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Thor #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Average, but there’s still potential.
Story Title: Untitled

Thor returns.

thor001Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Olivier Coipel
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Asst. Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Editor-In-Chief: Joe Quesada
Cover Art: Olivier Coipel, variants by others.
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This issue–and by extension, the series–holds a lot of potential, and seems to have some good ideas to give us, as readers. The execution seems a bit off, though, and despite some good conceptual ideas, just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

I’ll be one of the first to stand up and complain about “decompression” and generally dragging stories out unnecessarily across multiple issues…but this issue felt like it actually should be at least 2, if not 3 or 4 issues in length.

The issue’s story–boiled down–is fairly simple: we as readers are introduced to Thor, his alter ego, shown how he returns, and follow his alter ego into a “new neighborhood,” so to speak.

The way the title character is first encountered seems to go against his last appearance, from what I recall (given 2 1/2 years’ separation from my last reading of that story). The way he returns has the potential of some epic, legendary thing that could bring a lot to the character…but is over so quickly that one may wonder why it’s taken so long (both in real time and comic-time) for this to happen. There’s some good setup that leads me to assume we’re meeting some new supporting cast, and we’re introduced to what solicitations lead me to believe will be the new regular locale for the book, which will nicely separate it (I hope) from being “just” another super-powered entity operating in New York City.

The art is good…I have no real complaints with it. I like the look of the characters, and can follow what’s going on visually. I also really, really like Thor’s new get-up. It has a much more realistic look, more practical for a “warrior” and somehow evokes more of a feel that Thor has Norse ties (if only through popular cultural depictions of Norse stuff). To me, it also makes the “classic” costume look fairly hokey.

This issue moves quickly along, going from lack of a title character to his return to setup of a new status quo, all in one issue–something that almost seems a feat in itself, in an age when title characters sometimes don’t show up until the final page (if even at all) of their own debut issues.

This is far from a perfect issue…and taken alone, I’m not entirely enamored with it. However, there’s still a lot of potential that I can see…and so I’ll give a couple more issues for Straczynski to kick his magic into gear and really hook me before I bail on this title.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 3/5

Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #4 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: Chapter 4: Depression

Spider-Man mourns the loss of Cap, but still has to deal with stuff that life throws at him…

fallensonthedeathofcaptainamerica004 Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: David Finch
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
From an Idea by: J. Michael Straczynski
Assistant Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Bill Rosemann
Cover Art: David Finch | Variant by: Michael Turner
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This story has certainly lost much of its impact–on me–by being stretched out so much. That’s not to say it’s entirely devoid of impact…but going through these "stages of grief" or "loss" or whatever the official phrasing is would work much better had this series been more immediate and timely. After all, I have had what? A quarter year (or more) now to get used to the idea of Captain America being "dead," and to partake in the online culture of communication that has really lessened the character’s death–as I have come to really agree that within a couple years or so, we’ll have Steve Rogers alive and well, having "got better" after this ordeal…or worse, turn out that THIS Steve Rogers was a certain alien poser.

That meta-textual stuff aside…this was a good issue. This issue’s focus is on a "depressed" Spider-Man as he deals with the loss of a man he’d looked up to as a hero–not just a "fellow" super-hero or colleague, but as an actual hero far above his own "level," by whom it was an honor to even be so much as acknowledged. And while spending time in a cemetary, Spidey/Peter realizes that he’s got an audience…and when his spider-sense goes off, he leaps into action, lashing out at the clear and present threat. The issue winds down with Spidey and Wolverine (which helps hold this series together, not merely "jumping" from one character to another, but maintaining some continuity as the characters interact).

There’s a lot that could be said and analyzed and "read into" the text, based on knowledge that’s been made public about events the writer has faced, and I’d like to acknowledge that fact without getting into it beyond this statement.

The story seems to fit Spidey…I haven’t followed the character all that much for a number of years, so I might be getting something that’s not there, depending on the nuances one pulls out. For me, though, this seemed to be a solid reflection of Spidey acting in context of having just lost a mentor/father-figure/inspiration…and that he’s in the black suit lends yet further loss based on what he’s apparently been dealing with in his own book(s). The threat faced in the cemetery elicits the expected reaction from the character, while simultaneously providing a nice twist, breaking just a bit from a clich├ęd sort of formula.

