Monday, 3 January 2011

The Pull-List - 16/12/2010

The Essential Comic

Wolverine #4
By Jason Aaron and Renato Guedes
Let me start by saying this: I despise the abysmal tripe that is “Wolverine: Origin.” By writing that story the Marvel executives essentially destroyed the character of Wolverine; it was a stupid story and it made me physically angry. Now, onto my second rant: I also hate “Enemy of the State,” Mark Millar’s idiotic and incoherent attempt to deconstruct Wolverine by making him evil and redeeming him as the story progressed. It was an absolute failure, only worth reading for the gorgeous John Romita Jr art. Now, on to this issue, this has elements of both. The evil Wolverine running around in this arc has been handled much better than in Millar’s story, because unlike Millar, Jason Aaron maintains his sense of character and storytelling, regardless of the over-the-top action he puts in his books. On the topic of Wolverine’s origin, there are a handful of flashbacks in this issue, just little snippets of Logan’s past, with some particular references to THAT story, but Aaron handles them gracefully and with skill. Then there’s the last page reveal, which by rights should have me shaking my fist and screaming, a la Charlton Heston at the end of “Planet of the Apes.” But it doesn’t, because if anyone can pull this off its Jason Aaron, and considering his own grand sense of storytelling deprived him of having this kind of moment in the most recent arc of Scalped, I cannot wait to see how it plays out with these characters instead. All there is left to say is that after this issue, I am seriously in love with everything Jason Aaron is writing at present, and while this is the lowest book on my appreciation meter, the fact is, it’s still absolutely marvellous.
Rating: 10/10

And The Rest

Amazing Spider-Man #650
By Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos
Amazing Spider-Man maintains its high standards of excellence once more as we enter the third issue of Big Time. There’s the introduction of a new Spider-Suit, a battle with the Hobgoblin, some action involving the Black Cat and some great jokes littered throughout, all of which combined offer up the perfect Spider-Man comic book. It’s especially great when you consider this is a milestone issue and all the elements necessary to making Spider-Man excellent should be contained within. Dan Slott was the perfect person to put on this book, and while he’s not as hardcore as Joe Kelly or Mark Waid, his story so far has been immensely enjoyable, particularly with the aid of Humberto Ramos’ excellent artwork. The back-up featuring the return of a classic villain also offers some great entertainment and foreshadows what is sure to be a major event in the book in a few months.
Rating: 10/10

Assassins Creed: The Fall #2 (of 3)
By Karl Kerschl and Cameron Stewart
As far as video game adaptations go, this series has been the best ever produced. That’s mainly down to the duel team of Karl Kerschl and Cameron Stewart, who take on the roles of author and artist concurrently. The plot is decent, but lacks something if you’re not steeped in the lore of the games; meanwhile, the art is absolutely spectacular, meshing both men’s styles wonderfully. Truly, the art is the star of this book.
Rating: 8/10

Avengers Academy #7
By Christos Gage and Mike McKone
I’m going to be honest: I don’t care about these characters at all, and nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise. I picked up this issue solely for the Hank Pym stuff, because after all these years, someone has to do him right for once; this book managed it just fine – everything about Pym and his desperate struggle to reinvent himself over the years is fascinating to read. Then you get the standard superhero fare with these Avengers recruits, and while the idea of them is interesting, they’re bland, two-dimensional characters who serve no real purpose outside this book. I’m all for that, too, it’s just not something I want to read.
Rating: 7/10

Avengers vs. Pet Avengers #3 (of 4)
By Chris Eliopoulos and Ig Guara
I’m almost disappointed that they explained the reasoning behind the Avengers/Pet Avengers fight in this issue; it was so much fun reading it without any clue as to why they were at war, but of course, we need to understand motives – it can’t just be a dreadfully fun, unexplainable tale. Chris Eliopoulos is an absolute genius, as ever, constructing a brilliant take on the Avengers as well as their pet counterparts; it’s a shame he’s not drawing this series, but Ig Guara does a fantastic job at maintaining a gritty, yet cartoony style that almost seems to parody the dark comics we’ve gotten used to over the years.
Rating: 10/10

Batman #705
By Tony Daniel
There has to be a bad one, doesn’t there? With all the Batman books demonstrating exactly why we love the character so much, the main title falls by the wayside, trudging through poorly constructed plots with non-shock twists and artwork so ugly that more often than not my eyes could only gloss over the writing. Bringing Ra’s al Ghul’s father back into the series just seems to detract from Ra’s’ own impact, while the last page reveal of a new sidekick shows that either Tony Daniel is a closet genius, or he hasn’t got a clue how to write Batman villains. Either way, this is the worst Batman series being published right now, in almost every way.
Rating: 3/10

