Letter 44 25 (May 2016)

Letter 44 #25

I think I just read my last issue of Letter 44, at least as a monthly. I’m not one hundred percent, but I’m a lot closer than I’ve been. Because this issue is where Soule shows just how good he is at dragging it all out. He’s really good at the pacing, bringing in just about everyone for this issue. There’s scene after scene with the Builders, the astronauts, the President, the reporter from a few issues ago. Then there’s this really manipulative cliffhanger and I just don’t care.

There needs to be a point to all the manipulation and there’s not. At least if Soule stuck with the Christian allegory stuff, he’d be doing something. Instead, he’s treading water. Lots of scenes, lots of exposition, a couple big pointless scenes (like the first one in the comic). If he can’t even work up enthusiasm for the story, why read it?

Letter 44 has always had one big disconnect–Soule’s a much better writer than Alburquerque is an artist. The book is all Soule. It’s a Soule-ful book, one might say.

Wokka wokka.

It’s not like Alburquerque swoops in and ups the art game to save it. The book’s wandered around too much, the characters are all jerks, who cares if the world blows up; at least they’d stop being jerks.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

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Letter 44 24 (April 2016)

Letter 44 #24

Reading Letter 44, I always wonder, with this issue be my last. Will Soule or Alburquerque do something I just can’t get onboard with. Usually, it’s never anything seismic so I get over it (Alburquerque’s Roman centurion garb for future soldiers) but Soule is tripling down with the religious “message” here. Message gets quotation marks because who cares if the whole thing is just God’s messengers saving some of humanity.

I mean, if I wanted to read some sci-fi along those lines, there’s always the Arthur C. Clarke Rama series of books. Soule doesn’t bring anything to the genre (Christian sci-fi). Even though he does get back to his “West Wing” knock-off a little bit, but it’s been too long. Letter 44 doesn’t get by on charm or ingenuity anymore. I read it because I’m a Letter 44 reader.

And this issue will not be my last. But the next one might be. It’s just too much. Soule’s drained all the humanity from the comic. It’s a bunch of scenes with people you sort of remember caring about at one point.

Oddly, the most startling thing about the issue isn’t the crucifixion imagery or the Jesus imagery… it’s Tupac cameoing in a flashback set in January 2004. Tupac, of course, died in September 1996. Maybe there’s a sci-fi God in the Letter 44 universe, which is fine, but if you’re going to bring in Tupac for a terribly edited cameo, make him surviving part of the comic.

Otherwise, teach the editor of the book how to use Wikipedia. Or Google. Or even Bing. Ask Siri. I don’t know. Something. Edit this book. It’s too late to fix it, but editing would still help a lot.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 23 (February 2016)

Letter 44 #23

Soule has turned Letter 44 into a metaphor for space Jesus. It’s not a subtle metaphor. There are no subtle metaphors in Letter 44 anymore. There’s nothing subtle. And, as I read it from that resignation, the issue does amuse. Soule doesn’t push me off the book. He’s not too lazy, he’s not too obvious.

Because there is a lot going on in Letter 44 and Soule does keep it organized in a very understandable way. Soule’s storytelling techniques are still on display, just no engaging plotting ones. There’s nothing fresh about the series anymore. The plot developments no longer surprise.

Alburquerque’s art actually manages to be ambitious when Soule’s script doesn’t. Alburquerque tries to have the characters give performances. It’s not entirely successful but it’s energy. Letter 44 is on autopilot.

As usual, autopilot or not, I’ll be back for more, because Soule can impress. He can do excellent work. He’s done it on Letter 44. I want to read more of it because it’s good; I want it on Letter 44 because I miss being excited to read this book. It used to be a thrill and now I dread it.

And then end up not minding it as much as I thought I would.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 22 (January 2016)

Letter 44 #22

Oh, come on. First of all, Alburquerque has seemingly forgotten how to draw President Blades. He who was the protagonist of Letter 44 when it seemed like it was going to be a better comic book. It’s distracting, Alburquerque forgetting, because it makes Blades seem even less like himself. Given he’s President over World War III after starting as an Obama stand-in, Soule and the book need everything they can get to try to convince the reader its the same character.

Because, really, Letter 44 feels like a TV show with a completely different tone in the second season. Except it’s been Soule. And this issue might be where he finally jumps the shark. After a sturdy and encouraging start, the book has descended into a mix of sci-fi tropes, but well applied. Until this issue. Soule throws out logic (oh, yeah, there was some science at the beginning too, right?) and goes for the melodrama.

