Yeah, I’m a little behind again, but one small week and one big week combine together so nicely. Lots of good books over the last few weeks, including a return of a favorite series, and an interesting new series. Here we go…
PULL LIST 08-06 & 08-13-08
- Criminal #4
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer #17
- Final Crisis #3
- Invincible Iron Man #4
- Ultimate Origins #3
- Secret Invasion #5
- Secret Invasion: X-men #1
- Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #2
- Batman #679
- Chuck #3
- Zorro #6
- Welcome to Hoxford #1
- Atomic Robo: The Dogs of War #1
Starting out this week, we get one of my favorite series, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal. This issue starts a new arc, dealing with Jacob, who it turns out we met before in one of the previous stories. He’s the creator of a comic strip that has shown up in the book before, but he also has a past as a counterfeiter. His life kind of sucks; he has crippled legs, he suffers from insomnia, he’s very isolated, but all that changes when he’s pulled into a violent exchange. This is a set up issue for the rest of the arc, so there’s not a lot of action here, but Brubaker brings his usual skill to the story. It’s hard to talk about this series when everything is so consistently good. I would like to highlight the coloring by Val Staples in this issue. The use of color in this issue is very effective in showing the characters emotions, and I thought it was really well done. If you’ve been looking for a good time to check out this series, give this issue a shot. If you like good crime drama, this is the book for you. —5 out of 5
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #17
First off, I would like to thank Joss Whedon for bringing in Karl Moline to handle the art on this current story. Not only does it make sense for him to draw this arc, seeing as how it guest-stars Fray, who Moline drew before, but it’s just a nice change of pace. His art is a breath of fresh air compared to the regular artist on this series, and I’d be more than happy if he was the regular artist from here on out. As for the story, it’s hard to say. I definitely need to go back and read the “Fray” series again, because I can remember the general details, but forgot the character had a vampire brother, and that is important to know in this issue. I did find the speech pattern that Fray and Buffy use to not be unreadable, but still more hassle to read than it’s worth. And as for the big reveal on the last page, I didn’t find it all that surprising. I have to admit to myself, that I’m not really enjoying this series as much as I want to be. I wish I liked it more, but I just can’t ever seem to get into it. It may be time to drop this one. The art on this one is an improvement, but the story is just kind of dragging along, so I’m giving this a —3 out of 5.
Final Crisis #3
With this issue I find myself reconciled to the fact that I’m in for the whole series. I still can’t really say if this is any good or not, but I’ve reached the point where I have to see how it ends. This is a big issue for the series as the big thrust behind the whole plot is revealed, and a lot of shit goes down. The ending is not really a surprise if you have the Wonder Woman cover, but it’s still comes as a bit of a shock, and I want to see how things got to be like this and how the whole thing gets resolved. My feelings about the series are still mixed though. Fans of Grant Morrison will eat this stuff up, but readers who dislike his work won’t find anything to change their minds. I have to give him credit for taking a lot of stories from the last few years of DC continuity and weaving them into his grand epic. Everything from 52, to Checkmate, to Battle for Bludhaven, even old JSA stories get used here, so if you’ve been following a lot of DC’s output, you should have no trouble following along. More casual fans may have more of a problem following along, and I have to say, this is another massive event that is meant for regular readers, not for more casual fans. The art by J.G. Jones, while not as clean as the first two issues, is still pleasing enough, and he gets some good moments to draw, not the least of which is the end sequence. The story has done it’s job of getting me interested enough to pick up the rest, and I’m hoping that the end gets me excited enough to check out some more DC titles, but I’m still having trouble deciding if this is actually good or not. Only time will tell, so I’m giving it a —3 out of 5.
