Sunday, May 29, 2011

EXPRESSions - Week of May 25th

So with the sheer number of comics I purchased this week, it took me a tad longer than expected to work my way through them all.  Fortunately, the additional reading time gave me the opportunity to think of a more suitable name for my ponderings on the comics I read every week.

As you may have gathered from the post title, I've renamed Quik Thots to EXPRESSions.  I think it does a slightly better job of sounding somewhat respectable while also pointing towards what I hope to do in these types of posts: namely, express my thoughts on comic books in a succinct, express manner.  I'm pretty pleased with the name and I hope you feel the same way.

But, in an attempt to keep to that overall idea of brevity, let's move on to my weekly thinkings.  (as always, the titles are hyperlinked to more information on the individual comics, should you be so inclined)

Action Comics #901
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Jesus Merino

I've been happily following Action Comics since Paul Cornell took over with his fantastic run focusing on Lex Luthor all the way back in issue #890 (it really seems like it was longer ago than eleven issues, but I digress...).  It seemed strange at the time to focus one of Superman's main books on the Man of Steel's nemesis, but the story Cornell told, combined with his characterization of Luthor, won me over completely.  I was a little concerned when I heard that Superman was coming back with issue #900, since the Luthor-centred story was going so well, but I figured Cornell had earned my trust with the earlier issues.

After reading #900 and now #901, I'm not so sure.

I don't know what happened, but almost everything I loved about the Lex Luthor run is gone.  The clever characterization, crisp dialogue, interesting plot, and even the consistent art are all lacking.  Part of the problem is that Action Comics is now part of the Reign of the Doomsdays storyline, which I have no interest in and have not followed at all.  This was apparently a mistake on my part, because the comic didn't really spend any time explaining what was going on or how everyone ended up where they are, apparently assuming the reader already has this information.  Unfortunately, it made for a somewhat confusing and surprisingly uninteresting read, which is too bad.

I don't mean to be overly harsh, but this all adds up to me taking Action Comics off of my pull list for the foreseeable future.  It's surprising to me that the issue could change in quality so quickly while maintaining the same writing, but I'm not going to be buying Actions Comics until the Reign of the Doomsdays is over or until I see consistent positive reviews elsewhere online.  If you're itching for some Superman-family action, I'd recommend hunting down the single issues or the trades of Paul Cornell's Lex Luthor run, because those were all quality books, while this current direction cannot hold my interest.

Amazing Spider-Man #662
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Reilly Brown

As I said last week, I really like Amazing Spider-Man under the direction of Dan Slott.  Unfortunately, like last week, this issue is not written by him, instead featuring Christos Gage finishing up his two part storyline that he started in last issue.  Unfortunately, one of the best things I can say about this is that releasing the second issue so quickly means that the fill-in duties can hopefully end sooner.

Like last time, the issue just feels "off".  Sure, it features funny quips from Spider-Man, some neat fights between heroes and villains, and some lessons learned by all, but everything seems to fall a little flat.  The issues seems to be a little overwritten, repeating characters' thoughts and the lessons they've learned over and over, just in case the reader couldn't figure things out the first time they were said.  It all adds up to make the comic heavy-handed and condescending, as if it is talking down to its readership.  Not a good feeling to be coming away with.

On the plus side, there are once some solid back up stories to support the lackluster main story.  Dan Slott has a great two page story that hints at what's to come in the summer's Spider Island storyline.  It has some great art by Emma Rios and a nice twist at the end that really makes it stand out.  Meanwhile, there is a second story by written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Javier Rodriguez that features the trials and tribulations of a minor Spidey villain (the Magnetic Man) who has recently been released from prison.  Unable to find any steady work due to being an ex-con, he considers returning to a life of crime.  It's a nice little piece that does what it does well.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but I continue to be disinterested in Gage's depiction of Spider-Man.  I will continue to pick up this book, but it is because I know that Slott is coming back and I'm eager to have him return with his wonderful vision of our friendly neighbourhood web slinger.

American Vampire #15
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I raved last week about the greatness that is Scott Snyder, and this is the title where I first discovered how amazing his work can be.  American Vampire, as the name suggests, focuses on the seemingly culturally omnipresent vampyr, but unlike almost every other work coming out nowadays, this one is actually interesting and brings something new to the concept.  Basically, American Vampire features the idea that there are more than one type of vampire.  There are the ones that most people think of when considering the creature, which are weakened by sunlight, can be killed by wooden stakes, and so forth, but there are also the more recent American vampires, which can walk outside during the daytime and can only be killed by gold, among other qualities.

Suffice it to say, this series has been incredibly interesting, and the manner in which Snyder has slowly told his story and revealed more about the world he's created has been fascinating.  The story began with dual narratives taking place in the 1920s and the Old West, moved into the 1930s, and is now in the middle of World War 2.  The Pacific War, to be precise.  We're in the middle of the storyline and things are heating up.

Without going into too many details, a group of vampire hunters are trying to eliminate a vampire nest on one of the Pacific islands before US forces arrive.  Of course, there's a lot more to it than that, and their task becomes far more difficult than they could have ever imagined.  Snyder manages to move the story along at a fast clip, presenting challenges, surprises, and twists throughout the issue that keep the reader wanting more.  The last page is worth the price of admission alone.

