Monday, February 4, 2008

Polar Opposites

Today I have a special treat. Since I haven't been around much, I'm presenting two reviews for the price of one! And since the price of one review costs nothing, it's the best deal you'll find online! Not only that, but I'm reviewing both major licenses today, as one of my reviews is from DC Comics, the other from their competitor Marvel Comics. Finally, topping all that, both titles are written by the top writers in both organizations, promising me an unparalleled level of enjoyment bringing these titles to you!

Our first review is of Green Lantern #27, written by one of my personal favorites Geoff Johns (52, Booster Gold) and penciled by Mike McKone (Teen Titans, Fantastic Four). It's an interesting time in for the Green Lantern Corps. The Sinestro War is over. It cost the lives of many Green Lanterns and caused the Guardians to enact ten new rules in the Book of Oa. First and foremost of those rules is the ability for Green Lanterns to use lethal force, the lack of which had seriously hurt the Lanterns for much of the Sinestro War. The processing plant that had created yellow power rings for the Sinestro Corps has been destroyed. But most of the new laws of the Book of Oa are still a mystery, and most Green Lanterns are tasked with tracking down the remaining Sinestro Corps rings that still search the cosmos looking for new owners.

That's how this issue opens, with Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart being called in to retrieve a yellow ring inbound to Earth. Eventually the intergalactic policemen catch up to the ring before Jonathan "The Scarecrow" Crane can be properly recruited to the still-dangerous Sinestro Corps, but in checking, they find the ring belonged to Amon Sur, the son of the man who recruited Hal Jordan to the GL Corps in the first place.

We're then brought to a GL meeting room, where several Green Lanterns attempt to come to terms with something they've never had to before; GL Laira of sector 112 is accused of murdering Amon Sur, who had slaughtered the family of a fallen Green Lantern before attempting to surrender himself to the so-called "Lost Lanterns." Laira had responded by killing Amon Sur in a blind rage, having to be restrained by her teammates. It immediately brings into question the first new Law of Oa, which grants lethal force, but doesn't implicitly express when to use it. Eventually Jordan and Stewart arrive to question how this happened, when the Guardians appear. Not wanting to justify cold-blooded murder, the Guardians create the Alpha Lanterns, kind of an internal affairs organization within the Corps to police the police. Six Green Lanterns are chosen to represent the new Alpha Lanterns (including Lost Lantern Boodika, pictured above), with only John Stewart declining, choosing not to take part until he learns more about Oa's new laws.

There's not a whole lot of action in this book, being mostly a talkie about the morality of murdering a murderer, and introducing the new Alpha Lanterns. But it's a talkie done well, as Geoff Johns expertly creates dialog between the conflicting Green Lanterns and the Guardians. Major changes would appear to be in store for this title (and it's sister title, Green Lantern Corps) and I wouldn't trust it better in any other writer's hands. McKone's artwork is equally excellent. Most of the settings are in the Green Lantern headquarters, so most of the backgrounds are green with little hint to the specific rooms the characters inhabit, but the character artwork is excellent enough to make that critique a small quibble. McKone had a blast drawing all the Green Lanterns, and the scene of the power ring entering Arkham to find the Scarecrow is fantastically drawn. An excellent job all around on this title, one that I'm really getting into reading on a regular basis.

And here's another title I've been in love with of late. Written by Brian Michael Bendis (all the Avengers titles) and penciled by Carlo Pagulayan (Planet Hulk, Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four), New Avengers Annual #2 rectifies one of the biggest let-downs of this series. At the end of issue 37 of this series, The organization put together by Parker "The Hood" Robbins was dismantled and put away by the New Avengers. The Hood responds... by breaking into the prison his people are in and getting out every last one of them. What kind of anti-climactic bull is that? That issue left a bad taste in my mouth, that this team would go through all the trouble of rounding up these criminals (all of it while unregistered, mind you) just to have one unused villain undo all they did in one fell swoop.

