Friday, July 11, 2008

Final Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/10/08

These Final Crisis Comic Book Reviews cap off an amazing week in comics. DC really brought their A game this time around and if they had weeks like this every week, they'd be closing the sales gap with Marvel in no time.

Speaking of Marvel, yesterday's review of Secret Invasion sparked some debate in the comments section. Regulars, Steven Stahl and Eric, disagreed with my review and even had me questioning my own verdict in the end. While I won't go back and change the verdict, as I don't think I should be editing out my mistakes and stand by what I wrote, I've begun to think I may have overrated the issue due to my exuberance over finally getting into the summer event.

I realize now that I'm more in love with the potential of the next issue than what actually happened in issue four. I still enjoyed Secret Invasion #4, but I want to see Hood and the villains, Captain Amercia and Thor and Agent Brand freeing Reed Richards more than I cared about Nick Fury and his Liefeld-esque gun or the random Savage Land fighting that has nothing to do with the story.

Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in yesterday's comments. Did I get it right? Did I overrate it? Was I way off the mark? Once your done with that discussion, feel free to hit the jump and check out the rest of this week's reviews!

Written by Fabian Nicieza
Art by Kevin Maguire

After a comical and highly entertaining romp throughout the first two parts of this Batgirl and Catwoman team up, the plot finally takes a giant step forward with this issue. That's not to say it's lacking in the things that made the first two issues so much fun, but there's a definite shift in focus as we finally see the makings of an actual story that ties together the fun and games of earlier issues.

Last issue ended with Catwoman sniped in the shoulder and falling off the rooftop. Batgirl, reluctantly, saves her, resulting in the two landing in a garbage bin after Batgirl slowed their fall. The inner narrative, which switches between Batgirl's and Catwoman's point of view, remains one of the best parts of these Fabian penned issues and has me hoping he'll be sticking around on this book or a mainstream Bat-title in the futrue.

Not to be outdone by Fabian are Maguire's expressive characters and masterfully laid out panels. The looks on Catwoman and Batgirl's faces at the end of the issue as Batman stands over their debacle is worth the price of admission alone.

Speaking of which, after the dumpster diving fiasco, the duo comes to terms in regards to the notebook and we see a little bit of begrudging respect for each other forming between the two girls as they plan to take down their assailant, who has them pinned down with sniper fire.

Using a flashbang, Batgirl blinds the sniper and the two take to the rooftop to find one big, mean Russian guy that almost reminds me of the Russian from Punisher with his size and resistence to pain. He manages to take down Batgirl and Catwoman's punches barely affect him. After taking the notebook from Batgirl, he makes his escape, leaving the two femme fatales to lick their wounds.

It is here that we finally find out more about the mysterious notebook and why Catwoman has been after it. Seems there's a friend of Selina's that's been kidnapped and then used and abused by the Russian mob and she was going to use the information in the Commissioners notebook to blackmail / convince a stronger faction of that mob to release the girl and take out the scum that kidnapped her.

That obviously didn't go to plan with Batgirl on her tail all night, but the two then team up to go save the girl, following the tracking device planeted in the notebook by Batgirl. It leads them to the Russians and, as expected, things go bad with that Russian sniper getting the drop on Batgirl and the Russians getting away, leaving Catwoman and Batgirl to escape from an exploding building only to find Batman standing over them and demanding to know what happened, almost like a father catching his girls doing something wrong. As I said, this scene, as brief as it is, makes this issue worthwhile for me and the fact the rest was incredibly enjoyable is just gravy on top at this point.

Verdict - Must Read. It's out of continuity and many gave up on Confidential after that Joker origin fiasco, but this is a different creative team and the story rocks. At the least, if you don't want to buy the singles, consider picking up the trade in the future.

Written by Paul Dini
Art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

Let me preface this review by saying I hated the Hush storyline by Jeph Loeb. I liked aspects of it, but the actual plot was terrible and the Hush character is underdeveloped, comes out of nowhere as the "long, lost best friend" and has no motivation for hating Bruce Wayne or Batman other than Bruce's father messed up Elliot's attempt to kill both his parents to, get this, collect his inheritance early.

