What I’m Reading 0022 & 0023: “Oh My God Why Am I Later Than A ’90s Image Book?!” Edition

Ho, lads! I think we can all agree the holidays suck for having much in the way of free time. Especially when you’re working retail. And then quitting your job, and then inundated with trying to find a new one. Good times! Which doesn’t leave much time for blogging. Time to rectify that situation now, by catching up on some quick hit reviews from the last two weeks. Brevity is my friend here, because I’m in a hurry to get up to date. And away we go…

1. Savage Dragon #192 (Image, W & A: Erik Larsen). Hmm, remember awhile back, when we were all led to believe this issue would see Dragon’s demise? Yeah, don’t believe the hype. Shock tactics will only get you so far, and then you have to walk the walk, too. The pacing’s terrible and the payoff to the “Dragon is going to die!” hype is one helluva letdown, to say the least. Malcolm may be the star for now, but don’t believe for a second he’ll remain so forever. Larsen admits in the lettercol that this issue was late due to numerous rewrites, and it thoroughly shows. Score: 4/10.

2. Sex Criminals #3 (Image, W: Matt Fraction, A: Chip Zdarsky). Strip away the X-rated humor, as well as the David Lynch-ian time freezes, and what are you left with? A really very sweet story about two people discovering each other and falling in love, which is a universal tale anybody can relate to. Fraction manages to avoid every single trope of such an endeavor, and moves the overall story forward in a much more satisfactory manner than the previous issue. One of the best, most unique books on the stands. Score: 9/10.

3. Wonder Woman #25 (DC, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Goran Sudzuka). Azzarello’s radical 21st century reinterpretation of Wonder Woman continues, with just a couple of slight hiccups. First, the supporting cast is threatening to overshadow the book’s star (especially since she’s currently garnering more attention for her shared-title role in Superman/Wonder Woman and the hype/outrage over her appearance in Batman/Superman). And second, any issue where Cliff Chiang’s not pencilling is automatically, noticeably weaker. Nothing against Sudzuka, but Chiang simply has this book’s number.  Otherwise, a perfectly satisfactory issue in one of DC’s most-underrated titles. Score: 8/10.

4. Uncanny X-Men #14 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Chris Bachalo). Once per decade, some genius decides it’s time to trot out “the new generation of X-Men” and introduce a whole slew of new characters into their already-overloaded continuity. Usually, the majority of these characters don’t go very far and are swiftly forgotten, which is part of the impetus to introduce new rookies. This conceit–the introduction of new X-characters–is half the reason Bendis’s Uncanny exists. This issue spotlights new recruit Benjamin Deeds, whose powers are, superficially at least, pretty useless in battle. Cue Emma Frost to take him under her wing in her own unique (read: legally-questionable) way, and prove there’s more to him than meets the eye. A well-written, character-driven issue, although a bit inconsequential, as savvy readers know Benjamin probably won’t last long past Bendis’s tenure anyway. Score: 7/10.

5. X-Men #7 (Marvel, W: Brian Wood, A: Terry Dodson). After being derailed for a couple of months during “Battle of the Atom,” Wood’s superb X-Men gets back underway with the introduction of the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants.Although the inclusion of “mutants” is a bit of a misnomer: as of this issue’s end, typical Daredevil foe Typhoid Mary is getting in on the fun. Wood’s ability to turn convention on its ear like that, as well as his outstanding character work, make this book stand out among not only the X-books, but the rest of Marvel’s output as well. And it’s fortunately very stand-alone, which means it’s perfect for the casual reader. Score: 8/10.

6. Cataclysm: The Ultimates #1 of 3 (Marvel, W: Joshua Hale Fialkov, A: Carmine Di Giandomenico). If indeed Cataclysm heralds the end of the Ultimate universe, the Ultimates drew the short end of the stick in terms of farewell gravitas. Instead of kicking all kinds of Galactus ass, they’re stuck fighting possessed Irishmen. And instead of heavy hitters Cap, Thor, Iron Man, and Nick Fury leading the charge, we’re stuck with Hercules, Falcon, and someone named Monica Chang. They’re hopelessly outclassed,which is an apt metaphor for the condition this book finds itself in anymore: the glory days are long past, and all we’re left with now are the reheated leftovers. Score: 3/10.

