, but Heinberg hits his best note with Cassie (I refuse to call her "Stature"), and the interplay between her mother and her stepfather. He and DiVito use an excellent visual trick that proves the old adage about a picture and ten thousand words.
Speaking of DiVito, her style is quite a turn from Jim Cheung's, but it's quite capable, while holding a great deal of skill for emotional nuance. It's more of the Bagley/Grummet school of utilitarianism than the modern vogue of highly stylized detail, but I've made no secret of my appreciation for it, and it fits the book just as well as the regular art.
There's a brilliant letter in this issue's letters column. No, not mine; Sef Farrow's, from Virginia Beach. It is, for me, the final word in the Hulkling/Wiccan debate. Onward.
Young Avengers is probably Marvel's best breakout hit of 2005, and with talent like that exhibited in this issue, it's not too hard to tell why.
Grade: A

Amazing Spider-Man 524 - "All Fall Down"
By J. Michael Straczynski and Mike Deodato, Jr.
Cover by Tony Harris

OK, this isn't so much the final part of the Hydra story as it is an epilogue to it, and a segue into this fall's big Spidey event, "The Other," starting in a couple weeks in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. So we have to judge it by how well it does that, since there's not so much a story as an amalgamation of plotlines getting resolved or moving forward. Ah, the perils of serial storytelling. Why do I want to get into this business again?
The resolution of the plotline with MJ and the paparazzi photog I liked, but the whole thing still feels a bit tacked on, much like the Social Services plotline over in Fantastic Four. I also enjoyed Peter's reaction to Aunt May and Jarvis's relationship, along with MJ's teasing him about it. Moments like those make these two feel like a real couple, and that's very important in a book like this.
The leadup to "The Other," I dunno yet. On the one hand, it's handled very well, with Peter slipping into some serious denial in order to stretch out this brief oasis of happiness as long as he possibly can. Given the bipolar nature of his life, that's no shock. But, geez, JMS really lays the "Peter, you're DYING OMGWTFBBQ" on thick. Yeah, he's sick, we get it. Is there a plot somewhere?
Deodato doesn’t have much to do this issue, but he does it well enough. The long shot of Stark's armory is great, and his MJ is… cute. That's the best word for it, really; she's cute as a little button. You can see why Peter would fall in love with this woman. Well, aside from the legs that go all the way up to…
Placeholder issues like this are always tough to grade on any ordinary critical scale. It's the comic book equivalent of the average John Waters film; it defies critical examination. So, ultimately, I'm left with, was it worth three bucks?
Grade: B-

Fantastic Four 531 - "Many Questions, Some Answered"
By J. Michael Straczynski and Mike McKone

My friend and colleague Typo Lad referred to this comic as "crappy." I will have to disagree. Certainly, it does focus, like JMS's early Spider-Man, on unexplored notions surrounding the team's origin, but like with Spider-Man, the subtle change made is less an earth-shattering "Everything You Know Is Wrong" than a "something else was happening, over here, where no one was paying attention." It doesn't fundamentally change who the FF are and what they do, but it does make you look at them in a new light.
The important contrast, I think, is between the creature (I'm just going to call it "The Scientist") and the FF themselves. They’re heroes; it's not. And that difference, I think, makes all the difference in whether or not Reed will become like this thing. He won't, because he's got his family to ground him, and he's got the courage to face the unknown head-on in a way the Scientist can't.
But enough of that. In between all of that, we've got spot-on characterizations for the Four as they contend with the more immediate threat of the Scientist's former peers. The high adventure of the book comes out in spades here, especially in the knock-em-dead behavior of the Thing. You can't help but love the big orange lug.
This isn't a redefinition of the FF by any stretch of the imagination, but then again, this is a book that doesn't need redefinition, just sufficient imagination and excitement to continue in the grand tradition set forth by Mssrs. Lee and Kirby. So far, it does that.
Grade: B+

Legion of Super-Heroes 10
By Mark Waid and Barry Kitson

Stuff happens quickly in this issue, and it's a credit to Waid that he can move forward at this big a pace while still making the emotional points he needs to with the cast. The Brainiac 5/Cosmic Boy feud does kind of get swept under the rug, but the characters do remain true to themselves in how they approach it, and I'm certain this isn't the end of the subplot, just the end for now as the war story gets swept into high gear.
The big thing here is the finale, how it's built up, and the believability and skill of it all. I can safely say the Waid did his job here, setting up the twin events carefully while not telegraphing things too much, and leaving enough ambiguity to keep suspense. What happens next issue is up for grabs, of course, and everything could get negated by that.
Most of the character work is good (especially the scenes between Brainy and Dream Girl), but there's a plot hole in the scene with Karate Kid and Invisible Kid. While Lyle is the most logical choice to have leaked Cos's "inspection" to Brainy, the whole thing could have been simply avoided by Invisible Kid volunteering to be brainscanned by Saturn Girl. I mean, she's literally right there. If he's innocent (and I believe he is, or why else would Waid spend so much time on the "if not you, then who?" thing), he shouldn't have a problem with it.
Kitson gets to pull out his property damage tools here, ending in an excellent splash page that evokes some of the most classic urban destruction images of our time. You can almost taste the panic in the crowd as Legion HQ comes crumbling down.
The Legion has taken a definite shift with this issue, gearing up for a big finale to the first year's overplot that, if the previous work of this team is any indication, should deliver.
Grade: B+

Invincible 26
By Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley

Well, I guess that answers that question. Make this two consecutive spit-take endings for Invincible.
Mark's reaction on seeing his father again is to be expected, as Kirkman runs his hero through an emotional gamut that accurately enough portrays the feelings of a confused teenager being reunited with the father whose actions he can't forgive, but whose influence and impact on his life he can't deny. It's funny; there were moments where I completely forgot the players here are two near-immortal beings, because they were too busy being a confused son and a repentant but determined father. I can't honestly say I trust everything Nolan's saying here, but I definitely believe how Mark reacts to it, and that's the important part.
I do have to say that Ryan Ottley pulls more than his weight here, bringing his "A" game to Mark's expressions and body language as he deals with the numerous wringers he's strung through this issue. It's the little things, really: a tilt of the head, the length of a panel, the presence or absence of tears. Subdued, but just as important as explosions and silly onomatopoeias.
There's subplotty stuff too, but does it matter? Not really.
"A Different World" is turning out to be nothing like I thought it would be. Instead of a cosmic odyssey, it's a story about a father-and-son reunion. But it’s a darned good one so far.

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