Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 02/11/09

All four titles I picked up this week ended up being Must Read's, which made the higher price tags currently hitting most books slightly more bearable.

Biggest story was Neil Gaiman's Batman send off, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, which kicked off this week, and it was spectacular. Hopefully Andy Kubert can finish the art for the next chapter sometime this year (already has it delayed it into mid-March).

In Weekly Crisis news, my free, downloadable 26 page magazine, TMC - The Monthly Crisis, which I released on Sunday, has been a huge success, with well over 1000 downloads from the torrent on Demonoid and the direct downloads on Mediafire. That doesn't include the non-tracked Sendspace or people that re-uploaded or shared it on other networks. I know I've seen the pages floating about on Scans Daily, which I found rather funny, all things considered, and a few other random forums. The success has given me some confidence in possibly putting out a second edition in the future.

Also, I've started updating the Archives again. They were painfully out of date and, while still not complete, I've made some big strides towards getting them back on track. I've archived the main posts, like Moments of the Week and the Weekly Crisis Reviews, and I've transferred all the single issues over to their own posts, too. However, I still have to link those individual reviews to their series pages for viewing, which I'll be working on over the weekend.

That's about all I have to say at this time, so I'll let you guys get to the reviews now. As always, hit the jump for more.

Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Andy Kubert and Scott Williams

I was tempted to let this review sit for a few days and come back after I'd fully digested this issue in its entirety, but decided it against it. I'm sure I'll enjoy this issue more and more on subsequent readings and after picking apart the numerous references to past Batman continuity, but I felt compelled to let everyone know that this issue was just that damn good and worth picking up from the get go as opposed to after I'd compiled my complete thoughts this issue several days later.

But, where to begin with this review? Well, for starters, I'm extremely pleased that Neil Gaiman didn't simply mimic what Alan Moore did with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the work this story is obviously meant to invoke. Where Moore told the final story of the Man of Steel, Gaiman goes the complete opposite direction, offering up several varied alternate origin stories from various characters from Batman's storied past, all in a eulogy setting for the recently deceased Batman.

The main reason I'm glad Gaiman went this way is that Batman, more than any other character, has had his own fair share of 'endings' over the years, most noteably, The Dark Knight Returns. Exploring this avenue again would feel tired and wouldn't offer up nearly as many story telling opportunities and interpretations as this first half of his Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? story does.

So far, I've said a lot without really delving into exactly what happened in the issue. The reason for this is simple - it's hard to describe, but in a good way, and I don't want to rob everyone of their own chance to read and experience the stories first hand with my own experiences, which draw on what I've read of Batman over the years and my own knowledge. I honestly believe everyone will walk away from this with something different from each story.

I will say this, though, while the stories can make you start wondering, "what the hell? this doesn't make sense!", at times, Gaiman knows this and has Batman, who's narrating his own funeral, even saying the same things readers may be thinking early on in the issue.

Verdict - Must Read. One thing to note about the issue before making any judgements is that this is only the first half of the story and seems to be grounded in mostly pre-Crisis era stories, barring the "I'm the goddamn Riddler!" line, and we still have the concluding chapter (delayed until March - thanks to Kubert's involvement) to look forward to. So, at that, I'll leave most of the speculation and comparisons to Moore's work until we see how this turns out before making anymore bold claims about this issue.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Leonard Kirk

Honestly? I think this issue is worth picking up for the Dr Doom and Dracula interactions alone.

However, for those looking for more reason than Doom and Dracula verbally sparring on the Moon (what other medium, besides comics, allows someone to describe something as awesome as that?), this issue delivered in spades, especially considering this is a 'prologue' issue leading into the Dracula arc.

One of my favourite parts of this issue (and there were many great moments) was the character interactions between the various team members of MI13. Whether it just be Captain Britain and Pete Wisdom in the local pub or Blade and Spitfire's playful relationship or even the first hints of trouble for the Black Knight and Faiza Hussain, Paul Cornell writes each scene with such care that it's hard not to care about these characters. Add Leonard Kirk's beautiful art to the mix and there's a reason I chose this series as my Best New Series for 2008.

