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Iron Man #50

Written by Mike Grell and illustrated by Michael Ryan (P) Sean Parsons (I)

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by HDSchellnack

There's a very obvious trend of Marvel trying to make their heroes seem less "comic" and more grown-up and mature. It's not just something palpable in the MAX adult imprint or the Marvel Knight stuff, but it also seems to permeate to the more mainstream titles. Iron Man seems to become an example of this trend, if this issue is any indication. Of course, Mike Grell isn't known for writing meek happy-go-lucky kid stuff… and thus his Iron Man is as far away from the what, say, Kurt Busiek did during his tenure on the title, as you can get. Starting with the explosion of a fighter jet that leaves Tony Stark smack in the middle of a war-torn country (clearly based on Bosnia), without his armor… and thus in danger to die of heart failure within 24 hours. After that high-octane opening, Grell switches gears, flashes back to the exposition of the plot, and offers a revised origin of IM. Well, at least it seems revised from the version I know… but with Stark's origin, I admit, I lost counts in respect to all the little rewrites. Still, Grell's version is basically in touch with thee Stan Lee origin, expands and updates it a bit. He also makes nice use of a battle armor that Stark developed for the army before he became Iron Man. IM thus isn't a deus ex machina but the result of research Stark did beforehand. Seems more logical, and the early armor version also figures prominently later on in the story.

Mike Grell plunges Stark deep into the horror of the Serbian ethnic cleansings but sadly falls in the trap to offer us a) an innocent child b) a not-so-innocent but beautiful woman for Tony to fall in love with and c) a group of "good people" in this whole conflict. And, lo and behold, Tony gets his shining armor back and races to the rescue… but Grell neatly manages to end the story without Stark being the all-American hero, opting for a more poignant and serious end.

The writing is basic high-octane action flick writing, a bit predictable, but infused with a new urgency and dedication that at least makes you want to check out the next issue of IM. The downside is that the story could as well have been done with Captain America or several other characters and doesn't feel like a very "Iron Man" kind of story. It's more or less Mike Grell writing what he does best - Macho action with a human twist - and this time he does it with Tony Stark instead of Jon Sable or Ollie Queen. That is about the only gripe I have, though.

Mike Ryan offers clean and detailed art, with a slight nod to Jim Lee and maybe the whole Manga look. Perhaps it is a bit too much mainstream for the kind of story told here. I like clear storytelling and am not the biggest fan of the whole scratchy stuff, but maybe Alex Maleev and Mike Ryan should switch books ;-). The hyper-detailed Iron Man armor, though, is a treat.

Let's see where Grell takes IM in the next issues… # 50 sure enough is a solid start in a new direction. Marvel won't win any new young readers with this book, and should keep an eye on not making all books too mature, but in this case, I am quite happy to see Grell tackle a more real world Tony Stark. Should be good stuff for the grown-up readers who want widescreen-action and emotional impact.

Overall: 7.5/10

Mr. Majestic TPB

Written by Joe Casey with Brian Holguin / Alan Moore

Illustrated by Ed McGuinness / Carlos D'Anda

Published by DC/Wildstorm

Reviewed by Chaos McKenzie

I don't like Superman, no sir I don't like him. I hate reading comics about overly powerful people doing typically mundane things, to me it's redundant and boring. I could care less about Superman's struggles to mingle among humans, I mean Smallville bores me to tears for that very reason.

But that's why this collect kicked ass.

I don't even remember there being a Mr. Majestic comic book, I'm not sure if I was in a slow period in my comic book buying at the time, or if maybe I was just in one of those only read things with an "X" in the title kind of moods. Either way I have no recollection of this book when it was on the shelves, which makes me even happier that they collected it. I mean this collection is incredible, a super powered person with powers above and beyond imagination doing things that are above and beyond imagination.

This is a fun collection, it isn't heart wrenching or layered with deep reflections of society and social commentaries. It's just a dude who can do impossible things, doing impossible things. I mean how fun is that?

Overall: 9/10

The Monarchy: Bullets Over Babylon TPB

Written by Doselle Young and illustrated by John McCrea

Published by DC/Wildstorm

Reviewed by Chaos McKenzie

Anyone who is a regular reader of my half-crazed rambles of incoherent praise for comics, will know how big a fan I am of stories that seem dreamed of in opium colored acid hazes. I love stories that forget words like rules and formats, and just do what they want to do to tell a story.

The Monarchy is a beautiful example of this.

