Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/22/09

Welcome to the late night edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews. To start things off, I've managed to bang out reviews for Amazing Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Green Lantern, Tales of the Corps and Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time. As I've got another four or five comics I picked up this week, I'm going to be updating this post tomorrow with the rest of the reviews, so be sure to check back for those. For now, enjoy this first wave of reviews!

Written by Bob Gale, Marc Guggenheim, Joe Kelly, Stan Lee, Dan Slott & Mark Waid
Art by Mario Alberti, Marcos Martin & John Romita JR.

As I said in the previews earlier this week, I've only taken a few dips in the Brand New Day pool and always come away disappointed or, more accurately, ambivalent. The writing and art was typically good, but it just never felt like my Spider-Man anymore and the winks and nods to the deal with the devil conclusion to One More Day were just plain off putting in most cases.

However, I have never outright hated or regretted picking up any of the post-OMD arcs I've gotten so far (Brand New Day, Peter Parker, Paparazzi!, New Ways to Die and one or two others I believe) and, as a longtime Spidey fan, I keep looking for a reason to come back to the franchise that got me started on reading comics. With interest in the upcoming Bendis/Quesada back-ups, as well as the Mary Jane focus of the next few issues, I'm taking another dip in the pool with Amazing Spider-Man #600.

So, how was it? Surprisingly good. This is a 104 page monster for $4.99 and with no reprints, making it one of the cheapest "graphic novel" I've ever purchased. It's also got an all star cast of creators, from Dan Slott and Stan Lee to John Romita Jr and Marcos Martin.

I think the biggest shock of this issue was that I haven't read a Brand New Day comic in months, have no idea what's going on in the book other than there's a wedding scheduled for Aunt May and Jonah's father to take place this issue and I was able to pick this up, read it and enjoy it without missing a beat. More comics should be this accessible to readers.

The main story was dealt with the return of Dr Octopus, who's body is breaking down on him after years of super-villainy. This has forced him to up his game a little and he's now sporting eight mechanical arms, as well as an army of mentally controlled 'mini-octopi' robots. Sadly, his return fell a bit flat to me. He lacked any real depth and was basically a mustache twirling Silver Age villain. While we got references to his early Master Planner days, he never felt like he had any plan and was just being a villain for the sake of being a villain here. It's not a game breaker, but, as the villain of the story, it would have been nice to see a little motivation or some semblance of a plan from the good doctor.

The basic plot is Doc Ock uses some mentally controlled robots to take over all electronics in New York. The plan, I think, was to make everything work properly and make life better for people, but, from the get go, it's all attacking Spider-Man or lashing out at those that wronged him in the past, like cancelling all of Aunt May's wedding plans electronically. I'm still not really sure what his ultimate goal was here other than to take over the city somehow.

Of course, this doesn't go unnoticed and everyone, including the Fantastic Four and New Avengers, show up to help Spidey at one point or another, which I actually enjoyed seeing. It's rare, these days, to just see heroes being heroes and helping one another in the Marvel Universe. Welcome sight for once. The Human Torch aids Peter for most of the issue and their interactions were great.

Eventually, Doc Ock is defeated and we move on to the actual point of this issue - the wedding of Aunt May and Jameson Sr. I liked how everyone from the supporting cast is on hand for the wedding and the final reveal of Mary Jane rushing in late for the wedding to catch the bouquet was a great return for her that caught me off guard since they were talking about Harry not being there just prior to that. Seems so predictable, especially with her return scheduled for next month, but still caught me by surprise.

The rest of the issue was devoted to back-up stories. Stan Lee and Marcos Martin did an entertaining 'pysch' evalution of Spider-Man, going over the numerous changes and permutations of the character throughout the years. Nothing substantial, but a nice extra. The other back-ups fell a little short of the bar though. One, by Zeb Wells, was almost identical to an Aunt May at Uncle Ben's grave scene by Slott in the main story, but no where near as good and lacked the same impact (or maybe robbed of it due to already reading it earlier). Not sure why they included it if they knew what the main story entailed. The other was about some kids wondering why Spider-Man doesn't reveal his identity and they go over the reasoning, how loved ones would get hurt and so on and then proceed to discuss why it would suck to be him even with a secret identity. Not the fun loving story about hero worship I was expecting when it started.

