Thursday, May 7, 2009

Updated - Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/06/09

I had to cut this edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews a little short this week, primarily due to the need to watch hockey playoffs or face deportation from Canada, but I've put together some reviews of the big movers and shakers, War of Kings and Flash: Rebirth, as well as Battle for the Cowl: The Network and the advance review I posted yesterday of New Avengers: The Reunion. If I have time later, I'll try to update with my Atomic Robo and Cable reviews. In the meantime, enjoy the reviews and let me know what you bought and thought this week.

UPDATE - Added reviews for Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time and Cable

Written by Brian Clevinger
Art by Scott Wegener

While the second volume of Atomic Robo failed to captivate like the first one did, I still loved the character and world that Clevinger and Wegener were creating and thoroughly enjoyed it.

That said, I was caught off guard by this third volume, as I must have missed the announcement of it and the solicitation for it. Add in Diamond "forgetting" to deliver copies of this third volume to the entire east coast and delaying it another week and I was starting to think I was being punished for not paying enough attention to one of my favourite books.

Thankfully, I was able to endure the extra week, despite succumbing to temptation and viewing scans from the issue online, which all ended up in the Moments of the Week last week, and, boy, am I glad I finally got myself a copy of this book. Where the second volume went with a more traditional style of storytelling, which focused on a flashback to WWII, this issue proved that the third time is the charm as I haven't laughed out loud at an issue or been this entertained with a comic since the first volume was published.

The setup for this flashback tale consists of Robo being confronted by two former acquantinces of Nikola Tesla, Robo's creator. They are seeking help from Tesla, who is off on some trip at the moment, and settle for Robo after some hilarious dialogue and basic explainations.

As it turns out, the two acquantinces turn out to be the fathers of modern supernatural and paranormal fiction, Charles Fort and HP Lovecraft, and Lovecraft ends up being possessed by the same Lovecraftian monster that the duo helped Tesla stop many years earlier. Clevinger has managed to integrate these two obvious influences on his writing into the Atomic Robo universe much in the same way he did for Nikola Tesla for Robo's origin. It's fun, tongue in cheek and just plain works in the context of this story and setting and having Lovecraft possessed by a version of his own Cthulhu monster is just too good to be true.

Verdict - Must Read. One of the most polished Robo scripts to date, excellently paced and beautifully drawn, this is an excellent start to the third volume of Atomic Robo and you do youself a disservice if you aren't picking this book up.

Written by Fabian Nicieza
Art by Don Kramer

Best way to describe this issue is that it was surprisingly good. I honestly wasn't expecting much from the Battle for the Cowl tie-in, but definitely walked away with my money's worth.

For those interested, the story is a fairly simple race against time. Dr Hugo Strange, who I had actually expected to be the Black Glove before Grant Morrison introduced Dr Hurt, is back after escaping from Arkham and has kidnapped three people, each in a similar vein to victims in the Saw movie. By this I mean they are damaged or broken humans, one being a crack addicted mother that tried to sell her own children, another being an escaped convict who was on death row for murder and the other being a 91 year old woman suffering from late stage Alzheimer's.

Strange has kidnapped these people as a means of testing the new Batman (aka Jason Todd) by making him choose who lives and dies from his three hostages. The catch is that The Network, a group of street level Bat-family related characters, like Batgirl, Oracle, Manhunter, Huntress, Misfit and various others, are picking up the slack and break off into teams to try and save the three victims before they are killed.

It's a fairly straight forward plot that we've seen variations of before, but Fabian does a good job with it despite the familiarity of the plot. His work with Batgirl was excellent and has me wishing he was handling the character more often. I loved her playing off of Huntress, despite my misgivings with the regressing of her character to the more anti-hero/killing badguys to save good people is justified routine.

I was also quite interested in the return of Hugo Strange. He has never really been a part of the post-Crisis DC Universe, despite being a fairly unique villain and foil for Batman, especially as someone that had learned his identity at one point, and, aside from some cameos in Gotham Underground and the odd mention in Morrison's run on Batman, this is probably the first real appearance by him in years. He doesn't come back with a bang nor is this a defining moment in his history, but it's an entertaining reintroduction to the character and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future.

Verdict - Check It. Fairly entertaining, albeit predictable read. Quite satisfied with the purchase even though I know this isn't the best book I'll ever read.

Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Ariel Olivetti

I've made no attempt to hide my distaste for Cable or its current creators', Duane Swierczynski and Ariel Olivetti, work on the title and have admitted to a bias and general dislike for this volume on the whole, even as recent as the last issue.

However, this issue actually manages to redeem the much maligned title, at least in regards to its place in the current Messiah War crossover. It is by no means a great issue, but I didn't outright hate it, as I had expected to, either.

What I liked most about this issue is that it significantly progressed the rather slow and plodding Messiah War storyline. We had spent a good three and a half (the prologue was doublesized) issues on this event that amounted to nothing more than handshaking and the odd bit of gore. This issue doesn't let up on the prerequisite gore factor, but it does take steps to providing some conflict to the story. In this case, by bringing the Bishop/Stryfe conflict to ahead and the nice twist with having Hope tricked into believing Stryfe actually is Cable (Stryfe is his evil clone for those wondering, which just sounds silly when I say it out loud).

The biggest let down of this issue is still the artwork. Compare Olivetti's artwork to Crain's work on X-Force, specifically the Apocalypse and Archangel stuff, and Olivetti's shortcomings are apparent, especially when you consider the fact both primarily use digital artwork and colouring techniques. Everyone Olivetti draws comes off stiff and lifeless and any attempts at displaying motion, such as flashbacks of Hope skipping or the random fight sequences in this issue, look like old toys that only move in a few directions at the elbows and knees.

Verdict - Check It. If you're reading this event, you'll be happy to know the story picks up with this issue, but there's not really much here for those uninterested or trade waiting to get excited over just yet.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ethan Van Sciver

One word describes this issue, and Flash: Rebirth in general, and that is slow. For a book and character that thrives on speed, Rebirth has been a slow and plodding pace that threatens to bore me before Geoff Johns ever really makes me care about Barry Allen's return or the new grimmer and darker motivation for the Silver Age character.

Speaking of which, the retconning of Barry's parents' death as his sole motivation for being a hero and working in a crime lab has been the worst part of this series. This isn't the same Barry from the few flashback or random time travel appearances that I've read of him nor is it the same fun, straight laced Barry from Final Crisis. Sure, Johns threw out a random Flash Fact, which seemed forced moreso than something he should have been saying at the time, but that doesn't automatically make it good writing and it felt like he was going through a checklist of things to include here rather than having a story to tell.

However, the biggest problem with this issue is that nothing happens. It is literally giving us the origin of Barry's clip-on bowtie for the bulk of the issue. The rest is a few scenes dealing with Savitar's death from last issue and the followup confrontation with one of his followers, who Barry kills in much the same way as he did Savitar. The issue ended with the confirmation that Barry is, in fact, the new Black Flash, complete with his own costume. Van Sciver mentioned he was designing a new costume for Wally, so I wonder if Barry will stick with this Black Flash costume or if Van Sciver was just misdirecting everyone and the new costume was actually for Barry.

All that said, the issue wasn't a complete loss. I did enjoy some of the flashback scenes when Johns wasn't beating us over the head with how dark and tragic Barry's past was and the Black Flash confirmation was a nice step forward at the end of the issue.

Verdict - Check It. I'm not willing to recommend this series to any new readers of Flash and I'm not even sure if it's something old fans should run out to pick up, but it wasn't a bad issue either. It's mostly falling a victim of its own hype and my high expectations, to which it is falling well short of presently.

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier

Great googily moogily, this issue was easily the best comic this week and just about every second page was a candidate for the Moments of the Week.

In fact, the only "bad", and I use the term loosely, part of the issue was the predictable copout opening pages. If you recall, last issue featured Lilandra captuerd and brought before Emperor Vulcan, who was ready to execute her on the spot while Gladiator watched on. This issue started off with the Fleet Admiral stopping Vulcan and explaining how he'd simply make her a martyr and other expected reasons for him not to actually kill her. It was still solid writing and logical, but cheapens the effect of the cliffhanger from last month and everyone saw it coming a mile away.

Thankfully, that was the only complaint I had with this issue. We've got quiet moments that further expanded Crystal's, of the Inhuman Royal Family, role in the politics of the Kree Empire and her relationship with Ronan has been wonderfully fleshed out. It also appears there's either going to be an eventual butting of heads between Ronan and Crystal with Black Bolt and the other Inhumans by the end of this event or possible seeds for an Inhumans miniseries or ongoing coming out of the event.

