Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 04/22/09

Welcome to the post-hockey, late night edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews! Some of the big movers this week include Neil Gaiman's Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, which did not fail to deliver and is easily one of the best comics I've ever read, X-Force, which finally gave the Messiah War event the shot in the arm it needed, and, to keep this brief, Guardians of the Galaxy, which hasn't been this good in months.

Bigger news was the early releases of many of the Free Comic Book Day comics, which saw spoilers and scans of, most noteably, Blackest Night #0 appearing online. It ended up being little more than the previews we've already seen of the title and there's very little new information outside of the Black Lantern oath being shown, but I'm still a disappointed people scanned a FCBD comic and posted it online, especially before the actual release dates. These are supposed to encourage people to get out and into comic shops and are given away free as it is. Really disappointed in the people posting these online early just because they can.

With my little soapboxing finished, I'll let you guys get to the reviews. I'll update them tomorrow with a few more since it's pretty late as it is for me. Enjoy!

Written by Zeb Wells
Art by Clay Mann

Dark Reign: Elektra continues to impress. It's not the deepest comic nor does it explore the character in any way, but it's a fun ride with some very entertaining action sequences that manages to ever so slightly advance the plot just enough to keep me interested.

The best part of the issue comes in the opening sequence. Elektra had escaped her cell last issue and was confronted by a team of HAMMER agents, which was headed by a talented, but over confident 'red shirt'. After ordering one man to shoot Elektra, she literally dodges the bullet. It's actually explained by the squad leader as the agent telegraphing his shot and he proceeds to connect with a flesh wound to the arm on a sneak attack, but the bullet dodging scene was just perfectly executed. You'll definitely see it in the Moments of the Week.

From there, Elektra, as expected, takes out her would-be captors and makes her escape. It's all fairly standard and predictable, but how she takes them down, aided greatly by the talented Clay Mann's excellent art and panel work, make it worth seeing.

We eventually catch up with Elektra at Daredevil's law firm where she is seeking medical aid. Matt wasn't in, but she speaks with Foggy Nelson briefly before passing out. Foggy's reaction is quite entertaining and I loved watching him squirm while trying to rationalize why Elektra was there, if she was after Matt or trying to kill him and so on.

The final part of the issue concluded with Norman Osborn authorizing Bullseye/Hawkeye to "visit" (he wanted to visit and kill her in the first issue) Elektra, who is now considered a threat to national security. One thing that puzzled me was Osborn's reasoning behind it. He believes people view Elektra as the "person most associated with Skrulls" and doesn't want her on the loose, which has me wondering if people in the Marvel Universe even know who Elektra is. She's a top assassin that should be nearly invisible to the world at large and known by only a select few lucky to be alive. Yet, here, Osborn speaks as if the public sees her as a public figure that was replaced by Skrulls, similar to Spider-Woman.

Verdict - Must Read. Other than that little hiccup with Osborn's rationalizing unleashing Bullseye, there was little to complain about with this issue and I absolutely loved the opening fight sequence with the HAMMER cannonfodder. Not the deepest comic you'll ever read, but entertaining nonetheless.

Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Andy Kubert and Scott Williams

Much like the first part of the two part, "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?", this issue is downright amazing, but I'd be damned if I could pinpoint exactly what makes it so good. It's much more straight forward than the previous issue and we're shown early on just who the mystery person Batman was speaking to was, but the story is still very much an exercise in celebrating the concept of Batman moreso than being a standard Batman story.

For instance, at no point does Gaiman attempt to explain or address how or if Batman actually died. Furthermore, there is absolutely no continuity not addressed by this story. Everything was up for grabs, featuring characters and references to both the Golden and Silver Age as well as alternate realities, such as Dark Knight Returns, and even bringing in elements of the character's animated series.

