Saturday, August 29, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/29/08

As promised, here's your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for this week. Better late then never, I suppose. Blame Batman: Arkham Asylum. I can't seem to put that game down. The stealth challenges are like crack to me. I just keep trying to get better times on them. Got one time into the top 500, which I thought was pretty impressive for a list that tracks 10,000 scores. Probably knocked down a bit by now though.

But I digress. Comics. Reviews. Read now. Go!

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely

Three issues into Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin and I think it's safe to say that this is the spiritual successor to All Star Superman. However where his Superman was set out of continuity, Batman and Robin is firmly set in the DCU proper and focuses on the new dynamic duo, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne.

It's also, by far, Morrison's best work on the Caped Crusader and I think it's primarily because he's doing new and exciting things with the character instead of getting mired in Silver Age continuity and tropes.

However, the Silver Age trappings are still in full effect, it's just that this time they are not included in the story simply for the sake of having them there. It's a proper mix of that fun and anything goes magic of the Silver Age stories with modern day trappings, making for an ecclectic mix of comic book goodness.

For this issue, Frank Quitely stole the show in my eyes. Some scenes, most notably the Pyg Dance sequence, were absolutely amazing and few artists can capture the motion of a fat, delusional man in a pig mask dancing like Quitely has here. It was truly one of the most disturbing, and hilarious, things I've seen in a comic in a long time and I don't think the scene would have worked with anyone else doing the art.

All was not perfect in this issue, though. I did have one problem and it was the sudden and often times, jarring transitions between scenes. For instance, one page we have Batman trying to stop some suicide bombers who end up being walking biohazards puking on people. It never actually shows the follow up on this or how Dick dealt with it. He just shows up again at the circus to save Damian at the end with no explanation as to what happened or how he came to know about the loaction of Damian. I don't mind missing narratives or cutting of the fat that has bloated so many of today's decompressed comics, but when he can waste an entire page on Alfred looking at a picture while someone (I assumed Red Hood, but he was on other side of town right afterwards, so not sure who that was) watches him, I think it's okay to complain about the odd misstep here and there. To be fair, I'd prefer these missing gaps to a page filled with people doing nothing or pointless exposition, so it's not the worst thing I could complain about.

Verdict - Must Read. This was a wonderful conclusion to the Pyg storyline and he's an excellent addition to the Batman rogue's gallery that I hope isn't forgotten once Morrison's run ends. Disappointed to see Quitely off the book for the next six months, but it's better than constant delays, too.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by JH Williams III
Co-feature art by Cully Hamner

My initial thoughts on the Rucka/Williams III Batwoman run was that it was a visually stunning near-perfect reading experience. Three issues in and I'm beginning to wonder if I spoke too highly of the book or possibly if the bar was just set far too high after that spectacular first issue.

Now, don't get me wrong, the art is still jaw droppingly gorgeous, but I've been finding the story not nearly as engrossing as the artwork attached to it. Take this issue's introduction of the werewolf and other mutate characters (technically, they showed up on the last page of last issue, but I was hoping they were merely fever dreams from Batwoman being drugged). These were the more farcical parts of the previous Crime Bible stories and I was honestly hoping they would never appear again as they don't really fit with the whole street level detective themed Bat-mythos.

Simply put, I see things like that and I wonder how we went from the entertaining, yet dark and moody introduction of Alice, a perfect new member of the Bat-family rogues gallery, to werewolves and squid people. I just can't see what they added to the story other than to pull me right out of it with the absurdity of it all.

Another problem I had with the issue was the inclusion of Kate's tuxedo scene. It screamed, 'look, look, Batwoman is a lesbian, look at her, look at her!', like some desperate cry for attention. Not only did Kate wear the tuxedo to a formal, but another, completely unrelated, lesbian character did as well. One instance of this is unique and not worth making a fuss over, but two lesbian characters dressing like men? I could be wrong here, but I assumed lesbians dressed like women and didn't just go around dressing like men for formal parties. This was another scene that took me out of the book with how it just hit me over the head with the fact Batwoman is a lesbian. Maybe I'm wrong on this and this is how most lesbians act, but it just felt forced to me.

As for the Question back-up, it, again, feels like fluff. It's eight pages of Montoya getting thrown in a car and left to drown in a river before escaping. I really can't get into the Question back-up at all. It's just too brief, feels like little happens each month and I honestly can't find a reason to care about it.