In the last two days I've read this TPB three times, and the only reason I'm able to understand half of it is because I've spent the better part of my life reading about parallel dimensions, and intergalactic menaces. I mean this collection is simply beautiful and you never really know what's going on, but it's so beautifully woven that you just don't seem to care. Or, rather, you cling to a vague sense that there must be some purpose and even if you never learn it, you find yourself loving the journey.

I was never a fan of the Authority. I enjoy the concept and all, but after the first story arch it just seemed to be biting itself in the ass, going in circles recycling one theme over and over until stale (no wonder Ellis left it early on, God forbid he ever be blamed with creating something without everlasting vision). What Young and McCrea have done though is taken a rather limited idea and given it more vision and more focus, The Monarchy gives The Authority more credibility in my eyes, it does what good spin-offs should do, it gives you something to compare to and grow from.

The writing in this collection is nice mix of Bendis style dialogue with Moore style expositions, blended nicely with an artist who doesn't look at apples and see red fruits (sorry I can't elaborate on that one, it's my mother's expression ask her…).

A friend told me that the series was going to be ending, and I assume it has something to do with sales and all that other dribble. But I sincerely hope the whole series sees collected format in the long run, because I'm sure in time it will be one of those sought after classics on people's shelves beside The Prisoner and Moonshadow, and other things like that.

Overall: 9.5/10

New X-Men #122

Written by Grant Morrison and Illustrated by Frank Quietly

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Chaos McKenzie

I can't help but reflect back to some of my creative writing courses from High School while reading the latest chapter in what's quickly becoming an epic run by Morrison on something resembling the X-Men. "Don't tell us, show us" ever heard that one? It basically refers to the writer revealing things to us through actions, rather than explanations. I bring this up now because I think Morrison has come to a point where there is currently soooo much going on with New X-Men, so many ideas and directions happening at one time that he has lost sight of this directive. I mean this latest issue is completely packed cover to cover with things of all kinds, but a lot of the action of the issue is lost to quick summaries and dispositions. I love watching Morrison craft a complex web of story telling, but I'm starting to think that maybe Morrison should have been allowed to start with something new altogether rather than play with characters who have lived to a certain set of standards since the beginning of time. Now let's pause a moment, before someone accuses me of writing a ridiculously negative review. I have to say that what Morrison is doing on New X-Men is f-ing brilliant, only it just doesn't feel like X-Men anymore, and instead is so radical and changed that it feels removed from the sandbox altogether. Perhaps that was his intent all along, but as a reader I find myself buried in continuities that even as a long time X-Men reader are unfamiliar to me.

This latest issue begins the Imperial story arch, which I assume involves a conflict between the X-Men and the intergalactic space threat of the Shiar Empire (I wouldn't have enough room to explain it here if I tried…) and despite the large amounts of disposition and a surprising lack of any real action, this issue is perhaps the most loaded of New X-Men so far. I can already feel the soap opera tone that Morrison has been referring to, sneaking into the way the story unfolds and like all great soap story lines I'm finding myself incredibly hooked to the emotional level of the story, more so than the details of the story itself.

My favorite part of this issue was actually the artwork. I'm not sure what it is, but Quietly's artwork of the X-men revamp seems to be the only art that really moves me. His inability to maintain a regular schedule really hurts this book, as with this issue we really see how Quietly's spirit shaped the new designs. Some of the layouts in this issue are simply breathtaking.

7.5 / 10

Powers 17

Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Mike Avon Oeming

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by HDSchellnack

No doubt - Brian Michael Bendis is probably the busiest writer in the comic biz these days, being part of the New Kids on the Block posse at Marvel. It's a cliché, and sometimes those are true, that with a massive output of work, quantity sooner or later messes with quality, and to a certain degree that is also true with BMB. Ultimate Spider-Man, Alias, Elektra, Daredevil and Powers all share certain tricks of writing, certain techniques and stylistic tools that over a longer period of time become tiring.

Now Bendis is a marvelous writer, and there are guys out there only writing ONE title a book that aren't even fractionally as good as this guy is on half a dozen, yet the ping-pong dialogue, the "cinematic" structuring of the narrative and the panels as well as the painful snail-pace of the story telling can become painful after a while. His Spider-Man is a most wonderful book, with breathtaking nonverbal interaction and great character bit, yet it feels like the book is on slow motion. And "Powers" is no different. Closest to USM in superficial terms of structuring, the book very much feels like the same stuff is going on month after month. And the "same stuff" pretty much means nothing at all - the development is so slow you don't even notice it. It's like on a sitcom -- somehow something is always going on, but nothing really seems to change from month to month.

