Thursday, August 7, 2008

Final Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/06/08

Again, I'll have to apologize for the late updates on the reviews. I blame GladOS and her lies about the possibility of cake (yes, I'm pretty late to the Portal party) and general stress testing and other new computer nonsense.

I did manage to get just about every review for this week done though. I didn't bother picking up the Venom one-shot that's actually a mini-series, Venom: Dark Origins, because it was a Venom comic that didn't have a single panel with Venom in it and did nothing to impress me at the shop from a writing or art standpoint.

Similarly, I decided not to pick up the Wolverine: Killing Made Simple one-shot due to lackluster story and artwork.

I'll just leave these reviews here for now and get back to the delicious cake. Enjoy and check back tomorrow for any reviews I might have missed and the usual Moments of the Week!

Written by Paul Dini
Art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

I'm surprised at how much I am enjoying Dini's Hush story, especially since I disliked the horrible revelation as to his identity in the original Hush story.

For those unawares, this and the first issue are labelled as Batman RIP tie-ins. Sadly, they have nothing to do with RIP. The first part had Hush mention the Black Glove in one sentence and this issue doesn't do much more with the tie-in status. I don't mind Dini's ignoring of the forced tie-ins, particularly since this is an enjoyable story, but if RIP is the only reason you are thinking of picking this up, just ignore it now and spend your money on the Robin tie-ins, which is the only Bat-title that seems to be an actual tie-in.

One thing I really liked about this issue was the tying together and referencing of Dini's previous work on Detective. None of it is required reading to understand the story nor are you missing anything by not having read those, as is the case in some other DC titles. Things like Zatanna, Scarecrow (actually, I don't think Dini wrote those issues, but it was in Detective during a fill-in), the Wonderland Gang and the wonderful return of the Carpenter. There were just a lot of little nods to longtime readers that I liked and are hard to describe and I like when writers do this.

The purpose of this storyline is obviously to flesh out the paper thin Hush backstory and add some much needed depth and motivation to the character. In this regard, Dini is doing an excellent job. While I'm still finding it hard to justify Hush's vendetta against Bruce or Batman, it's now a much better reason than the ridiculous "Bruce's dad saved my mother from a car crash, so now I hate him!" that the original was.

The biggest surprise, however, came in the form of the Scarecrow. As it turns out, Hush was sent to see a psychiatrist after a camping trip with Bruce, in which Tommy beat another kid with a shovel for calling him a momma's boy. That psychiatrist ended up being a young Mr Crane, who would later become the Scarecrow. You can see how 'broken' Crane is in this flashback and his handling of Tommy and it was a nice touch, if you ask me.

This all lead to the conclusion in which Hush is seen stalking Zatanna and Catwoman, two of the women currently in Bruce's life (well, in every other book except Batman, where he's mysteriously in love with Jezebel Jet), and we see Hush talking to someone he refers to as "Mentor" and he refers to himself merely as "Pupil". It's then revealed that the mentor person is, indeed, the Scarecrow.

I'm not sure how that works, as I can't recall the actual details, but I'm sure Scarecrow was a pawn in the Hush storyline, but maybe Tommy didn't realize it was his former pyschiatrist at the time. Either way, I liked this and can't wait to see where Dini takes this next month.

Verdict - Check It. While I really liked this issue, it's not perfect by any means and there's the obvious misdirection with the whole non-Batman RIP tie-in that should justify a knock down from Must Read on principle. I think the next issue is still required to judge whether this will be a must read story or to see if the wheels fall off the wagon.

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca

At this point, you either love Invincible Iron Man for the accessibility and its ties to the recent movie or you are annoyed that they take so many liberties with the character in favour of said movie.

I fall into the later category, but I'm not hating this series or anything. It's just I think I'd rather they just call it Ultimate Iron Man or Iron Man: The Movie Adaptation.

Case in point, this issue has a fight with Maria Hill about the Starktech that Tony has developed for his company and tells him he should share this with SHIELD and the people putting their lives on the line everyday. instead of holding it out for himself and his 'girlfriend', Pepper.

That's a great point on her part, but Tony has already given SHIELD numerous upgrades over in the Director of SHIELD book, mainly in the form of Tony's personal Iron Man armour wearing field team, among other things.

It's just little things like this and the bigger things, like the complete retconning or ignoring, take your pick, of Tony's Extremis powers. Ya, he still has the suit, but the Extremis powers end there.