Verdict - Check It. Beautiful art that is worth buying the issue for on its own. Story is going in a direction I don't like, but I seem to be in the minority based on other online reviews, so your mileage may vary.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dale Eaglesham

Hickman and Eaglesham's debut on Fantastic Four was a solid debut issue that has its faults, but manages to entertain nonetheless.

One complaint I can see being levied against the title is that it picks up threads from Hickman's Dark Reign: Fantastic Four miniseries with 'the machine' as the main plot propelling this first issue forward. If you didn't read DR: FF, you're probably in the dark about the whole thing and the mystery men, who end up being Reed Richards from other realities, that he ends up interacting with here. It's not terribly difficult to understand, but something to take note of if you are jumping in on what should be a reader friendly first issue.

While I liked the idea of Reed trying to fix everything and the introduction of these alternate reality Reed Richards, it's also not the most original idea ever. As some readers pointed out in Ryan's reviews, Alan Moore's Supreme had a similar storyline with the various Supremes interacting. Heck, even Spider-Man has had a Spider-Man Corps looking after the Multiverse in a recent Marvel Comics Presents.

Mild complaint over the recycling of common comic book tropes aside, the ending to this issue, which featured three Reeds wielding Infinity Gauntlets was more than enough to make me forget about every fault or minor quibble with the issue and think of the possibilities that scene evokes. Hopefully this will address whether our Reed still has an Infinity Gem or not. It'd be interesting to see the Illuminati played up more in this series if Hickman went that route as well.

On the art side of things, Eaglesham does some solid work, but nothing spectacular. To be honest, I found his depiction of a bulked up, beared Reed Richards a tad jarring. It just differed from every other interpretation of the character I've seen and took a little getting used to. Otherwise, I have no complaints with his work.

Verdict - Check It. Not a perfect issue, but a good Fantastic Four issue. More in line with classic interpretations of the team and personalities than the more over the top Millar work.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy

This! This is what I thought Blackest Night would be about - all out war between the various corps as the War of Light yields to the onslaught of Black Lanterns.

What's worse is that the events of this issue actually pick up from the conclusion of Agent Orange and about halfway through the Emerald Eclipse storyline, making the wait for these follow-ups excruitiating. It feels like Johns was forced to put them all on the back burner so the Black Lantern elements could be fleshed out and turned into what eventually became the Blackest Night event title. This also added a rushed element to these War of Light moments, turning what should have been separate issues dedicated to each battlefront into a condensed, action packed single issue instead.

This is both good and bad. On one hand, it makes for a strong single issue with a lot of bang for your buck for 22 pages of non-stop, back and forth action. On the other, many of the colourful personalities that have been fleshed out over the past year get relegated to the sidelines. For instance, the Sinestro Corps members captured by the Star Sapphires are freed and we see them in a handful of panels.

Another instance is that the only Star Sapphire we really get to see in action is Carol Ferris, who I'm thinking was introduced simply to have someone readers would know on screen. On the Blue Lantern/Orange Lantern side of things, we don't even get any dialogue from any Lanterns outside of the two Guardians discussing matters. It just felt like so much wasted potential in favour of wanton killings in Blackest Night and it's related tie-ins.

However, complaints over formatting/story progression aside, this issue was far from bad and one of the best chapters in the Blackest Night yet, probably for all those very same things I complained about above. The War of Light has been hyped up far more than the Blackest Night and is something I've been waiting to see more of, especially this Sinestro-centric chapter. In fact, it was revealed that Sinestro had a relationship with Abin Sur's sister and that she died somehow (Sinestro was shown holding her body screaming in one panel). The reaction he had to Carol's invading of his private memories with the Star Sapphire showed just how much he cared for her and I suspect she was Soranik Natu's mother as well.

The various battles all made way for the coming of the Black Lanterns. Black rings decended upon each of the Lantern homeworlds, all save the Blue Lantern one, which it was revealed had no dead bodies with which to revive. Several predicted Black Lanterns showed up, including former Green and Red Lantern, Laira, Amon Sur, a multitude of Sinestro Corps members from the Sinestro Corps War, the Five Inversions and all of Larfleeze's victims over the past several millenia. Larfleeze's reaction to the Black Lanterns was my personal favourite and I'm curious as to how he'll fair against them.