That is not a villain that should know Batman's secret identity and in no way should be able to pose any challenge to him and it took a lot of consideration on my part to decide whether to even pick this issue up or not. However, I've been enjoying Dini's mostly self-contained / done-in-one work on Detective Comics and, with this being a RIP tie-in, I figured there was enough precedent to justify the purchase of a book featuring a character I absolutely hate.

Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed this issue a great deal. For those wondering, it has nothing to do with Batman RIP. I mean it. This isn't the same Batman, he's flirting with Catwoman and the only mention of anything even remotely related to Batman RIP occurs when Hush off-handedly mentions that he's heard rumblings of a Black Glove organization that is after Batman. That is actually what sparks Hush's return because he believes he is the one that should kill Batman and won't let anyone else have him.

The story is very Hush oriented and we see a lot of backstory and a fleshed out motivation for the character on Dini's part. It's not perfect and he's still a very shallow character with his current feud with Batman centered on the fact Batman's father saved Hush's mother from a car accident, but I liked the little touches Dini added to Elliot's past, like the flashbacks to the hospital and the explanation of the random quotes Hush uses, which ties back to lessons his mother taught him.

On the Batman side of things, he's currently pursuing a new (I think) villain that has a theme based on old Aesop tales, which he quotes far too often in this issue. Batman was trailing him as an undercover thug, but ends up being saved by Catwoman. The two then go on to track down the Aesop villain and put an end to his operations, but not before Hush reveals himself to Batman, killing the Aesop quoting villain in the process. He boasts a bit to Batman and then quickly escapes, setting up the rest of this storyarc.

Verdict - Check It. Don't buy it for the RIP tie-in. There's nothing related to it in this issue. I liked the additions to Hush's origin, but he's still a very weak villain and foil for Batman, but this arc shows promise and there was enough good in here to outweigh the negatives, so I'm happy with the purchase.

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca

Marvel should just call this, Iron Man: The Movie Adaptation, and get it over with. This Iron Man does not even have Extremis powers. It does not explicitly say this, but it's obvious Fraction either has no clue how they work or has been mandated to ignore them in favour of luring in the movie crowd. He has the suit and the body sheath and all that jazz, but that's about the only link between the two.

I'll spare going into all the details, as I've harped on the movie oriented writing of this book in previous reviews, but I can't stress how annoying it is to read so many different version of Iron Man, whether it's the strawman Iron Man painted the villain in most books, like Thor, or the man struggling with his guilt over the death of Cap and trying to do the right thing, as seen in Director of SHIELD and Captain America, or this playboy billionaire movie version in Invinicible Iron Man.

There are at least a half a dozen interpretations of the character in the 616 Marvel Universe alone! That's not even counting Marvel Adventures or the Ultimate Universe. I understand why the book is being written this way and I recognize that is a really great book despite the mischaracterization, but it's just really hard for me to come to terms with after all I've read in Director of SHIELD and his other appearances over the past 5-10 years.

Suffice to say, this issue reads almost like a recap of said Iron Man movie. We find out about Stane's father and his taking over of Tony's company and the eventual death when he fought using the Iron Monger suit and it helps define the younger Stane's motivations and desire to seek revenge on Tony.

As for the explosion at the end of last issue, it seems the building was almost completely vacant outside of the party, which was a few hundred people, so what should have been a huge deal was downplayed quite a bit. Yes, it's kind of dickish to count a few hundred deaths as being "downplayed", but the body count should have been much, much higher based on the setting and what we saw of the previous suicide bombings.

However, Pepper Potts, who left the party early due to Tony's playboy attitude last issue, did not escape unscathed. She was trapped under falling debris and this somehow lead to her having shrapnel lodged inside her heart, similar to Tony's origin story. This leads to Tony whipping out the movie chest plate / power supply, which he no longer uses, and has it installed in Pepper's chest. Whether she becomes Iron Maiden (throws up the horns!) after this or not remains to be seen.

Oh, there were only three survivors of this suicide bombing and, obviously, Pepper and Tony are two of them and the other one, also painfully obvious, was Ezekiel Stane, who was responsible for the bombing in the first place. Tony wants to arrest him, but Maria Hill, who loooks nothing like Maria Hill in this issue, tells him they have no evidence and he is in a foreign country where they have no authority, so he's left to roam free for now.

