Thursday, June 4, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/03/09

Welcome to another review filled edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews! The talk of the town this week is Batman and Robin and for good reason. It's easily the Batman version of All Star Superman in my eyes, but probably suffers from the in-continuity nature of main DC Universe. On the Marvel side of things, War of Kings continued to swing for the fences with another great issue for that cosmic event. Hit the jump to check out these reviews and more!

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely

After a great deal of disappointment with the last half of Grant Morrison's run on Batman, I am so glad I took a chance on his and Frank Quitely's Batman and Robin. It is very much the continuation of the duo's All Star Superman collaboration, right down to the Silver Age trappings, except this time it is in continuity and picking up on the aftermath of Batman RIP by focusing on Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne as Batman and Robin.

I think the opening pages pretty much make you a believer in this book or turn you off of it. It features a frog-man led group of villains escaping from a bank robbery when Batman and Robin show up in a flying batmobile to put the breaks on their getaway. It's ridiculous in a Silver Age manner, but I thought worked perfectly compared to Morrison's previous attempts with Batman at Silver Age meta commentary and storytelling.

It certainly helps, though, with Frank Quitely's art. I absolutely loved how he blended the spelled out sound effects into the artwork, such as explosions spelling out 'boomboom' or the splashing of water as a car lands in the river spelling out the words 'splash' and so on. It was a simple, yet highly effective addition to the style of story that has to be seen to truly appreciate.

My favourite part of the issue, though, has to be Damian. While many, including myself, found him annoying and an unnecessary addition to the bat mythos when first introduced, he has really grown in the time since Morrison last wrote him and I couldn't get enough of him in this issue. The thing is, the changes to his character are so subtle that it's hard to really describe just how different he is since you can tell he's the same arrogant, spoiled brat, but it's like he's found his own little niche as Dick's Robin now that Bruce is 'dead'. It's like he has a begrudging respect for these people he used to have such contempt for. Things like him calling Alfred by his last name or any of his interactions with Dick (loved the 'I can give Tim Drake his old job back' bit) really sold me on a character I had generally disliked in all previous appearances. That and it's so much better than how Tony Daniel wrote him in Battle for the Cowl.

However, while I did really enjoy this issue, it wasn't perfect either. When I said this is very much in line with how the duo did All Star Superman, I meant it. To many, that should be enough to get them to buy the book, but this is also an in-continuity story. Many of the Silver Age trappings that work for a like All Star Superman do not work in the context of the current Batman and DC Universe.

In many respects, it's like their work on New X-Men. It will be great off on its own with Morrison at the helm, but no one else will be able to handle the high concepts or continue with the same theme and stylings. Does anyone honestly expect Judd Winick to write this Batman and Robin in his Batman title and have it actually be good? Can you see any other DC title being able to reflect these fundamental changes to Batman and Robin and have it not come off as a joke? I just cannot see how this book will interact with a line of titles like the Bat-family nor the DC Universe at large and, sadly, much like New X-Men, this will all be retconned or forgotten or changed in some unrecognizable way as soon as Morrison is finished on the title. I, quite honestly, think the greatest failing for this issue and the future of the book is that it is not an All Star or Elseworlds title.

Verdict - Must Read. In this issue, you'll see flying batmobiles, outlandish villains, great characters that put the dynamic back in dynamic duo and some beautiful artwork from Quitely. While it has its faults, I'm willing to overlook them for this first issue and give it a resounding Must Read. Can't wait to see where Morrison goes with this.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Michael Collins

To say Captain Britain and MI13 is one of my favourite books currently being published would be an understatement. Paul Cornell has managed to make me care about characters I had always known to see, but never had enough interest to bother picking up their titles over the years.

I think the reason Cornell's been so successful in that regard is that he didn't get bogged down by the baggage of the characters' pasts. It was obvious they were established heroes and had lots of storied adventures, but, like any good story, it was not required for the reader to know the inner details of those stories to understand them.

Take the star of this issue, Meggan, for example. She briefly appeared in a dream sequence back during an earlier arc in the series. I knew she and Captain Britain were married and she had died, but, outside of that, had no idea who she was, how she died, what her personality was or even her powers. That issue made it clear they shared a deep bond and that Britain loved her deeply and worked on the strength of the writing - not on the need for a Wikipedia-level knowledge of the characters.

Sadly, this issue is nothing like that. It focused completely on Meggan in Hell, yet never tells me why she's in Hell, what she did to deserve to go there or even how she died. Even the character seems confused over the fact she is in Hell and it is never actually explained. In contrast, another character that was thrown into the book recently was Blade. I didn't need to know who he was, what he was up to in his book or anything of the sort due to the fact we're told he's a vampire hunter and a British citizen that was brought in to help MI13. It's simple and effective and flowed naturally. With Meggan, we're thrown into Hell with her, a new character (to me) that I have no vested interest in, am given nothing to work with and no context with which to judge the character's actions or reasons for doing what she's doing.

It also doesn't help that this story is just a trip around Hell that sort of meanders about with no real purpose other than trying to fill in some origin and back story for Meggan that doesn't really go all the way towards explaining just who the heck she is. I still don't know what her powers are after this issue. I think she's a shapeshifter of some sort, but the hell if I could tell you if she even has control over it or not. Also, still don't know how she died or even if she died. Maybe she's just visiting for all I know.

The backup story was a lot better as it focused on an 'X-Men baseball game'-like bit of downtime between the MI13 members. The difference between the X-Men and MI13 is that the MI13 team is playing cricket instead of baseball, which I thought was a nice touch. I really enjoyed Faiza's passion for the game and how Blade had no clue, whatsoever, about how to play cricket or what anyone was talking about when they were mentioning rules or talking about the game in general. Was a good vantage point for someone like me, who has no knowledge of cricket and its rules.

Verdict - Check It. Tempted to say Avoid It for this based on how disappointing the Meggan half of the story was, but the backup story does go a long way to redeeming it and was much more in line with how the series typically reads. I do feel that this is probably something only current readers of the series or longtime fans of Meggan will enjoy, so I wouldn't go rushing out to pick it up as an introduction to the much talked about series. For that, go back and start with the first trade or this Vampire State storyarc.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Mike Deodato

If Bendis gets paid by the word, he must have been feeling pinch from the silent issue of Ultimate Spider-Man because this issue is a whole lot of talking heads, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, Bendis is, in most cases, excellent when it comes to dialogue heavy issues. On the other, Bendis has a horrible grasp of many characters that results in everyone sounding the same.

In regards to this issue, it's great for the most part since it's a heavy focus on Norman Osborn, the one character Bendis seems to get (at least, moreso than the rest), but it really falters with everyone else. His Noh-Var is, in particular, a gross mischaracterization compared to what he was like when Morrison first introduced him in Marvel Boy. Also, the fact Bendis is just getting around to dealing with Ronin's TV appearance, which happened months ago, lacks any impact with how late it is in dealing with it, which is odd since Bendis wrote both books in question.

Verdict - Check It. Good, but feels out of touch with the rest of the Marvel Universe with the lateness in dealing with certain topics and many characters have yet to establish a voice of their own under Bendis.

Written by James Robinson and Greg Rucka
Art by Pete Woods

Sigh. I was quite disappointed with this issue. Not just because there was no Green Lantern vs Superman fight (would have been a tad cliched anyways) or that the cover was so misleading or even that the creators had hyped this issue up as the one to watch out for with the guest appearance by the Green Lanterns. No, the reason I'm so disappointed is that this issue plays to the weakest and most absurd parts of the planet of several thousand Supermen plot.

One such notion is that Superman can hear a the moving of air as someone is flying at super speeds, yet has no clue that Zod is building an armada of war ships in the one city on the planet? Seriously? And what the hell does an army of Supermen need space ships for? If it's for protection from Kyrptonite/red star light, they should just build lead shielding/yellow light power suits to protect them from their few weaknesses. Building an armada of ships is ridiculous. They don't even have enough people to pilot ships that big or in that number.

Another is the desire to kill off as many Kryptonians as possible. There's only a few hundred thousand of them and Zod is giving kill orders for criminals from the Phantom Zone. When Superman disobeys the order, Zod then arrests him for treason, which is a death sentence for another of their endangered species.

