Thursday, August 30, 2007

Snap Judgements: Hack/Slash, Teen Titans, The Four Horsemen, Avengers: The Initiative

On Thursdays, the Geekanerd staff gives you Triple S comic reviews - short, sweet, and spoiler-free.

Hulk Smash Feelings of Self Doubt! - Avengers: The Initiative #5

Marvel's best book on the stands continues to deliver interesting character-driven action, but sags a bit under the weight of the Incredibly Angry Hulk. Isn't World War Hulk over yet? We already know he doesn't destroy the world. The sooner the Marvel Universe's heroes can get back to their own plotlines, the better.

This issue is about Trauma, the omega level Initiative recruit with the Fallout Boy haircut. His "I Know What You're Afraid Of" power has provided a lot of insight into some of our favorite Marvel Characters over the last several issues (Henry Pym's fear of being forever remembered as a wife-beater just because of some damn thing that happened in an ULTIMATES BOOK for godsake was particularly fun), and here's the moment we've all been waiting for - Trauma vs The Hulk. What's the Green Guy really afraid of? To me, the answer is a let-down. To others, including serious Hulk fans, it may be the only acceptable answer.

In the build-up to the big showdown, we meet some new Black Ops Initiative recruits, all of whom are very elite and top secret, but who do not come equipped with interesting personalities. This makes for some very bland team-building sequences, with only a particularly insufferable H.P Gyrich to keep us awake.

Dan Slott has set the bar on this book very high, and the quality of the art and writing is still beyond most mainstream books. But the issue feels too thin without a central focus on the Teen Team that Slott done such a great job developing.

Spotlight on Trauma - Who Are These Old Guys? + Hardball is Still a Dick = B-

Teen Titans, Hack/Slash, and The Four Horsemen after the jump...

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello - Teen Titans #50
At last, a proper farewell to Bart Allen. His funeral in Countdown was a a pretty dry affair (and attended by some less than well-behaved guests), but here the Titans remember Bart on a more personal level, complete with multi-artist flashbacks. Whether you're a long-time Impulse fan or have only a casual knowledge of the littlest Flash, you get an acute sense of what he meant to the team. Luckily it's not all boo-hoos, we get some refreshing cynicism from Ravager (/crush) and a predictably ill-concieved attempt at emotional counseling by Martian Manhuntgirl.

The flashbacks weave into the story with ease, and peak with a stand-alone interlude about Wally West by George Perez. The only misstep is an off-putting section in the middle which features seven pages from last week's Blue Beetle, redrawn by Randy Green. Granted, it's kind of neat to see the same scene re-interpreted by a new artist, but what's really jarring are several minor but significant changes in the dialogue. In Blue Beetle #18, Robin was perfectly chummy in suggesting Beetle train with the Titans, but here he pulls out some Bat-Daddy style browbeating. Wha happa? Was there a change in the script between the two book's printing dates, or did the TT editing crew change John Rogers' script to suit their own story purposes? The change isn't bad, but which version is cannon? Can we blame this continuity glitch on Superboy, or is it Mister Mind's fault now?

A Fond Farewell + Diverse Art + Mourning Mishaps - Repackaged Beetle = B

Bang Bang Rock 'n' Roll - Hack/Slash #4

Like books where hot chicks kill monsters? Pick up this book. Hate books where hot chicks kill monsters? You'll probably still like it, because it's just that good. Hack/Slash has a winning high concept - a victim of a Freddie-style slasher becomes a vigilante out to kill serial killers; it goes without saying she's a hot chick and has a hulking brute-force sidekick. But while the series has delivers plenty of pulp slasher thrills, the protagonists turn out to be two of the most surprising characters you're likely to find in mainstream comics.

This issue is the last in the series' first arc, and it's satisfying in the way only a baddie-busting vigilante comic can be. The villains of this storyline have been a bunch of spoiled, rock star devil worshippers, and it's very nice to see them get what's coming to them. New readers should probably wait for the trade, or hell, go pick up the first four issues. They're worth it.

Scary Monsters + Tough Ladies + Satisfying Finale = A-

So Much For Escapism - The Four Horsemen #1

Say what you will about Countdown, at least it's made us all appreciate 52 a little more. 52 could be over-the-top and messy even for an event book, but it was rarely boring. Take the Four Horsemen storyline - living embodiments of Famine, Death, War and Pestilence created by the DCU's finest mad scientists. Why? Because a giant Asian Egg Monster told them to. This is the sort of thing you just don't get from Marvel. And now The Four Horsemen have a book all to themselves, with the Big Three for protagonists. All signs point to yes.

Or not. Perhaps my expectations were colored by how much I've been enjoying writer Adam Beechen's rollicking run on Robin. There's no fun to be had here, as the plot deals with aftermath of the genocidal destruction of the DC nation of Bialyia, perpetrated by Black Adam in one of the more cringe-worthy plot threads of 52. Given the real life genocides and ethnic cleansing happening around the world right now, the mood of this comic is understandably dire. But nothing meaningful is said about the relief effort this comic uses as a plot device, nor does Beechen bring anything new to the question of what the role of the Superhero is in times of mass destruction. At one point, Bialiya's leader asks why Superman and the Flash don't just circle the globe until they find the person responsible. Well? I wish these kinds of practical questions were answered, but they're not.

Oppressively Bleak Atmosphere - Lack of Insight + Veronica Cale Still on Oolong Island = C-

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