Saturday, July 4, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/01/09

Happy Independence Day to all my American readers. Canada's birthday celebration delayed these reviews (I didn't get my books until Friday and didn't get around to reading most of them until today), so you can, to quote South Park, "blame Canada" for the lateness of the reviews this week.

While no where near the quantity of last week's comics, this week certainly topped it in terms of quality with Batman and Robin, Green Lantern Corps, War of Kings and several others leading the charge. The only book that really failed to deliver for me was Captain America: Reborn, which I was less than impressed with and actually has me contemplating the future of Captain America on my pull list.

Hit the jump to find out what I thought of this week's comics and check back tomorrow for the Moments and Cover of the Week features.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely

Batman and Robin #2 was another spectacular outing from Morrison and Quitely that has all but washed away any lingering doubts about this return to the Batman titles (As you'll recall, I didn't much care for Morrison's first stint on Batman). While not a perfect issue, it did hit all the right beats and there are few comics that were as satisfying a read as this one turned out to be.

The best part of this issue and quite possibly my moment of the week had to be the Alfred and Dick talk that broke up an otherwise action packed issue. To be honest, if this was an 8-page comic just featuring Alfred's pep talk, I'd probably still pay the full price for the issue. It was that good. It wasn't Dick whining about not being able to fill Batman's shoes or any kind of rehash of Battle for the Cowl or the recent Winick Batman issue. No, this chat showed the precise differences between Bruce and Dick, gave a classic Alfred pep talk, similar to how he's always been there for Bruce, and was just about the best character moment for either character that I've read in years.

The rest of the issue, in comparison, was actually fairly straight forward and amounted to mostly a straight out brawl at the police station. If not for Quitely's art, this section would not be nearly as dynamic or enthralling as it ended up being. However, Quitely's art fails later in the issue, particularly when Robin meets up with Pyg. I'm still not exactly sure what happened there. At one point, Robin is covered in the red headed Annie doll lookalikes and the next there's someone with explosives blowing up that looked more like Robin, who was at the bottom of a dogpile a moment ago and now is standing, exploded than the actual person with the explosives. There's also two random people cowering in the background that were not shown anywhere else in the issue or previous scenes. It was just very chaotic and a bit uncharacteristic of his work.

Again, while I loved the issue, I'm also a little concerned about the pacing of the arc. Quitely is only on for three issues, to my knowledge, and this arc should be done next month. We still have no idea who the bad guy is, what he's after, what he's even doing or anything else. They just attacked a police station, there was some action, somehow we're at an abandoned amusement park and there's a bunch of crazies running around. I've been enjoying the hell out of it, but there's a lot left open to be covered in the next issue.

Verdict - Must Read. It's fun. Pure, unadultered fun. Something I can't say about too many comics. Is it perfect? No. Are there flaws? Yes. Do they matter? Not a bit.

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Bryan Hitch

Before I start tearing into this comic, know that I'm holding it to the ridiculously lofty standards of the actual Captain America comic that this story is picking up the threads from. It's also a comic that has received a large amount of hype and Marvel has invested a fair amount of time promoting as what I assume is their replacement for a big summer event for the year.

My little disclaimer out of the way, just what the hell was this? Are there two Ed Brubakers working for Marvel? This can't be the same writer that has been working on what has been quite possibly the best comic of the past five years or so, can it? This, this just can't be the same guy. It can't.

We've gone from a psuedo realistic comic, set in its own little bubble in the Marvel Universe with a core cast of characters and recurring villains and side characters that dove tail in and out of the story as need be, all in an organic nature, to this...thing. This issue featuers multiple, clunky narratives, magic time travel guns, a time travel resurrection plot that is just one big rip off of Slaughterhouse Five (or Lost for those that view television as the be all and end all of original ideas) and a bunch of new characters, most of whom have never even appeared in Brubaker's Captain America before, showing up to give boring, Wikipedia regurgitating recaps of past events and numerous other inconsistencies that just have me shaking my head over how big a train wreck this return of Steve Rogers is turning out to be.

