IMJ Capsule Reviews™ – All New Comic Book Reviews for the Week of 11.21.12!

Amazing Spider-Man #698
Dying Wish Prelude: Day in the Life
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Richard Elson
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
20 pages, $3.99

It’s finally here. The issue of Amazing Spider-Man that writer Dan Slott incessantly whined on about on Twitter, crying claiming that comic retailers were severely under-ordering it. I have no problem with creators pushing their wares as vocally and passionately as Slott did. A little self promotion never hurts. What I do have a problem with is the addition of the patented Marvel Hype Machine and all of its crony comic book websites over-hyping “The start of the most spectacular Spider-Epic ever!” (I took that quote from the title page of The Amazing Spider-Man #698 itself.)

I for one, didn’t buy into the hype for a second– for a myriad of reasons, but mostly because I am a cynical son of a bitch. Because of all the seemingly false praise and verbal diarrhea being flung around about this issue, how could I NOT review it? I’m going to tell you right off– I will be spoiling the twist (and I use that term very, very loosely) that occurs at the end of this comic. There’s no way I can properly review this book without bringing it up. It’s the entire reason for the storyline and this issue’s existence. If the ending doesn’t deliver what all the Hype (and Slott) incessantly promised, it can only be seen as a colossal failure.

Before I get to the “twist” ending, I want to kinda walk you through what I was feeling while reading the comic. I’m going to skip past the short Doctor Octopus prologue. It was poorly written and giving it 4 pages was way too much wasted space. All you need to know is– Doc Ock was in a coma, wakes up and says, “Peter Parker”. This thing really should’ve only taken 2 pages but, hey, What the fuck do I know? I only write comic book critiques, not comics. After that, we finally get to the meat of the story starting with Spider-Man swinging around… And he’s in a cheerful mood? Umm, OK. He then stops a robbery… Kinda like a regular hero would. I was starting to get a bit worried that ol’ Spidey had changed since the last time I read him, but then he says something quite prickish to a cop.

Whew… Now there’s the NEW Spidey I’ve come to loathe.

Next, we see Web-Head enter his sweet new apartment (in a nice part of town) through a skylight in the bathroom… Just like the old Spidey used to. Through this entire sequence, Peter continues with an interior monologue that’s happy and positive. What the hell is going on?! Parker then starts listening to messages off his answering machine. When he hears one from Mary Jane, he says, “Hmmm. So much history between the two of us. And… Why aren’t we still together? I really should rectify that immediately.”

At this point the issue starts to feel a bit odd– like I was reading an older Spider-Man comic. It only felt a little like that mind you, but the feeling was definitely there. I then started to get a bit confused. Was all the hype because possibly Slott was taking Peter back to before the One More Day and Brand New Day fiascos? Does he actually respect the character that much? This thought is quickly dispelled in the next two scenes, as Pete acts like a pompous ass and flirts with a couple of women who aren’t MJ. Annnd… We’re back to Prickish Peter Parker.

I feel the need to add that, so far, this comic has a lot of good expository dialogue. (Again, like comics use to have.) The exposition was so well handled, this is what a #1 issue of a comic used to be like. I complained last week about how NEW MarvelNOW #1s don’t feel at all like first issues– and here I am reading Amazing Spider-Man #698 and it feels like a new #1. Too bad the series is ending at issue #700. Why is Marvel so damn ass-backwards?

OK, now time for the”twist” ending. Spidey gets called to The Raft because Doc Ock has roused from his coma. I was going to paste the actual panel here, showing Pete and Ock’s conversation, but I’ll save you the trouble of actually reading it. Somehow, Peter Parker is suddenly inside Doc’s body and Doc is in Pete’s body. Then Pete (in Doc Ock’s body) dies– leaving Otto in Pete’s body with all of Spidey’s powers and memories.

So… One of the most hyped comics of the year also has one of the most unoriginal endings? That sounds about right for Amazing Spider-Man and the current state of Marvel’s comics. Am I supposed to feel bad that Pete was trapped in Doc Ock’s body and died?

Because I didn’t.

I am glad that Joe Quesada’s ideal version of Peter Parker is gone. What does it say about Amazing Spider-Man that Doc Ock makes a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker? It’s not lost on me that this comic read like older, much better Spidey books. Sadly, I don’t think this was Slott’s intention. And if this ending doesn’t finally solidify Slott as one of the biggest hacks “working” in comics today, I don’t know what will. With anything and everything that can happen in the world of comics, it’s sad the writer can’t even muster the creativity or imagination he needs… Choosing instead to lazily fall back on a truly tired cliché.

Plus, severely hyping a book while knowing how utterly uncreative the ending is… That’s shameful. Who is Slott trying to fool? Judging by most of the reviews out there, the answer is he’s fooling a lot of people who don’t know what a good comic is– let alone what a good Spidey comic entails.

I guess these “reviewers” have never seen films like Freaky Friday, Prelude to a Kiss, Shrek the Third, The Change-Up, The Hot Chick and Face/Off. Or TV shows like American Dad, Angel, Ben 10, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Dragon Ball Z, Farscape, Fullmetal Alchemist, Futurama, Johnny Test, Kim Possible, Natuoto, The Outer Limits, The Power Puffgirls, Quantum Leap, Red Dwarf, Smallville, Star Trek, Star Trek Voyager, Stargate SG-1 and Teen Titans… Just to name a few. If these same”reviewers” had seen ANY of these movies or shows, they would not consider this “twist” so damn original, remarkable, imaginative or creative.

