Leave Your Spandex @t the Door 31.07.06: Advance Reviews

Welcome to the 79th installment of the new Leave Your Spandex @t the Door! Wednesday is Comic Book Day in the U.S., and LYS@D is here again with this week’s Early Bird Reviews, so you can catch up on what rocks and what flops this week before you head to your local LCS! I’d like to thank Travelling Man Manchester for providing me with the advance look copies for review!

Panel of the week:

Pronounced “loh-dee” in the South

This week: star-chicken, exploding muslims, space bluffs, flashing goddesses, sword envy, Spidey dodgeball, Spidey croc hunter, gay ennui, inflatable dolls, ultron’s kids, black weddings, bat-lunch, weeping statues, poisonous nurses and yucky black stuff!

Y the Last Man #48
Writer: Brian K Vaughan
Artists: Goran Sudzuka

Review Content: Only two issues away from the big reveal about the secret behind the men’s extermination and twelve issues before the big finish, Vaughan has started tying together his unfinished business by revealing the secret origins of another cast member, the enigmatic Alter, the Israeli army leader. After a long and ‘decompressed’ run, the title has shifted gears during the last few months, with some surprising developments and this series of self-contained origin stories. Alte’s history holds some interesting twists and makes an interesting read, and the reader requires a certain understanding of the Israeli situation before going in to fully take in the significance of the events. Putting off the big origin ‘reveal’ of his supporting cast until so close to the finish works against the pacing Vaughan has worked on for so long since this story doesn’t reveal anything significant to the overall arc and feels like a mistimed distraction between the actual build-up to #50’s reveal.

Grade: C

Manifest Eternity #3
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artists: Dustin Nguyen

Review Content: The story of the great Science-Magic war jumps again in time, in this instance to the future, 25 years after the start of the war in #1. The Spellbinder, a human empire cruiser is on a suicide mission to rescue a prisoner from the Magic invaders.

Lobdell is having the time of his life writing these stories as he packs the story with intertwined twists in Russian Doll formation and introduces two new figureheads for the human side of the war: the teenage ace pilot Splotch and the even younger Captain Rave. Despite their young age, they justify their ranks by coming up with new inventive and preposterous ways to defeat the dragoon attackers when conventional missile and energy attacks fail. I won’t spoil the surprises here, but I urge readers to give this issue a try as it still a perfect self-contained jumping-on point for the series which is gearing up to become one of my favourite reads.

Grade: B

Uncanny X-Men #477
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Clayton Henry

Review Content: The ending of last issue saw the X-Men stranded in space after following the revenge-driven Vulcan (a.k.a. the Third Summers brother) to towards the Shi’ar Empire and finding themselves in front of a destroyed Stargate. This issue takes a look back a few weeks and 180 degrees away from the X-men space team, to focus entirely on Vulcan and his fiery rampage through Shi’ar space.

Vulcan has set out to exact revenge on Emperor D’Ken for the murder of his mother and his own enslavement. To make it through the Shi’ar Stargates he will need to confront and take over a Shi’ar spaceship, showcasing a different side to his mutant abilities apart from the generic ‘power-blasts’ he had exhibited during Deadly Genesis, and utilising a degree of cunning. Although the success of this specific ‘trick’ seems to have depended primarily on the Shi’ar military’s gullibility/cowardice, it was still refreshing to see an X-villain exercise his mind in a situation.

From the advance publicity I have gathered that these Vulcan solo stories will be a regular occurrence every 3 issues, allowing for fill-in artists to be introduced organically into the 12-part storyline. The final page sees the dramatic return of a cast of characters that should provide for a more interesting opponent for Vulcan. The battle scene and overall plot this issue didn’t break any exciting new ground, but acted as a backdrop for the introspective third-space narration focusing on Vulcan’s motivation and history, slowly urging the reader to sympathise with Vulcan, the X-Men’s villain in the over-arching story.