Only, since none of these characters act the same or even look the same, there’s no melodrama to be had. It feels like a dumb soap opera and looks like a worse one. I don’t think Soule’s ever been so cheap with the characters before–Blades and the First Lady, I mean–he’s short-changed them for a dozen issues or more, but he’s never been cheap.

Until now.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 21 (November 2015)

Letter 44 #21

Even with a fill-in artist (Ryan Kelly), Soule sticks to the Letter 44 standards. It’s a flashback issue, so he does a couple characters. It’s Letter 44 so there’s a lame cliffhanger.

The series didn’t always have lame cliffhangers. It used to have characters. When it had characters, those cliffhangers worked. Though I don’t think this one would work regardless. It’s some painfully obvious lionizing of one of the characters. Of course, this character doesn’t appear in his own flashback–I’m not hiding the name, I just can’t remember it–until those last few, bad pages. Otherwise, it’s good. The whole issue’s pretty good.

Kelly’s art matches the book’s unfortunate, cartoonish style, but Kelly’s got his composition and depth figured out. There are detail problems, but no visual flow ones.

Besides the lionized guy, the other flashback is the mission astronomer. How did he get on the mission and so on. It’s interesting to compare to the army guy’s flashback because the latter is all about the recruiter, not the recruited. It’s a nice contrast and Soule takes them both seriously.

Clearly, Soule cares about Letter 44, which is what always makes it so frustrating when it never manages to boil above the mediocre level anymore.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Ryan Kelly; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 20 (September 2015)

Letter 44 #20

It’s all right. I mean, Soule is still carting the Dubya analogue around–turning him into a Bond villain, which (thanks to Alburquerque’s art) comes off like a cartoon. Not in a good way.

And Soule borrows quite a bit from every sci-fi book and movie where the Earth is faced with imminent disaster. Alburquerque hurts the more visual of those moments. Letter 44 has passed the point where I think about how Soule’s better scenes would play with better art. The last scene, though, the “surprise”–which might get Soule another ten issues out of the comic, which is incredible since this one was pretty solidly ready to go as the penultimate–it would be nice to see it with better art.

The most annoying thing about the issue is how much Soule utilizes his better parts of the comic book, only he doesn’t use them–the characters–he reminds the readers they cared about them. The first lady, whose own story arc was inexplicably flushed, pops up for a visual gag and it all of a sudden makes Letter 44 so much more engaging. It’s mercenary, obvious, but competent. It’s part of the cover price.

Like I said, it’s all right. I’ll complain about Soule writing half a comic with two and a half times too much story, I’ll complain about the art–which never will sync properly with the book–but I’ll be back every issue. Because Letter 44 hasn’t given up, even after the point its clear it isn’t going to hit big or get optioned by Hollywood. It won’t be the zeitgeist, it won’t be a series I go back and reread in ten years. But it’ll be a comic I fondly remember reading when it came out.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 19 (August 2015)

Letter 44 #19

This issue of Letter 44 has a couple surprises. One of them is a surprise for a character–the reader having a surprise regarding that same character just a few pages before–the other is a surprise for the reader. So I guess three surprises near the end of the issue.

Soule’s got to do what he can to keep the interest going.

I’m not even being sarcastic. Even though this issue is better than usual–in all respects (Alburquerque’s final reveal page is hideous, however)–it’s still not back to the series’s original standards. Soule does give the President a little more to do here, but he still relies far too much on the Bush analogue. That guy isn’t an interesting character. Soule’s trying hard to make him driven insane by his principles but he can’t sell it.

So some interest is good. Even competently if manipulatively executed interest.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 18 (July 2015)

Letter 44 #18

There’s a distressing glibness to this issue of Letter 44. Soule’s pushed so far past the reasoned, “West Wing” with aliens gimmick, he’s actually managed to bring the series out on the other side. Soule’s lost the verisimilitude. The comic might not need it, but it sure made Letter 44 a lot more ambitious.

The stuff Soule’s doing here? A “rematch” between the United States and Germany over World War II? It’s lame. For a number of reasons. Not least of which is Alburquerque doesn’t get any time with the battle. It’s done in summary. It’s a silly detail drug out.

At the same time, the space stuff is better this issue. A lot better, even with some lame characters and not great art.

Letter 44 has become an amusing comic book. It’s not fulfilling its potential. It’s still okay. It’s good to have some solid genial reads out there.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 17 (June 2015)

Letter 44 #17

I wish Soule would slow down. This issue of Letter 44 coasts through–I also wish Alburquerque would get better. Even if he didn’t get better overall, on his full page spreads; if only he would get better at those pages. Because Soule loves using them for emphasis and the art on them doesn’t work out.

This issue has the most with the President in a while, but not enough. Soule’s split of plots–the President, the old President, the space mission–skips the most interesting for the least. And the least is the space stuff; Soule is drawing everything out but the adventures of the crew as they quietly deceive one another is boring. The political stuff is decent, the former President’s stuff not as much (Soule frames flashbacks in an interview).

Letter 44 is losing its toughness, losing Soule’s willingness to offend to provoke critical reaction.

Too bad.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 16 (May 2015)

Letter 44 #16

I really hope the Builders didn’t build the Chandelier to zap a huge asteroid about to hit Earth, saving us from extinction when all we could do was imagine we needed to war against these benevolent visitors.

Because it would be really lazy writing from Soule and this issue of Letter 44 isn’t lazy. The art’s still got problems and Soule’s soft cliffhanger is goofy, but everything else is rather solid. It’s just hard to adjust to it, because–after jumping forward in time last issues–Soule sort of waited until this issue to continue the story he started the series with.

He’s got a fun scene for the President and a truly awesome one for the first lady. Alburquerque really drops the ball on the latter.

It’s not a perfect issue. It’s rushed, both in terms of the narrative and the art. The cliffhanger. But it’s often quite good.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler (May 2015)

rid.pngMost Bat-fans glorify and self-identify with The Joker, but in actuality the average DC Comics fanboy is closer to The Riddler: needy, nerdy, narcissistic and way too smug about the lifetime of meaningless trivia they’ve accumulated.

That said, I love the guy. His gimmick is basically self-sabotage disguised as grandiosity. He’s every overweight dork in jean shorts and a fedora who just spent six months in the gym and studying how to be a Pickup Artist, whose core of vicious insecurity is barely inches below his flamboyantly confident new exterior. There’s a neurotic underdog aspect to his criminal insanity, as opposed to the anarchist self-indulgence or melodramatic tragedy of so many other Batman villains.

Chuck Dixon’s 1995 origin story Questions Multiply the Mystery formally introduced this angle on Edward Nygma, and it’s a real pity it wasn’t included in this first official Riddler “greatest hits” trade paperback. Why not? Where also is the other key Riddler appearance of the modern era, Neil Gaiman’s deft little post-modern 1989 tale When is a Door? Essentially a monologue by an aged, wistful Riddler, he reflects on how everything in Gotham’s gotten so grim and gritty of late and there doesn’t seem to be a place anymore for super-criminals like him who just want to have some goofy fun – rather than rack up a body count. A simple observation, but the entire key to Riddler’s role in a post-Dark Knight Returns world: compared to the rest of Batman’s increasingly depraved Rogue’s Gallery, Eddie is relatively something of a gentleman.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler doesn’t include either of those gems, or even a single story from 1984 to 2006. As if there wasn’t a decent Riddler comic for 22 years! Absent any apparent legal reprinting issues, this yawning historical gap seems to have been caused simply by editorial ambivalence. The laziness is there at first glance, from the recycled New 52 cover art to the title – who’s “Batman Arkham”? I gather the idea that the collection is akin to a trip to the E. Nygma cell at Arkham Asylum, but there’s not even an introduction describing the character’s legacy, let alone some “Heh, heh, heh! Welcome to Arkham, kiddies!” kind of Cryptkeeper curtain-opener. Of the 14 compiled issues, the first 9 are from the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of DC and that alone probably makes the book worthwhile overall, especially for Riddler’s 1948 debut by Bill Finger & Dick Sprang, and 1960s revival by Gardner Fox.

The Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler from 1966 is a particularly memorable bit of introspective villain psychoanalysis: Riddler decides to stop leaving riddles and just be a normal thief, only to discover his addictive obsession won’t let him quit. A definitive story, but its inclusion is probably chance. Why, for instance, if you’re only going to reprint two Riddler stories from the whole decade of the 1970s, wouldn’t you want to include the one that Neal Adams drew? It’s like they were picked at random. Even the modern age choices feel arbitrary – like an abysmal 2007 Paul Dini issue of Detective Comics which is primarily a Harley Quinn timewaster using Edward Nygma as mere supporting player. No respect. How appropriate.

