Thursday, August 6, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/05/09

Welcome to another round of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews. I did an in-depth review of Amazing Spider-Man #601 yesterday, but still have Ghost Riders: Heaven's On Fire (or is it Heavens Fire, like the solicit image or Heaven's Fire, like the solicits?), Secret Six and the conclusion to War of Kings for today.

Before getting into the reviews, a few quick announcements and reminders. First up, I acquired the SpiderFail.Org domain. I saw it mentioned by Spidey in Amazing Spider-Man #601 yesterday and was shocked not to see an actual site up and, even more surprisingly, no one had purchased the domain. So, being me, I picked up the domain and threw some Spider Fail images up, similar to FailBlog.Org, as a simple start to it. I haven't decided what to do with that blog yet, but am open to suggestions. It seems a lot of people like the comical single image posts though, so I may just go with that for the longterm.

Also, don't forget to enter our Two Years Later anniversary contests! We're giving away copies of Scalped Vol 1, I Kill Giants, Parker: The Hunter and the Final Crisis hardcover. All contests are free to enter and end next Wednesday, so don't miss out!

Anyways, enough yammering on, hit the jump to find out what I thought of the rest of my purchases this week!

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Roland Boschi

I have a confession to make. This is the first time I've ever read the 'Previously' page at the start of a Marvel comic before. I usually have no reason to read them as I'm kept well abreast of most comics from my own readings and spoilers posted online.

However, I've never actually cared about Ghost Rider. I'd heard he was turned into an angel or agent of God or some such, but never actually took an active interest in reading more. When some guy I'd never heard of named Jason Aaron took over over a year or more ago, I had even less reason to go pick up a book featuring a 90's extreme character I had no interest in. A lot can change in a few short years and here I am, at the end of Aaron's acclaimed run and post-cancellation of Ghost Rider's book, picking up the conclusion to his run on the title.

But I digress. Getting back to the whole recap page, I now know why I don't bother reading them - they're still useless. It basically told me as little as possible, amounting to, "Johnny Blaze used to serve hell, turned out he was working for heaven all along and, with Danny Ketch, unwittingly let some guy I don't know take over heaven. Now they want to stop him.". I suppose it's helpful, in the barest of possible ways, but it did nothing for me and I learned more from the freaking solicit than that. I'm not joking. Look,
The renegade angel Zadkiel is out to thwart Biblical prophecy by assassinating a young boy bred by Satanists to rule the world, so if Ghost Riders Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch are going to save the world, they'll first have to save the Anti-Christ. Guest-starring Hellstorm, the Son of Satan.
They could have put that there with some stuff about how the Ghost Riders serve heaven and it'd be far better than what I learned from the recap page. I now understand why many people complain about not being able to "get into" certain comics. Now that my little tangent about recap pages is over, let's get into just how good this issue actually ended up being.

As the solicit stated, there's a war on heaven, anti-christs and various Ghost Riders and demonic characters, such as the Son of Satan, involved in this story. I have little to no knowledge of any of them outside of their basic appearances and names, so am fairly unfamiliar with their current or past personalities and can't comment on those, but I found everyone to be engaging and unique in their own rights throughout the issue. No one felt like a set piece put on the board just to put over another character nor were they just there to recap events. Everyone was a distinct personality that was there, I assume since I haven't read any of this run, for a story purpose. It was refreshing reading a story featuring that kind of usage and something typically only "allowed" on fringe books like this one, so wanted to point that out.

Another thing I wanted to point out is that this story has some downright ridiculous things in. And by ridiculous, I mean ridiculously awesome. There's ninja nuns with swords, two (2) Ghost Riders (Ketch and Blaze), heaven in the bad guy and the heroes have to stop a renegade angel, who's taken control of heaven, by protecting the anti-christ. While that may not so sound bad, they rogue angel? He wants to stop the apocalpye. Our heroes are helping bring about armageddon. The twist ont his is that the longer the rogue angel stays in power, the more powerful he becomes and, well, he doesn't like Earth, so we probably won't be around too long if the Ghost Riders don't help the anti-christ. It's a great concept and something I found compelling in a book, for all my love of Aaron's work, I didn't expect to like and have put off reading for so long.

However, while there are so many great concepts in this book, the first issue of this 'event' (it's more like a continuation of a series than an actual event book if you ask me) is actually fairly straight forward. There was no huge shock ending twist that other events use for their first issues or death (well, lots of people do die I guess) to hook people in for the longhaul. It's just a very solid first issue to a storyline and I think Marvel pushed it to miniseries/retitlted it just to drum up some hype and give them a reason to up it to $3.99 a pop.

Yes, the one detriment to this issue is that it is $3.99 for a standard sized story. Technically, there's a backup reprint of the first volume's Ghost Rider #1, but I didn't really find it overly necessary or relevant. At least, not nearly as useful as the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill that accompanied his recent miniseries, Godhunter. Of note, I don't feel ripped off buying this at $3.99, as it was a good issue, but I imagine long time readers might be a little ticked off at the price hike for what amounts to a continuation of what they were already reading in the same package, just different title.

