Monday, June 1, 2009

In Brief - May 2009

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

The Avengers: Free Comic Book Day Special - Twice as much fun as any issue of New Avengers has been since the start of the Skrull invasion. Rather than continuing to pussyfoot around the impending confrontation between New Avengers and Dark Avengers that's looking less likely with each passing day, here Bendis throws both teams into a common predicament and forces them to work together. Not without its corny moments (yet another "fastball special"), nor its head-scratchers (why did daddy Wolverine retract his claws before throwing a punch at Daken?) but as self-contained storylines go, this was above and beyond anything I could've expected. It had to make a few sacrifices to fit the page count but still came through as an enticing, coherent story that provided some valuable depth to select members of both teams. Jim Cheung should be the full-time artist for New Avengers; his work here isn't the greatest to ever grace the page, but it's worlds better than anything I've ever seen from Billy Tan. Much better than I was expecting.

Blackest Night #0 - The free comic book day edition. Basically a short conversation between Barry Allen and Hal Jordan over the unmarked grave of Bruce Wayne, remembering and reminiscing about their own shared experiences with death and beyond, which I have to admit might change one's perspective on the grieving process. It occurred to me that perhaps Flash and the Lantern were speaking for their readers in this issue, in that they weren't all that shaken up by the heroic death of their dear friend because they knew it was inevitable he'd be making a return from the grave. So really, they weren't saying goodbye so much as they were wishing him well on his journey. As a long-standing Marvel diehard, I found a few things to dislike about the traditional DC archetypes prevalent in this issue, but unless I'm being overly nitpicky I have to admit I enjoyed the food for thought. The price was certainly right, although Ivan Reis's artwork wasn't doing anything for me.

Daredevil Noir #2 - Maybe it's because I knew what I was walking into this time, but this issue just didn't seem to burn with the same kind of intensity as the debut. Last month set the scenery and jumped right into the machinations without even taking a breath, but this episode is much more lackadaisical and run of the mill. Even the big reveal of Elektra's identity at the end of the issue was kind of a yawner. As eye candy goes, though, Noir is still second to none. Coker's artwork is just as breathtaking in the Kingpin's private study as it is on the rain-soaked streets of Hell's Kitchen. Bullseye next month - could go either way.

Ex Machina #42 - Brian K. Vaughan is keeping a dozen plates spinning on his fingertips within this series, and I haven't the foggiest idea where it's headed. After lounging around for what seemed like an eternity, the whole of this story's cast has finally clicked for me. The only part I'm not really sold on is the debuting arch-nemesis, and that goes beyond my shallower concerns that Bioshock's Big Daddies have already laid claim to his wardrobe. If the big, conclusive battle of this series does wind up being animal vs. android, it's going to take a lot of convincing before I'm ready to look at it as a fair fight. Here's hoping this month's killer rat attack wasn't all the proof we're going to get on that front. Pretty good stuff, with a wonderfully consistent artist in Tony Harris.

Terror Inc: Apocalypse Soon #1 - Man, what happened to this series since the last time I saw it? The first mini was a great balancing act of horror, science fiction, fantasy and gallows humor, and that's a pretty good summary of what's missing here. With a lead character who's lived through the rise and fall of a dozen different empires, there's the potential for a lot of kickass storytelling built right in, but the brief glimpses we're granted this month were terribly shallow and generally useless. As a frothing fanboy of David Lapham's, this really isn't an easy thing for me to say... but he's totally missed the mark here. The jolting change in artists only makes things worse. What a disappointment.

Ultimate Spider-Man #132 - I could overlook Bendis's treatment of Ultimate Hulk in last month's issue because it was surrounded by so much awesomeness. But with a lame central storyline focused on the effects of a flood on Dr. Strange's headquarters, the same can't really be said this time around. What I've loved so much about the ultimate iteration of the Hulk is how he's been handled as a ferocious, unpredictable, violent ball of fury - Millar and Ellis nailed it down in The Ultimates and Ultimate Human, respectively. But in USM he's something else entirely. He's weak-willed, he's generic, he's comic relief. In small doses, I could probably deal with that. As a recurring character with as much page time as the lead, that's not so easy. Yet such strangely inconsistent characterization isn't even exclusive to the Hulk in this issue: Mary Jane acts completely out of character, Kitty Pryde loses her cool under pressure, and now Kong is one of Peter's closest friends? I'm speechless. Here's hoping this was just an off month.

