Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chris' Reviews 5/17

Holy Cats! 11 books, and not an out-and-out stinker in the bunch! Granted, most were just passably mediocre, but that's not bad in my book. Massive Spoilers Ahoy!

EDGAR ALLAN POE'S HAUNT OF HORROR #1 (of 3)

This 3 issue MAX miniseries caught my eye when first solicited, as I'm a fan of both Poe and black and white horror comics. This first issue deals specifically with three Poe-ms (HAR! Yeah, like I'm not the bazillionth guy to make THAT joke in the last 200 years), with twists on them that the reader may or may not see coming...sort of.

It works to varying degrees depending on the twist (and, I suspect, depending on your familiarity with the source material). The first story, The Raven, is a pretty standard retelling of the poem that fills in what REALLY happened to Lenore...sort of. (We see her decayed corpse and are led to assume that the narrator killed her, but it's not entirely clear.)

The second, The Sleeper, deals with vampires and a priest who fights them...sort of. (This one suffers most from having to read snippets of poem matched with panels that don't quite have anything to do with the poem, and feels like work to figure out what's going on.)

The last, The Conqueror Worm, is set in the future after an alien invasion and has a typical Twilight Zone-ish ending that you'll probably see coming a mile away but is fun to see depicted anyway...sort of. (In fact, I'm almost positive this was a TZ or Outer Limits episode at one point.)

(Sensing a theme here?)

I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork throughout (especially in The Raven), and the comic helpfully reprints the poems in text after each illustrated story.

The problem here is that it only sort of (see?) works as a comic. Part of the problem is that Poe's tales work best when you fill in the blanks with your imagination; here we see Corben and Rich Margopolous filling in the blanks, and in no case is it as horrifying as something you or I could come up with given 30 minutes to think about it.

I'm also puzzled as to why this is a MAX title, as there's not a whole lot of MAX-ness depicted throughout, and there were far bloodier comics from Marvel this week.

That said, I was still very much entertained, and look forward to the next two issues.

Best Moment: Not really a series of moments as much as the mood created through the art and tone. Very well done.

Worst Moment: The Sleeper had too many times where I had to stop, refer to the text, figure out what the hell was going on, then try and match the illustrated action to the words.

Comic Book Goodness: 2.5/5. Splitting it right down the middle here, as it's entertaining but requires effort to really enjoy. Still onboard with the series, though.


AQUAMAN #42

In this episode, Aquaman gets rolled by undesirables in a seedy underwater bar, then he and King Shark respond to voices seeking Aquaman's help and find the Sea Devils (yep), a team of...mixed-organism heroes/scientists who protect the sea/world, and show Arthur that they've got Vulko of Atlantis staying with them.

It doesn't sound very compelling does it?

The first half of this issue deals with Arthur questioning his identity, his role, and others' perceptions of him, and it's good character stuff.

The second half is almost entirely Sea Devils exposition, and it's an evil necessity that's quasi-dull for me.

Guice's art is still outstanding (although Aquaman still looks 35), and a major draw for me.

The problem I had is that not having been an Aquaman follower, I have no freaking idea who Vulko is, why he's important, or what in happy hell any of this means. And I fear that by tying past Aquaman history into this new guy that the series is losing some of its "jumping-on point for Aquaman" appeal that drew me to it in the first place.

Busiek (Hi, Kurt!) seems to know where he's going with this; the question is will the path there become too convoluted for new readers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a fan of the series, but we need to get to the "handing off the legacy" part of this PDQ, I think.

Best Moment: "They can get someone else to get their Aqua-cat out of their Aqua-tree, or whatever."

Worst Moment: Arthur speaks with a weird affected dialect that I'm assuming is supposed to mimic New Englander-speak, but that combined with references to "afterschool specials" seems jarring in context.

Comic Book Goodness: 2.5/5. Again, right down the middle. Still enough to keep me interested, but not much plot advancement and I'm starting to wonder what's going on here.


MOON KNIGHT #2

Here it's mainly a flashback (Told ya!) to how Marc Spector became the crippled ingrate that he currently is --- a battle royale with Bushman --- and a visit from Crawley, Spector's friend/bum/informant from the old days of the comic who mentions that Frenchie, Spector's old pilot has requested his aid.

Spector decides to get up off his ass and do something worthwhile for the first time in God knows how long, and then we see that someone villain-y somewhere is tracking his movements.