7. Avengers #23 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Leinil Francis Yu). What sucks more than having to fight Thanos for Earth? Having to break through his fleet first while already exhausted from defeating the Builders, which is the position Captain America and friends find themselves in here, the penultimate installment of “Infinity.” The issue is, like all other installments of this story thus far, fairly straightforward: Avengers + cosmic allies vs. bad guys. Still, it’s a pretty rollicking adventure, even if by this point I am “Infinity’d” out. Cap’s tactical prowess is on full display, but the individual characters are more like pieces on a chess board moving around rather than fully fleshed out people. Entertaining, but emotionally devoid. Score: 7/10.

8. Daredevil #33 (Marvel, W: Mark Waid, A: Chris Samnee). Note to Mr. Waid: if you want me to invest in your story about a racist organization infiltrating New York’s justice system, it’s best not to digress for a Kentucky Universal Monster mash. And this issue’s even worse than the last: more than being just a weird detour, it relishes in its bad cliches such as DD walking into a hallucination and succumbing to its wiles before ultimately figuring it out. And there’s a talking snake attempting to seduce Matt to the dark side, too, if you want your cliches any more ham-fisted. And then the whole thing ends with a moot point. I’m not sure who Waid thought would enjoy this story, but evidently he wrote this one only for himself. Score: 4/10.

9. 100 Bullets: Brother Lono #6 of 8 (DC/Vertigo, W: Brian Azzarello, A: Eduardo Risso). If the cost of being a good guy is that those around you must suffer, what’s the point? Lono tries like hell to cling to his new leaf, but the drug cartel standing in his path has other ideas. It looks like Lono might finally be succumbing to his baser instincts to CRUSH KILL DESTROY, which is of course what fans are waiting for… but at the same time, would undermine the redemptive storyline Azzarello has been unfolding. Which is of course the point: playing fans’ expectations against the needs of the story. A smart, tightly-written potboiler that’s ramping up the tension as it heads to the finish line. Score: 8/10.

10. The Walking Dead #117 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Negan proves there’s depths more to his personality than previously thought this issue: rather than being an outright sociopath, as has been the assumption, he proves he actually does have a moral code, albeit an extremely warped one. The hardcore violence of “All Out War” takes a momentary breather this issue (with the exception of the Saviors-on-zombie action) for some well-paced, quieter character moments. Though not the best jumping-on point for new readers, this issue, and by extension the “All Out War” story, is amazingly entertaining. Score: 9/10.

11. Saga #16 (Image, W: Brian K. Vaughan, A: Fiona Staples). All the disparate players of this critical darling’s third arc move into place, and that place happens to be Oswald Heist’s home. Prince Robot IV arrives, which brings us back to where issue twelve ended and thus full circle, and the drama ramps up proportionately. Especially with a second uninvited guest arriving onscene. All the action is poised to jump off like mad, but the real question at this point is where Vaughan is going with his muckraking journalists, hot on the trail of the scoop of the century: star-crossed lovers Marko and Alana, whose relationship will undoubtedly prove to be the galaxy-shaking news with a major impact on the series’ never-ending war. Score: 9/10.

12. Black Science #1 (Image, W: Rick Remender, A: Matteo Scalera). What happens when one man’s ambitions, arrogance, and flaunting of the conventional rules goes too far? When the rules of science are ignored? There’s a bill to be paid, and for Dr. Grant McKay, it turns out to be a pretty huge one. Pulpy sci-fi and John Carter collide in one of the best-looking books out  there thanks to Dean White’s insane color palette over Matteo Scalera’s economical pencils.  It’s a bit emotionally sparse thanks to starting up in media res, which stops me from falling head over heels for this book like other reviewers have, but it’s a damn fine book nonetheless. Now if Remender can dial back the pacing next issue and give me a reason to care about Grant McKay, Image will have yet another feather in its recent hot streak cap. Score: 8/10.

