Friday, September 18, 2009

New Comic Cavalcade

Today in New Comic Cavalcade, we review a batch of shiny comics, hot off the presses, including Thor Annual #1 and Warlord #6. But first, we'll start off with something a little different from my usual reading list... Wonder Woman!

Wonder Woman #35
Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti

Confession time: in my two and a half decades of reading comics, I've never actually purchased a new issue of Wonder Woman. Hard to believe considering some of the other random crap I've bought over the years (yes, I did buy a copy of Youngblood #1, but it was for snark purposes only, okay?), but sadly true. I like the character well enough in theory, but in practice when I look through her comics there just doesn't seem to be any there there, if you know what I mean.

Well, after a critically reviled new launch, the current series of Wonder Woman has been handed over to arguably the most prominent female writer in comics, Gail Simone. With this in mind, I decided to actually give Wonder Woman a try and read #35. My verdict: it's okay.

That may seem a bit tepid, but it's not meant as a slight. The comic was okay. It wasn't bad. I didn't dislike it. In fact, I might be interested enough to read the next issue. There were a few strikes against me going into this issue, of course, the main one being that it's the second part of a two-parter so I had no idea what was going on (and I haven't read an issue of Wonder Woman published after 1975, so I really have no idea what's going on). Simone handles this okay, though; while there were a few points I was confused at, most of it wasn't major enough to detract from the book. I did have a couple issues with the story -- for instance, a pretty big deal is made of her using her lasso to free one character from mind control, only to have that character basically vanish until the last couple pages which made me wonder what the big deal was. Also, the story set-up kind of didn't have a lot to do with the climax; part way through a Fight Club type competition, this goddess shows up and shunts Diana to this island somewhere and the two fight/talk it out there, with basically no connection to the preceding events. In other words, I was just getting into the framework of the story only to find out that the important stuff had almost nothing to do with the set-up. That was a bit of a bummer.

On the other hand, I really liked the relationship between Wonder Woman and Black Canary. Yes, I'm a sucker for Black Canary anyway, but this was really nicely done and I'd like to see more of it. And even though I didn't know what they were talking about and was a little miffed about the whole Fight Club frame story being ignored, I was intrigued by the developments between Diana and Pele.

Overall, then, I have to say the book was okay. It almost seemed like this should have been a longer story, maybe three issues, something I never thought I would say in this day and age; if the battle with Pele was the middle part and they had come back to a full issue of Fight Club, Dr. Psycho and Sarge Steel, with Black Canary battling hordes of villains and whatnot, it would have felt like the set-up was a more important and more organic element. As it was, the ending seemed a bit rushed, like two stories had been grafted together at the last second. So while it was pretty good, it could have been better.

But that's a good thing. I read a lot of comics these days that seem like there's basically no hope. For my first issue of Wonder Woman, then, the fact that it has potential is a pretty big positive.

My Grade: I'm going to give it a B instead of a B-. There wasn't anything really actively bad in this issue, it just didn't live up to its full potential.

Thor Annual #1
Peter Milligan, Mico Suayan, Tom Grindberg and Stefano Gaudiano

Another month, another issue of Thor that's not actually an issue of Thor. Granted, at least this is an annual, which suggests it's part of the actual Thor storyline, but it also would be cool if Marvel could put out a monthly Thor comic without having to resort to untold dozens of one-shots and side projects. Back in my day, we called those fill-in issues, and putting lipstick on a pig doesn't make it a prom queen.

Of course, the weird truth is that most of those fill-ins were actually better than the main comic. That's not the case with this Annual though, and you can take that for whatever you want. Yes, this story does tie in directly with the main storyline going on in Thor. It's a perfectly serviceable modern comic, which is to say that the writing is fine, the art is fine, a bunch of red shirts and casually murdered to give the story impact and everything that happens is set-up for some future story. Sometimes those future stories actually deliver on this promise and then sometimes you publish five years of New Avengers.

If I seem overly harsh on this comic, well, it's not really that bad of course. The comic is fine. It does have a couple good parts, namely the return of one of Thor's arch-enemies, the Egyptian death god Seth. And it moves the story of Thor along from a character standpoint, as he is able to put behind him his unintentional killing of his grandfather Bor. They also use multiple artists to good effect, with some guy named Mico Suayan providing really nice pencils for the frame story. So, yeah, it's fine. I just hope that at some point it leads to something.

My Grade: Two grades for this one. The actual comic itself gets a B. It's fine. My enjoyment of the comic deserves a C, however. Thor's been back in the Marvel Universe for two years or more now; I'm not really in the mood for even more set-up at this point.

Warlord #6
Mike Grell and Chad Hardin

Speaking of getting to the point, here's Warlord #6, the last issue of the introductory arc from Mike Grell. As my legions of long-time readers know, there's probably no comic being published now that I want to succeed more than Warlord. Please, Comic Gods, let this comic live!

Unfortunately, while this issue is a decent climax to the story, it's also still not that great. I just can't get into the art. Some of the page layouts are decent -- there are some nice sequences with big, dramatic fight scenes -- but other caused me to reread the page multiple times to figure out just what was happening. And even when the layouts were good, the actual artwork just didn't float my boat anyway. Plus, the ending (not the second ending, which is a set-up for Deimos (yawn)) was a bit of a puzzler. If Jennifer was powerful enough to block this guy's magic and send him fleeing for another world, why did any of this need to happen? And just where did he end up in that last panel? Is he back on Earth, trapped in a cave because of the rockslide from previous issues? Or is he inside that temple, buried by the rubble from that cannon blast? Or... what?

I have no idea what's going to happen in the next storyline, but I'm begging you guys at DC: if you're reading this, bring in a different artist, because something needs to be done to save this book. The sales are terrible. Grell is a fine writer, but this isn't his strongest stuff and he really writes best for himself anyway. But whatever you do, if this book gets canceled, for the love of god you'd better tie up this Tinder subplot before it ends or I will explode like a supernova. And yes, I am going to mention this in every single review of Warlord until they resolve it.

My Grade: C+. But the covers are still all A's at least.

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