The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Comic Book Reviews for the Week of 6/18/2008: JLA, Ex Machina, Spidey, X-Factor, Catwoman, more!

Written by: The CinCitizens

ImageWeek after week, every Wednesday, there is a sudden influx of content in the comic book world. It's CC2K's job to sift through the garbage to find the gold. Every week we'll be bringing you reviews on the widest range of books possible. This week: Trinity, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, JLA, X-Factor plus more!

Amazing Spider-Man #563 Review by Tom Lynch
Writer – Bob Gale
Pencils – Mike McKone
Inks – Marlo Alquiza
Colors – Jeromy Cox & Antonio Fabela
Letters – Cory Petit

It seems like Mike McKone was channeling some Mike Wieringo with this issue, which is awesome.  The characters have the kind of fun and pop that a Wieringo comic used to have.  The panel layouts on just about every page are very action filled and dynamic.  It’s always very clear what is happening and the clean artwork helps a lot with that.  One scene flowed well into the next and there wasn’t really a spot that seemed out of place.  He makes use of spider shaped inner panels during the fight scene and it helps a lot to make the action move along without having to use a full panel on a smaller spot.

The writing goes very well with the fun art as this is a fun story.  The characters all interact very well and Spidey is always ready with a one-liner to keep things going.  It was a very quick read, but not because of a lack of words.  It was quick because the story just felt so natural and aside from one scene shift and we’ll apparently see the results of later, it as makes sense and falls into place.  Speaking of the scene shift, I’m beginning to enjoy the interspersing of subplots throughout the book.  These stories really feel like old school comics, but in a very good way.  With so many smaller stories running in the background of the front one, it’s nice to see that they’re building towards something, even if we aren’t keen to it yet.  

This issue definitely keeps up the fast and fun action that has been the staple of Amazing Spider-Man in recent weeks.  While I’m still waiting on a story that really couldn’t have happened with Peter still married to Mary Jane, I’m happy to report that they’re still good reads in spite of that.

4.0 out of 5.
ImageBirds of Prey #119 Review by Gary M. Kenny
Writer – Tony Bedard

Artist – Nicola Scott
Inks – Doug Hazlewood
Colors – Hi-Fi Designs
Letters – Sal Cipriano
Cover – Stephane Roux

The girls have moved to sunny California, (go ahead and cue the Beach Boy music and display the images of girls in bikinis and surfers high fiving) but our favorite birds aren’t getting the welcome they anticipated.  This issue is part one of “Welcome to Platinum Flats” a great jumping on point for new readers because old Babs is rebuilding the team into one better functioning unit. She bought some real estate and decided to start a clock-windows business in order to pay off all her loans from Bruce Wayne. 

With a tip from super hacker the Calculator, our team leader Oracle has learned of a big problem spewing from Platinum Flats California, though the trouble is still unknown to us readers, it looks as if some high tech company is working in shadows trying to take over the globe.  Which is a perfect problem for our tech savvy Oracle and her butt kicking team. 

The opening of this comic really delivers. Nicola Scott draws a pretty cool looking transformer-ish villain, terribly named Carface (which was Bedard’s intention based on the many jokes playing off this C-level villains name). Carface gets his rear bumper handed to him by Huntress and afterwards she gets booed by the cops and California townspeople (again, not the welcoming they were expecting). However, the real enjoyment is at the end of the comic with a battle between Manhunter and Black Canary. Manhunter has been spying on the ex-Bird of Prey for reasons unknown to us by Babs. Once the J.L.A. leader herself uncovers Manhunter spying, a pretty cool battle of who’s tougher follows. For those scenes alone, this comic is worth picking up. I’m not too sure how this arc will be. Part one did flow, I am not too impressed with the bad guys so far, and though I do like Scott’s action scenes, I do not like how a lot of the females are drawn having similar looking face structures (nose and eyes in particular). Casual Birds of Prey readers can skip this month without being lost. For new readers wanting to join the Birds and for us regular Oracle readers, pick it up. 

3.5 out of 5. 
ImageCatwoman #80 Review by Joey Esposito
Writer – Will Pfeifer
Pencils – David Lopez
Inks – Alvaro Lopez
Colors – Jeromy Cox
Letters – Jared K. Fletcher

One more issue to go. And then it's all over. In this issue, Selina catches up with the man who's been making her life miserable for a long time now, and finally makes him pay. That's this second to last issue in a nutshell. This issue is strangely more verbose than a usual Pfeifer Catwoman issue, but that's not a complaint. Issue #80 really sees Selina get out a lot of the aggression she's justifiably built up in Pfeifer's seminal run, yet it also sees her learning from her past mistakes, holding back from murdering another villain like she did Black Mask all those years ago.

What I love about Pfeifer's writing that is really dominant in this issue is his trend of hinting at characterization rather than beating you over the head with it. For example, the situation given above. Long time readers know what Selina had done to Black Mask, and seeing her resist temptation this time around really says a lot about the character and how she's grown since Pfeifer took the reigns. But what we don't get is overly informative narration boxes telling us what she's learned; gratefully we get to see it for ourselves.

