Wednesday, April 13, 2005

COMICS: Quick Comics Reviews!

Got my box of monthly comics goodness from the fine folks at Westfield last week, and have a few quick comic thoughts to jot down...

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Fantastic Four #524
A great wrap-up to writer Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo's nearly 40-issue run on the Fantastic Four, the best the comic's seen in many years. Waid really understands the "family" part of the Fantastic Four setting it apart from the rest of the superhero comics, and balances slapstick humor with galaxy-spanning action and solid drama. This last issue is a nice sampler of the entire run's feel - after an accident, the Four's powers have "left" their bodies and are randomly jumping into people's bodies throughout New York City. Imagine spontaneously becoming a rocky orange Thing, or a Human Torch. It's that real rarity in today's comics, a one-part story, and it's just great superhero fun, with nice insights into the characters in between the action. I'll miss this creative team, although I'm excited to hear they're doing a Spider-Man comic this fall. Grade: A-

Black Panther #2
The Black Panther is one of those characters I just like, regardless of the iffy stories he appears in. Cool jet-black Batman-crossed-with-black cat visuals, the novelty of being the first major black superhero, ruler of an African nation and James Bond, Einstein and Doc Savage all wrapped into one. The late, lamented recent series written by Priest was the highlight of this character's printed career, combining great art with twisting, complex stories unlike anything else in mainstream comics. It got a little too labyrinthine toward the end of its 62-issue run, but I dug it. Nobody stays gone long in comics, so yet another Black Panther comic has started up, written by Reginald Hudlin and drawn by the great John Romita Jr. Two issues in, and I'm not super impressed. Hudlin comes from movies ("House Party," "Boomerang") and doesn't have anywhere near a consistent authorial voice or tone. It doesn't feel like the man's written a comic in his life. Characters speak inconsistently -- the Panther's homeland of Wakanda is a proud and independent African nation, so why do we get people talking in American slang? Nobody feels realistic. Worse yet, this is one of those insanely drawn-out series where two issues in and the title character has hardly appeared. We've basically had a leisurely tour of Wakanda and its leader's fearsome reputation. The art by Romita is pretty darn great as always, but the writing almost reads like amateur night. I'll stick with it for a little while because darn it, I love the Black Panther as a character, but we either need radical improvement from the writer or a new one, stat. Grade: C

Secret War #4 (of 5)
Man, I want my money back. I'm really starting to lose my faith in writer Brian Bendis, who misses as often as he hits lately. This overpriced, underplotted series is a prime example of "Bendis bloat," taking four $3.99 issues to tell a two-issue tale. I liked the first issue, with its "James Bond" type premise of heroes like Captain America, Spider-Man, Cage, Wolverine and more getting involved in a mysterious undercover mission that somehow ties in with the source of the technologically-powered villains in the Marvel Universe's origins. Interesting idea, done with a bit of menace and nice Bendis one-liners. But since the first issue, this story - terminally late between issues - has dragggggged, already out-of-date thanks to Bendis' more entertaining "New Avengers" series. The painted art by Gabriel Del Otto is nice, I guess, but often too dark and not very good at sequential storytelling. This issue sums up the meandering pointlessness of the series - a long fight scene, with a mysterious villainess we've never seen before showing up at the end. Padded out with 20 pages of filler pin-ups and scripted profiles. I've already pre-ordered #5 so I'm in for the whole tale, but this ranks as one of the more disappointing miniseries in recent memory. Grade C-

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