The biggest annoyance I have with this issue, though, is the cover. There is no fight with Ezekiel Stane in this issue. Stane never shows up in that armour and only has about a page or two worth of cameos. Iron Man doesn't fight anyone in this issue. If none of this happens in this issue, why end the last one with Stane wearing that armour and then promote this one with a cover showing the two of them fighting in their armours?

However, these, cover notwithstanding, are all minor nitpicks and, like I said in the opening paragraph, if you are currently liking Invincible Iron Man, you'll still love it with this issue and most people will probably enjoy this. Hell, I enjoyed this. It's just more of a Brand New Day kind of feeling. It looks like an Iron Man comic, it reads like an Iron Man story, but it's not the same Iron Man I've been reading for the past few years and it's jarring, to say the least, and only serves to pull me out of most issues.

As for what this issue was about, that can be summed up in a one word - filler. Nothing really happens here. It's entertaining enough that I'm not pissed at the obvious filler nature of the issue, but all Tony does is take some old Iron Man tech, toss it on the black market with a trackign device installed and waits for Stane to buy it, which he does. The rest is just some talking heads with a creepy looking Reed Richards, Maria Hill and Pepper, all of which only serve to summarize previous issues or provide mildly entertaining conversations.

Verdict - Check It. Not much happens, but it's the same slow burn pace that this series has had since it launched. I don't love it nor do I hate it, so it'll probably come down to whether you liked the previous issues or not.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Don Kramer and Sandu Florea

Much like this week's Detective Comics this week, Nightwing is another Batman RIP tie-in that has absolutely nothing to do with Batman RIP. While I hate the fact DC is doing this, I'm at least grateful for the fact that the "tie-ins" have all been great reads on their own.

Much like all of Tomasi's Nightwing run so far, this issue was strong on the Nightwing and other characterizations, but light on the actual plot side of things.

For instance, the story here was about some kind of Two-Face love affair from his earlier days on the force that saw Two-Face 'request' Nightwing's help in keeping the woman safe while she attempts to testify against some criminals. The reason he's asking Nightwing is because Batman is missing in action due to Batman RIP. Yes, that's the only mention of RIP in this issue.

It's a decent enough premise, but it just ends up with Nightwing beating up some goons and ends with him saving the woman, again, as she's transported away in a helicopter and a sniper starts shooting everyone except her. The issue ends with Nightwing shot in the shoulder and losing about 3 liters of blood based on the artwork, but I'm sure he's fine.

Also, I'm pretty sure the sniper and person attempting to kill the woman is Two-Face. Tomasi played around with the dual nature of the Two-Face / Harvey Dent persona and it looks like Harvey Dent contacted Nightwing in order to stop Two-Face from killing his old girlfriend. We'll have to wait and see next month if I'm right, but the plot is a bit thin and that's the only reasonable explanation I can gather at this point.

Verdict - Check It. Great job with the Nightwing / Two-Face confrontation, especialy with Dick's past experience as Robin and the revelation that Batman recruited Two-Face to take over Gotham during 52/OYL. However, weak plot / story keeps this issue, much like previous Nightwing issues, from reaching the coveted Must Read verdict.

Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Kalman Andrasofsky

NYX: No Way Home was a decent read, but not something you should run out and buy, especially if you've never read the first mini-series and have no vested interest in the characters. Especially for a relatively average issue that serves as a sequel / follow-up to a rather obscure mini-series and, god knows why, has a $3.99 cover price.

The things I liked about the issue were the same things I liked about the first series - the grounded setting and realistic characters (at least, from a characterization and dialogue point of view - they still have powers and other Marvel Unvierse surreal stuff).

The unique art style is another thing that drew me into the first NYX series and Andrasofsky doesn't disappoint with the sequel on that regard. It's not a Bryan Hitch or Jim Lee, but it's got a style and feel all its own and isn't something you see all that often in post-Image / 90's comic art.

However, that's where the good parts end for me. The actual plot for this isn't even worth mentioning as it is just way too decompressed and revolves around a ridiculous flashback / exposition gimmick that starts with what's supposed to be a shocking 'ending' of Kidan, the main character by the way, strapped down to a gurney in a hospital and ends with the 'beginning' of the story telling us how she got there. It's actually pretty uninspiring and I felt on more than one occasion like I was just nodding my head waiting for them to get on with it already.

Verdict - Check It. I know I ended with some rather brusque and negativity for this review, but I did enjoy this story and will be sticking with it, but I think that has more to do with how much I enjoyed the first mini-series several years back and my familiarity with the characters than it does with this being a good book. If you have no experience with NYX, tread cautiously and 'byrne' the book in the store before deciding to jump in or not, especially at the ludicrous $3.99 price point.

Written by Kathryn Immonen
Art by David Lafuente

Patsy Walker: Hellcat is a fun series and I'm confident I'll be enjoying every issue of this mini, from start to finish.

However, why did they have to go with a magic-based story? They never turn out well and magic is like the biggest detriment to any super-hero universe. It's just plain broken and this issue's use of it for the always ridiculous alternate spirit world nonsense further illustrates my distaste for magic based super-heroics and proves my point at the same time.

Thankfully, we've got the upbeat, charming and 'put a smile on anyone's face' Hellcat here to keep the story entertaining. I swear, if anyone else was the star of this story, it just plain wouldn't have worked and I would be hating on just about every single page of the book.

From her hilarious Iron Man hallucinations to the off-beat reactions to the magical situations she finds herself in with these weird Inuit witchdoctor people, Patsy Walker keeps the story grounded and uplifting and prevents it from vearing off into the typical magical tripe.

Verdict - Check It. It's by no means a must read for people and I doubt this will have any lasting impact on any characters, even Hellcat, herself, but it's light hearted fun and I'm more than happy to spend money on a book that puts a smile on my face.

ROBIN #176
Written by Fabian Nicieza
Art by Chris Batista and Cam Smith

While not as good as the last issue, I still very much enjoyed this month's edition of Robin. It continued to expand on the 52 / missing year while showcasing how Robin is handling the disappearance and apparent insanity of his mentor.

However, in a disturbing trend with this week's covers, this Robin cover has nothing to do with the issue. Sure, Robin and Penquin and Batman all show up at some point in this issue, but never on the same page and Penquin is barely a cameo, let alone kills Batman. I'll let it slide since this is labelled a Batman RIP tie-in and it, shockingly, actually ties into that story. I'll let the RIP poetic license explain away the 'dead' Batman on the cover.

As I said, this issue follows up on Robin's paranoia over Batman's disappearance over in Batman RIP and features Robin, with 'help' from Spoiler, trying to track down Batman or at least try and verify his case files from his black book. To do this, Robin enlisted the help of the Penquin, who informed Robin of some gangbangers that snapped a picture of an 'insane' Batman.

After taking down the thugs, they check their phones for the supposed image and Spoiler, off to the side, finds the phone with the photo and promptly deletes it. It was a bit odd, but it's later explained that Batman asked her to do this a few days ago to keep Robin out of this mess and some other nonsense. I'll chalk it up to Batman RIP and Batman being, well, a drugged up dope fiend nutjob during this storyarc.

As for the photo, it didn't look all that insane or non-Batman-like, but we'll go with bad artwork to explain that one away. It looks like a typical 'angry face' Batman when I think they were trying to have insane Zur-en-Arrh Batman. Should have at least put him in his hobo costume.

Verdict - Check It. Was hoping for some confrontation with the insane Batman, but they at least showed the fight with the Club of Villains from the last issue of RIP and it looks like we'll see a follow up on that next month. Good issue that adds something to the event while standing on its own for those that don't care about RIP. Can't ask for much more.

Written by Terry Moore
Art by Craig Rousseau

I just want to preface this by saying that Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is not, I repeat, not, a 'girl's comic'. Yes, it's aimed at a female target audiance, but it is not a comic only girls will like.

In fact, the original Mary Jane and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane series were some of the best Spider-Man comics of the past decade. Actually, that's not much of an accomplishment with the state of Spidey's comics for the past decade, but the point stands!

That said, as a long time follower of Bitches Love Spider-Man, the more manly name for the series, I was quite pleased with this first issue. I'm sure everyone will be able to jump in and enjoy this new 'season' (wtf happened to volumes?) and, while I'm sad to see the change in art from the manga influenced style, this still looks great and maintains the same feel as the previous series and I suspect this will appeal to the more mainstream comic audiances with the traditional art style.

While I did enjoy the issue, it was very Mary Jane oriented. Yes, it's her book and the previous volumes focused heavily on her, but we also saw more of the supporting cast and their relationships, such as Harry and Flash or Peter and Gwen. This issue felt like "Mary Jane, guest starring some other people that get a few lines, but only when Mary Jane lets them speak". I'm sure this is merely an introduction issue and we did see Liz, who was about the only character to break out from the MJ focus this issue had.

Verdict - Check It. Not the best issue of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, but a very promising start under the new writer and artist team. It'll be interesting to see what Moore does with the follow up issue next month and I'll save further judgement until then.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Jackson Guice

Well, it's about time Ultimate Origins started. Only took three issues. They could have taken those last two or three pages about Wolverine being the first mutant in the first issue, slapped it at the start of this issue and I'd be singing the Ultimate Origins series as the big ticket summer event this year, that's how much I enjoyed this issue.

