Nov 022011
The Pull List logo

My name is Jet Wolf, and I’m addicted to comic books. Since picking up my first issue of X-Men way back in the late 80s, comic books have been a focal point of my life. I can’t imagine a world without superheroes flying around in brightly coloured and impractical costumes, punching out bad guys and sometimes each other. May the Pull List be eternal. Here’s what was on it this week.

So behind. So many comics! The kind of problems you want to have.

Atomic Robo: Ghost of Station X #2    Batman #2    Dungeons & Dragons #12    Fear Itself #7    Legion of Super-Heroes #2    Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1    Uncanny X-Men #544    
Atomic Robo: Ghost of Station X #2 | Batman #2 | Dungeons & Dragons #12 | Fear Itself #7
Legion of Super-Heroes #2 | Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1 | Uncanny X-Men #544

Atomic Robo: Ghost of Station X #2 3 of 5 stars

Atomic Robo: Ghost of Station X #2

Atomic Robo: Ghost of Station X #2, cover by Scott Wegener

Writer: Brian Clevinger
Artist: Scott Wegener
Colourist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Jeff Powell

Amidst all the grim violence and anti-mutant bigotry and surging melodrama of my other comics, Atomic Robo is a calm little island. The art is vibrant and the story has a natural optimism that is subtle and confident enough to simply be. I’m so glad I added this title to my pull list.

As the issue opens, Robo is free-falling back to earth after the satellite explosion that destroyed his ship. Luckily his team is monitoring him, and they make a desperate, near-fatal rescue attempt that narrowly succeeds. Robo is gravely injured but through skill and tenacity, they’re able to rebuild him (stronger, faster … probably not). After being thoroughly chastised, Robo is clear to return to work. Not long after he’s reached a startling conclusion: this was all a trap and they’re under attack.

This is now my second issue of Atomic Robo, and as with the previous, I find it a very easy read, quite unlike some other titles that make it extremely difficult to jump on-board. I still don’t have details about Robo’s backstory or how he came to be in the position he’s currently in, but those things also aren’t important for the story. When something comes up that is – what powers Robo and how dangerous that can be – Brian Clevinger seamlessly slips the details into the dialogue. It’s a tough thing to do, to make an ongoing story so accessible, and I give mad props all around for that.

One of the areas that I do feel I’m missing out on however is the characters. Right now Robo is very clearly front and center – no surprise given whose name is in the title – but he has a fairly decently-sized supporting cast and I can’t get a handle on any of them. All the voices are near-identical, and they all just become one Katamari-esque bundle of waving limbs. There’s actually a conversation in this issue where two characters are discussing something and the only thing that let me know it wasn’t one guy talking to himself was two sets of word balloons. Now maybe that’s a feature of those two characters (if it isn’t a big robot then I have no clue), but while they were the gravest offenders, they weren’t the only ones; everybody suffers from talks-just-the-same-itis.

Part of that is the trade-off. I praise the accessibility of the comic, but in order to do that it can’t waste too much time in giving me unnecessary information. The other characters exist to service the plot (monitor Robo, rescue Robo, rebuild Robo) and with only so many pages there isn’t a heck of a lot of time to dwell on them. I don’t mind that too much – perhaps earlier stories will fill in gaps – but it does mean that the world feels flat when Robo isn’t around to breathe life into it, and that’s a shame. With my limited exposure to this title it’s tough to say if that’s a feature unique to this storyline or something endemic of the series as a whole.

However if you’re picking up an issue of Atomic Robo, odds are you’re here to read about Robo and not Guy Who Pilots The Plane That Saves Robo. On that front, it’s a solid book. It’s bright and fun and interesting, and isn’t wasting time in getting to the meat of the story. I don’t read much all-ages comics as a general rule, but I think Atomic Robo is a shining example of how to do it right.

Batman #2 5 of 5 stars

Batman #2

Batman #2, cover by Greg Capullo & FCO

Writer: Scott Snyder
Penciller: Greg Capullo
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
Colourist: FCO
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt

I think this issue may be superhero comics perfection.

Seriously. I’m sitting here trying to think of a flaw. I’ve got nothing. The issue is part of a storyline, but perfectly capable of standing on its own. Brain as well as brawn are necessary just for the hero to survive to the last page. There’s Batman and Bruce Wayne. There’s cool gadgets and Gotham history. There’s a new villain who is believably challenging without sacrificing the hero’s credibility. The art is nuanced and dynamic while remaining easy to follow.