Maybe it's just me, maybe it feels different in a trade paperback format, but in monthly doses you just sometimes wish for some 60s comic feeling of 22 pages crammed FULL of concepts, ideas, notions, action, dialogue… so much in so little space that it makes your head explode. Powers, however, is almost hypnotic, with repetitious panel structures, dialogue straight out of Waiting for Godot (in the sense that certain phrases are echoed and re echoed and that redundancy of speech is used as a stylistic means), and Peter Pantazis' most glorious, perfectly subdued and moody muted color scheme. It's a book, for better or worse, that completely denies us the popburstthrill of many regular comic books - and this style obviously has been so successful that it has been recycled and re-used again and again by now (see the first four ishs of Catwoman, Detective comics… you get the idea). And just, just when you think "Well, it's become a formula, he can't pull it off anymore", Bendis does a complete 180° turn and wows you - like in this issue with a three-page "action" sequence that builds up to a wonderful golden-colored full-page cliffhanger that really makes you hope Brian finally gets his greatest weakness out of the system (problems with solid denouement) and delivers a kick-ass end to this particular storyline.

Oeming has become a star unto his own right by now, and that's only fair. His visuals are clean and powerful, despite their abstract simplicity there is a very strong feeling of "grit" there, of real life, of cynicism, of real intense emotions. And he still evolves, tries things, even in the very rigid structure of Powers you can feel him flex different muscles, try new things, giving us subtle changes. Very nice. As with many good artists you have the clear feeling that any abstraction is absolutely deliberate, that it ain't simple because he couldn't do it any different, but because this is the best means of storytelling and if push came to shove, he'd give you realism and rendering until you crawled back home. I loved that feeling with Hergé, and I love it here. Oeming's style, sadly, is as much aped as that of Jim Lee or Todd McFarlane some years back, but a) it's a style that's easier on the eyes, even if ripped off, and b) issues like 17 introduce new elements that prove Oeming as one step ahead of any competitor. I already mentioned the congenial colors that prove that in post-photoshop-shock comic book coloring doing LESS is the way to go. Subtle perfection wherever you look here…

Powers is the best Bendis-written book, and if you enjoy any of his Marvel-books, this is the place to go. The lettercol alone is worth the three dollars the book will cost you… it makes the Dave Sim letter column in Cerebus look like a mentally sane place, believe me.

Overall: 9/10

Private Beach #4

Written and illustrated by David Hahn

Published by Slave Labor Graphics

Reviewed by Paul Weissburg

When the first issue of "Private Beach" came out, not so very long ago, I compared it to "Love and Rockets." As David Hahn's story has continued, however, the comparison has become much less apt. "Private Beach" is a black and white independent comic that kicks serious butt, as is "Love and Rockets," but that's about it for similarities.

"Private Beach" tells the story of a young woman, Trudy, who seems to be mixed up in an awful lot of weirdness. Just how much of this weirdness is supernatural and how much is simply the usual bizarre reality remains unclear. David Hahn understands the value of understatement and subtlety; he's not out to present us with one-sentence-synopsis kind of series. While the story itself is very straightforward (as is the art) it is the subtext that remains obscure.

The story thus far: Trudy, while hanging out with her friends on the beach, observed two "men-in-black" watching her. When she turned around to look again, they were gone. Later these same two men approached Trudy directly and offered her a job in a club. At first, the whole thing seemed rather sketchy, but curiosity (and the need for a steady income) got the best of her, and Trudy went in for an interview.

The club itself, Heaven's Rift, at first glance appears to be a hip new dance club, but there's something very peculiar about the place and in this issue, Trudy begins to uncover what lies beneath the surface. It's nothing that you'd expect, which is precisely the nature of this book. David Hahn never goes the predictable route. Instead, for every answer you receive, a new layer is revealed. That is the beauty of this book. Although it is never clear just where, exactly, this series is taking us, the ride is quite pleasant, the company is good, and I have faith in the driver.

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about David Hahn's "Private Beach" is his use of humor. Issue #1 had a classic scene on the beach with a seal that was being returned to the ocean. It was one of the funniest and most horrifying things I've ever seen in a comic. The latest issue has a scene at Trudy's day job that perfectly captures the aggravation and sheer banality of office work and the inane conversations people have while watching papers get lost into the cruel abyss of the copy-machine. David Hahn's use of humor and his strong sense of dialogue are reminiscent of Kyle Baker and Jaime Hernandez (two names you don't normally hear together, I'll grant you).

