Thursday, July 31, 2008

Final Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/30/08

As always, the Final Crisis Comic Book Reviews are here to round out the rest of the week's reviews. I said in the Post-Crisis Previews that I was thinking about picking up True Believers this week, but, upon flipping through it at the shop, it didn't impress me enough to pick up.

The Brand New Day special almost enticed me to pick it up with that Hammerhead story and Spider-Man in court with Daredevil, but ended up skipping it and putting the money away for the One Year Later Anniversary contests (starts tomorrow!).

The biggest shocker this week had to be Black Panther. I'm a big fan of newcomer, Jason Aaron, but I did not expect him to completely blow me away with a) a Secret Invasion tie-in and b) an issue of Black Panther, a character I have no interest in whatsoever.

Hit the jump to read about this books and more!

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jefte Palo

Jason Aaron and Jefte Palo have taken over Black Panther's title for a short Secret Invasion tie-in and you owe it to yourself to read this comic, even if you aren't enjoying the current Skrull infestation permeating the Marvel Universe in Brian Bendis' Secret Invasion event. Heck, even if you've never read a Black Panther comic in your life or are disappointed with Hudlin's run on the title, this is a story you should enjoy and I can't recommend this tie in enough..

Jefte Palo, who's art was last seen on X-Force: Ain't No Dog, is a perfect fit for this story and the dark, moody artwork ads a lot to the tight plot and script that Aaron has delivered.

Before anyone starts asking how Wakanda can stand up to the Skrulls when they have all of these Super Skrulls and an armada in space that could wipe them out in an instance, Aaron actually addresses this with the simple logic that the Skrulls have committed the bulk of their army to the destruction of the super heroes in America, super heroes which Wakanda has barely any outside of Storm and Black Panther, and the fact the Skrulls want the Wakandan people alive to use as slaves to mine the vibranium for them. Furthermore, Wakanda doesn't use the Starknet plot device computer system, which allowed a simple virus from the Skrulls to cripple the rest of the world, leaving them with a means to fight back against the Skrulls or, at least, even the odds a little.

The basic plot of the story is the Skrulls have sent a small detachment to pacify the small, super hero-less African nation of Wakanda and secure the vibranium deposits. They have their sleeper agents already in place and figure it will be a cake walk. Unfortunately for them, upon arrival, they are greeted by the gruesome sight of their sleeper agents' decapitated heads propped up on pikes at the gate.

This issue combined the epic scope of an alien invasion, the dire straits of a people battling back against insurmountable odds and the alien shape shifting, "Who do you trust?", nature of the Skrulls into one story that has managed to upstage the entirety of Bendis' event.  
What follows is a gripping back and forth battle between the two that sees each one upping the other in their pre-battle tactics. For example, the Skrulls easily hack the Wakandan computers, even without the Starknet virus. However, while slower, barely making it thanks to the help of some back up systems and with the aid of the information gleaned from the Skrull sleeper, the Wakandans manage to take out the bulk of the Skrull systems before their systems completely shut down.

This results in a ground based war between the Skrulls and Wakanda. The Skrulls, unable and unwilling to call for backup, as this would be seen as failure on their part losing several ships and requiring aid against one human level super hero, begin their ground assault on the gates of Wakanda.

Standing in their way is the Black Panther, who looks amazing thanks to Palo, and the rest of the Wakandan army. I loved Storm's "Panther" outfit and T'Challa seems to have a plan that requires Storm to refrain from using her powers or moving to the frontline here.

One of my favourite scenes in the issue was when the Super Skrull, who looks like a cross with Wolverine, Bullseye and maybe the Hulk, tells T'Challa that he has trained his entire life to face him and BP simply replies with the line, "Then you have already lost. For I have trained my whole life to face the unknown.". It was just a perfectly scripted line and plays up the Batman-like character of Black Panther without going over the top like Hudlin and other writers seem to do.

Finally, the issue of the Skrull sleeper agents comes back to the forefront with the Skrull commander telling his lieutenant that he said those decapitated heads were his agents, but he did not say they were all of them either.

Verdict - Must Read. This issue combined the epic scope of an alien invasion, the dire straits of a people battling back against insurmountable odds and the alien shape shifting, "Who do you trust?", nature of the Skrulls into one story that has managed to upstage the entirety of Bendis' event. Take a bow Aaron and Palo, you deserve it.