Batman and Robin #18
By Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel
I’ll hand it to Paul Cornell, he’s making the best of this bad situation; not only is he reduced to fill-in writer on a series that’s featured Grant Morrison for every issue up to his arrival, but he’s also had to rush the story together. Saying that, this issue’s story was much stronger than the first instalment’s; it’s still not fantastic, or even on par with the worst plotted issues of Morrison’s run, but it’s still enjoyable. The new foe, the Absence, has a decent enough origin and she fits into Cornell’s apparent obsession with overlarge household items. The art, on the other hand, from Scott McDaniel is just insulting. Considering McDaniel was once one of the best artists in the business, it’s horrible to look at his work now and feel the sense of revulsion I do looking at almost every page. I say almost, because there are still some moments of genius, which elevate it slightly above the awfulness of the first issue; this one is less rushed and shows some sparks of promise, but ultimately doesn’t deliver. In the end, it’s worth reading this; many people will find something to love here, but for me, this is just a plodding arc between two (surely) better ones.
Rating: 5/10

Batman: Orphans #2 (of 2)
By Eddie Berganza and Carlo Barberi
Saying this is one of the worst Batman mini-series ever printed is a compliment to this issue. There was absolutely nothing redeeming about this issue, particularly as it follows an issue that, while not particularly good either, had such promise. There are a few twists in the tale, Batman pops in occasionally and acts un-Batman-like, and then the villain is revealed, but not really. Because this doesn’t answer any of its questions, and if it did, I missed them completely. This was the wordiest, most incomprehensible Batman story I’ve ever read; it made me long for All Star Batman, and that is the method of torture I use on my siblings when they’ve been thoroughly annoying. I wouldn’t give this to someone as toilet paper; my collector side is the only thing stopping me from putting this on a bonfire. From a man who’s apparently good enough to be an Executive Editor at DC, this was amateurish, bland and insulting in almost every way. Maybe DC should rethink that promotion.
Rating: 2/10

Birds of Prey #7
By Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf
So far, Birds of Prey has been bordering on drivel; it’s been cheesecake art to the extreme, and I’ve just had the horrible gut-feeling that Gail Simone has lost touch with the characters. In this first issue of a new story arc, the focus is mostly on Barbara Gordon as we find ourselves moving into the ‘Death of Oracle’ saga; it’s an interesting dynamic and her interactions with Batman are fantastic throughout, showing that Simone really does understand Barbara and her relationship with Bruce. The scenes with the rest of the Birds, meanwhile, still felt clunky and uninspired, like there was something missing constantly; it was better than in previous issues, granted, but far from perfect. The art by Ardian Syaf is great, a much needed improvement over Ed Benes; it’s no longer cheesecake-like, but manages to maintain the same glorious sense of style and innovation a book like this requires. All in all, this is a great jumping on point for new readers, and should hopefully be the start of a new era for the Birds of Prey.
Rating: 8/10

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513
By David Liss and Francesco Francavilla
I never expected this to be good. Not until I read the Gordon back-up in Detective Comics #871, at least. Francesco Francavilla’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and even if the story wasn’t any good, that would be reason enough to pick up this reinvention of both Daredevil and Black Panther. The story itself, by David Liss, is focused on Black Panther’s integration into American society; he’s not using that name anymore, but it’s obvious that he’ll be using it again before the story’s end. The antagonist, Vlad, is creepy enough and keeps the story engaging, while Panther’s new status quo is interesting to watch unfold and comes to a nice sense of completion by the end of the issue.
Rating: 9/10

Brightest Day #16
By Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Scott Clark and Joe Prado
And so, Brightest Day continues to fluctuate between amazing issues and bland ones, this one falls somewhere in the middle. It’s basically an issue focusing on the new Aqualad embracing his destiny as a defender of Atlantis and the world; he’s a decent character, but does come off as bratty and annoying at times. Meanwhile, the only others characters to receive attention this time are Firestorm and the Black Lantern Firestorm; both of these scenes are brief, but allow for further character development. The slow pace of this series is keeping it from becoming fantastic, but there’s still a lot to love throughout this Brightest Day event. The final page offers up a respectable cliffhanger and the tease for the first issue of 2011 promises to kick off the year with a bang.
Rating: 8/10

Captain America: Man Out of Time #2 (of 5)
By Mark Waid and Jorge Molina
Mark Waid writing Captain America is always great; even after a lacklustre first issue, this series had me drawn into its grasp. The second issue improves greatly on the first, focusing more on Cap’s psychological recovery upon adjusting to modern day New York; he confuses Rick Jones for Bucky and is mistaken for a new superhero by the populace. The moment when he realises he’s not dreaming was a wonderfully powerful one, and it choked me up, too; of course, to the ultimate patriot, what he discovers would break his heart. The art by Jorge Molina and Karl Kesel is better this time around, too; it looks cartoony, but realistic enough to make a distinct impression on the reader. Hopefully there are more Waid mini-series waiting in the wings, because if this one is anything to go by, they’ll be a blast.
Rating: 8/10

