Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pull List Reviews 05/24/2012

First off, my shop got shorted on its order of Teen Titans #9, so that'll have to wait, but luckily there was a lot of great stuff this week, anyway...

Astonishing X-Men #50: I don't want to talk about all the hype surrounding this issue here, for one thing because I plan on talking about it elsewhere, but mostly because I feel like, for the purpose of a review, it's best to ignore that sort of external circumstance and take the issue on its own. And on its own, this issue was a lot of fun. Marjorie Liu clearly knows her characters, and writes them all with strong voices, which helps to add a bunch of really great humor, particularly whenever Wabird's around. There's also a bit of heartbreak, as Kyle turns down Jean-Paul's proposal, forcing Northstar to finally come to terms with the true problems in their relationship. Both the proposal and Northstar's eventual guilt are sad and touching moments, and help to progress the story which has been central to this title since Liu took the reigns. Namely, Northstar and Kyle's love trying to survive in this world full of superpowers. Mike Perkins' art is still a tad uneven, especially when it comes to Wolverine's cowl, but he has some really great moments as well, like when Iceman goes all scary monster and attacks Northstar. All-in-all, a pretty middle-of-the-road chapter, but one which a bit more fun and interesting than the first two. I think that once Liu and Perkins have fully settled into this title, we're going to see great things from them.

Justice League Dark #9: At long, long last, Justice League Dark is as fun and funny as it was always meant to be. Jeff Lemire shakes up the book's  lineup and their reasons for working together, and the end result is much, much stronger than anything from Milligan's tenure on the title. There's a semi-rocky start because, like Milligan, Lemire can't seem to resist having the comic talk about itself---Deadman joking about "real superheroes," Steve Trevor referring to the title as a cute/silly nickname for the team, etc. But once we get past that, there's some really great, magic-filled action and several good moments of characterization which also help to make the whole story more personal for at least some members of the cast. Mikel Janin delivers some of the best artwork this series has seen, too, particularly when drawing Black Orchid, and also Felix Faust. But he does a nice job with everyone, adds a slight but fitting grittiness to the book, and nails the horror elements completely. The inherent potential in this title has always been clear, but only now, nine issues deep, do we finally have a creative team who seems to fully understand and appreciate it. The future looks bright for Justice League Dark.

Mind MGMT #1: I admire and cherish any comicbook that really takes advantage of its medium. Mind MGMT #1, written, drawn, lettered, and designed by Matt Kindt, does just that, with hilarious and intelligent bits of background info written in the page margins, and extra story material on both inside covers. Right there, it wins me over, but of course that's not all it has to offer. It opens with a question about dreams, a question which it never comes back around to answer (yet, anyway), and in truth the whole thing has a dreamlike quality. Some of that comes from Kindt's soft, fuzzy artwork, which helps to keep things calm even when there are moments of fear or violence. But there are elements of dream in the script as well. We get only hints at what is happening and what's to come, but like a dream, even though we may not understand everything, we can feel the weight of it. The importance. Kindt obviously has big plans, and has a lot more figured out than he's sharing with us yet, but he laces this debut with a feeling of impending doom through the narrative captions, so we can sense that big things are building up around the bend. Until that happens, we have a compelling protagonist in Meru, a woman who seems like she might be dreaming a bit herself, or at any rate sleepwalking through her life. She's a strange and fascinating hero, and even though her adventure has only barely begun, I look forward to watching it play out.

Prophet #25: It just gets better and better. Brandon Graham's Prophet has been amazing all along, and this issue is no exception, but there's a subtle shift in personality at work that I thoroughly enjoyed. Partly, this comes from artist Giannis Milonogiannis, who stays true to the established feel of the series but adds a certain roughness to things. The John Prophets we've seen have all been hardened men, but under Milonogiannis' pencils they become so close-mouthed and tight-eyed you can barely see their faces. This is not at all a complaint, because the look more than suits them, and it suits the somewhat harder nature of their mission.  Before, it was always one Prophet struggling to get somewhere, to reach his brothers. Here, not only do we have numerous Prophets working together and already fully-awake, but essentially, they're on a hunting trip. An awesome hunting trip for incredible game---the Nephilim were the best thing, visually and conceptually, about this issue---but nevertheless a hunting trip. This slight but significant change in tone, along with the visually and emotionally stunning ending which pushed the scope of an already massive story out even farther, made Prophet #25 an excellent read through-and-through. The title has firmly cemented itself as my favorite current ongoing series.