Written by Matthew Sturges
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Matthew Sturges finally steps in as the new ongoing writer for Blue Beetle with this issue. While not a must read issue, it has potential, but a few things are holding it back in my eyes.

First, Sturges has shifted focus to border crossings and other stereotypical racial cliches that the book has managed to avoid until now. It's not outright bad or anythign I'd call offensive, but it just seems out of place and forced.

There are also some character issues. I couldn't put my finger on it, but some scenes with Jaime, Paco, Peacemaker, etc just felt off, almost like he the relationships or jokes were a tad forced.

Despite these small issues with his debut, Sturges does a great job here and I think Blue Beetle will continue to be one of DC's better books under his tenure. While some of the light hearted dialogue and comedy felt forced, it was mostly classic Blue Beetle with scenes like Jaime's family commenting on how he sucks with public speaking on television when they see him being interviewed by reporters or the Paco / Brenda relationship post-kiss a few issues back.

Verdict - Check It. All-in-all, a good start to Sturges run, but nothing that screams go out and buy this issue. Blue Beetle fans should be happy for the return to stability of a permanent writer and I'm looking forward to reading more from him.

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Barry Kitson

Well, this series ended up being a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting to read about the Fantastic Four, seeing as that's the name in the title and all, but what it ended up being was three issues of filler and some Human Torch / Lyja talking. No Skrulls, outside of Lyja, no Prison 42 break-ins or prisoner escapes, and no Reed or Sue.

In fact, this issue consisted of undoing everything that's happened to the Baxter Building after being sucked into the Negative Zone. Thing, Human Torch, the kids and Lyja go to Prison 42, ask Tinkerer, who's a prisoner there, to fix the Negative Zone portal, which he does, and then they warp back to New York, re-attached to the Baxter Building and no worse for the wear.

Verdict - Avoid It. It was a really disappointing end to what I was hoping would be a fun little mini-series tie-in spotlighting the Fantastic Four. All it did was piss me off at the fact I wasted money on it.

Written by Greg Pak
Art by Ron Garney

I really don't know what Greg Pak is doing with Son of Hulk. It's just so all over the place and he's introducing these new factions that had nothing to do with his Planet Hulk storyline that it makes me feel like I'm reading some out of continuity fantasty story instead of about the Son of Hulk and his adventures on Sakarr only about a year after the death of the Red King and the Warbound exodus to Earth for revenge.

Take this issue, for an example, the Conan Son of Hulk fights the Axe Lord, kills some dragons and then some princess with giant metal can openers for arms shows up to join forces with him. There's some cool action here, but little to no actual story or, at least, none that makes sense.

We still don't know how Skaar survived the "smashing" of his non-Hulk body. He looked like an Oldstrong child, gets smashed as if he was made of stone and then shows up later that night as the Hulk-like Skaar.

Verdict - Check It. It's entertaining, but only from a fantasy fan's viewpoint. There's little to no actual Hulk, Planet Hulk, Sakaar or Son of Hulk story here. In fact, if you didn't know this book was about the son of the Hulk, you'd be wondering why Marvel was publishing a Conan knock off.

THOR #10
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Olivier Coipel

For how many delays Thor seems to have, it's remains one of the few books, along with All-Star Superman and All-Star Batman, where that detriment has no impact on my enjoyment of the book. I think that might be due to the nature of the story, where each of those books doesn't seem to rely on decompressed arcs to pad out stories.

Yes, Thor is a slow paced book, but there's a difference between the negative decompression we use to describe most books in recent years to actual decompressed storytelling, as seen in Thor, which allows us to get to know characters better, while building towards an actual goal.

This issue is a prime example of this with the revelation of Baldur's heritage and the confrontation between he and Thor over it, thanks to the urging of Loki. And by confrontation, I mean verbal, not the cliched fisticuffs most stories seem to rely on.

I'm not sure what Loki's aim is with this gambit, but she has something planned. This revelation did not seem to cause any outright rifts between Thor and Baldur, as they appear to be friends still and they even celebrate the Baldur's newfound princehood after they discuss why Thor never told Baldur the truth for all these years (it was to protect him from becoming a target of Asgard's enemies since it is prophecized that Baldur's death heralds Ragnarok). So I'm at a loss as to what Loki will gain from this, but she seems mighty pleased with herself at the end of the issue, so, whatever it is, it must have worked out for her.