Clayton Henry has slowly but decisively climbed the ranks in the Marvel offices to become the new fill-in artist for Uncanny X-Men! His Uncanny X-men Annual last month was a revelation as to what he can achieve with his art style given proper grooming from the inker and colorist; unfortunately, the current issue doesn’t play off to his strengths the same way. Even though he is technically levels above Billy Tan, both in consistency, anatomy and overall technique, his loose bold lines style is no more suited for a Space Adventure epic than it was for the gritty horror Dracula/Apocalypse mini a few months ago. Having a very open and distinctive style, Henry reminds me of an early Steve McNiven and is perfectly suited for romantic stories like the aforementioned annual, teen books like his Hellions mini and more light-hearted comedy like his Alpha Flight with Scott Lobdell. Here he is asked to illustrate a solo space adventure with 22 pages featuring nothing but a main character with a generic and uninspired look against the already homogenic Shi’ar army, ending in (unavoidable) disappointment, perhaps partly assignable to the colorist who only made the situation worse with a conventional bright colour palette with little contrast.

Grade: D

New Excalibur #10
Writer: Frank Tieri
Artists: Michael Ryan

Review Content: Have you heard of ‘New’ Excalibur? Vol. 4 or so, published monthly from Marvel Comics?

Right, right. Do you know what it’s about?

What is that? A London-based team of X-Men, led by Captain Britain?

Well, guess again. If the first two issues by new writer Frank Tieri are any indication this is the new spotlight title for UK-born Marvel characters.

Much like last issue, Tieri remains oblivious to the fact he’s been hired to write an ensemble book, and instead focuses the entire issue on the Avenger Black Knight and his lineage. The Black Knight has converted his ancestral castle into a museum for the Black Knight legacy (the first superhero tribute museum in the Marvel U belongs to the Black Knight? sheesh!), showcasing the mummified remains of his ancestor, the first Black Knight. The issue in fact opens with a flashback to the early 6th century with the latter’s quest to retrieve Excalibur after the destruction of Camelot, which ends in his corruption, and a bridge into current continuity!

The actual Excalibur team act as guest-stars in their own book with a brief cameo towards the end of the issue, again. I recognise the practice to devote an issue for the introduction of a new team member (as Black Knight is hinted to be), but it doesn’t make sense to me to produce two such issues in a row, especially a writer’s first two issues on a new title where the reader is expecting him to show his take on the existing cast. To me these issues feel like filler/archive stories that Tieri has already written and had to shoehorn into Excalibur at a minute’snotice when he was approached to fill in after Claremont’s abrupt temporary retirement.

Grade: F

Agents of Atlas #1
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Leonard Kirk

Review Content: Agents of Atlas has to be Marvel’s most advertised new title this year! The mischievious editor Mark Paniccia and the inventive writer Jeff Parker have created the perfect hype machine for the title, making the wait for the first issue equally (or more) fun than the actual product!

They have created an interactive adventure game/scavenger hunt online at marvel.com, through the mysterious ‘Mr. Lao’. Mr Lao is the head of the Atlas Foundation, the clandestine operation that opposes SHIELD in the comic series. Through his ‘Temple of Atlas’ blog, he sends prospective Agents of Atlas on scavenger missions around various comics news sites through clues hidden in (very enjoyable) prose stories starring the team from the book. As an avid adventure gamer in my ‘youth’, this game has become an addiction for me, being meticulously planned and executed with the cooperation with a variety of internet sites. The new mission should be going online tonight, with the first clue being hidden in a line Agent Jimmy Woo says in this first issue.

Agents of Atlas is the comic book revival of Marvel’s ‘Atlas/Timely’ characters, the superhero/horror line created before Marvel was called Marvel. These characters were first revived in the ‘classic’ What If #9: What If the Avengers fought evil in the 50s, revealing an alternate reality where a team of Avengers was formed in 1958, starring Agent Jimmy Woo, Marvel Boy, the Human Robot, Gorilla Man, Venus and 3D-Man. That reality was erased from existence during Avengers Forever, but the team still existed in regular Marvel continuity, under a different name.

