Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rayboy's Review: Invincible #75 / Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #6 / Irredeemable #19 / Fantastic Four #584

Wednesday is the traditional new comics day in most direct market comics specialty stores and I really ought to make this my regular day to post reviews. The problem with that idea is that I tend to purchase so few ongoing titles. Over the last few years I've increasingly bought mostly mini-series, short run books or stuff that ultimately didn't last long enough to lament their untimely passing. I don't even maintain a pull list at my local shop for this very reason, and I've probably bought more comics during the same time frame, but most of them were gold, silver and bronze age back issues.

As a lifelong comics fan, I've learned not to disrespect current trends - for the most part - but that doesn't mean that I like the way the sitting regimes at DC & Marvel have earned their keep or the haphazard business ideologies that manifest in their practical day-to-day management. The old school comics have vanished, and I struggle to find stuff that appeals to me on the racks.

Still, I do buy new comics and here are a few comments about some mainstream stuff that deserves your attention:

Invincible #75 (Image Comics), written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn, continues “The Viltrumite War” as Invincible and his small band of allies bring the war right to the planet Viltrum. As they fight their way through the supremely powerful Viltrumite forces, lives are lost and a major turning point occurs that sets up the wars final & perhaps fatal confrontation next issue. This 48 page issue also include a “Science Dog” back-up story by Kirkman and Cory Walker; plus a Tech Jacket short by Kirkman, Sitterson & Su. This book always features topnotch artwork by Ottley that shows just how superhero comics used to be done to keeps readers guessing, on the edge of their seats and all the while remaining lots of fun. Kirkman is a workhorse with multiple titles on the stands and I have grown more and more appreciative of his output. Of course the lions share of current attention is directed fully upon his long-running zombie apocalypse series, The Walking Dead, and its ratings smash successful debut on cable channel AMC, but don't forget to give Invincible a try and if you love superhero comics, Robert Kirkman has not forgotten that the blockbuster events are traditionally supposed to occur within the pages of the regular title. Something that the "big two" (and their clueless editors-in-chief) have tossed out with the trash. Recommended!

Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #6 (of 6) (ABC/Wildstorm), written by Peter Hogan, illustrated by Chris Sprouse & Karl Story neatly wraps up the America’s Best Comics mini-series in fine fashion, and its not a criticism to say that this issue is truly anti-climactic in its resolution of the series events. After Tom Strong has raced through time to prevent his son Albrecht from creating the horrific Nazi-dominated future that happened in the first issue, we really only get to see the aftermath of the series earlier events, and how the impact of the twin pasts that Tom Strong now solely recalls prompts him to appreciate some of his extended family members even more than before. Tesla Strong finally gets married and for fans of the original ABC series, the last panel suggests that Tom Strong and company will likely return next year for further adventures. That’s good news, but I hope that DC's decision to shutdown the Wildstorm imprint doesn't throw a monkey wrench into those plans. Hogan, Sprouse and Story are a guaranteed combo at delivering pulp-style adventure and more of "stuff" like this is always better. Recommended!

Irredeemable #19 (Boom Studios), written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Peter Krause picks up with the alien race known as the Vespa battling against the Plutonian alongside a handful of surviving heroes, who were former allies of the Plutonian. The Vespa are honoring a pact they made with deceased hero, Hornet, to take down the Plutonian if he ever went rogue. I will say that the conclusion of this issue is somewhat reminiscent of the classic DC Comics “For the Man Who Has Everything” story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, first published in Superman Annual #11 (1985). If Invincible (above) is “the best superhero comic in the universe”, then Irredeemable is truly its darker cousin. In fact between the two series, I have a hard time thinking that anything DC or Marvel currently publishes can hold a candle to these efforts. Deconstructionist superhero epics have been all the rage, from time-to-time, since Watchmen debuted in the mid 1980s, but most of those efforts have been derivative of that seminal work. Thankfully, Waid and Krause are a potent combo in taking a similar conceit and wringing new life out of it. Recommended!

Fantastic Four #584 (Marvel Comics), written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Steve Epting, continues the game-changing storyline “Three” in which one member of the classic team is expected to perish. The ramifications of Reed Richards new Future Foundation formula which will allow the Thing to regain his normal human form annually (but for only a week at a time) allows Ben Grimm to approach Alicia as a man and Norrin Radd - The Silver Surfer - confronts Mr. Fantastic about what he discovered hidden beneath the Earth, however Reed may even "bigger" questions to answer considering who the Surfer has brought with him. I mean, think "BIG"! Story and art are really kicking this serial into high gear and I highly recommend that you check out Fantastic Four right now. Which brings up a truly sad statistic. This issue includes a U.S. Postal Service Statement of Ownership, and I was shocked to read that Fantastic Four, the venerable title that originally launched the Marvel Universe, the House of Ideas, and the groovy playground of the great Lee & Kirby team, only had an average monthly print run of just under 54,000 copies over the preceding year. This book billed itself as “The Worlds Greatest Comics Magazine” for decades and with an American population that’s over 300 million, Marvel Comics really shows how weak its brand name has become with this unfortunate situation. In fact the issue closest to filing date had a print run of barely over 40,000, so “Three” hasn’t actually accounted for a very large upswing (although the impact of this serial may not yet be apparent). I’m recommending this title, based on the fine pairing of Hickman & Epting, but if the rest of Marvels comics line accounts for similar monthly numbers, then Disney may have very good reason to cease publishing and devote the business of marketing this classic stable of characters into other - more profitable - venues, sooner than we may prefer as fans.

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