Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 09/23/09

I ran into some problems earlier in the week that only left me with some time to do a quick review of the Giant-Size Old Man Logan special, but I managed to set aside some time, along with writing up the Thoughts on Solicits for December post earlier today, to bang out the rest of this week's reviews.  Of note, I did pick up Superman: Secret Origins #1 and it, sadly, ended up being exactly what I expected it would be.  Hit the jump to find out what I thought of it and the rest of this week's comics.

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Mike McKone

First things first, why is Spider-Man's costume red and black in this issue?  I've seen it look like this for covers and other stylistic reasons, but those were limited to certain scenes or sequences, like emerging from shadows or the odd cover.  Almost the entire issue is devoted to Spider-Man and Black Cat and, in every panel, there is not an ounce of blue on the costume.  It's black with the red parts.  It's not even shading.  There's no depth.  Just solid, pure black instead of blue.  Very odd and annoyed me for some reason.

Getting into the actual contents of the issue, Peter's "girlfriends" are really starting to grate on me.  It's a clear indication of the boy's club mentality of the Spider Office.  Real people don't act like they're out of a soap opera.  These women are treated like pure, unadultered stereotypes.  They aren't people, they're merely objects for Peter to interact with and to give us fanboys something to oggle or laugh at.  Sure, a bunch of guys can get together and come up with far-fetched fantasy of three girls all walking in on the main character and the verbal cat fight breaking out, but when it's actually put to the page and offered up as canon, that's just kind of sad.  It's not new, it's not exciting, it's just childish and immature.  You can have him juggling multiple women with a little more class than this.

Moving onto the Spider-Man part of the story, which made up the bulk of the issue, Black Cat returns, mysteriously has bad luck powers again and is, apparently, a thief once more.  She also doesn't know Spider-Man is Peter Parker and does not seem to have the same, "I should know who you are", sense of deja vu that the Fantastic Four and others close to Peter have shown, which makes no sense with how intimate these two have been over the years and the fact they were still close friends up until Civil War. 

I like Black Cat, I really do.  She had great chemistry with Spider-Man (note: not Peter, just Spider-Man) and don't oppose the two interacting and possibly hooking up again, as the ending to this issue suggests they do, but I also don't want a pure rehash of the 80's comics.  This version of Black Cat completely ignores everything that has happened since the two broke up and doesn't even reflect what Black Cat had been doing with Heroes 4 Hire or the current Marvel Divas storyline.  It's like some horrible sense of deja vu reading it where all I can do is point out how wrong everything feels while reading it.  This was a good story back in 1985.  But that doesn't mean it's a story I want to read in 2009.

Verdict - Avoid It.  Horrible handling of female characters, inexplicable appearance and behaviour of Black Cat and a retread of past stories beyond the standard Brand New Day-era level of rehashing.  Just about everything here could have been handled in a better way. 

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art by Wes Craig

Similar to how Incredible Hercules is alternating between Amadeus Cho and Hercules, Guardians of the Galaxy is alternating between the present day team of Rocket Raccoon's team, who just saw Adam Warlock turn into Magus last month, and Starlord's team, which is stuck in the future.  This issue deals with Starlord's team in the future.  I wanted to know more about Adam Warlock's transformation into Magus at the end of last issue.  I are disappointed.  Yes, so disappointed grammar goes out the window.

While, yes, I am disappointed with the lack of follow-up on Magus, that doesn't mean this is a bad issue.  In fact, it's still a very good issue and Guardians continues to prove it's one of Marvel's best books.  However, it's difficult, at times, to not get frustrated when a team is splintered and the comic takes an alternating schedule following each team's adventures.  This is doubly frustrating when you really want to find out about something that happened with one team and is a similar feeling of frustation I have with the Cho/Hercules dynamic.  I want more Hercules, they give me Cho.  It's still good, but I would prefer they weave each story together, giving each character equal billing in the book each month.  Same goes for the two teams of Guardians.

