Thursday, September 17, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 09/16/09

Seems all the books I was anticipating this week came up well short of the mark in this edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews. Batman and Robin? Weak art and the story follows a generic grim and gritty 'evil Batman'. Daredevil - The List? Lots of promise, but ignored the new status quo for most of the issue. Promising preview of Daredevil #501 though. Blackest Night? Didn't even bother with a full review. Just bored of the same story over and over with nothing but cliched dialogue and telegraphed "shock" deaths and gore. Hit the jump for the full reviews of these comics and more!

Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Art by Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott

The first issue of the new Batgirl series was an average debut. It didn't wow me nor did it completely turn me off the title. There was potential, both good and bad, for the future. Also, I still had interest in seeing Spoiler as the new Batgirl and a desire to find out what they were going to do with the former Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, who up and quit last issue for reasons I can only assume are editorial mandates as they made no sense based on past characterizations.

I'm saddened to say that, as of issue two, I'm dropping this title. It was a poorly constructed issue with weak storytelling and few, if any, redeeming qualities. Much of the dialogue is stilted and out of character, particularly in regards to Barbara Gordon. Many scenes make no sense either and fail to cue readers into what the writer is trying to convey. Off the top of my head, any of the college classroom scenes spring to mind.

One example of this is where the profressor starts talking about the "Devil's Squere". No, I didn't spell 'square' wrong. I'm not sure what the point of spelling it like that was or if it's a reference to something. Stephanie refers to it as "otherwise known as Thunderdome", which I thought was supposed to be some reference to Mad Max, but couldn't figure out what that has to do with Gotham's former West Quadrant or why Stephanie then mentions how villain's use Twitter. It just comes off as some garbled mess that left me confused and wondering what the writer was trying to say.

Another oddity is the cover. Batgirl is shown suiting up in Barbara's old costume, but it never makes an appearance in the issue, at least, not with Steph wearing it. It did cameo in the Batcave memorial case, but that was it. It's like DC commissioned the cover with the sole purpose of baiting readers during the whole, "Who is the new Batgirl?", build up to the relaunch. They make mention of how Stephanie can't sew, so her Cassandra costume remains ripped and torn throughout the issue, leading me to believe she may eventually don the costume, but I hate fake outs on covers like this.

The final problem with the issue was the big climax scene, which amounted to Stephanie going to a harvest festival/college party shindig and, upon finding a girl from her class drunk off punch, concludes people spiked the drink with a super drug. She then costumes up and goes and kicks the crap out of some random guys with no real evidence, proof or reasoning. It does turn out that Scarecrow is the big bad behind the new drug and that it's a derivative of his fear toxin in the drink, but the writing of these events is far too weak to properly convey such a development.

Verdict - Dropped. I wanted to like this new Batgirl series. Stephanie was given the cowl and one of the few people I was willing to accept as the new Batgirl, Oracle looked like she was going to return to a mentor status like she did with Cassandra and I was sure with Steph's friendship with Cass we'd see some follow up on why she quit and gave the costume to Steph. What we get is weak writing, poor plots, Oracle acting snide and snarky and Cassandra completely ignored in favour of poorly written and forced college scenes.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Philip Tan and Jonathan Glapion

Ugh, what happened to this series? I want to blame it on a jarring switch on the artist side of things, but, in the span of one issue, we've gone from a Silver Age All Star Superman-like iteration of Batman with modern day trappings to some generic, uninspired take on the grim and gritty era of comics.

I suppose I'll tackle the most drastic change in the title first - the art. Philip Tan did an excellent job on Final Crisis: Revelations. It was dark, moody and fit the work he was doing. He then had a stint on Green Lantern with the Agent Orange storyline. That one was absolutely terrible. It was rushed, sloppy, lacked backgrounds in most cases and did not look like the same person that did Revelations.

For this issue of Batman and Robin, the detail is much better and more in line with Revelations, but it still suffers from two things: 1) he's following Frank Quitely, who did some amazing work in both composition and storytelling with his art and 2) this is bland, generic 90's Image-level artwork. Early on, he tries some unique panel composition, one instance seeing panels arranged on angles and in one bordered playing card-like fashion, but it quickly devolves into a standard comic book, which, in most cases is fine, but is pretty boring, especially in a Grant Morrison story.

I can't lay all of the blame solely on Tan, as this new story arc by Morrison is a stark departure from the previous one, too. Gone are the personal touches and, barring one rooftop scene with Dick and Damian, the fun, light moments. In their place is a barebones story about the new anti-hero, the Red Hood, who's set up to make us believe is Jason Todd, and a Batman story that feels like any old Batman story from the 90's. If you didn't know this was Dick as Batman, there's almost no indication or reason to believe it isn't Bruce, which defeats the purpose of having a new Batman in the first place.

