Phil's Reviews — Stuff I Read and Put Back #50

New X-Men #45 — Writers: Craig Kyle and Chris Yost; Penciler: Humberto Ramos; Inker: Carlos Cuevas
Part Eight of the “Messiah Complex” crossover series. One of the few pieces of good news about a sprawling event is that it can spotlight good work being done on the lower-tier titles like this one; here, Kyle and Yost show their knack for characterization, and Ramos does his usual tightrope act between cartoony exaggeration and straight-ahead widescreen action, especially in a throwdown between X-23 and Deathstrike. The bad news is that it’s hard to show off your strengths when you’re assigned just one chapter in a company-wide story, and so have to shoehorn in three or four plot points and basically tread water for the rest of the issue (the story starts with Cable on the run with the mutant kid, and ends the same way, just as it has for the last three or four installments); unless you count the two “deaths” in this episode as permanent — and why would anyone do that? — nothing actually happens.

Madame Mirage #4 — Writer: Paul Dini; Artist: Kenneth Rocafort
Only four issues in, and we’ve already seen this before: it’s a video-game plot, as the title heroine battles her way through layers of super-foes to get to the Big Boss and talk with him. I’ve found that this comic works better if you think of it as a TV cartoon; the repetition and episodic narrative that’s annoying in print would come off better in a weekly video format. As a graphic narrative, though, it continues to be a disappointing effort from a creator whom I expected more from.

Wolverine: Firebreak — Writer: Mike Carey; Penciler: Scott Kolins (First Story); Writer: Macon Blair; Artist: Vasilis Lolos (Second Story).
One of those inexplicable larger-size one-shots Marvel’s been pumping out. The main effort is told from the point of view of a “normal” family who encounter Logan, have to help him beat the bad guys, and end up learning something about themselves in the process; it’s solidly constructed (which I’d expect from Carey), although it covers very familiar territory. The second story, a 10-pager, is notable for the art — Vasilos, most recently seen in Pirates of Coney Island, brings a Paul Pope-influenced indy feel to the table, and is at least interesting. How interesting will determine whether you’re willing to pay $4 for this book.

Wolverine: Origins #20 — Writer: Daniel Way; Artist: Steve Dillon
Finishing up the World War II flashback with Captain America and Bucky. It’s competently done, and Dillon’s art is steady as always, although (as with a lot of Way’s work) the story seems to lack… something. Maybe it’s my own reviewer’s jadedness that comes from reading too many comics, but this title has always seemed a trifle too soulless, without quite enough emotion or enthusiasm at its core. That may be the curse of a spinoff title (see: Punisher War Journal, Green Lantern Corps, etc.), but it’s just enough to prevent this from pushing over the top into the “keep” pile.

Birds of Prey #113 — Writer: Sean McKeever; Penciller: Nicola Scott; Inker: Doug Hazlewood
Another book that’s almost, but not quite, in the “keep” pile — it’s a solid one-issue story, good at introducing the characters and bringing the reader up to speed quickly, then piling on the action, avoiding a standard pat ending, and even slipping in a useable theme. Why not buy it? Maybe because of the downer ending, and the scolding from Superman that doesn’t quite come off in character (even though it’s understandable given the circumstances); maybe because it’s, at base, a good standard superhero comic about characters I don’t really care about.

Superman/Batman #44 — Writer: Michael Green; Penciller: Shane Davis; Inker: Matt “Batt” Banning
An encouraging issue — after a number of less-than-compelling stories, this first episode of a new arc does a number of things right (including the opening scene, which had me ready to complain about how badly off-model the characters were, and then flipped around to make sense). The setup — Supes decides that it’s time to do something about Earth’s Kryptonite problem — makes me remember DC’s similar effort in the early ’70s (and I hope that great Neal Adams chain-busting cover gets referenced at some point). Still, this title has a long history of encouraging starts and disappointing conclusions, even at its best, so it’s going to take a few more issues to get me back on board permanently.

Countdown to Final Crisis #19 — Writers: Paul Dini with Tony bedard; Story Consultant: Keith Giffen; Pencilller: Jesus Saiz; Inker: Rodney Ramos
Trickster gets more dead, Piper goes more nuts, the Amazon plot clicks forward one notch, and Jimmy Olsen switches from turtle to porcupine powers. No Mary Marvel, and no Karate Kid/Omacs, making this even more boring than usual; check back in a week.

Batman and the Outsiders #3 — Writer: Chuck Dixon; Penciller: Julian Lopez; Inker: Bit
Standard superhero stuff, involving the Outsiders and the JLA fighting over an Omac (and over where Batman’s loyalties lie). Worth mentioning only for a one-page scene with Grace and Thunder that’s a typically clueless and inept example of why most DC creators (Dixon more than most) shouldn’t try to write gay characters.

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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