July 12, 2006

Comic Reviews

Over at Evil Avatar they have a weekly comic book discussion thread, and sometimes I post up some reviews there of comics that I've recently read. I was mentioning this to Dan Brottman, who then asked why I never post them here. Frankly, I didn't have a good answer, or really any answer that actually consisted of words. So here you go, I dug a bit and found some reviews of trade paperbacks for you all, below the fold.

Some spoilers ahoy probably, but they *are* all trades, so this is a bit like revealing the Vader family tree.

Ultimate Spidey (HC) Vol. 6 by Brian Michael Bendis :
Everyone said to watch out for this part of the run because this is where it gets a bit crap. While I don't think this series will ever get into crap territory, it's certainly the weakest set of the bunch. The Carnage arc at the begining just came out of nowhere and the death of (avert thee eyes, yee fearers of spoilers!) Gwenn Stacey seemed pointless. Could that be the point? Could Bendis be saying that not all characters get the dramatic death of being dropped from a bridge by the hero's nemesis? Certainly, and indeed that's what I'm going to assume because I like the series. Still, the death leaves Peter, May, and myself feeling hollow. The witty spark dies down from the book and the carefree fun that it's maintained for sixty issues carries on as a thin veneer over Peter's brooding.

This isn't to say that the non-Carnage stories aren't interesting. Johnny Storm and Wolverine make an appearances that were fun. And Doc Strange is always a winner for me, even though the plot was a bit thin. Overall though, no one in their right mind that hasn't read this series before is going to say, "You know where I'll start? Volume 6!" And if you've made it this far in the series you obviously know how good it is and this drop in quality isn't going to stop you from buying the next volume that comes out. I'm onboard for the next one, which by all accounts is much better anyway.

Alias Omnibus
by Brian Michael Bendis:

I love an Omnibus. It's just nice in the world of comics to have the entire book at your disposal, even if its large size makes it a little hard to balance and a little cumbersome to take to the bathroom. So yes, this 28 issues of Alias and it's a big mother. It's also really good.

The Marvel Universe feels alive in Alias. Yeah, the big innovation in the 60s for Marvel was making the world "real". Gone are fiction cities like "Metropolis" in favor of New York, and crash landing aliens with funky rings are replaced by science experiments gone wrong. But really, the Marvel Universe is as real as a PG movie. All the pieces are there, but nobody walks out of their house in the morning expecting to walk into The Mighty Ducks.

Jessica Jones swears, drinks, makes mistakes that are completely due to her unnecessary personal failings. She's a wreck, and compared to most other books she's the only one in all of 616. Some of shifts in the book, like her sudden relationship with Luke Cage at the end, seem a little rushed, and the breaking of the 4th wall by The Purple Man is never really adequately explained, but those were really my only gripes.

The art is, as Killgrave puts it, mainstream with a touch of indie. It's especially effective when the art changes styles to reflect the mood of the scene, with flashbacks given a much more mainstream carefree look, and the present much more brooding with shadows. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the Omnibus was the "What if...?" issue at the end. Perhaps it's that Bendis is such a good stand in for The Watcher. Anyone that knows what Bendis likes knows what I mean. Still, as the writer, and not a passive observer, and given the almost sacharine tone of the issue contrasted with the cynical view of the main book, his wistful comments have a certain wistful effect that affected me more that I thought it would, and by all rights more than it would have on its own.

I guess the best recommendation I can give is that as soon as I finished the book the first thing I did was look up trades of The Pulse (where Jessica went after the close of her own book) on Amazon.

100 Bullets Vol. 3: Hang Up On The Hang Low by Brian Azzarello:

I'm not sure whether I would recommend reading this series of trades individually, as I have, or to just buy a bunch at the same time like I know some are doing for Y: The Last Man. Each of the first three trades can easily be read on its own, so far, and the underlying plotline is subtle enough that I don't think you'll get much by having read them all in one sitting, but maybe you will. I dunno.

This particular trade is the story of Curtis and Loop Hughes: father and son. Jim Lee describes it in the intro as his favorite arc on the series and it's easy to see why. The characters are nearly all likeable, even though they're all horribly flawed and you just know that this book isn't going to let them all make it out unscathed. It's a hard knock life in 100 Bullets. Just ask the Hughes'. This series just keeps getting better and better.

Swamp Thing Vol. 5: Earth to Earth by Alan Moore:

I've said this on most, if not all, of my Swamy reviews: If you love Alan Moore's self-contained graphic novels, like Watchmen, you really should check out his work on this ongoing series. It's just brilliant to see a master carve out his own little chunk of the DCU, only to occassionally cross back over with some mainstream characters. Moore does it here, Gaiman would do it later, and I'm sure other writers have done the same since or at Marvel.

