Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

26 November 2010

A Thanksgiving Excuse

Gobble gobbleNo review this week, in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m thankful I don’t have to do this; I do it because I want to. And I’m thankful for everyone who reads my reviews.

It passed me by, but by my count, G-Man, v. 2: Cape Crisis became my 200th collected-edition review a couple of weeks ago. This site has been going for about four years now; 50 reviews a year isn’t a bad rate, considering the long hiatus I had in 2007. (Lasting for most of 2007, except for a couple of weeks in February and less than a month between May and June.)

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19 November 2010

Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven's First Hunt

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #564-7 (2008)

Released: April 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 112 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785132431

What is this?: A new hunter arrives in town, one who wants to destroy Spider-Man.

The culprits: Writer Marc Guggenheim and pencilers Phil Jimenez and Paulo Siqueira

OK — Spider-Man: Kraven’s First Hunt will be the last Spider-Man title for a while. I hadn’t planned on reviewing it so close after Brand New Day, v. 3, but I didn’t have on hand the book I had planned on reviewing (Promethea, Book 3), and Kraven’s First Hunt is the fill in.

With First Hunt, “Brand New Day” is kinda over, and the writers have to figure out a direction to go with the books. They decided, somewhat strangely, to go with yet another child of Kraven the Hunter. (That guy got around.) Thankfully, this time the child’s name has nothing to do with The Brothers Karamazov.

Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven's First Hunt coverThe arc doesn’t quite work for me, though. A great deal of the suspense is predicated on the hunter’s identity being secret; the villain’s desire to “hunt” Spider-Man and the return of Vermin is a hint, with the name “Ana Tatiana Kravinoff” being revealed in the last panel. But the surprise is spoiled well before then; the book is, after all, titled “Kraven’s First Hunt,” and that’s the name of the arc, which is plastered on every title page. There is no mystery, and it seems there’s no real reason to get excited about yet another Kravinoff. (Yes, I know, she and her mother become important over the next two years.) The biggest surprise is that Ana is only 12 years old.

She certainly doesn’t look it. She only appears shorter than Spider-Man and his roommate, a full-grown man, in a few isolated panels. But that’s really the only problem I have with penciler Phil Jimenez’s design of the character. Ana’s appearance is outré, visually striking without seeming too over the top. Her eye makeup echoes the face paint of hunters, and that and her upswept blonde hair give her a distinctive look. As a teenager, she might get second looks, but she wouldn’t be that out of place at a high-school party — well, if she weren’t wearing the catsuit-ish costume. But even that dull costume has a leather chest / shoulder guard that has the lion’s eyes from Kraven’s old costume subtly worked into its design.

So. Writer Marc Guggenheim’s surprise is lost, and he had to know that marketing would blow it. But the story doesn’t completely work without that revelation. The purpose of the story is to build up Ana for a later story, and Ana manages to “ruin” the lives of Peter and his new roommate, Officer Vin Gonzalez. But the ruination is brief and quickly put right, and her identification of Spider-Man is erroneous; Ana is a tough fighter, but tough fighters are a dime-a-dozen in the Marvel Universe. And Spider-Man was handicapped during their fight. Were it not for her name and visual, she would be just another one-arc villain for Spider-Man, one I wouldn’t expect to see again. (I lie; no one would waste that visual by not reusing the character.)

Two other stories are included in this volume. One is a throwaway story from Spider-Man: Brand New Day — Extra #1 (like there was going to be a second issue); in the story, Harry Osborn learns that friendship, even with an unreliable doofus like Peter, is more important than finance. The second, Amazign Spider-Man #564, is a fight between Spider-Man and Overdrive, with Vin not being able to decide which of the two is the real criminal. It’s an amusing story despite having three different writers: Guggenheim, Dan Slott, and Bob Gale. The physical comedy is excellent, and the way Overdrive tells the story to his boss is hilarious. (As is the way his boss’s goons plan to execute him.) Meanwhile, Vin’s story is poignant; his hatred for Spider-Man is so great he throws away an afternoon with his father at Yankee Stadium in order to chase Spider-Man around the Bronx.

The art, as usual in the Brand New Day relaunch, is great. Paulo Siquiera provides the art for #564, Patrick Olliffe for Brand New Day — Extra, and Jimenez for the “Kraven’s First Hunt” arc. All do excellent work with the action scenes, and Siquiera is a natural with the humor. (Not so much for Olliffe, but I didn’t really think the Zeb Wells-written story was that funny.) Jimenez excels with his biggest task, the design of Ana Kravinoff. Credit for the “First Hunt” arc should also go Andy Lanning and Marc Pennington, who provided finishes for Jimenez’s art.

