10 Capsule Reviews on Marvel and DC Comics from 1/26/11 (Fantastic Four 587, Detective Comics 873, Uncanny X-Men 532)

1. Uncanny X-Force #4 by Rick Remender and Jerome OPena

Remender has made me care about a dark, 90s style X-book. I thought I was just done with this kind of nonsense after Grant Morrison’s New X-Men changed everything I would accept from Marvel’s merry mutants, but Remender has managed to tell a compelling tale about Apocalypse of all villains, using the most over-the-top 90s style characters like Deadpool, Fantomex and, of course, Wolverine to take the piss out. The idea here of Apocalypse being someone these characters feel strongly enough about to continue to go on kill missions behind Cyclops back, yet still have issues with the actual killing due to Apocalypse being a kid. It shouldn’t be a shock that for this book to continue with this premise that this, the final issue of the first arc, features the death of Apocalypse, but it’s the responsibility of one character and done in a logical way- thematically, its not the dark 90s that actually kill, but the faux-90s parody who manages true darkness- very good, indeed. 7.5/10

2. Uncanny X-Men #532 by Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, and Greg Land

The Quarantine story is still going, as the Sublime Corporation make problems for the mutant population of Utopia. Sublime is another Morrison idea and, indeed, this entire book is clearly inspired by his run and sensibilities. That, naturally, makes it my favorite X-Comic run since then, as Fraction mixes new ideas with the usual mutant persecution. It’s a very good comic, with strong characterization for a huge cast. Fraction is leaving a good, if not definitive (like his Iron Man) run for Gillen, who’s an excellent writer in his own right (seriously, try out Phonogram) and I can’t wait to see where all of this goes. 7/10

3. Worst of the Week: X-Men #7 by Victor Gischler and Chris Bachalo

Merely taking Morrison ideas, however, does not make a good X-Men story as Gischler is finding out. First, let’s take the good- Bachalo draws the crap out of most of this issue, at least until a less than stellar sewer fight towards the end, and Gischler writes a great Cyclops. The bad starts at the issues open, though. The X-Men, beloved already in San Francisco hire a PR firm to represent them. That’s a similar step to the popularization of mutant culture under Morrison, but here, well, it’s done as a means to inspire the X-Men to play superheroes. It works when there is a greater thematic subtext of a minority marketing itself to decrease racism, but the subtext is sorely lacking in this story. More, the issue sells itself on the presence of Spider-Man and while I’m not Spidey’s biggest fan, having him appear only on the last page is just cheap. This feels akin to JMS’s attempts to make Superman casually heroic on his walk across America as opposed to Morrison’s genuinely inspiring All Star Superman – just a lesser execution of a potentially great idea. 2/10.

4. Age of X-Alpha #1 by Mike Carey and Various Artists

Derivative ideas aren’t always bad and, hey, sometimes people steal ideas from writers other than Grant Morrison. Here we have Mike Carey doing a different version of Age of Apocalypse in a world where mutants are hunted to near extinction due to the X-Men never having existed. This is the background story book where we get to piece the world’s history together over campfire stories. All of the stories, esepecially the Cyclops story (here called Basilisk), are really compelling and I’m curious to see more of this world, even if I didn’t like the clumsy campfire story manner of setting up the world’s history lesson. This appears to be a fun event and I look forward to seeing Carey handle his first X-Crossover. (Read a Full Review of this book right here for a different perspective). 7/10

5. Chaos War #5 (of 5) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente and Khoi Pham

From an event just starting to one just ending, Incredible Hercules had been an amazing saga up to this point. It’s a shame, then, that Chaos War was such a miss. We have reality collapsing as everything becomes the Chaos King who is then tricked into a loss in the most obvious manner possible, as Hercules uses all his powers to restore creation, leaving him an apparently full, powerless mortal. This was still incredibly rushed and would have been far superior as an arc in the regular book. As a major plot and crossover, it lacked structure in a manner similar to Secret Invasion and just felt like a bunch of stuff happening meant to feel epic without much plot progression or logic. On the plus side, this was billed as the end of Pak and Van Lente on Hercules, but they are bringing him back with Herc #1 in a new ongoing, so that will certainly was the bad taste of this book away. 3/10