The first issue is meant as a primer to who these characters are with the sweet but shortpulp 50s adventure that still captures the pulp charm of that era with a cynic wink to the reader even as Venus incapacitates their opposition by flashing them with an ethereal mirage of herself. The story then jumps forward into the present where Gorilla Man(now a SHIELD Howling Commando) is reunited with his teammates to extract Jimmy Woo’s comatose body!

Leonard Kirk has reinvented himself to take over the art chores of this series. I am a huge fan of his work, going far back to UltraGirl, Supergirl, JSA, H.E.R.O. and recently Freshmen! He has constantly evolved from project to project, developing a more crisp linework and more detailed faces, but for AoA he approaches the characters with a looser style, reminiscent of early Stuart Immonen, evoking a nostalgic pulp adventure look, more fitting the espionage storeis within. This is the most eagerly anticipated book of the year and it doesn’t let down! i’m hoping the book finds the niche audience it deserves and translates into an ongoing series featuring these classic characters!

Grade: B

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #11
Writer: Peter David
Artists: Todd Nauck

Review Content: As much as I have criticised the changes JMS has brought to the Spider-Man mythos, I still applaud him for reintroducing the school element in Peter Parke’s life by making him a teacher in his old school. JMS of course quickly forgot about that story thread and chose to focus on Spidey’s other ‘job’ as an Avenger, allowing Peter David free reign to build Spidey a new supporting cast around the school setting, and even reintroduce members of his classic cast like Flash Thompson into this setting to recapture some of the lost old magic of the Stan Lee years.

This same teaching job poses the most glaring logic reasoning hole in Pete’s Unmasking decision; although MJ and May can both be locked up safely in Stark’s tower till the end of their days, Pete’s revelation paints a huge bullseye all over his school and his students. Spidey’s disgruntled foes won’t bother going through Avengers security to get to his aunt and wife, when they can more easily cause as much grief by paying a visit to his day job. No matter what angle the writers approach this from, Spider-man will always be made to look like a douchebag for endangering a school-ful of teenagers to satisfy the pro-registration movement ( which only itself began, ironically, from another school destruction).

There is a lot happening in this issue plotwise to satisfy everyone; to summarise without giving away any spoilers: Peter shows up for work at the school for the first time since the unmasking, only to be welcomed by a parents protest (with a hilarious and creative selection of banners you can see in this preview page) and a swarm of reporters with equally irreverent tabloid-esque questions. This encounter, his discussion with his principal and a confrontation by his students will put him in a tight spot to make his final decision.I would have imagined the resolution to this conundrum would be an open-and-shut case of Spidey quitting his job (and unfortunately severing his last tie to a normal life outside the webs), but Peter David appears to be heading into a surprising direction, from some online comments and his continuing development of the high school supporting cast by introducing more new characters.

Flash Thompson continues his post-amnesia comedic relief and has the most unexpected reaction to the unmasking so far, ending in a long-overdue dodgeball rematch between him and Spidey!?! MJ makes a b-t-s appearance through a phonecall which still reveals more about the chemistry between the couple than the lengthy diatribes in the ‘othe’ title. The all-new Mysterio shows up (albeit without the Mystery Meat grinder from the cover) with a clever siege plan for the school, and a rather geeky and annoying villainous rant that separates him from his late predecessor. Finally, the last page offers a shocking cliffhanger as another classic Spidey villain makes a surprising return, and you will never guess who it is!

Peter David manages to keep the story up-beat and entertaining despite the current bleakness of Civil War while keeping a perfect balance with the serious core of Pete’s dilemma. Todd Nauck is the fill-in artist for this issue, doing an admirable job of keeping to the spirit of the book without compromising his personal style to mimic the title’s regular artist.

Grade: A

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #18
Writer: Peter David
Artists: Mike Norton

Review Content: Marvel Adventures is Marvel’s ‘kids’ line, featuring out of continuity stories by the company’s top talent but in the classic high school student Spider-man setting of the 60s. The story isn’t something revolutionary, creating a setup that would pit Spidey against the monstrous Man-Thing. Peter has been stranded in Florida after a school trip gone wrong. A falling airplane will lead him to Man-Thing’s swamp and caught in the crossfire between gun-crazy criminals and a father and daughter.