Artwise, this looked great all around. I really like the bulkier looking Ghost Rider and the art is dark and moody, which fits the tone of the story perfectly.

Verdict - Check It. I'm hesitant to call it a Must Read as this does deal with a lot of fringe characters and the more mystical sides of the Marvel Universe, but this is a very good read and, my complaints about the useless recap page at the start aside, fairly reader friendly, all things considered.

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood

Secret Six is officially one year old as of this issue and I'm having a hard time thinking of any other book with as stellar a first year as this book has had. Usually you can point to a random issue in the run, typically the "introduction" of the characters or the transition past the first arc, that a new series stutters through, but Secret Six has been, well, as perfect as you could possibly expect.

Not to ruin the trend, issue twelve was one of the strongest issue of the series to date and every character managed to leave their mark on the story in one way or another. Hell, even the guest stars, like Artemis and Wonder Woman, both have great moments in this issue.

However, one character, in particular, managed to take the baton and run with it here and that was the newest and most enigmatic member of the team, Jeannette. Simone has been tight lipped about this character's background since introducing her, but she's told us she is a banshee and of random parts to her past as well as her relative immortality being shown.

When faced with the threat of Wonder Woman kicking the crap out of everyone (Catman even suggests they just stay put and try not to bleed on her) for the apparent death of Artemis (she gets better), Jeannette steps up to defend her team, despite the conflict of interests between everyone in the previous issue, whereby many wanted to walk away from their current contract to work for some slavers. It's revealed her, after some absorbing quite a bit of punishment from Wonder Woman amid some excellent dialogue, that Jeannette is, literally, a banshee, even transforming, for lack of a better word, to look like the Superman villain, Silver Banshee, at one point. This allows her to take down Wonder Woman, but the power is consuming her. If not for Scandal pulling her back, who knows what may have happened.

As I mentioned, Artemis wasn't quite dead. The anti-slavers part of the team took Artemis and fled to find weapons and clothing while the pro-slavers took the fallen Wonder Woman to offer to their employers for allowing the others to free Artemis. Artemis, however, is not in the mood for running away, gears up with some weapons and immediately starts taking revenge on her former captors, specifically the ones that attempted to rape her last issue.

The most shocking scene, however, was Scandal giving Bane Venom and telling him to take it to help them escape their former Secret Six members, who won't take kindly to their breaking the rules of their group. It's shocking to me because Bane has treated her like a daughter and has done everything in his power to help Scandal. She even helped him deal with his withdrawal from the Venom in a previous issue. Seeing her so casually give him more Venom was shocking to me.

The end to the issue came with the delivery of Wonder Woman to the slavers, who showed the remaining Six members their little Dante's Inferno prison, complete with devil chained on the bottom circle of their own manmade Hell. To me, it looked like it was Grendel, from Simone's recent Beowulf arc on Wonder Woman. Grendel disappeared near the end of that arc and the look of this "devil" was similar. The "devil" also knew Wonder Woman, so I think it fits. We'll know for sure next month.

Verdict - Must Read. There's so many things done right in this issue and it reads like no other book on the market. At the heart of it, these are villains doing bad things, but who knew being so bad could be so good?

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier

I've been singing War of Kings praises since it first began and have had little, if anything, bad to say about the main series (some tie-ins were a little weak though). Why do I bring this up now, in the final issue of the event? No, I don't think this issue was bad. However, I do think I'm being a little biased towards the series, in general and want to let that be known out front.

For instance, the whole T-Bomb final solution that Black Bolt has devised - that's retarded anyway you look at it, yet I'm more than willing to over look it because I've just been having fun with the book and story and it doesn't stand out too bad to me. But, seriously, let's give the entire universe Inhuman powers and everyone will magically play happy now? I'd probably bash the hell out of that in any other book. When Vulcan, the Superboy Prime of the Marvel Universe (I jokingly refer to the end of this issue as sending Vulcan and Black Bolt off to Earth-Prime for a bit), makes a valid case against someone's plans, as he did in this issue, there's something seriously wrong. But, as I said, as dumb as that final plan is, I just plain enjoyed this event from start to finish and don't seem to have the heart to fault the book for that. Your mileage may vary.

Another major problem I can see people having with this issue is that the aftermath of the fight between Black Bolt and Vulcan/the surrender of the Shi'ar is completely missing from the issue. It's like if Star Wars ended with some cheering just as the Death Star blew up. Sure, the movie (and this issue) would be great ending at the climax, but there's no epilogue to take us down off the high. I'm not sure if they started writing the book and decided there wasn't enough pages to do what they wanted, so Marvel commissioned the War of Kings: Who Will Rule? epilogue for September or if they weren't allowed to expand the issue count midway through or what, but that's the short and long of it - good, but abrupt ending. Personally, as with the other major problem (the T-Bomb), I have no problem with this. Marvel wants to give me more War of Kings? Sign me up. I don't mind it taking place in an epilogue issue a month later. Again, your mileage may vary in that regard.