Again, this issue isn't bad.  It was great even.  There's some wacky time paradoxes and other glossed over details we don't really need to know as to why Peter's team is being thrown through time (they're basically anomolies and the universe is trying to 'correct' them) and space, landing them in alternate realities in addition to altering their appearances.  For one, Starlord is old as dirt now.  Mantis and Cosmo have both reverted to younger versions, Mantis being a baby and Cosmo a pup.  Bug is a teenager and Flagg is curiously the same, Starhawk describing him as a 'chosen one' and of great importance, but unable to tell him more without doing damage to the timestream.  This basically causes him to phase in and out of reality.

The reality jumping leads the team into contact with other versions of the future Guardians of the Galaxy, futures with Magus in charge and so on, but most are quickly glossed over in favour of moving the story along.  It's a fun story, made doubly so by the change in ages of characters (Cosmo acts like a puppy, both in intelligence and enthusiasm for one example), and just a cosmic, time travelling romp that doesn't get bogged down by the little details that plague so many other time travel/reality hopping stories. 

However, with that light hearted nature and lack of real focus comes the stark realization that nothing happens this issue.  Literally, nothing happens.  We're right back where we started the issue.  The team is no closer to getting home than when we started, the people we met in this issue are written out of the story and forgotten and there's no indication of connecting back to the present outside of the Church of Universal Truth worshipping some Magus statues at the end of this issue.  In theory, they'll just jump out of that reality before we learn anything new and the cycle will continue ad nauseum.

Verdict - Check It. While I liked this issue, I'm not willing to give it a very high verdict for the simple reason reason that it felt like filler.  Enjoyable filler, but filler nonetheless.  Give us some plot progression with these fun character moments and we can talk next month. 

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

Holy crap, this issue surprised me on every level.  With my general disinterest in Amadeus Cho's storyline, I honestly was not expecting it to be this good.  I believe credit goes to the entire Incredible Hercules team.  Pak and Van Lente managed to tell a story where half of the issue was basically a table top, Dungeons & Dragons-like game between Cho and Pythagoras Dupree while Buchemi provided some expressive and pretty to look at artwork.  The combined package was just too good for words, but this is a review and I'll do my best to describe it for you.

For starters, the recap page consisted of a 'choose your adventure' description of events and will most definitely be showing up in the Moments of the Week.  Combined with Hercules's hilarious recaps, which consist of him bashing Thor, I find myself constantly anticipating the recap page for Incredible Hercules more than I do some issues of other comics and that's only the goddamn recap page!  I'm sure you can imagine how much you are missing out on by not reading Incredible Hercules.

From here, the story immediately jumps into Cho as a super spy infiltrating the evil Japanzi's castle.  Two pages in and he's dead, impaled on one of the spires of the castle after his parachute flails in the wind.  It's here that we find out this is all a Dungeons & Dragons game and that Cho, now a child, failed his parachuting roll and his young friend, the mysterious Pythagoras Dupree he was searching for last issue, rolled a critical on his impaling damage.  If this table top talk is making your eyes glaze over, know that I have no actual experience with table top games and absolutely loved this.  It doesn't get hung up on the conventions of that niche and only a cursorary knowledge of it, most of which is explained or obvious from reading this issue, is required. 

The table top adventure concludes when Cho meets up with Doctor Japanazi, a man with not one, but two evil (yes, he explicitly tells us the brains are evil) axis brains.  I could not make up a villain this good if I tried.  This is why Dupree is the sixth smartest man on the planet and I merely write comic book reviews.  Sadly, we don't see much of Japanazi since, well, Cho drops dead due to an odorless gas he failed to check for earlier in the game finally does him in.

From there, things go from hilarious to insane, in the "I think he likes it" kind of way, as the floating "Boltzmann Brains"  show up, there's talk of hypercomputers and various SCIENCE! mumbo jumbo from Cho.  Turns out the "flashback" to Cho's and Dupree's childhood and the actual boardgame they were playing are just a facet of some kind of mental defense Dupree set up and Cho's brain is a hypercomputer itself, allowing him to manipulate both realities.  Once he finally realized this, he wasn't "dead" in the game and could dispel the quantum realities, effectively reverting the town to its natural state (aka a big hole in the ground).  It's not complete mumbo jumbo and is based on some actual physics, but, clearly, it's also comic book physics at work and makes enough sense to sound plausible in the Marvel Universe.

