Thursday, January 14, 2010

Comic Review: G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #4 (IDW)

I should preface this review by saying that I am a moderate fan of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and of several of its tie-in comics. I mention this because it is a very divisive issue within G.I. Joe fandom, and I want anyone reading this to understand I am not merely dismissing the comic because it is tied to the Rise of Cobra universe.

G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes #4 is, quite simply, not a good G.I. Joe comic, and not a good comic period.

The art is bad. The writing is bad. The plotting is bad. It's bad. It's practically an exemplar of badness. To borrow from P. Opus, "Maybe it wasn't that bad, but Lord, it wasn't good."

And really, it isn't. A Snake-Eyes comic should, probably, prominently feature action, particularly of the ninja variety. This does, only the actual action moments are drawn with the focus so closely on faces, hands, or feet (or the meeting between faces, hands, or feet) that it is very difficult to get a sense of how the fight actually flows. There's no grace in the martial arts here. There also is not much continuity in what happens from panel to panel; one moment, an opponent is wearing an orange robe and is unarmed. The next time Snake-Eyes sees him, a few panels later, with certainly no more than a few seconds passing, he's wearing a black outfit identical to Snake-Eyes', and carrying a sword. That was a quick change. It is even worth mentioning that, in the interim, Snake-Eyes has more or less randomly sprayed bullets around in the area the opponent disappeared to? Is that something a highly trained ninja-commando does?

Later, Snake-Eyes unveils a hand-held EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) device, something which, if he has access to, would be awfully handy against enemy equipment of pretty much any kind. Going to be quite a poser when he and the rest of the Joe team do not just pop those out the next time they are staring down an attack from all that fancy, high-tech Cobra gear, no? It's not that I'm not accepting the sci-fi elements here; they've always been a part of G.I. Joe. I am not accepting that the best use of it is against a single, non-military opponent.

The writing is, as I mentioned, expository, and simplistic. In one panel, the narrative voice actually says that Snake-Eyes' "identity [is] virtually unknown...even to some members of his own team."

That's fan-fiction style. It's not professional. And neither is this comic.

IDW is doing fantastic work with the rest of its Joe titles. G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe: Origins and, especially G.I. Joe Cobra, are great. They are a breath of reviving, original, and sometimes surprisingly gritty air into an old, proud, and occasionally musty franchise that is my oldest favorite. Save your money for the next issue of any of those, or for the trade collections; don't spend it on this.

Written by Ray Park & Kevin VanHook
Drawn by Lee Ferguson

Dan Ford
Staff Reviewer

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Comic Review: Star Trek Captain’s Log: Sulu (IDW)

From IDW: Introducing a brand-new series focusing on some of the most famous Captains in Starfleet history! In the debut issue, Captain Hikaru Sulu, still new to the command of the U.S.S. Excelsior, finds himself once again face to face with one of the Federation's most dangerous and mysterious adversaries-the Tholians! From the creative team behind Spock: Reflections!

Art: Federica Manfredi provides the pencils in this issue, with colors by Andrea Priorini. The art is sufficient for the most part, although there are a few things holding it back. The pencils aren’t always crisp, which can be problematic when dealing with the lines of machinery such as the inside of the Excelsior. This also leads to some “wonky” proportions on the ship’s crewmembers, and Manfredi seems to have had difficulty deciding how old Sulu should look. Some panels have him looking a bit older than he did on Star Trek, and some have him looking like an old woman, so I would say that there’s a bit too much variation. The likeness of George Takei slips back and forth as well. One other problem area with the pencils is that there isn’t much background to speak of in some of the panels, instead just a flat color.

The colors by Priorini are a bit flat. I understand that the interior of the ship is going to be mostly grey and that everyone is going to have the same color uniform, so I don’t expect to see every color of the rainbow, but a smoother, warmer look to the colors would help with the hindered pallet.