From these quiet moments on Hala, we jumped to the action packed reprisal of the Inhumans and Starjammers, who recently joined up with the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Guardians' tie-in issue. This fight sequence featured some amazing moments, such as Rocket Raccoon going one-on-one with Gladiator (and winning! Kind of...), Groot playing the role of the "big stick" against the magnetic based Imperial Guard, Electron, and, probably the biggest moment of all, Gladiator's betrayal of Vulcan, which left me with my mouth hanging opening in disbelief over what I just saw as Gladiator takes his former Imperial Guard member's head off with his heat vision, much to the utter shock and horror of the rest of the pro-Vulcan Shi'ar present, and declares his loyalty to Lilandra.

Sure, many will probably point to this as some predictable due to the fact they gave Gladiator a lot of face time and even some thought boxes throughout the storyarc, but even with all these supposedly obvious tells, it came down to a 50/50 chance as to whether he would betray Vulcan or kill Lilandra and I'm betting the same people scoffing it off as predictable storytelling would be saying the same thing if he had sided with Vulcan here. In the end, Gladiator has been built up like this before and always stuck with his Emperor du jour and, to me, true, this was something I could see happening, but no more or less than the other, easier option occuring, which we had years of other stories to support.

Verdict - Must Read. It's hard to believe how good War of Kings has been so far and we haven't even seen a Vulcan vs Black Bolt match up or Black Bolt vs Gladiator rematch or any kind of cutting loose between the actual "kings" of this event.

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The Dangster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Dangster said...

I'm a (fairly) new reader to Flash. I'd recommend it. I mean being a new reader you get a lot of new information in this issue. Knowing Johns he'll have a great pay off.

Klep said...

I saw a scan of Gladiator's betrayal and my jaw dropped as well. Such a great moment.

Then I started laughing because I'm pretty sure the Guard member he killed has already died at least once in this event (and they made a point of his replacement). I wonder if DnA are making that a running gag. If so, I approve.

Naymlap said...

Atomic Robo was a bit slow, but nonetheless entertaining. I especially loved the portrayal of Lovecraft as a raving and condescending racist. He kinda was in real life, and rather than duck around it Clevinger makes it entertaining. That shouldn't be too surprsising seeing as the best characters in 8-bit are the least redeeming ones.

Salieri said...

It is fantastic to read such an intelligent, careful review of "The Network" after seeing the comments on scans_daily.


Matt Ampersand said...

I think we all saw the Gladiator moment coming, and I still yelled "OH SH-" when it actually happened. That's good writing.

BobofBentleigh said...

Warning: Long post ahead, and probably a bit gushing

Couldn't agree more with the review of War of Kings. I didn't mind much about the cop-out opening as it was, as you said, solidly written and well put enough that it felt real. I can't help but feel that the poor admiral that stopped Vulcan will pay the price for Gladiator's defection, given that Vulcan is crazy/paranoid enough to think they would be in cahoots.

For me, this issue finally put the 'war' into War of Kings, even if the full scale of it was mostly off-panel and only mentioned in the caption boxes. Simply seeing how the war effort spanned across the different battle-groups and how it drained all those involved (referring specifically to Maximus here) was just one of those little touches that made it seem more epic.

Great use of the characters in this issue as well, from Crystal and Black Bolt (would Crystal's concerns also be hinting at trouble after WoK ends? knowing Marvel, we could probably expect the next major cosmic storyline to follow on directly), and to the ever-reliable Guardians of the Galaxy kicking some major butt.

And of course, the final page. Sure we all guessed it would happen eventually, but it was built up so well that by the end I was going 'aawwww yea! Gladiator in the house!'

end rant :)

Kirk Warren said...

@Bob - The Admiral actually betrayed Lilandra to join Vulcan in Rise and Fall or Kingbreaker or one of the Xmen minseries, so he probably deserves to die for anything that happens. I think his reasons were Vulcan would make the Shiar strong again or some such.

Anonymous said...

Did I miss Stryfe being resurrected/reborn/reconstuted. I thought he died during that X-Men arc where Sryfe, posing as Cable, tried to kill Prof. X. Has it been explained how he came back?

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous - the new "it's magic, we don't have to explain it" from Marvel for this arc is, "it's time travel, we don't have to explain it". Literally, any plot hole you find is explained away by some pseudo science time travel plot device that no one understands. If you can look past that and just accept these guys are from alternate timelines or plucked out of the time stream or something, then you can probably enjoy most of the series.

BobofBentleigh said...

ahhh thanks kirk

patrick said...

ive read other x-men stories where gladiator has always served the acting emperor/empress so i was very shocked when he switched sides. anyways, good writing by DnA and damn good comic book.

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