Last Week's Reviews
We got so caught up in List craziness that we goofed and forgot about last week's reviews! Check em out.

Journey Into Mystery #632
-Publisher: Marvel Comics
-Writer: Kieron Gillen
-Penciler: Mitch Breitweiser

And now for something completely different, the Christmas (err Yule) tale of a young god of mischief and his demonic hell puppy. Ever since the last volume of Thor was rebranded as Journey Into Mystery, shifting its focus to the newly resurrected young Loki under the guidance of rising star Kieron Gillen, I've heard nothing but critical praise and fan buzz regarding this book. I'm kicking myself for holding out so long.

This book is unlike any of it's mainstream contemporaries. It's not a superhero book, make not mistake, this is a straightforward fantasy tale set firmly in the Marvel Universe. As a promoted jumping on point, Gillen does a good job of orienting readers to the ongoing subplots and major themes of the series. Gillen portrays Loki as a tragic character, despised by all, fighting his own nature and the expectations of everyone around him, and doing the right thing in the worst possible way. The particular holiday task set before him this issue is as twisted as it is heartwarming and adds a new character to the supporting cast, one I am already onboard with even after this briefest of introductions.

Mitch Breitweiser's pencils have a scratchy quality that suits the fantasy story book feel of this book. However Breitweiser designs of some of the more fantastical elements of Asgardian lore are somewhat lacking when compared to those of Ferry and Coipel who illustrate the main Thor title.

Believe the hype, this title is as good as its fanatical devotees on comic message boards all over the internet say it is, and after just one issue, I can see that their praise is well deserved.
Grade: A-

Ultimate X-Men #4
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Paco Medina

This book continues to squander an immense amount of potential. I truly believe that firing on all cylinders this book could be at the top of the list of Marvel's best selling and most critically acclaimed titles. However, the actual execution leaves a lot to be desired. As its predecessors did, this issue feels scattered, heavy in all the wrong places, and suffers from some sloppy printing mistakes.

The scenes that focus on Reverend Stryker really only scratch the cliched surface of the religious undertones of this series. I was much more interested in these themes a few issues back where agents on both sides of the mutant/human conflict claimed that God had spoken directly to them assuring them He was on their side. What we get this issue is copy/paste religious zealotry and backstory that was already explained or easy to infer. The book feels like it's dragging, a pacing problem that is underscored by the fact that Quicksilver, whose power is super speed is still having the same conversation he began four issues ago.

Spencer's true strength lies in the interaction of the core cast members. Tensions finally come to a boil in a confrontation between Kitty Pryde and Johnny Storm that is undoubtedly the highlight of the issue and indicative of just how good this series could be. Kitty's position is understandable given what these characters have endured recently, watching almost everyone they cared about die a brutal terrible death. Johnny is almost uncharacteristically harsh, but his words come from a place of pain, having been unable to save his best friend and finally fed up with Kitty's new isolationist attitude. As a non-mutant Johnny doesn't have a horse in this race, and could walk away at any time. Like Kitty, he stays out of loyalty to his friends, and an innate heroic nature. And while Kitty cites Peter's death as an example of why the group should remain in hiding, it is Johnny who has clearly taken to heart the core principle of Peter's life.

Paco Medina's art, while a little clean for such bleak subject matter remains top notch. I wish he would put a little more flair into the design of powered up Johnny and Bobby as both of their elemental forms look a bit minimalist and generic. He handles the emotional standoff between Johnny and Kitty with ease, as well as Kitty's later meltdown. It's unfortunate that a printing error caused the colors to run over the inks on some pages, giving certain sequences an soft focus look that really wasn't warranted.

While some writers can handle the type of expansive focus that Spencer is attempting with this book, he seems to be struggling to keep so many balls in play given the 22 page restrictions of a monthly book. I have enough faith in Spencer's abilities to find his footing as his story progresses, but as of right now this series would be a lot better if Spencer devoted more page time to the core cast.
Grade: C+

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 #4
Writer: Andrew Chambliss
Artist: Georges Jeanty
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

The conclusion to the first arc of season 9 is nowhere near as explosive or jaw dropping as the first arc of its predecessor or that of it's sister title Angel & Faith. It's still a very solid issue, but is perhaps suffering from the fact that Buffy is now an ongoing property and therefore can't afford to pull out all the stops on every issue and arc.

While I was a fan of some of the more outlandish elements of Season 8, I will say that Season 9 has definitely benefitted from Whedon and Chambliss's decision to strike a more grounded tone. I'm especially a fan of the passive aggressive continued tension between Buffy and Willow, brought to a head this issue by a threat that almost put Buffy on equal footing with the depowered Willow. The ongoing will they/won't they between Buffy and Spike is brought to the forefront this issue moreso than it has been in previous issues, just as a possible new love interest for the titular heroine is introduced.

It would seem that Spike is handling his attraction for the slayer in a much more mature fashion this time around. In fact maturity is a watchword that could be applied to most of the supporting cast as Chambliss seems to be highlighting just how much everyone around Buffy has grown at a time where she is still spinning her wheels. This further emphasizes the real life metaphor grounding this season, of that aimless time in your mid-twenties post college where it seems like everyone except you has their lives figured out.

I was a little disappointed with how easily the big bad of this arc was dispatched and the reveal of who was pulling his strings was equally underwhelming. This was an interesting new character with a sympathetic origin who could have easily become an ongoing foil for the Slayer and her allies. The manner in which he was dispatched also highlights a core logic gap in Buffy's approach to slaying that has been present since the character's inception. If the writers can't come up with a good explanation of why Buffy doesn't incorporate certain weapons into her slaying arsenal, they should at least shy away from situations that highlight said weapons' usefulness.

Georges Jeanty still struggles with character likenesses in many places. But the consistency he brings to the book given that he has stuck with this book for over four years and does so with minimal fill-ins is a great boon to what has to be the comic with the greatest tv to comics crossover audience ever. Jeanty still feels more comfortable with the action scenes than he does with the quieter character interactions, and given that this is an action heavy issue he delivers an exceptional performance.
Grade: B
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