The biggest problem I have with the issue is the afforementioned magic gun and time travel bullets or whatever they are. I was hoping, praying even, that Sharon Carter's dreams of Cap's return and the magic gun were just that, dreams. Unfortunately, they were not. They're actually going forward with the ridiculous retcon (and I can't see it as anything else) that the gun Sharon used to kill Captain America was some kind of hybrid Dr Doom time travel platform gun that fired bullets that somehow trapped Steve Rogers in the timestream.

This retcons the tragic and uncharacteristically real (or as a real as superhero deaths get) death of Steve Rogers on the stairs of a courthouse defending his principles and being the hero that he's always been and turns it into one big joke. Why would you even try and play this up in the mass media the way they did? This is something they make fun of comic books and their readers for when people try to defend the medium. It's ridiculous and one of the worst things I've ever read. I really can't see how this is from the same Ed Brubaker that's been writing the series all along. It's like some back door he pitched to Marvel to undo it that he thought would never be used and it's not being thrown back at him. I hope it's Marvel forcing him to do this because it's like he took everything he built over the past few years and just blew it up in our faces.

Another major problem with the issue is the art. I never thought I'd be saying this about Bryan Hitch, but his art is terrible here. It's rushed, sloppy and looks unfinished. Outside of the odd splashpage or random panel, this is far worse than anything he's been doing on Fantastic Four, where he was going for the looser and less detailed artwork in favour of a faster pace. There's also a definite feeling of deja vu with every second face looking almost identical to other people in the story or people from his Fantastic Four, which also came out this week. That said, it's not the worst art you'll ever see, but open your Ultimates or Authority or even Fantastic Four and you can see for yourself that this is far from the quality you'd expect from Hitch and, compared to Epting, Guice and Ross on the Captain America monthly, this just doesn't cut it for me.

Finally, as I'm just too animated over this series and borderline fanboy nerd rage here, I want to talk about the Captain America in time sequences. Many compared it to Lost's use of time travel, but it's much more like Slaughterhouse Five (great book, grab it for like $7 on Amazon or $10-15 at a bookstore) than Lost.

The basics of it is that Steve Rogers is trapped outside of time. I assume he actually died when he was shot, but he's not really dead in the traditional sense as he can experience any part of his life at any point in time and in any order. One moment he's dying, another he's at Normandy and yet another he can be reliving his time as a child. Actually, reliving is the wrong term as he's not dead and is actually alive and that is still the first time he is experiencing that moment, despite already knowing about it. Time just does not apply to him in the typical sense. At least, that's my understanding of what's happening to him so far.

To be truthful, I have no problem with reliving Cap's life and telling a great little retrospective tale celebrating the living (dead?) legend, but that is not what this story is about. This is about magic time bullets and stupid comic book physics to bring a character back from the dead and have an event about it. Go reread Captain America and just try and tell me that this series follows up on anything from it in a similar manner. It's like the switch from Thunderbolts to that Fight Club nonsense or as drastic (but no where near as entertaining) a switch up as X-Men to Morrison's New X-Men. It's like we threw the entire theme and feel of the book out the window.

Verdict - Avoid It. Unless you absolutely need to know why Steve Rogers is coming back or just want to continue the story from Captain America, I see no reason to pick this book up and would not recommend it to anyone looking for a continuation of what was going on in Captain America. Unless something drastic happens, I may even end up dropping both Reborn and the monthly Captain America over this.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Patrick Gleason and Rebecca Buchman

Green Lantern Corps doesn't need Blackest Night or any other event to push the envelope. It's basically its own event book as it is. Every issue features breakneck pacing, tonnes of action, a handful of character moments and plots that weave in and out of each other with a grace rarely seen.

However, as good as GLC is, it couldn't possibly keep that pace up without occasionally cutting some corners in an attempt to serve its parent title, Green Lantern, and the upcoming Blackest Night. Case in point, with Blackest Night starting right after (or at the end, technically) this issue, it felt like Tomasi and Gleason just ran out of room for their current stories and had to put the breaks on everything, effectively ending everything whether the stories were ready for it or not.