I can’t find a single thing to complain about.

So I’ll stop trying. Here’s what there is to love.

The story opens with Batman telling us about Gotham Tower and, by extension, Gotham itself. I haven’t really spent much time with either Batman or Gotham City in more than a transient way – a movie here, a video game there – and I was instantly captivated by this lesson. Then Bruce Wayne is shoved out of a window and plummeting to his death. Welcome to Batman #2.

The rest of issue takes up a day earlier, as Batman hunts down some burglars while chatting to Alfred about the dead body from last issue. This eventually leads us to some forensics and a local urban legend about The Court of Owls. Flip the switch and we’re with Bruce Wayne in Gotham Tower, meeting with mayoral hopeful Lincoln March. The two chat until Bruce is attacked and crashes through the window, where we rejoin him from the beginning of the issue. He survives, of course, but not as easily as you’d expect, and with this threat nowhere near as over as he might think.

And okay, I just found the one thing I didn’t care for much in the issue: Lincoln March. March seems like a truly good guy who’s looking to do right by Gotham City, so of course I’m instantly suspicious of him. He’s very much like Bruce, too. He loves the city, has a strong sense of right and wrong, and hey, his parents are also dead! They even look very similar, and it’s by this point that all possible alarms are going off in my head. Even if March has the best of intentions now, well, so too did Harvey Dent once. While it’s done with more aplomb than I’ve seen before, it feels like we’re really supposed to root for this guy, and I’m simply unable to step outside of my own awareness of what I’m reading to do that.

Can I say again how deeply I’m nitpicking to complain about this? This is such a good comic book that my biggest complaint is that a new and thus far extremely incidental character may or may not work out exactly as intended.

Worth a very special mention is the fight toward the end of the issue between Bruce and the bad guy. It is a quick but nasty little affair, but more importantly lets us climb into Bruce’s head when he is really in trouble but can’t quite “be” Batman. Then how he wins, and that final image of him? Dude. That was awesome.

I’ve said repeatedly that Batman is the one Top Tier DC character that I’ve constantly hovered around in my decades of comic books but never tried. As good as this series has been so far, I can only wonder why I waited so long.

Dungeons & Dragons #12 4 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons #12

Dungeons & Dragons #12, cover by Tyler Walpole

Writer: John Rogers
Artists: Andres Ponce, Nacho Arranz, and Vicente Alcazar
Colourist: Aburtov and Graphikslava
Letterer: Shawn Lee

Khal, you are amazing and I love you.

Khal, the dwarven paladin who should really be a bard, doing it all to prove himself worthy of his lady love, has come to a conclusion: it’s not his lady writing him letters. That’s all he needs to know, and he quickly rushes home with the rest of Fell’s Five and their varying levels of enthusiasm, tagging along. This is the setup for the next storyline, and it looks to be a great one.

As with any fantasy story, the areas are vitally important, but I particularly love how Dungeons & Dragons presents them. Each storyline reads like a campaign, set in a new location with new enemies and a mix of combat and roleplaying opportunities. It’s pretty amazing that this is the format for each arc, but it’s woven so deeply into the fabric of the series that it never feels awkward. All the elements come together in the smoothest, most natural way.

It’s the storylines propelled by the characters that I’ve found the most interesting thus far, and this looks to be the most immersed yet. Khal’s homecoming was completely not what I expected, and I loved the little moments Adric captures. In truth everybody has those moments, which continues to be a strength of the series. This is probably one of the strongest ensemble books out there right now.

The art is another matter. There are three artists credited on this book (it’s had at least three since I started reviewing it), and I’m not entirely sure why that is. You’d think that with so many artists touching the book it would come out exceptional, but the end result is merely serviceable. It’s easy enough to follow, but that’s the minimum I would require from any comic book. The panels don’t require more than a cursory glance and invite no further observation. I love the book so I don’t feel I’m missing out exactly, but I have to wonder how much more attention it would get with the truly striking visuals the stories could easily evoke.