Gaiman addresses all of these interpretations of Batman and boils the character down to what makes him tick - Batman simply does not give up. This applies to his mission as Batman, his desire to help people, his single minded pursuit of his goals and the very act of being Batman. There will be no retirements or happy endings or golf games for him. There is Batman and only Batman for him. It's a message that is delivered with a simplicity that makes it painfully obvious in a, "Why didn't I think of that?", kind of way and is shown to us through these wonderful vignettes by his friends and enemies from the various continuities and mediums Batman has appeared in.

To be honest, take everything Grant Morrison had attempted to accomplish with his Batman run, which dealt with who Batman is, his Silver Age heritage and the concept of Batman as a story moreso than an actual character, and boil it down to two issues that spans all of Batman's history - not just the Silver Age fetish of Morrison - and you will just begin to scratch the surface of Gaiman's finely crafted story. The description I've heard of this book that is really apt is that it is a Grant Morrison Batman story that people can understand. It's really that simple.

I'm probably sounding like a pretentious little twat at this point, but it's really difficult to describe this type of story to people and what exactly makes it so good. It's truly something people with varying degrees of history and baggage with the Batman character can pick up and enjoy. You could be the atypical Comic Book Guy that hates everything, the grizzled vetern that has seen and read every Batman story ever written or someone who's new or has never even read a comic before and pick this up and enjoy the title and walk away with something unique to yourself and your own experiences with Batman as a character.

In fact, this story lives up to the Final Crisis moniker of Legends Never Die moreso than Final Crisis ever did. Batman actually IS a legend. As such, the story boils down to how he's not a person or even a character, but an honest to god legend that will live on forever through numerous interpretations and retellings for generations to come and these two issues explored only a fraction of these different facets of the legend of Batman.

Another interpretation of the events, if you are so inclined, would be to view this legend aspect of the character as an extention of the Omega Sanction Batman suffered when he was 'killed' by Darkseid in Final Crisis. Gaiman never addresses it nor does he mention it as such, but this could also be seen as Batman living out numerous lives and deaths that the sanction imposes on the person. Again, it all comes down to how you would like to interpret the story, your experiences with the character and what you take away it. It's the ultimate form of expression that everyone can walk away happy with and something that can stand the test of time to be relevant at any time for any fan.

Verdict - Must Read. It's a comic you need to experience to truly appreciate and something that will be talked about and discussed for years to come.

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Brad Walker

Finally! Guardians of the Galaxy is back to its high quality self after a few months of what, honestly, felt like filler stories thrown together to fill the gap while waiting for the War of Kings tie-ins.

Everything about this issue was leaps and bounds above the past few months of output. The characters were vibrant and the book was littered with witty dialogue. Even the small things, like naming the bar on Knowhere Starlins, in honour of legendary cosmic writer, Jim Starlin, were perfect in this issue - something we haven't seen, literally, in months.

From the get go, you could just tell this issue was going to be good based on the aforementioned Starlin reference and casual way the team was introduced and reunited in the opening pages of this issue. The lack of a real team feel to this title was probably one of the major problems I had with the title over the past few months and it was great seeing everyone interacting and addressing past grievances, as seen with Adam Warlock's and Starlord's conversation over putting aside their trust issues to get things done or Bug's constant questioning of why he wasn't included in the original roster of the team or even Drax's casual "what's new?"-like conversation with Groot. These little things all add up to an enjoyable reading experience and are easy to overlook until they're gone, as was the case for the rocky past few issues.

The rest of the issue is devoted to explaining why the Guardians are getting involved with the War of Kings event and showing what they do about it. Warlock brings the reasoning and explains it as an extension of his need to fix the various rips in the fabric of space that he's been tracking down since the series began. He contests the Shi'ar's use of the Nega-Bombs on Kree worlds has aggrevated these tears and the war must stop or risk tearing the universe apart. It's as good as any reason to get the team involved and it's more an excuse to get them in the event moreso than something they'll be following up on outside of the brief closing of a rift in this issue.