The contemporary stuff isn’t all bad, however. Scott Snyder & Ray Fawkes’ 2013 Riddler one-shot Solitaire is the only Batman comic I’ve read since the Animated Series spinoffs to build thoughtfully on the conception of Edward Nygma as a conceited intellectual who doesn’t realize he’s also a lunatic.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler is far from the ideal compendium for one of Batman’s oldest, most unique and iconic adversaries, but asks a fair enough price for all his earliest classic battles of wits in one volume.

CREDITS

Writers, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, David Vern Reed, Len Wein, Don Kraar, Doug Moench, Paul Dini, Peter Calloway, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Charles Soule; artists, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Springer, John Calnan, Irv Novick, Carmine Infantino, Don Newton, Don Kramer, Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Dennis Calero; editor, Rachel Pinnelas; publisher, DC Comics.

Letter 44 15 (April 2015)

Letter 44 #15

Well. Soule jumps three months ahead in Letter 44 and entirely skips anything with the regular President. The former President (you know, Bush) is running the war against America from Europe, which is kind of funny. Wonder if he eats Freedom Fries. It’s kind of bad, kind of not. Soule is using up all his stockpiled good will, especially since Alburquerque’s art has somehow gotten worse.

There’s some flashback to the discovery of the aliens and it’s boring. I think it’s basically the trailer from Contact. Or maybe The Arrival. And when Soule gets back to outer space, it reminds of Arthur C. Clarke and so on. The astronauts are now in an alien zoo.

The space stuff is definitely more interesting than the Earth stuff, but it’s still stretching thin. Hopefully Soule will figure out something to do with the comic, because Letter 44 seems aimless at this point.

CREDITS

Dark Matter, Part One; writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 14 (February 2015)

Letter 44 #14

It’s a fairly decent fill-in issue on Letter 44. Drew Moss guest illustrates a flashback to before the mission issue. Soule recaps the relationship between Overholt and Willets; I don’t remember them on the mission. Soule expects a lot from his monthly readers. Letter 44 isn’t written for the trade in terms of plotting, but definitely in the details.

Moss’s art is nearly okay. It could be stronger in a lot of places, but it moves reasonably well. Willets, the enlisted mechanic savant, asks too many questions about Project Monolith and gets in trouble. Overholt is around to help him out. Neither have much character depth and Soule overdoes the military dialogue. He has to overdo it, actually. Otherwise the issue wouldn’t work.

Between Soule’s thoughtfulness and deliberate storytelling–and Moss’s amiable, if lacking, art–the issue’s fine. The plot and revealations aren’t compelling, but don’t need to be.

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Drew Moss; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

She-Hulk 12 (April 2015)

She-Hulk #12

Well, there’s quite a bit to the last issue of She-Hulk, where Soule reveals the great conspiracy but not the paralegal’s secret. The conspiracy has to do with magic and some other stuff and Soule assumes the reader remembers small details from eight issues ago. Not enough expository reminding and it affects how the issue reads.

Of course, Pulido’s art also affects the issue’s reading experience, simply because he’s not doing very much. Most of the issue takes place in the middle of nowhere North Dakota. Even when Pulido does have scenery, he doesn’t do much with it. The whole thing–even if Soule and Pulido intentionally wanted to focus on the characters–feels rushed.

And the resolution isn’t much of a pay-off. It answers all the questions, but it’s a pat resolution.

Soule and Pulido close genially enough. She-Hulk’s been mostly amusing and occasionally awesome.

CREDITS

Final Verdict; writer, Charles Soule; artist, Javier Pulido; colorist, Muntsa Vicente; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Jeanine Schaefer; publisher, Marvel Comics.

She-Hulk 11 (February 2015)

She-Hulk #11

Well. A She-Hulk versus Titania issue. With Volcana thrown in for good measure. It’s sort of fun, seeing Pulido do a huge fight sequence. He uses double-page spreads, half double-page spreads; it all looks pretty great.

Unfortunately, even though Soule likes writing Titania’s banter, there’s nothing to the issue. It’s an all action issue without a gimmick. Pulido drawing the fight is fine, but they end up in the middle of nowhere, which is safer for collateral damage… and visually boring. Pulido’s looking at how the fight mechanics work between the two of them. And it just makes the whole thing a little tired.