Peter David is also writing this spider-title which happens to ship the same week this month, joined by Mike Norton on art (sporting a classic style closer to Mike Wieringo which could make him an ideal fill-in for future issues of F’N Spidey) and my favourite artist Cameron Stewart on covers. The story follows all the trapping of the early spider-man self-contained stories, from the enticing first splash page fast-forwarding into the action to the misunderstood battle between the good guys and the snarky Spidey banter.

I’m glad Marvel has wised up and decided to follow DC’s lead into young readers’ comics by providing fun well-drawn stories instead of mass-produced cartoon episode adaptations. Thanks to the eventual affordable digest collections, these titles are their best chance of attracting new young readers.

Grade: C

Marvel Team-Up #23
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artists: Roger Cruz & Andy Kuhn

Review Content: As the title nears it’s ultimate 25th issue, the quality keeps dropping exponentially. This issue is split into two stories with two different plots, artists and even recap pages. Unfortunately neither of these stories is worth the price of entry.

In the first story with art by Roger Cruz (sporting yet another new art style that is now a deteriorated apeing of his own stlye with a hint of Andy Kuhn), Wolverine and Spider-man fight IronManiac, the renegade alternate relaity Tony Stark in a purple armour.There is no purpose to this fight apart to see these two characters team up yet again (for the third or so time in this run) against yet another armoured foe.

The second story features art by regular artist Andy Kuhn and focuses on Freedom Ring, the otherwise interesting gay superhero Kirkman created for this title. Freedom Ring possesses a ring that grants him any wish within his sphere of influence. FR had been in coma for the last few issues but now he has woken up and is approached by a superhero Skrull, the Crusader, who trains him in new uses for his powers. Unfortunately that’s all that happens in this story, which reads like the training level of a PC game, with a dull walkthrough on the latest secret power-up keystroke combination.

Grade: F

Reviews from last week’s shipment:

Sidekick #2
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: Chris Moreno

Review Content: Eddie Edison has found himself in a tight spot: he’s just been hired by the city’s top four superheroes to become each one’s corresponding sidekick. Between studying “Ebonics fo’ dummies” for his black Bling identity, designing a terrible Stoat costume and putting on drag to become the Justice Queen’s girl-wonder he stil manages to find time to get raped in the elevator and fall asleep with an inflatable lookalike of his girlfriend. -Phew- !!

Paul Jenkins has created a biting satire on the superhero convention of the teen sidekick as he uses the average Joe Loser character to infiltrate the worlds of the four major superhero cyphers (the superman, the dark avenger, the amazon, the black hero) and cause mass hilarity!

Grade: B

Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways #1
Writer: Zeb Wells
Artists: Stefano Caselli

Review Content: This crossover between Marvel’s premiere teenage group books has been a long way coming, and the timing for it seems right on all accounts, with Civil War putting a target over the kids’ heads and with both titles coming to the end of major storylines that have redefined their status quos.

The two groups feel like perfect mirror counterparts of each other, to such an extent that it comes as a surprise they were actuallycreated independently.

The Runaways are children of villains who are running away from the Avengers who want to have them put in foster homes and have renounced the superhero trappings of costumes and codenames.
The Young Avengers are the children of the Avengers who grouped together at first chance, immediately adopted codenames and costumes and are now under the supervision of Captain America and the Avengers.

Both teams have a magician who can perform any sort of spell only once (Nico – Asgardian)
Both teams have a son of Ultron (Victor – Vision)
Both teams have a Skrull (Xavin – Hulkling)
Both teams have a prominent gay couple (Carolina and Xavin – Hulkling and Asgardian)

The issue opens up with two establishing scenarios for both groups, with the Runaways taking down Flagsmasher in LA and the Young Avengers sneaking away from Captain america to track down their counterparts. The first meeting of the two groups leads of course to a traditional Marvel misunderstanding brawl, but thankfully calm heads prevail quickly.