Speaking of Faiza Hussain, I believe the reason they brought up the racism and border disputes in Dracula and Doom's conversation is mainly to setup a conflict with Faiza later in the arc. Dracula in the Marvel Universe is based on Vlad Tepes (Doom even calls him Tepes), who was in constant conflict with the Ottoman Empire and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslims during that time. Seeing as Faiza is a Muslim character and I can't think of any other reason to bring up the racism discussion in the Doom conversation, I can only imagine she'll be the focus of some of Dracula's hatred during this arc.

Verdict - Must Read. If you've been looking for an excuse to jump into this series, by all means, do so now. This is a great jumping on point with some down time between characters to help ease you in as well as some great building blocks for the next storyarc being put in place.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason and Rebecca Buchman

As good as this issue was, I'm a little confused as to how it lines up with what's going on with Sinestro and the Red Lanterns over in Green Lantern.

In this issue, we have Mongul invading Daxam, homeworld of Sodam Yat, the current Ion, and the Daxamites, a xenophobic race of people that become Superman-like under the effects of a yellow star. They have a red star in their solar system, for reference.

After Mongul easily enslaves the entire population of Daxam, he sets up a Sinestro Corps beacon of light above the planet and calls the remaining Sinestro Corps members to Daxam, where he tries to set himself up as the new leader of the Corps.

This is where I'm a little confused. Isn't there a huge raid on the Red Lanterns' planet where the Sinestro Corps is attempting to free Sinestro? He was freed at the end of last issue, but there's absolutely no mention of what's going on over there and, for someone like Arkillo, who appears to be loyal to Sinestro, to show up on Daxam and not aid in the rescue of Sinestro, it just strikes me as odd.

Ignoring the timing of the two events and speaking of Arkillo, he doesn't take kindly to Mongul's attempted take over bid and challenges him to gladiatoral combat, which we'll, sadly, have to wait a month to see take place.

Meanwhile, there's all kinds of down time back on Oa where we have some great Guy and Kyle moments as they discuss the new "no fornication between Green Lanterns" law that the Guardians passed last issue. Seems the huge wave of rings that came in at the conclusion to that issue due to resignations only numbered a little over 200, which is still significant, but not as high as the images made it appear. Also, seems Mogo only helps send rings to new recruits if someone dies and they have to send all these rings back to Mogo to have them "recalibrated" to search for new people, meaning a short handed Corps for a while.

Continuing on (yes, this issue was jam packed with content), Kyle's recent trend to sketch very disturbing images of his fellow Green Lanterns, usually gruesome death scenes, is finally cleared up as we see he and Soranik Natu confess their feelings for each other and even share a forbidden kiss between fellow Green Lanterns. Natu is one of my favourite 'side characters' and it's nice to see her getting a bigger role. Hopefully she doesn't end up in the fridge like just about every other girlfriend Kyle has had.

Another great scene, although with no real significance that I can see, was between the Star Sapphire, Miri, who has Kryb in tow, and Green Lantern Saarek, the Lantern tasked with tracking down the Anti-Monitor's body and who can also speak to the dead. I'm not sure why, but I really enjoyed the dialogue between these two. Just handled really well.

Finally, Sodam Yat's mother crashes on Oa, directly in front of her son, and brings news of Daxam's fall to Mongul and the Sinestro Corps. Will Sodam willingly return to the people that cast him out? Will the Guardians send the GLC to save Daxam or leave it fall due to the lack of firepower with all the resignations? All I know is that this is definitely a great time to be reading both Green Lantern titles.

Verdict - Must Read. This looks like the beginnings of another Ranx vs Mogo-like epic, this time with the battle over Daxam. Couldn't believe how much content was packed into this one issue. Great stuff all around.

THOR #600
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Olivier Coipel

J. Michael Straczynski continues to blow me away with his run on Thor. I haven't been this enthralled by the Thunder God since reading Walt Simonson's run.

As the cover suggests, Bor, last seen cast to the snowy winds by a time travelling Loki, is resurrected by that same Loki. On top of that, Loki enchants poor Bor with a spell that causes him to see the world as a monstrous illusion.

Unawares of the passage of time, Bor lashes out at his newfound surroundings, prompting Jane Foster to call on Thor for help.

I don't want to break into a play by play of the fight that eventually takes place between Thor and his grandfather, Bor, but I must confess, it's one hell of a fight and Coipel (so sad to see him leaving the title) does a fantastic job. The best part, for me, was when the Dark Avengers showed up and Thor renounces them as blasphemy.

In the end, Thor slays Bor and it brings up my only complaint about the issue - that of a previously unannounced law that if you kill the king of Asgard, you are stripped of all title and rank and banished from Asgard forever. As Bor was technically alive and still king, Thor's killing of him, just as Loki and Baldur arrived, causes them to condemn Thor and cast him out of Asgard, leaving the easily manipulated Baldur, with the silver tongued Loki at his side, in charge.

It's not that I don't like the developments that took place because of the banishment, but I just found it a tad convenient that this law comes to be known just as Thor kills Bor with no previous hints or cues to the reader about its existence. I suppose it's the means and not the method that should count and I do like what JMS has done here.

Speaking of which, as if the casting out of Thor wasn't enough, Loki quickly suggests a new home for the Asgardians - a place in the mountains where they can hunt and be safe. That place? Latveria, home of Dr Doom, one of Loki's fellow members of the evil Illuminati group currently in power in the Marvel Universe.

For some reason, I'm getting an Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360 game) vibe from these developments. In Ultimate Alliance, Doom and Loki, among others, all teamed up and one of the plot lines dealt heavily with the Asgardians and the Destroyer armour, among other things. It's nowhere near identical to the current happenings in the Thor book, but there's definitely room for overlap in there.

Verdict - Must Read. Great action, Loki being Loki, beautiful art and some great story developments that should help propel this book forward over the coming months.

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Rawnzilla said...

Ultimate Alliance was a good game. I won a copy of Spider-Man 3 for the PS2 answering trivia questions about the first game at Activision's MAU2 booth at NYCC last weekend. Lots of good books today; Batman, Thor, GLC, Captain Britain. Neil Gaiman wrote a Batman story that didn't make sense that actually made sense. Grant Morrison wrote Batman stories that didn't make sense until you read it 5 times over and then realized you missed a fact hidden away in the background.

Salieri said...

Some people have claimed that this is all The Omega Sanction, putting Bruce through thousands of guilt-ridden existences in which he is shot down, just as his parents were, and just as he finally shot The God Of Evil.

One of the bits of evidence for that would be the Joker - notice how, in accordance with Morrison's idea of the Joker continually shifting between personas, in this story his appearance subtly changes; at the beginning, he resembles the Joker from his first-ever comic appearance, but talking to Harley, his hair becomes a solid piece and his eyes turn black, as with the version that appeared late in the animated series - e.g., in that animated Batman/Superman crossover.

Salieri said...

Also, odd that the elderly one-armed baldy Green Arrow from TDKR should turn up, right next to the unaged Poison Ivy & Harley. Does Gaiman just prefer that version of Ollie, or has it some deeper meaning?

Plus, Top Hat Buddies! God, that sort of thing should happen in regular continuity more often.

Salieri said...

Goddamnit, even the clown-suited gorilla from Batman #666 is there, in the second-to-last panel!

Matt Ampersand said...

Kirk, when did you change the banner image to that one of Hercules doing the thumbs up?

Kirk Warren said...

@ampersand - I think it was Tuesday.

@Salieri - I dont think its the Omega Sanction, as Grant Morrison already did something similar with the Last Rites stories that were basically alternate lives for Batman and I'm assuming this is meant to stand on its own, similar to how Moore's Superman is its own send off issue.

As for the shifting personas, it's not so much shifting as all of Batman's history is bleeding into each other, with multiple versions of every character from different eras showing up for his funeral.

Andrenn said...

great reviews Kirk.

Sad to see part 2 of Whatever Happened being delayed, but oh well. Looking forward to picking up part 1 soon.

I really want to read Captain Britain, but money isn't as easy to come by and the belt is already getting tight.

I was going to jump on come Thor #600 but...well maybe another time.

Anonymous said...

Can I vent?

When I first read Final Crisis #7, I had no idea what I had just read. It took three times to figure it out. I think Grant Morrison is the Ronnie James Dio of comic writers - Like Dio's songs, Morrison's plots have rocked, but a lot of them make no sense or are so full of arcane references that us lay people can't understand it.

Thank you for listening, I don't have a group therapy to express my comic-related pain.

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