Rebel Blood #3: I love Rebel Blood, and while I am still a huge fan of this issue, it felt a bit less inventive than the first two. More of a straightforward zombie survival narrative. Of course, Riley Rossmo was still drawing it, so it was one of the best-looking zombie survival narratives ever. The pack of rabbits charging through the broken window was my personal favorite, but things like Chuck stomping on a fetus or dragging a guy on the back of a tow truck were badass and unnerving and delightful as well. And the story, while perhaps more direct than it has been, was no less impressive. Alex Link has built an understandable, likable hero in Chuck, and it makes sense that he would try to save Red, his only real friend in this fight so far. It also makes sense that his rescue attempt would fail, because when he finally does make it back to his family (which is his endgame), we want him to be alone, to either save them or lose them himself. So I deeply enjoyed everything that actually happened in this issue, even if it was somewhat more by-the-numbers than I've come to expect. With only the finale left to read, I'm hoping Rebel Blood has at least one or two tricks left up its storytelling sleeve, because as a series, its primed right now to be one of the best of the year.

Secret Avengers #27: Rick Remender should teach a class to other comicbook writers about how to handle tie-ins. Linking directly to the themes of AvX, Secret Avengers #27 is be about heroes fighting each other over what to do about the Phoenix, yet at the same time the actual narrative of the main event title has almost nothing to do with this issue. Unlike pretty much any other tie-in I've read, this truly works and makes sense entirely by itself, with absolutely no preliminary reading of the event it's tied to being necessary. Now, having said that, I should also point out that if you know nothing about Mar-Vell (and I know a pretty limited amount myself) then his return may not pack the emotional punch it's meant to, but Remender deals with this by tapping us directly into Mar-Vell's thoughts. We get more than enough of his history this way, as well as his present state of mind, and it does a lot for our understanding and enjoyment of the story. The thing is, though, it hardly matters WHAT the story's about (which is a rarity with a Remender script) because the art is just so damn fantastic. Renato Guedes, with serious assists from colorists Bettie Breitweiser and Matthew Wilson, manages to top himself artistically from last issue, which is no small feat. Thanos' face on the opening page, Vision pushing back against whatever is brainwashing the Kree, and every bit of the Thor vs. Mar-Vell fight are gorgeous. Somehow, even in the midst of so much violence and, ultimately, death, the art is soothing. It invites you in and warms you, calms you while you read about the possible extinction of an entire planet. I wish more superhero comicbooks were this visually pleasing, and I'm going to miss the shit out of this creative team whenever they depart from the title.

Smoke and Mirrors #3: In some ways, the bulk of this issue is what I wanted Smoke and Mirrors to be a from the get-go: a story about a stage magician from our world trapped in a world where magic is real. So far, instead, it's mostly been about Ethan, the boy who (sort of) befriends said magician, and Mr. Ward's own story is certainly more interesting than Ethan's. But now that we're already so familiar with how Ward gets by in this world, the details of his early days there are a bit less interesting than I think they would've been if they'd come sooner. It also means that when we finally return to Ethan's part of the story in Smoke and Mirrors #3, it feels a bit out of place, because we've already spent so much time focusing on Ward. Still, on its own merits, it's a solid issue, telling a clear, quick tale about a man struggling to adapt to an unthinkable situation, and it handles that narrative quite well and realistically. I'm also warming to Ryan Browne's artwork, which rests somewhere betwen "realistic" and "cartoony." But, I realized reading this, that's actually pretty perfect for a book set in a world that runs on magic, and his characters are emotive and strong. Plus, seriously, this title gets props for including a working magic trcik in each issue, and this one had, by far, my favorite. Now that Ward and the closest thing to a villain we've seen yet are finally face-to-face, I hope the ending of this series can pick up a little steam.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #12: By no means terrible, but a bit of a snoozer. I mean, in my fanboy head, I was thrilled to see Ultimate Layla Miller, Mr. Sinister, and... Apocalypse? Someone who goes by that name, anyway. But it took an awfully long time to get to the Sinister/Apocalypse reveal, without a whole lot else really taking place beforehand. Havok, another character who hasn't been in the title since the reboot (I'm not sure anyone who appeared in this issue has), is rescued from a mental hospital in a weird way, for strange and cryptic reasons that I don't know why I should care about. And I mean, that's pretty much it. Nick Spencer has yet to really whet my appetite with Ultimate Comics X-Men, telling too large a story in such tiny increments. Luckily, this marks his departure from the title, and even though it seems rude to add a bunch of new threads without tying any up before you hand it off to a new writer, I'm excited to see what Brian Wood does with the pieces he's been left. I should say, though, for all my griping about the script, Paco Medina's art actually stepped up a notch this issue. It seemed surer of itself somehow, steadier and more confident, which really helped to carry the dry, meatless story. And all the panels of people being rapidly aged to death (of which there may have been more than necessary, but who cares?) really worked for me. Still, not quite enough to enhance the overall effect of the issue too greatly, as the story dragged its feet from cover to cover.

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