I am not going to play the game of guessing how long this will last or if Peter won’t even be back to celebrate his 700th issue… Or if this is the beginning of what will become The Superior Spider-Man title. Nor will I get into the whole body switching thingy taking place OFF PANEL before the issue even begins or how nobody in the comic thinks Peter is acting odd. The best thing that Marvel can do to celebrate Spider-Man’s 50th Anniversary is to end his comic until someone who ACTUALLY RESPECTS the character can come in and fully restore the Web-Head to being the best superhero in the world. – Jose Melendez

Amazing Spider-Man #698
Dying Wish Prelude: Day in the Life
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Richard Elson
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
20 pages, $3.99

Do you ever feel like taking a sharp implement and jabbing your eyes out? I don’t want to seem like a constant Debbie Downer here (and most of my reviews prove I’m not) but I cannot stand Dan Slott’s writing. What affection I had for his rather groundbreaking She-Hulk run from years ago has long since dissipated, as he seems more than willing to shed all the instincts he once had as a writer in favor of writing “The World’s Greatest Super-Hero” (Marvel’s sad-ass tagline for this comic, not mine)… And tow whatever corporate line Marvel Brass is feeding him for this once great character.

Amazing Spider-Man #698 is a sad excuse for a comic book. The main character is a horrible example of a human being– as if Slott has decided to take the most recent asshole movie version of Peter Parker and combine him with the Venom Suit-influenced Parker played by Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 3. You know what I’m talking about: The Saturday Night Fever Peter Parker who jive-danced down the street in one particularly laughable sequence, winking and pointing at cute chicks with his cocked “gun” finger.

Speaking of cocks, Slott’s Peter is a complete dick filled with Donald Trump-sized hubris– without an ounce of humility extant. He’s living high on the hog with his new inventor’s job and acting like creating Noise Reduction Headphones, a New Motorcycle Helmet and a Medical Transport Box has put him on the cutting edge of science. He boasts how these inventions have made his employer MILLIONS… As if his mundane accomplishments are going to land him on the cover of Scientific American or earn him a Nobel Prize.

Maybe they would’ve gotten him on the back cover of the now-defunct Sharper Image catalog. Maybe.

Slott’s treatment of Mary Jane is only slightly better. Now’s she a Night Club owner? This new career path further shows Slott’s inability to create anything but the most shallow of characters… “People” not defined by their personalities, character traits or morals… But by their jobs.

First, his Mary Jane is a model and an actress (both jobs previously established)– then she’s AWOL by Quesada Decree… Only to resurface as a club owner. MJ is Slott’s version of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy… Without any of the depth, intelligence or intrigue. In other words, he doesn’t know what to do with her. So instead, Slott turns her into a harpy– shaming Peter into going to see his only living relative, Aunt May… Who’s slowly recovering in the hospital. (Waitaminnit. Peter has to be shamed into checking on his sweet Aunt May?! What a little pig-fuck he is now!)

The art is also horrible. Hong Kong cartoon variety (and not in a good way). I’m normally a fan of clean art but Richard Elson’s is too clean… And boring. Antonio Fabela’s coloring job (like many comics nowadays) looks like it could have been achieved with the old Four-Color process. Course, I shouldn’t be too harsh. He’s been given a boring story drawn in a pedestrian fashion to color… Lipstick on a Pig and all that.

And now… The Twist Ending. The thing that turned Slott into a desperate Twitter and Trade Show Carnival Huckster as he yelped for retailers to buy more copies of this issue. Doctor Octopus is dying at the Raft and he’s mumbling “Peter Parker”. Peter’s called to the facility by his fellow Avengers because an old foe is about expire and asking for Spidey by his civilian name. Spider-Man enters the room and SOMEHOW Doc Ock and he have changed bodies. Holey Lindsay Lohan on a Crime Spree! How did THAT happen?! Slott will never lamely explain (at least in this issue) because it ALL HAPPENS OFF PANEL.

What.The.Fuck?

The comic ends with Peter Parker “dying” in the Doctor’s body… Which leads to one of the MOST HILARIOUS moments I’ve ever seen in a comic. As “Doc Ock” pulls Spider-Man’s mask down on Peter’s face, he yells “Medic!” to no one in particular– as three hospital types come running in with a crash cart. As Spider-Man/Doc Ock looks on in the distance, a medical person is charging paddles in an attempt to shock Ock back to life… Except EVERY PANEL has shown Doc Ock entombed into some type of futuristic looking IRON LUNG that’s fitted all the way up to his collar-bone. What’s the guy gonna do… Try to defibrillate Doc Ock’s HEAD?

This is the kind of lackadaisical, inattentive idiocy you can expect from the current Amazing Spider-Man comic… If you dare. Me? No. No. No. Fuck this shit.
– Ian MacMillan

Comeback #1
Writer: Ed Brisson
Artist: Michael Walsh
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Ed Brisson
22 pages, $3.50

To give a little “behind the scenes” look at IMJ Capsule Reviews™, Ian sends us a weekly newsletter from a comic shop that lists all the comics that are coming out the next week. Before the list, this newsletter has their own reviews of comics that just came out. The reason I bring this up– there was a comment in the review section about Uncanny Avengers #2’s artwork seemingly being inked with a felt marker. I found this slightly funny because that’s exactly what the art in Comeback #1 looks like… Yet the reviewer described the art in this first issue as “appropriate and well-done”. So I can only imagine what Uncanny Avengers #2 must look like.

Since we’re all about the truth here, let’s get real: Comeback’s first page turned me off and things never got better. I couldn’t tell the difference between the two characters’ faces. The second page has a guy yelling– but instead of shadowing, there’s a thick dashed circle around his mouth. And the pain kept coming and growing. I couldn’t possibly enjoy the story because each panel kept pushing me to stop reading the book.