The final extra for the book were the 'covers that would never see print' section, which was a series of covers that we're rejected for whatever reason. Fun little extras that I would have liked to have seen more of. The one I liked the most was a Spider-Man/Batman team-up written by Bendis that had Batman covered over and notes saying don't even dare print this from editorial.

All in all, I enjoyed this issue and was glad I bought. For this price, you get a full story, plus a myriad of extras, with no impediments to enjoying it from excessive continuity and a welcome lack of One More Day winks and nods at readers.

Verdict - Check It. If you're looking for a complete story in one issue or were looking to give Spider-Man or the Brand New Day era a look, this is a perfect jumping on point and an issue that, while not perfect, is still a fun ride.

Written by Brian Clevinger
Art by Scott Wegener

Atomic Robo is a comic you should be reading. If you are not, you should at least be buying it in trades. I could spend the next several paragraphs explaining why this is, but that time could be better spent buying this comic or planning to acquire at some point in the future. What's that? You still want to know what I thought of this issue? Well, since you asked nicely...

Shadow From Beyond Time is Clevinger's and Wegener's nod to Lovecraftian horror stories. This series has dealt with the threat of one of these Cthulhu-like monsters trying to destroy the world from beyond space and time and even features cameos by the fathers of the genre, HP Lovecraft and Charles Fort.

The second volume, Dogs of War, was good, but lacked the same wit and charm the first one had, opting for a more straight forward war story (or at least as straigth forward as a talking robot war story could be), Shadows From Beyond Time rectifies that with a return to form. This issue, in particular, is littered with Clevinger's trademark witty one liners that will have you laughing out loud every other page.

However, where the first volume seemed more focused on showing off the dialogue and the second was more about a straight up action war story, this third volume seems to have hit a happy medium where there's the perfect blend of action, plot and comedy to drive the plot forward.

Verdict - Must Read. While this is only the halfway point of the story, I think its safe to say that this is easily one of the best issues of Atomic Robo yet.

Written by Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Rags Morales, Chris Sprouse, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke and others

The second issue of Tales of the Corps was a better offering than the first, but, like that first issue, felt a little light weight for the $3.99 cover price.

The first story, centered on the female Red Lantern, Bleez, was the weakest of the three stories on offer and I think it's mostly due to the limited page count. Bleez is the most beautiful woman in the universe, part of the priveledged upperclass, who have slaves and servants at their beck and call, and constantly proposed to due to her beauty, which she loathes due to wishing for someone to see her for more than a pretty face. A new suitor from another sector arrives and turns out to be a Sinestro Corps member. They take her and many of her people prisoner and treat them as sex slaves aboard Ranx. There, she fights back against her captor and is taken by a red ring and kills her tormentor.

I can see what they were trying to go for here, but it's just so rushed and hard to feel sympathy for someone of her character, who had no problem with slaves of her own, being enslaved herself. I also failed to see where her rage was coming from as she had yet to be raped or assaulted in any major way before the ring took her. I would assume the other slaves on Ranx would be equally as enraged and ready for Red Lantern selection.

The second story was my favourite and fleshed out Carol Ferris's willing acceptance of the Star Sapphire ring. Prior to this, it read like not being Hal Jordan's girlfriend was her only reason for accepting a ring from a corps that had used their sapphires to enslave her and turn her against her her loved ones in the past. Having her seeing the ring and dryly saying, "not again", to start the story was laugh out loud worthy and the story did a great job expanding on the reasoning behind Carol's joining the Star Sapphires. Wish it was in the main book so more people could read it.

