APACHE SKIES #1 of 4 (Marvel Comics / MAX, $2.99)
It was difficult to imagine how John Ostrander and Leonardo Manco could improve on their excellent Blaze Of Glory mini-series. But if this first issue is anything to go by, they have, and in spades. By publishing this under the MAX imprint the creative team are given the chance to show just how brutal life in the West was and that the results of gun-slinging are far from glamorous.
But this is no gore fest; the violence is part of the story, a definable part of the makeup of these hard men (and women) who lived and died in the old West. Ostrander's story of revenge and justice speaks volumes about the dubious moral code that drove the killers and the lawmen, who were often the same people. And serious student of Western history will tell you that there were no "white hats" and no "black hats." Ostrander's revitalization of the Western genre displays a unique understanding of the shades of gray that permeated the frontier.
This isn't your father's John Wayne western -- heck, it's not even a Clint Eastwood western. It's a John Ostrander western and it's the best you'll read for a long time. (9 out of 10)
-- Alan J. Porter
THE AUTHORITY: KEV (Wildstorm, $4.95)
As any long-time reader will tell you, there are really two Garth Ennis'. There's the Garth who wrote Preacher and War Story, the master storyteller who spins epic tales of bravery and human drama, alternately making you laugh and breaking your heart. Then there's the other Garth. The one responsible for Dicks and Adventures in the Rifle Brigade. All this bloke wants is a good laugh and a square bar tab, and he's not afraid to use as many fart jokes as it takes to get it. Upon picking up any new Ennis comic, one may find it useful to determine early on which Garth was at the helm. Strangely enough, The Authority: Kev seems to have been written by both of them. The book splits its time evenly between silly sight gags and badass action, much like the last dual-Garth project, DC's Hitman.
Kev tells the story of Kevin Hawkins, a washed-up ex-SAS operative who's been blackmailed by the British government into working as a cheap hitman. One bright day, Kevin's boss hands him a gun (with magic bullets!) and instructs him to teleport aboard the Carrier and terminate the Authority, which he promptly does. And that's only the first ten pages.
The book provides plenty of kick-ass action and tough guy dialogue, while never shying away from a good piss-take (at one point, the super-trippy Carrier status captions are reduced to a string of silly nonesense words). The story attains a good balance of action and humor, and never stops moving long enough to bore you. Glenn Fabry's pencils give the book a gritty, stylized look that would have fit right in during the best of Mark Millar's run, and succeeds in whetting the appetite for his upcoming Warren Ellis collaboration, Global Frequency. If you're an Authority fan looking for a good time at the comic shop, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Kev. This is a damn fine comic book, no matter which Garth wrote it. (9 out of 10)
-- Frank Beaton
FABLES #4 (DC/Vertigo, $2.50)
The 'who killed Rose Red' story in Bill Willingham's series about a community of fairy tale characters living together in the big city continues. This issue contains a big slab of exposition regarding the backstory of the Fables, which is thankfully handled energetically and unapologetically; basically presenting it as pages from a fairy tale book. The Rose red story unfolds in the manner of a classic murder mystery, with the detective character ('Bigby', the Big Bad Wolf) setting up a parlor denouement. I'm sick of this trope, regardless of the changed context, but I have to give Willingham points for Bigby's line about all real cops secretly wanting a scene like this.
Willingham's plot moves along gracefully; not allowing the six pages of exposition to jam up the flow. Lan Medina's art is looking a little less smooth and detailed than it did over the first issues, but it's still clear and evocative. I am curious to see where this book heads after the first plot is done.
-- Jason Franks
THE FILTH #3 (DC/Vertigo, $2.95)
The plot in Grant Morrison's follow-up to the INVISIBLES swerves into new territory in this issue, as one familiar with Morrison's work might expect. This issue is fairly straight-ahead Morrison; veering into metafiction and surreal comedy as the scope of the book broadens and we meet some new characters. In the meantime our loser-scum-super-agent protagonist continues to struggle with his identity issues while refusing to carry out his duties.
