Saturday, February 14, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for January

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, I put out a little magazine last week. It was originally going to be the Best of 2008 awards only, but, to make up for the lack of posts for the month of January, I ended up writing reviews for seven of the bigger comics that came out that month, such as Dark Avengers, Final Crisis, Green Lantern, Thunderbolts and so on.

Seeing as the blog is dedicated primarily to reviews, I thought it prudent to transfer the reviews over to the blog for posterity's sake and for those last few hold outs that decided to skip out on the magazine download. Enjoy!

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Mike Deodato

This is probably the best work Bendis has put out since this whole Skrull nonsense began. I, honestly, can't believe this issue was written by Bendis. Aside from a few, brief moments of Bendis-speak, I could have sworn this was just an extention of Ellis' Thunderbolts. It even had Deodato on art to complete the illusion.

That said, the plot is actually fairly simple in that Norman Osborn takes over Iron Man's job as head of the world's defense. SHIELD is dismantled and Norman heads the new HAMMER organization taking its place. He quickly goes to work putting together a new Avengers team and this one is made up of Sentry, Ares, Bullseye as Hawkeye, Moonstone as Ms Marvel, Venom as black costume Spider-Man, Daken (Wolverine's son) as Wolverine, Noh-Varr as Captain Marvel and Norman Osborn, wearing one of Tony Stark's left over armours, as Iron Patriot.

The issue consists of Norman going from person to person recruiting them for the new team and I was surprised at how entertaining it was. Bendis was in top form with his dialogue and it felt far more natural than his work has been in months.

Verdict - Must Read. With no love for Secret Invasion, I was hesitant coming into this, but Bendis and Deodato blew me away with this opening issue. Will definitely be around for more of this series.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by JG Jones, Doug Mahnke, Carlos Pacheco & More

It's difficult reviewing Final Crisis' individual issues after the series has ended and especially after all the work I put in on it in the annotated article. I have the hindsight to see how everything eventually worked out and I've reread the thing like five times already to make sure I didn't miss anything for the annotations.

Add in all the research for specific links and reading obscure wiki articles and I've got Final Crisis coming out of my eyeballs. As such, it's become almost like an academic project that I've worked on and my opinion has almost run dry on it.

I do recall my initial impressions of this issue, in particular, and the so-called death of Batman and I was, honest to god, extremely pleased with Final Crisis for delivering so many excellent moments in one issue. Whether it was Batman confronting Darkseid, the intense moments as Superman returns or the epic battle for Bludhaven, it all just flowed extremely well and I was anticipating the final issue with glee.

That said, I know how issue seven turned out and you can read my review of that issue for my thoughts on it, but knowing how Batman's death is reversed and my initial, "WTF?", reaction to issue seven's channel zapping format left me despising the entire thing moreso than the middle chapters of this event.

Verdict - Must Read. Batman dies, you have to read it whether you're a fan of it or not. However, for what it's worth, this is easily the best issue of the series, regardless of how the event turned out, and, when I read this, it was the first time I was honestly blown away by this event.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by JG Jones, Doug Mahnke, Carlos Pacheco & More

As I said in my Final Crisis #6 review, I'm reviewing this issue with the gift of hindsight, which is odd, as my reviews are usually littered with day one gut reactions that leave little room to sit on or re-read an issue or series.

I do recall my initial reaction to Final Crisis #7, though, and it was far from pleasant. I think I went through several different emotions as I went through the issue and more than once threw the comic down in disgust and wondered how the hell this made it to print before picking it back up and continuing on.

I've spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the series and I think I can honestly say, when it's all said and done, that I actually enjoyed it. Unlike many fans, I don't think this was difficult to understand or that people are 'dumb' for not getting it or anything as ridiculous that. I believe people have come to expect certain things from these universe spanning, linewide summer events and, unlike Marvel, who catered to the fickle mob, Morrison simply wrote his story for himself first, which is what all good writers should do.

Comic fans, however, are quite resistent to change and anything different is instantly rejected by many of us, myself included. I don't think Final Crisis was ever written to be read in a monthly format and many of us bag, board and never see the comic again for years. While many of us believe ourselves infalliable and could never fathom not remembering previous issues, the series actually reads so much better on the second or third go around, moreso if you take the time to explore the innumerable minute details.

While I've almost taken on a macro Final Crisis series review so far, this all applies to Final Crisis #7 moreso than any other issue in the series. In fact, I have more notes in my annotations about this issue than the other six issues and I ended up trimming some excess fat while I was editing. Many of the problems I, myself, had with the initial read are actually rendered moot after realizing the actual timings of certain events.