THIS is the comic that should have had a MAX label slapped on it, because Sweet Christmas, is it gory. The fight between MK and Bushman just keeps ratcheting up the levels of carnage, going from Spectors' fall from a rooftop to his torn-open knees, to Bushman biting a chunk out of Spector's face, to Spector cutting off Bushman's face and holding the skin aloft, to showing us Bushman's newly-skinned face.

Urp.

You know what? I loved every minute of it.

Writer Charlie Huston does everything right here, Finch absolutely nails the brutality of the fight scene, and man did I grin from ear to ear when Crawley showed up, flies buzzing around his head and holding an old teabag to boot. Great stuff, and in that one scene Huston evokes the perfect memories of the old series while making the character compelling for newbies.

(Side note: If you haven't picked up Essential Moon Knight yet, you're missing out. Really.)

Better yet, we see why Marc Spector is the way he is now: physically damaged, and emotionally wrecked because he crossed the line in that final fight. It makes sense, it connects the past with the present, and it sets us on the Hero's Journey of Redemption. Well played, Huston. Well played.

Best Moment: Crawley, man! And the fight scene was just thrilling, brutal, and cathartic.

Worst Moment: If I never see another panel showing a hero carving the skin off someone's face again, it'll be too soon. This stuff makes The Pantha's Head Incident look like a love tap.

Comic Book Goodness: 4/5. Visceral, respectful of what came before, and compelling. I can't ask for much more than that.


SHADOWPACT #1

The team of magical heroes gets their own ongoing courtesy of Bill Willingham, as we see that just prior to the Infinite Crisis they assembled to investigate a magical barrier of blood that surrounded an entire town; upon investigating, we see that a team of Evil Magic Villains has taken the town hostage in order to sacrifice the townsfolk for some sort of ritual.

But that's not important.

There are a few changes since the last time we've seen them --- Detective Chimp has a superhero costume and is battling his drinking problem, Nightmaster is about 30 years younger because of his sword's powers, and Nightshade is now wearing a poodle skirt.

That's not important, either.

Also, we don't learn in this issue what happens; it's all setup to get the team in and start investigating.

No, still not important.

The important thing?

The Freakin' Phantom Stranger, baby! THAT'S what's important! (Why no, I'm not particularly biased towards PS, why do you ask?)

Phantom Stranger acts as "The Chief" here, gathering the team and facilitating their mission, and if he gets to play that role in future issues then I will buy this comic until it gets cancelled.

Which, unfortunately, due to the crappy, crappy art, may be next month.

Best Moment: Phantom Stranger. Phantom Stranger.

Worst Moment: Crappy art. Willingham's clearly more interested in drawing the Shadowpact team than anything else, and it shows since the art improves once they show up.

Comic Book Goodness: 2/5. Setup issue, bad art, but it's nice to see the gang back together and this could be the magical counterpart to Checkmate, which I would pay money for monthly. Your mileage will probably vary.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #18

Lukin/Red Skull go about recruiting neo-Nazi henchmen, Cap goes to London hoping he can track down Lukin (and Bucky, before he kills Lukin). Cap hooks up with Union Jack and Spitfire (think British Captain America and ex-girlfriend speedster) to track down a shipment of Lukin's, only to find the new henchmen. Syn and Crossbones gun down an oil exec and they head for Lukin as well.

Oddly disappointing issue, though there's enough good character moments with Cap and Union Jack to define the friendship. It also serves as a handy bit of exposition to those jumping on the title with this arc, as it nicely sums up what's been going on.

Also nice: moments between Lukin and the Red Skull, and dialogue between Syn and Crossbones.

But not a whole lot of action, excepting the last few pages where Cap's shield does its patented Ricocheting-Off-Baddie-Noggins thing that I love so dearly.

(Side note: How great is it to have a shtick where you RICOCHET A FRIGGIN' SHIELD OFF PEOPLE'S HEADS? Answer: very great.)

Another quiet setup issue, but all the necessary irons are now in the fire for an explosive next couple of issues.

Best Moment: Upon reflection, I appreciated the fact that Brubaker doesn't go out of his way to make sure we all know that the British characters are British by tossing in "Crikey!" or "Oi, mate!" like other writers do in every other sentence. (I'm lookin' at you, Claremont.)

Worst Moment: There's an odd "Look, Bucky is really a good person" scene where Bucky takes down a punk who snatches a purse, and it really interrupts the flow. Seemed like editorial mandate to me.

Comic Book Goodness: 2/5. Decent setup, now we need to turn up the heat next ish.


52 #2

Ahem.

I will try to be as brief and to the point of this as possible, since there are already a dozen websites doing weekly in-depth analysis on this comic.