I liked the art here. Finch isn’t an artist I’m terribly familiar with of late, only dipping into Marvel here and there the last several years…but the art is definitely recognizable, and carries a certain realism to it that (while allowing one to still subconsciously recognize it as "just" 2-d comic book art) adds a lot to the visual enjoyment of the story. And I think that is the best-looking version of the "villain" I can ever remember seeing.

As a whole, this issue (to me) is an example of how enjoyable story arcs can be as a series of stories that CAN be taken alone, but are also part of a larger arc, rather than a series of chapters that FEEL like they are 1/6th segments of a single story…and that makes it certainly worth its cover price.

If you’re following the series already, this isn’t an issue to skip on; and if you’re just interested in Spidey…you’ve got a good dose of him dealing with another loss in his life, mixed with some action here, and I think it’s fair to say you probably don’t NEED to have read the earlier issues to get/follow/enjoy this issue. I do think these may read better in a collected volume in one sitting, though. Of course, you can do much worse by way of single issues.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Wonder Woman #600 [Review]

This is the third “mega-anniversary” issue from DC in a month’s time (Batman #700 and Superman #700 preceded this) and for me, these are 3-for-3 in terms of being disappointments. Huge numbers, sure…and at least Batman and Superman got to theirs “legitimately.” Last month, Wonder Woman was on issue # 44…so it seems kinda fishy to arbitrarily skip 556 numbers just because issue #45 would be the 600th issue if you strung all the previous series combined in one continuing run.

But that’s a complaint to go into detail on another time.

This issue–even after reading the whole thing–is virtually forgettable. Less than 2 days after initially reading the issue, I couldn’t tell you what the “lead story” even was. I remembered the short with Power Girl’s cat, because it was a cat-story and combined with the Origin of Dex-Starr in Green Lantern #55, they stuck out as significant for hitting me close to the heart, having recently lost a cat I’d had for 18 years. The other story in the issue was setup for when Straczynski takes over the title, and showed a Diana Prince in a costume quite a bit different from the recent “traditional” version (and works extremely well in the story, despite all the buzz in the media..more on that later). There are also a number of “pinup pages” where other artistic teams had a chance to display their take on the character for this anniversary issue.

We open with an “introduction” by Lynda Carter–the actress who portrayed Wonder Woman in the old tv live-action series…I hardly remember the last time I saw a collected edition with an introduction, and now here we have one for a single-issue comic…I understand there’s big-time significance to a female character having so many issues published, but it still seems strange.

Valedictorian
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciller: George Perez
Inker: Scott Koblish
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Assoc. Editor: Sean Ryan
Editor: Brian Cuningham

The first story then begins, with Wonder Woman leading most of the well-known (and some less-so-well-known) female characters into battle, before rushing to a graduation ceremony where she’s glad to have arrived in time to see a girl graduate. We find out this is a girl who was part of the supporting cast, apparently, back when the Wonder Woman title was relaunched in the late 1980s after Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story here–at least to this male reader–as fairly generic. It’s cool to see the follow up on a character who has since her first appearance grown up, which lends some real history to the Wonder Woman tale as a whole…but it’s still–structurally–not all that interesting. The art by Perez is awesome, though, and I can overlook a boring story for the beautiful art, the detailed portrayal of the various characters. Plus, there’s that little tidbit of info older readers know: it was Perez who relaunched the character back in the 1980s, so seeing his return to contribute to a story all these years later–as the artist, and by indication in the credits, as an “inspiration” for the story.

Fuzzy Logic
Writer & Artist: Amanda Conner
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: John J. Hill

Next up, Wonder Woman teams up with Power Girl to defeat “Egg Fu,” and then retire to Power Girl’s office, where they discuss the way Power Girl’s cat has been acting, and Power Girl realizes she needs a place away from the office, where she and the cat can be away from the day-to-day business of things. The art is so-so…nothing spectacular; it doesn’t blow me away or make me feel it’d be anough to carry a boring story. But it works for this story, and doesn’t put me off. The cat seems a bit stocky/bulky…but in terms of a fictitious comic-book cat, I really shouldn’t complain…he’s a cute little thing without being overly-cutesy.