Of course the mystery bad guy is going to hire Titiana. Who else would he hire?

And there’s no real pay-off with the final reveal because Soule takes the moment away from the regular cast. It’s amusing, but thin. It’s all thin.

B- 

CREDITS

Titanium Blues; writer, Charles Soule; artist, Javier Pulido; colorist, Muntsa Vicente; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Jeanine Schaefer; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Letter 44 13 (December 2014)

Letter 44 #13

Soule frames the issue around a speech from the President, revealing the existence of the aliens. He’s also got some scenes in space–the majority of those scenes are useless by the end of the issue–and some earthbound political intrigue.

He also has the United States and Germany going back to war and nothing happens from it. It’s an exceptionally interesting idea, one with a lot of promise, but Soule just uses Germany as this little group of villains. It’s a strange misstep, given how smart the rest of Soule’s political intrigue usually goes.

And the stuff in space isn’t great. The issue has some of Alburquerque’s best art at the beginning during a boxing match, but then the encounter with the aliens is poorly illustrated. There’s no depth or perspective to the art.

As for the aliens… Hopefully Soule has something more going than what he does here.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 12 (November 2014)

Letter 44 #12

Soule does an agitating bridging issue–sort of a ramping up of certain things. He resolves a storyline–the two soldiers in Afghanistan–while teasing things to come. There’s a bit with the First Lady, less with the President, a little bit with Germany (in his only conceptual misstep, Soule writes the German chancellor as a power hungry psychopath, just like their most famous chancellor). The outer space stuff is incidental… if it weren’t for the text recap, I might have forgotten about the baby being in crisis.

But as an agitating issue, Soule’s focus is to keep the reader interested while delaying giving them anything. The First Lady threatens her foe… not particularly engaging. The President just looks dumbfounded. The German chancellor comes off as dumb. Only the soldier scenes resonate and then they’re over done.

Alburquerque is rather lazy with composition this issue. His pacing is all wrong.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

She-Hulk 10 (January 2015)

She-Hulk #10

Soule wraps up the Captain America story rather nicely. The story doesn’t really belong in a She-Hulk comic, just because it doesn’t have anything to do with Jen (not the explanation of the past nor the current lawsuit, which is just a red herring) but it’s a good Marvel universe story. Soule manages to correct the story arc’s trajectory; it helps he’s sincere.

Even though trial scenes–along with the explanatory flashback–take up the majority of the issue, Soule gets in a rather good postscript (or two) to the courtroom stuff. It almost reads like Soule thanking the reader for enjoying the story with he and Pulido. It’s a good finish, even though it gets a little cute as far as the composition flourishes.

Unfortunately, the cliffhanger suggests Soule’s returning to his–and the series’s–least successful plot line. Who knows, maybe he’ll pull it off after all.

B 

CREDITS

The Good Old Days, Conclusion; writer, Charles Soule; artist, Javier Pulido; colorist, Muntsa Vicente; letterer, Gus Pillsbury; editor, Jeanine Schaefer; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Letter 44 11 (October 2014)

Letter 44 #11

Soule goes a little nuts with his application of Murphy’s law this issue. There’s a great scene where the President’s former chief of staff–recovering, somewhat, from his attack–lays out the President’s options and there aren’t many (or any). Things are going from bad to worse for the First Lady too, not to mention the soldiers in Afghanistan and then the astronauts.

It’s a great issue in a lot of ways, with Soule letting the reader know, decisively, bad things are going to happen. It’s sometimes hard to remember how serious the comic would be with a different artist; Alburquerque adds a certain cartoonish quality overall (and, again, way too much with those goofy soldier costumes) so there’s a bit of a disconnect.

As for where the comic can go… Soule’s gimmick (Obama, Bush, aliens) is over. He’s into his own territory now and he’s doing quite well there.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

She-Hulk 9 (December 2014)

She-Hulk #9

The trial of Steve Rogers continues and… Soule fumbles it. There’s no other word for how he handles She-Hulk defending Captain America in a civil suit against Daredevil. He fumbles it.

Because there’s the accusation against Steve Rogers and then there are two possibilities–one, Soule is going for a Mark Millar/Brian Michael Bendis “break the Internet in half” crap on Captain America, which seems unlikely (so his responsibility is just to make it seem possible) or, two, he’s going to drag out the courtroom stuff and reveal Captain America had a great, valiant plan up his sleeve the whole time.