I would be remiss if I didn't spent part of this focusing on Rafael Albuqerque's fantastic art.  He's been drawing the series since issue 1 and I've loved every single page he's done.  His style has changed to match the tone of every single era and story arc featured in the book thus far and I cannot praise him enough.  I eagerly look forward to his future work in the industry, because he is going to go places.

My only complaint is that DC stuck a stupid advertisement comic for Super 8 in the middle of the book, which momentarily took me out of the story, but that isn't American Vampire's fault - this stupid idea was in a bunch of DC's books this week, and it really bothered me.  I'm not against putting ads in the comics, I recognize that it is an important source of revenue, but don't shove it into the middle of the story I paid to read.  That's really frustrating and I hope DC doesn't make a habit of this ridiculous exercise (end rant).

So yeah, in case you haven't figured it out, you should be buying this book.  If you aren't buying this book, go out and find yourself the trades (two volumes thus far) and start buying the series in individual issues, because it is more than worth it.

FF #4
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Barry Kitson

I actually only started picking up this book because Spider-Man is now a member of the FF, so I don't really have a complete handle on everything the Fantastic Four has been up to under Hickman's watchful eye, but I can tell you that FF is a quality title.  It has been very approachable for a new reader like myself and it has been building up an incredibly intricate and interesting story.

Simple version of the story thus far: the Future Foundation is currently trying to figure out how to find and defeat four rogue Reed Richards from different universes / dimensions / whatever, so they have called a council of all of their greatest opponents to discuss possible courses of action.  It's a neat premise, and though it is far more civil than one might expect, it makes for an incredibly fun read.  The way Hickman manages to insert humour and other character moments into the otherwise serious issue is also quite impressive.  Of course, it wouldn't be much of a superhero comic if there wasn't some action, and the book doesn't disappoint, revealing towards the end that the aforementioned "Council of Doom" isn't necessarily the only team-up going on...

As long as Hickman keeps up this kind of storytelling, I'll be there month and month out to continue following the adventures of the Future Foundation.  Frankly, I might have to look into getting my hands on his earlier run on Fantastic Four.  We'll see.

Iron Man 2.0 #5 (Fear Itself tie-in)
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ariel Olivetti

As I mentioned last week in my T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents review, I really like Nick Spencer's work.  In fact, I've picked up almost every title he's released since I first heard of him.  Iron Man 2.0 is one of those titles, and while it has shown moments of Spencer's usual brilliance, it has been inconsistent, at best.  Unlike most Iron Man titles, this series focuses on James Rhodes, otherwise known as War Machine, and so the book spent the first bit setting him up as the protagonist.  Among that development has been the interesting idea that some possible-terrorist has been committing crimes from beyond the grave.

It's an interesting concept, certainly worth Spencer's usual output, but the build-up has been at a seeming glacier-pace.  To make matter worse, as mentioned at the title, this issue (and seemingly the next few, as it is part 1) is a Fear Itself tie-in.  Like The Reign of Doomsdays, I don't care about Fear Itself at all.  I haven't been following it and I don't have any interest to do so.  Again like Action Comics #901, the fact that the issue is a tie-in throws everything off course.  The first half of the book focuses on a character that has never appeared or been mentioned before, and once we get to War Machine, he literally says that the postmortem villain problem will have to wait and proceeds to fight some chaos in Washington D.C.  It's kind of underwhelming.

I've been on the fence for this book since issue 1 and this issue has finally helped clarify my position on the series.  Unfortunately, that means I'm not going to be buying this book anymore.  The Fear Itself tie-in was really poorly done and killed any enthusiasm for the series that I might have had.

Venom #3
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Tom Fowler

Counting FF, this is the third Spidey-family book that I'm looking at in this post, and along with Spider-Girl #7, brings my Spider-Man book total up to four for the week.  As you may have gathered, I kind of like the Web Head.  Since the 90s animated series, Spider-Man has held a fond place in my heart, but I haven't followed him into the pages of sequential narrative until the later part of last years The Gauntlet storyline and Dan Slott's recent run.  However, I've apparently been grabbed hook, line, and sinker, because I'm buying every book that's even remotely related to Spider-Man at this point.  Fortunately, many of them, including Venom, are quite good.

This book has been quite the gem, featuring former Peter Parker bully Flash Thompson as the protagonist.  Flash is offered the chance to walk again (he lost his legs while serving in the army) by bonding with the self-aware Venom symbiote to complete top-secret missions for the United States Army.  The premise has been quite interesting and made for some great story moments already, and this record continues throughout this issue.

While trying to complete his current mission, Flash has been waylaid for many days and is in the process of losing control of the symbiote.  To make matters worse, his girlfriend, Betty Brant, is kidnapped by the bad guys and he is forced to help them instead of stopping them, as his mission dictates.  Along the way, there's some sweet fights scenes, some serious misunderstandings, and some potentially fatal consequences.  If that isn't enough to pique your interest, I don't know what is.

I'm really digging this book.  It's brimming with style and substance that is sometimes absent from other comics coming out today.  I can't get enough of the art, which is top-notch, and Remender is knocking it out of the park on writing duties.  The creative villains Flash fights (including Jack-o-Lantern and The Henchman - they're cooler than they sound) are worth the price of admission alone.

And with that, we find ourselves at the end of the first round of EXPRESSions.  I hope you've enjoyed it.  Maybe you'll even give a book or two a chance that you wouldn't have otherwise.  Anything's possible, I suppose.

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