Four issues into the story, "Private Beach" remains a complete pleasure. And it actually seems to be coming out on schedule (bi-monthly), which is something that I very much appreciate. Pick up this latest issue and I guarantee you'll be hooked!

Overall 9/10

Queen and Country #6

Written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Brian Hurtt and Christine Norrie

Published by Oni Press

Reviewed by Paul Weissburg

If you are a fan of John LeCarre novels, there is no good reason in this world for you to not be reading Queen and Country. For that matter, if you have any interest at all in tales of espionage, strong female characters, solid writing, or good storytelling in general, you might seriously want to consider checking this series out.

Queen and Country is a bi-monthly black-and-white comic about a spy named Tara Chace. She's not a James Bond kind of spy; she's a has-to-deal-with-bureaucracy, drinks-too-much-coffee kind of spy. She is a flawed human, as all the most interesting characters are. She drinks sometimes and she smokes way too much. She has serious doubts about the morality of some of the things she's had to do for her job. Tara Chace is sort of the Jessica Jones (free plug for Marvel's "Alias") of Oni Press.

The current storyline is particularly interesting as it's about the Taleban in Afghanistan, but it was written before September 11th. Greg Rucka, in the first part of this story, wrote an explanation in the back of the comic about why he wrote it at that time and why he and his publishers decided to go ahead and publish it despite current events.

The basic story thus far is that a reporter, who was working for the same intelligence organization as Tara Chace, has been captured and killed by the Taleban, but not before hiding a list of contacts. It is urgent that this list be found by the British government before the Taleban find it. Tara Chace, however, is unable to join her colleagues on this mission because it's in Afghanistan and she is - duh! - a woman. So, she's stuck back in England while the action is taking place far, far away. And this is driving her nuts.

Greg Rucka is a fine writer and Queen and Country is possibly his best comic-book work yet. The series suffers slightly from sub-par artwork, and this latest issue is no exception. I long for the day that they find someone really, really good to draw these stories. In the meantime, however, I'm willing to overlook this flaw because the writing is so damn solid. Queen and Country is one of the best new series out there and I strongly encourage you to go out and give it a try.

It's yummy, yummy stuff!

Overall 8/10

Savage Dragon # 92

Written and illustrated by Erik Larsen

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by HDSchellnack

I won't fool you - I like Erik. He's the ONE image founder who never went for the big money deals and turned into a slime bucket, he seems like a person of integrity, doing his own book in his own way. (A way he couldn't do on a work-for-hire-basis, truthfully.) He's still trying and evolving as an artist and despite the fact that many such experiments suck like hell, it's fun to watch the man HAVE fun. There's no other book quite like this, not a single one, and he's been doing all of it for 92 consecutive issues almost every month. If that kind of dedication is not enough to make you want to check out the book.. well, I got more arguments.

The strange thing is that despite the fact that I don't like Erik as a writer on other books or as a penciller elsewhere, his Savage Dragon is a book I enjoy any given month. The combination of his writing and artistic skill makes it well worth reading. Whatever his shortcomings in either department may be, the way he simply does whatever he wants to on this book makes it a ride you won't forget too soon. If people die, they stay dead (well… mostly), and if Larsen wants to, even main characters get the axe. The sheer recklessness of the plot development is a treat. Here, anything can happen. That said I am among those who didn't think his idea to change the course of the book and make SD a new-reader-friendly-70s-Kamandi-inspired-title by completely tossing out the old reality in favor of a new post-apocalyptic version was too good. The new format, the new storytelling techniques… it all was pretty awful and boring compared to the zany madness we had before that. Seeing Dragon fight generic big monsters and Kirby-rip-off-creatures really wasn't what I was looking for with SD, no matter how much I LOVE alternate realities per se.