Another major problem with the issue is that Morrison ignores everything other writers have done with characters to tell his own story. I'm not asking him to tow the line or dumb down a story or play up to some status quo, but simple things like the characterization of the Penquin, who has not been a Silver Age or 60's Adam West style 'squawking' Penquin charicature in decades, or how Black Mask is completely ignored as a major player in favour of quirky Morrison villains and gangsters.

There's also the throwaway lines about Bruce Wayne's reputation, which I assume is a reference to what happened in Batman RIP. That happened almost an entire year ago and has not been mentioned by Morrison in three issues of this series or any other writer since he introduced it in RIP. Why even mention it without adding context to it for people? I had to think about it for a minute and tried to reconcile if it was something I missed in Pual Dini's Streets of Gotham with Hush as Batman or something from earlier issues of Batman and Robin before finally settling on it's just some off hand remark about Batman RIP. That's not clever. That's just bad writing.

The issue wasn't a complete loss. There were a few highlights in it, such as the glimpses of the new contract killer, Flamingo, who's described in hushed tones and as a consumate professional while we see he's coming to Gotham in an austentatious pink jet while screaming like a girl. I'm hoping he's a Sasho Cohen Bruno-like character based on what we've seen. Would be a stark contrast to the grim and boring Red Hood stuff we've seen so far.

Verdict - Check It. A steep decline in quality, both in writing and artwork, for what had been some of the best Batman work in over a decade. I'm hoping this is only a temporary set back for the title as it's just pedestrian work right now. At least Morrison's pre-Batman and Robin work was interesting and unique, if not something I cared for. This is just dull and uninspired in comparison to that and the past three issues of this series.

Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Billy Tan

If you read Daredevil #500 or at least heard about it, you're probably excited to see where Daredevil is going with the new status quo as the leader of the Hand. This issue served double duty as the first issue of the new creative team (well, technically, only the new writer as Tan handles art chores for this one shot) and the first issue of that new status quo.

So, how does it stack up? Good, but not great. In fact, the preview for this issue that came with Daredevil #500 and The List - Avengers #1 was the best part of the issue. Actually, that's a lie. The best part of the issue was the preview for Daredevil #501 at the end of the issue. If I had to decide whether I wanted to stay with the title based solely on the contents of this issue, I'd probably have dropped the title. Seeing the beautiful art and more on Master Izo and the Hand in the preview for DD #501 changed that and has me anticipating that issue more than I was this one.

What was wrong with this issue? Art, for one. It's not bad art. It's actually fairly competent with composition and solid line work, but after years of the dark and gritty styles that have accompanied and defined Daredevil since it relaunched with the Marvel Knights line, it's just awkward seeing such bright and vibrant art for a Daredevil comic. It downplays the noir-like storytelling and accentuates the more fantastical super hero nature of the story, which is a bad thing for me. I like the gritty realism the previous artists of the series have brought to it that sell me on these stories. Tan's art just didn't fit for me.

On the story side of things, this List story just fell apart at the seams. It starts out really strong with Daredevil handling day to day operations of the Hand, a murder mystery-like setup that brings Norman Osborn into the picture and the unleashing of Bullseye to finally kill Daredevil. That's one hell of a great premise for a story and would work perfectly if they didn't turn it into a generic action story.

Bullseye somehow finds the Hand secret ritual location, provokes Daredevil to follow him and then blows up a building full of innocent people. Matt survived, Lady Bullseye was revealed as the mystery killer from the start and is working for the Kingpin, the end. After those first few pages, it read like a generic Daredevil story. The Hand didn't follow their new leader into battle, Matt didn't use the Hand or his resources, he just wears his DD costume, chases Bullseye and stuff blows up.

Thankfully, the preview for DD #501 looks fantastic. The art is a perfect fit, Matt is making tough decisions, Master Izo is still around and the Hand is even adopting Daredevil-like costumes for their footsoldiers (if you haven't seen them yet, they'll be in the Moments of the Week tomorrow!). It's everything this issue's first five or six pages was and then some. Shame the rest of this issue fell short of the bar the preview for it set.

Verdict - Check It. Good premise, solid start, but weak finish. Fails to sell people on the new status quo and poor choice of artist for the style of this character made an uneven book that just petered out in the end. Preview for next issue of Daredevil more than makes up for it though.

