Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Panel of the week 31.07.06

Pronounced "loh-dee" in the South
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New Excalibur #10 Advance Review

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
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Uncanny X-Men #477 Advance Review

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
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Agents of Atlas #1 Advance Review

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, Man-Ape, 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 Man-Ape (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
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Friendly Neightbourhood spider-Man #11 Advance Review

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 Parker’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 Peter’s Unmasking decision; although MJ and May can both be locked up safely in Stark’s tower till the end of their days, Peter’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 ‘other’ 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 Peter’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

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Monday, July 31, 2006

Panel of the Week 24.07.06

What the Big Three were doing while you were reading Giffen's Justice League

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