Now, with my two major complaints about the issue out of the way, what did I really think about this issue? As you can tell from my reluctance to outright bash it, I loved it. Black Bolt is awesome throughout, kicks the crap out of Vulcan, there's some drama with Medusa and the other Inhumans, Crystal gets to continue to shine, as she has throughout this series (who the heck would think Crystal would be one of my favourite characters by the end of this series?) and the ending, while leaving things open ended, was definitive enough for me to be a good conclusion to the War of Kings.

Speaking of the ending, it looked like the Guardians of the Galaxy were right about the T-Bomb tearing a hole in space. I suspect this will lead to the Badoon coming back to the Marvel Universe to follow up on their future versions from the Guardians series (they were a threat in the old Guardians book in the future, too). I think the last time we've seen one was in a random She-Hulk issue and then they'd been missing for years. They hold a huge amount of territory in space and are quite powerful, for those wondering. Easily up there with the Shi'ar (pre-Vulcan), Skrulls (pre-SI) and Kree (pre-Annihilation).

Verdict - Must Read. Call me biased if you will, but any perceived faults with this issue are just washed away by how much I enjoyed everything. I do wish the aftermath was touched on more in this issue, but the epilogue has been scheduled for a while and I'm not going to complain any more about it until I read that, as I assume that will answer any lingering questions and transition us into the next year or two worth of cosmic goodness.

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The Dangster said...

dont get me wrong i dont hate jannette but she was never a favorite addition for me. That being said, I love her now with this reveal that she's a banshee.

Anonymous said...

Have to give a shout-out to "War of Kings-Ascension" #4. I think it may have come out only this week too, and the book feels like issue 5.5 of the main "War of Kings" book. It fills in a lot of the post-assassination mayhem well enough in the first third, but the best part of the book is the foreshadowing of the ramifications of the T-Bomb detonation. The rupture in space & time will make it easier for other Raptor amulets to be discovered, paving the way for them to take over the Shi'Ar Imperium. The art by Wellington Alves is serviceable during the moments after the assassination, but really shines once the foreshadowing begins, and the art style of the final fight scene really melds with the look & feel set by Paul Pelletier in the main book. It does pale in comparison to Pelletier's art in terms of characterization, mainly because the principal character (though Alves' characterizations in the pivotal scene is hampered by the fact that the principals' faces are either covered with armor, or Skrullian face-bumps).

All in all, this issue tied in nicely with the primary storyline, which is probably the best I could hope for, given that the Darkhawk concept was so weak to begin with. When the original Darkhawk:WOK mini-series was solicited, they promised to do for Darkhawk what the original "Annihilation" did for Nova. That was obviously a reach, given that Darkhawk's origin story (see issue #25) ranks as one of the worst comic book experiences I've had in nearly 35 years.; Overly long, horribly convoluted and... well, when they trotted out intergalactic mobsters, nothing in the world could save it from being a piece of holo-foil covered crap.

Still, "Ascension" #4 is probably the most essential of the War of Kings tie-in issues, which is quite an achievement. If one thing has dismayed me about War of Kings, it's been the low quality of the tie-ins, compared to that of the main series. I've not liked the WOK tie-ins because they have not been as invested in the Kree/Shi'Ar conflict as they could have been. Richard Rider's Nova was powerless for the first half, and the Guardians' storyline was interrupted by a two-issue storyline with Phyla-Vell becoming a pawn of Oblivion. Plus, I still cannot reconcile the Blastaar story as part of the War of Kings canon if all it merited in the main series was a passing reference. While I've hated the recent X-crossovers because the overall story overwhelms & decimates the individual titles), most of the Annihilation tie-ins seem to suffer from a LACK of involvement in the main story ("Star Lord" being the notable exception). For instance, the Nova from the original Abnett & Lanning-penned mini bore no resemblance to the one Keith Giffen wrote in "Annihilation", and the ancient enemies introduced in the Silver Surfer mini disappeared after Annihilation #1. Ronan's mini-series was more of a showcase for Gamora's ample cleavage, and if you act right now, I'll award a diamond-plated No-Prize to anyone who can tell me what Wraith had to do with Annihilation: Conquest. While Darkhawk's entrance into the Kree-Shi'Ar campaign came very, very late, at least it was unexpected & of lasting consequence... just like the events in the main "War of Kings" series itself.

Given that the end of the series betrays no secrets about any possible Darkhawk ongoing series, I'm assuming that the Raptors storyline will likely play out in the pages of "Guardians of the Galaxy", what with the space-time rift already being a big angle in that title. (Well, maybe in "Nova" too, considering that they both used to be in "New Warriors" at one time.)

Matt Ampersand said...

Absolutely fucking loved War of Kings #6. Easy contender for best issue of the year for me.

Andrenn said...

I stick to my suggestion that Spider-fail could have people write in about their own least favorite Spider-man moments.

Great reviews Kirk, really kicking myself that I didn't read War of Kings.

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