Saturday, June 19, 2010

Quarter Bin Review- “X-Men Adventures (vol. 1) #6"

(April 1993)

"Northern Exposure"

Ralph Macchio (writer), Andrew Wildman (artist). Cover by Wildman.

Summary- Struggling to deal with his unrequited love for Jean Grey, Wolverine has retreated to the arctic circle to in search of solitude, unaware that he's being stalked by his archenemy Sabretooth. Meanwhile, Gambit, Storm and Jubilee take a trip to Genosha, an island nation that has made headlines by publicly welcoming mutants within its borders. Have the X-Men found a new sanctuary for mutantkind, or is the island of Genosha hiding a sinister secret?

Comments- This isn't a bad comic book per se, but it's certainly an unspectacular one. The script adapts an episode of the X-Men animated series almost verbatim, and it feels as though as little effort as possible was put into the transition to the printed page. Andrew Wildman's pencils are good enough, in an "every artist from 1993 wanted to be Jim Lee" kind of way, but the whole production just feels underwhelming. At times, the story simply doesn't flow, which I suspect is due to the remove of shots from the cartoon's script that made the plot more cohesive. The most egregious example comes from a scene in which Wolverine is half dead and at Sabretooth's mercy, but flip the page and Sabretooth is nowhere to be seen as Wolverine is rescued by a band of Inuit fishermen. For the most part, this is an inoffensive example of all-ages superhero action, and it has aged fairly well in the past decade and a half (other than the inclusion of Jubilee, who possesses the mutant power of being an insufferable early 90s stereotype). Ultimately, X-Men Adventures #6 just isn't that great of a comic book, but if you spot it in a quarter bin somewhere, you could do worse than giving it a read. You're probably better off just watching the cartoon though.

Final Rating- 4/10.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Issue Review- "Human Target" vol. 3 #5

(August 2010)

"The Wanted: Extremely Dead Contract! pt. 5- Havoc in Hong Kong!" "Scars pt. 5- Not Really"

Robbie Thomspon and Len Wein (writers), Bruno Redondo and Chris Sprouse (artists). Cover by Ryan Sook.

Summary- The Human Target (Christopher Chance) continues his international trek to recover the secret ledgers of Don Morelli, a repentant mafia crime lord who has decided to turn himself over to federal prosecutors in the United States. Now on the home stretch, Chance finds himself in Hong Kong, with Morelli and the Dons daughter Angelica in tow. As usual, Chance almost immediately finds himself attacked by a squad of mob hitmen. It seems that there's a mole in Chance's operation, an enemy who may be right under his nose. In the back up story, a woman Chance has been seducing reveals herself to be yet another assassin, and we learn the secret of another one of Chance's many scars.

Comments- This is the penultimate issue of a miniseries that bears little resemblance to the Human Target's earlier appearances, as it's missing Christopher Chance's once signature practice of taking the place of the person he's been hired to protect- in other words, becoming a Human Target. Instead, "The Wanted: Extremely Dead Contract" is based on the altered version of the hero used for the semi-hit television series. It's a dumbed-down version of the character to be sure, but still works well enough as a James Bond clone. The twists aren't that surprising and the story retraces well trodden ground, but the action is exciting enough to keep the reader's attention. Len Wein's high octane script is well rendered by Bruno Redondo's pencils, which provide an easy to follow, visually straight-forward style. Redondo also does a great job of capturing actor Mark Valley's likeness as the new (and much blonder) Human Target; his depictions of Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley as Chance's compatriots Winston and Guerrero are equally impressive.

On the other hand, the back up story by Robbie Thompson is just a disappointment. This month sees another almost completely silent story (after Thompson used the same gimmick last issue), and despite Chris Sprouse's always impressive artwork, it comes across as five pages of filler. What started as a fairly interesting back up feature has devolved into a waste of pages- pages which would have been much better served if they had been added to Wein's lead story.

