Thursday Round Up
With the exception of the final review in this series, the tag line for this week should be" "Now that's more like it." As a bunch of books that I should have loved unconditionally right from the outset finally find their footing and mesh into a symphony of awesome reads and one very satisfied week in comic reading.

The Defenders #2
-Publisher: Marvel Comics
-Writer: Matt Fraction
-Artist: Terry Dodson
Now that Matt Fraction has made proper introductions all around, he feels a little more comfortable getting weird. Thank. God. The second issue unleashes the potential of gathering a group of awesome characters who cannot support their own title under a single roof dedicated to dealing with the more bizarre side of the Marvel Universe. In this issue, the newly formed Defenders face off against Pastor John and the Knights of Wundagore all the while losing time until the demon of destruction incarnate Nul sets foot in Wundagore. Fraction displays an intuitive understanding of old favorites like Iron Fist and Namor as well as the characters he has merely touched upon in earlier works like Dr. Strange and Red She-Hulk. Fraction and Dodson deliver a complete package, deftly balancing nuanced characterization with action, huge ideas, and a healthy dose of humor. Many of the interactions are genuinely funny, especially the scene where the heroes devise a plan to escape their captors. If you want further evidence of this title's genius, check out the old school style Marvel In-House plugs at the bottom of each page into which Fraction mixes his own brand of offbeat hilarity, as well as lacing in hints regarding the broader mysteries the series will address. Terry Dodson's style is just about perfect for this title. His slick line work is well suited to the iconic characters that star in the book. Dodson infuses the action sequences with clarity and motion, and really sells the humor with character expressions and choreography.
Grade: A-

Action Comics #5
-Publisher: DC Comics
-Writer: Grant Morrison
-Artist: Andy Kubert
We've seen the Superman origin retold many times, sure. We've even seen Grant Morrison take a crack at it before. And while this particular retelling still doesn't live up to Morrison's own famous four panel origin sequence in All Star Superman (a hard feat to be sure), he still turns the well tread material into a highly engaging story and finally begins to hit the gas on a title that was beginning to feel like it was idling. Andy Kubert knocks the art out of the park and makes a strong argument for being made a permanent addition to the art team. To be honest I almost prefer his style to that of Rags Morales for a Superman title as while Morales handles the gritty realism well, he's had some trouble selling me on the Super portions of the book. Kubert handles both the fantastic final moments of Kyrpton and a quiet conversation on a Kansas backroad with the same skill and nuance. The end of the issue delivers three unexpected guest stars and one REALLY unexpected guest star and begins to hint at the mythos of this title finally expanding in a way that readers expect from a Grant Morrison comic.
Grade: B+

Uncanny X-Men #4
-Publisher: Marvel Comics
-Writer: Kieron Gillen
-Artist: Brandon Peterson
One of the things I've appreciated most about Kieron Gillen's work on Uncanny X-Men has been his tendency to cleanse pallets between big story arcs with a single issue stand alone story. Uncanny X-Men #4 follows this formula while adding to the mythology Gillen is building in this new volume of Uncanny as this issue follows up on threads left behind by the previous story arc. Most of the issue is narrated by the "extinction level threat" the X-Men fact this issue. That single narrative decision elevates this issue from what could have been forgettable and generic to unique and poignant. And while delivering an antagonist that the reader can empathize with as much as they despise in the span of a single issue would be impressive in and of itself, Gillen doesn't stop there. He also continues to sow the seeds of discomfort within the unwieldily powerful X-Men squad specifically in Colossus's eagerness to use his Juggernaut powers and in the altered somewhat disturbing way the team judges a victory. Brandon Peterson steps in as guest artist on this issue, and while his layouts are nothing to write home about, the way he handles the big action scenes that this title necessitates makes him a welcome addition to the rotating team of artists, (especially considering the number of pencillers it took to complete the previous two issues). In the span of a single issue, Gillen accomplishes far more than he did in the title's opening arc. We can only hope that this issue is indicative of the title's future.
Grade: B+

Uncanny X-Force #19.1
-Publisher: Marvel Comics
-Writer: Rick Remender
-Artist: Billy Tan
Ya know, while I usually tend to think Marvel is on point (ugh more not his pun later) with a lot of their decisions, I'm getting kinda sick of the "point one" initiative as in most cases it's kinda pointless (THERE, AS PROMISED). And I'm especially inclined to be negative towards it when it delivers the first disappointing issue of what we declared the best comic of 2011. Uncanny X-Force 19.1 proves to be little more than a prologue to and a status quo setter for the soon to launch Age of Apocalypse spinoff of this title. The goal of the Initiative was to provide an easily accessible jumping on point for Marvel titles, of which this issue does for the Age of Apocalypse upcoming series, but not for Uncanny X-Force itself. And while a follow up to the Age of Apocalypse X-Men who became integral to the dark angel storyline would have been welcome under other circumstances, this issue falls flat due to a lack of focus on the more interesting elements at play, that the X-Men may have doomed their own world to save another, and too great a focus on the new human cast that will pick up the baton once Age of Apocalypse launches, and action sequences that are too rushed to be tense or entertaining. Billy Tan delivers solid art, but may not have been the best artist to choose for a script with some really devastating emotional exchanges integral to the plot. A rare misstep from some talented creators and a usually top notch title.
Grade: B-
Tags: Defenders, Action Comics, Uncanny X-Men, Uncanny X-Force
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