Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Weekly Chain Reaction: March 18, 2009

Sorry for posting these a few days later than usual—lots of stuff out, and it’s been a busy week.

* * *

Air #7, by G. Willow Wilson, M. K. Perker, et al. I haven’t been keeping track of the series, but this episode seems like an unfortunate choice for a low-priced introduction. Surreal things are going on: people reliving other people’s lives, giant snakes showing up, a steampunk airplane appearing out of nowhere. In itself, it’s all good and well, and the two principle characters—Blythe and Zayn—have potential. But the story fails to communicate what any of this means to them, why it’s more than random stuff, why it matters. I get the sense that things happen not because they’re motivated by anything on the page, but because the plot needs them to. For instance, Zayn refuses to introduce his girlfriend to his parents at one point, and he briefly turns radical at another. Both developments come out of the blue, and they aren’t leading anywhere, either. Air does seem like it’s trying something different, and I want to like it for that. It’s not quite there, though.

(DC Comics/Vertigo, 22 pages, $ 1.00)

Grade: C

* * *

The Amazing Spider-Man #588, by Marc Guggenheim, John Romita, Jr., et al. Overall, “Character Assassination,” the five-part storyline that concludes here, has been improving tremendously, but it’s still not very good. Despite creating a number of interesting set-ups, the story never takes the time to really get into any of its characters. It stays on the surface, and what’s left is a plot that’s predictable and repetitive, with characters that occasionally act in puzzling and frankly stupid ways. Spider-Man telling me that he hasn’t been “hurt like this since Morlun” (who?) in yet another scrap with Menace (the second in this arc? Or the fourth?) isn’t much good when the fight itself looks so pedestrian. It fails to convince me that the hero is suddenly resigned to the idea of being beheaded, certainly—and that’s just one of a number of key moments throughout the story that don’t work at all. I’ve liked the series overall since last year’s revamp, but this one is a miss.

(Marvel Comics, 32 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: C-

* * *

Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! #3, by Marc Guggenheim, Joe Kelly, Phil Jimenez, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Patrick Olliffe, Dale Eaglesham, et al. The three stories in here serve as epilogues to a couple of recent storylines. In the strongest and most interesting piece, by Mr. Kelly and Mr. Eaglesham, Harry Osborn revisits a childhood memory involving his father Norman. It’s a good idea, conceptually, but it stops just short of giving any real insight into the characters; and the less said about the tacked-on last two pages, the better. Mr. Guggenheim’s story retreats some familiar ground (Is Spider-Man responsible for what’s been happening to Peter Parker’s friends?) without bringing anything new to the table, and it suffers from an awkward and gratuitous point-of-view shift from Peter to his roommate Vin in the middle. The final piece, written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, is the weakest of the bunch; it regurgitates the events of the recent “Kraven’s First Hunt” story, all for a plot development that it doesn’t even seem terribly interested in. A missable package, all told.

(Marvel Comics, 32 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: C

* * *

Groom Lake #1, by Chris Ryall, Ben Templesmith and Robbie Robbins. Groom Lake has two things going for it. The first is a cigarette-smoking little alien. The second, more important one is Mr. Templesmith’s artwork, which, as usual, is great to look at. Mr. Ryall’s writing, however, seems awfully unimaginative and tired. The plot and characters are derivative of every bog-standard alien-abduction story you’ve ever seen, while the dialogue brims over with dreariness, obvious jokes and a lack of timing. I’ve never tried to write a comics script, but even I can figure out about five ways to make the gag with the third hand on page 7 more effective than it is right now. If anybody’s been looking for a less funny, less inventive version of Men in Black lately, then grow a third hand and raise it—Groom Lake is your big chance.

(IDW Publishing, 22 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: D+

* * *

Mysterius #3 (of 6), by Jeff Parker, Tom Fowler, Dave McCaig, et al. Arriving at the halfway mark, Mysterius continues to be a fun if superficial mystery romp. Which is frustrating, because it could easily be more if Mr. Parker would only give his characters some room to breathe in all that plot. It’s a nice, competently woven plot, certainly, but it’s also the least interesting part of the comic. Thanks to Mr. Parker’s dialogue, and thanks, once again, to the lovely artwork by Mr. Fowler and Mr. McCaig, the characters are just very entertaining to watch doing whatever they happen to be doing. It’s a shame that the story never pierces the surface for any of them. Three issues in, I still have no idea what drives Mysterius or Delfi. They’re cardboard cutouts—pretty and intriguing ones, certainly, judging from their one-liners, their sense of dress, their gestures and facial expressions, but cardboard cutouts nonetheless.

(DC Comics/WildStorm, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B-

* * *

Uncanny X-Men #507, by Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, et al. This issue, readers are in for a treat: a true character moment. It’s a first for Mr. Fraction’s run. By “true,” now, I don’t mean consistent with the character’s 35-year backstory. It certainly is, but more significantly, the story empowers me to believe in that particular moment. When Colossus, after smashing through a group of slave traders, just breaks down, hugs his teammate and comes to the realization that “I just want someone to hurt as bad as I do,” then that’s a moment that I can totally buy. That said, it’s all the more disappointing that the book continues to be a disjointed mess overall. Completely unrelated storylines and subplots are competing for space in a way that’s nothing but detrimental, and, as if that weren’t bad enough, plot threads from other series keep spilling in and out. Isn’t the Beast’s storyline precisely the same one he had in those backup stories a year or so ago? There’s some promise here, and I’m starting to see hints of what I like about Mr. Fraction’s work in Invincible Iron Man. What this series needs badly, though, is focus. Given that the next big thing on the horizon is a crossover with Dark Avengers, I doubt it’s going to get better.

(Marvel Comics, 24 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C+

* * *

X-Factor #41, by Peter David, Valentine de Landro, Marco Santucci, et al. “I don’t even feel the gun slipping from my hand,” Madrox says on the first page. Well, given that the story is told from his perspective, that’s kind of an odd thing to be observing about yourself, isn’t it? The previous two issues of X-Factor were promising, but this is a retreat. Dystopian future timelines, Sentinels, peddlers of anti-mutant weaponry, “hard-light projections,” yawn. It’s all solid and competent enough, and there are still some neat bits, but let’s be clear on this: I’m in it for the characters, and this doesn’t do a whole lot with them that’s very interesting to me.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C+

* * *

X-Men: Legacy #222, by Mike Carey, Scot Eaton, et al. This X-Men story has a bunch of generic space aliens and a generic robot in it, and half of what’s going on is a generic holographic recreation of other, older X-Men stories. Why is this such a terribly dull and soulless comic? Have the cool, imaginative X-Men stories all been told? I’d like to think not, but Mr. Carey may yet convince me that I’m wrong.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C-

* * *

Last week’s review of Waltz with Bashir is still up, and so is a look at the new Transmetropolitan #1 reprint DC put out there as part of its “After Watchmen” promotional offensive.

No comments: