Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ultimate Spider-Man #122

It's hard to believe Ultimate Spider-Man is nearing the buck-and-a-quarter mark. Perhaps even more mystifying is that it's not only still carrying on, but doing so with renewed vigor. The last six months of USM have been among the best in the book's lifespan, and have served as an excellent launch pad for new penciler Stuart Immonen's run with the character.

Part of what I've loved about these recent issues is their renewed interest in the characters behind the masks. For a while, the series had shifted its focus more towards outrageous adventures and interactions with just about every hero and/or villain who caught writer Brian Michael Bendis's fancy. He'd lost sight of Peter's civilian identity, a big part of what made the story connect in the first place, and it didn't look like he'd be going back. For a time, I seriously considered dropping the book. Now, I'm glad I didn't make that mistake – this issue is just the latest installment in USM's about-face, its return to what made it so great at its outset.

Bendis has such a firm understanding of these characters that it's hard to imagine anyone else ever taking over. Under another writer's watch, the carefree moments between Pete and his buddies that are scattered throughout each issue would feel dangerously cheesy and happy-go-lucky. With Bendis in charge, they're my favorite parts of the story. His cast is comprised almost entirely of high schoolers, and they speak and act as such. What's more, they've all shown tremendous growth as individuals from the first issue up to today. Ultimate Spider-Man's cast is among the deepest in any current mainstream book, and Bendis knows precisely when to bring back an old face and cycle out a character ready for a break. This month, for instance, he's brought perennial punching bag The Shocker out of retirement to teach Peter a lesson about complacency, and the message is loud and clear. After a hundred twenty five issues, Parker may have a firm grasp of his powers and his spot in the pecking order, but he should never take anyone lightly. Bendis is still at the top of his game, and it doesn't look like he'll be coming down any time soon.

And I could say exactly the same thing about Stuart Immonen. It's a real rarity when two top-level talents come together on the same book and actually serve to push each other to new heights, (if anything, the pressure seems to bring the worst out of those kind of collaborations) but that's clearly becoming the case here. Immonen is absolutely on fire in this issue, whether he's working with Peter teasing MJ on the streets of New York or the Shocker pummeling a chained-up Spider man in a dark, gritty industrial warehouse. This is gorgeous work, providing detail where necessary while retaining a clean, stylized overall appearance. Stuart gives each character their own face, and has no problem painting them with appropriate emotions without distorting their identity. He may be one of my favorite artists working today, and issue 122 is some of the best work he's put out to date.

Some of USM's best stories have been self-contained, and this is yet another shining example. It goes in a rich, unexpected direction, grants the reader valuable insight into a handful of central characters, and leaves a big impression. What more can I say? If you aren't reading this yet, you should correct that oversight immediately. Buy it and enjoy the greatness of this run while it lasts.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9.5

Immortal Iron Fist #15

Over the years, sixty-six men and women have lived with the legacy of the Iron Fist, of which Danny Rand is naturally the most recent. But what of those who came before, of their untold exploits and adventures? Well, for that, we've got Immortal Iron Fist, an ongoing document of the preceding sixty-five and the paths they tread during their years as the reigning champions of K'un L'un.

This time, we're following the story of Bei Bang-Wen, who held the mantle for much of the mid-19th century. While many of his predecessors (and successors, for that matter) have relied on their powers to handle their problems physically, Bang-Wen was unique in that he was a more intellectual man, choosing to consider his actions at length before diving into the fray. The elder Iron Fist thinks highly of himself, particularly of his strategies in combat, and when he's finally defeated in a large-scale battle, that burden is extremely difficult for him to come to terms with. In Bang-Wen, writer Matt Fraction has brought to life a tragic character, unexpectedly stripped of his pride but not his life, which is in his mind twice as bad as a dishonorable death.

This story is fascinating because it's more than just a look back at a character with identical powers to today's Iron Fist, swinging for the fences and KO'ing all the bad guys. In truth, Bang-Wen spends a great bulk of the issue isolated from his powers, which gives the reader a great chance to understand the personality and motivations behind such actions. It's easy to use a character's powers as a crutch, a device to drive the story in the place of natural development and good storytelling. In Immortal Iron Fist #15, Fraction proves that he can still spin a good yarn even without the aid of a blazing yellow fist and a killer flying kick.

