Sunday, February 17, 2008

Low Blows 02.17.08

“Hulk” #1
Marvel Comics
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Ed McGuinness

I pre-ordered this comic against my best instincts. It's a fact that I had really been enjoying the “Incredible Hulk” comic for the last few years, and I’d also gotten caught up in the excitement of “World War Hulk,” and so I decided to give this new "Hulk" book a whirl despite the fact that I haven’t read a Jeph Loeb comic that I’ve enjoyed -- at least not without reservations -- well, ever.

If I may compare apples with oranges for a moment, let me say this: in my opinion, Jeph Loeb’s writing is more or less on the level of Michael Turner’s art. They’re both pretty flashy, and they both have (for lack of a better phrase) “mainstream appeal,” but in my experience with these guys’ work, I’ve never felt as if they really had much to offer in the way of lasting impact or substance. And at their worst, I’ve even categorized them both as amateurish and undeserving of their popularity.

Now, people are always telling me how good the Loeb/Sale team was with their early DC work and the various “Color” miniseries they did at Marvel. And I’ll admit that Loeb did alright with the “Fallen Son” miniseries last year, but I still ran into the clunky one-liners and wonky characterization that always bugged me about his work in the last five years or so.

Why in the world would I chance buying “Hulk,” then? I guess it was a mixture of morbid curiosity, a love for the character, and the enthusiasm that the creators had shown for the book in interviews. And I’m happy to say that this was a really enjoyable book to read. For this first issue at least, Loeb seems to have reined in his lesser tendencies, and has given me a satisfying read, a great cast (including Rick Jones, “Thunderbolt” Ross, Doc Samson, and She-Hulk) which I hope sticks around for the long run, and an intriguing murder mystery whose resolution I am interested in seeing though to the end. The art by Ed McGuinness is strong throughout, and especially well-suited to the subject matter of large, well-muscled beings kicking the crap out of each other.

The only criticism I can come up with for this issue, really, is that it took less than five minutes to read both times I read it. A brisk read isn’t necessarily a bad one, though, and if they can keep this up, I’ll keep buying it. It’s an excellent start.

[8 out of a possible 10]

“Resurrection” #2
Oni Press
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Artist: David Dumeer

I won’t waste any time getting to the point of this review -- “Resurrection” is a great comic, and it gets my highest recommendation. You’re really missing out if you’re not buying this book.

Essentially, though, “Resurrection” is a black-and-white post-apocalyptic book, and this has caused a lot of people to mention it in the same breath as Image’s “The Walking Dead” and fellow Oni Press comic “Wasteland” -- two of my favorite books on the stands right now. But really, these three couldn’t be more dissimilar, except in terms of their quality.

Being that “Wasteland” takes place in the far-flung future on an almost unrecognizable Earth and “The Walking Dead” is a zombie survivor/horror book, what “Resurrection” offers is a variation on a completely different sci-fi trope -- the rebuilding of our world after it has been taken over by an alien race. This is only the second issue of what promises to be a long and satisfying run, and Guggenheim is still setting his pieces up on the playing board. However, even at this early stage, we have the compelling stories of two strangers on the road to Washington to see what they can see, the strange relationship between a woman and a captured alien named Spock, and the plight of the President of the former United States which have been skillfully woven together over these first few issues. At this point, we have no idea how the aliens were defeated, or even if they’re truly gone. There’s a lot going on, but Guggenheim manages to keep the story from becoming muddled or confusing.

A lot of that is due to David Dumeer’s excellent art, too. It’s the perfect complement to the cinematic nature of the script, and there was one particular two-page spread in this issue, the one with the crashed alien vessel, which really showed off his skill.

Now, I’ve always enjoyed Guggenheim’s Marvel work, but it’s a real treat to see what a writer can come up with when they’re allowed to start the story from scratch. And that’s a big reason why I’ve been waiting for “Resurrection” to come out since it was announced so long ago -- in 2006, wasn’t it? Having finally read it, I can confidently say that it’s at the top of my stack every month. (Well, actually, it’s near the bottom, because I try to save the comics I’m most excited about for last.) It’s a distinctive book, and a worthy addition to Oni’s small but excellent lineup of ongoing creator-owned books.