Until then, the series will largely have to stand on the strength of its writing, and that it can easily do. Compelling characters who continue to evolve, harrowing adventures, and plenty of humour along the way. A solid read from month to month, and this Khal-focused storyline could be the best yet.

Fear Itself #7 1 of 5 stars

Fear Itself #7

Fear Itself #7, cover by Steve McNiven

Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciller: Stuart Immonen
Inkers: Wade Von Grawbadger with Dexter Vines
Colourists: Laura Martin with Justin Ponsor & Matt Milla
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

It’s tough to stomach that I paid for all seven parts of Fear Itself. I think the parts I enjoyed maybe make up one half of one issue. One regular-sized issue. Perhaps less.

Here we are at the end of the latest of Marvel’s major crossover events. It’s a full-on, what-else-have-we-got-to-lose epic battle that I believe was trying very hard to impress me. It feels like an insecure child coming up to you with a page of homework, and you kinda feel bad for saying that no, 3×5 is NOT 1,147, but the laws of math are immutable, so what can you do? Sorry kid, you get an F.

Sorry Fear Itself, you get an F.

Five bucks I paid for this thing, and it’s a thick issue, no denying it. Still you’d think that for all the stuff shoved into it, there might’ve been some recognizable storytelling method employed. Take the deus ex machina weapons thing. So Tony Stark appears out of nowhere, hands out weapons, and then everybody with a weapon turns into a cool action figure variant of themselves. They’re now The Worthy or The Mighty or The Chosen or something equally pompous, and they can like fight better or something. We don’t know exactly what they do. Tony made the bloody things and all he can say is that they were “blessed” by Odin — and even he uses quotes around “blessed” so it seems pretty clear that he doesn’t exactly know what they do either. We have no idea what extra powers it gives anyone; literally Spider-Man looks just the same except his new outfit has glowy lines and giant forearm knives. Because when you think Spider-Man, you think serrated blades. BLESSED!

But of course the story isn’t actually about the Avengers or anybody who isn’t Iron Man or Captain America or Thor or Rick. Yes RICK, our token everyman who somehow gets more panel time than, I don’t know, Ms. Marvel or Hawkeye. His big contribution to the battle is helping Captain America to his feet and embodying pedantic metaphors in epilogues.

(Speaking of epilogues, how about that teaser for Incredible Hulk #1? In four pages it managed to outshine every single issue of Fear Itself. I’m not even a Hulk fan and that thing looked sweet.)

So what about Cap and Iron Man and Thor? Well Iron Man we already touched on, which leaves Cap and Thor, and I really just don’t have much positive to say. I have trouble believing any major developments are going to stick. Again, they had lots of Moments that I think were supposed to impress me, but without any emotional context they fell flat. The final battle with Thor and a fifty-foot giant dragon lizard, and I’m just going through the motions of reading and turning pages. And I doubt I would’ve bothered with that if I hadn’t had a review to type up.

Matt Fraction, for me, failed in every possible way in telling this story. Characters react to things without proportion or fail to react to them at all, major plot points are created then left hanging, the big moments feel crafted specifically to be big and fail to resonate, and the whole thing commits the worse crime of all: it’s dull. Even the title didn’t live up to expectations. The only time I felt any sense of fear at any point in this thing was when the characters would stop to say “Oh yeah and wow, I’ve got, like, SO MUCH FEAR” and then keep going about their business. If they’d just called it Thor And Captain America Fight Shit And Here Are Some New Costume Designs I could’ve at least respected its honesty.

Something that was awesome however, and earned this issue its lone star: Stuart Immonen’s pencils. He has KILLED IT in this series. I’d go so far as to say that the whole thing would’ve been a much better story if we’d left the words out of it and just let Immonen’s work stand alone.

Here’s the deal: Fear Itself isn’t so much an event as it is an intermission. Consider that this is a massive double-sized issue but the entire back third are “epilogues” that are really promos for several new spin-off series. (Seriously, it’s 16 pages. I counted.) This right here, this climactic issue, has been on the horizon for almost a YEAR. Marvel first announced Fear Itself in December 2010, and I feel they really wanted us to care about it. Which makes me wonder why they did this to it. It’s an “event”, Marvel. Maybe revisit exactly what the word means next time.