Once the reasoning behind entering the fray was established, the real fun began. Starlord and Rocket Raccoon held a meeting where the two divvy up the various team members into two separate teams - one to confront Black Bolt and the other to speak with Vulcan in an attempt to negotiate peace between them. The meeting was hilarious and I loved how Rocket Raccoon called first dibs on all the heavy hitters for his team.

After the teams are picked, both set off to see their respective 'kings' with Peter's team off to see Black Bolt and Rocket and co off to confront Vulcan. Things obviously don't go as planned. Black Bolt outright dismisses any hope of peace in light of Starlord's pleas while Vulcan's ships are teleport shielded, which only allowed Warlock's magic based self-teleport in, resulting in Vulcan immediately attacking Adam. The rest of the team had to be saved by the Starjammers, who have past experience working with Rocket Raccoon (we need an miniseries off this asap!).

Verdict - Must Read. Personally, I couldn't find a single thing wrong with this issue outside of maybe some stretching behind the reasons for getting involved in the event. It's just good old fashioned fun and I just hope the title continues with this return to form and puts those last few substandard issues behind us.

Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Jamal Igle and Jon Sibal

I'm jumped on this title last month during a lull in the releases that saw room for additions to my pull list and was quite happy with what gates and Igle did with the book. So much so that I was back again this month and contemplating making the book a regular purchase. It's odd how things change over the course of a month.

Similar to how the last issue was good, but not perfect, this issue is on the other end of the spectrum, but never outright terrible either. This was the culmination of the "Who Is Superwoman?" storyline and focused mostly on the rematch between Supergirl and Reactron, the villain responsible for killing Kara's father.

The fight between Supergirl and Reactron is actually quite good - or at least when Gates isn't forcing exposition down our throat to explain every little action or attempting to address certain retcons. One such instance was Reactron trying to explain his first match up pre-gold kryptonite heart that came out of nowhere and ruined the momentum of the fight scene with a wasted attempt at addressing / retconning something that was not even a part of this story.

However, the worst part of this issue comes from what was also a reference to one of the few moments from Supergirl that managed to have in the past that made it into my Moments of the Week - her short lived training from Batman. Supergirl has been depowered by gold kryptonite and is recalling her training with Batman and him telling her to use any tools available to her. The problem? She's freefalling and about to go pavement diving when her brilliant idea is to simply grab her cape and use it to glide to a nearby rooftop. It's actually worse reading/seeing than my description makes it sound and had me literally face palming at how this made it to print.

The final nail in the coffin for this issue came from the big reveal of just who Superwoman really is - Lois Lane's sister, Major Lane. Yes, it's a Jeph Loeb-ian red herring mystery with all kinds of hints and swerves that never add up to the actual reveal, similar to his Hush, Hulk and Long Halloween reveals.

Verdict - Avoid It. There are moments I liked this issue, but the absurdity of the reveal and some heavy handed writing really knock the wind out my sails in regards to my enthusiasm for this title.

Written by Chris Yost & Craig Kyle
Art by Clayton Crain

Messiah War finally starts with this issue. What do you mean it's already started? This is part three? I wouldn't have known based on the prologue and the issue of Cable from a few weeks back. Up until now, the story has consisted of X-Force talking to Cable and giving out introductions or recapping past events for 60 some odd pages or more.

Thankfully, Yost and Kyle finally kickstart this event by throwing the team into a big brawl with the big bad, Stryfe, and giving us some Apocalypse loving all in the same issue. It's far from a perfect issue, but it definitely cranked the dial up a notch or five on a story that had been spinning its wheels.

That said, this issue is dark. No, not dark as in blood and gore and the stereotypical grim and gritty kind of dark. Well, this is X-Force, so it is actually all that, but I mean physically dark. The colouring of Crain's art is so dark at times that it is hard to discern just what the hell is going on in some of the panels as it's night time, everyone is wearing black, they all have the same claws/knife/snarling motif and there's black blood everywhere as Stryfe's search squad gets massacred by the X-Force squad. Some of the scenes make it almost impossible to tell who people are on first look and you have to hope they mention the characters by name just so you can tell who's saying what.