This first issue was a decent setup for the series, packed full with action and characterisation, as Zeb Wells juggles both teams with the same ease as their respective creators. Stefano Caselli’s art is dynamic but over-rendered and angular which clashes with both teams’ traditional art styles which are close to the japanese standards. It was still interesting to see the characters rendered in a different style, even though the originl transition as jarring.

Grade: B

Black Panther #18
Writer: Reginal Hudlin
Artists: Scot Eaton and Kaare Andrews

Review Content: Wedding bells are chiming in Wakanda as another Black Marvel hero gets hitched this year! Everyone who is everyone is there, with special care given to Marvel’s Black character list who agglomerate and snob everyone else. The forced Civil War tie-in is thankfully inconsequential and doesn’t take too much away from the happy event. Lots of Black Panther’s supporting cast come and go without me recognising them or caring, lots of X-Men are seen in the background, while Xavier gets his best scene in years, by being a father figure for Storm and making me realize the true scope of this wedding for Storm.

But little of all that matters, as Storm and the Panther finally tie the knot and the Marvel team makes a beliver out of cynic old me!

Grade: B

Batman #655
Writer: Gant Morrison
Artists: Andy Kubert

Review Content: Batman shoots Joker in the face and when he finds out he’s still breathing throws him in the garbage bin and walks away. alfred cooks lunch for the Batcave’s bats. Batman relearns how to imitate Bruce Wayne’s voice. Robin slides down the bat-pole. Plus, you know, Batman has a(nother) son now!

Grant Morrison explodes onto Batman’s world like a big Joker acid bomb and I’m swept away with the debri, drooling at the pretty pictures (Andy Kubert is phenomenal when inked! I wish Marvel remembered that). How can I be buying all the Batman titles? What trickery is this?

Grade: A

G0dland #12
Writer: Joe Casey
Artists: Tom Scioli

Review Content: The cover of the big 12th anniversary issue will prepare you for what you’ll find inside. Everything is bigger than life, and bigger than Kirby even, every energy blast shakes the page, every punch shatters the world and every line makes Dr Doom sound like a peasant!

Archer explodes into the pyramid hovering New York and fights the Never and cult leader King Janus before they can sacrifice the Big Apple to comunicate with their otherdimensional God! This climax has been building for the past year and Casey with Scioli deliver an epic that would make Stan and Jack jealous.

Grade: A

Black Plague #1
Boom Studios
Writer: Joe Casey
Artists: Julia Bax

Review Content: For a oneshot, this title was remarkably not self-contained and pointless. Two old geezers are playing chess reminiscing their old hero-villain squabbles, while a secret weapon trrade-off hullaballoo between the mafia and the super-scientists is crashed by the villainous Black Plauge and his Yakuza flunkies. Lots of bullets and blood and weird black energy is fired and a twist in the end confuses the heck out of the reader, probably due to a coloring mishap among other character design hiccups.

Up till now I had been proud to declare I had never read a Boom Studios title I didn’t like, but the Plague was a big disappointment after the promising cover and Casey’s recent work (see G0dland review above)

Grade: F

War of the Worlds: Second Wave #5
Boom Studios
Writer: Michael Alan Nelson
Artists: Chee

Review Content: The world is being invaded by Alien Tripods (again) and the Hicks declare Sherriff’s Law because of the pending apocalypse. The starring characters have found themselves trapped in a small town community after they heeded the local pharmacy for insulin. Now the men have been judged and sentenced by the Sheriff for immediate execution, and the once jolly medic takes a sinister turn to survive.

This title continues to surprise me with Nelson’s chilling character studies of what depths people will sink to in the face of armageddon… After the success of WotW, if Hollywood ever decides to shot for a sequel, I hope they take a page out of this work.

Grade: C

Aaaaand that’s a wrap for this week! I’m waiting your comments and feedback through email to Manolis@gmail.com. If you self-publish your own comics or represent an indy comics company, add me to your press release list, and I will run your news in this space every week.

Manolis Vamvounis
a.k.a. Dr. Dooplove