Quick-Shot Reviews

Written by Brian Clevinger
Art by Scott Wegener

+ More Robos make everything better. Loved the interaction between the multiple Robos from throughtout time. Just wished there was more of it.
+ Banana Oil.
+ Wrapping up previous issues' stories. In previous volumes of Robo, most flashbacks to previous time periods end with the issue or shortly after a climax to a flashback. It was nice seeing the previous issues' "endings" addressed in an epilogue sort of way here. Added to the 'beyond time' theme of the story.
+ Horsefeathers!
+ Jenkins. He's a recurring character in Atomic Robo and complete badass. When the Cthulhu monster appeared at Tesladyne HQ in the present, everyone freaks out while Jenkins continues reading his book and drinking his coffee. He later busts out the high powered weaponry to take it to the monster while Robo is off inbetween time and reality or whatever. In short, Jenkins rocks.
+ Robo firing his comic book creators (they look like the two guys on the cover for reference).
- No more Atomic Robo until the next miniseries. /cry

Verdict - Must Read. Great read from start to finish that wraps up the Shadows From Beyond Time volume of Atomic Robo. Action, comedy and a strong concluding chapter for my favourite volume of Atomic Robo to date.

Written by Paul Dini
Co-feature written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs
Co-feature art by Jeremy Haun

+ That's Mister Zsasz to you. Zsasz's character has never been this good.
+ The Broker is a great new (I assume he's new with him just recently being introduced by Dini) addition to the Bat mythos. He's a broker that sells unused themed properties to villains. He doesn't like these people, but it's a job and his character was fleshed out a great deal in this issue.
+ Origin of Gotham City's villain hideouts. With a focus on the Broker, we were told the origin of why there are so many rundown theme parks and other obvious villain hideouts in Gotham. Very fun and interesting sidestory.
+ Batman isn't Batman. Dini did a good job showing Dick as Batman with how he and the Broker intereacted. Was a subtle, but nice touch.
+ Hush is still interesting as Bruce Wayne. Hush story was pushed to the side a bit this month, but was touched upon and I'm still enjoying the dynamic.
- No Zsasz-o-Vision. It was a unique dynamic introduced last issue that I even featured in the Moments of the Week. Was disappointed we didn't see it in action again this month. I don't want every panel with Zsasz in it to have this in it, but was expecting to see it again throughout this story arc.
- Not much happens. Despite enjoying the Broker and origin of Gotham City's rundown villain hideouts, not much happens in this issue. It's all setup for Zsasz getting his own abbatoir and "livestock", but, outside that, the story really stagnated for so early on in the title's life.

Verdict - Buy It. I really enjoyed this issue. Even if you aren't following the title, it's a great done-in-one that still has threads that tie into past issues and lead into future ones. Worth picking up just to know the origin of all those crazy amusement parks and rundown villain hideouts.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert

+ Art is pretty. Some of Ivan Reis's best artwork. Most think of Ethan Van Sciver when it comes to Johns's Green Lantern work, but Reis has established here that he's just as good, if not better, than his longtime collaborator on the title.
+ "The Purple Lanterns" (aka Indigo Tribe) finally make an appearance and kick ass and chew bubblegum.
- Not much else. It's the same story we've been reading for three issues and dozen or so tie-ins. Nothing has changed outside of that and it looks like we're in holding pattern for another two issues until Nekron finally shows up.
- Firestorm. Take your pick in regards to the living or Black Lantern one. Both are boring characters and the writing for his "heart wrenching" scenes was cliched and about as telegraphed as you can get. Oh, two characters talking about how much they love each other and want to get married? In a story where everyone with emotions gets killed? Wonder what happens? Oh, heart ripped out. Who would have thunk it? The dialogue here was just painful to read in context of knowing exactly what was going to happen the minute they started speaking on page one.
- Hal Jordan is a dumbass.
"ZOMG Carol is a Star Sapphire? That's only happened 57 other times. I must go to Zamaron now! "
"But Hal, everyone on Earth is dying and we just found out Green Lanterns are essential to stopping the bad guys."
She's not even his girlfriend anymore and hasn't been in years. At least Barry Allen was there to talk some sense into him and get him to, you know, stay and help save all the people on Earth since the other Green Lanterns are all off-planet.
- Yack, yack, yack, yack, yack. There is a whole lot of excessive dialogue in this issue. I don't have a problem reading and read novels all the time, but this is a visual medium - you show, not tell. The worst instance of this was with Indigo-1, the leader of the Indigo Tribe. Remember how they only speak some messed up, monosybillic language? Well, they know English, apparently, and just won't shut up. She has a splashpage image where I swear there is more text than actual image on the entire page. Just when the first onslaught of text bubbles ends, I look down and there are more. I was tempted to just flip the page and move on at that point.

