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Graphic Language: Agent X, Hellblazer, Punisher
Reviewed by Various, © 2002

Format: Comics
By:   Various writers and artists
Genre:   Various
Review Date:   September 05, 2002

AGENT X #2 (Marvel, $2.25)

Alex Hayden has no memory of his life older than a few weeks, and he doesn't care. All he cares about is becoming the best mercenary there is -- which is an excellent way to strip the continuity baggage from a book when it's going to be rebooted and extensively retooled. In Gail Simone's sort've-new comedy-action series, the emphasis is on the super-powered mercenary characters' downtime and personal lives as much as their mission goals, and it works like a charm: Hayden and Outlaw going to a country music bar is every bit as amusing as watching them trying to sneak into the Punisher's house to steal his guns. Seems fairly plain to me how Hayden came to be in the state he's in, and it's as perverse and clever as a book like this requires.

Simone seems to have the loose-pacing thing she has going down, now, and the situations and dialog are as funny as we've come to expect from here -- although this is definitely not as banter-driven a book as Deadpool was. It is, certainly, one of the funniest books on the shelves from any of the major comic book publishers. The artwork is in Udon Studio's usual Amerimanga style: smooth and detailed and dynamic, beautifully framed and making clever (and technically adept) use of perspective. As always, my only criticism is that the characters all have a sameness when it comes to facial features, and no one, including our hero (who looks like he was 'run over by a waffle iron') quite manages to actually be ugly.

- Jason Franks

AVENGERS #57 (Marvel, $2.25)

I enjoyed Avengers #56 an awful lot and it reminded me why I enjoyed Kurt Busiek's Avengers so much. With this in mind, Geoff Johns had a high benchmark to measure up to. I was pleasantly surprised with Geoff Johns' first outing as regular writer. He's already starting to juggle with team roster and creating friction between teammates. Kieron Dwyer and Rick Remender's art has never looked better and Tom Smith's colouring seems a lot brighter. The two-page spread about half way through the issue is really nice. (8 out of 10)

-Jason Shayer

HELLBLAZER #175 (Vertigo/DC, $2.50)

John Constantine finally returns to England after an extended stay in the US. Mike Carey comes on board as the new regular writer. I haven't read any of his run on another Vertigo title, Lucifer, but I've heard good things about his work. Carey is paired up with former Hellblazer artist Steve Dillon, who's probably better known for his run on Preacher. This new story arc is a return-to-basics approach and is handled rather well.

Carey's Constantine seems a bit toned down from Azzerello's nasty bastard. I'm looking forward to what Carey and Dillon will do with this story arc. (8 out of 10)

- Jason Shayer

HELLBLAZER #175 (Vertigo/DC, $2.50)

New writer Mike Carey takes over the longest-running of Vertigo's books. Now that Brian Azzarello's interesting and only partially-successful run is over, quite clearly, Carey's approach is going to be a back-to-basics one. Constantine returns to England, goes to see his family, and immediately finds an occult mystery to wade into. He makes a new friend who gets hurt because of him even more quickly. It's early yet to judge Carey's new direction, but what I've seen so far is pretty much the same old same old: we're planted firmly in the kind of territory covered early in Jamie Delano's and Garth Ennis' terms on the book.

In Carey's hands the characters sound genuinely English and the setting feels very lower-class London: government housing, shite English cafeteria food, ubiquitous social services workers conducting pointless tasks. Some good one-liners and unsettling emotional shifts, but it comes off a little flat to me: the dialog lacks the crackle that characterized (and frequently grated in) Azzarello's run The cast fails to evoke much sympathy other than that left over from previous writer's runs. Carey's has picked up on some old plot points and has long-term plans to build stories out of them, which should please the book's long-term fans. Steve Dillon's art is looking a little hasty, too -- or perhaps it's Jimmy Palmiotti's inks. Whatever the case, the book is looking a little drab after Marcello Frusin's smooth, shadowy touch.

- Jason Franks

PUNISHER #14 (Marvel Knights, $2.50)

Frank Castle's jungle adventure to rescue the hostage mafia Don from Colombian kidnappers continues in the style to which we have grown accustomed under Garth Ennis: loaded high with humor that runs the gamut from 'grim' to 'slapstick' and monstrous violence with a side helping of perversity played for additional laughs. It's a fairly basic story idea, and the twist was pretty obvious from the opening chapter, but this isn't "The Usual Suspects".

Garth knows how to do the Punisher. It's not about art or existential angst or guilt -- it's about guns and explosions and retribution. Garth's dialog is sharp as always. The story does drag a little in the end -- given that we know what's going to happen -- but the pacing otherwise nails every beat of the story. Steve Dillon's storytelling is always excellent, and his figures are natural and expressive. Great work all around -- I'll stand in line for another serving when Garth and Steve rotate back onto the book.

- Jason Franks

ROUTE 666 #3 (CrossGen, $2.95)

Issue #2 didn't live up to the standards set in issue #1, so I had lower expectations reading issue #3. The change of story direction was rather abrupt. We switch from an institute setting where Cassie is suspicious of her environment, to Cassie being on the run across rural America. The supporting cast was quickly discarded and a new one introduced. I'm not sure where exactly this book is heading, which is one of the things I rather enjoy, especially after the way this issue ends. I'm willing to hang on a couple of issues and let the storyline settle down a bit before deciding how I ultimately feel about this title. (7 out of 10)

- Jason Shayer

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