The Walking Dead #61 - Holy crap! Every time I try to stand up and gain my bearings with this series, Kirkman yet again pulls the rug out from under my feet. The man is absolutely ruthless. Like many of the others that came before, this issue is overflowing with moral quandries, harsh realities and terrifying moments of foreshadowing. I can't believe what went down this month, and from any indications that's just the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, on the artistic front, Charlie Adlard was tasked with some seriously difficult emotional moments and performed heroically. Without exception, he nailed every last expression. Walking Dead is quickly lumbering to the top of my monthly checklist. Another fan-fuckin-tastic issue.

The Ultimates: Volume 1 - An old favorite that I threw into my backpack before climbing on a plane. I wanted to open it up again just to be sure it was actually as good as I remembered it being the first time. Guess what? It was even better. This is an examination of precisely how a team of government-endorsed, frighteningly powerful superhumans would more than likely carry themselves under the harsh spotlight of the real world. That they're also mind-bogglingly deep, complex, often bone-chillingly human characters just makes for an extra treat. And this is just the getting-to-know-you chapter. It doesn't really start to hit the fan for a few more issues! An all-time classic that I never should've even thought to question, both from a writing perspective and an artistic one. My only qualm is that everything else I was reading at the time paled in comparison and was probably knocked down a few unjust pegs as a direct result. Read this now, even if you've already read it a dozen times before. Love it.

New Avengers #53 - It just keeps getting worse and worse. The cavalcade of nobodies continues this month, as the crew lands in New Orleans just in time to throw down with a few demonic also-rans. If it weren't for a few great one-liners from Spider-Man, this would've been a complete waste of my time. I don't care about Brother Voodoo, I don't care about Daimon Hellstrom, I don't care about Doctor Strange and I'm really falling out of love with the Cowl since he's taken on this extra demonic personality. In stark contrast to the Avengers FCBD Special, this might just be the slowest moving, least interesting direction The Avengers has ever taken, and Tan's artwork is about as bad as it gets. One more month like this and I'm outta here.

Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #6 - Wow, did this mini-series taper off. Damon Lindelof's writing is extremely inventive in concept, but in execution it's beginning to struggle. This issue, for example, Logan gets through the airport without setting off the metal detectors by dropping a grenade into an unsuspecting traveler's briefcase. As security takes the man to the ground, Wolverine slips by unnoticed and quips "Once they figure out the grenade's made outta soap, they'll let him go." So why did it set off their alarms then? Such quandries and incredible coincidences plague this issue, holding it back from becoming the big, conclusive answer everyone expected (and certainly intended) it to be. What's more, Lindelof refuses to stop reminding us of the one memorable moment of the entire mini, the unforgettable shot of the Hulk tearing Logan in half at the waist. I don't think an issue of this series went by without a flashback or offhand remark about that incident, and by now it's just getting in the way. "Hey, I tore you in half, remember?" "Why yes, I certainly do remember that time, when you tore me in half." We remember too! Get on with it! This wasn't good, it wasn't bad, it just was. After the shocking, full-speed first issue, UWvH has just coasted on fumes the rest of the way to the finish line.

Wolverine #72 - After missing a few chapters, I very nearly let this storyline slip away. I'm glad I didn't. Millar's warped, twisted rendition of a victorious Red Skull is gorgeous: one part Cobra Commander, two parts Skeletor, fifty percent Megatron. He's drunk with power, reckless, entirely unpredictable and utterly fascinating. This isn't the best writing of Mark Millar's career - in fact, it's surprisingly sloppy and one-dimensional - but this particular chapter was so much fun that I'm willing to let it slide. The big payoff that each issue has been building towards finally arrives this month, but after all that came before it just comes off as anticlimactic, ending the chapter on a flat note. McNiven's artwork is showing a bit of wear and tear, clearly rushing in a few instances just to finish the damned thing off, but he still brings the goods. A profanely beautiful issue that succeeds almost entirely on the back of its villain. Pity it couldn't have ended right here.

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