Verdict - Check It. I didn't want to write a full review of this because, well, I'm completely apathetic about it now. Loved ones come back from the dead, say mean things and kill people. Rinse and repeat. Same story for three issues and a dozen or so tie-ins. Yawn.

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The Dangster said...

i'm torn whether I like blackest night #3 or not. I don't know if it added anything to the table. And killing the new firestorm is just frustrating after they put all the effort into the underrated firestorm series which I'm now getting into.

However I'm a sucker for action and violence. Damn!

I loved Atomic Robo. The delays on this issue was worth it and I can't wait til the next series!

Gotham Streets now outranks Batman and Robin in my favorite bat titles list.

Kevin said...

I liked the Batman and Robin issue. Though I agree with you that Morrison ignoring what all the other Batman writers are doing was just sloppy by Morrison. But I guess that is just Morrison being Morrison. He ignores most peoples work in favor for his own.

I thought the third issue of Blackest Night was an improvement from the first two butright now Blackest Night is nothing more than Secret Invasion Power Rangers style with all the different colors. So far I enjoying the tie-ins much more than the main series as just like Secret Invasion we are getting most of the story told through the tie-ins with the main series being about the action and killing.

brandon said...

nice reviews.

since the first issue of Blackest Night I've wondered if I could drop the Blackest Night mini and still get the story in GL & GLC. So far, it seems I could have.

Having zero knowledge of the characters like Elongated Man or Firestorm I have no vested interest in them or their events and the presentation isnt making me want to know.

Thus far, in three issues, the only important thing I've seen was the Indigo reveal of how to stop the zombies. The rest of it, for an non-DCU reader, is very much throwaway material.

It's a shame that a long time GL reader can feel so left out and bored with his own event's mini.

Kirk Warren said...

@Brandon - Looking at someone who does have knowledge of these characters, I still don't care and have no interest in what is happening to them. THe first issue was unique and interesting. The second more of the same, but still good. Add the tie-ins and the exact same thing in third issue and I'm officially numb to everything happening and can't find it in me to care when someone is killed off or ressed as a BL.

smkedtky said...

I personally enjoyed "Blackest Night" #3. Things are progressing nicely and the dialogue from Elongated Man was creepy in places.

Flip The Page said...

Blackest Night has kinda managed to cling onto my shopping list with issue 3. It's still not very good but it has FINALLY involved some bloody lanterns AND Ray Palmer. that's all that matters to me at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Well, Morrison didn't totally ignore Black Mask. Penguin did mention him during the meeting. I took the scene as Penguin was there representing his boss (Black Mask). But the comments on his characterization are valid. That's Morrison for you.

Anonymous said...

R.E.B.E.L.S, goddamnit!

Anonymous said...

While your complaint about too much text being valid for Blackest Night, it is a Geoff Johns' book. There's always a lot of text-box/dialogue explanation when it comes to him and his ideas.

I expected that, so it wasn't as offensive to me. Still, the story really needs to pick it up. And his attempts to sell Barry Allen's return as the greatest ever are getting thin.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the Blackest Night reveal that I had been dodging for months now.

Radlum said...

I was quite dissapointed by The List-Daredevil. The preview was quite good but the actual development was lame; Bullseye out of nowhere blowing up a building to make Daredevil just doesn't work for me; I mean, Matt Murdock just lost the life he used to know and the best they can come up with to break him is demolishing a building; I understand he cares about people, but it wasn't enough for me. I hope the rest of The List one shots are better than this one and the Avengers one.
Anyway, the preview for issue 501 was interesting; I liked the art and the plot we got was appealing enough

stuclach said...

It looks like I was right about not showing emotion being a valid tool against the Black Lanterns. I wish Mr. Johns had chosen to focus on that as a weapon rather than giving us another "Hal Jordan is the key to saving the universe.....for some reason."

Matt Ampersand said...

I realized that my LCS gave me a variant cover for Blackest Night #3. I really like the cover that is seen here, I wonder if it will be too weird to go back and exchange it?

Upon further research, I think the Firestorm one IS the variant cover. Which covers did you guys get?

Eric Rupe said...

Matt - The Firestorm cover by EVS is the variant cover.

Matt Ampersand said...

Ah, damn. I really liked that cover, and I thought it was the regular one because it kept showing up in previews and all the reviews I have seen.

Bill said...

I could've sworn Stephanie made her own costume for Spoiler and/or Robin, but now can't sew.

Anyway, if you do a moments of the week, be sure to include the painting in Tony's basement in Ultimate Armor Wars. Absolutely killed me.

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