So I am really happy to see that the narrative, plot and general feel of the book is pretty much coming back to the "old" feeling, albeit with a different twist, these last months. As of # 92, Dragon still fights for undoing any time-paradox-damage he might have caused in the Savage World, but by now we have some the old supporting cast back. The way Larsen tells his story doesn't feel like Kamandi Redux anymore and all in all we're pretty much back to what made this book feel so good during the first 70 issues. The art is still very unpredictable, changing from month to month, depending on how much Erik has to do, and how he feels in terms of trying new stuff (which sometimes works and sometimes, of course, sucks like hell)… and I wouldn't want it any other way. So in # 92 we get a very Frank Milleresque visual style, and another fast moving story that combines a high-octane fight sequence, some new pieces to the puzzle of the Savage World and the beginning of Dragons uneasy alliance with the underworld freaks against Khan. Seems like we're in for all-out war these next issues. From what I hear, another major status quo shake-up is coming by # 100, probably with Dragon's return to the real world. Larsen sure does anything to not get bored with his book.

All that, plus amazingly comical bonus strips, the longest and most typo-ridden lettercol in the business and Erik innovatively ridiculing his assistant for about 90 months now… Savage Dragon isn't as fresh as he was during the first 40 issues, but it still is a book no one should miss.

If you like high-impact action and are bored with the lackluster never-changing "illusion of change" status quo of other superhero magazines, this is the book to buy.

Overall: 9/10

Spider-Man's Tangled Web TPB

Written and illustrated by Various

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Chaos McKenzie

One of the things that annoy me the most about comic characters like Batman and Spider-Man, is that I absolutely despise the characters themselves but am hooked like a heroine addict to their huge and diverse cast of rogues and supporting characters. I don't think I've ever picked up a Spider-Man comic book to find out what's happening to poor Mr. Parker, his clones, or his old Aunt May, but I have a huge collection of Black Cat appearances and I was glued to the epic like saga of the Goblins. I bought a copy of Spider-Man's Tangled Web for two reasons; one I love anthologies to no end, and two, what could be more appealing than a collection of stories revolving around the people in Spider-Man's sandbox.

This collection offers three different story arcs, and to be fair I'll say that I wasn't thrilled with all of them, but there were enough hidden gems within the entire collection to make it worthy of a sit down and quiet read.

One story, by Greg Rucka and artist Eduardo Risso called "Severance Package" (I'm sure you've heard about it, I mean this one was getting all the hype over at Marvel a few months back), tells the chilling tale of one man failing the Kingpin due to a quick cameo with the wall crawler. The story is amazing, it's incredibly well paced and I'd be shocked to learn anyone didn't feel bad for the poor sap, or curse Spider-Man's meddling like a wacked out villain have reading it.

The best part of this collection though, is a sweet two-part story focusing on the Rhino and the struggles of intellectual evolution. Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo are my favorite comic book collaborators since the beautifully woven Enigma, and this short but poignant tale was an incredible treat to me. Fegredo's illustrations have an emotion and excitement about them that make you get a little excited as you watch them rush the page, and Milligan will forever be the most biting writer around, to me Milligan is like the Jonothan Swift of the comic book world.

Overall this is a fun read, but perhaps more of a "can I borrow" than "I need to buy" type of book.

Overall: 7.5/10

Spy Boy TPB Vol. 4: Undercover, Underwear!

Written by Peter David and Illustrated by Pop Mahn with Sunny Lee

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by Chaos McKenzie

Spy Boy is another one of those stories that totally escaped me when it was on the shelves. In fact the small three issues trades almost slipped past me too if it wasn't for an accidental blind grab of books from the store shelf in the rush of new comic day. I remember I read the first collection cover to cover while standing in line to buy my books, and I've been relishing the release of new volumes ever since.

Peter David has a way of having fun without worrying about any of the consequences. He writes things that are maybe a little offensive, maybe a little sexist, but in the end he does it all in such good humor that you as the reader are able to get all past stigma and enjoy a fun story.

Spy Boy is another wacked out teenage super hero story, with a spy theme twist and all the tangled plot lines you could ever ask for. What sets this series apart from other isolated teenagers who discover they have special skills and then go to save the world tales is that David writes it with the personality and energy of a real teenager. The characters in this book react to things that teenagers would react to, and it's an incredible vice for the stories to unfold under.

The artwork in this volume is slightly inconsistent with regular artist Pop Mahn getting an assist from Sunny Lee. Both artists have some incredible strengths, but the style of each differs enough that the switch is a little jarring.

Spy Boy is a lot of fun, and this volume gives us Spy Girl who looks even cooler. It is a fun little romp, with a satirical edge that takes jabs at the comic book industry without you even noticing.

Go out, read, and enjoy...


We'll check back in with even more reviews during this weekend's AICN COMICS column!! Check back then!!

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