Ignoring the colouring and gratuitous blood and gore, there's a lot to like about this issue. X-23 has another great moment with Hope that shows sparks of the character Yost & Kyle wrote back during their New X-Men run and gives me hope (pun not intended) that we can see a real person under this killing machine facade she seems to have reverted to since joining X-Force.

I've seen some negative comments about Deadpool for this issue, but can't see where they're coming from. I loved his "he could be a zombie!" rationale during the fight scene and the scene with Domino was an interesting piece that has me curious about this future character and just how "insane" he actually is.

As I said, Stryfe and Apocalypse were great in this issue, too. We finally see how Bishop and Stryfe "killed" Apocalypse. The time travel stuff is still a little wonky and doesn't seem to jive with any other time travel Marvel comic I've read, but, ignoring logistics, I liked how they explained the killing of Apocalypse and, moreso, the reveal that he was still alive at the end of the issue after summoning his former horseman, Archangel, bettern known as Death, to him. He looks pretty worse for wear, but it's still a great moment that has me back on board an event I was contemplating dropping prior to this issue.

Verdict - Check It. There are a lot of flaws in this issue (dark, muddied art, continuity, time travel discrepencies, etc) that prevent it from being an outright Must Read, but I really did enjoy a lot of the things Yost and Kyle brought to the table and this story is finally starting to come together. Let's see if they can continue to build on the momentum of this issue.

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quantum said...

I was calling Lucy Lane as Superwoman for a while now. We knew it wasn't Thara Ak-Var, why would it be Alura, etc. I bet the thing that Kara didn't notice before was that Superwoman's costume isn't made of Kryptonian materials.

But yeah, Reactron's retconning really pulled me out of the story. I liked the Batman training bit.

Thor was so good. Th Warriors Three scene was hilarious, it was wonderful watching Balder push Dr. Doom's buttons in a way I can only describe as Shakespearean, and William and Kelda was just great. And the reveal at the end, man Loki is cold-blooded. Well worth the $3.99. Speaking of which, I need to grab the Beta Ray Bill comic from last week. I read the scan yesterday and now Kieron Gillen needs my money.

I picked up too many books this week. Jesus, I spent $38.

Sorry I called you a bastard over the Blackest Night scans, I never actually read them, but someone posted the checklist. I'm NeutronBomb on Twitter, btw.

Anonymous said...

Arkham Asylum one shot was freakin awesome this week!

Pat said...

That issue of Detective blew my mind...between Morrison and now this Gaiman story i don't think Batman has ever been this good

Andrenn said...

Great review on Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Kirk. I myself struggled with not spoiling it as there where so many perfect moments I wanted to point out. I know I said prior that I'm not a fan of Neil Gaiman but this story has made me a fan.

Rick said...

"Did not fail to disappoint?"
I do not think that means what you think it means....

Kirk Warren said...

@Rick - Ahaha, sorry, I just noticed that when you pointed it out. I wrote this pretty late last night and didn't give it a proper once over before posting. I'll fix that now.

Mike I said...

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, I will have to check that out.

TheGoose said...

Kirk, did you think was Whatever Happened to the Caped Cursader better than Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Kirk Warren said...

@TheGoose - It's a cop out answer, but I think they're both great in their own ways. Both are stories that will stand the test of time and be relevant and definitive stories for their respective characters for years to come. If I had to choose, I think I'd go with the Superman story just barely. It has the same level of depth and deconstructs / boils Superman down to everything that's great about the character just like Gaiman's story and also capped off the Silver Age era of Superman stories in a more straight forward manner (still lots of depth though) than the more cerebral funeral ending to Batman.

But you cant really go wrong with either story.

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