One such "error" that annoyed me was Wonder Woman's mask in the trophy room, set in the present, when she smashes it later in the issue during a flashback. There's no indication of the change, but the panels showing her smashing the mask were actually set in the present, after everyone was frozen, and she actually took the mask from the case after the fact. I wasn't complaining that the issue was bad simply because of this misunderstanding on my part, but many small self-thought inconsistencies like this all added up to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Add in the fact people don't like feeling stupid and have grown accustomed to simply reading the comic, bagging and boxing it and never having to really think about it and I believe much of the initial knee jerk reactions are based on not stupidity, but simple ignorance and resistance to the fact they didn't get what they were promised or expected from this series, which is a blessing and a curse for the story.

Verdict - Must Re-Read. Is this the greatest comic ever written? No. Will re-reading the series make you like it more? Debatable. But I imagine many will have a newfound appreciation for the craft and what Morrison was trying to accomplish with it afterwards, regardless of whether they end up liking it more or not.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis

Combined with last month's issue and the recent Rage of the Red Lanterns one-shot, Green Lantern is finally kicking ass and taking names again. After months of merely being "good" and seemingly treading water, Johns and Reis have exploded with non-stop action and it finally feels like the same book we were reading back during the Sinestro Corps War.

For those out of the loop, Sinestro has been captured by the Red Lanterns and Hal, who's teamed up with the first Blue Lanterns, is caught in the middle. With this issue, we're treated to what I would equate to the Sinestro Corps War Special that kicked off the SCW epic. Hal has arrived to find Sinestro crucified by the Red Lanterns and is quickly ambushed by said Red Lanterns. Just when things look bleak, the Sinestro Corps arrives to free their leader, leading to what will surely be the first of many multi-coloured battles in the months to come.

While it sounds like the issue was merely an action junkies wet dream, there's all kinds of foreshadowing and hints about the upcoming war of light, ranging from Atrocitus' predictions of Hal betraying and killing the Guardians, which even Sinestro claims will happen, to the Blue Lanterns outright statements that Hal must become a Blue Lantern.

Oh, and we mustn't forget the shock ending where Hal, in a fit of rage after the death of former Green Lantern Laira at the hands of Sinestro, is selected as the newest Red Lantern, ending our issue with an image of him wielding both a green and red ring in his spiffy new Red Lantern Corps costume.

Verdict - Must Read. It's great to see Green Lantern return to the heights it once reached and the past few issues have renewed my faith and interest in the upcoming Blackest Night.

Written by Geoff Johns & Jerry Ordway
Art by Jerry Ordway

I had been anticipating this Black Adam centric storyline since Johns first started hinting at it back in early 2008. Considering how amazing the Tomasi/Mahnke Black Adam mini-series was, I had high hopes coming into this for more of the same.

I know Johns is responsible for most everything that has happend with Black Adam since his early days on JSA, but what I ended up getting in this issue was a pale shadow of the Black Adam and Isis I had come to know over the past few years. Adam and Isis' personalities are two dimensional and their motivations for acting this way feel like I'm reading a Silver Age comic where they're evil for evil's sake.

Another problem I had with the issue was the fact it was trying to be several different things at once with no flow or direction. It wants to be an epilogue for the Gog storyline, but never fully fleshes it out, only giving the briefest of glimpses at the fates of several characters. It wants to set up the new Black Adam storyline, but with the way the characters act, it's hard to really relate to them or feel anything other than bewilderment over what happened to these two amazing characters' personalities.

I rarely talk about the art of books, as I typically take it for granted, but Ordway comes off as trying too hard to look like Eaglesham's work and I found, while it was serviceable, many of the faces, particularly Black Adam's, just looked terrible and distracted me while reading this issue.

Verdict - Check It. I wanted to love this issue, as Black Adam has become one of my favourite characters over the years, but everything he did and said just felt wrong for some reason. The flow of the issue greatly impacted the readability and I just hope the storyline picks up over the next few issues.

NOVA #21
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Wellinton Alves

The Nova bullet train just keeps on going as this issue continues with the revival of the Nova Corps. While I'm not thrilled with the massive influx of new Novas, which dilute the main character's appeal somewhat and detract from the introduction of the first batch of Nova recruits from a few issues ago, I can see that Abnett and Lanning have something planned here and that all is not right with the Worldmind, warranting putting up with the sudden introduction of the new centurions.

While the plot is pretty straightforward - Nova is asked to give up the Nova Force, refuses and later has it taken away from him by force - the trip more than made up for it. With the exception of Nova's annoying brother, I loved just about every bit of dialogue and interaction from this issue, especially when Reed Richards and Worldmind get into their tangent on the science of how the planet-like Ego is not affecting the Earth with its gravity.

However, the big shock of the issue, which the cover hints at, is Nova being stripped of the Nova Force and expunged from the Corps. While many could see it coming, the thing that is shocking to me is that I can't tell if Worldmind is the one in the wrong or if Nova is actually succumbing to the stresses of bearing the entire Nova Force or not. As it is, it looks as if the now powerless Nova will have to seek out some new means of getting around the universe. My guess is we see Quasar's ghost/energy form joining up for a temporary power up until Richard either regains his Nova status or the Worldmind is freed of Ego or whatever is influencing him.

