Phil’s Reviews: Stuff I Read and Put Back #173

Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal #4 (of 4) — Writer: J.T. Krul;  Pencillers: Geraldo Borges, Kevin Sharpe and Fabio Jansen;  Inkers: Marlo Alquiza and Scott Hanna

Green Arrow #1 — Writer: J.T. Krul;  Penciller: Diogenes Neves;  Inker: Vicente Cifuentes

Two related books, both by the same writer: Arsenal has become the summer’s most-mocked book, a humorless, soul-deadening, editorially-mandated deconstruction of Roy Harper that’s managed to embody the worst excesses of corporately-controlled characters. No, Roy doesn’t get better by the end of the series; he turns into the Punisher, if the Punisher were addicted to heroin. No, that doesn’t make any sense, but that’s been sort of the point of this series from the beginning: none of it comes from logical character development or personal vision; it’s just that DC management wanted to turn this guy into a villain, so now he is. Wheee.

I’ve been inclined to blame the editors for the wretchedness of this book more than Krul, the writer: “just following orders,” and all that. However, Green Arrow #1, his other book out this week, doesn’t help that view much, because it isn’t very good either — the core of the book is Oliver Queen as Robin Hood, complete with an enchanted forest in the middle of his city, corrupt authorities after him, and a “rob from the rich, give to the poor” modus operandi. All fine, if a bit obvious, but the characters are cliched, the dialogue clunky, and the utter lack of humor or any light touch makes the book a chore to read. Yes, it’s better than Arsenal, but that just means there’s no over-the-top dumb stuff to mock; it’s mostly just a boring, easily-dismissed comic with little to recommend it.

Namora #1 (of 1) — Writer: Jeff Parker;  Artist: Sara Pichelli

Thunderbolts #145 — Writer: Jeff Parker;  Artist: Kev Parker

Parker’s a second writer with two books out this week, and his are considerably better than Krul’s: solid, midlevel superhero stuff. Namora, a one-shot featuring Parker’s Agents of Atlas character (the Sub-Mariner’s cousin, if the name wasn’t clue enough), is the more unusual, and the better for it: from the elegant Ramona Fradon cover, through the stylish interior art (Pichelli’s good at offering sexy without being sexist), to the accomplished, vivid coloring (by Rachelle Rosenberg), there’s a lot of support for Parker’s smart, heroic script. Thunderbolts is more standard, a by-the-numbers issue setting up the new status quo (Luke Cage is in charge of villains Ghost, Moonstone, Crossbones and Juggernaut), but with enough little twists (Baron Zemo, the Man-Thing and a trio of trolls, among others) to keep things moving along effectively. With both books, the author’s affection for and knowledge of the characters is obvious; that and his easy, natural use of humor are two qualities that writers like Krul could learn a lot from.

Fantastic Four #580 — Writer: Jonathan Hickman;  Penciller: Neal Edwards;  Inker: Andrew Currie

Secret Warriors #17 — Writer: Jonathan Hickman;  Artist: Alessandro Vitti

Here’s the third two-fer writer for this week, and one who’s been getting some attention lately. Hickman is both better and worse than a more seasoned pro than Parker, though: he’s very good at the Big Concept, and especially at the way he casually throws in handfuls of them (which makes him perfect for a book like the FF), but he doesn’t so much plot as just have things happen, and he’s been plagued by ineffective artists (look at Edwards doing a fill-in for this issue, making a totally off-model Arcade look like a young, evil Jimmy Olson who’s just wandered in off the cast of Glee). Still, the letters column announces that Steve Epting is coming on board, a mildly hopeful development, and between all the bubbling subplots and the deft touch Hickman shows with the characters, particularly the Richards kids, it’s no wonder that sales are starting to climb on this book.

Secret Warriors is another story, although it’s a feat that so narrowly focused a title is still going at all, 17 issues in (more critically acclaimed titles like Agents of Atlas and Captain Britain couldn’t make it that far….). This issue, the first of two parts, features Nick Fury and a Howlers reunion, with the rest of the regular cast absent, and is built around a series of flashbacks revealed as Dum Dum Dugan and Jasper Sitwell testify in front of a U.N. Security Council meeting. If you know who those people are, then this book is for you; if not, not; that lack of connection or appeal to a wider audience — and the flashback-technique structure, which sounds interesting in theory but turns out to be limiting and off-putting– are good examples of why Hickman can be a frustrating writer.

Ultimate Avengers 2 #4 (of 6) — Writer: Mark Millar;  Penciler: Leonil Francis Yu;  Inker: Gerry Alanguilan

Sadly, the novelty’s worn off this series. The Yu art doesn’t help (it doesn’t necessarily hurt, but it doesn’t add flash or solid support for Millar’s concepts the way that, say, Hitch can), and the concepts themselves — Ultimate Punisher? Ultimate Ghost Rider? Ultimate Gangsta Hulk? Ultimate Info-Dump Alternate-Future Spider-Man? — seem tired. In the place of inspired innovation, there’s just Millar’s trademark cynicism and meanness, and that’s not enough to keep me reading.

Hulk #23 — Writer: Jeph Loeb;  Art: Ed McGuinness plus a million former Hulk artists, including Trimpe, S. Buscema, Sale, Keown, Romita Jr., etc., etc.

A double-size issue, in which we get the full backstory of the Red Hulk’s origin. The good news is all those guest artists; the bad news is that the only do a few pages each, and they’re flashbacks covering old news. The even worse news is that is doesn’t even matter who the Red Hulk is — there are so many L.M.D.s and plots and counter-plots involved that it could be anybody.  So, who is it really? Silly comics reader: after Hush, don’t you know that, with Loeb, after all the switches and stunts, it’ll turn out to be the one who was the most glaringly obvious candidate from the start?

Detective #866 — Writer: Dennis O’Neil;  Art: Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

Worth noting because of O’Neil’s return to the character he helped to redefine over 40 years ago. It’s a solid little done-in-one tale involving the Joker (in a nice touch, it’s mostly flashbacks, and those are drawn in the style of the Batman Adventures cartoon, as opposed to the darker, more realistic modern scenes), and as such it offers a handy lesson in effective story construction to more novice Bat-writers (*cough* Tony Daniel *cough*).

Phil Mateer

About Phil

With 40 years of experience in comic reading, collecting and reviewing, English Professor Phil Mateer has an encyclopedic mind for comics. Feel free to ask Phil about storylines, characters, artists or for that matter, any comic book trivia. He will post your questions and answers on the AABC blog. His knowledge is unparalleled! He is also our warehouse manager, so if you are looking for that hard to find comic book, ask Phil!
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