Finally, Ezekiel's new powers have been causing him problem, what with burning off his skin and all, and he's decided he's had enough of that and whips up his own suit, er, "uniform" to counteract the burning flesh thing and he made a "totally sweet helmet", too. To be frank, I could see this working as the sequel for the Iron Man movie. It would build on Iron Monger and is grounded in reality enough to be quite easily doable and the son avenging the father cliche works well in movie form. Add the "evil opposite" factor with Stane's armour and it's a perfect Hollywood sequel.

Verdict - Check It. It's far too cavalier with regard to Tony Stark's personality and how the Iron Man armour currently works to the point it pulls me out of the story. People new to Iron Man or only know him from the movie will more than likely love this interpretation and have none of the problems I am having with this. I'm hoping I'll get used to it as the series goes on, but, for now, I can't give this anything higher than a Check It.

NOVA #15
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Wellinton Alves

Nova has been incredibly good lately and I think it might have to do with the fact he isn't bogged down with "forced" tie-ins in attempts to bolster sales. I know Annihilation and Conquest aren't forced, per se, but he's been involved in those, Civil War and various aftermath and tie-in issues since the series started. He even has a Secret Invasion tie-in coming up.

That is why I think these issues have been so good. It's Nova being Nova and the DnA get to tell their story and give us some real development in Nova's character that seems to have gotten lost in the last year's worth of "tie-ins". Don't get me wrong, this is one of Marvel's best books, hands down, but it was always more about the current storyline or event and less about Nova, the character, in those issues.

Another great thing about this storyline and this issue, in particular, is the fact DnA didn't resort to the cliched super hero battle as the crux of the story. We got our fight with Silver Surfer last issue, but it was actually more of a ploy to get Nova alone to talk to him outside of Galactus' sphere of influence than it was a "misunderstanding". Add the fact Nova hasn't been trying to stop Galactus or the Surfer, as I had expected, and it made for a highly entertaining read that defied the conventional, "don't eat this world Galactus!", battle and focused on the task of evacuating people and showcased Nova's character and his desire to save everyone, even at his own expense.

Which takes us to the events of this issue, whereby Nova saves everyone but himself and is trapped on the dying planet. He comes up with the brilliant idea to travel up Galactus' energy syphons to escape and succeeds, to a point. While Nova comes out fine, the Worldmind seems to have been purged from his systems and the only "voice" Nova can hear in his helmet now is the default Centurion operating system. Did Worldmind "die"? Just need a reboot?

It's unknown at this point, but the fight with Harrow, the pyschich entity that was wreaking havoc on the planet in previous issues, shows just how important Worldmind has been to Nova's success as he fumbles with his basic operating systems and use of the Nova Force, nearly costing him his life in this fight.

Thankfully, the fight was noticed by the Silver Surfer and he quickly alerts Galactus to Harrow's prsence and the fact Harrow had been leeching off of the World Devourer, resulting in Galactus destroying the creature in an instant. Just as Nova thinks he is safe, Galactus turns his attention on him, similar to how he had just did with Harrow. Thankfully, Galactus only teleports him and the Surfer a few light years away as Nova is left pondering why he wasn't killed during a brief conversation with the Surfer.

It was an entertaining read and the developments with the Worldmind have some grave implications. There's also the matter of Galactus sparing Nova. Why did he do it? He seemed to be thinking something or understood something we, the readers, didn't. Does he know something of the Worldmind or did he simply admire Nova's courage and determination in his attempts to save those people? The Surfer's ominous final words about Galactus never sparing someone more than once seem to imply that we will be seeing some sort of confrontation between the Big G and Nova in the future. Hopefully DnA will answer some of these lingering questions from an otherwise spectacular arc.

Verdict - Must Read. Great story, lots of action, lots of drama, character development, great art and the best depiction of Galactus I've ever seen (still sporting the cosmic-y space pattern blended with his classic look) make this a must read for everyone.

Written by Shane McCarthy
Art by Guido Guidi

This is the swan song for IDW's time with the Transformers license and they are going out with a bang.