The biggest culprit in this regard was the Sinestro Corps' occupation of Daxam. What was an engaging struggle for freedom between the Daxamites and the Mongul led Sinestro Corps, one which saw Ion sacrifice himself to free his people and also an epic battle between Mongul and Arkillo, ended in a simple two page splashpage with some text boxes. In the face of resistence from the yellow star powered Daxamites, Mongul just gives up and says he and the rest of the Sinestro Corps are leaving. There's no fight, no retribution, no conclusion. We didn't even see what Arkillo had been up to during this after several scenes playing up his subplot post-Mongul fight. Whether Tomasi just misjudged time or page counts is anyone's guess, but for what was the biggest subplot of the Emerald Eclipse arc, this was not the way anyone could have expected it to end.

Another subplot that seemed to drift by the wayside was the Sinestro's daughter plot. After being revealed to be Soranik Natu two issues ago, we didnt' even see Natu last month and she only shows up briefly here to tell us she really is Sinestro's daughter and then is never heard from again. It was a subplot I was concerned about at first, then bought into fully after it was fleshed out and now I'm back to wondering what was the point of it. It was introduced and almost forgotten instantly.

Doom and gloom about the rushed feeling of several of the subplots in this issue aside, I actually really liked it and highly recommend the book to anyone who'll listen. It is not bad and these faults are only minor quibbles in comparison to the amount of space I devoted to talking about them. Could these things have been handled a little better? Yes, but I'm sure some will be picked up in Blackest Night proper and, if not, they were still endings of a sort and not something to get dwell on either.

The main plot of this issue actually dealt with the lesser of the various subplots from Emerald Eclipse - the riot on Oa, which, up until now, had been relegated to various macro view splashpages of those events. The destruction of Oa's green lantern shell was immediately picked up on and played out with confusion and lots of symbolism, which got a little heavy handed at times. While, yes, I guess the Green Lanterns could be seen as a symbol of hope and order for the universe, the destruction of their little bubble won't have people crying in their sleep or wondering who will protect them now either. I'm also not sure why the Guardians didn't just make a new one. Didn't seem too taxing to make it the first time...

I assume the destruction of the bubble was to make way for the Black Lantern rings, which were shown at the end of the issue craving flesh and flying through the universe. I'm guessing they bust into the Green Lantern morgue and we have some Sinestro Corps War Special deja vu with an opening salvo on Oa to kick off the event.

Speaking of Blackest Night, the Guardians are probably due for a big fall when all's said and done. They give the order to the Alpha Lanterns to start executing prisoners from the riot, which is promptly broken up by Guy and Kyle, who can't believe what they're seeing. This wasn't even Scar leading the other Guardians by the tails like usual. They required no prodding to kick off the killings and even brought the prisoners out in public for all to see when Kyle and Guy questioned the need for secrecy in the executions. It ended with the Guardians sparing the two prisoners Kyle and Guy made promises to spare/commute sentences for if they helped with the riot and the rest were burned to ash by the Alpha Lanterns. Guy and Kyle were temporarily suspended and sent back to Earth for safe keeping in what I assume will be a bloody opening salvo on Oa for Blackest Night.

Verdict - Must Read. While there's some disappointment with the sudden ends to several key plots from the past few months, it's hard to fault the book for it when the rest of it was so damn good.

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Tonci Zonjic

Let's get this out of the way right now. This is not a cheesecake book. There's no T&A and nothing remotely similar to the nonsense spewed in the solicits or during the promotion and introduction of the book by Marvel back when it made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

It's basically a bunch of girls talking about guys, getting catty over the popular super heroines and acting like, well, divas. There's some great dialogue here that had me doing my, "oh snap", impressions or laughing out loud, like when Monica has to carry everyone and compares her being the only one that can fly with being the only one with a car in high school. And then there's also some bad dialogue that feels like it was ripped straight from a Desparate Housewives or Sex in the City episode or from some random movie, like a, 'vomited in my mouth', line or what have you.