Conan: The Road of Kings #1 (of 6)
By Roy Thomas and Mike Hawthorne
Conan is an incredibly fun character and this new series looks like the return-to-glory the comic franchise needed. With a new film making its way onto screens next year, this focuses on Conan’s encounters with pirates and a buxom wench; it’s great stuff, and Roy Thomas shows off his writing skills which, while dated, are still great fun to read. The art by Mike Hawthorne is suitably bloody and entertaining and make for a rounded experience.
Rating: 8/10

Darkwing Duck #7
By Ian Brill and James Silvani
How can you not love Darkwing Duck? Everything about this book, and the series that spawned it, screams genius. The adventures of a crimefighting duck battling all manner of animal foes are incredibly fun and wonderfully engaging every month. This is the penultimate chapter of a Crisis-style crossover that features an enormous number of characters from the Duck-universe of Disney. It’s incredibly amusing, action-packed and generally entertaining.
Rating: 9/10

Deadpool MAX #3
By Dave Lapham and Kyle Baker
Words cannot describe how surprised I am by Deadpool MAX. I hate the character of Deadpool and everything he stands for in the incessant ramble of 1990s stylised comic books; but, somehow, David Lapham is penning a Deadpool that is both fun to read and exciting to uncover piece-by-piece. So far this series has been comprised of one-and-done issues; this one focuses on racist cult leader, Baron Zemo, which was hilariously realised, satirising the very foundations of racism within society. The art by Kyle Baker is fairly decent, suiting the book stylistically rather than being overly good, in general. Check this out if you’ve ever been curious about Deadpool, but have been put on by regular continuity’s moronic, unfunny version; this series might surprise you.
Rating: 8/10

Donald Duck and Friends #361
By Francois Corteggiani and Comicup Studio
Boom! Studios make damn fine Disney comic books, and this book stands alongside the others as a fun romp bringing back great memories of a character that’s been around since before my grandparents were born. Donald Duck is learning martial arts in this adventure, and there are plenty of laughs to be had throughout; it looks and feels like an old school Disney cartoon and the love and care that go into every issue is exceptional. If you’re a Disney fan, there’s no way you won’t love every minute of this.
Rating: 8/10

G. I. Joe: Cobra #11
By Mike Costa, Christos Gage and Antonio Fuso
G. I. Joe Cobra has been a consistently great series, and with every issue it continues the rollercoaster ride of action and suspense as we watch Chuckles descend further into the darkness designed by Cobra. Mike Costa and Christos Gage continue to pen a tale that feels like modern day spy thrillers, but also manages to maintain the charm and integrity of the G. I. Joe licence; Antonio Fuso’s art continues to maintain the exceptionally high standard it’s enjoyed since issue one.
Rating: 10/10

Green Lantern #60
By Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke
It’s great to see Green Lantern is getting good again; after a slump over the last few months where the issues didn’t feel as enjoyable as they were surrounding Blackest Night, we come to a resolution of sorts surrounding the New Guardians arc and the implementation of the entities into the main story. This issue focuses on Hal’s battle with a Parallax-possessed Flash, and sees the identity of the mysterious villain revealed, as well; it’s great fun, and shows that Geoff Johns clearly planned for the slump to end on a resounding crescendo. The art by Doug Mahnke is great, as ever, and draws us further into the space epic; the only flaw with this issue is that, for a space opera, we’re spending an awful lot of time on Earth, and maybe now is the time to head back out into the stars and see Green Lantern return to it’s space opera roots.
Rating: 9/10

John Byrne's Next Men #1
By John Byrne
John Byrne was once a premiere creator; his Marvel and DC work, at least throughout the 1980s, lives in legend as some of the greatest comic work of all time. Then, in the ‘90s, he lost it. And no matter how much he struggles, he can’t seem to claw back his success; but whereas his X-Men co-collaborator, Chris Claremont seems to have embraced his current Z-List creator status and churns out books that are, if nothing else, entertaining, Byrne cannot make anything work well. His Angel books have been weak and ugly, and this return to his Next Men series is an absolute travesty of a comic book; bad writing, average artwork and the sense that Byrne has finally abandoned all concepts of dignity. This should be avoided at all costs; for good Byrne work, head back into the Marvel vaults and pick up his X-Men issues.
Rating: 4/10

