Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In Brief - March 2009

A quick glimpse at what else I've been reading this month...

Daredevil #116 - Return of the King(pin). Not at all what I was expecting, but for the first three quarters of the issue I really didn't care. It was strangely compelling to observe this human side to a character that's long been known as cold, monstrous and impenetrable, but Brubaker's been working on that indirectly since he took over on this series, beginning with the arc surrounding Fisk's wife. I kept reading and hoping it wouldn't end as predictably as I'd imagined it might, and in the end it... did and it didn't. When I closed that back cover, I felt like I'd been listening to a musical arrangement that had built and built and built, and just when it was ready to climax, the whole orchestra quit playing and walked off the stage. Should I burst into applause or awkwardly gather my things and head for the doors? I have no idea where they go from here, but I'll be around to find out. No Murdock appearances this month.

Kingdom Come #2 - Only three months after I went back to revisit chapter one - at this rate I'll finish the entire series in just under a year! The story really lifts off in this issue, and Alex Ross's artwork follows suit. Where the first issue was about hope in the face of terrible adversity, this verse shows us that even the brightest stars have their dark corners. The wheels show signs that they're ready to fall off for Superman and his gang of old Justice Leaguers, the modern generation doesn't seem as enthused about their presence as Supes had imagined, and the return of the heroes has also brought with it the resurrection of their enemies. I was never all that thrilled with the way Kingdom Come depicted Bruce Wayne (I have a hard time imagining Batman reduced to an old man bent over a keyboard, keeping watch over a series of robots) but his role is becoming much more clear to me this time around. I'm also noticing a startling number of similarities to present-day America and its crusade to defend those who never really asked for our help in the first place, which has made the series twice as interesting. So, you mean showing a little muscle and draping ourselves in the red, white and blue isn't enough any more? All right, make with the impervious gulag. All of the best works remain relevant long after the date of their publication. Count Kingdom Come among them.

The Punisher: Frank Castle #68 - That's it, no more threats, I'm done with this series. The writing has transitioned from "going nowhere" to "going nowhere would've been more compelling" and the artwork is more interested in clumps of blood and sailing bullets than cluing the readers in on what's actually supposed to be happening. That's a shame, because on paper this is a great premise - a nameless bad guy injects Castle with a serum that will end his life in six hours, and rather than doing their bidding for the antidote, Frank puts a bullet in the villain's brain and prepares for death by annihilating as many bad guys on his checklist as he can before time runs out. But rather than using that as the spark to ignite a blood bath of heretofore-unseen proportions, Frank's aimlessly wandering around and blaming the serum when he doesn't land on his feet after a fall. Really? That's it? This was one of the most confusing, frustrating, aggravating reads I've endured so far in 2009. And, as if that weren't enough, it's also incredibly stale. I wish they'd canceled the series when Ennis left, because Frank just doesn't seem to have anything left in the tank without him.

Ex Machina Special #4 - This book is really starting to reek of the same problems that plagued Brian K. Vaughan's work on the second half of Y: The Last Man. Maybe I should just start jumping on board for his first three or four storylines, when he does his best work introducing a premise and setting up the major players, then exiting before he can get lost and the plot comes to a screeching halt. Ex Machina hasn't been making forward progress in years, but I keep buying it because I think I see a flicker of hope off in the distance. This concept is so strong, I hate to think the writer doesn't have a finish line in mind, but that's starting to look like it's the case. Again. Either way, it's nice to see the series testing fresh ground on the artistic front. John Paul Leon is nothing like Tony Harris's work on the regular series, but he still feels compatible. He's somewhat inconsistent this month, but when it was working I really liked what I saw. The hype machine would have me believe the seeds are being planted right here for the book's final storyline. In that case, let's hope I missed something because this is some dry shit.