Final Rating- 6/10.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Quarter Bin Review- “Daredevil Vs. Punisher” #5

(December 2005)

"Means and Ends" pt. 5- "The Unraveling"

David Lapham (writer, artist and cover).

Summary- After a pitched battle against Daredevil last issue, the Punisher has been left physically and emotionally shattered. An innocent homeless man lies near death, after catching a stray bullet from the Punisher. In addition, a young boy named Martin Bastelli who idolized the vigilante tried to defend his family's business by shooting a mafia thug who was trying to shake down his father; in reprisal, mob goons later murdered Martin's father, and left his mother and sister Mary hospitalized and fighting for their lives. Sneaking into the hospital to check on the wounded vagrant and the Bastellis, the Punisher is shaken by how much Mary resembles his own late wife Maria. Martin arrives, with a crew of mobsters and crooked cops hot on his heels. Forced to drag the kid along to protect him, the Punisher is faced with a gauntlet of would-be killers, and even if he can survive that, a vengeful Daredevil is hot on his heels...

Comments- "The Unraveling!" follows the usual dynamic between the Punisher and Daredevil (or the Punisher and Spider-Man, or the Punisher and Captain America etc.). Matt Murdock thinks that Frank Castle is a psychotic murderer who needs to be taken down, while Castle looks at Murdoch as a well-meaning but naive fool who needs to open his eyes and see that killing criminals is the only real way to stop them. What's interesting though is that this time, Daredevil's argument has a little extra weight behind it- as of last issue, the Punisher's actions nearly caused the death of an innocent bystander, and his influence on an impressionable teenager indirectly led to the decimation of an entire family. Yet it's still the Punisher that saves that boy's life, acting as a sort of Guardian Angel of Death, even as his bloody and brutal methods show that boy that Frank Castle is nothing like the glamorized hero he had thought he was. It's a great take on the character, showing both the good and the damage he does every day, and how his personal war on crime has led to a deep and all consuming self-loathing.

This is one of David Lapham's first forays into mainstream comic book work and the subject matter fits him well, a natural progression from his defining work on his self-published crime comic Stray Bullets. As a late issue in a six-part story this isn't exactly an accessible issue to pick up on its own, but it's a solid chapter in a solid miniseries. "Means and Ends" may not be Stray Bullets good, but it's an entertaining enough read.

Final Rating- 7/10.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quarter Bin Review- “Thor” vol. 3 #10

Marvel Comics, September 2008

J. Michael Straczynski (writer), Olivier Coipel (artist and cover).

Summary- After last issue ended with Loki revealing to Balder that he's the son of Odin, Balder copes with the bombshell revelation that he's an uncrowned prince of Asgard. Wary of trusting Loki, Balder seeks out his trusted friend Thor, who confirms that Loki was speaking the truth. Thor explains that he was sworn to secrecy by Odin for fear of Balder dying before Ragnarok, but falters in explaining why he couldn't bring himself to tell Balder the truth now that Ragnarok is behind them. Prodded by Loki, Thor publically reveals Balder's heritage and announces a massive banquet in his honour. Though Balder proudly takes his place at Thor's side, he pulls Loki aside and cautions her that while he's willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for now, she would do well not to abuse his trust.

Comments- As someone who spent most of his childhood reading all the books on mythology I could get my hands on, I'm somewhat confused by this storyline. I don't really get why Balder is shocked to find out that he's Odin's son, when that's never really been in question in classical mythology. Pretty much every story involving Balder refers to him as the son of Odin and Frigga; to the best of my knowledge, it's always been the same in the Marvel universe, even if I can't think of any issues offhand where it's been explicitly stated. I suppose if you want to split hairs you could point out that Marvel's Balder also wasn't killed by a blind guy with a sprig of mistletoe, and that the comics don't necessarily reflect the myths, but I've always gotten the impression that if something about a mythology-influenced comic character is unsaid, it probably mirrors the classical representation. I guess it's kind of a minor point to get hung up on, but I'll admit that it still kind of bugs me.

