IMJ Comic Book Reviews™

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Invincible #109Invincible #109
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artists: Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: John Rauch
Letterer: Rus Wooton
20 pages, $2.99

Jose’s said it a gazillion times, but it’s worth repeating: Invincible is the best superhero comic book in the industry.

The previous issue of this series was so damn good, I’m still blown away just thinking about it… So I simply had to review the follow-up. And while #109 wasn’t as violent or crazy as the one before– it is still a super solid comic. What blows me away about this series: Robert Kirkman (also the creator and writer of The Walking Dead) is able to write heavy dialogue and bloody/violent scenes equally well.

That noted, this is not exactly what you’d call a new reader friendly issue. We’re in the middle of an alternate dimension story– so there are many references to previous events. If you’re newbie somewhat interested in this series, do yourself a big favor and buy the first couple of Invincible trade paperbacks. The effort and expenditure will be well worth it. This is Kirkman’s spin on a world full of superheroes– and it’s awesome.

The Truth: Everything that happens in Invincible #109 makes sense within the confines of Kirkman’s world. Do you know how hard that is to accomplish after 109 issues spanning ELEVEN years? But here it is… The characters’ motivations all makes sense. The plot makes sense. Everything in this comic is in harmony. My only complaint (which isn’t a complaint at all) is how each individual comic feels too short. I always want more.

I would be committing a crime if I didn’t mention Ryan Ottley’s superb art. His work just keeps getting better and better and better. When I was reading this series 3 years ago, I thought his art had reached perfection. I was so wrong. Every page is a treat… Every. Single. Page. If someone ever says, “Not every comic page can be golden!”, do them a favor and shove any recent copy of Invincible under their noses.

Of course, Cliff Rathburn’s inks and John Rauch’s colors add to the “Ottley Experience”. Rathburn’s inks define Ottley’s pencils, making them pop. Rauch’s coloring (a fairly new hire, given Kirkman and Ottley’s elongated tenure) gives the pencils life– and has really grown on me. I didn’t much care for Rauch’s work at first, as I thought it made the art too muddy– but he and Ottley have found a rhythm and a fusion that works now. As impossible as this may seem (given my comments above) the art is as good as the story– if not better.

When you have a great story accompanied by great artwork, you have a superb comic book. It really is as simple as that. - Aaron Evans

4.5 Star Rating

Nightwing #29Nightwing #29
Safety Net
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Russell Dauterman
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Carlos M Mangual
20 pages, $2.99

Thank you, Nightwing #29! I am sooo happy your solicitation description was completely wrong… And I didn’t have to read anything related to Forever Evil to understand this comic! (Editor’s Note: Possible SPOILERS ahead!)

Yeah, apparently this issue is supposed to be a Forever Evil tie-in… But if it is, I don’t see how. It feels completely separate from that garbage– and that’s a good thing! For once Nightwing isn’t being forced through the ringer of another shitty DC crossover… And you know what? Readers get a good story because of it.

After a one-page sequence set in the past, the narrative shifts quickly– dropping the reader into the middle of the current plot. Generally, this would cause some comprehension problems, but the content is very straight-forward and easy to follow. Wordsmith Kyle Higgins’ story is new reader friendly– something you’ll find out to be an odd choice… If you keep reading this review.

What’s weird: How this comic gives us a Dick Grayson who acts very differently from the person he was just recently. This Nightwing embodies a younger (yet somehow) more mature person. Like I said, it’s weird to experience and even harder to describe. (Then again, a good rendition of the character is still a good rendition.)

I blame this confusion more on DC Editorial than I do Higgins or any of the creators involved. It’s clear editorial is still struggling to figure out how all the different character timelines fit together– considering Batman and Green Lantern’s pasts were lucky enough not to be affected by the New 52 relaunch. The good news– if I were a virgin to Nightwing’s escapades before this comic, Higgins gives me a plethora of reasons to stay interested in the character.

All these good vibes suck too– since I just discovered the series has been cancelled and this is Higgins’ last issue. (You’d think I would’ve known about this, since I scour the internet for my Odds and Ends column every week– but this news snuck right past me.) Sadly, with the comic ending its current run with Issue #30, it’s a fair assumption Nightwing will perish in the final moments of the Forever Evil crossover.

Which also sucks, since I thought Russell Dauterman drew an amazing Dick Grayson and Nightwing.

The hopes and desires of a young Robin crept into the tale, adding emotional weight… Giving me a story that feels like an origin from a new perspective. Grayson seems to have accepted what’s happened to his family, using his experiences to make him stronger. He even seems to have moved on from their deaths– something his Dark Knight mentor is still incapable of doing.

I liked it.

If my assumption proves correct and Nightwing does die– it will be heartbreaking… Especially since all concerned seemed on the cusp of finally getting this comic book together. - Nick Furi

3.5 Star Rating

Stray Bullets Killers #1Stray Bullets – Killers #1
No Take-Backs
Creator: David Lapham
30 pages, $3.50

After an 8+ year hiatus, David Lapham’s Stray Bullets makes a long overdue return to the comics industry with TWO issues: Stray Bullets #41 and Stray Bullets – Killers #1. While Issue #41 effectively wraps up the original series, Killers is a new beginning of sorts (while also offering a continuation of the first series’ themes).

The narrative of the original Stray Bullets jumped back and forth between 3 different decades (70s, 80s and 90s), with each story arc mostly focused on a different protagonist. One of the great things about the series– the reader quickly became aware the stories were all connected. Familiar characters would pop in and out as each arc progressed, exemplifying a “shared world” storytelling technique I really enjoy. It’s kinda like Frank Miller’s Sin City in that regard– but a hundred times better since Lapham’s characters are much more relatable and believable.

I knew going into this book I was in for a somewhat dark and grim story. It’s the usual Stray Bullets “m.o”. Sure, the new comic does start on an innocent enough note, as it follows the naive, child protagonist Eli… But from there, the story slowly becomes increasingly tense… And this tension is WHY I’ve missed this series so much. Lapham proved before that anything can (and will) happen to his characters– so there’s always a delicious sense of dread creeping over the comic.

SB K1

There are also certain “holes” in the current plot that could make the current narrative feel incomplete. One example: The death of a character named Caroline about halfway through the comic. Though we see Eli and the other characters attending her wake, the reader is never specifically told how she died. BUT Lapham has left enough clues in the dialog and character interactions– so we do know Eli’s father was most likely involved somehow. And while I would usually criticize a comic for leaving out such important information, I can’t complain here. We’re only getting part of the story from Eli’s perspective… And this is the way Stray Bullets has always worked. I’m fairly certain we’ll eventually be shown what happened to Caroline… We’ll just have to wait to see the story played out through another character’s eyes.

As for the ending? Well, as someone familiar with Lapham’s style, it’s a bit as expected– but I still wasn’t prepared for it. It’s brutal, sad and leaves you with tons of questions you want answers for.

I am so glad that this series is back. I truly am. The American Comic Industry was worse off with its absence– and now, more than ever, we all sorely need more offerings on the caliber of Stray Bullets. (Yes, I’m aware what I just said could sound hyperbolic, but I am quite sincere.)

Younger readers who do not know or remember this series may not understand what all the fuss is about… But that’s most likely because they’ve been brought up reading shit comics force-fed to them from mainstream publishers who no longer understand what a great comic book is.

A little harsh (I know) but I’m being nothing but honest. More discerning readers cannot go wrong choosing Stray Bullets – Killers #1. If you like it, please go back and read the original series as well. It will be money and time very well spent.
– Jose Melendez

4.5 Star Rating

Black Widow #4Black Widow #4
Public Enemy
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Phil Noto
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
20 Pages, $3.99

I’m slightly upset. As an Irishman and a gentleman, I’ve always thought I would enjoy the company of a cute, strong-willed red-haired woman. But sadly, scribe Nathan Edmondson goes above and beyond to make it absolutely impossible for me to enjoy the usually charming presence of Miss Romanova. What a sinister turn of events!

I really had a hard time reading this book from start to finish. First, the art by Phil Noto is quite ambivalent. He can paint faces beautifully, but fails at transferring any momentum to his drawings. The figures are very stilted and the characters pose a lot. I should also note the first few pages are set in Paris, which is, coincidentally, where I live. Let me tell you, Noto’s Paris looks nothing like the real deal. It’s heartbreaking to see so little effort put into giving such a great city its genuine identity.

The plot focuses on a killer monk croaking a few ambassadors in the dumbest possible way. He kills one diplomat by bombing his entire embassy, and another by provoking a traffic jam– then walking straight to his victim’s car with a massive machine gun. When you murder powerful political figures, you better believe you need to be more stealthy than that… Or else special forces will track your sorry ass and get rid of you– quick. But if Edmondson thinks it’s cool to have secret Russian assassins behaving like the proverbial elephant in a china shop– who am I to argue? What a fucking hack.

The killer monk also likes to recite psalms and verses from the Bible when slaughtering innocents. Last I checked, this neat cliché has been done to death already. Pulp Fiction was cool, sure, but isn’t time to propose some new ideas? Also, this current trend in comics– which represents religious people (Christians and Muslims mainly) in a very plain, one-dimensional way– is wearing mighty thin. It’s not rad nor appreciable… And such low characterization is the distinctive sign of a lazy scribe.

The narrative doesn’t flow very well either. Black Widow talks like a wide-eyed young kid from Missouri who just left high school. Her speech and thoughts do not suit those of an ex-KGB assassin. Such a youthful, gullible language pattern could work for a young Stephanie Brown (maybe), but not for Natasha Romanova. This is simply painfully naive and dull to witness.

Here’s what I got for my four precious dollars: A short two-minute read with inconsistent art, a tremendously stupid plot and surely some of the worst characterization I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading. I think you’ll agree with me when I describe this as one hell of a shitty deal for my money.

It’s very sad to witness such a low quality for this title, because I’m increasingly enjoying comics featuring women as their main protagonists. Sadly, this slack-jawed iteration of Black Widow will never be one of them.
– Simon J. O’Connor

Half Star Rating

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6 Responses to IMJ Comic Book Reviews™

  1. Insideman says:

    Simon, I am so glad to see someone else agree with me on Nathan Edmonson’s output. I took a lot of heat over a year ago when I refused to review one of Edmonson’s “Jake Ellis” books because the first several pages made no sense… Making it impossible for me to enjoy the book.

    Maybe it was just luck of the draw… But I remember disliking the book intensely. Nothing against Edmonson personally. He’s got his fans and Marvel obviously hired him. I just don’t see the allure…

    • NicktheStick says:

      I liked the first Jake Ellis mini-series. And I might be wrong, but I think you tried to review the second one. And I – as a fan – couldn’t even follow it. I think I liked one other book of Edmonson’s (The Dream Merchant…maybe?), but not enough to continue reading it.

      I think he has potential, but isn’t doing the right projects. The first Ellis book had wit and allure I hadn’t seen much of at the time. However, since, I have found his books to be pointlessly and overly complicated or very juvenile and immature – talking down to the reader.

    • Helmir says:

      I haven’t read “Jake Ellis” but based on what I saw in Black Widow #4, I can say refusing to read it proves only one thing: your instincts were definitely honed!
      Black Widow made no sense, and even though I didn’t bother, I bet you could find a dozen plotholes if you picked the book apart page by page.
      Also, some transitions between scenes were very badly handled. I had to read a few panels three to four times to even start comprehending what happened.
      I’ll trust Nick when he says the first Jack Ellis mini-series was enjoyable. At least that makes Edmondson a one-trick pony, and not a complete failure…

  2. Morlock50 says:

    Jose, did you get a chance to read Superman/Wonder Woman? I was wondering what you thought of the writing. (Having a pretty good idea what you think of the artist)

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