Khari Evans does a fine job of translating the mood and tone of Fraction's story to the page. I've seen Evans on several mid-level books at Marvel recently, and he seems to tailor his style ever so slightly to match the story he's telling. Here, his work takes on an expressive, animation-influenced quality that regularly jumps right off the page. When Bang-Wen and an ally sprint down a steep embankment to escape a fiery explosion, the haste and desperation of their actions are immediately evident, even though they're illustrated as simple silhouettes. Evans can do a lot with a minimum of linework, and this issue is his playground to do just that.

It's hard to think of this issue as a part of the Iron Fist mythos, which is a good thing. It opens up a lot of fresh potential, on which writer Matt Fraction capitalizes. This reads like an old Chinese fantasy, for better and for worse, and that's not something you'll typically find on the shelves from a major publisher. While it does occasionally get caught up in a bit more narration than it really needs, the basic plot is easy to follow and entertaining. Although it's a continuation of an earlier story, I found the issue easy to jump into as a fresh reader and enjoyable from start to finish. It's not perfect, but it's worth borrowing at the very least, with a serious consideration towards buying.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #2

Radical Comics' Hercules is a much more hard-edged, gritty take on the character than you might expect. Where Marvel or DC's renditions focus on taking the noble essences of the character and applying them to a smiling, strutting, superheroic face, Radical's story is more of a period piece with a firm concentration on the mythical warrior's dark side. After completing his legendary twelve tasks, this Hercules felt scorned by both the heavens and Earth alike, quickly learning that he could only find solace in bloody conflict. Joining up with six like-minded souls, Herc became a warrior for hire… but now that he's been asked to train an entire army to fight in his own legendary ways, the length of his fall from grace is quickly becoming apparent.

I like this fresh take on the character, who I suppose I've always felt has been something of a joke in mainstream comics. Where his Marvel cousin is fighting alongside the Avengers in an ongoing struggle to keep the world safe, this Herc is guiltlessly slaughtering thousands of men, women and children under the haze of an all-out war. He wastes no time in establishing himself as one not to be trifled with, and his grim outlook on life is almost enough to distract readers from the fact that he's wearing a freaking lion for a hat. Even that goofy bit of personalization isn't really that tough to swallow, I guess, when you consider the timeframe of this tale (some time in the middle ages) and his Marvel counterpart's penchant for wearing sandals and a skirt in modern times. When chain mail was still in fashion and you could walk through town bearing a sword without drawing attention to yourself, flaunting the king of the jungle on your head was probably a pretty bold statement.

While writer Steve Moore borrows heavily from Frank Miller's 300 in setting this story's tone, its content is original enough to confine such conspicuous similarities to the back of the reader's mind, if anywhere. Though his dialog is excessively lengthy and in serious need of an editor's touch, Moore keeps the plot moving at a decent clip, which gives the impression that there's more substance here than there really is. He manages to cram three issues' worth of story into a single book, and that means this is slow, but plot-rich, reading. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of new characters with confusing names that were thrust at me in this issue, especially since about half of them seemed to be inherently dispensable. Combined with huge amounts of shoddy dialog, that does take a toll on the reader.

Admira Wijaya's accompanying artwork is generally sound, but benefits greatly from the painterly colors provided by Imaginary Friends Studios and Sixth Creation. Wijaya is asked to do so much with so little space that I doubt anyone could've truly succeeded in his position, but he still manages to make a fairly good, if unremarkable, showing. When the skies open up late in the issue and flood the battlefield with rain, the coloring really takes center stage and gives the book its only truly impressive visual showcase, while the actual layouts remain largely dull and unmotivated.