Coming in with low expectations and expecting to see Magneto and Xavier just drinking tea and repeating stuff from the early Ultimate X-Men series probably helped make this issue appear better than it was, but, as of this writing, I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happens next month in this event.

For one, this issue actually told me something new about these characters. Apparently, Magneto's mother was a geneticist of some kind and was working on Wolverine with the Canadian government. We're not told how Magneto, and every other mutant, got their powers, but I imagine they implanted something from Wolverine in either Magneto or his mother to cause him to become a mutant.

When Magneto found out about Wolverine and what they were doing to him, he, expectedly, set him free after killing everyone at the facility, including his own mother. We don't find out what happens to Logan or Erik after this, but they both end up going their separate ways.

From here, we flash forward a bit to when Erik first meets Xavier and we see a throwback to the old 616 Magneto's first appearance where he had pyschic powers. Seems Ultimate Magneto's mind is impenetrable to Xavier's telepathic powers, even without the funky metal helmet. I'm not sure how this works with what's been shown of his need for the helmet to block out Xavier n Ultimate X-Men (maybe he learns how to break Magneto's defenses over time?), but I found this to be an interesting change and something worthy of the Ultimate Origins label.

From here, we see the budding friendship between Xavier and Magneto and their setting up of camp in the Savage Land with several other non-descript mutants (I couldn't make them out and they weren't named).

If that was all that happened, I don't think it would be something worth gushing over, but Bendis finally busts out the Ultimate Watcher with that creepy HAL-like lantern thing that showed up in storage in previous issues. While we still get no answers as to what it is or what its purpose is, we see it present for Magneto's creation of his Savage Land citadel and, later, with dozens of the lantern-like objects showing up all over the present day Ultimate Universe, specifically at locations such as Spider-Man's home, in front of the Avengers, etc.

Is it a 'bad' thing? Is it sentient? Is it some villain's weapon? I'm going on the assumption that it only activates for key events, like Captain America's 'birth' or Magneto's mutant agenda stepping up, but why is it showing up everywhere in the present day? Sadly, I think the answer is that Loeb is about to irrevocably destroy these characters, but I'm hoping Bendis will answer this by the end of this mini-series.

Verdict - Must Read. Skip the first two issues, they have nothing new or interesting to offer. This event starts here and it's well worth picking up.

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patrick said...

the bat titles are tie-ins in a way that Morrison's Batman is the definitive story that is happening to batman right now because of its epic scope, DC is just having the other bat related titles acknowledge that while telling their own stories..this is basically the best way to do a "tie-in" in my book because it allows the main writers to work their own story while not being too limited on their direction

Kirk Warren said...

The Robin tie-in is a perfect example of a tie-in. The others are cash grabs with absolutely nothing to do with RIP and I have a problem with that.

Imagine every DC book carrying a Final Crisis / Sightings tag to show they are tying into Final Crisis and being exactly the same as they are currently with no mention or reflection to FC in the issues.

That's what Detective and Nightwing are like and I don't like it when Marvel and DC do stuff like that, regardless of how good the issue actually turned out.

Andrenn said...

I really enjoyed Detecive Comics this week, RIP tie in or not.

I may pick up the new Mary Jane series, but only in HC or TPB form. Since it's only 5 issues. Mary Jane is a great character, and I heard good things about previous stories. I definitely wouldn't mind checking it out.

Bill said...

I wonder if the non-tie-in tie-ins are because the other writers don't understand RIP either...

And Ultimate Origins was great. Especially that throwaway line about using his powers to seduce his students... the fact that Ultimate Xavier wasn't infallibly good had been one of my favorite parts of the pre-Kirkman Ultimate X-Men.

Ethereal said...

Has all of Dini's Detective comics stuff been as good as this? If so I might start picking up the title again. I stopped about 2 years ago, probably right before, or right when Dini jumped on. He's definitely the batman guy, and I love Scarecrow. When did Dini start on Detective Comics?

Good about Nightwing, the revelation was kind of obvious I guess. As mnuch of Tomasi's stuff, there's alot of characterization, and no distinct plot (this is also apparent in GLC), which doesn't bother me as his plots seem to come together better when the character is well established.

Hate Robin. I'm not really liking this Batman Arc, for everything Morrison built up, it's pretty lame. I mean, Robin takes over for Batman? That's not new at all.

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