As I stated before, the art is sufficient for the most part, and the shortcomings don’t hinder the book from being enjoyable. Besides, I’ve seen much worse from high profile artists who get paid millions of dollars to draw like they are in the 2nd grade. (I’m looking at you Chaykin and Liefeld)

Writing: This is where the issue really thrives. From the very beginning you get the sense that Scott and David Tipton know their Star Trek history. In the opening of the issue, Sulu is practicing his fencing with his first officer. At first this seemed a bit “on the nose” and too obvious since the “fencing incident” from Star Trek seems to be the most often remembered thing about Sulu. However, the principle’s and ideology behind fencing come back later on in the issue, and we realize that Sulu’s love and respect for the sport influence his own philosophy and command style. Lesser writers would have just thrown out the fencing references in a thinly veiled attempt to win over Star Trek fans, yet the Tipton’s show their writing strength by actually tying the reference into the story.

Another plus on the writing side is that this issue deals with the Tholians, rather than the better known Klingons or Romulans. Sulu recounts his own personal experiences with the Tholians to his first officer, and we see this visually through a flashback to the Star Trek episode “The Tholian Web”. Not only does this let Sulu’s first officer know what possible dangers they may be facing, but it lets any reader who isn’t familiar with the Tholians know what Sulu and crew may be up against.

While I don’t have any particular complaint against the writing itself, it is hindered by the one shot format. Since the writers had to come to the table with a “one and done” storyline, it feels a bit rushed and not fully fleshed out. The story is still well written and entertaining, I just feel that giving it two or three issues to play out would have helped it feel more dramatic.

Unfortunately this is a hindrance that will likely affect the follow Captain’s Log issues. If IDW wanted to create a new Star Trek series to highlight the different command style’s of the most decorated Captains in Starfleet history, maybe they could have formatted it differently. Perhaps instead of a series of one shots, they could have simply created a series called Star Trek: Captain’s Log. Issues one and two could have been this story expanded, with issue three starting a new story. I think that would have allowed the stories to breathe a bit more and not feel so rushed. Regardless, this is a pretty good one shot for Star Trek fans.

Written by Scott & David Tipton
Drawn by Federica Manfredi

Terry Barnhill
Staff Reviewer

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Comic Review: TRANSFORMERS #3 (IDW)

I'm coming in a few issues late to IDW's new Transformers series but I have to say that I am quite impressed with what I have seen so far. As a long time G1 fan, I am happy to see that they are using the old continuity as their springboard and Transformers #3 is full of cameos from some classic Transformers characters.

The story is set on a planet earth which has turned on all Cybertronians, Autobots and Decepticons alike, and what Transformers are left, are hiding from human task forces which hunt them down. This humans vs. Transformers theme is an interesting exploration of themes not adequately explored in previous Transformers stories.

The Autobots have broken off into two different factions, the classic faction now led by Bumblebee and a rebel faction that is teaming up with Decepticon remnants with the goal of freeing the "enslaved" Cybertronians and getting off the planet. This second faction is led by Hot Rod. Optimus Prime has turned himself in to the human officials. Newly arrived is Ultra Magnus, who (much like his Transformers Animated counterpart) is an arrogant, high-ranking official from Cybertron sent to investigate the situation.

I'm very impressed with the art on this series which is a happy middle between the blocky G1 designs as the overly-complicated movie designs. All of the characters are immediately recognizable, yet the designs have been subtly updated to modern standards of realism. IDW's Transformers series is at once a great throwback to classic Transformers and at the same time, draws the series into a new direction.

Written by Mike Costa
Drawn by Don Figueroa

Patrick Garone
Senior Reviewer

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Get a behind the scenes look at the chart-topping Astonishing X-Men Motion Comic with this all new video! Based on the acclaimed story by superstars Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and John Cassaday (Captain America), the X-Men are faced with a mysterious new villain and a possible cure for the mutant gene! Now Cyclops, Wolverine and all your favorite mutants must face the greatest threats of their lives and, before it’s all done, experience one of the most jaw-dropping moments in Marvel history!


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