The last trade was really Moore dealing with the Crisis of Infinite Earths, so this is a nice, somewhat, of a comedown story, with Swamp Thing merely taking over Gotham instead of all the galactic importance of the Crisis. The book gets a little loopy at the end, with a couple issues that reminded me more than a bit of Doc Manhattan's Mars issues of Watchmen. Interesting, but a bit spacey. Still, this is some damn fine Moore writing here, and while I think the best of the series is probably past, at this point I'm too engaged to not finish the run by picking up the last book.

Young Avengers Vol. 1: Sidekicks by Alan Heinenberg:

I heard good things about this series here and they're right, even if this guy does write for the OC. Coming off a review of Swamp Thing it's hard to call this a "Great" series, but it's entirely good. Let's face it, only 10% of anything is going to be the best of the best and only 10% is going to be utter crap. Everything else is just hoping to be better than most and solidly good. That's Young Avengers to a "t". This series isn't going to blow you away with stunning deconstructions of its characters or of the medium in general. Hell, it's not even going to bring you to tears with its touching character drama. It's about fanboy kids with powers dressing up in homage to their (super)heroes and fighting crime in their absence. The dialog is crisp and funny and the plot is more than enough to keep the pace going.

This series is a love letter to the genre, which is also how I feel about Kirkman's Invincible, and while it won't be the first series you give to someone that you're trying to convert on the issue of comics, it will keep you smiling through till the end because it's just good.

She-Hulk Vol. 3: Time Trials by Dan Slott:

Ok, firstly know that I love this series. There aren't nearly enough Dan Slott's in the world to feed my need for superhero humor books, so I have to make due. That said, this is probably the weakest of the trades so far. Sure, it's still plenty funny, and I can't get enough of the superhuman law stuff.

The second of the titular time trials is actually a really pedestrian story about how much a person matters. It's "It's A Wonderful (Super)Life". Yeah, the jokes are still there, but I found myself *only* waiting for the jokes instead of interested in the story. The story after that is Jen Walters coming to terms with the fact that she destroyed a town. I'm assuming this was during the Avengers: Disassembled crossover, but I didn't actually read much of that directly, so I had to figure this out for myself. The story also isn't funny, which really made it important that the story was really compelling, but in the end it was just ok. Maybe a bit better than just ok, but nothing I really was impressed with. Thankfully, the rest of the book is great, with the introduction of The Two Gun Kid bringing Slott right back to the bread and butter of funny superhero antics.

Ultimate Fantastic Four Vol. 4 & 5 (Inhuman and Crossover) by Mark Millar and Mike Carey:

I love this series. Like Ultimate Spiderman, it just manages to make all these old characters and stories fresh. Yet somehow, the fourth book here feels a bit, um, blegh? It's not that the writers are hacks. In fact, I was ready to blame this on Mike Carey despite liking his Hellblazer stuff, but actually the story that I didn't like was "Inhuman" by Mark Millar.

All of a sudden I'm reading lines like "Black Bolt is the most powerful creature on the face of the Earth. If he utters a single word he could destroy an entire mountain range." Now, that may be true, but there's no reason one character who knows this would say that to another character who knows this. Thankfully, Vol. 5 picks things right back up with the much lauded and utterly fantastic "Crossover" to the Marvel Zombie universe. It's just great, and the Namor story is fun too, though I wish Ultimate books would stop declaring characters as the "most" powerful person around. I mean, how many "most" powerful people can there be? I mean, I would guess just one, but there appears to be several.

Ultimate X-Men (HC) Vol. 1 & 2 by Mark Millar:

I'm sad to say that this is my least favorite Ultimate book. Spidey and FF had the carefree sense of fun that made their harrowing adventures exciting. The Ultimates is like a series of epic movies, or possibly an action-based tv show with a strong season-wide arc. X-Men is somewhere inbetween and doesn't really have the strengths of either.

I mean, Wolverine is pretty much the same, as is Cyclops and pretty much everybody else. Sure, the Professor is a bit more manipulative, Beast a little more self-concious. Everybody's pretty much the same, as are the stories. There's nothing bad really, but I was left wondering why I was reading an Ultimate book instead of a 616 book. There is stuff to like here. Maybe it's just that it's the last story that I read, but I really like Ultimate Gambit. It's a shame that, from what I understand, he doesn't stick around long.

No comments: