Friday, June 26, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/24/09 Part II

No, you're eyes are not deceiving you, with so many books out this week, I just had to issue another outing of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews (the first batch of reviews can be found here) in order to do reviews for all the books on my buy pile. Hit the jump for more review-y goodness.

Written by Chris Gage
Art by Humberto Ramos

This issue promised a great many things, most prominent of which was the bold new direction in which the book would be going in. While the idea of Norman Osborn taking over the Initiative and turning it into a super villain training ground sounds great in theory, it lacked a great deal in execution.

In fact, it was mostly just a whole lot of talking and very little actual doing for this new direction. We're treated to page after page of exposition filled promises of this new direction and can see a lot of the potential being set up, but nothing ever really happens here that we already didn't know was happening or going to happen. Add in how far behind the timeline of the rest of the Marvel Universe this storyline and title has been of late and it just seems odd reading about these events that are supposed to be Earth shattering when they should have happened months ago.

Another problem I had with this issue was the overt actions of the Hood and Norman Osborn. Why is the Hood showing up so brazenly and making himself known to so many people, such as Tigra, when he's a well known and wanted criminal? I was under the impression he'd mostly be hiding in the shadows working with Norman or other high ranking Initiative personel to further their goals, not sitting in on recruiting meetings with heroes and former Initiative members.

One thing that also hurts this new direction is that the book spends so much time on Norman Osborn and trying to show us how corrupt and evil this new regime is when anyone that has been reading the book since its conception will already know that it's been about as corrupt as it could possibly be from the start. This current HAMMER driven Initiative actually seems less corrupt than the previous incarnation so far.

While the issue wasn't terrible or outright bad, I'm just not feeling the love for it anymore and had been looking for a reason to stay for a while. I'd honestly been hoping this issue would be the one to finally make me want to stick around, but it's just lost the magic the book once had. Shame, really.

Verdict - Check It. This is a good jumping on point for people interested, but the new direction is also a good jumping off point for others, such as myself. While not a bad book or issue, I feel it's served its purpose and it's time to move on.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Mike Deodato

This issue was made up of roughly three separate parts - one with the Cabal meeting, another dealing with the Dark Avengers and the missing Noh-Varr and the third following Sentry's wiping out of the Atlantean terrorists. Each section had its moments, but I found, despite enjoying this issue, that a lot of it felt like fluff and that it read extremely fast, despite the various plots being followed. I'm not sure why I feel this way, but it just seems like Bendis is trying to overwrite every scene and make everything feel more important or dramatic than it actually is. Odd feeling, sorry I can't describe it any better than that.

Let's start with the Cabal meeting first. I really liked Norman's and Namor's exchange, particularly Norman's sense of entitlement and authority. It was one of the better scenes in the issue and Deodato did some great facial work on everyone's reactions to it. I'm a little disappointed at the more cliched Namor retort, though. The whole "surface world is evil" mentality hasn't been as two-dimensional as it was shown here in a while and Namor has taken action against these Atlantean terrorists and decried them back during Civil War/the early days of the Initiative, so I'm not sure why he's lashing out in this manner.

Jumping to the missing Noh-Varr subplot, it seemed to be too casually handled. We never see Noh-Varr in the entire issue and no one knows where he is or even when he left. There's the innuendo about Moonstone's relationship with him, but nothing is ever really expanded upon and we just sort of go around in circles for a bit. I assume he left when he found out they are villains while sleeping with Moonstone in the last issue, but, seriously, that can't be the whole reason, can it? He burned a giant 'F--- You' into a city when he first arrived and has done things just as bad, if not worse, than some of their members. I just felt they spent a lot of time on this scene and, in the end, told us nothing.

Finally, there's the Sentry moment, which honestly has me just as freaked out over how crazy he's become lately as some of the Dark Avengers have been reacting to him of late. This was a powerfully executed scene where Sentry is sent to kill all but one terrorist and return that survivor for public relations reasons. Norman telling him to let the Void out for this and Bob's confusion over how he's been telling him there is no Void and just the silent fade away wiping out of the Atlanteans really worked for me.

Verdict - Check It. A good issue, but felt extremely light at time. Read incredibly fast as well. At $3.99 a pop, I should feel a little more satisfied after reading it than I did, but very few actual complaints about it either.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by JH Williams and Cully Hamner

I've been looking forward to reading Greg Rucka's and JH Williams's Detective Comics since their tenure was announced and took a little extra time to let the issue sink in before reviewing it. While one could argue this is a fairly simple story in terms of execution, the level of detail and beauty of the art and layouts warranted a second read through before actually reviewing it.

As such, to start things off, I want to talk about the most immediate and, quite possibly, my favourite part of the book - the artwork of JH Williams. I'm not one to typically gush over the artwork and typically give most artists the shaft in terms of credit for my enjoyment of a comic. My usual feeling is that art is secondary to the story and it's either doing its job or so bad it brings down the book.

In regards to Williams's art, it's absolutely stunning. The layouts are dynamic and something you rarely, if ever, see from other artists and the use of colour, particularly the crimson red permeating the book, is visually striking. I also enjoyed the dual art styles used in the book - one for the Batwoman scenes and another, lighter tone used for the civilian, Kate Kane, scenes. The civilian scenes almost look as if they were not inked, or inked a great deal less than the Batwoman ones, but I'm not an expert on art techniques, so can't tell if that is the only difference or not. I know there are a lot more earth tones and lighter colours than the Batwoman scenes and the red is used far more often for Batwoman related scenes. All in all, it was a visually stunning read and worth picking up just to see Williams's art - something I rarely, if ever, say about a book.

Thankfully, the art is not the only good thing about this book. Rucka more than carries his own on this book and I, as a person that didn't overly care for Batwoman coming out of 52 (didn't hate her, just didn't see a reason for her existence at that point), am enthralled by the character. I honestly want to know more about her, her motivations and just plain see more of the character and where this storyline is going.

The plot seems to be picking up on threads from 52 and the Crime Bible and I have no problem with that. It's a solid concept, but I felt they didn't do a good enough job filling people in on the 52 subplot. It is like we're expected to know who Kate is (I don't think she's even called by her full name in this issue, just Katherine by her father), what happened to her in 52 (they mention her being stabbed, but no real explaination for new readers) and any other pertinent information. I know these things, but it's worth mentioning that it's anything but reader friendly for people expecting an easy jumping on point for Batwoman's new starring role in Detective Comics.

My one major complaint about this issue has nothing to do with the Batwoman part of the story. In fact, it's entirely to do with the Question co-feature. While I don't think the co-feature was a bad story, it felt like, well, a back-up story. I know that sounds odd, as it is a back-up story, but I'm talking those useless back-ups from the 90's that added cost to a book and no one wanted to read. To me, this felt like a non-story. It was 8 pages of the Question walking around with no depth or characterization or explaination as to what she's been up to. It's only the first part of her back-up, so it might get better as more time goes on, but it felt, to me, like they cut up a story, added some fluff to try and make it work in an 8 page format and then shipped it off. It's an incomplete reading experience to me and I hate that. Put it out in a miniseries if you want to tell me a story. Don't butcher it into little pieces and try and put it out in 8 page snippets.

Verdict - Must Read. Disappointment over the co-feature aside, the actual Batwoman related story was just about as good as I could have possibly hoped. I don't say this often, but you almost owe it to yourself to buy it for the art alone. The excellent and engaging story is only going to be a bonus to Williams's art.

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Brad Walker

War of Kings has been a real boon to the Guardians of the Galaxy series. A book that started off strong, it had been flagging for a few months before War of Kings gave it the shot in the arm it needed. This issue continues the trend of strong issues from this book thanks to the momentum of that event and, while mostly a wall to wall action story, there's still enough plot and character moments to make this more than just a standard event tie-in book.

The most interesting aspect of this issue, to me, has to be the Adam Warlock/Magus scenes. I'd wondered if Warlock was becoming or actually is Magus in past issues, but this issue all but confirms there's something wrong with him. During a fight with the Shi'ar Guardsman, Magique, Warlock again turns purple (last issue, he blamed his purple/pale complexion on being in space or some such), this time of his own accord, and lashes out at Magique with a powerful spell before moving on to literally tear the other Shi'ar troops to pieces in a brutal act of violence.

Is Warlock actually Magus or is he being influenced by his evil, alternate timeline self or does it have something to do with his being born prematurely during Conquest? Is the other coccoon the Church of Universal Truth has the actual Warlock? Lots of questions with no answers over this scene and I'm looking forward to seeing where Abnett and Lanning go with Warlock in the future.

While every member of the Guardians had their moments, from Rocket Raccoon clawing away at Mentor to Cosmo's, "Are you God?", moment with Lockjaw, the only character I absolutely cannot stand is Phyla-Vell. I know she died/was reborn as the avatar of death or some such in order to bring Moondragon back to life, but I really can't stand her new 90's extreme-like attitude and I barely liked her prior to this regression. I can't recall wishing for the death of a character as much as I have been with her as of late. The fewer pages she appears on, the better this book will be.

Verdict - Check It. Enjoyable read with many good character moments to go along with the action packed plot.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli

Secret Warriors should seriously consider changing its name to Nick Fury: Agent of Awesome because this book seems to be about Nick Fury, Nick Fury being awesome and Nick Fury doing things that lead to awesome things. Those Secret Warriors? They cameo in their own book again this month. I think they show up on one panel in the entire issue. In fact, they've been receiving less and less face time as the book has progressed and I'm not sure if that even bothers me because of how great everything Nick Fury related has been.

Case in point - this issue sees Nick organizing his former Howling Commandos and ex-SHIELD employees in an effort to storm a HAMMER facility to steal themselves a helicarrier or five. Yeah, think big or go home is his motto. The opening sequence with one of their moles in HAMMER giving the speech about the two things Nick Fury taught him before killing the HAMMER stooge was, while not directly a Nick Fury moment, awesome by association, adding more credibility to my book name change suggestion.

Another amazing moment came from Dum Dum Dugan and all the credit for the textless scene can be given to Caselli's artwork. He's really stepped up his game for this series since his Avengers: The Initiative days and I honestly hope they don't try to bring in fill-in artists for him like they did on that book even if they have to have delays.

Unfortunately for Nick and his Howling Commandos, Hydra has come across some leaked information about this impending raid and made plans of their own to strike at Fury while he's engaged with HAMMER. Credit has to be given to Hickman for making Hydra a credible threat for possibly the first time in, well, ever. He's given a face to several characters in the typically cannonfodder filled organization and each one feels like a legitimate threat to our heroes.

Verdict - Must Read. Wall to wall action and the chaos and pandimonium of this raid on the HAMMER facility is brought to life beautifully by Caselli. If you've been trade waiting this series, I think you're going to be in for one hell of a treat when it gets released because even as a monthly, this flows perfectly from one issue to the next. My only complaint is physically waiting for a new issue.

THOR #602
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Marko Djurdjevic

With the news of JMS's impending departure from Thor, I feel I should savour these last few issues as much as I can. God knows the delays between releases of each issue of this series really hurt the flow of the book, but it's been just so damn good, it's hard to justify switching to trades, similar to how I viewed All Star Superman and its release schedule woes.

This issue was a real treat for me due to the fact William received so much face time. As a refresher, William is the human currently in love with the Asgardian, Kelda, and the two left with the other Asgardians for their new home in Latveria.

Speaking of Latveria, William spends a great deal of time discussing the matter of making deals with Dr Doom with Baldur and the candid conversation between the two was probably the high point of the issue for me. However, not all Asgardians took a liking to poor Bill and, possibly at Loki's behest, several tried to provoke him into a fight, which felt a little forced to me, especially with everyone celebrating their new home.

The only problem I had with the issue was the sudden return of Loki's male body. He sort of mentioned possibly getting his old body back in the last issue when he warned Thor of Sif's current situation, but there was absolutely no indication or reaction from anyone towards his new/old male body and gender switch. As I was quite enjoying the reactions the female Loki could provoke from people and the more sublte manners in which he was able to proceed due to his new looks, I was just shocked to see him in the body without a single mention to the reader or any indication from the other Asgardians that, hey, he's not a girl anymore.

On the Thor side of things, the Dr Strange cameo to fix his hammer felt a bit forced, but might just be my knowledge that JMS is a huge Dr Strange fan and pushed to have him in his Amazing Spider-Man run previously. With everything going on in New Avengers and the whole no longer being Sorceror Supreme, it just didn't seem right to have him here doing such high level magics to fix the hammer, even robbing Thor of his Odinforce to do so. Speaking of which, that's a huge nerf to his power levels. I assume Sentry is officially the top dog on Earth now that Thor has been depowered.