Am I the only one kinda getting tired of the monochrome palettes used in many Image comics– a color sameness that only switches when a new scene occurs? If this technique is supposed to convey something to me, it doesn’t. Instead, the monochrome colors wash all the art out… Usually good art that would easily stand out with better coloring.

So yeah, the art really brought this book down. And since you know I usually focus only on the words in a comic, if I even notice the art sucks– it can’t be good.

Much to my dismay, the story is kinda mediocre too. The idea is interesting, but the execution feels distracted. There are three story lines going on here and it’s hard to determine which is the main story. There’s one interesting character moment toward the end, but other than that, the comic didn’t really set up why anything was happening.

After reading the preview text for the next issue, I have no clue how they are going to bridge the two comics, so I couldn’t stay with this book even if the art was decent. – W.D. Prescott

Star Trek #15
Mirrored Part 1
Writer: Mike Johnson
Artist: Erfan Fajar
Colorist: Ifansyah, Sakti Tuwono
Letterer: Neil Uyetake
22 pages, $3.99

True Confession Time: I arrived really late to the Star Trek party. When I was growing up, my parents were never into Sci-Fi or Fantasy stuff. Dad was a Navy guy, always playing sports. He loves hunting and the outdoors– interests far from those of your average Geek. He never watched TV around the house unless it was a Western, Top Gun or Indiana Jones… So Star Trek always seemed lame.

I’ve developed plenty of my Dad’s traits too. I hunt, play sports and work very hard– but unlike Dad, I’ve had several other influences along the way. Lots of cousins (when I say a lot, I mean it– 74 FIRST cousins, my Irish Catholic Grandma had 15 kids)… And when I was really young, one of them gave me Star Wars, Tron, Willow and other similar films. Little did I know, but one day these movies would lead me to constantly read comics and never miss the next Sci-Fi or Fantasy film.

This also put a little seed in my brain that said, “Star Trek can’t be that lame.”

Moving forward a little– now I’m about 20– and this very odd friend gives me a bunch of random Star Trek TOS episodes on VHS and tells me I have to watch them. He’s appalled that I love tons of Geeky Stuff but have never watched Star Trek. So I watched those low quality VHS tapes and, without trying to sound like a cliché, something changed inside me.

I just got it. I really, really liked the terrible sets and the hokey acting… But more than that, I loved the world they inhabited.

I’m still getting through the episodes on Netflix, but I’ve watched all of ST:TOS (some episodes multiple times) and at least some episodes of every other Trek series produced. Even with all that, the one thing I’ve never done is read a Star Trek Comic Book. So folks, I’m a true newbie, a Star Trek comic virgin. IDW’s Star Trek #15 is my very first.

The comic opens with Scotty and Bones arguing about how the original TOS Spock somehow joined the timeline the latest film occurs in. The opening isn’t bad at all, with some really good dialogue. The art isn’t bad either. I can tell who the characters/actors are– Karl Urban and Simon Pegg… But not so much that they look heavily photo referenced.

At this point, I’ll admit I’m a little thrown off. Since I didn’t read the previous 14 issues (I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to read every comic in a book’s run to enjoy it)– I had no idea this comic’s timeline was centered in JJ Abrams‘ latest version of Trek. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for– even if the next film in the series will see release next year.

You should know I didn’t hate the last Trek film, I actually loved it… Especially the beginning half. But I don’t love it as much as I do ST:TNG or ST:TOS… And I would have preferred to have those characters in this comic. Obviously, this is my fault for not checking into the book before buying it. (And yes, I do know IDW publishes Trek books with the characters I am looking for– so doubly my fault for not reviewing one of the those comics.)

But what the hell… I’m here now, right?

The story is actually based on Mirror, Mirror– one of the most legendary episodes of The Original Series. The TV Mirror, Mirror Universe is filled with all the characters we love– except they’re evil. Even Spock– who rocks a mustache/goatee combo in the original show. By the time I finished reading the back and forth between Bones and Scotty in the comic, I’d already forgot the story was based on this episode. So when I witness the entire cast turn evil and start wearing black uniforms, I wasn’t prepared. I was pretty impressed with the story telling– primarily because it was entertaining even though I already knew large chunks of the story. The issue ends on a pretty good cliffhanger too, really setting up the next comic.

One of may favorite parts shows Kirk killing a very well-known villain with his bare hands. This immediately tells us something is up. I’m thinking, “What the hell is Kirk doing? This writer knows nothing about Trek if he thinks the best Starfleet Captain ever would resort to violence this quickly. This is just absurd.” I then remember I’m reading a take on Mirror, Mirror and realize this has to be the evil Kirk. And as the Captain and other evil characters start to slowly reveal themselves, they really put Spock in a tough spot. Even though this issue is based on the classic TV episode, you should know the story is very different from the original… Spock doesn’t even sport facial hair.

Licensed properties can sometimes be adapted very poorly, but that is not the case with Star Trek #15. If you enjoyed the last film, this book is a must read. If you are one of the many Trekkies/Trekkers that hated the new version– then definitely stay far away from this comic. But with good dialogue and decent story– plus some excellent pacing– this mash-up of Abrams’ Star Trek and ST:TOS is totally worth a look. – Tom Devine

Clone #1
Writer: David Schulner
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp
Colorist: Felix Serrano
Letterer: Rus Wooton
22 pages, $2.99

I will admit that during my last stint reading comics, I used to buy Avatar’s Lady Death comics… Mainly for Juan Jose Ryp’s art. I love his style– his use of shadow and extreme detail adds a uniqueness to his work few comic artists can achieve.

