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Review Date: 12/12/2008

Welcome back to the Good Kingdom!  Due to an unforeseen computer glitch, our Uncanny X-Men 504 review wasn't included in last week's column, so we begin with that review below, followed by reviews of two DC comics each scripted by the team of Palmiotti and Gray, then finishing-up with an unexpected new comic from the pen of Jeph Loeb:

 

Uncanny X-Men #504
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Matt Fraction: Writer
Terry Dodson: Penciler
Rachel Dodson: Inker
Justin Ponser: Colors  

The latest Uncanny X-men issue is written by Matt Fraction with art by the team of Terry and Rachel Dodson.  I hadn't read an X-Men comic in a long time and the cover featured five beautiful women, so I immediately decided to make it an all-Marvel comic book review week!

This is the first issue of a new storyarc entited "Lovelorn." Page one of this issue gives the reader a nice, quick summary of recent X-Men activities; they've relocated from Westchester to San Francisco, where they've recently been battling the Hellfire Cult, a street gang led by a psychic Mutant named Empath.

There are three alternating sub-plots in this issue.  In one, a heartbroken Colossus is moping around the city and unexpectedly discovers that a mutant who we learn in flashbacks tortured his father (and possibly Colossus) is alive and dangerously-well is San Francisco.  In the second plotline, Scott a.k.a. Cyclops allows Emma Frost to enter his subconscious to try and learn what's bothering him.  We learn in the first page summary that in the previous battle with the Hellfire Cult, he discovered that his ex-wife is still alive, and he's obviously keeping this information to himself.  What Emma discovers when she pokes around in Scott's psyche lends new meaning to the phrase "boxing-up your emotions," to say the least.  The third plotline gives us The Beast and Angel visiting Argentina to try and recruit a Dr. Bradley, co-creator of the original Human Torch, to join the X-Men. This is an entertaining X-Men issue, although the sub-plots differ very much in quality.  The Emma-Scott subconscious journey is funny and the most interesting, as Emma finds our hero's subconscious structured as an elegant hotel, with staff and guests consisting of every gorgeous woman that Scott ever met-I wonder what Sigmund Freud would make of this guy!

The Colossus sub-plot is somewhat confusing.  From reading this issue alone, we have no idea why he's so heartbroken, a key story element that really should be referred to at least once in this issue for clarity's sake.  I found the third storyline's Dr. Bradley to be a fascinating scientist-adventurer character right out of a 1930's pulp magazine world.  I think it will be very interesting to see how he fits, or doesn't fit, in working with the X-Men through this storyarc.  Perhaps regular X-Men readers are more familiar with him, but as a sporadic reader I had never seen him before, and writer Matt Fraction succeeded in presenting him in a colorful and mysterious way that hooked me into wanting to know more about this historic throwback who functioned in the early superhero pioneer days of the Marvel Universe.

So while the Colossus storyline gets off to a weak start, the Emma Frost-Cyclops and Dr. Bradley stories are top notch and carry this issue very well.  It's well worth checking this issue out and following the rest of the storyarc to see where this Uncanny X-Man adventure takes us


Maelstrom #1
Publisher: DC Comics
Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray: Writers
Phil Noto: Artist
Rob Clark, Jr.: Letters

DC began a new Superman/Supergirl 5-issue mini-series this week with the issuance of  Maelstrom #1. The comic is written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by Phil Noto.

Maelstrom refers to a new villainess being introduced in this mini-series.  She's a common laborer from Apokolips who is in love with Darkseid (yeech!) and travels to Earth with a plan to kill Superman and bring his head back to Darkseid in order to gain his affection and become the new Queen of Apokolips.   What a romantic, Hallmark Moment of a story!

All kidding aside, its an interesting and fresh take on Jack Kirby's Fourth World section of the DC Universe interacting with the Superman Family.  Major elements of the plot line include three sub-plots: learning about Maelstrom and her homey little corner of creepy planet Apokolips, a detailed kick-off battle between Supergirl and Maelstrom in which Supergirl is stomped-on very badly and almost dies, and an extensive follow-up dialogue scene between Superman and Supergirl in which Superman plans a new strategy and training effort to re-build the Girl Wonder's shattered confidence and improve her battling ability against the Apokolips-level foe.

One of the major pluses of this comic is Phil Noto's art, which ranks high up among the best over the past several years among the various Superman family comic lines.  Noto's also known for the high quality art that he's produced in the past with Palmiotti and Gray on the Jonah Hex western comic line (see the following review below), and this is his first major superhero comic art project. The nine-page battle scene here in issue #1 between Maelstrom and Supergirl is breathtaking; Noto's portrayal of cars tossed through the air and building's being crumbled is cinematic, with the action literally leaping off of the page at the reader.

