Thursday, April 2, 2009

UPDATED - Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 04/01/09

Only had time to bang out a couple of reviews of the biggest books this week - Flash: Rebirth and War of Kings, to be precise. I'll update this post tomorrow when I have more time to review the rest of the week's offerings. There's also yesterday's advance review of New Avengers: The Reunion #2 for those that missed it. Hit the jump for the reviews.

UPDATE - Added reviews for Cable #13 and Secret Warriors #3.

Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Ariel Olivetti

Messiah War marches on with this issue of Cable. I originally had no plans to follow the event until I caved to reader suggestions to pick up the prologue last week. Suffice to say, I wasn't blown away with the prologue, but it was enough to hook me in for the rest of the event.

Which brings me to this week's Cable. I now remember why I dropped this title way back at the start of Swierczynski's and Olivetti's run - neither has impressed me with their work on this title of the characters in the various issues I've read and the trend continues here.

Swierczynski's writing is stilted and many of the characters act without any regard to past relationships. For instance, Cable literally tells the X-Force team that they should, and I quote, "gut [Deadpool] and dump him" and that they'd, "be fools to trust him". This is the same Deadpool that Cable shared a comic with and the same character he trusted with his life and was fairly good friends with. He knows Deadpool has mental problems, but was the one person that treated him with respect and like he was an actual hero. Yet here he is outright telling X-Force to kill his friend, who he knows just spent 800 years trapped in isolation. There's odd mischaracterizations and then outright disregard for the characters and their relationships and Swierczynski has never really struck me as caring about any of the characters he writes about in this title, especially when compared to how faithful he seems to be to Brubaker's and Fraction's work on Iron Fist.

In regards to Olivetti, I'm just not a fan of his work. Everyone seems so stiff. It's as if they were all drawn separately and then pasted onto the page. The backgrounds are all plain, washed out landscapes with little to no detail other than a generic mountain or horizon line. This is more of a personal preference, though, so your mileage may vary in regards to how much you enjoy the art.

As for the actual Messiah War storyline, it appears I was both right and wrong about Apocalypse ruling the future Cable and X-Force are trapped in. Apparently, Apocalypse did, at one point, control this timeline and his alien ship is, indeed, located in the city that Cable was showing everyone in the prologue. However, as Deadpool points out to us in this issue, Apocalypse was actually killed by Stryfe and Bishop off-panel and Stryfe is in control now.

Oddly enough, most of the issue was spent recounting Deadpool's misadventures and how he managed to survive into this future. We spent several pages recapping how Wade was trapped in a freezer for the past 800 years. Most of the jokes fell flat, especially compared to Yost & Kyle's dialogue in the prologue, and I was left wondering why we spent so much time on the topic.

The only significant event to occur in this issue was the final page, which had Stryfe's minions tracking down Cable and X-Force. It was a rather oddly scripted scene, which saw Stryfe's attack squad on another mountain top in one panel, Cable cursing over being found and then the next page the Stryfe team has them all surrounded. Other than the odd pacing of that scene, it looks like the next X-Force chapter of this event will be a bloodbath, as I doubt our team will be captured this easily.

Verdict - Check It. Tempted to give an Avoid It to this issue due to very little actually happening, but I'm willing to let it slide as a Check It due to my bias towards the creative team coming in and my not outright hating the issue, despite its flaws.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ethan Van Sciver

It wasn't bad would probably be the nicest way to describe this issue, which amounted to, more or less, 40 pages of everyone, save Bart Allen, praising Barry Allen as if he was the second coming of Christ. In between the blatant Barry lovefest scenes, the book does a good job of building up a decent mystery around Barry's return to the land of the living along with his new powers.

Oh, yes, new powers. It doesn't outright state it, but it appears that Barry Allen is the new Black Flash, who was shown dead in a cornfield and crumbled to ash when some kids poked the corpse with a bat. Or, at the very least, he has somehow acquired the Black Flash's powers. I say this based on the fact Barry was the one responsible (or so we're led to believe) for the death of 'a speedster' that the solicits hinted at for this issue.