Verdict - Must Read. Just another great issue of Nova.

Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Roberto De La Torro

While the opening two issues of Diggle's run on Thunderbolts were more or less just treading water and wrapping up Ellis-related plotlines, he truly makes the book his own with this issue. Where Bendis seems to be aping Ellis' style for the Dark Avengers, it looks like Diggle isn't content to just follow what came before and he's taken the book in a similar, but unique direction with his first issue into the Dark Reign era and I'm thoroughly impressed with what I see so far.

Where Dark Avengers #1 simply went through the passes of introducing each character on the team, one by one, Diggle goes with the slow burn approach and is gradually introducing the new members of his team, starting with Yelena Belova, the third Black Widow who supposedly died in the Savage Land in the opening New Avengers arc.

The flashback to her recruitment was quite impressive and De La Torro did an excellent job illustrating one scene where Belova disarms and kills two guards. It had a very cinematic look about it, yet maintained comic book-like feel. Osborn has set up Belova as his new team leader for this covert Thunderbolts team and her death is retconned as merely her faking her death. I honestly thought they would have just made that other Belova a Skrull, but I didn't feel cheated by the explanation we got either.

The other members introduced this issue were Ant-Man and Ghost, the latter of which shows up briefly and had a better introduction over in Dark Avengers than here, but I imagine we'll learn more in future issues.

One aspect that impressed me was the seamless guest appearance of the newly elected President Obama. It doesn't feel like a cheap publicity stunt like it did in the recent Amazing Spider-Man issue and it worked extremely well. My only complaint is that with how advanced the government's funding is for things like SHIELD and HAMMER, they have the president flying on a regular Air Force One plane when everyone and their mother in the Marvel Universe seems to have their own Blackbirds with cloaking and various other features. Not something I dwelled on, but odd to see, nonetheless.

Finally, the best part of this issue is the appearance of Leonard Samson, who's advising the president against Norman Osborn and even has tapes of his Moment of the Year worthy rampage at Thunderbolt Mountain in last year's Caged Angels arc. Diggle nails Osborn and Samson's dialogue perfectly and it's one of the best scenes I've read this year. Osborn knows Samson has him and uses his new Thunderbolts to manipulate the situation to frame Samson and the political maneuvering of each character as they try to one up each other is handled well.

Verdict - Must Read. Dark Reign seems to be doing everything right coming out of Secret Invasion and it's been a while since I've been this impressed with the direction of the Marvel Universe outside of their cosmic line or Captain America.

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The Dangster said...

More dini. But I did enjoy your thoughts on Crisis 6 and 7. Well said.

Keith Gammage said...

I forget things. I always go back and read my old comics when I get the last issue of a storyarc, and I always appreciate the comics more when I read an entire arc. Once I sat down and read the entire run of X-Factor that I had, and discovered a lot of hints about later events that were planted way back.hix

Andrenn said...

I loved Dark Avengers. Great book. Tbolts was just all right for me.

I'm sorry but even with a thorough history lesson on FC I still hated it.

Matthew said...

Maybe it only looks like Air Force One on the outside, Kirk!

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was quite unimpressed with the new Thunderbolts. So much of it just seemed improbable. Replacing the pilots of the most secure jet in the world, and nobody is any the wiser? Nobody notices gamma radioactive material smuggled onboard?

But the most offensive aspect is how Diggle (channeling Bendis no doubt) is trying to retcon the fact that Osborne was publicly exposed as the Green Goblin a few years ago in the pages of Bendis' Pulse. Plus, didn't Osborne kill an Atlantean ambassador in Civil War: Front Lines? I didn't mind those gaping plot holes when Warren Ellis was onboard, but now he becomes the de facto president of America in the Marvel Universe, I'm still looking at a Grand Canyon of causality separating points A & B.

Add to that the fact that Osborne couldn't get ANYTHING right during Warren Ellis' duration. He got manipulated by psychics, his team couldn't beat American Eagle, and their only successful capture was Jack Flag. Now suddenly he's successfully carrying out Machiavellian plans to beat the Skrulls and convince President Obama that he's not really the Green Goblin? Honestly, I'd have been more impressed if Osborne got a presidential beatdown & then sent the Thunderbolts after Samson with guns-a-blazin'. At least it would show some consistency in characterization established during Warren Ellis' tenure.

Anonymous said...

about Final crisis mimbi-jumbo.
It's true what Morrison says:bulk and m-theory are concepts in cosmology.
The bulk in brane cosmology is a hypothetical higher dimensional space within which our own four-dimensional universe may exist.
In theoretical physics, M-theory is a new limit of string theory in which 11 dimensions of spacetime may be identified.

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