Speaking of mythological comic characters, there are many different ways a writer can handle them. You can do straight superhero stories (like Thor's appearances in the pages of "The Avengers"). There's the fantasy/sci-fi mashup that Walt Simonson used for his run on "Thor", and that Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have been using on "Incredible Hercules". Matt Fraction put his stamp on Thor with a series of one-shots that read like the lyrics to a Slayer album. For this title, Straczynski opts for an almost Shakespearean tone, contrasting the majesty and import of the Asgardian gods with the simple world of man. This pairs perfectly with Coipel's gorgeous pencils, which are tailor made for drawing immortal Viking warriors. On the plus side, this establishes a regal feeling that's fitting for stories about gods, but the downside is that Straczynski's "Thor" is so atmospheric and character driven that nothing ever really happens. As cool as it is to see the Asgardians as incredibly powerful yet aloof and unfathomable figures, it eventually gets boring; after long issues of talking heads, a big part of me really just wants to see Thor crack someone in the head with his hammer.

Final Rating- 6/10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quarter Bin Review- “The Savage Dragon” #29

Image Comics, July 1996

Erik Larsen (writer, artist and cover).

Summary- Following her announcement that she's pregnant, a furious Rapture is looking for answers as to why the Dragon moved out of their apartment without warning. She storms across Chicago hunting for Dragon, unaware of the fact that he's seen a video that seem to show her cheating on him with Peter Klaptin. Meanwhile, Wildstar and his friends are wandering the city's sewers when they stumble across Rock's gang of homeless Freaks. Wildstar panics, and knocks Rock unconscious- and as luck would have it, the Dragon has just been ordered to lead a small army of cops in evicting the Freaks from city property. Despite Dragon's reservations, he dutifully takes point, but without Rock's calming influence, things threaten to spiral out of control- especially when Radical digs in his heel and refuses to leave, and officer Howard Niseman and his fellow prejudiced goons are just waiting for an excuse to unload with some hardcore police brutality. And as if things couldn't get more chaotic, the demonic Fiend is waiting in the wings- and it has a plan to consign the Dragon's soul to the depths of hell!

Comments- "Days of Our Lives" subplot aside, this is a another action-packed issue of the best Image book of the 1990s. From cover to cover, Savage Dragon #29 is jam-packed with kick-ass fight scenes, goofy humour, over-the-top violence and a generous helping of T&A (closer to two generous helpings in fact)... hell, there's even a spiffy free poster. Coming from a time when the comic industry was flooded with crap (and more than a fair share of it coming from Image), Savage Dragon was one of the best books around and it absolutely still holds up over a decade later.

Final Rating- 8/10.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Guest Review- “X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain” #1

Marvel Comics, December 2009

Fred Van Lente (writer), Dennis Calero (pencils). Cover by Calero.

"Die Psycho Scum!"

For me, reading and rereading X-Men Noir has been the most fun I have had with a comic series all year. X-Men Noir does more than put the X-Men in the late 1930s with snappy dialogue, low key lighting and general misanthropy, it is a detective story where the clues come from drawing upon knowledge of X-Men history. It is a story metaphorically linked to ordinary X-Men comics, and thus can only really be fully enjoyed by a reader with a fairly good understanding of the first incarnation of the X-Men team. Then there's the various literal interpretations (Iceman is an iceman, get it?) and clever cameos that make X-Men Noir a blast to read. X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain #1 picks up where the original limited series left off, and already it shows the same style of storytelling that made me adore the original series.