I also loved seeing more of Bill and Kelda. I'm unfamiliar with Kelda or her archtype in Norse mythology, but she better not break Bill's heart! That would be cruel. Ahahah.

Verdict - Must Read. Just another wonderful issue of JMS's Thor with beautiful artwork from Mr. Coipel. While I'd probably chastise other books for the slow pace, I think it's a perfect fit for this title.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen

I'm still put off by the odd storytelling / recap nature of this storyline. I don't even know if all of this is new material or if it's just the Bendis integrating and retelling the USM video game, but it all comes off like I missed important events that this story is based upon.

It's like I've been given enough information that I'll know what's going on, much like just reading about this on Wikipedia, and, at $3 a pop, I don't like it when a book gives me that feeling.

In fact, this issue had a much more disjoint feeling than the last one and it jumps around from different time periods to retell parts of the story, like the Silver Sable fight / capture of Venom or the Beetle section or even a Nick Fury subplot, which seems out of place in the post-Ultimate Power status quo. When it jumped to Mary Jane and Peter at school discussing Pete's health, I was beginning to wonder if this was the present day and to what they were referring. It was just poorly scripted changes of scenes and time frames.

I believe the only real purpose of this story was to introduce the Beetle and show him breaking into Roxxon along with the numerous references to Roxxon's ties to Latveria and possibly Dr Doom.

Verdict - Check It. It's still Ultimate Spider-Man, so everyone should be able to enjoy it on some level, but these last couple of issues have killed all the momentum the book had been building with Super Friends and other arcs.

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CaptainLameo said...

Re: Thor

It's Kelda, not Hilda. IIRC, someone who knew a lot about Norse mythology said her name does mean something (like "beautiful wind" or some poetic crap like that), but she wasn't actually anyone they recognized.

I feel sorry for her, she just wants some action and Bill's turning out to be worse with women than I am.

Re: SI: FF #3

I have to agree. As one of the 5 or 10 people who actually likes Lyja, there was some really strange characterization going on. First she's angry that Johnny never called (okay, I get it's hard to explain In-Universe why she got ignored, but huh? Wouldn't it have been easier to just go visit him in the Baxter Building?). Then she's part of the religious zealotry. Now she wanted to protect (?!) the FF somehow from the Invasion?

Really, it seemed like the miniseries was there to explain why the rest of the FF wasn't around in the main SI series and Lyja was thrown in for the potential drama, and there wasn't really much of a plan beyond that. Disappointing, and unless I missed something, it's basically already ignored by Millar's FF.

@ Black Panther

I wish Aaron could be the regular writer. It was fantastic.

Salieri said...

The thing unifying all the best SI tie-ins - Incredible Herc, Capt. Britain, Black Panther - are the author's ability to put character above plot. All of the above titles are more heavily focused on the character's struggles and reactions - Herc and the team, Cap and the team and everyone's reaction to Cap's brief death, and most especially the characterization of the Skrull general in Black Panther.

This is what I dig most - Aaron makes us properly care about the Skrull general, so that we don't pick sides - the Skrulls are still hostile invaders, but they're getting killed as much as us. The approach taken by others, including Bendis, where the Skrulls are basically just green cannon fodder, is far less complex and intelligent - and completely undermines the whole 'Embrace Change' idea of humans integrating with the aliens.

IslandLiberal said...

Re: Thor

Another decent enough issue, but Loki's continuing blatantly obvious evilness is rapidly becoming annoying. Everyone else says they don't trust him and are watching him, but she still plays them for fools anyway; it makes them look stupid.

Lordhack said...

Hey, you might want to check out this week's issue of Teen Titans. I know you've been avoiding the title, and understand why, but this week's was much better, the art was passable, and it was rather centered on Blue Beetle.

Andrenn said...

I felt Skaar #2 was a mess. Pak used this issue to introduce this badass princess and have Skaar chop up dragons. That's it really. The action would have been good if Garney's art wasn't so messy.

I decided to avoid this USM arc. But I will be picking up the Annual in October.

Harry said...

The Spider-Man special is worth it. The exposition on Hammerhead was really well done and I look forward to seeing how his new role is handled.

The trial is an entertaining read as well. Murdock really shines.

Anonymous said...

My favourite aspect of the BP issue was how well it ties into the rest of Secret Invasion IE for the story to even happen requires several characters to act like morons and an incredibly contrived chain of events.


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