Who was the mystery speedster that bit the dust? Well, if you read the issue, you'll know it was Savitar long before he ever appears because they mention him in just about every freaking discussion about speedsters. It's like he had been some close friend or family member that got trapped in the Speed Force when he was just a blip on the Flash radar, only having appeared in a handful of issues and hasn't even been seen since the mid-90's. Although, I suppose Black Hand didn't have a huge presence in the GL books back around the time of Green Lantern: Rebirth and look where he ended up. Maybe Johns has plans for Savitar beyond just having Barry drain the speed from him and turning him to dust (I've seen people come back from worse - just look at Barry!).

As I said, I actually enjoyed the bits and pieces of this Black Flash/murder mystery that we were given, but, as far as first issues go, this was a rather pedestrian issue as it amounted to nothing more than a lot of a corny dialogue from every hero possible about just how damn great Barry Allen is/was. The worst offender has to be Jay Garrick, who actually utters the words, "Barry made me the Flash", and goes on to explain how he had retired and it was Barry that made him the man he is today. Other JSA'ers go on to state the same thing about how Barry brought them out of retirement and made them the heroes they are today.

Even if these things were true, which they're not, it doesn't make me love Barry or even see any reason for his return. In fact, it actually alienates the character from me as it feels like Johns is ramming him down my throat. Show me why he's so great or why he deserves all the attention or even why he deserves to come back to life. Don't force feed me a bunch of trumped up Wikipedia factoids from the mouths of characters that shouldn't be spouting such drivel in the first place.

The only character with any kind of sensible reaction, which stemmed from the fact he wished Max Mercury came back from the Speed Force, was Bart Allen, who's back in our timeline and alive with no explanation whatsoever. For those out of the loop, he mysteriously came back in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #3, a series that has since been delayed into oblivion. I assume we'll find out how he returns to the present day / is alive (they just have him show up after using a cosmic treadmill with no explanation). He appears to know he died and was the Flash at one point, so I'm unsure just how he's alive and not deaged to a Kid Flash persona.

However, Bart's reaction, aside from the anger over no one celebrating his return and his desire to have his mentor, Max Mercury, back, was also flawed. Bart loved hearing stories of his grandfather Barry and always wished to have adventures with him and follow in his footsteps. Having him not care one bit about Barry's return is also a bit odd. Much of Bart's dialogue also comes off as Johns' attempt at quelling the average fan's concerns, fans who have never read any comics featuring Barry and also mirror Bart's take on Barry with the whole 'never knew him' and 'what did he sacrifice if he didn't really die' bits, by showing the one dissenting character as obnoxious and childish. It felt eerily similar to his Superboy Prime, who has been portrayed as a substitute for internet comic fans, except less subtle, to me at least.

My final complaint comes in the form of Iris Allen. It was nice seeing Barry meet up with and save her in Final Crisis. However, I was expecting some kind of interaction between the two here. Hell, with how straight laced and how black and white Barry was shown to see everything in this issue, why wasn't there any kind of follow up to Iris' team up with Zoom - the very same team up that eventually led to the death (he got better) of Bart Allen when he was the Flash? Are we just ignoring that now?

Up until now, it's been mostly a negative review with what amounts to nothing but doom and gloom on my part. I'd like to dispel the notion that this review might be making the book out to be terrible. As I said in the opening line, this is a good book. I think my biggest problem with it is that it's not as good as the current Green Lantern titles and the Rebirth tagline on the book is meant to elicit feelings and expectations in relation to Green Lantern, who had a Rebirth title of his own several years back by the same creative team.

Verdict - Check It. A solid, if slow opening issue that failed, by a large margin, to reach the expectations set for it. Additionally, Johns spent far too much time having characters espouse the greatness of Saint Barry as opposed to actually showing us why he's so great or deserving of all this attention. However, it's early on in this miniseries, so there's still time to solve these problems.

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier

War is upon the Kree as Vulcan's sneak attack from last issue continues here as Abnett and Lanning, with the help of Pelletier's beautiful pencils, show us the devastating aftermath of the use of a nega-bomb on one of the outlying Kree worlds. It's a great opening that sets the tone for the rest of the issue.

However, despite this effective form of recap, there's actually very little else from the Vulcan camp this time around. Instead, we are treated to the fallout of the attack on Hala, see how the Kree people react to the carnage and, finally, how the Inhumans deal with the fallout.