Mighty Samson #1
By Jim Shooter and Pat Olliffe
Modern mythology is hard to pull off, but somehow Jim Shooter has managed it with this new series, bringing back a character from the days of Gold Key Comics in the 1960s. It’s an ancient-style story set in a mythological village within a modern wasteland; this concept alone is enough to carry the issue: that and the fact that some of it is incredibly brutal and adult. The art is by Pat Olliffe, whose style seems to have deteriorated over the years; it’s now just a shadow of his original style, which wasn’t great to begin with. He does a respectable job bringing the world to life, but when you consider it to the classic issue reprinted within, it has a lot to live up to.
Rating: 6/10

The Occultist #1
By Tim Seeley and Victor Drujiniu
As a one-shot introduction to the world of The Occultist, this book was a lot of fun. We get the full origin of our protagonist, some decent action and drama and at the end there’s a neat cliffhanger and some serious questions still left to answer. Mike Richardson and Tim Seeley have constructed a great story for this series and this shows just how fun it’s going to be. The art by Victor Drujiniu is standard fare, but works well with the story and adds layers of atmosphere as it progresses. If you’ve read it, then hopefully you understand that this book will be a lot of fun when it picks up again in 2011.
Rating: 8/10

Proof: Endangered #1
By Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo
Are you paying attention, boys and girls? Good, because after what seems like a lifetime of trudging through darkness and monotony, Proof is back, and better than ever. This issue sees the start of a new series for the enigmatic John Prufrock, the Big Foot turned government agent. Its great fun to watch events unfold as Proof gets his game back on and we encounter various characters that will have an impact on the plot as it progresses; the ending promises some interesting developments over the remaining issues, while also keeping the unsettling and gritty feeling of the book consistent to the very end. If you’ve been burned on sub-par Proof recently, this is your chance to read a book that’s hitting all the right notes.
Rating: 9/10

Strange Tales 2 #3 (of 3)
By Various Creators
Some things just shouldn’t work, and an epic collection of indie creator-driven Marvel stories is one of those things. But it works so well, and that’s almost frightening to comprehend. This issue is special for a lot of reasons; from its amazing cover to its Harvey Pekar gem of a story to the hilarious Terry Moore Thor story this is easily the best issue in a mini-series that has been a wonderful surprise. When the trade appears, grab this; you’ll have an unbelievably fun time.
Rating: 10/10

Superman #706
By G. Willow Wilson and Amilcar Pinna
DC needs to abandon this storyline; it’s a sad thing to admit, and an unlikely thing to happen, but they just need to retract it and issue an apology to readers. It’s not even the delays, or JMS’ departure, or the fill-ins. It’s the fact that this book just keeps piling on insult after insult to Superman fans and turning this series into an empty shell. This interlude issue by G. Willow Wilson is better than the last fill-in, focusing on Perry White and an accusation of improper conduct between the Daily Planet and Superman; interesting, sure, but woefully boring once it gets going. That, and the artwork by Amilcar Pinna is so ugly it ruins every page of the book and makes the story the only thing holding the book together. It’s such a shame that Superman has fallen so far so quickly, but that’s more down to editorial allowing bad storytelling than anything else.
Rating: 3/10

Thunderbolts #151
By Jeff Parker and Kev Walker
Wow. That’s the only word that can describe this issue of Thunderbolts. After the mammoth 150th issue, who’d have predicted that it would get even better this month? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. The issue’s focus is primarily on the origin story of Ghost, and that is truly fascinating. He’s been one of the less interesting characters so far, but somehow, Jeff Parker makes him absolutely fascinating and sympathetic – you’re on his side, despite all the horrible things he’s done. The art by Kev Walker, too, is absolutely mind-blowing; his pencils deserve to be pored over for hours. Despite a great issue, the last page hurt it; the character featured is someone I care nothing for, but with hope in my heart, maybe Jeff Parker will make him tolerable.
Rating: 10/10

Uncanny X-Force #3
By Rick Remender and Jerome Opena
How much fun is this series? Never before would I have thought a series featuring Fantomex and Deadpool would be such a joy to read every month; after the amazing first issue and the second issue’s coasting decency, we find ourselves with the best issue so far. The third issue introduces us to Apocalypse’s final horsemen, and gives us brief origins of each; they’re a hardcore bunch, and the flashbacks show just how disturbed each of them are. The present day battle is decent, too, with Wolverine facing off against the leader of the Horsemen while the rest of team lie dying. Rick Remender writes each of these characters wonderfully, and as a team they maintain a high level of entertainment value and intensity; the art by Jerome Opena is the best of his career, dark and stylised and perfect for the book. If you’re not reading Uncanny X-Force, even if you’re not an X-Men fan, the question is: What’s your excuse?
Rating: 10/10

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