As expected, the Lopez' art is once again a perfect fit for the issue. One panel in particular sticks in my mind as it sees The Thief escaping via elevator shaft, and Catwoman's silhouette remaining against the wall as she follows. It's a small touch that is awesomely effective. It also has to be said that the layouts in this, and every issue of the series, are creative and really diversify what we usually see inside a superhero book. Extreme closeups on lips and things like this are what make this book so interesting to read. These panels truly add to the experience that is Selina Kyle and contribute to her character in their own way.  I can't state it enough: I'm going to miss this book when it's gone. And of course, the super sexy Adam Hughes covers along with it. 

4.0 out of 5.

ImageEx Machina #37 Review by Joey Esposito
Writer – Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils – Tony Harris
Inks – Jim Clark with Cliff Rathburn
Colors – JD Mettler with Avina & Rench
Letters – Wes Abbott

What is left to say about this god damn book? Month after month, Vaughan and Harris give us one of the highest quality books in print today. This month's issue # 37 is absolutely no different. While there was some complaint of the new “Dirty Tricks” storyline that began last month, naysayers need to go no further than to read this next installment.

The second chapter brings forward the real threat of this new vigilante/graffiti artist mucking about NYC, and why she pertains to the overarching plot of Mitchell and his stint as mayor. In fact, this issue is a shining example of the quintessential Ex Machina installment. Just as in Y: The Last Man, Vaughan has a rather structured way of presenting his storylines, almost to the point of predictability – but not in terms of the story, only in terms of how it's presented. And it works. This issue is exemplary because of its many moments of biting humor due to clever dialogue and character situations, an adequate amount of mystery and intrigue regarding this arc's new vigilante in town, and small connections to the series' overall plot. 

The best scene in this issue is between Bradbury and Leto, ex-”supervillain” and ex-comic book store owner. Vaughan once again displays his knack for analysis of the comic book archetypes, as Leto details this new vigilante woman in terms of characters like Catwoman and Elektra. Leto then appears to be unable to distinguish between his actual life and the life he lives buried in comic books. This brings forth an interesting point on comic book readers, as well as serving to somewhat break down the fourth wall between the characters and their reader. 

Overall, this is one of the best issues of Ex Machina, at least since 2008 began. I would say that this is a good “jump on” point for new readers, but really, with this series ending at a finite number, this series is one to be taken as a whole entity, much like Y. If you aren't in the midst of this series now, either catch up or wait until the whole thing is in the trades. 
4.5 out of 5.

ImageJustice League of America #22 Review by Gary M. Kenny
Writer – Dwayne McDuffie
Artist – Ed Benes
Colors – Pete Pantazis
Letters – Rob Leigh
Cover – Benes and Alex Sinclair

I love Ed Benes' art. When I see that he is the artist of a comic, that particular issue goes right on top of my weekly stack.  He makes the Justice League of America title work.  I can go on and on with why he’s the best for the title, but lets talk topics. This month’s issue has a lot going on. I counted five different topics within twenty-two pages. 

1.Red Tornado has mixed feelings about returning to the land of the living. Should I stay a robot, will my “wife” officially marry me, and can I be human enough to really love my wife?

2.Batman with the help of Steel, Zantana, Dr. Caulder, and Dr. Magnus are rebuilding a new body for the Red Tornado and things are not working out.

3.Vixen confronts the gang about stealing a fraction of their powers and Black Canary kicks her out of the League.

4.Red Arrow and Kendra spar and it turns out all they really need is couples counseling.

5.“Amazo lives again!”

I almost felt as if I was reading an issue of 52  with that many characters and topics. McDuffie fills the issue with dialogue across twenty of the twenty-two pages and though it is lengthy, it actually flows and his mini stories throughout the issue are entertaining. That being said, I still feel it was a bit too much for a whole issue of Justice League of America. However, Mr. McDuffie don’t fret, Benes saves the day.  With his art direction and concept of where the characters should be placed and how they interact, every scene was both beautiful and entertaining. Take the Roy and Kendra scene. Instead of it being a forced fight between boyfriend and girlfriend, Benes places them in a Danger Room-like area with snow and mountains, going blow to blow with each other. His art compliments McDuffie’s story and the comic (besides the multiple topics) oozes with entertainment. I’m glad Benes is back with The League and you should buy it for that reason alone. Oh and “Amazo lives again!”
4.0 out of 5.

