Capsule Reviews: Week of February 15th

Joe the Barbarian #2 (Vertigo; Morrison, Murphy, Stewart, Klein)

All hail Chakk.

Hear that? That’s the sound of a possibly awesome book becoming completely awesome. Grant Morrison turns in part two of a story that is rapidly turning into something I wouldn’t have expected from him. While there’s lots of little detail and callbacks to the first issue for the careful reader, those minutia never overwhelm the characters or pacing.

The task of getting those callbacks across often falls to the art, and it fails to disappoint. All those long establishing images of Joe’s house in the first issue that drew semi-critical ire elsewhere suddenly become very important. Sean Murphy’s style and vision settle in a bit and Joe’s world starts to clarify without losing its surrealistic quality. We’re also introduced to another central character, Chakk, the fantasy avatar of Joe’s real-life pet rat Jack. I found Chakk instantly endearing. Claymore-wielding rat-knights? Right up my alley. Vertigo can just go ahead and make a retail statue of him now, I’m good for it.

If you’re not reading this already, start.


Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #6 (Marvel; Bendis, Maleev, Petit)

Make with the blasty.

I’m guessing Bendis decided our heroine had enough mental trauma for the first five books, as issue six is delightfully uncomplicated: Jessica and the Thunderbolts fight. Atlanta burns. You get the idea.

That doesn’t in any way diminish the ride, however, as it’s a pretty fun fight. Ghost gets his ass kicked, Headsman really gets his ass kicked, Ant-Man is snarky, Yelena is annoyed, and Paladin… doesn’t really do anything, now that I think about it. And Jessica is generally awesome throughout.

I get the feeling, out of context, that we’re waiting for all the Siege stuff to be done with before Bendis really moves on with the character, which is understandable. As long as the fights are good, the dialog is fun, and the art remains especially pretty, I don’t mind killing time with Spider-Woman.

As long as she leaves the serious Ghost beatdown to Tony and Pepper, that is. A man’s got his limits.


Hit-Monkey (Marvel; Way, Talijic, Hollingsworth, Eckleberry)

The Banana Transporter

I’ll admit it right up front: Marvel had my four bucks when I saw the Frank Cho cover preview.

This came out last week, and I thought it deserved at least a few words. I wasn’t prepared, though, for just how straight the concept was played; I sat on it for a week pondering how to approach it. In my defense, the ‘I’ in the logo is replaced with a banana, so I don’t think I can be faulted for expecting something a little more… maybe not wacky, but at least funny. What I got instead was an almost straight-line action/crime comic that just happens to involve a pack of snow monkeys.

There’s nothing outright wrong with it. The script is solid and the art is right in style for the genre. I have to give Way credit for taking the concept so seriously. It works for a one-shot, but if there’s ever to be more Hit-Monkey, I don’t know that the literal take will prove to be sustainable. I’m both glad I got it and not sure what to do with it now that I have it. I won’t be surprised if we never see it again.

Also, in an opinion that truly does not matter, I think I liked the whole concept better when it was called Hitman Monkey. C’est la vie.

Review: Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D. #5

Spider-Woman #5 cover by Alex Maleev

Jessica Drew, escaping again...

“Issue Five”

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Model for Spider-Woman: Jolynn Carpenter

I couldn’t find an official title for this installment of Jessica Drew’s adventures post-Skrull-captivity. As the first four issues have largely served to enumerate Ms. Drew’s considerable list of psychological challenges as she gets back into the heroic life, I guess “Issue Five” is as good a title as any.

Jessica’s issue of the month this time is simple. In trying to do the right thing by surrendering to the Madripoor cops after issues 3 and 4’s HYDRA rampage, she’s just managing to get herself and everyone around her in more trouble, this time with the Thunderbolts. And, really, that’s all that goes on here. Jessica escapes from Madame Hydra, spends a couple days recuperating from her injuries, turns herself in, and is confronted by the Thunderbolts, who have come to Madripoor to retrieve her.

The comparative lack of action here is a letdown after the tense and unsettling psychodrama between Jessica and Madame Hydra in issues 3 and 4, but I think that’s how I’m supposed to feel about it. Every good noir has a sequence where the plot stops moving, the exposition gets heavy, and then the guys with guns kick down the door and things get started again. Bendis captures that moment of fatalistic calm nicely in this issue; Jessica’s attempt to stare down a police inspector feels as futile as Sergeant James’ excursion beyond the Green Zone in The Hurt Locker. As Spider-Woman, Jessica’s useless when confined to the boundaries of the law (even in a place like Madripoor), and the cultural barrier between white super-heroine and Asian desk cop might as well be uncrossable for all the good it does either of them.

Jolynn Carpenter, Alex Maleev's model for Jessica Drew

...and Jolynn Carpenter, the woman behind the mask.

Art-wise, Alex Maleev continues to fit the book perfectly. His work is all grit and heavy ink, with very few bright moments. Plus, he’s one of the Marvel artists who’s upfront about his use of models, and Jolynn Carpenter provides Maleev with plenty to work from– her facial expressions are evocative and her poses are actually plausibly within the realm of normal. I feel like there’s more to the interior art than just “hey, look, Spider-Tits,” even if the covers are a bit gratuitous at times, and that’s a nice feeling to have from a comic.

All around, it’s a solid effort, even if it is really just 22 pages of getting people from point A to point B for the next big fight scene. Sometimes, that’s all you really need, but I can’t help wishing for a little more tension in this issue.