Dark Avengers #3 - They can just go ahead and drop the rest of the team to focus on Osborn at this point, because he's like Atlas carrying the Earth on his shoulders. His opening dialog with the Sentry this month was flawless, and by the end of it I was ready to follow the guy into battle myself. The Sentry as a whole is a personality I'd really grown tired of, and when the book opened in his bedroom I feared the worst. We'd seen this same scene thirty times before, first in New Avengers and later when he joined Mighty Avengers; Big Yellow moping around and using his schizophrenia as a crutch, all the while running around in circles and carefully avoiding any sort of character development. I was actually wishing they'd drop him from the team as a whole because it was becoming clear that he was never going to go anywhere personally. Osborn solved that conundrum in six pages, then went on to win a battle of the egos with Victor Von Freaking Doom, of all people. If it weren't for a particularly bland battle in the second half of the issue and artwork I'm still not totally on board with, this would be getting top marks.

New Avengers #51 - This reads like a lesson in good visual storytelling, with Billy Tan providing a fascinating example of what not to do and Chris Bachalo repeatedly stepping in to show us the way it's supposed to be. Bachalo is close to his old form this month, particularly on the splash pages - his rendition of Dormammu right inside the front cover is breathtaking, and his take on the Cowl midway through is even better. Tan, meanwhile, seems to have replaced Clint Barton's head with a pumpkin and broadened his shoulders so far I'm curious how he fits through a standard doorway. I didn't even recognize Carol Danvers until someone addressed her by name, three or four pages after she'd appeared and begun speaking. This was kind of a filler issue, with a few cute character moments but nothing I'd have been sore about missing. Spider-Man unmasking in front of the team was unexpected, but that kind of lost its impact the first time it was done (and then immediately undone) and within two pages he was bouncing around on a rooftop without it like nothing's wrong. Whaaaat?! I'm thinking about ripping the Billy Tan pages out of this issue and pretending that's the way it's supposed to be read.

Daredevil #117 - An off month from both Michael Lark and Ed Brubaker. Lark's artwork feels excessively simple this month; his lines are thicker and clunkier than usual, and he's missing the emotion that usually characterizes his work. Matt Murdock has almost completely lost touch with reality, taking stupid risks as Daredevil that should've damned him but have instead rolled right off his back. He's fighting a losing battle to keep the wife he doesn't truly want, beating down the middle man with little justification and getting into arguments with the Kingpin's cronies on his front doorstep. Surely the media and the feds haven't abandoned his case so quickly? He feels like a guy who's lashing out in all directions, someone who's about to get burned, but I'm not sure I really like that direction. Matt's been in the dumpster for almost five years now, and while it's fascinating to see how close he can get to rock bottom without breaking, I'm just about ready to see the curtain fall.

Top 10: Season Two Special #1 - This was, hands down, my personal favorite of the ABC titles Alan Moore was creating for Wildstorm at the turn of the millennium. Sadly, if not unexpectedly, it hasn't held up nearly as well now that Moore's loving touch has become a thing of the past. Top 10 still benefits from the fantastic landscape, the giant supporting cast and the skewed perspectives that were established in "Season One," but in another writer's hands it feels hollow. These look like many of the same characters I loved in the first series, they've just been lobotomized. Gone are the inventive superpowered crimes, the colorful police forc e and the heartfelt nods to pop culture in the background. In their place is a single lead character (who, aside from her purple skin, is completely unrecognizable) a watered down courtroom drama and much more blunt, obvious visual puns. This isn't all that bad of a story, but it sure as hell isn't worthy of the name. Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder and this was never as good as I'd remembered.

Wolverine Saga #1 - Freebie I was handed at the checkout counter when I made last week's purchase, I guess intended to fill all the fanboys in just in time for Wolvie's big motion picture later this summer. This is an all-encompassing retelling of every noteworthy moment in Logan's life, and has basically informed me that he's already met every single character in the Marvel Universe, often before they became heroes or villains. It's all text, spiced up with random panels from dozens of memorable issues featuring the character. Nice to have it all collected in one place, but reading it in one sitting, it becomes obvious just how ridiculous, overthought and convoluted his history really is. So he fought in six different wars, fell deeply in love with a busload of lovely ladies and lost/regained his memory weekly for over forty years? And he's only been in-costume since the '90s? After working my way through this, I'm now of the opinion that no further paper needs to be dedicated to the character because every possible storyline involving him has already been told. Some more than once. Cripes.

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