Firepower
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Eduardo Pansica
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Travis Lanham

The story that follows is a short that basically pit Superman and Wonder Woman against Aegeus, who has stolen lightning bolts from Zeus. The character apparently is Olympian–I’m not familiar with this version of the character, but the name and visuals seem somewhat familiar, suggesting I’m not entirely unfamiliar–whether in DC‘s comics or simply in reading of Greek mythology. As Superman is vulnerable to magic, he’s more the “backup” in this tale, as Wonder Woman takes the lead in bringing the villain down. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point to this story in and of itself outside this issue…it’s just a tale to show Wonder Woman and Superman teamed up, though giving Wonder Woman the starring role and relegating Superman to an almost second-tier status (as a guest-star, that’s how it goes, though)! The visuals are ok, but again…don’t stand out as significant (whereas the opening story with Perez’ art I recognized it and knew without looking at the credits that it was Perez’ work).

The Sensational Wonder Woman
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Scott Kolins
Coloris: Michael Atiyeh
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano

The next story reeks largely of being little more than metatextual. Wonder Woman is shown in battle, while narration boxes discuss her journey, and leads to what symbolically indicates the character rushing into an unknown future, from an established past…almost feeling like a vague series or season finale where the makers aren’t sure if they’ll get to do anything else with the story.

Odyssey – Prologue: Couture Shock
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Don Kramer
Inker: Michael Babinski
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Finally, we have the prologue to Staczynski‘s story, where we find a young Diana Prince in a new, unfamiliar (but with touches of familiarity) costume, seeking an oracle, and referencing a dead mother recently brought back…after having been dead for a few years. We come to see that this new, “current” Wonder Woman is the result of something screwing with the timeline, and she’s going to have to put things back to rights, to exist in the mainstream current DCU again.

We then close with a preview of Action Comics #890 with no cover image to differentiate it from any of the other stories in the issue.

Between stories, we get some “iconic” Wonder Woman pinup pages. While on the one hand they seem a bit like filler material, I am (as I was with Batman #700) very, VERY glad to see these on the INTERIOR of the book, rather than as variant covers!

There’s a two-page spread showing the classic/traditional-costumed Wonder Woman striking a pose in the foreground, with slightly dimmed-out images surrounding as the background, displaying many of the main DC heroes she’s worked with, the villains, and they seem grouped by time-frame, from the different periods of the character’s life, at least post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Overall Thoughts on the Issue

These are all decent stories, though the issue as a whole feels more like it should be some sort of Annual rather than a (renumbering aside) regularly-numbered issue in the midst of the ongoing series. If this were a half-half split with an epilogue from the previous writer and a prologue from the incoming writer, with pinup pages to lend to the anniversary feel, it wouldn’t seem so out of sorts. As is, it’s an issue with a whole bunch of stuff crammed in, apparently to give a LOT of people some way to say they “got to work on” this anniversary issue.

If you’re a Wonder Woman fan, this could be a bit iffy. The opening story hardly seems worth a $5 price for its nature just to wrap up Simone‘s run on the book. For newer fans, the final segment is the same way…not worth the $5 just to get such a short prologue to the upcoming run, nor is it worth the price just to get the “debut” of the “new costume” that seems to be THE buzz of late.

This issue seems like it’s more well-suited for the random person who is familiar with the character in American popular culture, but virtually entirely UNaware of current continuity. The stories are so short and lacking in ongoing plot elements that one mostly needn’t know anything of the character or stories…there’s a little more flash than substance here.

Despite the hype…this issue isn’t really worth it unless you specifically want this sort of anthology book. It’s not going to give much to summarize the last several years’ stories, and there’s little more than “previewing the premise” in the prologue to the upcoming arc.

I don’t particularly recommend the issue…but on the whole it’s not something I recommend against, either. Ratings below based on the whole issue and not just any single segment.

Story: 5.5/10
Art: 7/10
Overall: 6/10

Superman #700 [Review]

The Comeback
Storytellers: James Robinson & Bernard Chang
Colorist: Blond
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
Editor: Matt Idelson

Geometry
Writer/Layouts: Dan Jurgens
Finishes: Norm Rapmund
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: John J. Hill
Assistant Editor: Wil Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson

Grounded Prologue: The Slap Heard ‘Round the World
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Eddy Barrows
Inker: J.P. Mayer
Colorist: Rod Reis
Letterer: John J. Hill
Assistant Editor: Wil Moss
Editor: Matt Idelson

So…Superman hits #700. I still remember when Action Comics hit this number nearly 200 months ago, waaaaay back in 1994.

Of course, this one somehow doesn’t seem quite as special. For one thing, it doesn’t seem nearly so special, what with Batman #700 being out a couple weeks back, and Wonder Woman #600 about to hit, and being aware of those other titles and the anniversaries.