From what I understand, the introduction of Ana Kravinoff and her surprisingly young-looking mother, Sasha, is a big deal. It doesn’t feel like a big deal, though. Perhaps I’m expecting the consequences to be too heavy too early. Still, rather than the first appearance of Venom or even Mr. Negative, this feels like the introduction of Azrael in the Bat-books, who readers didn’t realize was that important when they read Batman: Sword of Azrael in 1992. (Probably because he wasn’t supposed to be.) Still, the art is quite nice.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Half Spider symbol (2.5 of 5)

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12 November 2010

Birds of Prey, v. 6: Blood and Circuits

Collects: Birds of Prey #96-103 (2006-7)

Released: August 2007 (DC)

Format: 208 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781401213718

What is this?:

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone (with a small assist from Tony Bedard) and pencilers Paulo Siqueira, James Raiz, and Nicola Scott

Despite writer Gail Simone’s tricks and plots, it was hard for me to avoid feeling that the Birds of Prey lacked a great deal of stunning plot developments. Things evolve, change, slightly mutate, but the status quo the book began with issue #56 hadn’t changed through five volumes of trade paperbacks. But building on the momentum from v. 5, Perfect Pitch, Birds of Prey, v. 6: Blood and Circuits changes that impression, and for the better.

Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits coverIt’s an expansion on the team’s concept: one member leaves, so Oracle calls in the services of other female heroes with the idea of eventually choosing one or more to become one of the Birds of Prey. After the new setup is introduced in #100 — odd to have the launching point for a new development in the middle of the book, but I suppose that’s the way the issues fall — the action doesn’t stop. Issues #100-103 are a high point on this series; issue by issue, Simone raises the stakes. It starts as a routine getting-to-know-you mission to a multi-front battle that spirals out of the heroes’ control to a war for the identity of the team and its founder. Throughout, Simone never relinquishes her strengths in characterization or dialogue — even bit player Judomaster gets a memorable moment of dialogue. Those four issues, by themselves, are more than enough reason to read this book, especially since they make a great jumping on place.

The first four issues — well, three and a half — are dedicated to tying up loose ends, or at least further developing past adversaries. In #96-7, the team tries to talk some sense into Black Alice, a teenager who can steal the magical abilities of other characters, just as the Secret Society makes a pitch to her. Simone introduced Black Alice in v. 4: The Battle Within as largely a one-off villain without any indication that she is important to the DC Universe at large. Here, though, we’re told she is immensely powerful, and Felix Faust tells the reader this every time he’s on the page. This is a technique that will grate on some readers — Faust’s “We’re attempting to bring a supernova to heel” could come off as Simone giving Black Alice some cheap heat — but Simone mostly gets away with it. Yes, Black Alice is powerful, but she’s also a teenager who is confused about what she wants, mitigating her power. It’s a setup that’s been seen before, and Simone’s heroes and villains, especially Faust and Talia al-Ghul, make it a pleasant reuse of the idea.

In #98-9, Huntress and Black Canary have to deal with Yasemin, a Turkish gunrunner the team put behind bars in v. 5. Obviously, she’s out for revenge, which doesn’t go so well for her. Other than humiliating some mob thugs, she’s a mainly distraction while the team figures out who the redhead impersonating Batgirl is. Although the new Batgirl, who quickly gets renamed Misfit, is charmingly wacky, she doesn’t really fit into the stories in which she’s inserted, and her power levels seem a bit too high, especially when she reveals she knows all the secret IDs of the Birds.

My only real complaint about the writing is part of #100, in which Tony Bedard and Simone recap Black Canary’s career and life. It’s … serviceable, but it’s an odd choice for a sendoff for the character. It’s an introduction to the character, and as an introduction, it feels clunky — Black Canary narrates her life to her new ward, Sin, and tries to justify her decision to leave the team. The story feels like something put into #100 to make it larger for an anniversary issue; like most stories meant to pad out annuals and double-sized issues, it’s missable and largely inconsequential without being offensive.

(I’m also not real fond of the volume’s title. Neither the literal interpretation nor the pun makes much sense for the stories within, and I can’t help but wonder if something about the story got lost somewhere — perhaps between the page and my brain.)

The art is provided by three different pencilers this time around. They’re all pretty good, and their styles are distinct yet similar enough to avoid style clash. Paolo Siqueira draws #96-7 and the backup in #100, James Raiz contributes #98-9, and Nicola Scott draws the rest. I prefer Scott’s work; it has a slightly smoother line, and I prefer Scott’s handling of action scenes. In fact, she’s part of what makes #100-3 so much fun. But Siqueira and Raiz are also good fits for the title, and none of them indulge in excessive cheesecake. Siqueira also seems to enjoy working with Black Alice, who gives him the chance to draw a character with many different looks, and the Secret Society.

