Friday, October 26, 2007

Snap Judgments - What If? Featuring Planet Hulk, Blue Beetle #20, Gotham Underground #1, Foolkiller #1

What If? Featuring Planet Hulk
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Leonard Kirk, Rafa Sandoval, Gary Erskine, Fred Hembeck
Colors by Moose Baumann, Guru eFX, Sotocolor's J. Brown
Gets a B from Albo

I was always been fond of the old What If? books. They always took serious chances that the core titles would never dare, and no matter how optimistic the question (What If Uncle Ben Had Lived?, for instance) they always ended bad. REALLY bad. Like everyone dying bad. They made it seem like the Marvel Universe was always at risk of completely falling apart. Then there was a bad period where hack creators asked hacky questions with hacky results. This book is something of a return to form. It asks three simple questions about the Planet Hulk / World War Hulk Saga: "What If the Hulk Died and Caiera Lived?", "What If the Hulk Had Landed On the Intended Peaceful Planet?" and the one page strip "What If Bruce Banner Had Landed On Sakaar Instead of the Hulk?". They have Greg Pak writing it, who is responsible for all this World War Hulk business in the first place, so if anyone knows how it could have gone differently it's him. They're quick, simple stories, but they don't take themselves seriously and are just fun. And fun is something you don't get much anymore from Marvel comics, so take it where you can get it.

Blue Beetle #20 and the first issues of Gotham Underground and Foolkiller, after the jump...

Blue Beetle #20
Written by John Rogers
Art by Rafael Albuquerque, Colors by Guy Major
Gets an A+ from AHR

So the Sinestro Corps War is huge right now, all the smart kids say it's great, but I've never been a big fan of space. Except for Star Wars. And Star Trek. And - I don't like space when DC does it. So I got scared when I saw Sinestro's big pink mug on the cover of my favorite DC series, because I thought I'd be lost in a raging sea of space continuity. But the continuity on display here belongs to the title book - two unresolved Blue Beetle plot threads are addressed here, particularly the one having to do with Jaimie's reluctant mentor, The Peacemaker. The Battle Between the Corps is only shown at a distance, which allows Rogers to draw a surprisingly apt comparison to the USA's current actual war. Believe it or not, it works, perhaps because he keeps the details Sinestro Corps war vague, and wisely does not attempt to sum up what all is going on in that book. That's not to say there isn't a huge fight in this issue involving yellow and green rings; there is, and it's fun as all the action sequences in this superb series have been, but the highlight comes after the monster smashing. Through some some slightly dodgy plot mechanics, the issue culminates in a psychological show down where Jaimie, Peacemaker, and a surprising third party all have to face exactly how much control they have over what they are, and that self-realization proves more intense (and gorier) than the physical brawl that preceeds it. This ending is beautifully executed, and I'll admit; it had me wiping away tears the way only a good-vs-evil story in a superhero book can. That means I liked it.

Gotham Underground #1
Written by Frank Tieri
Pencils by Jim Calafiore, Ink by Jack Purcell, Colors by Brian Reber
Gets a B from AHR

Sweet, a new Bat Book! Sweet, it's all about villains! Sweet, it's...kind of well written? Writer Frank Tieri clearly isn't afraid to go for broke with campy characterization of our favorite Rouge's gallery - Two-Face's speech is peppered with gangstery yers-&-yas (as in, "I told ya"), Penguin has his proper share of five dollar words, and the Riddler actually says "Riddle me this" at one point. This is all for the best - if you have a bunch of rouges in the same room, the fun comes from letting several over-powering personalities bounce off of each other (Paul Dini's Almost Got 'Em is a great example). Unfortunately, there's also some staggeringly clunky lines that just don't make sense, either grammatically or conceptually. Example: "Yer about as happy to see me as a prostate exam." So he's happy as a prostate exam would be to see you? He's as happy to see you as he would be to see a prostate exam? This sort of sloppily writing occurs more than once, and this probably would have been an A issue with one more run through editorial. Still, it's bolstered by good art throughout by the reliable Jim Califioire, and two "killer" splash panels that leave a lasting impression.

Foolkiller #1
Written by Gregg Hurwitz
Art by Lan Medina, Colors by Avalon's Andy Troy
Gets a C- from Albo

Uhhh... Some of the art's pretty good in this book... Hmm... Ok, the modern Foolkiller has always been Punisher-lite, right? If that's the way you think this book won't change your mind, especially since the F'killah is hardly in it. Also not helping is what writer Hurwitz once said in an interview with Newsarama: "I’m a Punisher guy. What Garth Ennis has done with Frank Castle really is what made me realize what comic books could do. The Foolkiller is obviously different in a number of ways from the Punisher, but he’s also perhaps the closest thing the Marvel Universe has to him." Uh, does Hurwitz not realize the Punisher is a Marvel character? I'm confused. Axel Alonso said of Hurwitz (also on Newsarama): "He was interested in writing a crime thriller and Punisher was off the table." So Hurwitz loves the Punisher. And so he did what other poor bastards who wished they could write the Punisher did: he dusted off Foolkiller. Big mistake. It's possible the book could get better as we figure out what's actually going on, but my hopes ain't high. Interesting note: One of Foolkiller's earlier appearances was in the original Omega: The Unknown series that Jonathan Lethem is currently faithfully remaking (and which I liked!), so he might be popping up in that book as well. 2008 may just be the year of the Foolkiller.