The final story, while entertaining, suffers from focusing on an Orange Lantern, whom we knew would die by the end of the story based on how Larfleeze "recruits". This one dealt with the giant floating head, Blume, who simply went from planet to planet demanding tribute or the destruction of that world. The twist that made this story work though was when one race from a poor resource planet offered up their children as the only precious thing they had. Blume reluctantly took them, but, through narrative, tells us that he's a merciful god and only takes what can be of use to him (ie gold, jewels, etc), and then returns the children to the people unharmed. His travels take him to the planet Okaara and Larfleeze, who quickly kills and consumes Blume's identity for another construct.

Verdict - Check It. Better than the first, but still feels a bit too light for a $3.99 comic. Die hard fans will obviously want this and shouldn't be disappointed, but casuals expecting something relevant to the Blackest Night event should probably steer clear.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy

If the prospect of heroes coming back from the dead and fighting their old allies in Blackest Night interests you, this issue is exactly what you were looking for. It's almost and entire issue of the Martian Manhunter using every power he has, even telepathically manipulating Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, to literally kick the crap out of the two afforementioned heroes.

My only real complaint for the issue is that if they they made J'onn Jonzz so awesome here. It's the first time really I've seen him used to his maximum potential and it's literally scary seeing how powerful he is. J'onn even comments on how no one ever remembers that he's as powerful as Superman. It was just amazing seeing how J'onn goes from calmly talking to Barry and Hal to mentally assaulting them, both telepathically and verbally through his sinister use of his psychological use of their past histories together, to dropping buildings on people, shapeshifting and going invisible and the list goes on and on. If I had known he would be this awesome as a villain, I would have been calling for his death long ago.

However, while the issue's action sequences are excellent, especially as rendered by Mahnke, the issue does read ridiculously fast, probably due to the extended "rebirth" of J'onn as a Black Lantern over the first several, textless pages of the issue. Also, there's actually no conclusion to this issue. The fight is going on, there's a great scene where J'onn makes Flash see Hal as himself and then it just cuts away to a brief page on John Stewert at the remains of the planet Xanshi before ending the issue, telling us to check out Blackest Night for more on the Martian Manhunter fight.

While I understand the reasoning behind moving the conclusion to the fight over there and did thoroughly enjoy the fight here, the issue just reads so fast with all the action and there's no actual conclusion or progression of any Blackest Night plot threads. The War of Light, which has been teased forever and has only been shown in a handful of panels, was completely absent here, again only being shown in a few teaser panels.

Verdict - Must Read. While it may sound like I'm complaining a great deal about the issue, I did love this issue and what was given to me. I just wanted others to know what they are getting when they read it as there is a sudden cut off to the fight and a "go read something else for the rest" feeling to the ending. To me, I'm buying everything Blackest Night related and have no problem with this, but others may feel cheated by it. To me, though, a must read issue.

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Wes Craig

Last issue ended with the decapitated Celestial head that makes up the Guardians's Knowhere base coming to life and giving an ominous message to Adam Warlock about how he must save the universe. I thought this was just a simple extension of the cosmic tears the team has been fixing since the series launched, which it technically is, but the twist is this message is actually from the future and from Starlord's team of Guardians that were "kidnapped" by Starhawk. Confused yet? Read on.

Basically, Starhawk is from the future Guardians of the Galaxy. She's been travelling back in time with a Dr Doom time platform trying to prevent the rifts in space in the past from destroying the future and failing over and over. On the last trip, she learned of Black Bolt's T-Bomb and linked that to the destruction of the universe.

As time travel and the rifts left her weak and disoriented, she ended up taking Starlord's team to the future last issue so she could show them what is happening and get their help in preventing it. Of course, as soon as they get there, the time platform is destroyed by the last remaining threat in the universe, the Badoon, who have conquered the universe, or what's left of it as space has collapsed in on itself, leaving only our solar system in tact. This is due to the Badoon enslaving the Celestials and using them as a power source for a force field keeping the rifts at bay.

Our team, now stranded in the future, go on a suicide mission to access a Celestial. The Celestials, as we're told, are linked telepathically through time and space, allowing them to communicate with each other in the past. This allows Cosmo to send a message back in time to the remaining Guardians, which ends up being the message Adam Warlock received last issue.