There was a lot to like about Hercules: The Thracian Wars, but a lot to dislike, as well. Its penchant for flashbacks would've made for a nice aside or two, if it didn't hand them out like candy at every turn. Without so many dialog boxes muddying it up, the artwork may have been able to stand tall on its own. And, as a ten issue series, the story may have been able to let up long enough to give its readers a chance to stop and breathe between panels. As is, this is too much story for this small of a package. If you're looking for a lot of bang for your buck, this will definitely deliver, but if your tastes are more for a cohesive, legible bit of entertainment, you may be disappointed. It's worth a flip through, but could have easily merited a higher score with some selective edits.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

Monday, May 19, 2008

X-Men: Divided We Stand #2

A collection of character-specific short stories, Divided We Stand follows the exploits and adventures of a handful of former X-Men in the days following the group's disbandment. Beast, Magik, Havok, Forge, Moonstar and Surge capture the spotlight for just a few pages each in this double-sized anthology that examines the after-effects of Charles Xavier's apparent death and the overwhelming concept of facing the world alone as a mutant.

Mike Carey and Scot Eaton open the issue with "Lights Out," a private peek at Hank McCoy's return to the site of Xavier Mansion following its destruction. While I've been critical of Carey's writing elsewhere in the X-Men universe, this is a complete about-face from that work… it's the kind of story he should've been writing all along. His take on the Beast is so captivatingly emotional that I was almost teary-eyed right alongside the blue furry scientist. While Hank reflects on the ruins of the building he spent the vast majority of his life assembling, Carey grants the reader a rare peek into the more mundane aspects of life in the mansion. As Beast mourns the loss of the simple classroom block he walked past every morning, we begin to understand a bit more about what life was like on a quiet day on campus. For this task, Scot Eaton's rich, elaborate artwork makes a great partner. His attention to detail translates the concepts that Carey had brainstormed, bringing them to life almost effortlessly. For a story so focused on introspection and old memories, there's an awful lot for the artist to visualize here, and Eaton performs magnificently.

It's a pity that C.B. Cebulski and David Yardin's tale couldn't follow up with something along the same lines. In "Planting Seeds," the pair focuses on Illyana Rasputin, formerly known as Magik, sister to Colossus and an early victim of the Legacy Virus. Her story rambles on without point or purpose for six aimless pages before ending cryptically; promising a follow-up that I hope never comes to pass. It's an internal monologue, spoken aloud in Illyana's own little world, and it achieves little more than to remind us of the character's existence.

Andy Schmidt and Frazer Irving follow that with "The Hole," which shifts the focus to Havok, and his adventures outside the Earth's orbit. Imprisoned deep in an alien ocean after fighting a losing battle against his brother Vulcan, Alex is on the verge of madness. It's a great premise for what promises to be an interesting new direction for the character, but Schmidt squanders the opportunity. Rather than examining Havok's new internal struggles, the whole of the story is wasted on a brief conversation between captor and captive, as Vulcan phones his bro up and basically fills him in on the plot points of Messiah Complex. It's a great setup, but never really gets a chance to get rolling, proving to be little more than a waste of some beautiful painted artwork.

Forge then takes the spotlight in Duane Swierczynski and Chris Burnham's "Idee Fixe." Burnham's art is rotten, weak in both concept and execution, and often reads like fan fiction. His take on Forge has zero depth, and wouldn't even be identifiable without the goatee and metallic limbs. At the beginning of the story, his brain lies half-exposed through his scalp, but only moments later he's grown a full head of hair and resumed battle without any further explanation. Swierczynski's storytelling isn't much better. Forge floats aimlessly from one room to the next, gets into a fight, loses the fight, regains consciousness and then resumes floating. In eight pages, about all I got out of this was "Forge likes to keep busy, and he doesn't like Bishop any more." Glorious.

Finally, Surge and Moonstar are the subjects for C.B. Cebulski and David Lafuente's "The Sun Also Sets." As leader of the New X-Men, Surge has become a more assertive individual, but constantly struggles with the burdens that come along with her position. Here, she seeks out Moonstar for help dealing with the stress of that position, and ultimately gets little more than a feel-good pep talk out of it. Cebulski's heart is in the right place here, but so much of the story is wasted on hyperbole that I quickly found myself skimming for anything of substance. David Lafuente's manga-style visuals serve to give the tale an appropriate visual flair, but can only do so much with what they're given to work with.