13. Sidekick #4 of 12 (Image/Joe’s Comics, W: J. Michael Straczynski, A: Tom Mandrake). After last issue’s disastrous attempt at impersonating a new hero in a new city, Flyboy gets to fall just a little bit further here as Straczynski hits the end of the first act, and not a moment too soon. Anymore dragging Barry through the mud was going to become tedious. The story crackles along, but is stalled by the art: Mandrake comes off like a less-talented Brent Anderson, his characters stiff and unlifelike, his expressions off just enough to be noticeably wrong. I’m not sure where JMS is going with Barry’s  mystery woman, but she has the whiff of a siren or a succubus, and if that proves to be case and she’s responsible for Barry’s woes, I’m calling foul. Scraczynski has a long history of getting lost in the middle of his stories. Fingers crossed, that won’t prove to be the case here, but I’m ready just in case.

14. The Massive #17 (Dark Horse, W: Brian Wood, A: Garry Brown). Callum Israel proves that moral conviction is a matter of opinion when a man is dying. This was easily the most intense, thrilling issue of The Massive to date, and it stems from Wood’s ability to but a human face on a man driven to extremes while desperately trying to make sense of a world gone  crazy. The environmental themes are handled with a deft hand rather than used as a bludgeon, and the eye for detail is excellent and well-researched. One of the most-overlooked books today, and easily the best from Dark Horse. Score: 10/10.

15. Kick-Ass 3 #5 of 8 (Marvel/Icon, W: Mark Millar, A: John Romita Jr.). It had to happen: at some point, the career criminals would get sick of Kick-Ass and his merry band of troublemakers and decide to permanently get them out of the picture. The sub-plot with the Juicer gets short shrift as a result, but that’s pretty much my only complaint here. Meanwhile, Dave discovers the pleasures of a normal adult life while everything he strove to build crumbles around him. Millar and Romita Jr. are firing on all cylinders, ramping up the tension as the saga of Dave Lizewski rockets to its seemingly-inevitable conclusion. Score: 9/10.

16. Powers: Bureau #8 (Marvel/Icon, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Michael Avon Oeming). Not reading this book? Has Bendis’ mainstream work soured you on his style? Think Powers is simply long in the tooth and therefore must be past its prime? I feel sorry for you, then. Brian Michael Bendis is currently holding a master class on How To Write Comics Well, and if you’re missing out, you get a FAIL! This issue begins a new arc, too, making it a perfect jumping-on point for new and lapsed fans alike. The X-Men may be Bendis’ current bread and butter, but this book highlights his true strengths. Score: 9/10.

17. Wolverine and the X-Men Annual #1 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Nick Bradshaw). This Infinity tie-in gets us back to Kid Gladiator, last seen being yanked off of Earth by his father, Shi’ar leader Gladiator, amidst AvX. His brash presence has been missed, along with the unintended humor it brings. KG is having a hard time adjusting to a normal Shi’ar school, and although he’d never admit it aloud, misses the Jean Grey School something fierce. Fortunately, the Avengers’ war against the Builders trundles its way into his neighborhood, giving him something to hit. This issue won’t likely win any converts, but for longtime fans, it’s a real treat (especially with Aaron bowing out of the book in February). It’s fun, with a warm gooey center at its heart and a wicked sense of both action and humor. Score: 8/10.

18. Wolverine and the X-Men #38 (Marvel, W: Jason Aaron, A: Pepe Larraz). Why Jason Aaron is ditching this book to write the vastly-inferior Amazing X-Men is beyond me, but this issue is a great showpiece for why this comic stands out not only among the typically-dour X-Men books but among Marvel’s entire stable as well: It’s smart. It’s funny. It has warmth, heart, imagination, and despite having a full roster of off-the-wall personalities, manages to leave none of them neglected or flat-feeling. This issue picks up with the fallout of “Battle of the Atom:” SHIELD has revealed itself to have Sentinels in its arsenal, and Wolverine wants answers. Pepe Larraz’s art is a bit undeveloped stylistically; he’s workmanlike but not flashy in the least. Only four more issues to go until Jason Latour takes over the writing chores. Enjoy it while you can because there’s not likely to be another Marvel book quite like it. Score: 8/10.