On top of that, this team of New Avengers is probably the most mismatched team of heroes on the market right now. I like the use of Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Echo and Ronin (Clint Barton) on the team, and I love anything I see Stephen Strange in, but Spider-Man and Wolverine? They may be the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe right now (and probably for a long time after today) but Wolverine is a known mutant with the X-Men, and Spider-Man as he exists now woudn't really be part of this group anymore.

It makes for great team chemistry, however, as the group returns to the home of Stephen Strange from their latest mission successful. They're not uninjured however, as Dr. Strange must be taken to his room by his assistant Wong and his girlfriend the Night Nurse. The rest are just looking forward to a night without any more activity, without worrying about hoods or Skrulls or symbiotes. Too bad for them The Hood has gathered no less than twenty-five supervillains (including the Wrecking Crew, Madame Masque, The Wizard and Jigsaw) with the intent of storming Strange's home and destroying the New Avengers on their own turf, much like the Masters of Evil that did the same ten years ago.

What follows can only be described as an awesome battle royale of near-biblical proportions, as the villains pile up on the weary heroes. In essence, it's the complete opposite of Green Lantern, all action with little moral chatter or much dialogue at all. It's just a pile-on, one in which the heroes are hanging on by the tips of their fingers.

This issue is one of my favorites of Bendis'. He ties this annual deftly into the current Avengers story, and also including references to World War Hulk. He continues to be one of my favorite writers, even if it does seem like Marvel entrusts far too much of the universe's current storytelling solely to him. The Avengers' titles are his baby, though, and he's hardly made any missteps in their telling. And the twists he introduce at the end create a true cliffhanger, as the team will have to make some changes after this issue to continue to exist. Pagulayan does an unexpectedly fantastic job in this issue. Sometimes I think his art can get a little too gritty at times, but this issue is surprisingly clean, with colors blending perfectly with his pencilwork. Pagulayan probably has never had to draw this much action in a single issue, and he obviously reveled in the chance to create as much destruction as thirty-plus superpowered individuals could do in the span of thirty-six pages. Also, I liked the ad-cameo for Oceanic Airlines, as a Lost fan myself I have to smile at that little thing in there to identify with the comic creators on some level.

The verdict is in! We love both Marvel and DC titles! Both New Avengers and Green Lantern represent some of the best their companies have to offer, and we're always excited to see consistantly great work on the shelves for purchase. Read these with our blessings, you won't go wrong curling up with either of these titles on a cold New England evening.

38 comments:

elmo said...

The Secret Invasion miniseries will start this month, and supposedly reveal Cylo- er, Skrulls, on every page. Can. Not. Wait.
(plus, Francis Yu will have my favorite inker, Mark Morales!)

steve said...

Yes, the twist at the end was a really, really good one - but the REST of the issue stank all over the place! And the reason why is directly connected to something you mention in your review - that GREAT previous storyline in which the Masters of Evil trash the Avengers and bring them to the brink of destruction.

That storyline was great because it was so long overdue - finally, a big, extremely powerful team of villains decides to carefully PLAN their attack (and to make it when the Avengers ranks are not all that powerful): they get the team's two heavyweights - Hercules and the New Orleans Captain Marvel - out of the way first, Captain Marvel by stranding her across the galaxy, and Hercules by getting him drunk enough so they can beat the snot out of him. Then they storm Avengers Mansion with unbeatable brute force - the Wrecking Crew, Mr. Hyde, Tiger Shark, Goliath ... each character capable of lifting several dozen TONS, mind you, each easily in the power-class of somebody like, say, the Sub-Mariner.

And they succeed. The Wasp flees, Captain America and the Black Knight are easily captured, and that's that. The only thing that saves the Avengers at all is the fact that the Wasp recruits characters who've never been Avengers before, X-factors for which there is no contingency plan.

And even THAT would have failed, if not for the timely return of Thor and Captain Marvel. In fact, it's Thor alone who takes out most of the villains' heavy-hitters.