Verdict - Must Read. Some minor nitpicking aside, this was another excellent issue of Thor and it should be interesting to see what JMS does with the few issues he has left.

Written by Craig Kyle & Chris Yost
Art by Clayton Crain

Okay, what the hell is going on with this crossover? How can a two book event be so disconnected from each other that the simplest of concepts, such as character costumes or serious injuries to characters, can be completely ignored from one issue to the next? Do I review this book, the final part of an event, as a separate entity or should it be lambasted for not being able to reflect events from the previous chapter in the crossover?

For instance, Wolverine was injured to such a degree that he had regressed to a mindless animal and was lashing out at anyone that came near him. He also had no facemask on. This issue he starts off speaking and completely coherent with his mask back on no worse for wear fighting back against Stryfe.

Another one was with Domino. She criticized Vanisher over his suggestion to just kill Kiden so they could return home and told him it's tough for everyone else to have to kill their friends and then Domino just shoots her in the head as X-23 is having a moment with her friend. It made no sense to me to go from last issue's portrayal to this one.

Yet another inconsistency is Bishop's mechanical arm, which was reduced to a stub by Stryfe in Cable, yet is, while slightly damaged, a fully functional arm in this issue, even having a still working time travel device and a visibly working hand. Hell, even the damn epilogue has Bishop looking different than in the issue (the epilogue is by the Cable writer and artist). He was stabbed across the side of the head by Wolverine in the issue, yet is missing an eye in the epilogue and has no other scarring from three adamantium claws across the side of his head. His arm is also nearly fully developed, even moreso than in the early parts of the issue.

My question is, how can you mess up fairly simple concepts like this? It's not like it's just cosmetic things (well, the Wolverine mask bit was). These are all major plot points that are just plain wrong from one issue to the next and pulled me out of an otherwise action packed issue. All I could do, literally, was pick up on mistake after mistake instead of sit down and enjoy the issue.

In fact, the only really part of the book I could sit down and enjoy was the Apocalypse related parts and that's because he had barely appeared in any other book outside of the odd one page cameo. This made it almost impossible to mess him up. Add Clayton Crain's stunning rendition of him (there's one splashpage of him in Death/Angel that I would kill to have a poster of) and Apocalypse stole the issue. He even narrated most of it, adding more impact to his revenge on Stryfe.

Looking back on the event, it amounted to little more than a bunch of mindless gore with little plot and a really broken concept of time travel that I have never seen used in any other time related story. The ending actually has everyone scrambling to get to different locations so they when they return, they return to the exact spots their friends were kidnapped and being held at prior to this event. It also seems like they will be saving Boom Boom, who died when they were shunted to the future, which I assume means they expect to either come back to the exact moment they left.

Verdict - Check It. Taken on its own, I think this is probably the strongest issue of the entire event, but it's also the most disconnected from everything that came before and, as a concluding chapter, should reflect the various plots from previous issues. The fact it didn't made for a jarring and disconnected reading experience.

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The Dangster said...

I like the Question back up. the story it was a nice parallel to Batwoman's story and we can see how their methods are similar and differ

Nick Marino said...

while i agree that Avengers: The Initiative should have a well deserved "Check It" status, i disagree about it being a jumping off - after finishing the issue this mornning, i was just as pumped as ever to read the next issue (and i've been with the title sincve the beginning).

Wierddemon said...

It's pretty cool to see the differences in your guys' opinions on the comic books each week. Keep up the work, you guys are doing an awesome job!

The Dangster said...

are people still complaining about the back up features? The price is gonna be $4 anyways.

Kirk Warren said...

@The Dangster - Complaining about the content of the backup does not mean I cared about the price. I'd pay $3.99 for that issue of Detective with or without the backup. Since it's physically included anyways, I felt it was worth commenting on it and telling people what I thought of it and, in this case, it felt like a story they cut up and padded to make work in an 8 page format and that it would read better as a miniseries. If you are given an 8 page format, you should write stories for an 8 page format, not try and make a 22 page story fit in the gaps every month. That's all I was saying for that particular backup story.

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