This issue is the most solidly written of the series so far. Morrison, for me, is a frustrating writer: I love his ideas and is craft is superb, but I think he lacks discipline, and his work is as often pretentious as it revelatory. Morrison does not let his love of automatic writing or his tendency to explain to us how clever and strange his ideas are interfere with the pacing of this issue, and it comes off nicely. Even the communist monkey assassin was amusing. Chris Weston's artwork is detailed, clear and smart; a little Gibbons peeking out here and a little Bolland there, but Weston has plenty of character of its own.
-- Jason Franks
METAL HURLANT #1 (Humanoids, $3.95)
I have an admission to make: I love anthology titles. Guess it's my European upbringing. I grew up on the British weekly titles and later discovered the great French books like Pilote & Charlie. The one I never managed to read in its original format was the foundation of them all, Metal Hurlant.
Now thanks to Humaniods Publishing, we have a chance to experience the mix of ground breaking strips and different styles that makes this one of the most stylish anthology books ever produced. This time it comes with an American twist blending the styles of familiar creators like Kurt Busiek with the avant garde approach of Europe's best. Even if some of that art has been obviously censored to cater to US sensibilities.
At $3.95 it could at first seem like an expensive buy, but in this day of multiple X-books and JLA spin-offs it's a fresh of breath air and well worth sampling. Light years ahead of many other similarly priced publications from the "Big 2." (9 out of 10)
-- Alan J. Porter
POWERS #22 (Image Comics, $2.95)
Pilgrim and her new partner Argento identify, locate and bring in the chief suspect in the recent wave of public slaying of super-powered beings. This story has been, so far, considerably less complicated than the previous POWERS stories. Certainly, the scene in which Pilgrim argues with the sleazebag TV news host is much more striking than any of the investigation things, or even the interrogation of the suspect. But this issue is really about setting up the return of Walker, the protagonist who has been out of the picture for a full year (story-time).
The usual cracking dialog and subtle but brilliant layout trickery from writer Brian Michael Bendis. Mike Oeming's art is ever more subtle, especially given how simple, dark and cartoony his current style is. As always, one of the best crafted and most entertaining books on the shelves. Go buy it
-- Jason Franks
STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES (DC/Wildstorm, $2.95)
Santini calls in the rest of the new Stormwatch team to help him bring down the superpowered terrorists who have taken over the UN building; introducing us to the individual members as well as establishing the key dynamics between them by breaking them into pairs and showing the pairs interact. The back-and forth between the characters is both funny, believably military, and telling. We are also shown that our protagonists are prepared to do nasty things in the execution of their duties. Exposition is handled with flair again; presented as snippets from combat training manuals. It does stick out a little against the otherwise unornamented storytelling style, but it's interesting and adds enough to the story that it doesn't annoy-I prefer that Wright presents it as he does rather than by forcing it into dialogue.
Whilce Portacio's art is a little less even this issue. Sometimes the figures, as well as the storytelling are wonky. The palette is a bit more restrained in this issue as Portacio cedes coloring duties to other creators, and while it's obvious that less effort has been put into it, it's certainly less distracting than it was in the previous issue.
-- Jason Franks
SUPERMAN #185 (DC Comics, $2.25)
This issue is a real nice change after the Return To Krypton II story that ran through all of the Superman books last month. It is just a simple, self-contained,' look at Superman through the eyes of your average person' story.
I don't know if it is due to the artist, Brent Anderson, or just the story itself, but this issue reminds me of Anderson's other book, Astro City. It is really great to see some of Anderson's art again until Astro City starts back up. The thing I really like about the art is that Superman looks 'super' standing next to the average person.
At the same time, the script, handled by Geoff Johns, really does a good job of showing the human side of Superman. And on the flip side of that, we see the way normal people respect and admire the Man Of Steel. All in all, this was a great issue. (8 out of 10)
-- Evan Cantrell
TAROT #15 (Broadsword Comics $2.95)
Jim Balent continues to push the boundaries of what constitutes an "adult" comic with his on-going series about the buxom inhabitants of a witch- and ghost-infested Salem. This particular issue doesn't feature the titular heroine. Instead it focuses on one of the supporting characters, Crypt Chick, an undead rock singer with an interesting line in minimal dress sense.