So why is that a problem for this issue? Because there's no Thor. No Iron Man. No Hercules. No Ares. No NOBODY. Instead, there's Spider-Man, Power Man, Doctor Strange, Wolverine, some yutz named Ronin, and Iron Fist. All have just come from a (presumably tiring) battle, and the only heavy-hitter in the bunch, Doctor Strange, is wounded and plays no part in the fight (until the deus ex machina role at the end). That leaves Spider-Man, who can lift at most ten tons, Power Man, who can lift at most three tons, and ... a bunch of tools no stronger than G.I. Joe. Against two dozen bad guys, including the Wrecking Crew.

Bendis does what he always does: he goes nebular. Instead of fights that have details, fights in which things actually HAPPEN, he serves up a protracted melee in which it's never clear WHAT the frak is happening - except that our heroes don't seem all that inconvenienced, whereas they should have been pounded to silly putty in about five minutes.

It's absurd. This issue features one of the WEAKEST-ass teams in Avengers history, and Bendis pits them against a football-team full of villains and has them win (at least, it certainly didn't look to me like they needed their last-minute save). Why not throw in the Shiar Imperial Guard, while you're at it? How about Doctor Doom and a thousand super-powered robots? Why not, right? After all, Wolverine is so bad-ass! And Iron Fist has this wicked cool glow around his fist! And Power Man is black! Plus, this Ronin yutz knows some wicked cool moves! So what if you're facing not one but FOUR guys who can tear apart an office building with their bare hands! OUR guys have the cool hipster-dialogue!

Feh. Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, the Wasp, and Giant-Man ... now THAT's an Avengers line-up! Ah, how I miss the '70s ...

Gianni said...

I personally can't wait to read the Secret Invasion story, though I fear Marvel (with Joe Quesada at the helm) may goof it up a la World War Hulk.

As for Steve's comments, yes, you're right, the prior Masters of Evil storyline is far superior to the latest New Avengers Annual. But the simple truth is that with the exception of the Wrecking Crew, the bad guys didn't really have any heavy hitters in as well, and the aforementioned Crew are less powerful than they were in the seventies. Besides, The Hood was so preoccupied with taking out the heroes that there was no plan other than "storm the castle" (after all, he's no Baron Zemo) and despite your assertion, the team was definitely tired and on the ropes and were finally getting beat when Strange stepped in, or at least that was my interpretation.

I DO agree with your statement that these New Avengers don't have any true heavies (Spiderman is the closest by far) but maybe that will change, or perhaps it'll simply make their victories mean more in the future. I like these "underdog" Avengers, though. I like Ronin, Echo, and Iron Fist, and I love Bendis' use of Luke Cage. I love how he's a no-nonsense, non-costume-wearing kind of everyman hero. He's by far Bendis' best retake on an underused character.

Kevin Caron said...

Can you even be called the Avengers when the toughest guy on your team is Spider-man? They should be legally bound to change their name to the New Defenders.

Note that the 'top' writer for Marvel is not Bendis. It would have to be either Warren Ellis or Ed Brubaker. Your pick.

Gianni said...

For all intents and purposes, Bendis gets the big jobs, so top writer at Marvel is his to lose. I like Ellis and Brubaker, but my personal fav. writers is actually Matt Fraction, with a little Dan Slott on the side, but I'm sure Steve or the others would disagree.

elmo said...

Guess what I've learned- The Order is only going to issue ten. FAAAAAK!!

Kevin Caron said...

Oh - I thought you meant top as in 'best', not top as in 'overexposed'.

My bad.

Gianni said...

Bendis is a talented writer, but he definitely has too much responsibility over at the Marvel offices... case in point: The Halo comic. Wow. Look for me to review that turd when the series ends.

Alas, poor Order, Rest in Peace.

elmo said...

But it frees up Barry Kitson to draw Spiderman- yippo!

steve said...

Barry Kitson couldn't draw flies if you left his body to rot for a week. Where's the yippo? Feh.

elmo said...

Barry Kitson drew me wearing a flight ring last night- JUST a flight ring.

Kevin Caron said...

I'm with Steve. Barry Kitson kinda stinks.

He would be TERRIBLE drawing Spidey. His figure work is far too stiff.

