Monday, 13 December 2010

The Pull-List - 02/12/2010

The Essential Comic

American Vampire #9

By Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque

Skinner Sweet is an evil guy. Throughout American Vampire so far we’ve seen him do all manner of horrible things to people, and this issue is essentially the culmination of all these events to date. There’s a confrontation between Skinner and the child of a man he brutalised in Stephen King’s storyline; there’s an examination of Chief McCogan’s past and his relationship with his adopted father; plus, we get a nice bit of set-up of where this series is heading. Scott Snyder has crafted a wonderfully unique and haunting universe, steeping in reality and myth concurrently; the art by Rafael Albuquerque is gorgeous, too, capturing the monstrosity of the events and bringing a brilliant sense of vision and scale to the forefront of the monumental series. Every issue has been amazing, but this issue has been, by far the most disturbing.

Rating: 10/10

And the Rest

Action Comics Annual #13

By Paul Cornell, Marco Rudy and Ed Benes

Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics has been fantastically fun, so far. It’s managed to turn Lex Luthor into a character you care about rather than a two-dimensional villain and plot device. This annual serves as an interlude to the main story of Lex’s hunt for a Black Lantern ring; it features two stories, each set in Luthor’s past. The first involves Darkseid and is drawn by Marco Rudy, and for the first time reading this run, it was disappointing; the idea of a relationship between Lex and Darkseid from the past seems plausible and engaging, but Cornell doesn’t quite pull it off – Rudy’s artwork, meanwhile, is fantastic. The second story does much the same as the first, it places Lex alongside another villain he’s had little-to-no interaction with in the past: Ra’s al Ghul. The two work well together, but Ed Benes’ art doesn’t fit well with the story, which is a shame. The story does get bonus points, however, for offering a slight explanation for Lex’s insanity.

Rating: 6/10

Adventure Comics #521

By Paul Levitz, Jeff Lemire, Geraldo Borges, Marlo Alquiza and Mahmud Asrar

The Legion of Super Heroes bore me. It’s nothing to do with the writing or the characters; it’s a problem with me. I’ve only found them interesting in their cartoon, in Geoff Johns’ Superman run and in The Great Darkness Saga. That’s all. But I’ve been dipping in and out of Adventure Comics to see what’s going on; this issue was full of fun and maybe that was because it focused more on the Last Guardian of Oa than anything else. As well as that, it’s nice to see them doing something with Mon-El to make him interesting following his untimely exit in War of the Supermen. The back-up by Lemire and Asrar was great fun, too, although the ending tagline announcing a three-month wait for resolution is slightly irritating.

Rating: 8/10

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes #2 (of 4)

By Christopher Yost, Scott Wegener and Patrick Scherberger

Standard superhero fare cashing in on the current Avengers cartoon; the art style is decent, reflecting the show’s cartoony look, and the story is decent, having been written by one of the primary writers on the show. It’s just not a perfect Avengers story, however, and was probably better suited for animated treatment. There’s nothing bad about it, really; just the wrong decision at its core, given how fantastic the series has been so far on screen.

Rating: 7/10

Baltimore: The Plague Ships #5 (of 5)

By Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Stenbeck

Mike Mignola is a genius. There are no other words to describe the man. Hellboy is a phenomenon; the BPRD, too; and now the adventures of Lord Baltimore stand alongside his other achievements, as a great series of tales ripe for continuation. This first mini-series has been spectacular fun; brutal vampire slayings, grizzly World War One horror and some fantastic twists in the tale. Its basis in the novel by Christopher Golden and Mignola makes it all the more engaging as a literary piece. The art by Ben Stenbeck is powerful and haunting throughout with just enough realism to make it perfectly frightening. This series was outstanding and the promise of more makes it all the more perfect.

Rating: 10/10

Batman: 80-Page Giant 2010 #1

By Brad Desnoyer, Matt Manning, Mandy MacMurray, John Stanisci, Paul Tobin, Peter Miriani, Lee Ferguson, Garry Brown, Matthew Southworth, Ryan Kelley, Szymon Kudranski

This special issue of Batman was a delightful surprise. Normally these extra-large editions have at least one shining moment, but in this collection each story was surprisingly engaging and fun to read. The Joker story was sickly twisted and frightening; the Riddler story was funny and witty; the Calendar Man story was emotional and gripping; the Killer Croc story was genuinely scary, thanks to the best art in the book by the excellent Matthew Southworth; the Scarecrow story was wonderfully disturbing; the Bruce Wayne story was the only one that wasn’t fantastic, feeling as though it were forced in to give a sense of continuity; and the Humpty Dumpty story was horrifically edgy and hilariously twisted. All in all, the majority of this was fantastic; every story was marvellous, and the artwork throughout was consistently good.