Phew, talk about complicated. I tried my best summarizing this convuluted development, but I probably could have went on for a few more paragraphs and still not be completely clear in telling you what happened and I think the issue fails in that regard. Every new development in the future is quickly explained away with a new overly complex solution, such as the time travel/Starhawk explanation followed by the Badoon who then lead to a Celestial chat and so on and so forth. Nothing really flows so much as we're battered with more and more complex reasons for each new plot point.

That said, this isn't a terrible issue either. I did enjoy it, but more so because I know these characters, see where Abnett and Lanning are going with the story and liked the twist with them sending that ominous message back in time to Adam Warlock than this being a great issue that anyone will love. The only thing that really keeps this story moving is the great dialogue and character interactions, particularly with Cosmo and Mantis.

Verdict - Check It. It's dense, overly complicated and deals with many obscure characters, making this a tough sell for anyone not already following this title. For those that are, you'll likely enjoy this issue, but I don't know if it will be regarded as the best in the run.

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Andrenn said...

agreed on GL#44, it was great. Martian Manhunter has never been better, he's the character of the week for me.

Great reviews, Kirk.

Flip The Page said...

i'm with ya on ASM's doc ock stuff falling flat, but after walking away from it for a day i think it was actually pretty cool. just overhyped.

Daringd said...

I really enjoyed ASM #600
The Amazing Spider-man #600: Marvel $4.99

•Last Legs: Slott/JRJR
The opening story to this massive book. It focuses on Aunt May and JJJ SR, as well as he return of Doc Ock. Romita kills it on art, without a doubt better than his work on Character Assassination. Slott gives us a great story as well; Doc Ock was brought back with a bang that is for sure. The 64 pages this story takes up gets the job done, I was sad to see it go, I wanted more. Everyone shows up in this story, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, and The New Avengers. It all comes together and gives us one damn good Spider-man story. Bravo guys!

•Identity Crisis: Lee/Martin
I recently picked up issues 568-589 of Amazing Spider-man. Seeing as I dropped the book for a while. When I came across Marcos Martin’s art I was blown away. I honestly wish he could have done all 104 pages of this issue. He is an amazing artist, So when I came to this story I excited to read it. Stan Lee gives a fun story and Martin’s art takes it to another level. It was funny if not a little pointless but relevance is over rated.
10/10 Marcos Martin’s art is just so good!

•My Brother’s Son: Waid/Doran
While very well written the art is okay at best. That said it can’t take away how good the story is. It tugs at the heart in a way even if it is a little over dramatic. I can’t write much about it other than if the art would have been a little better this would have been a 10 story but instead it will settle for…

•If I was Spider-man: Gale/Alberti
I’ll be honest this was really bad. It brings the whole book down. The art is so amateurish and the story while interesting to think about. It is poorly executed I did get one laugh out of it but besides that very poor job.

•The Blessing: Guggenheim/Breitweiser
Great stuff with this story. It is similar to Waid’s story but has some fine art attached to it. It is heartfelt and real I mean what do you do if you spouse died and you want to et remarried. Maybe I’m the only one who finds in to be a interesting topic. All I know is it was a highlight of this issue for sure.

•Fight at the Museum: Wells/Donovan
Great art and a funny story. Loved it, especially the Comic Book guy Tour Guide. It almost makes me miss the Spider-mobile…..not. Another winner for this issue.

•Violent Visions: Kelly/Fiumara
I hope they take this story somewhere. I know The Gauntlet aspect yes but I want the whole thing expanded. The art here yet again is really solid and anything Spider-man and Kelly is gold. Great way to end this issue.

•Spider-man Cover You’ll never see: Loeb /Brubaker/Fraction/ McKone/ Bendis/Janson
The Bendis cover was great they all where minus the Loeb one… it was in a word stupid. I got a laugh out off all of them however.

70.5/80 Overall 8.8

Matt Ampersand said...

The last page totally sold me on Guardians of the Galaxy.

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