However, I think the biggest problem with the issue is that the Green Lanterns show up, follow Superman around for an entire issue and then leave. They don't do anything, add nothing to the story and are, in general, just there so they can have a misleading cover to sell more books. While there is the pretense that the Guardians want them there for a fact finding mission, all it seems to do is paint Superman as a bumbling idiot that can't see the forest through the trees in regards to just how horrible a people the Kryptonians are shown to be here with their armada building, extreme justice and cast systems.

Verdict - Avoid It. I'm actually having a hard time thinking of anything good to say about this issue. It's like they tried their best to do the absolute worst story possible for something that should have been a homerun with the Green Lanterns checking up on this new planet full of Supermen-level beings.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Stuart Immonen

Kind of a throw back to the 'Nuff Said silent issues from the late 90's/early 00's, which I loved, this final issue of Ultimate Spider-Man (is it a 'final' if there's a couple of requiem issues next month and then a relaunch the month after?) has zero lines of dialogue, which will come as a shock to just about everyone when you note that Brian Bendis, a writer known for his dialogue above all things, writes this book.

In regards to the silent treatment, I was actually a bit disappointed. It wasn't that it was hard to follow or anything (Immonen is a great visual storyteller with the art on this issue). It just feels like a gimmick. I was not under the impression Spider-Man died during the explosion of Dr Strange's loft last issue and, while I'm not reading it, I don't think he died over in Ultimatum either. It's like a Batman RIP "death" that has no impact or meaning and the no dialogue/silent issue we're given here just feels out of place because of it.

There's also no mourning or need for silence to express the emotion of a death and there are a few scenes that could have benefitted from some dialogue between the characters. It's like Bendis intentionally limited himself just to say he wrote a silent issue instead of letting the story dictate it.

Verdict - Check It. In the end, due to the whole lack of words, the issue actually reads in about a minute flat and, at a $3.99 price point and with the Ultimatum nonsense ending the book here, I, honestly, feel a bit ripped off after having bought this, but am giving it a Check It just for the whole end of an era thing and that it's still not a bad issue, per se, just not really a fitting end to the series either.

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier

After a fantastic third issue, War of Kings #4 turns it down a notch to let us catch our breath before knocking the wind right out of us again with another shocking finish. The longer this event goes on, the more it shows that Abnett and Lanning learned from the mistakes of Annihilation: Conquest. While I enjoyed Conquest, it had its faults and War of Kings seems to address all of them. Let's hope the next few issues can keep up the pace.

As for this issue, it opens with some carry over from the War of Kings: Ascension miniseries by having Talon and Darkhawk show up. Talon establishes an alliance with Vulcan after saving him from a Kree/Inhuman sentry and explains to him who the Fraternity of Raptors are and what they've been up to in the Negative Zone with Blastarr. I'm not sure how seamless this is for anyone not reading the Ascension miniseries and, even as someone who is, I found it a little jarring since we haven't seen the so-called Ravenous vs Blastarr battles mentioned here. The sudden appearance of these new players in the event for those only reading the main event may be a negative for some, but I did enjoy the fact they're not just throw away characters like Wrath was in Conquest.

Meanwhile, we were treated to a very enjoyable bit of downtime between Crystal and Ronan, who's still recovering from the wounds he suffered in the sneak attack by the Shi'ar during their wedding in the first issue. The amount of ground covered, from the simple growth of their relationship to Crystal's revealing of the failure of the Inhumans' Kree uplift program, was staggering for so short a scene and continues the trend of Crystal being one of the best parts of this event. There's even a hint of some possible friction between the Kree and Inhumans with a Crystal/Ronan faction possibly developing in light of Black Bolt and the Inhumans recent actions.

Finally, picking up from last issues betrayal of Vulcan, Gladiator and the Starjammers escort Lilandra to the Shi'ar throneworld in an attempt to stage a coup. Through the actions of their rebel faction, they've started uprisings on many outlying and manufacturing worlds, which was shown to be having disasterous effects on the Shi'ar war machine, effectively grinding it to a halt on most fronts.