6. Thunderbolts #152 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker

In this issue, the team fights giant monsters ready to attack Japan while letting new member Hyperion get acclimated to the team. It should shock no one in this book that Hyperion is not what he seems and, as much as everyone loves Godzilla, if I never see giant monsters attack Japan again, I’ll be fine. I’m down to this as my last Jeff Parker book because, as much as he’s one of my favorite writers, the remixing of Jeff Loeb’s Rulk does nothing for me. This is more derivative stuff and I really miss the manic creative energy in stuff like Age of Sentry or, of course, Atlas. Anyone know if he has anything creator owned or small press superior to his company owned work at the moment? 4/10

7. Action Comics #897 by Paul Cornell and Pete Woods

Speaking of comics with manic energy, it’s a Paul Cornell book! Cornell has had Lex Luthor searching out black energy, a residual from Blackest Night, and, in doing so, touring the major villains of the DCU. Here, we finally get around to Luthor talking to the Joker. Cornell writes a good, if a bit too coherent Joker. The issue here is that Joker is entirely cryptic and sure what he’s talking about. That raises two problems. First, it’s impossible to judge the merits of this issue until we find out what the hell he’s being so mysterious about. Second, Joker works best when the reader isn’t sure he knows what he’s talking about and his motivations are confusing and nonsensical, yet deadly. This messes that up by having him act more like an off version of the Riddler than the Joker. The arc has been great and next issue, featuring the return of Larfleez is sure to be great, but none of that changes that this is a miss. 3/10.

8. Comparison Review: Avengers #9 by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita and New Avengers #8 by Brian Michael Bendis and Daniel Acuna

As always, it’s a tale of two Bendises. In Avengers, he has awkward characterization with an angry, illogical Steve Rogers who is more interesting in screaming at Iron Man, ignoring any valid points made, than solving a world-threatening problem along with, after Planet Hulk, no one knowing anything about the Illuminati again. This is reminiscent of his poor characterization of the two in Avengers Prime and it’s a damn shame to see it cropping up here.

On the other hand, over in New Avengers, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have a date and fight a Doombot. Despite one particularly egregious scene of Bendis speak, this entire issue nails the character voices and is an excellent, light-hearted stand-alone issue. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but good characterization helps the issue rise above. The art is better in Avengers and the story is more “important,” but in terms of quality, New has Avengers beat easily. 2/10 – Avengers, 7/10 – New Avengers.

9. Detective Comics #873 by Scott Snyder and Jock

In almost any other week, this would be the #1 book of the week. We’re dealing with a very straightforward Batman story here, as Dick, affected by a serious fear toxin, must overcome his fears to stop a new villain. This is done with particular attention to the character, as we’re dealing thematically with a villain who sells the past and Dick’s past making him have trouble fully immersing himself in the present, notably his present location and role. Jock, despite Aris’ (come back Aris!) hate for one named artists, is absolutely killing the issue, switching effortlessly between Batman fighting real people and horrifying demons. As great as that is, it’s the emotion shown under the cowl that takes this to another level. This is everything I hoped for from Dick Grayson being Batman and more. 9/10.

10. Best of the Week: Fantastic Four #587 by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting

And this is the #1 book. If you don’ know who dies here, I won’t spoil it, but the death is worth the wait. This isn’t a shock value death like Wasp in Secret Invasion, but a true emotional and thematic payoff. Tough times are ahead for the first family and even with a member dead, everyone is still in an intense situation that I care to see the solution to, although it will be in the new Fantastic Three. The death, by the way, isn’t shown, merely a reaction shot to it as it happens. Fantastic barely begins to describe it. Hickman and Epting have crafted a masterpiece. For another great review of this, with spoilers click here and for a Hickman interview about the death click here. As for my rating? 10/10

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