I also know Ryp can be one of those creators people either love or hate. To his detractors, I believe it’s important to note the artist has added something new and interesting to his repertoire with this book. When he draws Luke Taylor and Luke’s various versions, Ryp keeps their details fairly simple– particularly when compared to other characters in the comic. Usually when an artist does this, it’s a way to let the reader subconsciously add their own details to the characters– so they become more attached. Since these clones are who Luke Taylor could have been if he had made different choices in his life, Ryp uses the technique to let the reader experience what Luke is… And I think Ryp’s execution of this idea will be a major factor in the ongoing series’ quality.

That said, I think the overall issue was just “OK”. Considering all the first issues I’ve read this year, this is one of the best comics at introducing the core characters– without adding tons of background or much exposition. When Clone succeeds, it’s through tight writing and non-stop forward momentum. The world is revealed solely by the art and the actions of the characters– not clunky dialogue. There isn’t a dead moment or any decompression. If anything, the story could’ve gone a bit slower in parts. And while there are quite a few characters (and clones) here, they all feel unique.

So why am I not giving Clone #1 a Four Star rating? Why do I say Clone #1 is just “OK”?

Because this is what all good comics should be doing. It’s very easy to praise a book for the things I just mentioned, but I refuse to stop remembering a time when these elements were the status quo. So while I think this was one of the better comics to come out this week– when compared to all the great sci-fi books ever released, Clone #1 is a just a little better than the average comic book clone saga. – W.D. Prescott

Indestructible Hulk #1
Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Letterer: VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
20 pages, $3.99

I could just write the words, “Finally! A NEW MarvelNOW #1 that actually feels and reads how #1 issues should!” and leave my review at that. That would be the highest praise I could give a MarvelNOW #1 book, especially after suffering through a whole lotta crap-filled Marvel comics over the last couple of months.

To be fair, I did go into this issue thinking there was a possibility it was going to be good. I mean, Mark Waid DID save Daredevil. That character was so completely ruined and ravaged after Shadowland, I thought DD was a complete lost cause. But Waid took over the comic, breathed new life into Matt Murdock— and Daredevil quickly became a diamond amongst the majority of Marvel’s bullshit. And how about artist Leinil Francis Yu? I’ve been a fan of his work ever since I saw it in the old mini-series High Roads. But like Stuart Immonen, Yu has recently been drawing comics for some awful, awful writers. When I saw he was teaming with Waid, I jumped at the chance to review this.

New Adjective Hulk #1 just had to be good, right?

The short answer is “Yes, yes it is.” I can see people not liking it though. Most of today’s readers can’t be bothered with reading a set-up issue. Most readers are used to being thrown into a comic not knowing what the hell is going on, floundering around for a time until something starts to make sense. These people are also the same readers who liked All New X-Men #1. I think they’re simply unaware that comics DON’T need to read this way.

Like I mentioned above, Indestructible Hulk is a #1 issue that does EVERYTHING a Number One issue should do. Readers get to know who/what Bruce Banner is about. You’re shown why he’s doing what he’s doing and the comic sets up the status quo for the series. It also introduces us to the title’s (hopefully) supporting characters.

The first half of the book is all dialogue. This is the part I enjoyed the most. I liked Waid’s take on Banner immediately. The character is very motivated to get on with his life and has come to the conclusion that he must accept– and live– with his Hulk persona. Banner is not going to waste any more time trying to cure himself. There’s more important work to focus on for the betterment of humanity. My favorite bit is Bruce’s anger/jealously of Tony Stark. That helped me empathize with the character right away. Stark IS an ass and I’m always a fan of the underdog. I couldn’t help but like Bruce Banner.

Maria Hill is also heavily featured in the first half of the comic. I’m glad to see her far away from Bendis and in the hands of a better writer. (Admittedly, Matt Fraction also did an excellent job writing the Hill character– back in Invincible Iron Man when he was a better comic scribe.) Since Banner is pretty much joining SHIELD, it would be cool to see her play an active role in this series.

The second half of the book is all action. Banner wants to prove to Hill how useful it can be to have himself and the Hulk on SHIELD’s side– so he helps them track down and stop the Mad Thinker. The action is cool and I also liked the Thinker’s dialogue quite a bit. I guess it’s safe for me to say that, overall, I thought this comic was well-written.

As for Yu’s art– it was good, for the most part. He does draw an awesome Hulk– even if I did have problems with some of the page layouts. Yu has this habit of drawing half and full body shots of characters that overlap into other panels… And sometimes the figures aren’t interacting with anything in a particular panel. This style is a bit distracting in a few pages. If he can work on fixing that particular storytelling choice, I believe the book will benefit greatly.

So, there you go: A well-done MarvelNOW #1 issue. I have no idea how this comic fits in with the last few Hulk series, but I learned everything I needed to here. I didn’t feel as if I missed anything and you know, that IS a nice feeling to have coming out of a Marvel #1. Most importantly, it was an enjoyable read.

Sometimes, in the end, that’s all that matters. – Jose Melendez

X-O Manowar #7
Uneasy Alliances
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Lee Garbett, Stefano Gaudiano
Colorist: Moose Baumann
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
22 pages, $3.99

What’s a X-O Manowar? That’s what I said when I first heard this book was coming out.

I knew Valiant Comics was making a comeback– starting new series with their old characters… But I never read any Valiant Comics regularly– except for a few random issues here and there. The ones I did read were from the early 90s and generally terrible. So I had no knowledge of what I was getting myself into when I opened X-O Manowar #7… I didn’t even skim the Wikipedia page.

As you can see from this comic and the Star Trek book, I’m expanding my comic book horizons… Mainly because I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve reviewed every book on my Pull List and need to look at other titles. One of my buddies said this book was “pretty good”– BUT he’s the kind of fan who thinks most everything is pretty good… So I can’t always trust his opinion. But I figured, “What the heck?” Like Trek, I decided to give the comic a shot anyway.

The book starts out new reader friendly– with a recap page that brings me right up to speed. (I should also mention the recap is fairly convoluted, with lots of alien races and powerful relics named– but I still got the gist of it.) X-O Manowar is a guy from 402 AD captured and brought to our time by an alien race called The Vine. To become X-O Manowar, the guy had to steal the “Manowar Armor” from the aliens. Once he accomplished that, he escaped back to Earth. Now he and two other characters are preparing to stop The Vine from invading Earth.

There’s also an Ninja Assassin hired to kill X-O Manowar. They fight it out, then talk it out– then team up to stop the invasion. It’s all generic Superhero Comic Book template stuff. The only thing keeping this story from feeling exactly like any other Marvel or DC comic is the Science Fiction tone and trappings.

The Vine have thousands of agents living on Earth– all looking just like humans. One of X-O Manowar’s partners is even an alien himself. He’s working as a sort of double agent, getting intel on The Vine and relaying the info back to his partners. One of the last scenes in the book shows the Ninja dude killing a Vine alien. It’s nice to see nobody’s waiting around to take out the bad guys. The way the alien was killed was very deceptive and very smart. This scene totally pulled the book together– tying directly into what happened in the first part of the issue.

Somewhere along the way, I get the distinct feeling the creators are trying to give us a lot of “badass” stuff– thinking these macho things will carry the comic. But Ninjas, Outer Space Environs, Evil Aliens and Villain/Hero Team-Ups do not make a great comic just by being plopped into a series. These familiar themes all must be used in interesting ways… And I can’t say that was the case here. Still, the story is moving forward with good dialogue and very good art. Even though I’ve never read anything else about these characters or these worlds, I was never lost– and I felt engaged through the entire book.

X-O Manowar’s most redeeming quality is the art. Lee Garbett and Stefano Gaudiano are not artists I’ve heard of before, but I will definitely be looking out for them in the future. If only they didn’t have to draw alien space suits for the whole comic, this book would’ve been even better. Looking at their style, I think these guys would totally dominate a Crime Noir story.

X-O Manowar has a long way to go before it transforms into something special. For what it was– a Superhero Comic done fairly well– it was actually better than most of the efforts from the Big Two. If you’re looking to get into a “new” superhero series, this might be one to check out. – Tom Devine

Supurbia #1
Writer: Grace Randolph
Artist: Russell Dauterman
Colorist: Gabriel Cassata
Letterer: Steve Wands
22 pages, $3.99

Apparently the Supurbia mini-series (published earlier this year) was a big enough hit for Boom! to give it an ongoing series. I am very happy about that. Marriages are always a tricky thing for superhero comics. For the most part, they have as much meaning as shallow soap opera marriages– which are usually used purely as plot devices. Supurbia, with a bit of tongue in cheek humor, actually examines what a real marriage to– and a family with– a superhero would be like. Sure, you can call it Desperate Superhero Housewives, but I think this comic gives readers an exception to the soap opera marriage rule– and is nothing like that horrible TV show.

The reason this comic works: It does what all good series do when delving into the realities of superheroes– the characters are written as normal people. It’s a good thing the story’s true characters are the families of these superheroes. We get to see how difficult it really is to be related to a hero. Sure, Lois Lane and Mary Jane can become bait when they aren’t cozied up with Supes or Spidey, eating Chinese Take Out and watching Seinfeld reruns. But those comic book relationships are usually in the context of the heroes and how it affects them. Now we get a deep look from the other side. To give comprehensive overview, I believe there’s also a bit of J. Michael Straczynski’s Squadron Supreme in the Superbia superheroes… And that doesn’t always work for me. I have a hard time believing heroes naturally have to be jaded dicks to seem realistic.

I was pleasantly surprised to see this first issue was a good jumping-on point for new readers who may have missed the mini-series. Yes, if you read the mini– you know more about why things are the way they are. But the current story gives you the all the information you need in this one issue. It’s amazing how simple it is. Reading it makes you wonder why it’s so hard for Marvel and DC to do the same thing.

I am a bit mixed on the art. For most of the time it works. It’s not the type of high impact superhero action that requires crisp lines. But even the first page splash takes the cartoonish style a little too far and feels too loose as the lines get a little… Swooshy. (Best word I could imagine to describe the art.) But I think this is a good start. I’m not sure how far the idea can go… The series’ foundation is too broad to accurately predict. It is definitely one of those comics that you just have to jump into… To see how far you want to travel with it. YMMV.
– W.D. Prescott

Captain America #1
Castaway in Dimension Z Chapter One
Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: John Romita Jr, Klaus Janson
Colorist: Dean White
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
22 pages, $3.99

Comics like this make me very, very sad. Like Jose choosing Indestructible Hulk #1, even though I picked my review comics last… I really thought I was gonna get a good book with Captain America #1 (Vol. 7).

After all, it had Rick Remender writing, John Romita Jr on pencils and the estimable veteran Klaus Janson inking. The reason I’m sad: I didn’t like this book– not even sorta.

Let me attempt to tell you why. Anybody who reads comics long enough can tell you of times when their favorite artists decided to change their styles. Creators usually do this when they reach a certain level of success and realize that publishers and readers will keep paying for their work regardless of what it looks like. Some, like John Romita Jr, do it rather gradually. Others (like Frank Miller) make the transition much quicker– when they change publishers or books. When I think back on many rather great comic book pencilers, I’m trying to remember if I ever truly liked their “new” stylistic changes… And I have to profess I didn’t.

Same goes with John Romita Jr.

Hey! Let me tell you something else I didn’t like before I go any further. (I promise it ends up relating to my comments on the art.) Did you know Steve Rogers grew up in a home with an alcoholic father who savagely beat his mother if she dared to ask if he was going to look for work? I didn’t know that before this comic. (Hell, I didn’t want to know that.) And I seriously don’t think this heretofore unknown information adds one centimeter of depth to Steve Rogers’ character or his Captain America alter ego. But don’t tell Remender and Romita that… They give readers THREE FULL PAGES of brutal spousal abuse to open this new MarvelNOW! comic.

How trendy. How gritty. How abysmally unnecessary and repulsive.

And Steve’s Dad doesn’t just slap Steve’s Mom (that would be bad enough) he PUMMELS her repeatedly… To the point where she looks like a horrifically cartoonish Wiley E. Coyote –with a near dislocated jaw and a large swollen right eye. And here’s where Romita’s style change starts to manifest itself: As insanely real as this one-sided fist fight is portrayed, Romita draws child Steve with a HUGE CARTOON HEAD… A stylistic choice Romita imports from his badly drawn Kick Ass comics. He’s also being so sloppy and general with his pencils that the father’s face changes its entire structure at least 3 times– with the final front shot of the man’s face on the top right panel of Page Three looking like a totally different person… Someone who’s much thinner– and at least 20 years younger– than the guy drawn on the first two pages.

The plot then careens into the present, as Captain America attempts to stop some extreme environmentalists from decimating Manhattan with a microscopic plant matter bomb that will “eat” human tissue if unleashed. This part is all good and fine for me– since it aligns perfectly with Remender’s dark humor sensibilities. But I get off the train almost as soon as I get on, as Cap describes the Green Skull (now that’s inventive… not) in a bit of forced exposition (I called it “forced” because the hero is thinking all this as he hangs onto the outside of a huge plummeting bomber as it takes a straight nose-dive toward the city skyline).

Cap characterizes the Green Skull as, “A maniac hippie ranting that the only way to save the Earth is to kill off mankind.” There are a several more negative connotations toward environmentalists in the next few panels, as Remender fills the Skull’s word balloons with some of the most idiotic hackneyed dialogue ever– examples of which haven’t been experienced since the 1960s era Batman TV Show. And Captain America using the word “hippie” seriously in a 21st Century sentence? Are we suddenly in the late 60s/early 70s again… Where Captain America is an outdated relic? Is this Marvel’s idea of NOW?

As Cap jumps out of the plane with the lame villain, he parachutes to safety in front of a policeman… All while the bomber makes a near perfect (pilot-less) belly landing in the ocean/harbor surrounding Manhattan. Cap hands over the Terrorist to the cop and tells the man to call the Avengers because, “There’s a biological weapon on that plane.” And he’s being so irresponsible why? Because he’s late for a… Date… With his S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison Sharon Carter (ya know, the woman who shot him “dead” while under mind control via Doctor Faustus several years ago).

Captain America being irresponsible? That’s sorta uncharacteristic… Isn’t it?

And the whole shebang just gets worse from there… As Steve gets transported to another dimension on an old abandoned subway train (don’t ask… really) and other shenanigans ensue with arch-enemy Arnim Zola. There’s some vile experiment (of course to get Steve’s Super Solider Serum infused blood), some more big-headed kids and another crash-landing with a plane.

It’s simply confusing trash and not at all what I expected from these talented people… Probably made all the worse because I really wanted to like it.
– Ian MacMillan

Baltimore: The Play (One-Shot)
Writers: Mike Mignola,
Christopher Golden
Artist: Ben Steinbeck
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Clem Robbins
22 pages, $3.50

I mentioned two weeks ago that I never seem to start with the good horror comics when they begin. So when I saw Mike Mignola’s Baltimore series had a one-shot coming out, I scooped it up fast. After reading it, I now realize I need to read everything in this series.

As a horror writer, I’m much more fascinated by monsters than killers. They are estimable tools and great symbols for a writer to use while exploring the dark themes related to the human condition. One of these themes is, “What makes a monster?” Baltimore: The Play is an exploration of that theme. Without giving too much away, various characters connected to the production of a play in 1917 Verona all have monstrous traits. Some are physical, some are psychological– and the reasons for their actions muddies the perception of these characters. If you do monstrous things for love, art and to exist– are you a monster?

What I like about these questions: They aren’t answered. Each of the characters act the way they feel, and you can understand each of their perspectives. Because Christopher Golden and Mignola are such terrific writers, these larger themes are well hidden under a layer of gripping story.

It was also interesting that the main character, Baltimore, only sets up the story framework for this one-shot. As I said, I haven’t read any of the other mini-series, so maybe there is a connect in the story of this play I don’t know about. I was so engaged by the characters and their world– I can only imagine what the team behind this series accomplishes when the story is centered on Lord Baltimore. If the other comics are as good as this issue, this is a horror series every comic fan should be reading.