My one constructive criticism of this mini-series is a cautionary concern that the creative team doesn't get too caught-up in the usual Supergirl angst and self-doubt regarding her ability to win confrontations with villains and do good for the folks of Metropolis.  While I know that it's a necessary element in most Supergirl storylines, given that she's just an insecure teenager, its so prominent and overly familiar a story element in Supergirl stories these days that the five pages of self-doubt in this issue #1 feels somewhat tedious and overly drawn-out.

But that one item aside, there's enough great art, fun action and fresh story details regarding this new DC villain and our superhero duo cousins to make this an excellent and recommended start to a new five-issue miniseries.    


Jonah Hex #38
Publisher: DC Comics
Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti: Writers
Jordi Bernet: Art & Cover
DC is currently up to issue #38 of its current run of Western character Jonah Hex.  For the uninitiated, Jonah Hex first appeared in 1972 in All-Star Western as a Clint Eastwood-type anti-hero.  Hex was an ex-Confederate soldier who after the Civil War headed West for many a comic book adventure.  The right side of his face was severely scarred from pre-Civil War days.  Throughout the 1970's and well into the 1980's, Hex was a staple of the DC Universe, eventually in the 1990's even being creatively written into more futuristic science fiction and fantasy storylines.

The current Hex comic series is up to issue #38, and is written by the Jimmy Palmiotti-Justin Gray team that's currently scripting the Maelstrom mini-series reviewed above, with art by Jordi Bernet.  The one-issue storyline, entitled "Hell Or High Water," mainly consists of a detailed flashback about a Western sheriff whose life went bad for many reasons as detailed in this comic.  The sheriff blames Hex for his life's failures and is telling the flashback story after having just beaten Jonah Hex in a fistfight.  He plans on killing Hex, for reasons detailed in the flashback.  How Hex gets out of this predicament would ruin any suspense, so I won't include it in this review.

This is a decent Western comic, of a genre that was much more popular in the Golden and Silver ages of comics and is rarely seen today.  The writing here is very strong, following the traditional Western fiction story structure of lots of characters interacting with each other both in action sequences and in scenes of basic Western-style dialogue.  Unfortunately, Bernet's art here is not very good, or at least not to my taste for a comic book; it's too cartoony and sketchy in style, feeling unfinished and rough.  If the reader has no background understanding of the Jonah Hex story, one wouldn't even notice his facial scarring with Bernet's particular style.

While the below-average art keeps this comic from being of high quality, the writing is so well representative of the western fiction genre that this comic is still a thumbs-up, and thus recommended to modern-day fans of the underrepresented Western comic genre.    


Ultimatum #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jeph Loeb: Writer
David Finch: Artist
Danny Miki: Inker
Steve Firchow: Colorist   

Jeph Loeb is scripting a new five-issue Marvel Mini-Series entitled Ultimatum, so I thought I'd end this week's column with a fourth comic book review, of issue #1 of this series.

The plot focuses on a sudden massive storm and wall of water that quickly submerges Manhattan.  After introducing this flood of Biblical proportions, Loeb spends the entire comic showing just where each major Marvel superhero team (Fantastic Four, Avengers, etc.) was at the moment of the catastrophe and how it initially affected them, ending in a cliffhanger introduction of the villain behind the disaster.

This is an interesting approach to superhero storytelling, in that Loeb is attempting to substantially feature quite a few Marvel Universe teams in a brief five-issue story arc.  He does manage to well-balance everyone's involvement in this introductory issue, at least setting the stage for this large cast of characters to play-out equally in the plot.

In contrast to the expected high quality scripting from Loeb, the art quality badly stumbles, here.   While David Finch's penciling is fine, reminiscent of the late great Michael Turner's style, Danny Miki's inking is overly drab and dark to the point of annoying distraction.  The two-page spread of the storm and flood hitting Manhattan is so overly dark that it robs the scene of any dramatic effect. If you're an avid fan of the various Marvel superhero teams assembled in this series, then I'd recommend checking this storyline out.  However, if you're a casual Marvel fan like I am, find a Marvel comic that doesn't make you squint to make-out the scene details and enjoy your weekly comic reading time.


ONGOING CONTEST REMINDER!

Well, folks, after extending our most recent contest deadline by an extra week, we still didn't get any entries for our latest challenge, to submit your favorite work of written fiction on the subject of comics or the comic genre.  As such, by Royal Decree, our Good King Leonardo declares the contest null and void, and calls for all good citizens and visitors to The Kingdom to assemble here next week in Bongo Congo for our next contest announcement.  So e-mail an entry to Gordon_A@msn.com, again no later than midnight on Wednesday, December 17. See you back here next Friday!

 
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