Best Shots Advance: SIEGE: THE CABAL, THOR, more

DARK AVENGERS Meet Their DOOM 12/09

Best Shots Advanced

12-1-09

By The Best Shots Team, Courtesy of Shotgun Reviews

As always, keep up with all our reviews here.  Also, as a note, books ship in the US on THURSDAY December 3rd this week. Now for a look at the new shiny . . . slight spoilers on . . .

Siege: The Cabal #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Michael Lark and Stefano Guadiano

Colors by Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Troy Brownfield

To invoke one of the great philosophers of our time . . . “It’s all comin’ down, brother!”  Norman’s tenuous grasp on his sanity is getting more tentative by the minute.  His Cabal’s on shaky ground after the revelation that Namor and Emma Frost were working against him.  And now, Dr. Doom is pissed.  What’s a master villain to do?  Easy: make things worse for everybody.

This issue marks of the beginning of the apparent culmination of all of the threads that Bendis has been weaving into his Avengers material for the last several years.  The house ads tell us that this is an event “seven years” in the making, leading us to wonder how far back past “Secret War” and “Disassembled” (both 2004) it goes.  If they’re using “2010” as the “Siege” date, then that puts us back at 2003.  So reread all of your Marvel books from 2002 to 2003 for clues.

Quite a few things happen here, notably the use of Norman’s Secret Weapon.  Don’t get too excited, we don’t see it directly, but it looks pretty clear at this point that it isn’t (spoilers on)Sentry(spoilers off).  The stage is set with a variety of maneuvers from multiple players, but I found the last couple of pages to be intriguing for a few reasons.  Anyone else notice anything particular about the way that Loki addresses a certain event and the look that casts toward a certain portrait?  Never count the Trickster out, kids.

For their part, Lark and Guadiano do a solid job with the art.  It’s much better than the Cabal one-shot that kicked off Dark Reign.  I’m definitely interested to see where it goes, although I do find the list of 37 (37?!  In a row?!) tie-in titles to be somewhat daunting.

Thor #604

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Billy Tan and Batt

Colors by Christina Strain

Lettering by VC's Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Perhaps its ironic that the God of Thunder heralds his new creative team not with a bang, but with a rumble.

Indeed, ever since J. Michael Straczynski relaunched the adventures of Thor, the series has had a slower, more epic pace -- and in that regard, new series writer Kieron Gillen follows suit. Think of it less as "brand new writer, brand new direction": In a lot of ways, Gillen is working double-time to wrap up his predecessor's loose ends, and does a great job in preserving some of Straczynski's style.

For those who read Straczysnki's not-quite-Giant-Sized conclusion to his Thor run, you'll have likely seen the preview to Gillen's opening -- and it's a good one. "Come, sweet future," Doom says. "Your master awaits." There is a lyrical quality to the goddess Kelda's speech as she calls for "the Jackal-Brother, the Lie-Father," and seeing her fury against Loki -- and by extension, Victor Von Doom -- is great. The other gods, while providing the exposition on the current Asgardian social structure, don't sound half bad either. For fans of the Warriors Three, you may be disappointed, however -- they (and by that I mean Volstagg) pretty much just get a panel, and that's that.

But the scenes I particularly enjoyed were those with Donald Blake and Thor -- both of whom, unfortunately, don't get a whole lot of screen time. In a lot of ways, however, that's understandable -- this is set-up, and smooth set-up at that, linking Thor to the machinations of Doctor Doom and Loki, and you can't see it as any more than an exceedingly professional passing of the torch. It's when you see the fruits of Doom's schemes that's probably the highlight of the book -- it looks like horror, and of course, Doom stands victorious.

Now how about the art? I've heard people take their shots at Billy Tan, but you know something? As a visual transition from Marko Djudjevic, Tan actually does pretty well for himself. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that his strengths in this issue are people talking as opposed to fighting -- and considering the pacing is as methodical as before, that's a good thing. Kelda's introduction especially is pure poetry -- she stands in the sky like an angry Valkyrie, and the rain and rage is just sublime. The action sequences, however, could use a little work in terms of composition and posing -- so much of the energy of these fight scenes is picking the right shot, and panels like the Asgardians taking on Doom's army felt a little static. Meanwhile, colorist Christina Strain doesn't just deserve a round of applause for her work -- she deserves a medal. The whole enterprise not only pops, but looks natural -- and in a medium well-known for its green business suits and odd yellow dress shirts, that's a real achievement.