I don’t want to say much more and let spoilers slip. I’d love to talk about the art, but its execution helps add to the story so much– the places I want to praise feel like they could spoil the story. Ben Steinbeck, Dave Stewart and Clem Robbins all do an amazing job and the story wouldn’t be the same with any other team.
– W.D. Prescott

Judge Dredd #1
Ripe, Protection Racket
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artists: Nelson Daniel, Paul Gulacy
Colorist: Leonard O’Grady
Letterer: Shawn Lee
22 pages, $3.99

Just to prove that my grumpiness is not the product of something simple like “Marvel Hate” this week, I can unequivocally inform you that the Judge Dredd comic from IDW is a spectacular, insipid failure.

You can’t blame my negative reviews on anything other than bad comics. I would be more than happy to tell you every one of the books I reviewed this week were great or near-great. That way I wouldn’t have wasted my money on three pieces of crap or blown hours of my time reading and then writing reviews for bad comics.

You also can’t blame this less than rosy critical summation on a limited knowledge of Judge Dredd either. While I am by no means an expert on the character or the British magazine 2000AD, I have read my fair share of Dredd comics. And, oh yeah, I don’t need to know a damn thing about any character or series to know the difference been good and rancid books. I can walk into a series sight unseen and tell the difference between excellent stories and ones that make my iPad stink.

In all of the Black Friday sales madness in the US, I was more than tempted to purchase a new iPad– the one with the crystal clear retina display… So I could view my review comics on an even sharper screen. But if this week’s rotten crop of books is any indication, I don’t want to see them any clearer than I already do.

Let me just jump head first into this mess. As a writer of both Crime Non-Fiction and Fiction novels, Duane Swierczynski would seem like a natural to write the American version of Judge Dredd. Taking place in the futuristic, scum-filled city of Mega City One, the premise seems to be a crime writer’s dream– regardless of what side of the Atlantic they reside on. But as the historical notes in the back of the comic note: Judge Dredd has had a very checkered history in America. The British reprints do well here but DC’s attempts in the mid 90s (the publisher released two “short-lived series”) to create new stories were met with a colossal yawn.

Now with IDW in the mix, consider Judge Dredd’s American publishing ventures 0 for 3.

Swierczynski sees Dredd as only a slightly more adult version of a cartoon. The character simply doesn’t work that way. This new series takes various ideas and tropes from the British series and blows all the wrong things out of proportion… Including lame attempts at adult sarcasm and humor. (I promise not to bore you with the sorry plots for either story in this review.) Nelson Daniel’s art in “Ripe” really fares no better than Swierczynski’s words. It’s cartoony and foolish– when the outlandish themes inherent in the premise scream to be grounded in some kind of reality.

Totally writing off this first tale, I was ready to settle in for the second feature– since it was drawn by one of my all-time favorite artists, Paul Gulacy. Much to my surprise (and a slight amount of horror), Gulacy’s work here qualifies as one of his worst art jobs ever. It’s as if IDW emphasized the “cartoon” to him as well… And he drew the main character in “Protection Racket” as a man of small stature with a huge head. The art doesn’t even begin to approach vintage Gulacy– until Dredd appears on the bottom of Page 5. Now that’s the Paul Gulacy I’ve grown to love. (Too bad Judge D barely makes a mark in the story.) It’s such a weird dichotomy. It’s as if Gulacy “gets” Dredd but loses his way with virtually every other character in this short six page story.

Something else also happens in Gulacy’s piece… Something I don’t believe I’ve ever seen in any comic (and it’s not good). Pages 2 and 3 almost look like Paul drew the top panels too short or on paper stock that wasn’t the right size…. As his line work stops an inch or so before the top of the panel on each page. (It’s most noticeable on Page Three.) Anyway, instead of sending the pages back to Gulacy (or have another artist simply finish off a few of the unfinished lines)– IDW just has the colorist complete whatever needs finishing with colors. On the top panel of Page 2, the protection Robot’s shoulder is cut off at the top right. On Page 3, the customer’s coat sleeve is not fully rendered, nor is the Robot’s head fully inked or rounded. The colorist (Leonard O’Grady) does his best to fill in the spots where he can.

In the scheme of things, this is by no means the biggest problem with Judge Dredd #1… But it does show a general lack of care or corner cutting from all involved. I’m still shaking my head at that text piece in the back too. It outlines Dredd’s super successful publishing history in Britain– and emphasizes how it has been a uniquely British comic written by British creators for a British audience. (Then, as I mentioned, goes on to detail the series sketchy success in America.)

I wonder if this is IDW hedging their bet on this title’s eventual failure. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “Hey, if this comic doesn’t succeed, it won’t be because of us… It’ll be because dumbass American fans just don’t understand these uniquely British characters and stories.” I’m sure they also wish the recent Dredd film had registered more than a blip at the box-office too.

Whether they like it or not, IDW knows this comic sinks or succeeds on their efforts… And unless it does a complete flip in quality, it will join both of DC’s American Judge Dredd comics in Cancellation Land very, very quickly.
– Ian MacMillan

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12 Responses to IMJ Capsule Reviews™ – All New Comic Book Reviews for the Week of 11.21.12!

  1. Locusmortis says:

    I just checked the column where I previewed Judge Dredd and this is what I said “I have no idea if this will be good or not… But I’ll give it a few issues to prove itself.”. I’m beginning to regret that statement now since I have already pre-ordered the first 3 issues, more in hope than expectation I have to admit.

    I did have concerns about them hiring Duane Swiercynski since I’d not read any of his work, why they didn’t hire any of the current Dredd writers like creator John Wagner, Al Ewing or Robbie Morrison I don’t know, Ewing’s current story “The Cold Deck” is killing it over in 2000AD atm. There are numerous british artists who have worked on Dredd over the years who could have handled this as well.