If you can get past the scantily clad women and the Playboy posing this is in fact a nice character-driven, and sometimes humorous, story about living your dreams; even if the underlying moral is delivered in rather a heavy handed manner. Without the T&A aspect, and with some tighter editing, this book could easily reach a wider audience. (5 out of 10)
-- Alan J. Porter
TIGRA #4 of 4 (Marvel Comics, $2.99)
This four issue mini-series, featuring one of the most under appreciated Avengers, wraps up with a so-so issue. In fact, after a promising start the whole mini-series has been somewhat forgettable apart from the stunning covers by Mike Deodato.
The "going undercover to solve a murder" plot by Christina Z was far from original, the characters were poorly defined and their development was almost non-existent. In fact, apart from Tigra herself, I can't recall any of the other characters or what their relationships were just a few days after finishing the book. (4 out of 10)
-- Alan J. Porter
TRANSFORMERS: ARMADA #1 (Dreamwave Productions, $3.50)
I was into Transformers in a huge way when I was 10 years-old. And the nostalgia value of the giant-robots-kicking-each-other phase of my adolescence has been enough to carry me most of the way through Dreamwave's other Transformers series, Generation 1, with a smile on my face. It's not enough to get me through the car wreck that is Armada #1 though.
This first issue revolves around the first uprising of Decepticons on the planet Cybertron all those years ago, and Megatron's efforts to use certain Transformers called 'Mini-Cons' to boost his troops' powers. Part of the issue -- where it's being described just what the Decepticons are up to -- reads just like a toy commercial . . . or maybe one of those promo comics that used to come in the boxes (not really surprising, since the new Transformers introduced in this series are reportedly going to be part of a new toy line in the fall). The rest of the story tries to build some sense of menace around the approaching Decepticons, but whatever tension comes through is overshadowed by repetitive characterization and unclear, glacial storytelling. The art by James Raiz is passable, but nowhere near the utter dynamite of Pat Lee's work on Generation 1 -- in some panels, Raiz's Transformers look more like people in costume than robots, and when Raiz puts more than one robot in a single shot it's sometimes hard to tell which parts belong to which characters.
I realize this is only the first part of a four-part story, and I know that one shouldn't expect Shakespeare when reading a Transformers comic book, but I honestly don't care enough at this point to check back four weeks from now to see what happens next. (3 out of 10)
-- Russ Lee
THE ULTIMATES #6 (Marvel Comics, $2.25) Six issues in, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about Marvel's 21st century redefinition of the Avengers in this title. The stories have entertained, and the art is undeniably beautiful, but I don't feel any connection with these heroes. In fact, before this issue, the only characters I could really say I liked were Giant Man and Captain America.
And then this issue happened, and . . . well, let's just say I still like Cap anyway.
The battle in this issue -- the nature of which should be obvious by the title, "Giant Man vs. the Wasp" -- is surprisingly vicious, and it doesn't leave you with any clear-cut answers as to its outcome at the end. Just a feeling of dread and an overwhelming desire to find the next issue to see what's going to happen next.
This story also goes a long way toward making Tony Stark a more sympathetic character, so between that and the gut-wrenching fight scene and the major revelation about the Wasp, this has been the most successful issue since number one. (8 out of 10)
-- Russ Lee
WEAPON X: THE DRAFT -- MARROW (Marvel, $2.25)
To all the aspiring comic writers out there: Congratulations. You have a career. Because if Marvel is willing to pay good money to produce a book like this, then your proposed Booster Gold re-launch has a definite shot at publication.
The plot follows former Xavier devotee Marrow, who agrees to join the Weapon X program (or Weapon Ten, if you're a Morrison fan) in exchange for an experimental operation to stop the growth of the disfiguring bone spurs which protrude from her skin. The deal is simple: Kill for us and we'll make you pretty. Marrow, of course, readily agrees, setting the cause of women's rights back centuries.
Former Witchblade writer Christina Z. tackles the scripting duties, proving once and for all that a college-educated woman can write a female character every bit as shallow and objectified as anything Chaos! Comics can throw at us. Bravo, Ms. Z.
There are a lot of things I could say about the art (penciller Brandon Badeaux seems to have only a vague understanding of what a woman looks like), the dialogue ('See?! My bones can still protrude!!'), and a dozen other aspects of this book, but trying to analyze all the problems in this story is like trying to comprehend the size of the sun. It's just too much to take in. (2 out of 10)
-- Frank Beaton