With the exception of Mike Carey and Scot Eaton's Beast story, Divided We Stand #2 is little more than a collection of throwaway tales featuring somewhat-familiar faces. With that one notable exception, none of these characters have been a member of the primary X-Men recently, and that gives the book a second-tier perception that it never manages to shed. These stories are all too short to really deliver anything of merit, but I doubt they'd be any more worthy of your attention if they were twice as long. Flip through this for the first story, but set it back on the shelves when you reach its conclusion. There's nothing really worth your time in the pages that follow.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3

Wolverine Origins #25

Ever wondered if Deadpool had the wherewithal to take down a big-time player like Wolverine in a straight-up brawl? Well, even if you didn't, the answer is... yes, he does. Since a shadowy figure hired the crimson-clad mercenary to take Logan out a few months back, the two have been engaged in a knock down drag-out that's stretched from one side of San Francisco to the other. When the dust settled, Deadpool stood victorious... or rather, potentially so. On the verge of victory, the assassin strapped Logan with a variety of weights, suspended above a tank of water. But before he could pull the lever and cement his victory, Daken, Wolverine's crazed son, assaulted the merc with a mouth. Evidently growing impatient, Daken had swooped in, lopped off one of the mercenary's hands and dumped his father into the drink personally.

If the details of that introduction didn't give it away, Daniel Way's storytelling is pretty complex. Oddly so, considering at the end of the day this issue boils down to little more than a superpowered orgy of violence and a series of bad puns. But while Way's writing is unwieldy in concept, its execution is actually very light, quick reading... and that makes for an odd combination. While the writer's knack for brevity allows the fight scenes to really bounce around the page, it also makes the story's big, dramatic revelations very difficult to follow. That latter weakness is really evident at the end of the issue, in particular. Way hits his readers with half a dozen rapid-fire flashbacks at the peak of the issue's physical conflict, which results in a jarring, disorienting conclusion. It's like sitting in the passenger seat while the driver steers his car full-speed into a brick wall.

The story also suffers from the physical immunity of its cast. Between Wolverine, Daken and Deadpool, you've got three guys who seemingly cannot be killed, and that removes a lot of the drama from the issue's bloody fistfights. If Deadpool can lose a hand and keep right on battling without missing a beat, why should any of his foes' physical threats mean anything at all? There's some great action here, but it feels empty because in the back of your mind, you know that nothing irreversible can happen to anyone involved.

Artist Steve Dillon is still plugging away at Origins, the book he helped launch just over two years ago, and continues to be a weird fit for mainstream superheroics. I've been a fan of Dillon's work since he emerged with Garth Ennis on Hellblazer and later Preacher, but his style just isn't suited to the torn spandex and rippling muscles of a regular Marvel monthly. Dillon's greatest strength is his ability to bring emotion and personality to his characters, and on that front he doesn't disappoint here. When Logan faces off with his son at the issue's climax, you can read the bittersweet heartache on the old man's face. Dillon's fantastic at exploring an average person's reactions to spectacular circumstances, but when he's handed a set of emotionless, cold-blooded killers, that job becomes much more difficult. Marvel is misusing this artistic talent by trying to crowd him into a Wolverine book, when he's much better suited to a more relatable, pedestrian story.

Daniel Way's clash between father and son would've been an enjoyable read without the endless list of shocking revelations that he tried to tack onto its conclusion. He's excellent at dictating a fast-paced action sequence, but far too often overreaches his own boundaries in trying to introduce an unnecessary extra level to his storytelling. As an all-out battle between father, son and hired killer, this would've made for a quick, entertaining fluff piece. As that same battle, crammed together with a set of tangled, interwoven back-stories, it becomes something less. Dillon and Way are two pieces of quality talent who don't feel at home on this book, which is bizarre because they're the team that launched it. Flip through this, if just to enjoy the action scenes, but try to avoid reading too much into those last few pages.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5

Monday, May 12, 2008

X-Men: Legacy #211

This must be the sixth or seventh time that Professor X has miraculously avoided certain death. Hell, it's not even the first time he's been shot in the freaking head. Sure, sure, he's the brightest mutant mind in the galaxy, the most gifted telepath of all time, I get all that… but even a feline would've surely run out of lives by now.

OK, gripe session over. Yes, Xavier has once again survived an assassin's bullet. After taking a blast to the dome, the founder of the X-Men was revived and reconstructed by Exodus, but he's still missing big chunks of his memory. Removed from his students, Xavier now searches for a role to play in the tumultuous new mutant landscape.

