A very special Worst to First

I’m back, dear readers. After finding a job and getting settled in the ATL, I made my first trip to a comic shop in more than a month (quick shout to Odin’s Cosmic Bookshelf). Honestly, I was surprised more than anything by the sheer number of comics I really didn’t care to read. The only series I missed were (in order) X-Factor, Astonishing X-Men, Captain America, Hellboy and Daredevil. (Sadly, the shop was out of the latest X-Factor.)

What’s missing from there? You guessed it: I didn’t miss a single DC series. Hard to believe how far things have fallen since Identity Crisis and even the culmination of 52. I only ended up with a handful of comics from my month off, including Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucketthree from Marvel, three independents and one from DC (Jeff Smith’s Shazam). I did also get all the Green Arrow: Year One (GAYO) books and the first Tangent collection sent over from DC, but I’ll save those for separate reviews. Now, onto the Countdown… Uh, I mean countdown.

Worst: Astonishing X-Men #22

It’s bad enough that this is late, but the big reveal of this issue (Danger not really being able to kill any X-Men) is just way too late (that storyline happened forever ago) and the killing off of Cyclops made Captain America’s death look tasteful. Oh, and the bad guys’ space rocket launcher looked like the Death Star with a boner. You know what, go ahead and scratch this off my list of comics I need.

Kombative: Immortal Iron Fist #8

Jim Doom already did a pretty good job of taking the logic of this book apart (heaven is based on fighting. WHA???), so I’ll leave that be. This was really just a catch-your-breath book that didn’t advance any of the storylines substantially. Particularly, the flashback story of Danny’s father didn’t do anything meaningful. The art in that part was also terrible, as Jim mentioned, which is odd given how good Marvel is about putting together art teams. Now all that remains to be seen is if there’s a new way to rip off Mortal Kombat (which itself was just a ripoff of Master of the Flying Guillotine).

Metaphoric: Shazam! #4

I think I just bought this to be a completist, since that $5.99 cover price is ridiculous. Whining aside, I did enjoy this series. It succeeds just as Bone did, by weaving a fun story that’s for kids (no girls with their boobs falling out or intense violence) but retains a high level of smarts. There’s a whole lot of social commentary that’s not too heavy handed. I started to wonder, after reading this last issue, how deep the metaphors run. For instance, Smith sets up Sivana as the attorney general and eventually reveals him to be working for the evil Mr. Mind, who then turns on Sivana after he’s served his purpose. There are some overt attacks on the conservative political establishment, but I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Mind is supposed to represent President Bush (manipulating his operatives, etc.). Of course, if that parallel is being drawn, Mr. Mind would probably represent Cheney or Rove…

All that aside, I wasn’t completely sold on the art. It went a bit too cute in places and, more than anything, the big climactic fight between Captain Marvel and Mr. Mind’s giant monsters was unbelievably stiff.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBee-yoo-ti-ful: Killing Girl #1

If only Fin Fang Doom hadn’t given up his Meaningless Awards column, he would’ve had a shoo-in at splash page of the week. I know it’s not the most action-packed page ever done, but the image at left is comics at their most beautiful. Frank Espinosa branches off from Rocketo here to work with writer Glen Brunswick on the story of a prostitute-turned assassin. As expected, Espinosa’s frenetic art carries the book. It’s so graceful and active (a nice 180 from Shazam). When I looked at the page you see here, I literally shouted.

Apparently, though, there’s more to comics than pretty pictures. Does the writing hold up here? Eh, kind of. The premise here isn’t that original, and Brunswick leans on the crutch of some serious coincidences to craft drama. The prostitute goes to kill a guy in a town where she was kidnapped and sold into the sex-trade years ago, only to run across an FBI agent who’s engaged to her sister and is protecting her potential hit. That’s about as likely as the plot of Spider-Man 3, wouldn’t you say?

Holding strong: Captain America #29

Probably the most consistent series out their chugs along with a typical issue that progresses about six plots at once and features the perfect artistic combo of Epting and Perkins. The continuing mental battle between Lukin and the Red Skull ratchets to another level (and is depicted in a wonderfully creative new way). Sharon’s mental well being spirals ever downward. And Sin is just a delectably fun evil wench. Man, it’s fun to watch SHIELD fall apart under Tony Stark’s watch. Speaking of which, the only marginal downside of this issue is that Stark appears here, even though he’s simultaneously dead, being tortured, etc., etc. in other books. Also, Bucky gives up a little too easily in the climax. There’s some nitpicking for you.

First: Hellboy: Darkness Calls #4-5

While I still say this series is a bit jumbled (there are a million villains all interplaying together, making the main plot almost unintelligible), these two books finally come through with the expected Hellboy charm and action that made the character world-famous. Essentially, these issues hold a knock-down drag-out smackaroo between old redhorns and some evil undead soldier. Good times. There’s also a surprising appearance by Cinderella (though not named such) and allusions to some very bad woman released from a dungeon deep in the earth. In short, the issues do a good job of setting up a finale that should be larger than life. However, I’m a bit worried over delays since issue five ends with: “NEXT – Darkness Calls concludes as soon as possible…” Well, consider me the opposite of reassured.

Another important thing to mention is that Duncan Fegredo finally delivers a complete issue with each of these. Previously, his art had fallen flat for pages at a time. It’s dynamic throughout these issues and the page layouts are some of the best in comics. Issue four has a long fight section with tiny comedic interludes from a scaredy-cat spirit that’s just perfectly executed.