Batman #9: Well, the giant bat-armor from last month was sort of a bust, huh? I was really hoping Bruce had some kind of awesome contingency plan in place that involved the awkward metal suit, but, alas, it was just an awkward metal suit to fight in. Still, it was nice to see Batman's rage unleashed, and to finally give him some useful knowledge about the Court of Owls. Now maybe he can kick some ass and lay this story to rest for a while. Greg Capullo's art was actually somewhat more contained/restrained this month, which was interesting since Scott Snyder's script was mostly about Batman cutting loose and tearing mercilessly into the Talons. I'm not complaining about the art, because there's still a lot of great imagery, like the bat swarm or the dinosaur foot stomp, but if there was ever a time for Capullo to let his line work go a bit crazy, it seems like it would have been this issue. The backup feature I enjoyed a bit more than the main story, perhaps just because I love Alfred so much that any insight into his personal or familial history is welcome. And that final image of the Talon in the rain is stunning. Rafael Albuquerque continues t be an ideal Batman artist, highlighting the shadow and fear inherent in that world.
Fairest #3: I find Fairest #3 to be particularly challenging to review as a whole. As has been the norm with this title for all three installments, we have here an example of some truly excellent artwork that is telling just a dreadfully boring story. We have no reason to care about any of the characters, and in the case of the guy who does the most talking (a bottle imp named, I believe, Panghammer), we don't even have a convincing reason to like him. Even he knows he's a pain in the ass, and the story he's narrating to the rest of the cast would only be interesting if it wasn't being pointlessly drawn out. A series full of misfires from Bill Willingham so far, and if I didn't already know he'd be leaving the title fairly soon (along with his dumb, dumb crop of characters) I might well be dropping Fairest from my pull list. However, the saving grace continues to be Phil Jimenez's pencils, as well as the ink and coloring work by Andy Lanning, Mark Farmer, and Andrew Dalhouse. Whether it's a sentient flying boat, a royal hall filled with a bright and blustering party, or just The Snow Queen and Panghammer surrounded by whites and blues in her palace, every single page has art worth a second (or third or fourth) look. It's sort of astonishing how far from each other the story and the art are in terms of quality. How, exactly, did a script so bland inspire such lovely visuals? Anyway, that seems to be par for the course on this title.
Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #9: I have complained a couple of times about the change that took place when this title started using Walden Wong to ink Alberto Ponticelli. This month, we have a new inker, Wayne Faucher, and I think with him we've found a happy medium that (hopefully) we can all agree on. Not quite as wild as when Ponticelli inks himself, but without muting the energy which his pencils always bring to the table.
Now that that's out of the way, I'll say that this was an exceptionally fine issue of Frankenstein all over. The title has always been a string of monster battles for Frank to fight, with each new enemy causing him to question/examine himself in some new light. This issue is no exception, and tells a tidy little tale of Frank and Dr. Mazursky battling against the forces of The Rot (from Animal Man and Swamp Thing). Unable to simply kill his foes in the usual fashion, Frank goes to an extreme measure, calling in a "blackbomb" which only targets living things and therefore does not hurt him. However, this causes him further frustration/sadness, because he is forced to admit that he is not really "alive" in, at least, the scientific sense. It's a quick but effective tale, and it serves to advance Frank's relationship with himself, S.H.A.D.E., and Mazursky all. And the Ponticell-Faucher-Villarruba art team comes through as well, like I mentioned. Particularly the splash where Frank and Nina find the corpse of the cop they're looking for. I want that as a wall-sized poster.
Higher Earth #1: If the concept behind Higher Earth interests you---a whole bunch of Earths in different universes that each have their place in a hierarchy of Earths---then you'll no doubt enjoy this first issue, since most of what it does is to introduce that concept. Luckily, it does interest me, and Sam Humphries makes the intelligent decision to have one of his main characters, Heidi, know as little about the details of the book's reality as the reader. She stands in for us, and like he is for Heidi, the nameless man who comes to save her from her Earth is an intriguing enigma, yet somehow easy to trust with his mater-of-fact attitude and battle-readiness. Francesco Biagini's artwork is similarly direct, always expressive and effective, but never especially impressive. He does some cool stuff with the edges of his panels and other kinds of layout moves, but otherwise it's fairly middle-of-the-line work. I'm excited to see this series develop, assuming it lasts long enough to do so, but Higher Earth #1 is no more than a simple, clean, clear introduction to the key players and ideas that will move the story forward.
Morning Glories #18: My aggravation over the snail's pace at which this series drags on is well-documented, and Morning Glories #18 is no exception. Virtually ignoring the previous issues of this arc (and, by the way, wasn't "P.E." supposed to conclude this issue, not the next one, originally? Am I making that up?), Nick Spencer decides to instead switch focus back over to Jun. I have long thought of Jun as the most interesting of the Glories, and I really liked his interactions and the development of his romance with Guillaume, but at the end of the day it was mostly more cryptic nonsense, spouting of meaningless mottos, and characters with unclear motives. Plus I get especially annoyed by Spencer when he actually has a character talk about the lack of answers in Morning Glories, which he's done several times, and does with Abraham here. Stop making excuses for yourself, jerk, and just tell your damn story already! Joe Eisma is Joe Eisma, reliably turning in consistent work on this title since the beginning. It never gets any worse or any better, it's just what Morning Glories looks like. At this point if another artist came in or if Eisma changed his style too much, I feel like it would be jarring, because the look of this book is so firmly established now. As is the narrative style, and it happens to be one which drives me kind of crazy.