Though all of his male characters do sorta look like Peter Parker. At the very least, they all look alike.

elmo said...

He's come a long way since Adventures of Superman! I find the stiffness charming.

Kevin Caron said...

...Weirdly enough, I kinda do, too.

Reminds me of my own work, maybe.

Gianni said...

I like Kitson's work in the Order, but I'm not sure how that would translate to Spiderman.

elmo said...

You're up, Steve. Top 5 Fave Panels by Kitson- go!

steve said...

He's never drawn a good panel in his life - and you WOULD find his 'stiffness' charming, you horny hermaphrodite!

steve said...

I wonder if Gianni will be reviewing the new Hitch & Ellis Fantastic Four! Everybody see it? Anybody like it?

brian said...

cough. cough. ahem...

elmo said...

That THING you just asked for comments on could suck the bend out of a river. Can't believe it went to press.

Megmo Eskimo said...

Why am I not surprised that Steve could not resist leaving at least one hermaphrodite erection comment?!

Kevin Caron said...

I wisely replaced it on the rack after the ol' flip-through.

My comics this week were Legion (a forgetable issue), Criminal (always good) and RASL - the new series by 'Bone' (control yourself, Steve) creator Jeff Smith - self published under the 'Cartoon Books' label.

Good stuff! Anybody else pick it up?

It's almost time for Gianni's monthly blog post - whatever will he review next?!?

elmo said...

Hey Hey- NEXUS showed the hell up!
Complete with naked pics of The Dude. Mike Baron, however, looks unsure of why he's out of bed.

Kevin Caron said...

I could tell ya stories...

Kevin Caron said...

Ho-hum.. Blog still frozen.

If there's no new post for another week, I think I'm going to have to open up shop with a competing Stevereads Spinoff Comics-blog across the street.

5 comics this week:

Justice League: The New Frontier Special
Clandestine
Omega the Unknown
Infinity Inc.
Young Liars

Read 2 so far - JL:TNFS was great, Clandestine was decent.

elmo said...

I just borrowed ClanDestine Classic from work. Awesome eight issues and then the X-Men team-up was phoned in.

Kevin Caron said...

Yeah it was.

Kevin Caron said...

Finished reading my stash for this week.
Young Liars was pretty intriguing. I'll stick around for #2, for sure.

Infinity, Inc was eh, but I still have high hope - I'm just that much of a Peter Milligan fan.

Omega was decent. Loved the art, anyway.

elmo said...

I was with Infinity Inc. until the issue with three artists- one person is lucky enough to nail a Milligan script, but this thing was butchered. I'll revisit the trade, though.

Kevin Caron said...

they seem to have decided on an artist, finally - this Matt Camp guy. Its an improvement, but I'm not entirely sold yet. Could be the color.

elmo said...

It's fairly garish-
I'm pretty much a fan, though, of any palette that gets my attention.

Kevin Caron said...

Feh! Garish like John Higgins on Watchmen I can dig. Garish like "what color should go here? Uh... Purple? Lemme see... Red, orange yellow, green, red... Nope! Haven't used purple yet!" notsomuch.

I swear, good color is what separates meh from great these days. Mark my words.

Kevin Caron said...

Oops.

I used 'meh' and 'feh' in the same post.

Kill me now.

steve said...

Nexus #100 was fanstastic beyond the DREAMS of fantastic! It was so fantastic, 'fantastic' must now mean 'dumb' and it must forge ahead for a NEW 'fantastic' - I suggest 'Nexustastic'!

elmo said...

Remember Stormwatch: Achilles? Green, orange and purple. That's it.
Invaders from a few years ago was also had "fantastic" coloring.

brian said...

wow, so I guess the key to getting 30 plus comments is to abandon your blog for months at a time. Duly noted.

steve said...

you've got serious comments-envy, don't you?

steve said...

although it IS rather shameful how long The Latest Issue has lain fallow. Especially when such a vast amount of new stuff is coming out every month ... perhaps a Stevereads stop-gap column is in order ...