Rating: 8/10

Batman Confidential #51

By Marc Guggenheim and Jerry Bingham

Following the triumphantly epic 50th issue, Batman Confidential continues to be a wonderful piece of insight into the past of Bruce Wayne. Sure, a lot of the arcs have been dreadful, but we’re into the second part of this exploration of Bruce’s methods, and it’s already one of the best stories this book has contained. Marc Guggenheim is truly an accomplished writer; his Batman and Bruce Wayne are two very different beasts, each with their own sense of unity. The art by Jerry Bingham, too, is fantastic; the Batman sequences show off wonderfully scratchy pencils, while the Bruce Wayne sequences are intricate paintings. Both work perfectly to create a Batman story that is both compelling and fun; well worth a look.

Rating: 9/10

Batman: Orphans #1 (of 2)

By Eddie Berganza and Carlo Barberi

It’s somewhat refreshing to read a Batman story set in the past. It’s one of the many reasons Batman Confidential is so fun to read on a month-to-month basis. This mini-series from a relatively unknown creative team deals with a murder-mystery from Batman’s past; it involves street kids, violence and some decent twists and turns. The story by Eddie Berganza is engaging enough, but overly wordy at times, which hurts it throughout. The art by Carlo Barberi evokes an exaggerated style, almost akin to Humberto Ramos which is effective, but not the perfect style for a Batman book. There’s nothing wrong with this issue, per se, but it isn’t the greatest Batman story ever written; it is, however, two issues worth of content for the price of one, and that may make it worth a read for many Bat-fans.

Rating: 6/10

Brightest Day #15

By Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Scott Clark

Once again, Brightest Day asserts itself as one of the most engaging books of the week. The focus this time is on the Martian Manhunter as we witness a strange and wonderful future where he has helped save the universe and is the most beloved member of the Justice League. When the other members of the League start to be murdered, though, you get the sense that the future isn’t quite perfect. Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi really have a handle on all the characters integral to this storyline, and here they make the Manhunter sympathetic and powerful through a combination of anger and dedication. The art by Patrick Gleason is decent, too and creates just the right amount of anticipation for his run on Batman and Robin with Tomasi in February.

Rating: 8/10

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #39

By Joss Whedon, Scott Allie and Georges Jeanty

And so we come to the action-packed half of the season eight finale, soon to be followed by the turbulent and emotional final issue. This was a packed instalment; we get the final battle between Buffy and Angel, the epic war to save the world, and a major character death. Plus, there’s a game changer at the end which creates more questions than it answers. Joss Whedon’s Season Eight started out as a fun experiment, and is coming to its close as a mixture of failure and brilliance. This final arc has been spectacular, but so overly crammed with information that its turned many people off; as a Buffy fan, though, this was nothing short of spectacular as a finale. The only problem, other than the cramming, was the co-writing by Scott Allie, which was obvious here; some of the dialogue felt off, and that seems to be less down to Whedon and more down to his editor. The art by Georges Jeanty, too, has never been my favourite, and here it’s no different; sometimes it’s fantastic, but at other times it’s messy and confused – possibly a reflection on the chaos of battle. Regardless, unless the final issue is awful, I’ve enjoyed the ride of Season 8, and look forward to Season 9 – although, hopefully, it’s a bit shorter.

Rating: 7/10

Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers #1

By Ian Brill and Leonel Castellani

Rescue Rangers is one of the greatest cartoons of the animation renaissance of the late ‘80s, early ‘90s; so to see them return in a comic book is a treat, particularly as Boom has made the best of every Disney property they’ve based a series around. This issue starts a brand new adventure that looks and feels exactly like the cartoon; it’s funny, fast and still manages to maintain a sense of mystery. It’s a true pleasure to read, much like Darkwing Duck. It made me realise how much I miss the show, and all its fellow Disney series, as well.

Rating: 10/10

Daredevil #512

By Andy Diggle, Anthony Johnston and Roberto De La Torre

The “final” issue of Daredevil does a decent job of wrapping up events from the final issue of the Shadowland mini-series; we focus on the supporting characters and get some depth to the otherwise shallow storytelling from the previous issues, and the event itself. The writing is by Andy Diggle and Anthony Johnston, but the book feels much more like a Johnston piece. He does the best work it can with the story it’s got to play with; as a final issue, though, it was unappealing and stale. The art by Marco Checchetto was a nice continuation of the Michael Lark style the book has maintained these last few years and complements the story. The promise of a completely new direction with the next issue of this series is a welcome one, even if at present the new protagonist and their motivation does not seem logical or clear.

