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.