Plus, while perhaps after 16 years I’m forgetting…right now, I’m recalling that Action Comics #700 was simply its own story, part of the single, ongoing story of the time. An extra-sized issue celebrating the anniversary, but other than the length and the tease of a wedding…just another issue.

Superman #700 is just another issue, but not in the good way.

We have 3 partial-issue stories, making this just another “anthology” of sorts, of Superman stories. The first story features Superman’s reunion with Lois, after having been away so long on New Krypton…that creative team making their exit. The middle story by Dan Jurgens is a fairly fun throwback to the days of lighter stories, and is a fairly welcome return…unfortunately, just for this story as part of the anniversary issue. The final story is a prologue to the incoming creative team.

Frankly, I’m rather tired of things jumping all over the place with the Superman books of late. If multiple issues were all advancing different sides of a story fairly equally and on a consistent basis…sure. But lately–particularly the Last Stand of New Krypton–things have seemed outright disorganized to me. Better to have one issue focusing on this element, one issue focusing on another, one issue focusing on yet another element of the story, in terms of expanding beyond a “core.”

This feels like it should be an “annual” given the anthology nature. Incoming readers jumping on for #700 may not really have any sense of the past year and a half or so of stories, so that first segment won’t mean much; and those looking to get the conclusion to the story they’ve followed for over a year and a half are stuck with material for an entirely different creative team and story that on the whole is likely to be an entire disconnect from the last couple years’ worth of stories. And the Superman/Robin story–while enjoyable and entertaining enough, being disconnected from both the other segments, would also itself seem better-suited to be a special issue all its own.

I can’t help but compare The Comeback to the sequence from Adventures of Superman #505 back in 1993 that provided the official reunion between Superman and Lois after Superman’s death and the Reign of the Supermen epic. Though now nearly 17 years in the past, I prefer that to this…this one seems somehow arbitrary, and lacked the feeling and depth of the 1993 story. The art’s not bad, but when compared to the Jurgens/Rapmund that follows, it pales significantly for me.

Geometry is a nice little tale from Superman’s early years, and shows a situation which winds up being a Superman/Robin team-up between Clark and Dick, while Bruce is unable to do the Batman thing due to an essential Wayne Enterprises function. Robin strikes out on his own for the night, having realized that an arms transaction was going to go down sooner than he or Batman had thought. Superman had already dealt with the individuals in Metropolis, and follows up on the Gotham City side, where he winds up being in time to save Robin, who got in over his head. The two share the friendly bond of being out of their element/not having Batman in the mix…though the conclusion provides a nice extra touch. Jurgens is just about my favorite Superman artist, and working with Rapmund, the art for this segment is a huge treat with some of my favorite Superman art featured in the current titles in quite awhile.

The final 10-page prologue for Straczynski‘s Grounded serves as a true prologue–setting up the story to come. Still freshly returned from a year on New Krypton, Superman has been before governmental bodies explaining what happened and his role in what recently transpired (in War of the Supermen). He is confronted by a woman whose husband recently died of cancer, and she blames Superman for not being there to save him–that his powers surely could have allowed him to “operate” where actual doctors could not. This leads to Superman brooding over the situation, blaming himself, and through a flashback to a conversation with Pa Kent, he comes to the conclusion that he’s been keeping himself above things, in a comfort zone, and must change things up and put himself back into fertile soil, wake himself up from how he’s been, to do what he really needs to do.

The visuals for this story–as provided by Barrows & co.–isn’t quite up to Jurgens/Rapmund‘s style in my eyes, but is still good quality work, and enjoyable in and of itself. No real complaint to it, and if this quality is maintained for the entirety of the Grounded arc, I’ll be a pretty happy camper.

Overall, this is the second anniversary issue this month to be more disappointment than not, though. If you’re interested simply in having the anniversary issue with a big, round number…sure, you could do a lot worse than this issue. But if you’re not an ongoing/continuing reader, the Superman/Robin story (not tied to previous nor upcoming story) is only 16 pages and certainly not worth the $4.99 cover price by itself.

I won’t go so far as to recommend against this issue, as exact interests/tastes vary in what may be desired in such an issue. But I don’t specifically recommend this, either. Ratings below based on the issue as a whole.

Story: 4/10
Art: 7.5/10
Overall: 5.5/10

Red Circle: The Web #1 [Review]

Full review posted to comixtreme.com.

Story: 4/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

The Red Circle: The Hangman #1 (one-shot) [Review]

Full review posted to comixtreme.com.

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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