For an issue built almost entirely on the strength of the dialogue, it can be hit or miss. I did enjoy it, though, which is something I never thought I'd be saying about this book, especially after the whole brouhaha about it when it was originally announced. If I had to compare the book to anything, it would be much in the same vein as Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane in terms of tone and the blending of super heroes and the female perspective of the stories.

However, one issue people may have with the book is the introduction of the cancer subplot. As was much speculated upon after sketches of Firestar featured scribbles about breast cancer, it does, in fact, turn out, by issue's end, that she has been diagnosed with cancer. Angilica had been missing from the entire issue and the others had been wondering where she was and she shows up at the end to play the cancer card (I sound like a douche wording it like that) to add some impact to an otherwise light hearted and fun issue. I'm a bit leary of how they will treat this, as the tone of the book and series did not give the impression of any kind of deep or serious issues being covered, but I'll have to wait and see what they actually do with it next issue before passing any real judgement.

I'd be remiss if I did not speak about one of my new favourite artists, Tonci Zonjic. I can't really put my finger on what I love about his art, which I first came upon in a recent Dark Reign: The Cabal issue, but I just love it. It's got some great facial expressions that really fit this book and both times I've seen his work, it's been accompanied by muted colours that really show off the line work. This isn't a Bryan Hitch or Steve McNiven, but you could make an argument for similarities to another one of my favourite artists, David Aja. Don't think I would have enjoyed this issue as much as I did without Zonjic's artwork animating everyone perfectly.

Verdict - Check It. While some parts of the story fell flat, I was actually quite pleased with the purchase. The book isn't for everyone, but if you like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane or even BKV's first volume of Runaways, you'll probably enjoy the dialogue and feel of this miniseries.

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier

While I really enjoyed this issue, there were several nagging aspects of it that I can't seem to let go of for some reason. It's like I want to love this issue as much as every other in the series, and it was good, but I just can't.

But before jumping into some of the problems I had with this issue, I want to discuss what I enjoyed. First off, the opening page with Black Bolt playing with Lockjaw put a smile on my face. I just loved seeing Lockjaw rolled over, tongue hanging out, as Black Bolt is petting him. Juxtaposed with the somber news of Lilandra's death and, later, the realization that Black Bolt was going to sacrifice himself to save his people added a lot more weight to the quit moment than that scene had any right to have. Great moment that you don't see too often.

Another great scene dealt with Talon, of the Fraternity of Raptors and as seen in War of Kings: Ascension. I've really enjoyed everything with Talon and his putting Vulcan in his place here was an excellent moment.

Also, as with the earlier chapters in this series, Crystal, Gladiator and Ronan managed to steal every scene they were in. I can't believe how much each character has grown since the series began. Gladiator, in particular, is no longer just that guy with the mohawk who showed up in random X-Men space stories anymore.

Finally, there's the promise of the Black Bolt/Vulcan fight that we've seen on just about every cover and has been on everyone's mind since the whole War of Kings began. As a self professed Black Bolt fanboy, I'm looking forward to seeing him put that petulant brat in his place next month.

However, all the good aside, I want to discuss those nagging concerns I had mentioned earlier. One is the use of the T-Bomb, which is a weaponized Terrigen Mists that would turn everyone in the universe into Inhumans. Unless they expected everyone to die, similar to the Silent War miniseries where humans were exposed to the mists and all died within a few hours, I'm not sure how giving all of your enemies super powers would really help or make them fall into line. This doesn't even touch on the ridiculous nature of such a plot device that would sacrifice Black Bolt to "convert" everyone to their cause.

In fact, that suicide mission from Black Bolt felt, especially in light of how easily Vulcan stopped the T-Bomb and confronted Black Bolt, felt out of place with the rest of the war and how the story has gone. It's like they didn't have any room to finish the epic they were playing out, so opted for some crazy hail mary pass to end the event. Now, if this all turns out to be due to the manipulation of Black Bolt's insane brother, Maximus, who's been playing the content weaponeer for the Inhumans of late, I'll be willing to overlook this. Otherwise, it just seems wrong and out of character for anyone to think this was a good plan.

