A quick side note: I’ve changed to using the word “review” instead of “reviews” in the titles of my posts because I was reading Timothy Callahan’s column on CBR this week and I feel that I’m not really writing critical reviews as such but I’m more doing an overview of my impressions of the books. (I’m basically writing as if I was talking and not doing a lot of editing.) I thought about using the word “revue”, but all the online dictionaries I consulted said it has a musical theater connotation, and trust me nobody wants to hear me sing. None of this probably matters to anyone except me, but there you go.
Amazing Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher HC: This comes chronologically before the ASM collection I wrote about last week, but I somehow forgot to order it before now. It contains the Flash Thompson Iraq War story by Marc Guggenheim and Barry Kitson, which is must reading even if you hate the current direction of the book. (Spidey does not appear in the story except in Flash’s memories.) The bulk of the book is Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo’s story reinventing Hammerhead – they actually make him scary – and pitting him against Spidey while he tries to save some kids from getting involved with a gang. Bachalo’s art here isn’t quite as good as in Sinister Spider-Man, but it’s really close. There’s also a two-part story with the Punisher guest-starring (hence the cover) that’s pretty good but not up to the level of the other stories. Overall, though, I recommend this book. Extras: Sal Buscema variant cover.
Young X-Men Vol. 1: Final Genesis TPB: I don’t know why this series wasn’t successful, but I liked it a lot. Mark Guggenheim delivered great stories with fun surprises, and I think Ink is the most interesting X-Men character to come along in years. The premise is that Cyclops puts together a new team of young mutants for a specific mission, some of which I guess are from previous titles but no pre-knowledge of them is necessary. (I didn’t read New X-Men or Academy X although I’m told they were good.) Yanick Paquette’s artwork is great also – better than his Ultimate X-Men – it’s easy to tell the characters apart and the emotions are conveyed well. He drew all six issues in this collection, and the series suffered somewhat when he left. (I’m not sure if he left the sinking ship or if the ship sank because he left.) Extras: A page of character & cover sketches; dedication page to the late Marvel colorist Stéphane Peru.
Young X-Men Vol. 2: Books of Revelations TPB: The second half of this series suffers a little bit from multiple artists (though they are good) but the stories are just as strong. Dust has an unexpected intellectual relationship with the villain from Vol. 1, we learn more about Ink, and some of the New Mutants characters are involved in a mentor role. (An idea I liked better than their current series, to tell you the truth.) There’s a character introduced that I thought came out of nowhere when I read the issues as they came out, but reading both volumes together I saw that Guggenheim actually set it up all the way back in the first issue. All in all, both volumes together make up a satisfying story with a beginning, middle and end. Extras: A Graymalkin solo story from X-Men: Manifest Destiny #3 (he’s the character under “Men” in the logo on the cover pictured to the right); Zombie, Ape and Villain variant covers.
Patsy Walker: Hellcat TPB: One of my favorite books of the year. Seriously. I think I’ve been failing to describe it well to those of you who heard me talk about it in the shop, so let me quote from Kathryn Immonen’s pitch for the series: “With her ability to see magic (but not wield it) and punch people really hard (but still have them somehow like it) there’s no reason that Patsy Walker / Hellcat can’t be a kind of Indiana Jones with a pinch of Hellboy for Marvel.” The collection starts with a short Marvel Comics Presents serial written by Immonen and beautifully drawn by her husband Stuart. I like this story, and I’m glad it was included, but I wish it had been at the back of the book instead of up front because it’s not as inspired as the miniseries and I’m concerned that some people might read it and not be motivated to finish the book. (Whereas once you’ve read the miniseries, you’re more favorably disposed to the character and will like the MCP story better.) I won’t even attempt to describe the miniseries story – it starts reasonably and then slowly gets crazier and crazier. Artist David Lafuente is a real find – the book is almost worth buying for his artwork alone. Even if this isn’t your thing, you can enjoy Kathryn Immonen’s work in Runaways and David Lafuente is the new artist of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (or whatever they’re calling it this week.) This is a direct market only book, meaning that it’s not available to bookstores (even Amazon.com) and you have to get it from a comic shop. (Online comic stores should have it too.) Extras: original series pitch; David Lafuente sketchbook; page layouts by both artists; Ape variant cover.
Sentry: The Age of the Sentry TPB: This is a pastiche of Silver Age DC stories featuring the Sentry (including a version of his origin) and 60’s Marvel characters like the FF, Doctor Strange, etc. If you liked the flashbacks in Alan Moore’s Supreme, then you’ll probably like this (though the stories are not straight Superman analogs like that series.) Not that Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin are as good as Alan Moore, but the concept is similar. There is a thin present-day story connecting the “Silver Age” stories, but it’s unnecessary and a little off-putting. Overall I like it because it’s well done and I’m basically in the target audience, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Like the Hellcat book, this is only available in comic shops. Extras: variant covers; sketches; fake letter columns in the style of the era.
G.I. Joe Volume 1 TPB: This is my first exposure (other than Free Comic Book Day) to the new G.I. Joe titles, because I was waiting for this volume. It’s a little weird for me to get used to a new continuity because I was raised on the original cartoon and the Marvel comic, but so far I’m favorably impressed. Chuck Dixon does a good job of modernizing the material and grounding it in military science fiction instead of fantasy, and I like that it starts a little further back than the original series with the Joes and Cobra not quite aware of each other yet. The art by Robert Atkins is good but not spectacular, which I think is an asset for this book – it’s so plot driven that if you notice the art then they’re probably not doing it right. I’m not totally in love with this yet, but I like it more than enough to pick up future volumes. Extras: a 21-page “art gallery” that I assume are variant covers (the Dave Johnson ones are especially good); two pages of character designs and commentary by Robert Atkins (who seems really into the material); interview with the creators.
Superman: Tales from the Phantom Zone TPB: Collects 10 of the original Phantom Zone stories under a new Gary Frank cover. Includes the Superboy stories where it was discovered, and the stories of some key Zone residents like Mon-El (including the Legion story where he gets out), Quex-Ul, Jax-Ur, and Ak-Var (who eventually became the second Flamebird). I was hoping the 1980’s Steve Gerber miniseries would be included, but no such luck (though it is referred to in the “Who’s Who” entry in the back.) Oddly included is the infamous “Black Zero” story in which a space terrorist is “revealed” to have destroyed Krypton, which has pretty much been ignored by everyone since the minute it was published. (Because having Krypton deliberately destroyed implies that Jor-El was wrong.) None of these stories seem particularly relevant to the current titles, but they are fun if you like this sort of thing. (Which of course I do.) Extras: 1980’s “Who’s Who” entry for “Phantom Zone”; most of the original covers are not included because these old issues had multiple stories so most of them wouldn’t match the stories collected here.