To be honest, I was fully expecting Abnett and Lanning to move directly to the counterattack by the Inhumans and ignore the devestation caused by the Shi'ar attacks. To say I was pleased with how they followed up the action packed first issue would be an understatement. It's rare that we get to see a realistic (or as realistic as super hero comics get) take on this declaration of war by the Shi'ar and the reactions of the people devastated by it.

For example, the Kree homeworld of Hala was shown to be in a state of civil unrest due to the unprovoked attack, which resulted in the deaths of billions of people. They blame the Inhumans for bringing this war to their already battered and beaten people, who were nearly wiped out by Ultron and the Phalanx in Annihilation: Conquest, and they would be correct in that assumption, as Vulcan is retaliating for the destruction of his warbirds by the Inhumans from the Secret Invasion: War of Kings special.

However, the point of this example is that it's a relatively small thing that Abnett and Lanning perfectly showcased in the span of a few panels and followed up on in the political dialogue between the Inhuman Royal Council, who are used to absolute obediance and faith in their patriarch, Black Bolt.

Another great part of this issue was, surprisingly, the Inhuman Crystal. Her concern for new husband, Ronan, while not blind love, is believable and her actions and inner monologue throughout this issue made me care more about her character than I ever have and her ascension to 'people's princess' status after her actions were cleverly broadcast out to the public was another well crafted scene that never felt forced or contrived.

The final part of this issue followed up on the Inhuman's retaliation plans. The Inhuman's are a powerful race of extremely gifted - both intellectually and physically - people. However, they are typically shown as impotent and unable to act or save themselves without Black Bolt's intervention. It was great seeing these surgical strike squads of Inhumans in action (with some help from the Starjammers, of course) and it was one of the few times I've actually believed in the Inhuman's supposed genetic superiority and evolution.

Finally, I wanted to mention Gladiator, of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard. Poor, poor Gladiator. He received a brief monologue at the start of the issue about the use of the nega-bomb and his reluctance to deliver Lilandra to his Emperor, Vulcan and the issue ends with him being forced to hold her as Vulcan prepares to kill her in a fit of rage over the decimation of one of his fleets by the Inhuman counterattack. Abnett & Lanning have done a decent job building up Gladiator and his loyalty to the throne and the throne only, regardless of how good or evil the ruler is, and while it's hard to agree with his viewpoint, it's also easy to see why he does what he does. However, I'm not sure what Gladiator is going to end up doing here and regardless of whether he helps save or kill Lilandra, I think we're all still going to hate him as a character.

Verdict - Must Read. I will concede that this issue has a slower, more methodical pace than the previous, but I think the step back taken for the big picture view of how the war affected people helped the event more than any amount of mindless action could have. Great effort from all those involved.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli

Secret Warriors continues to impress this month and is easily my front runner for best new book this year. After taking a break from Fury's newest warriors last month to spotlight the rebirth and reunification of Hydra under Baron Strucker, Kraken, Madame Hydra, Viper and several other high profile Hydra villains, Hickman and Caselli thrust the team back into the spotlight with some excellent character moments intersperced with the teams first failure in the field.

To be honest, the only problem I had with the issue was that it ended. The book was already packed with content from cover to cover, but left me dying for more at the same time, which is something few books are able to do these days.

That said, this issue broke down into two major parts - a character driven moment between Nick Fury and his off again, on again ex-lover, Contessa Allegra de Fontaine, and the action packed confrontation between the recently resurrected Hydra powerhouse, Gorgon, and our Secret Warriors.

The Nick Fury/Contessa scene was my favourite part of the issue. It was packed with razer sharp dialogue from both parties involved and really drove home the relationship between the two as well as the current mindframe of Nick Fury. The use of Contessa for this scene was well chosen as she is one of the few characters that can speak to Fury on this level and the way Fury reacts to her is completely different than anyone on the Secret Warriors team.

In regards to the action part of this issue, Caselli's art made this sequence. I've loved his work on Avengers: The Iniative and I love it on this title, too. The squad was sent by Fury to prevent Hydra from raiding any more top secret SHIELD facilities. However, the team was too late getting to a psi-ops intel base and was forced to watch as Gorgon executed several of the facility's operatives.

