Wednesday Reviews – Week of February 26

 

Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand #5

  • Written by Brian Michael Bendis
  • Art by Mark Bagley
  • Published by Marvel

Finally, Age of Ultron is behind us. The biggest piece of fallout from this story was the voyage of the purple, planet-eater Galactus to Marvel’s Ultimate universe and now, we have the conclusion to the story.

Bendis is THE Ultimate writer. He has written damn near every word of Ultimate Spider-Man, on top of being the lead driving force behind these lines of books, so it is fitting that Bendis is the one to bring this universe the closest it has been to ruin. With two issues of undelivered promises death and advanced press on the next phase of Ultimate books, the tension of “Will they survive?” was cut off about halfway through the storyline. But that doesn’t stop Bendis from trying to make the reader feel like this is the end and for the most part, he succeeds. The Ultimate line has always focused on the price of sacrifice, the consequences of pissing off powerful people and that idea remains in this book.

This book doesn’t suffer from lack of tension, it suffers from too much. The ending feels rushed. As a writer, Bendis is in love with his words (and readers, more often than not, agree with his love), but while that makes Bendis one of (if not the) best dialogue writers, he just can’t seem to stick the landing on his endings. For a climax that involves Kitty Pryde sucker punching Galactus, it feels like the story is half an issue too long. Too much time spent either spinning his wheels while waiting for this Kitty/Galacty fight or stalling with some (albeit, wonderfully conceived and executed) character moments. This series had a little bit of fat to trim.

And maybe that plays into the rushed feel of Bagley’s art. Mark Bagley, the original Ultimate Spider-Man artist, has never been an event artist. His calling card has always been that he is solid, reliable and on-time and this final issues seems to be about reminding readers about that: “LOOK! This book isn’t delayed! HOORAY!” This is Kitty Pryde FIST FIGHTING GALACTUS and it doesn’t look any different than one of the 100+ issues of Bagley’s run on USM. I’d love to see Bagley given the chance, but more importantly, the time to bring his art to a Bryan Hitch level of presentation. Bagley is in no way Hitch, nor should he have to be. But he’s a diligent company man and it’d be nice to see Marvel push his work further.

Like all recent event series, the point is to look forward to what is to come. While not as Earth-shattering as the last fallout, I’m excited to see where the Ultimate world is going. Especially now that it’s not ending.

 

Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand #5 – 3 OUT OF 4 COLORS

 

The Dead Boy Detectives #3 (of 4)

  • Written by Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham
  • Art by Buckingham
  • Published by Vertigo (DC)

I’ve always liked the fringes of the Sandman universe more than I ever really did the main storyline. Now obviously, Neil Gaiman’s work is brilliant, wonderful and the cornerstone of these stories, but still, I devoured Lucifer (another Sandman spin-off, this one featuring the devil himself) faster than I ever did Sandman and my favorite issue of the main book remains #54, the Prez issue (featuring a whopping 18 panels of regular Sandman characters).

I think that makes me want to like this book more than I should.

Starring Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, both dead and ghostly at the hands of gruelling British prep schools, the story focuses on their investigation into the strange happenings surrounding a young girl named Crystal Palace, disillusioned teen daughter of two artists who view parenting as an art piece and wonder why Crystal retreats into computer games. A daring heist/murder attempt during her parents new art installation leaves Crystal almost dead and on the path to the same school that killed our boy detectives. Along the way, Charles may or may not have developed a crush on Crystal as he and Edwin move to protect her.

I stumbled upon this book when the first issue came out. The cover and concept caught my eye. The first issue was a breeze and even got me to buy the first appearance of our boy detectives in Sandman #25 (from 1991). This new mini-series may as well have been issue 26, for better or worse. They same world, the same players, the same situations and consequences that Neil Gaiman established 20+ years ago are all still neatly waiting for the boys as they return to the alma mater that killed them. Litt, a prolific British writer who co-writes the mini with artist Mark Buckingham, doesn’t rock the boat with what Gaiman introduced, but neither does he build on it, nor does he get readers up to speed on the rules he’s working with. He assumes the reader is well-versed in (and enamoured with) Gaiman’s world. This leaves some blanks spots in motivation that the reader is meant to understand and slightly deflates the tension. This is coupled with an almost timidness to expand upon the world and these new characters. It’s 75% of a really solid mini-series.

Where the book flourishes is in the art. The original origin issue of the boys was drawn by a young Matt Wagner (now a comic god). The art was good, but Mark Buckingham (one of THE pencillers from the UK and the c0-architect of Vertigo’s other big world, Fables) makes the reader connect with these characters in a way Wagner’s art never did (Wagner is meant for the proper Sandman stories). It is under Buckingham’s pencils that these characters were meant to be presented and feels like the world that Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine were always meant to explore. It is a fun world, but scary. Ghosts and demons are shrunk down to their schoolyard equivalent (a demonic plan for human souls through the filter of bullies and strict headmasters) and Buckingham makes the grotesque and scary seem ordinary and mundane, exactly what the series needs.

This is a good single issue, but it does not feel like the penultimate issue of a longer story. With one more issue, the story is going to have to rely a little too heavily on exposition to reach a satisfying conclusion, but it is a fun ride that brings us back to the world of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

 

 

The Dead Boy Detectives #3 – 2.5 OUT OF 4 COLORS

 

The Dead Boy Detectives (mini-series) – 3 OUT OF 4 COLORS