However, where Lilandra assumed she would be welcomed back as Empress by her people, it seems a large percentage of the population actually love what Vulcan is doing for the Imperium and pro-Vulcan riots started in the streets as Lilandra attempted to be sworn in. Using the chaos of the riots, which I think they helped engineer, the Fraternity of Raptors staged an assassination attempt on Lilandra in order to ingratiate themselves with Vulcan. In the insuing melee, Darkhawk, who had been masquerading as a random Shi'ar citizen, actually succeeds in killing Lilandra. A grieving Gladiator is shown holding her bloodied body to end the issue on another shocking cliffhanger.

I was a little disappointed that Black Bolt was on both covers, yet never showed up in the issue, but, with all options for peace wiped out with Lilandra dead, it looks like the foreshadowed bloody conclusion Crystal spoke of will have to be used, all but promising a showdown between Black Bolt and Vulcan in the next few issues.

Verdict - Must Read. This event just keeps getting better and better. A great middle chapter that most events fill with padding. No wasted pages and every scene felt important. Loving this event and this issue.

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Ramon Villalobos said...

I loved how within the issue of World of New Kyrpton we got two radically different interpretations of how Hal Jordan and Superman interact with each other. And neither seemed all that interesting to me. Also, while the cover was beautiful, the closest Hal and Superman EVER got to fighting was exchaning passive agressive remarks to one another. Uncool.

Batman and Robin was great though. So that made up for that.

Matt Ampersand said...

Damnit, I just spoiled myself the ending of this issue of War of Kings by reading the review!

othermarlo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Klep said...

There is definitely friction between the Kree and Inhumans. The War of Kings: Warriors comics have been running on Marvel Digital Comics for a few weeks now, and the one about Crystal started this week, involving her investigating a series of sabotages/terrorist bombings in an attempt to prevent Black Bolt from taking more drastic action.

This first part of it was solid, and the story about Gladiator which came before it was good as well, dealing with his origins.

Kirk Warren said...

@Ramon Villablobos - I'm not sure I wanted a fight between GL and Superman either, but, as you said, some passive agressive remarks and looks back and forth was not up to snuff either.

@Matt - Well, she could get better, I guess. She at least looked dead...

@othermarlo - I'm not sure why you deleted the comment, but as a reviewer, I don't think I fail for pointing out that a comic set in a shared universe with other books that are tied together in a family that reflect what each other do and how Batman & Robin is so completely out of whack with everyone else's vision of the character is wrong. I like the book. I loved it. That doesn't mean I can't point out what will be a problem for many other people.

@Klep - That's interesting to hear. Not enough to subscribe to DCU, but hopefully we see a one shot collecting them all before the crossover ends or it is included in the trades. Id like to read those.

Steven said...

I can't wait for the poker game between Johnny Storm, Quicksilver, The Black Knight and Ronin the Accuser. All reminiscing about how Crystal screwed them up emotionally.

Anonymous said...

the reason why bendis deals with the whole clint barton tv thing is that the team has been in Latveria fighting morgan while it was happening.

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous - I know the time frame of it, but it just feels like a really long time since Clint went on television in New Avengers. the fact it never even happened in Dark Avengers, yet is being addressed here so long after the fact (3 or 4 months now?) just really feels off to me. Norman was fairly well written and... political... in his rebuttal to Hawkeye to the point I could see why the people might side with him over Hawkeye, but, again, it should have happened months ago in my opinion.

Deicide The Everliving said...

I think I was the only person who liked the "Captain Britain and the MI 13 Annual". I was overjoyed by Meggan's story. I always liked her, and the little idea that she would spread hope and happiness in Hell fits her character perfectly. A "Must Read" for me!

Pat said...

I thought an interesting moment/moments in Superman this week was the way Sodom Yat reacted in several panels to someone saying he is Krypotian and his continuing questioning of Mon-El. Obviously that is goin to go somewhere and im excited to see where

Kirk Warren said...

@Pat - I saw him reacting to the Mon-El bit, but thought it was more out of place than anything with how brief it was and with no other mention or follow up on it. I dont think Sodam even had another line of dialogue in the issue and it felt more like "hey, we have a book with a Daxamite in it too, go read it" throw away line than something that will be followed up on. Maybe they will have Mon-El meet up with Sodam later, but who knows.

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