19. Infinity #6 of 6 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Jim Cheung). And in the end, what was it all for? A shout-out to “Kree-Skrull War?” A grand space opera? A straight-up Avengers yarn? A cynical attempt at cashing in on the event comic craze? All of those things, really. In the end, it comes down to a down-and-dirty throwdown with Thanos, whose bastard son “Thane” (I can’t get over how lazy that name is) turns out to be nothing more than a deus ex machina and of course plays a critical (read: convenient) role in ending his father’s threat. Oh, and Infinity also serves to set up Hickman’s next big Avengers opus (which will presumably also be a slutty event comic). But hey, it’s over! Event fatigue can now subside… at least for awhile. Cheung’s pencils are as crisp and clean as ever, at least, making this book a beauty to look at, anyway. Score: 7/10.

20. New Avengers #12 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman, A: Mike Deodato). This Infinity epilogue has two features that elevate it immediately above the common stock: Mike Deodato’s ridiculously good art, and the insanely brilliant dynamic between warring leaders Black Panther and Namor. Hickman shows the long shadow this war has cast on our heroes, with something akin to PTSD bearing down on each of their psyches. And a dire warning is cast, that is both ominous and well-handled: that this war against the Builders was just the beginning, and something bigger is coming. (Maybe an explanation for how the Builders, who claim to have “built” and populated the universe, in direct contradiction to everything that’s ever been said regarding the Celestials.) But hey! This book has been Hickman’s haven for big ideas and tough moral compromises, making it a shining jewel among the Avengers line. Score: 9/10.

21. All-New X-Men #19 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Brandon Peterson). The X-Men fight a religiously-motivated mutant hate group, and because this type of bigotry is new for the Young X-Men, we’re expected to act like we’ve never seen it before as readers. Yawn. Bendis turns in a pro forma script, and Peterson’s bland art (usually crisp and clean), is over-inked by Israel Silva. Maybe next issue. (And as an aside, maybe Young Beast will ditch his idiotic and useless ’90s goggles next issue, too.) Score: 3/10.

22. Uncanny Avengers #14 (Marvel, W: Rick Remender, A: Steve McNiven). Remender decides to finally move his “Ragnarok Now” story forward… five or six issues too late. And in the most piss-poor, shock-tacticky way imaginable, which I won’t spoil here but anyone who’s read the outrage online knows what I mean. It’s nothing more than a cheap trick, and not even Steve McNiven’s art–typically awe-inspiring but oddly lackluster here (maybe because his typical inker Morry Hollowell isn’t on the job with him)–can save the day. Frankly, the only thing keeping me going on this book is the larger picture, which is: heroes fighting heroes means the bad guys get to accomplish that much more. But even that may not be enough after this debacle. Score: 1/10.

23. Hawkeye #14 (Marvel, W: Matt Fraction, A: Annie Wu). Talk about a fallen angel. This book used to be the cream of Marvel’s crop. Now? Over the last four issues (five including the annual), it’s completely lost any and all focus. Clint’s battle against the bros, and his need to avenge his friend Grills, has gone from being the book’s central focus to some sort of mostly-forgotten subplot. Worse, each issue alternates focus between Clint and girl-Hawkeye Kate Bishop now, with alternating artist Annie Wu filling out the Kate issues. Unfortunately, Wu’s no David Aja, and Kate is certainly no Clint. In fact, since she went off on her own, Kate’s become less a character and more a caricature. And that caricature is impetuous, annoying, and has a distinct inability to speak any dialogue that isn’t quirky and peppy. Fraction, what the hell, man? FOCUS! Score: 2/10.

24. Aquaman #25 (DC, W: Geoff Johns, A: Paul Pelletier). Johns’ Aquaman run comes ’round the bend to its conclusion with not a bang nor a whimper, but more of a “meh.” Atlan the Dead King folds like a card table when finally thrown down upon by Arthur, and more or less everything falls into place the way the reader wants it to because Johns was ultimately too lazy to write it any other way. Paul Pelletier’s art is decent but nothing to write home about, which is a pretty apt description of the majority of Johns’ run here. He had the potential to write an epic on par with his work on Flash or Green Lantern, but I guess his need to be a corporate monkeyboy for DC negated his creative impulses. A shame, really. Again, you won’t hate yourself for reading it, but it won’t set you free, either. Score: 5/10.


And that’s it. Twenty-four reviews for two weeks, which is one hell of a weighty proposition. But I did it! I hope you learned something, kids: don’t slack on your blog duties. I’ll be back next time with a more regular What I’m Reading for this week’s goodies.

Keep readin’ those funnybooks!