Rating: 7/10

Generation Hope #2

By Kieron Gillen and Salvador Espin

This latest X-Men off-shoot intrigues me; it’s a group of characters introduced in Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny X-Men in a team led by Rogue and Hope. This should be my least favourite book out there right now, but it’s so much fun it’s untrue. There’s something about the way Kieron Gillen writes these characters that makes me care about them, despite any initial worries; it’s some classy scripting, and the story is no slouch, either. The art by Salvador Espin is decent, too. It draws you into the action and only has a few off moments in the entire issue remaining, for the majority, a visual delight. This is a series to look out for, and hopefully it lasts for a while.

Rating: 8/10

Heroes for Hire #1

By Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Brad Walker

Moving away from their cosmic universe to more of a street level world, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning bring us a new incarnation of the Heroes for Hire. The main draw of this series is to see a mash-up of characters dealing with threats while receiving a fat pay check at the end of an assignment; it’s a fun idea, and one that Abnett and Lanning have changed to be more in-line with the Charlie’s Angels set-up. Despite this, the story never feels alive enough throughout this initial issue; granted, it’s the introduction of this new concept, but it doesn’t feel solid, which is a shame. The art by Brad Walker is decent enough, but some of his characters look downright ugly; the last page reveal of this arc’s villain, however, was a wonderfully creepy image. This series is probably worth picking up the second issue, but as a lone instalment it is something of a letdown.

Rating: 6/10

Iron Man/Thor #2 (of 4)

By Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Scot Eaton

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are becoming something of a dream team when it comes to penning comic books; their recent works have been fantastic, focusing on the cosmic area of the Marvel Universe. This superhero adventure feels like a bit of a cash-grab from a marketing standpoint, but as a story it’s a vibrant and energetic piece calling on numerous bits of fan service and continuity references to help keep the reader drawn in. The duo has a real handle on how both protagonists sound and act; it’s marvellous to read. The art is good throughout, but does come across as a Bryan Hitch knockoff at times; it’s not bad, just not the high standard you’d expect.

Rating: 7/10

Jonah Hex #62

By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Eduardo Risso

Jonah Hex has consistently been one of the best books DC’s published in the last five years, and this issue was no exception to the rule. The tale of Jonah Hex helping transport a mysterious package across America is as standard as Western tales come, but here it’s given the added twist of involving sideshow freaks and a very angry squid. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti consistently deliver an engaging, fun story with each issue; even those that aren’t fantastic are still wonderfully entertaining. The art by Eduardo Risso is gorgeous and makes me miss the good old days of Batman: Broken City and early 100 Bullets. If you aren’t reading Jonah Hex, pick up this issue, you’ll love it.

Rating: 10/10

JSA: All Stars #13

By Matthew Sturges and Howard Porter

A year ago when they split the JSA into two books, it sounded like a fun and interesting idea. Over the year, though, it’s been a constant series of ups and downs; this two-part story focusing on Cyclone, however, has been great fun. The story isn’t too complex, mind you; it’s the art that’s the real draw here. Howard Porter is one of the reasons I got into comics; the man is absolutely mind-blowing, and while his style has dissipated over the years, it’s still great to see him working still.

Rating: 8/10

Looney Tunes #193

By Bill Matheny and Dave Alvarez

I’m a sucker for the holidays. Whenever there’s a Christmas special to be had, I’m there. So, it was through a combination of happy coincidence and Yuletide spirit that I decided to read the Christmas issue of Looney Tunes. And it was a fun book. The story was a nice Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck adventure, with cameos from Sylvester and Tweety, as well as Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. The art was, quite simply, Looney Tunes art; standard but necessary. It was a fun time that took me back to the good old days of watching Looney Tunes over the Christmas Holidays.

Rating: 7/10

Secret Six #28

By Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore

The final part of this arc sees the ongoing feud within the Secret Six come to a close, and a potential new status quo get introduced in the final pages. It wasn’t exactly different from the last few issues; bloody violence, coated in twisted humour and gigantic action sequences. It’s always surprising to me how this book gets overlooked so often; it feels like it should be the DC equivalent of a MAX title. Gail Simone really understands these characters and whenever they’re in a panel, you understand them perfectly; it all makes perfect sense. The art by Jim Calafiore complements the storytelling wonderfully. He’s not the best artist working right now, but his sense of style and choreography when it comes to this kind of story is a perfect mesh of cartoony sketching and gritty realism. The next issue crosses over with Paul Cornell’s Action Comics, which should offer the perfect jumping on point for new readers.