Verdict - Must Read. My only real complaint is the squandered potential the War of Light had and non-stop focus on killings and Black Lanterns so far. Otherwise, this was a spectacular chapter to the event.

Quick Shot Reviews

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Kano

+ Beta Ray Bill finally written like he's supposed to be. If you've been reading the back-up reprints of Bill's first appearance included with these issues, you'll quickly see how perfect a grasp on the character Gillen has and his respect for the character has sold me on his upcoming Thor run.
+ Perfect conclusion to the story. We knew Galactus could not be killed, but Bill came as close as possible to doing so, only to be forced into saving that which he would destroy or see trillions of innocents die in the wake. The Voidian (villain who's weaponry Bill co-opted to destroy planets to starve Gaactus) narrated this irony perfecty.
+ Galactus's 'why' speech to Bill and references to his past life as Galan. Rare to see a writer with such a command of continuity that can seamlessly weave it into his story to such effect, both with this Galactus speech and his treatment of Bill.
- Galactus returns a female Korbinite (Bill's race) to life as a boon to Bill. Bit too convenient a solution to get Bill off his back and should be obvious you cannot rebuild a race with two people. They're still effectively extinct.
- Kano's art fluctuates in quality significantly this time around. Looks rushed in some places, lacking detail both in characters and backgrounds while being fantastic in others, such as the expressions on Galactus's face during his 'why' speech. Overall, it's good, but probably could have used some extra time to touch up parts of the issue.

Verdict - Must Read. Fantastic series that does just about everything right, including a great ending to a premise we all knew the ending (or the basic outline of it) to already.

Written by Zeb Wells
Art by Clay Mann

+ I love Clay Mann's art on this series. This issue, in particular, is one of his strongest outings.
+ Great finish to a great series. Easily the best Dark Reign miniseries I've read.
+ While the story amounted to little more than Elektra escaping from HAMMER and us finding out when she was abducted, it was the journey to get there that interested me the most and was a non-stop ride filled with many great moments.
- The "not even the stars are safe" mystery was a dud. Turns out Elektra actually was responsible for the event, which was the downing of a SHIELD Helicarrier where she injured the two people responsible for all her misfortunes since escaping HAMMER, and mystically blocked the incident from her mind after one of her death's and returns. Was the lone weak spot in the story, but the aftermath of it, where she kills the two assassins, more than made up for that one forced reveal.

Verdict - Check It. A great series that reestablishes Elektra, tells us why the Skrulls wanted her first and gives us the exact timeframe of when she was captured. While the miniseries was probably not needed to reveal these simple facts, it was a whirlwind of a ride that was filled with great moments and just fun to read from start to finish.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ethan Van Sciver

- Nothing happened. Thawne explained his masterplan, kind of, but it amounts to just running fast. There's some fights, I suppose, but no tension or drama. Just the odd punch and Thawne poking people with his little wand thing.
- Saint Barry is so awesome, he literally created and sustains the Speed Force. He also cured cancer and shits butterflies. That's how great Barry is, in case you didn't know yet.
- For a book about speed, it's still moving painfully slow and there's no sense of motion or, well, speed to be found in any of these pages. It's just talking and the odd punch.
- The art feels rushed. It's mostly filled with half drawn 'ghost' images of each of the speedsters instead of actual fleshed out drawings. On top of that, it's like the book was just dipped in a bucket of red and yellow paint and tossed in the dryer with how much red and yellow is smeared on the pages in lieu of actually drawing backgrounds.

Verdict - Dropped. I rarely drop miniseries or events midway through, but I came in looking for more of the Barry Allen from Final Crisis, not the grimdark Saint Barry version, and was curious if Johns could recapture the magic from his original run on Flash. Sadly, this event seems to be aimed directly at a very distinct minority of Flash fans moreso than a catch all reboot/launch of the Flash franchise like Green Lantern: Rebirth was. Shame.

Written by Fred Van Lente & Greg Pak
Art by Rodney Buchemi

+ When it wasn't recaps, the Cho-centric story wasn't bad. Several good one-liners, too.
+ "What Would Herc do?" is my new slogan.
- Half the issue is recap. We've had a couple of these recently, most noteably during the Hercules origin issue, so I'm not sure why this was included again.
- No Herc outside some random flashbacks. Would have preferred the Herc and Cho arcs be weaved together instead of basically having them alternate between issues with the new bi-monthly format.