This issue skips around. A lot. Mike Carey takes readers on a journey through the past, the present and even the hypothetical future, but never seems capable of reigning things in before they spiral back out of control. Xavier is potentially one of the Marvel Universe's most intriguing characters, but he's been through so many complicated, unfulfilling adventures and changes over the years that I don't think anyone really knows who he's supposed to be any more. Especially now that his memory's been fragmented, the Professor is an incomprehensible personality, unsure of who he is, where he's been or what he's doing… and that doesn't make for easy reading.

That isn't to say it's all bad. Carey has a few unique ideas, such as Xavier's use of telepathy to control of a flock of pigeons, but the writing focuses so resiliently on this empty quest to redefine the man's history that such concepts are cast aside almost before they've been executed. Armed with the right storyline, Mike Carey could make a great match for this series… but this isn't the right storyline, and it's costing him. Reading this issue was a chore, like the search for a needle in a haystack. Underneath it all, there are some great concepts and ideas, but they're so buried amongst the excess that it's questionable whether they're even worth uncovering.

Scot Eaton is your primary artist this month, with occasional relief from longtime X-Men support artist Brandon Peterson. Eaton's work is technically sound, if not particularly exciting. When the material gets a bit more complicated, as it does for a time at the issue's outset, Eaton's work becomes very tough to navigate. He's struggling with some complex themes, (primarily Charles's dreams and shattered memories) and he isn't winning the battle. This stuff is impossible to read and even tougher to decipher. When Peterson takes over during specific flashbacks, the book's identity becomes much more clear – he manages to work a little more emotion and appeal into the same kind of scenes that gave Eaton fits. Peterson's work is clearly several steps above his counterpart, but he's never trusted with more than a page or two at a time, and even that is just conversation, not action. Why give the dull scenes to the good artist and the more exciting scenes to the bad one...?

I can't recommend you give this a second glance. The writing is plodding and dull, and the artwork generally follows suit. If you're a long-time reader, this issue accomplishes exactly nothing, because it's mostly spent treading over old territory, and if you're a new reader you'll be immediately turned away by the complexity of those age-old stories. Skip it no matter what your experience with the mutant squad may be. It's just not worth the struggle.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2

Wolverine: The Amazing Immortal Man & Other Bloody Tales

I'm sure you've seen the title of this issue and rolled your eyes just like I did. Another book focused on Wolverine? What, the twenty other regular monthly appearances weren't enough for Marvel's most over-used character? Well, calm those furies for at least a moment, because The Amazing Immortal Man and Other Bloody Tales isn't playing the same game as its peers. Where each of the Canucklehead's other regular monthly appearances focus on the character's straightforward superheroic adventures, Immortal Man writer David Lapham instead explores the concepts that made Wolverine so compelling a character in the first place.

There's no showdown with Sabretooth at the end of this issue, no battle with ninjas in ancient Japan or jarring revelations about Logan's forgotten ancestors. Instead, the double-sized issue features a trio of short stories that take the character in very different directions. While he does occasionally have his faults, the two universal consistencies in David Lapham's work are his strong characters and his imaginative plots. Both are evident in full force in Immortal Man. Under his watch, Logan is more than a man… he's a force of nature. Is he easily misled? Sure. He's never been portrayed as a genius, but he's also never been seen as someone to be trifled with. Wolverine's greatest stories have all come when he's been deeply betrayed, his blood boiling with a thirst for revenge. Lapham's best work has come when he can merely set the stage, nudge the first domino and document the reaction. They make a great match.

The majority of this issue's narrative is through the eyes of the observers. Logan himself, who's seen as everything from a freak show to an inspiration by the time the issue draws to a close, barely even gets a speaking role. While the book's three stories have little in common as far as plot points are concerned, they do share a common premise: an examination of the impact a chance encounter with Logan has on the lives of otherwise-ordinary people. That's something that I've discovered is easy to forget – while the concept of a short, hairy, impervious man with razors embedded in his forearms may have lost some of its impact on readers after years of over-saturation, it should still come as something of a surprise to the common denizens of the Marvel Universe. Seeing something like that in print is entirely different from seeing it out on the streets, and an encounter with somebody like Logan should certainly have a profound effect on an individual.