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #10: Sam Humphries joins Jonathan Hickman on writing duties with this issue, but it's not an obvious shift in tone. I suppose there's slightly less action this issue than in many of the preceding nine, but that has more to do with where we are in the story, I suspect, than because of the addition to the writing team. Either way, a thoroughly entertaining issue. It took time at the beginning to bring home the full effect of the attack on D.C., and still managed to advance each of its characters and plots point forward, however slightly. And it's fun to watch the Ultimates battle against S.H.I.E.L.D. on top of everything else, especially now that they are so fractured. The City continues to be a unique threat, provoking bold reactions from our heroes that make for great superhero fare. Luke Ross, on the other hand, was somewhat uneven on art, mostly struggling with figures who were in motion. It wasn't a huge detriment here, and it's not like he messed it up every time, but there were several awkward or impossible poses, and in an issue with heavier action I'm nervous about how Ross will perform. Hopefully Ultimates #10 will be the exception, rather than the rule. Beyond those specific things, though, totally serviceable artwork and a fun, logical chapter in this grand tale.
Ultimate Comics X-Men #11: Here, we have a similar waste of story space from Spencer as in Morning Glories above, but with a slightly stronger showing from Paco Medina on art. Not a lot of new information here, or any real character insights or developments. Primarily just a series of checking in scenes for each bundle of characters, watching them each react in turn to the horrendous Sentinel attacks. It's an alright story, just lacking in meat or even much flavor. Nothing unexpected happens, we hear about the Southwest United States getting jacked up way more times than we need to, and then we get an ending that seems pretty mundane considering the work the Sentinels do in the rest of the issue. Medina, however, draws the crap out of those Sentinels, from their two-page spread at Camp Angel to those creepy pages where we see shots of several cities burning, to the reveal on the final page. He doesn't do a remarkable job with the rest of the issue, nor does he do a bad one, but for some reason I really enjoyed his Sentinel-based pages. Otherwise a bland offering.
Uncanny X-Force #25: A fascinating and well-written examination of the motives of each member of X-Force. Even Deadpool, in his own warped way. For a title that is clearly ramping up for something big---notice Genesis and Angel returned in this issue, and whoever's behind this White Sky/Omega Clan situation is bound to have other things in play, plus Rick Remender has been saying so in interviews---it's a smart move to take a minute and remind the readers why these characters are on this team. Or in some cases, why they're not on the team anymore (for now). Remender, as he has from the beginning, knows exactly how to handle his cast, and gives each of them a moment to shine. Fantomex gets the least of it, but his few lines and final action speak volumes. Wolverine, the leader and only remaining founder of the team, as well as the most direct connection to the new Omega Clan, gets the most time in the spotlight, and it is time well used. He deeply but quickly examines the many complicated reasons he has for keeping X-Force alive, and they all make sense and ring true in his voice. It's compelling stuff, aided in no small way by Mike McKone's drawings and Dean White's colors. Their best moment as an artistic team has got to be the two-page spread of the White Sky Showroom, but they also knock it out of the park on the introduction of the Omega Clan and Nightcrawler's flashback panels. There is one terrible drawing of Beast, but otherwise a strong performance across the board. And then, if McKone doesn't do it for you, there are some twenty extra pages of Jerome Opeña art as well, his and Remender's first Wolverine and Deadpool stories. Opeña's art is less stylized here than it has been on Uncanny X-Force, though that may have something to do with the coloring. But it's still quite good, and the stories are fun if simple, as any comicbook shorts are bound to be. Overall, a fitting anniversary issue, and one that excites me for the future of this title in a way I haven't felt for a while.
Wolverine and the X-Men #10: Two unexpected things happened for me while reading this: I loved Chris Bachalo art, and I agreed with Cyclops. The Bachalo thing was a pleasant surprise, as more often than not I find his style confusing and/or off-putting. But Krakoa rising up, that super-complicated two-page spread with like a dozen tiny panels and a couple huge ones, and especially the very opening page were all great. As for agreeing with Cyclops, I still mostly just feel like, "Why can't they all just work together? Why wouldn't they want to?" But Scott's arguments to Logan sounded far more reasonable and well-thought-out than anything he's said in a while. Not all of it, mind you, but enough of it that by the time Wolverine was losing staff members to the other side, I was totally rooting for them over him. Here's a question, though: when does this issue take place? After the fight on Utopia, but before Wolverine is thrown from a plane? Hardly seems like he had time to do all of this in between those two events. And also that would make Rachel Grey's role in AvX #3 confusing as hell. But if this after he gets back from the plane...why isn't he more pissed off at the Avengers for throwing him from a plane? Right? I also don't understand when, exactly, Cyclops had the time to make this visit, but I'm hoping AvX #4 can shed some light. I don't know if I expect it, but I'm hoping. Aside from that bit of confusion, though, I was impressed by Jason Aaron's script for it's take on the mutant side of things, and impressed by Bachalo's art for not bothering me for once. So...impressive issue.