Neal’s Picks

Ratings
Story: How well the issue worked as a story of its own.
Art: How well the art fit the particular story being told. Not necessarily a
measure of how “good” the art was.
Fun: An incredibly subjective measure of the number of surprises in any given
issue. Bonus points if there’s anything that makes me chuckle or gasp while
reading it. Minus points for cliches that the writer and/or artist don’t try
to do anything new with.
Continuity: How many other books you have to have read to get everything out
of it. With a “1” being a book you can pick up and everything you need to know
is between the covers, and a “5” being something that requires flowcharts or a
handbook of some kind to fully appreciate.

HIGHWAYMEN #4

HIGHWAYMEN was a really nice surprise. I picked up the first issue and was hooked before I was halfway through. If big-budget action movies were half as fast-paced, smart and all-around fun as this, Hollywood wouldn’t have to worry people showing up at the theatres.

The story centers around two retired government agents, specialized couriers, who are given one last mission by the late president Clinton. They must protect a young girl who’s also an experimental disease bomb, and get her to the Center for Disease Control to disarm her. It’s all wildly improbable, but like the best of action movies, things never slow down enough for you to
notice.

The chemistry between the leads is wonderful, and Bernardin and Freeman do a great job on the dialogue. There’s a real sense that there’s a history between these characters. The art by Lee Garbett, looking a bit like a sleeker Frank Quitely, keeps everything moving at high velocity.

Story: 4
Art: 5
Fun: 4
Continuity: 2
THE IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN #12

Robert Kirkman’s Ant-Man has felt like a doomed title since the beginning. Which is why it’s no great surprise that number twelve is the last issue. It is a shame though, as it’s been a consistently entertaining and unique book. If the Marvel philosophy is “heroes with flaws”, then Ant-Man is that taken to its logical extreme: mostly flaws with a tiny little bit of hero.

Eric O’Grady is a bastard. He’s not so much likable as watchable. And every time it seems like he’s finally growing as a person, he does something else to remind you that he’s total scum. Even so, there is a bit of redemption for the irredeemable in this last issue. But only after doing what’s either the most selfish or most noble thing he’s ever done. Or possibly both. It’s that kind of book.

Story: 4
Art: 4
Fun: 3
Continuity: 3

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY #1

Before I read this, I’d heard comparisons to DOOM PATROL and WATCHMEN.
Fortunately, those were inaccurate. I say “fortunately” because any time I read something that tries to be either of those, it just makes me wish I had spent my time re-reading the originals instead. What THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is, so far at least, is more POWER PACK by way of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS with a bit of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and HELLBOY thrown in for flavor. It’s an interesting mix.

The first issue has two things in abundance: weirdness and charm. In fact, this comic has the most deceiving cover I’ve seen in a while. On the outside, it looks like some dark, pretentious, deconstructionist sorta goth-y superhero story. When, in reality, it’s a light, playful sorta goth-y superhero story. If you’re curious, flip to the first page rather than the cover, it’s much more representative of the work.

Also, I have to say that having a rock star write a comic sounds like a really bad idea on paper. But Gerard Way more than justifies himself here. He’s got an excellent grasp of sequential storytelling and seems to really be having fun with the material. And the art by Gabriel Ba is a perfect fit to the story.

Story: 4
Art: 5
Fun: 4
Continuity: 1

In brief:

I missed out on last week’s column through a combination of a cold, realtors and lawyers. Sorry about that. But I did want to point out the excellent first issue of Mark Waid’s POTTER’S FIELD from BOOM! Studios. It’s sort of Cold Case by way of the Shadow, with the enigmatic man known as John Doe vowing to give names to the unknown dead at Hart Island, NY. Great stuff, check it out.

Aware of the recent buzz around the character, DC has brought Garth Ennis back for a two-issue JLA/HITMAN miniseries. The first issue is a bit more serious than the ongoing title used to be, but it is nice to see Tommy Monaghan and his friends again. Hopefully it will sell well enough to justify putting out the rest of the series in trade.

Also out this week is the long-delayed second issue of GUTSVILLE. It’s the story of a city inside the intestines of some impossibly large sea creature. The artist, Frazer Irving, has for some reason become the go-to guy for stories involving pale Puritans in bizarre hidden cities. It’s an odd niche, but he makes it work.