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 3 of 5 stars

Legion of Super-Heroes #2

Legion of Super-Heroes #2, cover by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, & Guy Major

Writer: Paul Levitz
Artist: Francis Portela
Colourist: Javier Mena
Letterer: Pat Brosseau

This issue was some great Legion, and almost exactly what I love most about Paul Levitz on this title: great use of powers, tight action, a few sub-plots brewing in the background, and plenty of character moments. Last issue I wasn’t feeling it, but this one tightens it up and makes the book read like it should have from the start.

As revealed last issue, Cham’s team is facing down Res-Vir, a pissed-off Daxamite (think: planet full of Supermen) who appears to be building an army to take on the United Planets. Res-Vir brutally rips Cham’s team apart, but Levitz does well showing off each character’s power and, perhaps more importantly, how they can think around those powers. (Or not, as in the case of Ultra Boy.) He does well showing what makes the characters tick, which is always a plus but is so crucial in these early potential-new-reader days.

Meanwhile there’s some interesting stuff happening with Brainiac-5’s team. In a weird twist of fate, the Legion escaped a reboot this time, but it seems like that may wind up factoring as a plot point. Brainy makes direct reference to Flashpoint and the inaccessibility of the 20th century as they (and we) knew it. It’s almost metatextual, and I’m intrigued to see where it may lead.

There are a few other plots we touch base with in this issue: Shadow Lass mourning Earth Man (which– I don’t even know. No comment.), how Res-Vir got the lead poisoning antidote and what this might mean, and then a pretty awesome fight between Res-Vir and Mon-El to cap it off. All of this with Francis Portela’s art, which I think is a great fit for this series. Portela has an amazing eye for detail and character acting – just little things, like Phantom Girl anxiously chewing her finger or Mon-El’s intensity as he flies out of Legion HQ. It’s got a definite Steve Dillon influence (Res-Vir could’ve stepped right out of Preacher) but that’s hardly a negative. I’m excited about how this creative team could go.

I just hope it isn’t too late for new readers. The time to grab them was a month ago. With last month’s #1 being all over the place and the lackluster offering from Legion Lost, I’m just not sure who’s left that wouldn’t have been here already. But I really hope it’s more than I think.

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1 3 of 5 stars

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1, cover by Phil Jimenez

Writer: Chris Roberson
Penciller: Jeffrey Moy
Inker: Philip Moy
Colourist: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letterer: Robbie Robbins

The classic Star Trek cast are beaming down to San Francisco so Kirk can give a commencement address. A handful of the Legion are in a Time Bubble and heading home. Something goes wrong with the transporter. The time stream goes wonky and forces the Bubble to “crash land”. Both teams realize with dawning horror that they have no idea where they are. They don’t know it yet, but we do: they’ve arrived in the parallel “Mirror/Mirror” universe.

It’s like some cracked out fanfiction dream. How the hell this comic exists I do not know, but the fact that it does is glorious.

Not that the actual crossover part has had a chance to happen yet. We get a glimpse of the Imperial Planets subjugating the hell out of Durla, but otherwise there’s little to connect the two franchises. That may have bothered some, but I’m quite okay with it. With two sci-fi based properties – however loose the “sci” – it’s important to lay out exactly how the hell this happened. Neat as it might’ve been to simply say “The TOS crew and some Legionnaires are in the Mirror universe aaaand …. GO”, the truth is that we would demand more than that. Sure that more may only ever be “transporter accident”, but honestly what Star Trek fan hasn’t come to accept that as a very justifiable reason for all manner of crazy shit? However flimsy we need a reason, and this issue provided it.

It also served well to establish the franchise characters. While it seems unlikely that this comic book will be read by anybody not in the very narrow Venn diagram intersection of “Star Trek fan” and “Legion fan”, IDW would be shooting themselves in the foot to rule it out. Not only that, but exactly which Legion are we even dealing with here? As long-time readers know, that’s a question you have to take very seriously. (Turns out it’s pre-Crisis post-Great Darkness Saga, in case you were wondering.)

So while nothing especially cross-overy took place in this first issue of the crossover, I don’t feel cheated. I think a solid foundation can only make this already awesome idea that much more awesome.