Verdict - Check It. Once the story got moving, it was interesting, but I just don't care for Cho. He's just Herc's smart sidekick and having entire issues dedicated to him doesn't click with me.

Written by Fred Van Lente & Greg Pak
Art by Ariel Olivetti

+ Bruce Banner is a dick and I love it. Without the Hulk, he's no longer puny Banner and, after everything everyone has done to him, he's not letting anyone push him around anymore, not even his own son, Skaar. Banner actually feels like a character moreso than a vehicle for the Hulk now.
+ "Amadeus Cho, aka that smart kid who hangs out with Hercules."
+ How they pick a fight with Juggernaut was priceless. Can't believe I forgot it when doing up the Moments of the Week.
- Not much else happens outside of confirming there's no more gamma radiation/chance of Banner becoming the Hulk after what the Red Hulk did to him recently. Just exposition after exposition for most of the issue.
- Skaar is still an uninspired character that I can't seem to like no matter how many chances I give him.
- Ship without a rudder describes the current status quo. There's no real direction to the story at this point. It's simply going to consist of Skaar touring the Marvel Universe as Banner picks fights with other characters to toughen him up enough to kill the Hulk whenever he eventually returns.
- Savage She-Hulk back-up did nothing for me.

Verdict - Check It. Was hoping this would be as entertaining as Pak's last run on Incredible Hulk, but it was a really slow issue that wasted a lot of time on exposition and recaps instead of establishing a plot to grab readers. I'm going to pass on anymore of this series unless I start hearing Planet Hulk-like praise for it.

NOVA #28
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Andrea Di Vito

+ Nova kicks ass and takes names.
+ Nova then verbally abuses King Blastaar before reminding him that he'll tear him inside out like he did the last person (Annihlus) to hold the Cosmic Rod.
+ Nova Corps has trimmed all the fat and is back down to the core group first introduced prior to Ego/Worldmind's mass recruiting.
+ Nova Corps ship from the Fault for the cliffhanger. Old Centurions returning? Rhoman Dey, who hasn't been seen since that lone appearance a few issues back? Lot's of interesting possiblities moving out of War of Kings.
- Di Vito is a solid artist with a style similar to Wellinton Alves, but it's a far cry from Alves's work. Also devoid of background details, typically opting for a washed out skyline or generic wall.

Verdict - Must Read. Probably the best issue of Nova this year, which is saying a lot considering how good this book typically is. Strong from start to finish. Highly recommended.

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Daringd said...

I disagree about The Flash: Rebirth. I found it to be the best issue yet. Book of the week for me

Lucho said...

Why don´t you say anything about Olivetti´s Wonderful art in IH#601.

He and Mauro Cascioli (from JL Cry For Justice) are amazing argentian artists...

By the way, It was obvious Rucka´s script about a lesbian Batwoman would be quite a letdown.
Bad move DC, but the art still rocks.

Can´t believe you did not like Flash Rebirth #4.
I´m not a Bary Allen fan but this was a very well written book.

Anonymous said...

Batman and Robin and Flash: Rebirth were so freaking awesome this week...but they still don't compare to the awesomeness that is Batman: Arkham Asylum

Pedro said...

I liked Flash: rebirth too!

Matt Ampersand said...

I agree completely about Incredible Hercules, it felt like half a book with the origin recap added to make it complete. That being said, the new parts were pretty awesome.

And I still can't over how awesome Nova was! One of the best issues I have read this year.

The Dangster said...

I think in the long run the Green Lantern issues won't feel so rushed.

I like Flash Rebirth but I don't blame you for dropping it. Johns had envisioned 5 issues, now that DC made it 6 I feel like he's really stretching it. Again as a Johns fan I'm just really disappointed by a usually solid writer.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Alan Moore did the whole "multiple versions of the same character interacting" first in the pages of Captain Britain.

Anonymous said...

What issue and what title did this "Spider-Man Corps" appear in?

Matt Ampersand said...

It was in Marvel Comics Presents (vol 2, from a couple of years ago), the first issue. It was a quick done-in-one story, and more of a joke than an actual serious story.

Flip The Page said...

The Savage She-Hulk back-up did nothing for ya? I mean the art has gone downhill and then some but I found it my entire motivation for reading the issue... but then i'm a fanboy.

fodigg said...

Poor speedsters. The Flash franchise has gone the way of the Sonic franchise.

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