I’ve been reading Birds of Prey because of its consistent quality; even when the art or the plots weren’t to my liking, Simone’s characters and dialogue kept me coming back. For the first time, I really feel excited about this title and really can’t wait for the next (and Simone’s last) volume, Birds of Prey, v. 7: Dead of Winter.

Rating: DC logo DC logo DC logo DC logo (4 of 5)

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09 November 2010

G-Man, v. 2: Cape Crisis

Collects: G-Man: Cape Crisis #1-5 (2010)

Released: October 2010 (Image)

Format: 128 pages / color slightly-larger-than-digest / $9.99 / ISBN: 9781607062714

What is this?: Grade-school hero G-Man is back, dealing with magic, villains, and his older brother.

The culprits: Chris Giarrusso

To make up for not posting a review on Friday, there will be two reviews this week; the first is G-Man, v. 2: Cape Crisis. I’m tempted to end this review in one paragraph, telling you to just buy it already.

I’ve expressed my admiration for Chris Giarrusso’s work in the past, rating the two Mini Marvels titles — Rock, Paper, Scissors and Secret Invasion — and the previous G-Man volume, Learning to Fly, very highly. I have been waiting for Cape Crisis since I picked up a sample copy of Cape Crisis #1 at the ALA Annual Convention, and I’m pleased to report v. 2 is no exception to Giarrusso’s usual high quality work. This time, however, the plot allows Giarrusso to explore some world building that was unavailable to him with either Mini Marvels or the first volume of G-Man, when Giarrusso was concerned with setting up concepts and characters.

G-Man, v. 2: Cape Crisis coverIf you’ve read any of the previous volumes, you know what you’re getting with Cape Crisis: pint-sized heroes who have as much trouble with older brothers and supposed authority figures as they do with supervillains. Giarrusso remembers just how unfair the world seemed — and was — as a child, and he’s able to translate that onto the page with remarkable fidelity. Unlike most of the children the readers knew, Giarrusso’s characters are able to respond with sarcasm even as the adults’ arguments spin into almost absurdist territory. Giarrusso also has a deft touch with running jokes, hitting them a couple of times and then bringing them back onto the page when the reader has almost forgotten them.

The artwork is still the same clear, simple linework that Giarrusso brings to all of his books. It’s deceptively simple, really, as Giarrusso manages to convey a lot of emotion and action via those simple lines. As usual with G-Man, he manages to expand his style with scenes featuring slightly different techniques; the transition between the G-Man’s world and Sky Mountain, former home of the gods, is illustrated in unfinished pencils to show its weirdness and incompleteness. The godlike character of Krios “Chris” Khrysomallos — not only named after the author but taken directly from Greek myth — is also a step in a slightly different direction.

Sky Mountain is not only the former home of the gods but it’s also where G-Man and his brother’s powers come from. Giarrusso uses Sky Mountain to give the boys a quest and to introduce Khrysomallos; it also allows Giarrusso to draw all sorts of things. There are the standard talking skeletons and man-eating trees, but there are also hordes of multi-colored sentient puffballs, rock men, mummies, and robots. The incongruity of the robots and mummies, of course, is part of the fun. Giarrusso also establishes that somewhere near G-Man’s hometown is Elf Town and a community of human-eating, Where-the-Wild-Things-Are style beasts.

There are some downsides to the volume, although they’re small. Some of the running gags fall flat, which is inevitable. I was tired of the dandelions / Princess Roja / Red Girl gag before it was done, although the joke did give Giarrusso an opportunity to write an almost touching bit about Princess Roja’s reaction to an injury to G-Man’s brother, Great Man. And I know Cape Crisis is published by Image, but that doesn’t mean fellow label-mate Savage Dragon has to appear in every volume, even if you can get Erik Larsen to draw him. (Although I really enjoyed the subtle Fred Hembeck cameo.) The pacing seemed a bit off as well; the story seemed longer than just five issues. On the other hand, the plot is secondary to Giarrusso’s jokes, so that’s not a major concern.

I don’t know how to say this any clearer: you should be buying Giarrusso’s work. If you can’t afford it — although Cape Crisis is a mere $9.99 for 128 full-color pages — then find someone who has bought it and borrow it from him / her. And if you don’t know anyone who’s bought it, then bug your local library to get a copy for you.

Because you really should be reading G-Man.

Rating: G-Man symbol G-Man symbol G-Man symbol G-Man symbol Half G-Man symbol (4.5 of 5)

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