Invincible Iron Man #4
This series had a few strikes against when the first issue came out; one, I’m not a big fan of writer Matt Fraction’s Marvel work. It just never felt to me like it had the same spark as his creator owned work, and I just couldn’t get into it. The other strike was that I’ve never been a really big fan of Iron Man as a character. Something about the character has never really interested me, so I’ve never really checked out one of his series for an extended time. The first four issues of this series have got me excited enough to add the title to my pull list, and I hope the momentum can keep going past the first story. Fraction has created an exciting story with crazy technology, interesting characters, and crisp dialog. I’m really enjoying the interaction between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and the relationship takes an interesting turn this issue. The issue itself is more of a downtime issue, as Fraction sets up all the pieces for the end of the arc, so there’s not much going on here, but he really focuses on the characters. The thing that really brings it all together for me is the art by Salvador Larocca. His art can tend to be a bit static, and his characters can be very stiff, but there’s something about this style that appeals to me. It’s nice, bright super-hero art and its fun to look at. Fans of the Iron Man movie will find a lot to enjoy as well, as the story is kind of off in its own little world and doesn’t tie into the big Marvel event of the moment. There’s a lot to recommend about this series, and this issue gets —4 out of 5.
Ultimate Origins #3
Did we really need this series? I was reading this issue, and by about halfway through, I started skimming it because I was just bored to tears. This issue goes into the back story of how Professor Xavier and Magneto first met, and what happened when they first came to the Savage Land. My problem is that this is all info that has been shown before, and if it hasn’t been, it’s because the events don’t matter. I can’t even recommend the art on this one, because while Butch Guice usually does good work, here his figures are all over the place, and there are a lot of missing details. Three issues in, and I’m having problems seeing what the point of this series is, and I wish I was enjoying it more. Just wait for the trade if you’re an Ultimate completist. —2 out of 5
Secret Invasion #5
Now this is what I’m taking about! Consider me back on board the Secret Invasion train after this issue and some of the tie-in issues that came out last week. We finally get some forward plot movement and we see the heroes turn it around and start kicking some ass. We get a great scene with Norman Osbourne dealing with Captain Marvel, which I hope pays off in the main series and isn’t relegated to a Thunderbolts tie-in. Then we get a nice scene where the Skrulls make their presence and agenda known to the whole world. Next we get some moments with Nick Fury and his growing army, although I’d like to see how it works with the story going on in the Runaways/Young Avengers mini (more on that later). Then we still have room for Maria Hill to prove she’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent you don’t want to mess with, the return of Mr. Fantastic, and Hawkeye getting seriously pissed off. It all adds up to a great issue with a bunch of moments that made me want to stand up and cheer. I love the parts of stories where the downtrodden heroes turn things around, and that’s exactly what this issue was. I’m still worried that Brian Bendis can pull all the threads together in the last three issues and give us a satisfying conclusion, but I’ve got more hope now that he can. —4 out of 5
Secret Invasion: X-men #1
I was going to limit the number of Secret Invasion tie-in miniseries that I bought, but I had to pick this one up on the strength of Cary Nord’s pencils, and he does not disappoint. The story is fairly standard; The Skrulls are invading San Francisco, new home of the X-men, and naturally, the X-men tangle with them. There’s some stuff about the Skrulls religion, and that gets connected to Nightcrawler, who is the most religious of the X-men, but really it’s just an excuse for an extended fight scene, and this plays into Nord’s strength. He is a great action storyteller, and he turns in some great work with this issue. Not a vital story in the larger picture of the Secret Invasion, but lots of fun, so maybe just pick up the trade on this one. Definitely one to look for though so it gets a —4 out of 5.
Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #2
Rounding out my Secret Invasion purchases for the week, we get the second issue of this mini, which I had to pick up, not just because I’m a Runaways and Young Avengers fan, but also because I love the work of artist Takeshi Miyazawa. Again, I’m glad I picked this one up, and not just for the art, which is great, but also for the story which does play more of a role in the larger Secret Invasion story. Since members of both the Runaways and the Young Avengers have ties to the Skrulls, it makes sense that they have a role to play here. The Skrull invaders are looking to kill Hulkling of the Young Avengers, since he is a half Skrull/half Kree destined to unite the Skrull Empire, and the invaders don’t want him interfering in the plan. Xavin of the Runaways is a Skrull himself, but not one of the invaders, and he has decided to protect Hulkling at any cost, so in this issue we get a nice chase sequence of the two teams escaping from a bunch of Skrulls. Lots of good action in the issue, and it’s all told expertly by Chris Yost, who really gets both sets of characters, and doesn’t lose focus with so many characters running around. Miyazawa has experience drawing the Runaways, but also turns in some great work with the Young Avengers, making them look like actual teenagers and not just small adults. Like the X-men tie-in, this is a fun story that I don’t feel like I’m getting cheated into reading. As with the other issues, this gets a —4 out of 5.