Plot 1: Someone's kidnapping mad scientists, as we find out when Dr. Magnus (creator of the Metal Men) visits Dr. T.O. Morrow (creator of the now-deceased Red Tornado).

Plot 2: Wonder Girl, who's apparently running the First Internet Church Of Connor Kent (I'm not even kidding about that), sprays an upside-down Superman symbol on Sue Dibney's grave to get Ralph to come and see her.

Plot 3: Something's wrong with either the timestream (here we go again) or Skeets, as Booster Gold narrowly averts disaster while saving a plane and getting bad info from Skeets.

Plot 4: The Question busts in on Renee Montoya and her girlfriend and hires Renee to be his operative for...something. We're not sure what.

Plot 5: Dan Jurgens writes a backup story that will tell us the History of The New DC Universe As Told To Donna Troy By Some Glowing Orb Thingy...at an excruciating pace, if the first installment is any indication.

Now then.

Plot 1 is vaguely interesting, although newer readers might wonder who the hell these people are.

Plot 2 is silly beyond belief at this point. Cassie couldn't think of a way to find Ralph like, say, trace his cell calls? Credit card purchases? Get a Green Lantern to ask his ring to locate him? Call Checkmate? OR THE MORTUARY? No no, desecrating his dead wife's grave on the off chance that the guy who discovered it would feel strongly enough to contact him was the only humane way to do it. This is stupid on a variety of levels, as is the religion thing.

UPDATED: A commenter has pointed out that Cassie doesn't seem to know what's going on either, and that the Webcast was a memorial service, so this may not end up being as stupid as it seemed upon the first read.

Plot 3 is already giving me headaches because I'm sick of the Goddamn timestream being messed with (where's Rip Hunter when you need him?), so I'm praying that the problem turns out to be Skeets.

Plot 4 is genuinely interesting, because we get to see lesbians in lingerie sleeping with each other Renee and the Question forming an interesting alliance with mysterious purpose.

Plot 5 feels like it's going to be interesting to see but also will probably make my head hurt when it's all said and done.

Best Moment: The hint of Red Tornado's "brother", called --- wait for it --- "Red Inferno".

Worst Moment: See above mention about Plot 2. Ye Gods.

Comic Book Goodness: 2/5. Less dull overall than the last issue, but equal parts silly and intriguing. As I've said, I'm giving this two more issues to convince me to give a damn on a weekly basis.


ANNIHILATION: NOVA #2 (of 4)

Nova meets up with Drax the Destroyer and his human sidekick Cammi, and most of the issue revolves around Drax and the Worldmind that Richard is holding in his helmet (see last issue's review) trying to convince Richard to use the Nova force.

They do, he does, and they escape Xandar, but just when it seems all is lost and their ship is about to blow up, they're rescued by Quasar.

Yes, that Quasar.

This issue is mostly dialogue, and damn if it isn't funny, in character, and expositive as well. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have a nicely realized Nova here, and this is shaping up as one of the best Marvel books on the shelf right now.

We get action, humor, plot, and third helpings of each. Very, very well done.

Best Moment: Richard gets sick of talking to Worldmind, so gives the Nova helmet to Drax, who we then see on-panel and in the backgrounds obviously trying to argue with a superintelligent computer. You have to see it to appreciate how funny this is. Great stuff.

Worst Moment: Not a lot of the overall Annihilation plot per se, but I don't think the goal of these minis is necessarily to address that --- it's to get us invested in these characters for the Annihilation series proper, and on that front, the Nova series has already done its job.

Comic Book Goodness: 4/5. It's got that old-school Marvel vibe, and it's one hell of a lot of fun.

ALSO THIS WEEK:

FALLEN ANGEL #5 --- Continues to be a top 5 book, and Peter David drops a LOT of major plot development in this one, as Jude accepts Juris' offer to become magistrate, Juris finally gets to leave town but meets a nifty end, and oh yeah...we learn that God is sick of all this "being God" business. I can't praise this series enough and again thank Jake for turning me on to it. CBG: 4/5.

FELL #5 --- Another nifty done-in-one that takes place entirely between Fell and a prisoner in an interrogation scene, though it hinges on the fact that a prisoner was able to smuggle a gun into the interrogation cell. Ellis attempts to make this quasi-believable, but the meat of this is in the dialogue, and I loved it. CBG: 3/5.