The premise of this story is pretty simple. The Decepitcons have won, Optimus Prime is looking pretty dead and Megatron and his followers spend most of this issue killing humans, blowing up cities and wiping out any and all resistence.

My favourite part of this is the fact they've removed the oh so annoying human supporting cast and point of view. In fact, I was scared we were going to switch over to the human perspective about midway through when they cut to the random F16 pilots chatting, but was pleasantly surprised when it cut right back to the Decepticons and proceeded to show them wipe the pitiful resistence out in the span of a few pages.

The issue ended with a cut to Cybertron, showing the Autobot faction in ruins, the few survivors huttled together in an old, destroyed base with Jazz as their leader. He receives a report on the Decepticons' invasion of Earth and can only hang his head in disgust as the scene panes out to show Optimus Prime laying on a slab, his chest completely gutted and looking quite dead, driving home just how total the Decepticon's victory is.

My only complaint with this issue is that, for all the death and destruction caused by the Decepticons, there's very little actual story presented here. We have some great moments with Megatron berating Starscream and the Constructicons', "we come in peace", joke, but that's about it. Decepitcons kill humans for 15 pages with a breif segue to show us a dead Optimus Prime and where the Autobots are and that's it. It's a shocking start that really makes me want to see more, and I believe that was the intent, but it also leaves me with a lot questions and doubts about whether or not their will be any real meat to the content or if there's an actual story justifying the investment in this maxi-series.

Verdict - Check It. If you love Transformers or only vaguely remember them from your childhood, you'll more than likely enjoy this first issue of All Hail Megatron. For the rest of you, there's nothing inherently wrong with this issue, but your enjoyment will most likely vary with your like or dislike of Transformers in general.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Butch Guice

Who doesn't know Captain America's origin? Doesn't matter what universe. Anyone? You in the back? You want to go the bathroom? Go ahead. Anyone else? Alright, with that out of the way, I will proceed to sum up this issue of Ultiamte Origins #2 in as few words as possible.

We get 15 or so pages featuring Captain America's origin story (The other pages are basically filler). You know the one. He's a scrawny wimp, can't get in the army because he can't pass the physical and gets enlisted in a secret project where he's injected with the Super Soldier serum and becomes Captain America.

That's what happens here. It's long, it's boring and we've seen it a million times before and there was only one thing added to this origin and it's a retcon of Millar and Hitch's Ultimates version of Cap. Apparently, he didn't have a relationship with Gail and he only confessed he loved her on the night he went off to war.

They had no real relationship prior to that and she kinda / sorta loves him back in an awkward, "your going to war and will probably die, so I'll say I love you back", kind of way. That heartwrenching story about Steve Rogers finding out the woman he loves moved on and married his best friend, Bucky, after he disappeared? Doesn't make much sense based on the relationship painted her, which means I'll just be ignoring this retcon in the future.

Verdict - Avoid It. Don't know Cap's origin? Could probably Check It. Otherwise it's a lesson in frustration and giving money away for nothing. All this is doing is complicating the Ultimate Universe more than it need be, especially since it's supposed to be all about how easily accessible it is compared to the 616 universe.

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan

Ever read a story that isn't really filling in all the details, makes little sense, but are enjoying it nonetheless? No, not Final Crisis. No, not Batman RIP either. No, not Wonder Woman. Er, I mean, yes! Wonder Woman! That's what were talking about here! The exlamation points are my loud voice!

Um, moving on...

The current Ends of the Earth storyline is one of those confusing, detail-less stories that I am understanding despite the writer not spelling everything out for me. Note, this is not some crack induced nightmare that barely makes sense when hopped up on Joker Gas like a certain Batman story either.

It's simply the fact that Simone isn't explaining what exactly is wrong with Diana, why she has a red claw for a hand, what Earth / dimension / universe they are on, who these mythical warriors are (I think everyone knows Beowulf, but I have no clue who the new "teammate" is), what the ultimate goal of this journey is, aside from "kill the devil", nor any sufficient development to explain the betrayal in this issue.

However, despite all that, I find myself thoroughly enjoying this storyline. I can't recommend it as a must read to everyone, but it's definitely worth checking out to see if it's up your alley or not.