    Dredd is a tough character to write and no many “get” him, a lot just take the “fascist bastard” route and treat him as a cypher. I don’t think anyone on this side of the pond had massively high expectations for IDW’s version of the comic anyway, at least we have 2000AD to rely on.

    About Captain America, so Cap now had an abusive father eh? This sounds like a piece of prime hackery to give him an “interesting” backround (feel free to grimace when you read that sentance). There is no need to shoehorn some previously unknown emotive backstory into a character that is 70+ years old, there are plenty of ways to write a good story without trying to “make your mark” on the character.

    • Insideman says:

      Have a bowl around when you get the first Dredd issue– you may want to have something to vomit in.

      I bet there are dozens of artists that could have drawn this crap better. It wasn’t that bad– it just wasn’t appropriate or even remotely the right feel. (Gulacy nailed Dredd in like, two panels.) So you know, I wouldn’t say they portrayed Dredd as a fascist bastard… What’s worse, he didn’t come off as much of ANYTHING.

      The Cap thing was SO unnecessary– from every viewpoint. I get exactly what Remender was doing… You and jocrlujr hit it right on the head– there were a millions ways he could have handled this same lesson that didn’t include having an abusive Father.

      Believe me when I say I didn’t get into 50 – 60+ of what else was wrong with the comic… A lot of it was because of the art too. I thought it stunk from beginning to end.

  2. jocrlujr says:

    Cap’s dad being an alcoholic has been brought up in the past. I want to say it was Denny O’Neil that first referenced it in an issue of Iron Man back in the early 80’s. I certainly don’t recall any mention of the man abusing his wife though. If the ultimate point (and I do believe this is where Remender was going with it) was to show that Mrs. Roger’s was a woman of great strength and resolve who influenced Steve then there were far better ways to go about it.

    • Insideman says:

      You better believe it, jocrlujr! Jose read me a snippet from some CBR review where the “reviewer” actually used a phrase like: This prologue packs an emotional PUNCH.

      Oh, how so clever.

      Watching his Mother being beat to a pulp, young Steve was apparently supposed to learn the lesson that he ALWAYS needs to “Stand Up”. Have we not been watching Cap STAND UP for the last 60 years? We had to watch a woman be savagely beaten to learn this lesson?

      It’s really a travesty.

  3. ed2962 says:

    With the Spiderman thing, is the twist supposed to be that the happy/cocky Peter was Doc Ock all along and the reader doesn’t realize until the end? Or was it always Pete and Doc pulls the switch at the end?

    Star Trek Mirrored sounds intriguing…

    Supurbia! I had this comic in my hands and was starting to walk towards the cashier, but I put it back due to budget reasons. Now I’m having second thoughts about my second thoughts.

    Knowing that JRJR was doing the art on Capt America turned me off. He’s another guy I used to like a lot, but it just seems like he’s putting in less effort cuz he knows he’ll get paid regardless. Of course, I don’t know what’s going on in his mind, but his visuals aren’t as appealing as they were several years ago.

    Baltimore sounds intriguing…

    • Tiger Topher says:

      Yes, Doc Ock is in Spider-Man’s body the whole length of the book, but it isn’t made clear until the end of the issue. This helps to explain some of Peter’s obnoxious behavior. That said, the Peter we get in this comic really isn’t all that dissimilar from the Peter we’ve been getting since the start of the “Brand New Day” era. Also, with exceptions here and there, the Peter in this story doesn’t really read like a Peter who has Doc’s mind, at least in my opinion.

      • J. says:

        I agree. Except for the few things I mentioned above, all his dialogue reads as if Peter is thinking or saying it. And even when he is a dick, it is something I’ve come to expect from Slott’s Parker. The issue was just a mess with a cheap gimmick at the end to fool people into thinking it wasn’t.

      • Insideman says:

        As I told Jose earlier, a man waking from a coma that can form complex words like Pe-ter and Par-ker over and over should have also been able to say the much less complex “I am” in front of his name or even “Avengers”– or whatever codeword these snobs must have amongst themselves to prove their identity to each other. (Gotta have one, right? Almost anybody could be in an iron suit or full body tights.)

        With Bendis previously at the helm of the Avengers, I would assume the word is “piz-za” or “ham” or “sa-la-mi”… All words Peter in Doc’s body should have also been able to form. 🙂

        Tiger/Jose: I also totalyy agree that Doc in Peter’s body didn’t act any worse than Peter in Peter’s body. That’s why the whole thing stinks to high heaven. I wasn’t aware that when you drove someone’s consciousness out of their body that you assumed ALL their memories. Of course, J called it earlier. He thinks Peter’s still in there somewhere and will reassert his dominance after a tussle.

        In other words, Slott is writing a story that ends almost exactly like Star Trek 2. (Shatner/Kelley/Nimoy version)

  4. Tiger Topher says:

    I usually like Remender’s work, but my gut told me to stay away from Uncanny Avengers and Captain America. It looks like I made the right choice.

    • Insideman says:

      I love Remender’s work. Adore Fear Agent and tons of his indie comics. Even liked some of his Punisher and Ghost Rider stuff. But Cap and Uncanny Avengers were both mundane and awful. A tough combo to roll.

      • jocrlujr says:

        I almost can’t help but feel like this was an idea he originally had for Venom, but re-purposed for Captain America when the creative shift happened. Aside from the Sharon Carter segment the whole story could easily have worked with Flash Thompson. The prologue in particular would have already had set precedent to play off of.

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