Rating: 9/10

Shadowland #5 (of 5)

By Andy Diggle and Billy Tan

Well, that happened... Marvel’s latest event comes crashing to a close in this conclusion to the ruining of Daredevil, and not a moment too soon. Andy Diggle has always been a great writer, but his run on the Daredevil title has been average at best, and this five-issue mini-series has been absolutely awful. Nothing feels fulfilled or necessary, and it all seems to be heading towards trying to achieve the Captain America effect of redeeming Matt Murdock in 6 months time. The only problem with that is this: Captain America’s return was rushed, contrived and empty; his death, meanwhile, was one of the greatest comic books of the last decade. In contrast, the fall of Daredevil throughout this mini-series has been insultingly bland; hopefully this means Daredevil Reborn will be a masterpiece, but it’s doubtful. The art in this issue by Billy Tan showed a couple of moments of promise, but in the end, its standard muddy compositions. This has been a truly bad series, but now it’s over; and hopefully something good will come of it.

Rating: 3/10

Sweet Tooth #16

By Jeff Lemire

It was so obvious I didn’t even see it coming; that’s how powerful the cliffhanger of this issue was. It’s been staring us in the face since we found out about Jepperd’s past a few issues back, and now it’s come to what will surely be a gamechanging moment in the tale of Sweet Tooth. It’s the character of Jepperd who drives this issue, as he contributes to an attack on the base where Sweet Tooth and the other animal hybrids are being held. There’s a nice moment of confrontation for him that takes up the latter half of the issue, and some great set-up for what’s to come, beyond the cliffhanger. The rest of the issue is great, too; the mystery of Sweet Tooth’s past is theorised briefly, and the protagonist himself asserts himself as a powerful character following his growth over the last story arc. Jeff Lemire is crafting one of the best series on the shelves right now, and if you’re not reading it, you are sorely missing out.

Rating: 10/10

Taskmaster #4 (of 4)

By Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo

Words cannot describe how stunned this mini-series has left me. Taskmaster was a non-entity to me; a character who was neither interesting nor deserving of attention in any way. This mini-series has changed that, and is one of my favourite of 2010; certainly the best thing Marvel has published this year. The way Fred Van Lente has made us care about something of a non-character is absolutely astounding, and if you aren’t touched by the ending of this book then you should consult a doctor, because you may lack emotions. The art by Jefte Palo, too, was absolutely gorgeous and complemented the story perfectly. My only complaint, and it's a minuscule one, is this: the Secret Avengers are on the cover but only appear briefly, almost as though they're the butt of a joke. This mini-series was a must read, and if you can’t be bothered to go back and pick up the issues you should definitely collect it when it comes out in trade.

Rating: 10/10

Warriors Three #2 (of 4)

By Bill Willingham and Neil Edwards

The Warriors Three are fantastically fun characters; there is nothing about them I don’t like, each one represents something different in my eyes and when they’re together there is guaranteed to be some fun had. This mini-series, so far, has been absolutely fantastic at presenting the characters to a new audience; Bill Willingham has crafted a quest for the characters steeped in myth and legend and featuring some wonderful battles and character moments. The art by Neil Edwards is also very crisp and detailed; he’s come a long way since his work on the Fantastic Four, but seeing him draw them here, for just a page, shows a definite improvement in his artistic style.

Rating: 8/10

Wolverine: The Best There Is #1

By Charlie Huston and Juan Jose Ryp

This is the worst kind of Wolverine story; one that tries to be dark and brutal while coming off as nothing more than crass and underachieving. The story is absolutely atrocious for the first half of the book, while the second half it does show slight promise, but continues to be hampered by awkward dialogue and a Wolverine who is barely recognizable alongside this mishmash of bland new characters. The artwork is standard fare; slightly cartoony with an attempted edgy slant that never pulls itself off. Had this been a MAX title, with a competent set of creators working on it, then this could have been a fantastic start for a more violent and honest representation of Wolverine. As it is, though, all we’re left with is a comic book that rivals “The Sentry: Fallen Sun” for worst book of 2010.

Rating: 3/10

Women of Marvel #2 (of 2)

By Dame Darcy, Mary HK Choi, Jim McCann, Audrey Loeb, Robin Ha, Nuno Alves, Mike Ryan and Emily Warren

This book is all about the art. Each story is a fun slice of adventure and general hilarity, but the artwork throughout is absolutely sensational; every page has something to gawk at. It’s hard to really explain why it was good, though. The Cinderella story was fluffy, the Jim McCann tale was dark and exciting and the Shanna tale was fun, but generally unmemorable. This was definitely an anthology to take a look at if you get the chance.

Rating: 8/10

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