So more specifically, how was it? Chris Roberson did a pretty good job with the writing. I found his Star Trek characters had a bit more life to their speech patterns, but since they’re coming from real actors and not comic book characters that’s probably logical. (Ha see what I did there.) Which isn’t to say the Legionnaires were bad, though Imra did seem to transform into a Counselor Troi clone; maybe I’m just viewing her through Star Trek goggles. One thing I did definitely enjoy was seeing Jeff and Philip Moy back on the Legion again. Their work on the reboot Legion is some of my favourite ever. I’m not entirely sure their style managed to capture the TOS guys so well, but then I guess the art piece is the trade-off to having real actors and not comic book characters.

Overall while this isn’t the greatest comic I’ve ever read, I had a lot of fun with it and am super excited to see what happens when the characters finally meet. We all know the pitch for this thing probably said little more than “Spock/Brainy nerd-off”. And that’s just the most obvious. Kirk hitting on Tasmia? DUDE. When these things inevitably happen it will be amazing.

Oh, and bonus for you. The captain of the Imperial Planets ship that’s destroying Durla? Evil Tommy Tomorrow. And that is awesome.

Uncanny X-Men #544 3 of 5 stars

Uncanny X-Men #544

Uncanny X-Men #544, cover by Greg Land

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciller: Greg Land
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colourist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

I’m not going to lie, I think this is what’s made me so behind on my reviews. This is it, this is the final issue of Uncanny X-Men. Yeah I know it relaunches and everything, but that’s not the point. That is so not the point.

This title. This is where it all began. I was 11 when I wandered into my first direct comic book store and gazed in wonder at the walls which were covered right to the ceiling in colourful, dynamic characters. I went in looking for Archies. Archie (and Beano and Dandy) WAS comics to me. It never occurred to me that there could be more. I was intrigued. I asked the guy behind the counter what was good. “You can’t go wrong with X-Men!” he told me. It was a clarion call. I bought two back issues, #111 and #114. I had little to no idea what was happening, but I was hooked (#111 especially – that final splash page of Magneto sent chills up my spine and I didn’t even know who he was). From that day on it was all about the X-Men for me. My tastes have expanded and I embrace everything the superhero genre has to offer, warts and all, but it has always, always come back to The Uncanny X-Men.

This issue is saying goodbye to that era.

I’m not ready.

Ready or not, it’s happening.

And so I read. What else can I do?

In some ways, this issue works perfectly with my mood. It’s steeped in almost as much nostalgia as my prelude to this review, and it feels as though Kieron Gillen is doing his best to give a respectful eulogy. The book opens with the first page of #1, and it’s the first of several “remember when?” moments. The dialogue is changed however, and serves well to add the “bitter” to the “sweet”.

Bitter is, in fact, the word du jour, and I’m not talking about me here. Cyclops is at the center of this issue as he moves around Utopia, functionally cleaning up after the party. His discussions with Bobby are sad and angry, his confrontation with Hank is sharp and defensive, and with Emma he’s sulky as he pulls the old photographs off the wall. The sense is that Cyclops is the long-suffering martyr, and honestly that’s a good place for him.

I found the Mr. Sinister portions far more interesting than Scott wandering around being a sad sack. Sinister reads from an ornately-bound book called “The Uncanny X-Men” — or perhaps more appropriate, reads to it. I won’t spoil much more than that, but it’s a fascinating way for him to create the most perfect version of himself to fight the X-Men and takes “know your enemy” to a whole new level of extreme. I also found it really unsettling the way he kept using everyone’s first names; that level of comfortable familiarity from Sinister was a nice subtle touch from Gillen.

Sadly the art side of the coin was nowhere near as impressive. I feel genuine disgust that a title that’s seen legends like Jack Kirby, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, Alan Davis, Barry Windsor Smith, and JR JR – just to name a few – leaves Greg Land to turn off the lights. This issue especially seems to highlight Land at his utter worst, particularly with Gillen trying to juggle subtle and extremely complex emotions. With a repetoire of perhaps three facial expressions to draw from, Land simply can’t pull his weight in telling this story. It gets even worse when we have a double-page spread filled with memories that looks like the kind of Justin Bieber collage made from cut-outs of Tiger Beat that lives on every tween’s wall.

That disrespect aside however, Uncanny #544 does fairly well juggling nostalgia while looking forward. It’s clear that this is the end of a chapter but not the story. I wish the X-editors hadn’t decided that this was the punctuation they had to use on that sentence, though.

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