Unable to stand idly by, Quake ordered the team to engage, a command I'm sure she's likely to regret over the coming months as Yo-Yo, the resident team speedster, proved too slow for Gorgon, who made use of his katana to severly injure and nearly kill the young hero. It wasn't made completely clear how badly Yo-Yo was hurt, but we can easily see at least one of her forearms sliced off and flying through the air and we were told, as she was rushed to surgery, that she had lost a lot of blood going in.

The other combatant of note was Phobos, the God of Fear. The youngest member of the team stepped up to confront Gorgon as the team made their escape and, in what I thought was a great moment, was forced to run as Gorgon calmly points out he's already died once and come back, so no longer fears anything.

Finally, the aftermath of the botched mission saw Fury reach out to Dum Dum Dugan, former SHIELD agent and ex-Howling Commando. It's not stated outright what Fury wants from him, but he's looking for some people willing to get their hands dirty and people that shoot first and ask questions later. To this Dugan simply replies with a, "I might be able to round up some guys.". Will the Secret Warriors be expanding to include the old Howling Commandos squad or will Fury be running another team unbeknownst to his inexperienced squad?

Verdict - Must Read. Action, suspense, great character moments and beautiful art - what's not to love?

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Andrenn said...

I was tempted to pick up Flash: rebirth but after this review, I'm pretty sure that I don't mind skipping on it.

Anonymous said...

I just wondering why you didn't mention the mysterious figure at the begininng of Rebirth who not only recreated the lighting strike that gave Barry his powers to grant himself that same power, but also claimed to be responsible for Barry's "return."

Kevin said...

You took the words out of my mouth. Both reviews were spot on.

I found the scene in Flash: Rebirth #1 between Hal and Barry to be funny because I just picture Didio, Johns and all of the Barry fanboys in Hal's role while I was Barry saying how it is not right he is back. It just felt like a discussion I've had over and over again with some of my friends.

On War of Kings #2 I really dig the role of "The People's Princess" Crystal has taken and I hope she is given a moment to shine with her powers later in the series.

Kirk Warren said...

@Andrenn - I'm honestly not sure who this book was for. There's too many retcons for true Flash fans (even Barry's mother being killed in a flashback is a retcon) and Wally is playing second fiddle to Barry, probably alienating fans from the past 30 years. And as for new readers, Barry's return felt too heavy handed and forced compared to Hal's similar return in GL: Rebirth.

However, you may wish to 'Byrne it'/read a bit of it at the stands before passing up on it completely.

@Anonymous - I think I got a little overzealous in pointing out the flaws I had with the book and forgot to point out the mystery character's brief appearance at the start. I meant to mention him in the part where Flash 'killed' Savitar as a potential cause of death, but ended up moviong on to other faults in the title.

@Kevin - I really liked that people's princess bit. Such a smooth transition. Rare to see something like that work so naturally.

Between the Panels said...

As a new Flash reader, I really don't have any sort of experience with any of the Flashes. However, I do agree with sort of gushing over of Barry and making him something that is god-like. That being said, I really don't min d any of the retcons.

I dunno, like you said, this might be a slow burn, but as a new Flash reader, I was interested in what would happen after Barry's return. Although, I LOVE Van Sciber's art. It looks beautiful.

Eric Rupe said...

Given that no one in the X-books actually stays dead, aside from Jean (so far), I'm betting Apocalypse returns before the end of Messiah War.

bobbyweenus said...

I'll agree completely about Cable 13, I felt the same way, there was a bit too much standoffishness, these people should be relieved to see each other at least to some degree. I do agree with Logan that the baby can't be in anymore danger back in the present than he is in this completely insane future, but I don't think it's fair to sit and rip on Cable and call him a fuck up. It just seemed extra-aggressive and forced.

Ethereal said...

Cable was... terrible. I'm upset that I had to read that, when it seemed like I could have skipped it and still understood the story fully.
Flash: Rebirth was good, but not at all what I expected. I'll be reading it, without a doubt.
JSA was okay, alot better than the previous one. It seemed more like a Black Adam book, or a 52 book than a JSA book though.
I think War of Kings was okay, but didn't really advance the story much. I still loved it, and think this series will be great once its all said and done.
I might take a look at Secret Warriors after this first arc. I'll be following your reviews on it.

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