Moving on to non Secret Invasion books, we come to the fourth part of the “Batman R.I.P.” story, and after feeling like I had figured out the story last issue, I’m right back to being confused with this one. Maybe it’s my fault for not picking up Grant Morrison’s entire run, and that’s why I can’t follow this. Maybe it’s just that I’m not that invested in Batman, and I don’t care what happens to him. Maybe the story is just a big mash up of random ideas and there’s no real point to it. I know Morrison is capable of writing good material, and other people seem to be enjoying this, but I’m just lost. I should just save myself the headache and drop this one. It’s probably better than I think it is, but I’m giving it a —2 out of 5.
I don’t know if I reviewed the first few issues of this series, but it deserves mention as one of the best minis I’ve read this year. Now, that said, I’m a HUGE fan of the show, and I’m in the ideal target audience for this comic, but still, even if you’ve never seen the show, you should read this book. The dialog is smart and funny, and feels just like an episode of the show. Artist Jeremy Haun does a good job with the character likenesses, but isn’t so slavish to them that it eliminates his own style. Given the choice between the Buffy comic and this one, I’m taking Chuck every time. I’m just so in love with this series right now, and since the show isn’t on, this more than capably fills the Chuck sized hole in my life. Seriously, give this series a shot, and you’ll be just as addicted as I am. —5 out of 5
Here’s another series that I feel like I’ve neglected and feel I need to shine a light on. I couldn’t get into the Lone Ranger revival when Dynamite started that last year, but for whatever reason, I’m really enjoying this Zorro revival. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t problems with it. Over the last six issues, we’ve been getting a fairly decompressed retelling of Zorro’s origin, and while it’s been entertaining to see how all the elements are introduced, it has felt slow, and at this point I’d like to see a regular story line. Unfortunately, we still have two more issues before the origin is finished, so that has me kind of disappointed. Writer Matt Wagner has done a good job introducing the characters, and each issue feels like a good chunk of story, so while it may be decompressed, each issue is still a satisfying read. I’ll see if I’m still enjoying this once we get into a more standard story, but I don’t see myself losing interest anytime soon. —3 out of 5
Welcome to Hoxford #1
This is a new series from artist Ben Templesmith, writing on his own again and he comes up with a pretty creepy story that is well suited for his unique art style. We’re introduced to a bunch of murdering psychopaths who have just been transferred from their old prisons to a new facility, the titular Hoxford. Hoxford is being run by a group of Russian businessmen, and I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say the guards may be just as crazy as the inmates. Templesmith’s abstract style is on display here, so if he’s not your cup of tea, you won’t find anything to change your mind about him, but if you do like his style, you’ll enjoy this. There are lots of dark colors and distorted figures, but his style is very well suited to the subject matter. The characters Templesmith sets up in this issue could be interesting to follow, but he’ll have to walk a fine line for the reader to identify with these people, as they’re all degenerate killers. Still, it could be a fun, blackly humorous horror story, and I’m looking forward to the second issue. This first one gets a —4 out of 5.
Atomic Robo: The Dogs of War #1
Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener are back for another round with everyone’s favorite robot adventurer. The tone of this story is a bit different from the first series, as Clevinger strikes a more serious tone. The story takes Robo back to World War II, and the invasion of Sicily, and it’s more of a realistic war story, if you ignore the robots and walking tanks. Still the action starts right from the start and doesn’t let up. It’s nice to see Clevinger using the characters to tell a different kind of story from the first volume, but still keeping the same feel of the universe. The real treat here though is the art by Wegener, who has increased in skill by leaps and bounds. I enjoyed his work on the first series, but he has added a lot of detail to his style, and it really pays off here. If he keeps improving in this manner, we could be looking at a very gifted artist. The first series was one of the best minis of this year, and the second series continues that fine tradition. Even if you didn’t like the first one, the tone is different enough that you may enjoy this more. —4 out of 5