As I said, Wonder Woman, Stalker and Beowulf recruited a new member to their merry band and it resulted in Diana's hand turning into some form of demonic claw. No clue why or the reason behind it, but let's go with it. There's also the weird (read: awesome) dream she had where she took over Earth and has all her villains' heads on pikes and all the male heroes lined up and bowing to her that I think relates to back to the affects using her lasso on the soulless Stalker has been having on her since the start of this arc. And, lastly, she doesn't have any powers in this other world (Multiverse? Magic dimension? I don't know), but still kicks ass.

Got all that? Knowing all that, let's get to the actual plot. Diana has some great inner monologue throughout the issue that I really enjoyed. It showed the doubt she was experiencing and the effects of using the lasso on Stalker, and her current personality shift because of it, perfectly. I especially liked this monologue and self-doubt when the group arrived at the Oracle that Stalker spoke of in previous issues. The Oracle speaks of a traitor on their team (note: no way it could be Stalker, he's such a nice guy) and Diana's suspicions of each member culminated with her wondering if she was the traitor. It was a great line of thought and worked well with how she's been portrayed during this arc and the evil that's tainting her currently.

However, that was short lived as the team, under the Oracle's prediction, head to the end of the Earth (this Earth is flat, apparently) and confront the so-called devil that stole Stalker's soul. Not wasting any time, Stalker betrays the team (note: he's not nice at all!) and the devil rewards him by returning some of his emotions and the ability to feel again. Wonder Woman puts it to good use by repeatedly punching him in the face, which he seems to enjoy (maybe his name should be Masochist instead of Stalker?). She steals his Rock of Eternity pendant and proceeds to go put an asswhooping on the devil, himself, resulting in both of them flying over the edge of the Earth and...landing in Washington, DC (note: do more drugs)?

Verdict - Check It. I don't know what the hell is going on, but I like it. I'm just going to bust out the, "It's magic, we don't have to explain it!", reasoning and enjoy the ride. It's odd how some books can be so completely random, like this one, and I enjoy it, but, others, like Batman RIP, are just downright painful. I tihnk it might be Simone knowing her limitations and not straying too far into WTF territory while Morrison takes two steps over the line and then breaks into a sprint...

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Kevin D. said...

Ult. Origins - I cam away thinking that Rogers and Gail's relationship occurred off panel during the weeks/months Rogers was becoming the super solider. As we first see her at the movie theater where she bumbs into Rogers as the scrawny guy who was 4F and then next see her as Rogers, now looking like a Conan-era Schwarzenegger, speaking tells her he's going off to war and Gail responding I knew this day was coming (or something similar).

It appeared to me that they "caught-up" after the movie theater and had been "dating" or at least "hanging out" from the movie theater shot, throughout his super solider training, up until Rogers left. I surmised this based on the fact that Gail didn't respond to the sight of Super Solider Rogers with utter shock at how this could be puny Steve Rogers.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that you gave All Hail Megatron a Check It. I'm not sure if I'll start reading it, or wait until the trades comes out (I'm guess there will be 2, since it's a 12 issue mini). I love the idea of Megatron kicking some ass, and that cover is both sad, and awesome.

I'm on the fence about it though, and may wait until issue #2 to start picking up the series, if the reviews stay good.

Air said...

"swan song" for IDW's Transformers licence? really? where did you see that?

(love the site by the way, esp the moments of the week)

To Anon - All Hail megs does look good, and I did like it from a perspective of the cons being effective bad guys, but the one problem was, with all the 'widescreen' destruction, it read through very quickly. As Kirk says, it's a set up issue, and hopefully explanations begin soon!

Kirk Warren said...

@air - Maybe I misread something, as I can't find confirmation after a quick google search, but I could have sworn I read this was the final story they'd be telling wiht teh license, similar to how the recent GI Joe series ended with the WW3 event with the switching of the license to a new publisher.

I'll keep looking to see if I can find where I originally read it, but, based on my searches so far, I think I may have been mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, you should have picked up the Joker Asylum: Penguin one shot this characterization of the penguin i have seen thus far...def give it a check

Anonymous said...

For Wonder Woman, is it possible this is the beginning of erasing Amazons Attack?

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