X-MEN: DEADLY GENESIS #6 (of 6) --- This wraps up with Captain X-Position, with Charles X-Plaining that what anyone with an Internet connection already knew, namely that the team he assembled got they asses kicked fighting Krakoa. Nice to see Darwin, The Evolving Man survive, though, and also a weird twist with Cyclops telling Charlie that since he's no longer a mutant he can't stay at the Institute anymore. (Which would seem to me to be a three-second lawsuit in Xavier's favor, seeing as how, you know, IT'S HIS HOUSE.) Expected wrap-up to a series that ultimately wasn't as good as I thought it would be. CBG: 2/5.

CONAN #28 --- Busiek's swan song for the time being on Conan is a lovely little done-in-one that also manages to provide an assload of metacommentary on Robert E. Howard and writers (or tellers of tales) in general. Also, Eric Powell draws this issue, and it looks a gazillion times better than Cary Nord's last ten issues or so. CBG: 3/5.

That's it! Whew, I'm tired!

10 Comments:

Anonymous Fin Fang Doom said...

I'm positive that Shadowpact takes place after IC. The Shadowpact was heavily involved in IC, even if they were just background players. Detective Chimp is in the unfinished splash page in IC #7. If they've been stuck in that bubble for a year, the Shadowpact must have gone in post-IC. Which means there's one enormous problem with that story that kind of ruined it for me. Check my blog.

1:20 PM  
Blogger CalvinPitt said...

Willingham is doing his own art on Shadowpact? O-Kay.

I agree with you about Annihilation. I think each mini-series is designed to get the characters ready to fight, whether it's the Surfer recruiting other heralds, the Super-Skrulls trip to the Negative Zone, Nova trying to adjust to the Nova, etc.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you misinterpreted what's going on in the Cassie / Ralph plot. Cassie clearly has no idea what Ralph is talking about when he shows up; if she'd intended to send him a message, why would she look and act so confused?

I think someone else left the message. Cassie simply set up a big memorial service thing. But it seems clear to me from the art that Cassie is baffled to see Ralph appear.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Anonymous, I went back and looked at the panels; you're absolutely right in that the art conveys that Cassie has no idea what's going on.

I took it for granted that Ralph was right, because he's such a great detective. :-)

I still say it's silly, tho, if in fact it turns out that someone was trying to get ahold of Ralph this way.

But you make a good point.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Ugh on the Cassie/altar thing. That'll be enough to get me to drop 52 ASAP if it remains a major plot point. Just stupid!

As to Shadowpact's continuity issues, check this out from Willingham's message board, in response to Superman's presence and timelines: "The short answer is this: It was a continuity glitch that was not the fault of anyone who worked on Shadowpact, nor anyone in the Shadowpact office. At a later date I may post a more detailed explanation of who screwed up and how, but as of now I haven't decided if that would be a good thing to do."

Sounds to me like rumors of a hastily rewritten conclusion to Infinite Crisis might be true.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Mallet said...

Being a Namor guy, I nearly peed myself over this issue of Cap. America. Skull talking to young Mr. Lohmer, Jack and Spitfire (whose new body came about directly out of Namor's pages many years ago). Basically if I read namor 10-12 (or there abouts) and read this it would seem perfect.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Dear Sir, you are strange. I feel compelled to inform you that Moon Knight #2 was 90's Image-style tripe, while Captain America #18 was awesome. Please readjust your opinions of the abovementioned comics. Thank you.

2:28 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Guy: thanks for the clarification. Interesting to see if Willingham decides to tell us what happened.

Mallet: I wonder if Namor will make a guest appearance in this arc? Any clues to suggest it?

Martin: If MK #2 was Image-style tripe, why were there no exposed breasts or thongs? :-) I do think upon rereading it, however, that this issue is clearly meant for fans of the original series.

And Cap was a good comic, but didn't have enough action to elevate into "Awesome" territory. As I mentioned in the review, I do believe all the ingredients are here for large degrees of awesomeness in the next couple of issues.

7:31 AM  
Blogger joncormier said...

I'm kind of forcing myself to wait for the Poe stuff in trade. It's just too damned expensive if you look at the Canadian price point.

I'm liking 52 because in it's weekly format I can forgive the decompressed storytelling. Not waiting 30+ days for the next issue really makes this feel like I'm reading a serialized trade. Hmmm, I'll be back after I compose my next post based off this idea. It's big superhero hoopla. It's not meant to be believable, just intreguing enough to keep us happy. I for one am very happy with it - even the back story with a prevalence of orbs.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Mallet said...

No hints as of yet but their one human fireball and one avenging son away from having a great recreation of the Invaders.

If Brubaker brings in either one of those two and THEY stop lukin/skull while cap deals with Bucky, well I'll be very happy.

Master man just looks cool.

3:16 PM  

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