All in all, not really a huge complaint, as I actually want to see the fight that came about as a result of the actions, but, still, this was the first time I'd been disappointed by something in this event, so it felt like something that needed mentioning.

Verdict - Must Read. Great action, lots of character moments and, ignoring the odd way Abnett and Lanning moved us to the endgame with the T-Bomb, the promise of the final showdown next issue has me dying to find out what happens next.

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Anonymous said...

I remain hard pressed to find any difference between "Firestar Has Cancer" and "Catwoman Had Her Heart Removed By A Batman Fanboy And A Hobo, And THAT Was What Made Her Lose Confidence After All This Time".

Anonymous said...

The last panel in Batman and Robin was a different scene, it cut from Robin being beat up to the dolls suicide bombing in a Gotham street. The two characters that were not featured in the rest of the issue were just random civilians.

Matt Ampersand said...

I am kind of torn up about Captain America - Reborn. On one hand, I agree with you on a lot of things, the art does look rushed and the fact that Marvel decided to hyper promote a story to the mainstream public that relies on such cliched comic book tropes is astonishing.

Something that bothered me as well was that Sharon said that the Red Skull and Zola kept calling her "The Constant", but I don't remember happening. Maybe I just dismissed it once, but I certainly don't remember it being a constant thing.

On the other hand, I have the utmost faith in Brubaker. He's done around 50 or so great Captain America issues, completely revivng the franchise. I am hoping that this series won't be as straight forward as things seem right now.

I think a great twist would be that Sharon, Bucky and co. aren't able to rescue him from the time stream, and Cap is forced ro re-live his life, knowing exactly everything that is going to happen to him in the future. This would also serve as a launching point for a new Captain America series set in WW2, which would coincide with the release of the Cap movie, which is also going to be set in the past. That way we keep Bucky as Cap in the present, and Steve as Cap in the past.

Speaking of Bucky, what the hell is going to be happening in the main Cap title? I hope it's not just going to be threading water while Reborn is going on.

Anonymous said...

So Firestar has cancer? Uhuh. I know continuity is a five letter word at Marvel these days but Hank Pym got rid of any chance of Angelica ever getting cancer back in Busiek's Avengers run. Remember? He made her wear a special mesh under her uniform that leecher away any cancer giving radiation emitted whenever she used her powers? He said that with enough time she would never have to worry about cancer again. Playing the cancer card now? Cheap , Marvel , cheap cheap cheap cheap...

Andrenn said...

I agree with your review of Batman and Robin #2

I disagree with giving an Avoid It to Reborn #1, while it wasn't great, I still give it a Check It for some good storytelling and some good art.

Steven R. Stahl said...

When Cap was killed in CA #25, how thoroughly was the corpse examined in subsequent issues? With all the talk in REBORN #1 about how a magic gun was used, how Cap is dead and isn't -- well, it doesn't matter whether a "magic" gun was used if the body is physically dead. If the body was in some sort of suspended animation and not decomposing, even a cursory examination would have detected that.

MARVEL DIVAS #1 wasn't terrible, but certainly wasn't good. Its origin as a "slices of life" miniseries is obvious. The cancer plot element is jarring, given the tone of the rest of the issue, and could easily be a shallow and clumsy plot element. It might have better to have one of the heroines contract genital herpes, and then have her set out to punish the S.O.B. who was responsible.


Nathan Aaron said...

I completely disagree with "(Bryan Hitch's artwork) is far worse than anything he's been doing on Fantastic Four." Butch Guice is probably the only saving grace of what made Bryan's art on Reborn good (not great.) His stuff on FF is just going down hill fast. It's sloppy, inked by three different people on every issue, and just bad. Fortunately, we won't have to worry about that anymore, as last issue was well, his last. (Since Stuart Immonen is doing the next issue, and last issue of the Hitch/Millar run.)

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