Sunday, February 27, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 2/23

(I meant to get this up sooner.  Really.  Honest.)

King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1 (of 4) (Dark Horse, $3.50, Timothy Truman, Tomás Giorello) - The first issue of a storyline narrated by an older Conan, one who is in his later years, as he tells the tale to a court scribe about an adventure during his younger days as king. This has many classic Conan elements to it: Conan is captured, brought low by sorcery, refuses to compromise his principles, and is left to die a horrible death.  With another writer this would be mere pastiche, but Truman gives the story enough emotional heft to make the telling enjoyable, and Giorello's art is wonderfully visceral.  Highly recommended.

Astonishing X-Men vol 6: Exogenetic (Marvel, $14.99, Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez) - Wait, a Marvel book?  How did that get on the list?  Oh yeah, it was written by Warren Ellis, who is pretty much my favorite writer in the field today.

This storyline, when published in serial form, was plagued by various delays, but none of that hinders the story when read in a collected format.  Like Ellis's previous Astonishing story, this is self-contained, with no real knowledge of the current X-Men continuity is needed (thankfully!).  Ellis still has to dance around the idiotic '198' rule that was imposed on the X-books in recent years, and in doing so comes up with an intriguing challenge for our heroes: someone is using the DNA of past friends and enemies to create monstrous threats for the X-Men to face.

The writing here is pretty much as good as you would expect.  Ellis's dialog is sharp, and often hilarious.  The characters are pretty much spot-on - there's a wonderful sequence where Beast utterly deflates the 'Cyclops is a stone-cold killer' nonsense that has been passing for Scott's characterization in recent years.  And of course there are plenty of 'oh Hell yeah!' moments thrown in for good measure.

While I've been concentrating mainly on the writing, Jimenez's art also plays an important part here.  His detail is excellent, both with the main characters and the tons of insane backgrounds that Ellis's script calls for.  It's a beautiful package, and well worth the price for any X-fan.

Essential Spider-Woman vol 1 (Marvel, $16.99, Marv Wolfman, Mark Gruenwald, Michael Fleisher, Carmine Infantino, others) - Another Marvel book, reprinting stories from an era when Marvel wasn't actively trying to drive me away as a reader.  The issues reprinted here vary a bit in quality, as one might expect from a series with multiple writers, but overall the stories are enjoyable enough.  In her early days, there was a bit of 'weird menace' to Spider-Woman's character, and that bleeds over into her villains as well.  Most of her bad guys aren't exactly iconic by any stretch, but in all they're a fairly creepy bunch.  Later on, when Fleisher takes over the writing, the supernatural elements that had pervaded the series are dropped, and Spider-Woman becomes a more standard 'street-level' heroine, albeit one who makes her living as a bounty hunter.

As for the art, this isn't Infantino's best by a long shot, but it's still quite a bit better than some of the stuff he would do in his post-Flash days, when at times it was clear he was pretty much phoning it in.  After Infantino leaves the book, the art takes a dip in quality for a few issues when Frank Springer and Trevor von Eedon handle the visuals, but it picks up in the final issue of vol 1 when Steve Leialoha comes on board.

If you have any interest in the character of Spider-Woman, it's hard not to recommend this: like DC's Showcase collections, Marvel's Essentials line give such a bang for the buck that it's a fairly safe recommendation - you're almost guaranteed to find enough comic book goodness to justify the price.

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