It’s hard to dislike the comic, just because the beginning court scenes are so good (before Soule reveals too much with Matt and Jennifer having an entirely unprofessional chat) and because Pulido’s art is so strong. He does wonders with the courtroom scenes.

But it’s dramatically tepid.

C+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Javier Pulido; colorist, Muntsa Vicente; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Jeanine Schaefer; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Letter 44 10 (September 2014)

Letter 44 #10

It's an okay issue. It's not a great one, probably not even a good one. Soule coasts on a lot of good will and a lot of promise of what's to come–misunderstandings with the aliens, possible American-backed terrorism, the First Lady stepping out for a vote–and he doesn't actually do much here.

In addition to the promise, there's also a lot of action art from Alburquerque–and more of his lame futuristic army armor. There's energy to the art, but very little control and the sequences become visually boring rather quickly. Alburquerque can't do the big reveals in Soule's script either. He's got two, one physically small, one physically large, and both of them completely bomb.

Letter 44 is about big events and small events… Soule tries too hard to big events this issue. Telling it small doesn't do any good. It's a way too manipulative issue as it turns out.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 9 (August 2014)

Letter 44 #9

Soule has a big cliffhanger at the end and a bunch of little ones throughout. He lets his subplots thread out even further and some of these threads practically establish them as their own plot lines. For instance, who would have thought the previous President ever would have been such a big character?

I think I said before Letter 44 would be just as interesting without the aliens and the science fiction aspect–the MacGuffin–because the way Soule plays things on Earth are just phenomenal. He’s adding layer after layer to the characters and their relationships and flushing readers’ expectations of where the story might go.

As for the sci-fi element, Soule initially seems to be rushing things this issue but then it does turn out he has a plan. He wants to have two big cliffhangers and an even bigger final one.

Letter 44 is an aggravatingly compelling comic book.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

She-Hulk 8 (November 2014)

She-Hulk #8

Soule pulls one over on the reader. It’s a beautiful job of it too, because he sets the reader up and then distracts him or her from the inevitable.

She-Hulk takes Captain America’s case–except it’s old Captain America, Steve Rogers in his nineties. They’re off to L.A. to the hearings and so on and there’s a lot of setup with the cast members and with She-Hulk. Soule writes old Steve Rogers as a special guest star, but an old man of one. He’s presented entirely from Jennifer’s perspective. It’s not just a great guest star, it’s an exceptional way of handling a guest star.

Especially for a Marvel comic.

The Pulido art is essential for the whole thing, but specifically for making Jennifer’s arrival in Los Angeles distracting enough to hide the foreshadowed reveal. Pulido’s composition for those scenes, told in summary and often silently, is outstanding.

It’s great stuff.

A- 

CREDITS

The Good Old Days, Part One; writer, Charles Soule; artist, Javier Pulido; colorist, Muntsa Vicente; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Jeanine Schaefer; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Letter 44 8 (July 2014)

Letter 44 #8

Soule and Letter bounce back big time with an outstanding issue, both for the President and the astronauts on the Clarke. It’s a rocky start, given Alburquerque’s goofy body armor designs. The President has loosed all the futuristic weaponry to get the troops out of the Middle East and Afghanistan; Alburquerque makes the armor look like golden suits of armor. Knight armor. It’s almost like an “SNL” skit set at a Medieval Times.

But it’s easily forgivable because of the political stuff, not to mention Soule’s alternate history doesn’t even need to go with alien invasion and his handling of the politics and world events would still make for a great comic.

As for the space ship, the Clarke, investigating the aliens? It’s mostly character stuff, but deftly done. Soule encourages the reader–in space and on Earth–to question characters motivations and actions. Letter 44 is special because of that approach.

A 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 7 (June 2014)

Letter 44 #7

Joëlle Jones fills in on art this issue–a flashback to the early oughts when the long distance space shuttle program is getting started up. Her style resembles the regular art, but there’s something different about it. She draws all of her characters the same age; they all look like they’re in their early twenties.

So it looks a little like “Beverly Hills 90210,” because they’re all devastatingly good looking too.

Soule splits the issue between two characters; frankly, if they’re in the current timeline on the series, Soule’s not doing a good job establishing his characters because they seem totally independent from the series so far. Maybe the cast just isn’t memorable enough.