All in all, those who were expecting "STATE-OF-THE-ART SLEDGEHAMMER SKY-SCRAPING SUIT-SMASHING SUPERHEROICS" like those described in the solicits are going to be very confused. This is less a brand-new launch as much as it is a surprisingly similar riff on J. Michael Straczynski and Marko Djurdevic. And you know something? That's not a bad thing -- while JMS effectively took out some of the human aspects of his run with the removal of William the Warrior, I feel that this is the ultimate humble take on the accessibility of the gods by Kieron Gillen. If you liked the old run of Thor, I'd definitely suggest giving this a shot -- it certainly goes a long way towards bridging the gap between one creative team and the next

Uncanny X-Men #518

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson

Colors by Justin Ponsor

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Forget the stresses of a Predator X attack or the slowly sinking nation of Utopia, and prepare yourself for the diamond-hard rigors of Omega-level psychic surgery. Yet despite the interesting premise, it's hard not to feel conflicted about this issue of Uncanny X-Men: it's certainly not a "bad" read, or offensive in any way, but it's also hard not to see this issue as a bit bland.

In a lot of ways, comics are a bit of an alley-oop -- an artist can certainly shoehorn some evocative imagery into a piece, but the whole enterprise is best served when the writer can produce sequences that play to the artist's strengths. This issue mainly suffers in that regard, as the inside of Emma Frost's mind is literally a sea of white -- unfortunately, that doesn't give the characters much context or things to interact with.

Considering Emma is also stuck in her diamond form, this sequence also hampered colorist Justin Ponsor a bit, making the main story largely a background-free, nearly colorless sequence of Scott and Emma floating and scuffling a bit. Ordinarily, I'd probably let it go, but we've seen psychic surgery before -- in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's masterful "'Nuff Said" issue -- so it was disappointing not to see a little bit more craziness and off-the-wall combat in this mindscape.

How about the rest of it? Fraction's subplots are actually in a lot of ways more interesting to me than the main story (although there's a twist at the end that I think will be some great fodder for next issue). The continuing technical problems with the island always give the X-Club something to do, and there's an exchange between Iceman and the Beast that I think really shows how things are wearing on the two founding X-Men. Also, there is a LOT of talking involved -- granted, Fraction gets most of the exposition dump out in the span of a page or two, but the energy of the piece drags a bit with all the telling and little of the showing.

All in all, as much as I enjoyed the last issue, this issue of Uncanny X-Men felt a little light, and for the wrong reasons. That's not to say that Fraction's dialogue and plotting isn't a cool direction for the team -- but I feel this particular issue could have used a little bit of revision on both sides to make sure the artists were leveraged as well as the writer. With the perils of psychic surgery as our plot du jour, the overall output can only be described as disappointing.

Fall of the Hulks Alpha #1 (Marvel; review by Troy):  Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier concoct an extremely entertaining kick-off to the new Hulk event by focusing on another of Marvel’s hidden groups: The Intelligencia (which is, rather awesomely, not how you’d normally spell that word).  The group, assembled at some point in Marvel past by The Leader, is a conglomeration of geniuses that includes the Wizard, Egghead, MODOK, the Mad Thinker, Dr. Doom, and Red Ghost; on their own merits, that would be a fun group to follow.  However, Parker cleverly weaves the group’s existence back through Marvel continuity, and Pelletier does a champion job of making sure each character has the appropriate look for the flashback times depicted.  It leads up to a pretty big revelation (not THAT one yet).  It’s a fun story, made all the better by . . . Underwater MODOK.  Yeah, you heard me.

The Boys #37 (Dynamite; review by Troy): Continuing their arc of the groups’ origin stories, Garth Ennis and Darick Roberston eschew the pathos of the Mother’s Milk story for straight-up comedy.  In this issue, we learn the tale of Frenchie; his hilariously romanticized version of his own history is given a sharp counterpart by the art, revealing our Gallic friend as a particularly unreliable narrator.  Although there’s a bit of a moral by the end that pertains to friendship and loyalty, the vast majority is made for laughs.  And it delivers. 

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