Thursday, June 21, 2007

Comics for the Week of June 20

Let's go from worst to best, okay? Okay.

1. Countdown 45: Worst of the week (that I purchased, anyway). No mention of Mary Marvel. No mention of the Rogues (who, apparently, had a big day over in Flash, making Piper's and Trickster's conversation a couple of weeks ago about their respective motivations fairly tragic). And the Jimmy Olson storyline just spins its wheels, with no advancement at all.

This week's issue is focused on establishing the character of Forerunner and she's not all that. Holly gets a page and Karate Kid gets two, and neither really amount to much (although at least Holly's has a pretty obvious mystery guest). Oh, and in the very last panel of the story, there's another mystery character who's interested in Forerunner. I wish I was.

The art is serviceable, but very weak overall, especially with faces and expressions. Those scenes with Donna Troy grabbing a machine gun were not very good at all. And I have no idea what she's deflecting with her bracelets. This was, overall, another big letdown issue. Not quite as bad as the second issue, but nearly so.

2. Ex Machina 29: I can't decide if this title is just getting dull or if I'm just getting tired of it. Nothing much ever seems to happen, or at least nothing that happens ever seems to lead to anything. And it takes its sweet time getting there, at that. Essentially, this whole "Power Down" arc has been so the mystery character (from the future? an alternate timeline? who knows?) can tell Hundred that something bad is coming. As much as I like this book overall, it's on the verge of being dropped.

3. From here on out it's all good, though. Iron Man 19 crosses over with World War Hulk and gets a guest writer, Christos Gage, in the bargain. While a lot of the book is looking at the events in WWH from Iron Man's perspective, there's a bit more going on, as well. The characterizations are sharp and believable, making me wish this quality of writing had been going on during Civil War. Butch Guice's art is solid and dynamic as always, and is given a very distinctive punch with the coloring of Dean White. I don't know if it's painted or computer effects, but I like it. It gives the book a very distinct and classy look.

I'm really looking forward to more of this story.

4. Next comes The Incredible Hulk 107. Again, there's some rehash of WWH 1, but only a little, as it tends to leak in from the edges of the scenes we're reading here. I've only read Hulk consistently two times in my life. Back when Bruce Jones was writing (before he dragged the story on for too long and began mischaracterizing characters with no explanation -- Crusher Creel, I'm looking at you!), and now, since Greg Pak has been writing. This is good, violent, compelling, and dramatic work. It only gets better with the art of Gary Frank thrown into the mix.

Story-wise, the main focus is on the supporting cast (with Hercules getting the best moments and the best lines -- I'd pay for a Pak written Hercules series, for sure) as sides are chosen. The question is, though, does Hulk need or even want anybody else's help in this situation? Good stuff.

5. Captain America 27 keeps chugging forward as The Winter Soldier (Bucky to you old-schoolers out there), keeps chugging forward with his plan to respect Cap's memory by killing Tony Stark (Iron Man). There doesn't seem to be a lot happening, for some reason, when actually quite a bit of storytelling and character work is going on. Sharon takes the gun from her mouth and puts on her (very Emma Peel) work clothes, Falcon doesn't do much but enable her, and we find out that Bucky had a fling with Black Widow when she was in training and he was a brainwashed Russian killing machine. Interesting narrative threads keep getting developed, as they do every month in this title, and I'm in no hurry for Steve Rogers to be resurrected.

The art was much more consistent this issue, and I can't tell when Epting and Perkins switch anymore. Maybe my eye just isn't that good or maybe they're starting to morph into each other. I don't know. Either way, it was good and very clearly and dramatically told the story.

6. Best of the week, this week, however, is the launch of another mini-event. Annihilation - Conquest: Prologue, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with art by Mike Perkins, is firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. By staying focused on two main storylines, the story gets a major thrust and serves as almost perfect motivation to pick up the three minis (and crossover into Nova) that spin out of this event -- not to mention the actual Annihilation - Conquest mini that follows those.

I wasn't sure if they'd be able to really establish a threat big enough to warrant another Annihilation event, but I must say, the set-up here is a good one. The Kree are good and fucked. By setting up a barrier to Kree space and dealing with the characters trapped inside during the invasion, we get a nice contrast to the constantly expanding threat of the first series. Of course, invasion is a bit inaccurate. Like the title says, this is a conquest. It's short and sweet, and a bit predictable as a plot point, but well executed in the narrative. The bio-mechanical nature of the Big Bad makes for some very creepy visuals and each of the characters has a very nice set-up to lead in to their respective minis.

I'm just curious to see how they incorporate Rocket Raccoon and the Micronauts' Bug.

Overall, this was good large-scale sci-fi action adventure and hopefully will continue to pay off in the months to come.

In other comics reading news, this week I picked up trades 1 and 2 of The Goon, both of which were very entertaining, if kind of light on content. Like the Hellboy comics, there was a lot of good action, clever characters and situations, and very entertaining humor. But it didn't leave much of an impact on me, just like the Hellboy comics. Maybe I'm just not invested in the characters enough. It was good on just about every level, especially visually, as Eric Powell has a fantastic eye and realization of his ideas.

I also read Ian Edginton's and D'Isreli's new sequel to Scarlet Traces (which I loved!!): Scarlet Traces: The Great Game. This also serves as a sequel to their ST prequel, an adaptation of War of the Worlds (upon which the Scarlet Traces books are based). While this story is nicely realized and well written, something feels a bit off about it. It's as if the limitations inherent in the narrative world, effect the pacing of the story itself, if that makes any sense. The England of the last story and this one, is an England that has used the Martian tech to become the dominant world power and to engage the Martians by bring the war to Mars.

There are a lot of good ideas tossed into this story. The paranoia and government clampdown on civil liberties effectively mirrors our contemporary situation and the characters are all well done (and a hero from the previous story makes a welcome return), but there's a lot that doesn't work very well for me. The casual beating to death of the gay newspaper publisher (who saved our returning hero from a life of alcoholic homelessness) was a bit of a shock. He was a good character who seemed to just get tossed aside when his plot purpose was resolved.

The main character's transport to, arrival on, and subsequent discovery on Mars were all handled rather quickly (which may have more to do with the original publication format and schedule). The resolution, with the removal of the corrupt, totalitarian government and the new golden age of England beginning, also seemed like more of an afterthought than real plot developments. I was also a bit disturbed by the revelation (in the actual plot of the story) of the fact that the evil Prim Minister and his hateful, condescending ally turn out to be entirely justified in their war on Mars. They were only doing what was necessary to preserve England and, by extension, Earth. Luckily the Martians obliterated them, giving them their just rewards after they saved Earth with their evil schemes. Of course, the new England is a brighter, more enlightened place, after the war.

I don't really know what to make of that. I'm all for muddying the morality waters in the telling of tales, but I'm not sure about the revelation that the Evil bad guys of the previous story were actually doing the right thing all along. Just a little too vigorously, maybe?

Anyway, it's not as good a read as the previous installments, but still a nice chapter in the ongoing reinterpretation of H.G. Wells' original story. There were a few interesting moments regarding the original inhabitants of Mars, with Edger Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury visual nods. Unfortunately, they are only mentioned in passing. Just like most of the actual story here.

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