One of them is an anthropologist or archeologist with personal problems, the other is a geologist with debt problems. It’s not an exciting issue but Soule successfully maintains Letter 44 as realistic sci-fi. It’s thoroughly solid filler.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Joëlle Jones; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Shawn DePasquale; editors, Charlie Chu and Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 6 (April 2014)

Letter 44 #6

Alburquerque definitely does better on the art this issue. There’s not much action; there’s some running, when the landing party returns to the spaceship, and they don’t look good but there’s no other action.

Soule deals with the political stuff and the human interest story for the crew of the spaceship. The President has a really good scene and there are a few developments with the space side, but nothing significant on the latter. Or the former, really. Soule is sort of soft resetting the series, getting it ready for the next arc. It’s unclear why this issue is the end of an arc, however. Things have changed, yes, but the character development is all forced.

Still, there are some decent moments and a couple surprises. The surprises aren’t great, but one is for the characters so Soule is at least thinking about them.

It’s just an artificial pause point.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Shawn DePasquale; editors, Charlie Chu and Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 5 (March 2014)

Letter 44 #5

It’s the first issue with a lot of action, both on Earth and in space. Alburquerque doesn’t do well with either. His figures in motion don’t work. He gets so rushed, people become squatter from one panel to the next. It’s unfortunate, especially because the awkwardness affects the pace of the comic.

All the action distracts from a decided lack of character and plot development. Soule reveals what the FBI has been working on, but it seems–so far anyway–an excuse to tread water through an issue to change up the cast a little. There’s a little fallout from the previous issue’s political cliffhanger, but it’s a couple pages and nothing really happens. Good line for the President, not much else.

On the space side of the story, things are worse. Soule ignores most of the astronauts and concentrates on the two exploring. The scientist explorer makes some really dumb moves.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Shawn DePasquale; editors, Charlie Chu and Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 4 (February 2014)

Letter 44 #4

Soule scores big with this issue. He's got a lot of political machinations going on with the President's story–a duplicitous subordinate and then an eerie Lady Macbeth vibe off the first lady–and Soule delivers on them. He doesn't build them up and make the reader wait, he takes care of it in this issue.

But then he's got the space story too and while there's a human component to it as well, Soule finally goes from fact-based science fiction to regular science fiction. Or at least more fantastical science fiction. It's the first time he and Alburquerque try it and it's a definite success. It serves as one of the issue's two hard cliffhangers; while it gets overshadowed by the political plot line, it's well-executed turn.

As for the human side of the space mission, Soule has an unexpected event there as well. Along with–possibly–a Right Stuff homage.

A- 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Shawn DePasquale; editor, Jill Beaton; publisher, Oni Press.

Letter 44 3 (January 2014)

Letter 44 #3

Soule ups the intrigue this issue. Not so much out on the Clarke as they investigate the alien presence–though there is an ominous asteroid to explore–but on Earth. Soule concentrates on the political intrigue and it’s really effective.

Cynically speaking, one could describe Letter 44 as a mix of Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton and Arthur C. Clarke. This comic is only indie because the industry can’t figure out what to do with an accessible title. And Soule goes out of his way not to just make it accessible, but also enjoyable. There are at least two great comic moments in this issue.

Alburquerque’s art is getting better too. It steadily rises throughout the issue; the big shock panel at the end is actually half excellent and half mediocre. He has movement down, but not how to deal with detail in movement.

The comic is a slow, strong burn.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Charles Soule; penciller, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Guy Major; letterer, Shawn DePasquale; editor, Jill Beaton; publisher, Oni Press.

She-Hulk 7 (October 2014)

She-Hulk #7

Oh, look, all She-Hulk needs is for Soule to not cop out on a story and for Pulido to come back on the art and the issue's outstanding.

In fact, Soule probably could have gotten away with dragging this story out over two issues except Jen can do the Hulk jumps. It's the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids homage I never knew I was waiting for, with Jen and Patsy shrinking down (with Hank Pym) to rescue a scientist hiding in his backyard. There's a lot of action, a lot of humor and then a huge argument between Jen and Patsy over Jen's willingness to trust.

The Pulido art is fantastic throughout, whether he's breaking out talking heads or he's doing the She-Hulk versus cats sequence. I'm pretty sure there's further homage (Incredible Shrinking Man?) in those panels.

Then Soule wraps it up, sets up the next issue. Easy, right?

B+ 

CREDITS

Small Victories; writer, Charles Soule; artist, Javier Pulido; colorist, Muntsa Vicente; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editors, Jeanine Schaefer and Sana Amanat; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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