The original premise of replacing the mutants with sociopaths may have required a leap of faith from readers, but Van Lente made it believable. In the end, X-Men is not only a story of social outcasts, but also how the irrationality of the public can be used to aim their misguided anger towards something they don't understand, as made apparent by such fixtures of X-Men lore as Senator Kelly and angry misguided mobs. Once again Van Lente shows his cleverness by introducing Eugene Judd to the team, better known to readers as the lovable Canadian Avenger Puck, as a man who can make himself compact and hide in a variety of spaces. One of the better ideas is the linking of the comic to current issues, as with the island detention centre "Genosha Bay". Mark of Cain is however lacking a serialized short backup story like the one in the original series. While the disappearance isn't too disappointing, it certainly detracts from the pulp flair of the first X-Men Noir series.

The atmosphere typical of film noir returns as Dennis Calero turns up the shadows and Fred Van Lente lets loose the snappy dialogue. Van Lente adheres as closely as possible to the film noir genre, and Mark of Cain naturally has a very cinematic feeling to it. However the fact that the dialogue is censored at times really takes away from the experience. After all, you would not want little beeping noises in a film noir movie whenever an actor cusses on screen. There are also two instances where I could not make out for certain what the censored word was. Editorial blundering aside the team of Calero and Van Lente do an excellent job.

Calero infuses his work with a realism that grounds these powerless X-Men with a set of more believable skills. Sometimes it does seem that the shadows may be too much- with the shadowy faces and everyone wearing trench coats instead of costumes, it takes a second to orient yourself with exactly who is talking- an issue that presented itself in the last series as well.

It is hard to not compare Mark of Cain with the original series, because the original did so many things right and really raised the bar for any sequels. So far Mark of Cain seems to be following in the footsteps of the original series and that is a good thing. Though the ultimate verdict on the series will be delivered on the last issue, the first issue certainly shows enough merit to predict that Fred Van Lente and Dennis Calero will cook up another amazing story.

9.1/10 –Binney Sharma

Quarter Bin Review- “Hulk Smash” #2

Marvel Comics, April 2001

Garth Ennis (writer), John McCrea (artist). Cover by Kevin Nowlan.

Summary- Following a disastrous confrontation with The Hulk last issue, two American soldiers (Major Parker and Lieutenant Mitchell) attempt to rally for a second assault. Parker scolds Mitchell for panicking at the sight of the Hulk, endangering his men. Parker insists that as an officer in the army, it was Mitchell's job to lead- he didn't have the privilege of being allowed to feel fear. Meanwhile, the Hulk screams out a surprisingly eloquent speech about how humanity constantly persecutes him, declaring mankind to be the most destructive species on Earth.

Mitchell and Parker successfully lure The Hulk into a trap and drop half of a cliff side on top of him, but The Hulk just shrugs the debris off and attacks. Parker falls from the cliff to his death, his last words being an order for Mitchell to keep fighting. Mitchell is soon met by four soldiers wounded in the initial confrontation. Though Mitchell offers them a chance to save themselves, the infantrymen stand by him, vowing to stop The Hulk while he's still far away from civilians. The soldiers attack the Hulk again, and though they actually manage to knock him off his feet, they fail to take the green monster out. With no way left to stop the raging giant, and with his troops wounded and facing certain death, Mitchell trains his sidearm on the Hulk and orders him to stand down. After a tense stare down, the Hulk miraculously backs away and wanders off, either confused or impressed by Mitchell's willingness to risk his life for his fellow man.

Comments- Well, Hulk sure is well-spoken today. He's too savage to be Smart Hulk, too smart to be Savage Hulk and not nearly grey enough to be Grey Hulk. Maybe Peter David has a name for this one too...Ennis is probably more in the loop than I am. Though more likely than not, he didn't really care about how smart or dumb The Hulk usually is- he's exactly as smart and as eloquent as the story needs him to be. In all honesty, I was more concerned with Ennis' overuse of somewhat obscure military slang- I'm guessing at least ninety-five percent of the people who read this issue will be left scratching their heads at least once. Despite all that, this issue is fairly interesting, offering a strong story about military honor and offering a rare insight into the Hulk's psyche. "Hulk Smash" doesn't really hold up to Ennis' usual high standards, but it's entertaining enough nonetheless.

Final Rating- 5/10.