ImageSuperman/Batman #49 Review by Gary M. Kenny
Writer – Michael Green & Mike Johnson

Artist – Shane Davis
Inks – Matt Banning

Colors – Pete Pantazis

Letters – Rob Leigh
Cover – Davis, Banning, & Alex Sinclair
About six months ago, I almost stopped reading Superman/Batman; luckily, I decided to give it one more issue. That issue, the first part of Johnson and Green’s epic arc “K.” The story of Bats and Supes traveling across the globe, from Aquaman’s underground kingdom to the belly of LexCorp in order to collect and secure all the Kryptonite on Earth. I am just thrilled to say that the conclusion really delivered, especially the last page (I won’t spoil it). 
We have met some great characters this arc, especially my favorite, the All American Boy (a. k .a. the Doomsday clone), Johnson and Green’s twisted take on the Captain American origin (A young man who is turned into a super soldier by the government). Johnson and Green took a very similar character and instead of turning him into a super soldier, the government changed him into a Doomsday monster, amazingly drawn by Shane Davis. However, with all new characters aside, in issue #49 we deal with Superman’s old flame Lana Lang and we finally get an answer to why she never compared to Lois Lane. Davis draws Superman confronting and hovering within the shadows slightly above Lana (all you see are Superman’s red eyes). She is his old childhood friend and now his new betrayer. Lana has been working with the government in making new Kryptonite weapons, and now Superman (though a still very forgiving person) knows by trusting and believing in humanity, there will times when his heart will break.  
Supes and Bats manage to rid Earth of Kryptonite, well at least made it so that it’s rare again and so concludes the arc. Now I was very pleased with this story and I hope new readers pick up the trade paperback, however there is only one thing I did not like and this has nothing to do with the issue itself. My favorite new Toyman, Hiro, in a recent issue of Action Comics, had been turned into a villainous robot by DC Comics while in this Superman/Batman issue he has been accepted by the Justice League as a new member. So DC what is it? Will Hiro be a new welcomed superhero or a bland new villain with some weird continuity problems? 
4.5 out of 5.
ImageTrinity #3 Review by Joey Esposito
Writer – Kurt Busiek
Artist – Mark Bagley
Inks – Art Thibert
Colors – Pete Pantazis
Letters – Pat Brosseau

Back-up feature:
Story – Kurt Busiek
Writer – Fabian Nicieza
Artist(s) – Mike Norton and Jerry Ordway
Colors – Allen Passalaqua
Letters – Pat Brosseau

Meh. I hope this sudden decline in quality isn't going to be a trend. Anyone that's read my reviews before knows that I don't particularly care for “action packed” issues, because most of the time these issues result in nothing more than stretching the storyline an extra installment.  It's hard to feel as though this isn't the case here, in which Trinity #3 lacks everything that made the first couple of issues truly enjoyable, delivering on the promise that this series would encompass everything that makes the Big Three so important. This issue, honestly, is just a waste. The action isn't exciting, and really, nothing happens. The back-up feature this time around is equally unsatisfying, focusing on a young tarot card reader that is involved with a gang that is up to no good, as most gangs are. There are subtle hints as to what the hell this character has to do with the overall plot of the series, but it's hard to care when such a lackluster issue has preceded it.

Bagley and company provide nothing to complain about however, as the interiors are well above satisfactory in every way. The action is not boring due to the art, it's boring because it's written that way. What we have is another example of Busiek's love for giant monsters destroying a town, with the capes coming in to save the day. If this is the kind of drivel that is going to be contained in this book, I promise you I will not be making the mistake I made with Countdown and sticking with this book for any longer than I have to, with an empty promise of improvement.

I sound harsh, yes, but a weekly series is only going to be as good as its last issue. And right now, Trinity is on the shit list.

1.0 out of 5.

ImageX-Factor #32 Review by Tom Lynch
Writer – Peter David
Pencils – Valentine De Landro
Inks – Drew Hennessey & Craig Yeung
Colors – Jeromy Cox & Christ Sotomayor
Letters – Cory Petit

Something real seems to finally be happening in this book.  After a number of issues with the team sitting stagnant, we get some real change this time around.  However, a side effect of that is the loss of much of the interaction that makes this book so fun.  Sure, a lot happens and a lot of sub plots are finally moved along, but in a way, this feels more like closing one chapter and setting up the next.  That is with the exception of Jamie talking to a figment of his imagination, but it’s pretty funny and helps him a long in a few spots.  One of the best things I can say about this issue is that when I hit the last page, I couldn’t believe it.  It ends on a solid note and left me begging for more.  Although it almost feels like everything pretty much goes back to normal so we’ll see if any permanent changes come about.

The art is solid, but not great.  There are a couple of panels that look kind of odd and characters’ faces don’t always look right.  Valentine does play around with some cool angles and does some very good storytelling and framing sequences, but the actual pencils just don’t have that ground level feeling that X-Factor should have.  It’s close, but just slightly off the mark enough to distract.  But that’s nothing compared to the cover, what the heck happened there?  Strong Guy looks like he’s dying of food poisoning, M just looks weird, and Jamie has just about the blankest stare I’ve ever seen.  If I wasn’t already buying X-Factor, that cover wouldn’t help.

It was a solid effort on all involved, and it’s good to see that things are finally happening, but it’s hurt a bit by the art and trying to move too much along in only 22 pages.

3.0 out of 5.

Author: The CinCitizens

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