[9.5 out of a possible 10]

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Shortbox 2/8/08

Captain America #34
writer: Ed Brubaker
artist: Steve Epting
Marvel Comics, released 1-30-08
By now, those of you that follow the comic industry probably know what has occurred in this particular issue -- a new Cap has emerged. Who is it? Well, I'll let you read the book or another site to find out, but in this humble reviewer's opinion, Brubaker has written another fantastic issue. Looking past the hype, it's a solid individual story. It sets the stage for the next arc while displaying what the new Captain America can do, including a few things Steve Rogers either couldn't or wouldn't have done. Steve Epting may be my favorite artist in mainstream comics right now, and this issue is a great example of why. Say what you will about the design of the new Cap outfit, but taken for what it is, Epting draws it well. But really it's his action scenes that shine over all aspects of this book. The man was born to draw Captain America throw that shield. This is definitely an issue worth owning.
9 out 10

Ms. Marvel #23
writer: Brian Reed
artist: Aaron Lopresti
Marvel Comics, released 1-2-08
I'm sure that there have been fans of Carol Danvers since her inception years ago, but the modern take on her introduced by Bendis in Alias and his House of M series has increased her profile immensely. As discussed previously at LowBrowMedia, Ms. Marvel has decided to mold herself into the greatest superhero on the planet, the title she held in the House of M universe. It's a fascinating and ultimately refreshing take for a superhero book to go on a quest of self improvement in the age of desconstructionalist approaches ala Frank Miller.
After the less-than-inspiring Civil War arc, this book has gotten back on track as of late. Reed is mixing together a very eclectic cast for Ms. Marvel, consisting of potential boyfriend Wonder Man, Sleepwalker, sidekick Arana, the hilarious Machine Man, and the surprisingly mysterious Agent Sum. Sum should have died several issues ago, but has an unexplained healing power. He is a very impressive leader in the field and, apparently, a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. officer. His backstory is one I've become very interested in, perhaps even more so than Carol's personal mission. However, because of Ms. Marvel's inevitable involvement in the upcoming Secret Invasion event, he is also a potential skrull risk. I would be pretty disappointed in that revelation, but only because I feel his value as a support character in this book is greater than most.
In any event, this issue is strong with action, humor, emotional depth, character history and a couple of very nice twists. Lopesti hits it out of the park with his art and is a welcome contributor to the title. I assume that his new duties as regular artist on D.C.'s Wonder Woman will mean that he won't return to this book any time soon, but I hope he does. And I don't want to forget to mention Greg Horn's covers, which continue to impress. It's a solid book worth your attention.
8 out of 10

The Mighty Avengers #8
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Mark Bagley
Marvel Comics, released 1-30-08
Bendis and Bagley are back together again, and the team that brought us Ultimate Spider-Man for 110 issues combine forces for the best issue of The Mighty Avengers yet. Before this issue, I hadn't gotten very excited for this title thus far. Coupled with the long delays, the unconventional use of thought balloons, and a team full of mostly heavy hitters, the book just was really not my cup of tea. I'm a big fan of the work of Brian Michael Bendis, so this was definitely a surprise to me. I much prefer the more street-level feel of the current New Avenger squad since the split of the teams. That said, they are much more suited to deal with the symbiote problem in this issue. I've always loved Venom and Carnage (many of my first comics read as a young teen involved the original symbiote characters), so a slightly new spin on it was welcomed. Each panel had a lot of crazy action going on in it, and Bagley is well-suited for such a task. But the real treat of this issue is the interaction between the Mighty and New Avenger teams. The tension when the groups stand on either side of the same street is extraordinary, especially considering it all occurs on one page. I also have to congratulate Bendis on his use of thought balloons. Thus far, he has utilized the internal thought balloon in an almost Faulknerian manner, showing us more of their subconscious thoughts than the classic conscious monologues made famous in comic books of yesteryear. I haven't decided yet if I've gotten used to them or if he is simply doing a better job writing them, but issue 8 was the first time where I felt that they did not distract from the story.
Overall, this is my favorite issue of The Mighty Avengers. I still feel it could be better, but now I know that I'm not dropping it until after Secret Invasion at the earliest.
8.5 out of 10

The Overman #2
writer: Scott Reed
artist: Shane White
Image Comics, released 1-2-08
The tag line at the top of this comic is "Welcome to the end of the future." It's the kind of thing you'd expect to see on a one-sheet of a Sci-Fi Channel original movie, but I'm not even sure a screenplay of this mini series would be optioned. This issue was better than the first installment, but that's not saying much. The first issue was bizarrely complicated and a clear example of how not to introduce your reader's first glimpse into a new world. It wants us to think of it as a high-concept science fiction epic, but I just haven't seen actual examples of it yet. I'll check back in with this one after it concludes, and maybe it will live up to its creator's ambitions. For now, give another independent book a chance instead.
5 out of 10