The accompanying artwork is about as vastly different from one story to the next as I can imagine, but none of it is really all that good. The first chapter is probably the strongest of the three in this regard: Johnny Timmons's thick, gestural style is minimal, but effective and matches the mood and the setting of the story in the mid '30s. Lapham himself handles the artwork for the more outlandish second chapter, displaying several peaks and valleys despite the story's relatively short length. It's not his finest work by any means, but it's good enough, especially when contrasted immediately by Kelly Goodine's mildly clich├ęd work in the closing chapter. Goodine's work is stiff and over-detailed, and his Logan would be unrecognizable without that trademark hairstyle.

This is a tough sell. The artwork is barely worth mentioning, and while I applaud Marvel's decision to give David Lapham the freedom to do whatever he wants within this issue, some of the material is in desperate need of an editor's heavy touch. The only story really worth your time is the first, and even though that tale runs a mere eleven pages, I don't think it would benefit from any further elaboration. Lapham is a genius, but sometimes he's a mad genius, and this isn't his best showing. Flip through it but don't do much more.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

Captain Britain and MI:13 #1

What, you thought Secret Invasion was limited to the shores of the United States? No, the Skrulls haven't forgotten about life overseas, as evidenced by Captain Britain and MI:13's activities in this mini-series. It seems that one particularly inventive Skrull has been a member of the British intelligence agency for years, usually taking the form of John Lennon, of all people. I guess I'd be a lot less inclined to distrust the guy who sang "Imagine" than, say, one of the Spice Girls, so the disguise makes sense. This Skrull, though, is one of the good guys. He's been open about his origins since day one, and is working from within to help reveal additional, less-forthcoming shape shifters operating inside of the agency.

Writer Paul Cornell uses this series as a sort of roll call for British superheroes, of which there admittedly aren't many. As one on-scene paramedic even quips, "I thought they'd go after the States! They've got all the bloody super heroes!" Sure, the primary focus may be on the U.S. and the glut of costumed heroes active on those shores, but if this Skrull invasion is to be truly taken as a legitimate pass at world domination, the story needs an overseas perspective. I can't think of a better focal point for the struggles in Europe than MI:13, the latest secret British agency to try and unite every local superhuman under a single, unified flag.

Cornell's writing is impressive - intelligent but concise, with a healthy dose of good humor. While they may be impaling Skrulls or staggering through the ruptured streets of London, the heroes can still break the ice with a snide remark that doesn't feel forced or in bad taste. There's a lot of gore in this issue, which may be my sole complaint, but even that is kept to a few specific, important moments. Cornell doesn't want you to take these little victories lightly, but he also doesn't want his heroes coming across as bloodthirsty savages. Somehow, he manages to accomplish both goals.

Leonard Kirk provides this issue with some fantastic artwork, finely detailed without getting overly complicated. While he does show a tendency to lose interest during the conversational scenes, the majority of the issue provides him with enough action to keep that from becoming a real problem. As each British hero is introduced to readers, they're granted a big, impressive splash page, and Kirk takes full advantage. I've never really cared much for Captain Britain or Spitfire, but their appearances here are so visually impressive that I can't help but take an interest in their activities throughout the story. He gives every character a large helping of personality, no matter how small their part in the story, (the expression on the Wasp / Thor / Iron Man Skrull's face after the death of his partner in crime is priceless) and displays a great knack for personally driving the reader's emotions. When I was supposed to be impressed, shocked or horrified, I was. And I haven't even mentioned his exquisite backgrounds… if he can work on delivering a touch more consistency, Leonard Kirk stands to be a huge name in the industry.

Captain Britain and MI:13 was a very nice surprise, and actually proved to be a more interesting, character-driven read than the primary Secret Invasion mini-series. Prior to this issue, I had very little interest in these characters, their situation or how it tied into the larger story. Now, having finished the first issue, I'm checking my calendar to see when I can expect the follow-up. Despite a few very minor qualms, I found both the writing and the artwork top notch. Buy it and I'm sure you'll find the same. This is sure to be a great, albeit overlooked, counterpart to the Invasion.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9