What this leaves is the mystery of who this Sexton girl is and what Dupree has been hiding from in the lone shack at the bottom of the crater.  Dupree will have to wait til next issue, but Sexton was revealed to be Athena in disguise.  I'm not sure if they were implying she destroyed the town or that she was the one after Dupree, but it's clear she was and has always been testing Cho to be her new champion ever since she entered the book and this was the logical progression for her.  Curious to see where this leads next time.

Verdict - Must Read.  This was just too unique and too much fun not to give a Must Read verdict.  It works as a single issue and as something for longtime readers, so don't be afraid to just jump right in on this issue.  Crazy fun that you can only see in comic books. 

Quick Shot Reviews

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

+ JH William's art. I can't repeat it enough, Williams is doing some unbelievable work here.  Everything from the layouts and composition to the colours and  linework, it's a level of polish, style and detail rarely seen in comic books.
+ Alice in Wonderland.  Alice is the new kid on the block and a perfect addition to the Bat-family merry-go-round of pyschos.  She does appear to go skydiving without a parachute at the end of this issue, but that's never stopped anyone in comics before, so I'm going to keep waiting for the inevitable Mad Hatter team-up somewhere down the line.
+ Batwoman's sister?  Alice reveals to Batwoman that she is actually her sister before plunging to her hopefully-not-so-permenant doom.  As the next arc is supposed to be about Batwoman's origin, I'm looking forward to seeing this family tie explained and/or explored in greater detail.
- The Elegy storyline came to a rather abrupt conclusion.  It feels like we had more story left to this, but it just rushed to a quick finish that never really explained anything.  Why was Alice in Gotham?  What did she have to do with the Crime Bible?  Where did she come from?  How did they get so many contacts in the military?  Was the end game really just to drop some chemical weapons on Gotham?  To what end?  Just crazy doesn't really fly, as just about every crazy has their little games and quirks that compel them to do their insane acts of cruelty.  The story so far amounted to 'Alice shows up, fights Batwoman, crazy werewolf and other mutant people save Batwoman, Alice kidnaps Batwoman's father, tries to drop chemicals on Gotahm and fails'.  I'm having difficulty connected these random series of events.  Could have used another issue or two to flesh out these characters and build up to the conclusion a little better.
- The Question back-ups do nothing for me.  There's so little progression and characterization amounts to a few quips once a month that I can't even muster enough energy to care what happens.  I don't even feel like reading it and I view it as "free" content after the main course that was the Batwoman part of the book.

Verdict - Buy It.  Despite some concerns about the storyline on the whole, this was probably the strongest issue of Detective Comics since Rucka and Williams debuted on the book.  However, Willaims is clearly the main draw at this point, though Rucka isn't exactly dragging his feet either. 

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dale Eaglesham

+ Putting the fantastic in Mr Fantastic.  Reed Richards hasn't been this fun to read in about a hundred issues, way back when Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo first took over the book.
+ Dale Eaglesham is putting out some of his best work ever.  His Reed is a little too buff for my liking, but everything else is golden.  It looks like he just needed a change of scenery to get the creative juices flowing again after some lackluster (at least for him, were still better than most anything on the market) final issues on Justice Society of America.
+ Jonathan Hickman is also doing some fun and wonderful things with Marvel's first family.  Where Mark Millar's recent run went with style over substance for its shock moments, there was very little actual science or 'fantastic' in the book.  Hickman has a clear grasp of Reed, who's been the focus of these early chapters on the run, and has turned this into the science adventure book it should be.
+ The "Multiverse".  Marvel has dabbled with a multiverse before, but never so blatantly has it been approached and it's kind of funny that it's now officially better than DC's own Multiverse, which DC has struggled to do anything with since reintroducing it back in 52.  Looking forward to exploring this new and exciting place, even if it's through the army of Reed Richards making up this multiversal Council.
- While Hickman understands Reed and his relationship with Sue, as of right now, everyone else is a mere characiture of their past selves.  The Human Torch is still the petulant teen, but in a man-child's body.  The Thing is, well, the Thing.  He has his gruff, rocky exterior (both personality and physically) and the heart of gold, but mostly just been used for the odd one-liner here and there.  And the Invisible Woman is just Reed's wife.  She's there to show concern for him, but lacks any real independance or defining characteristics outside of Reed at this point.  It's still only two issues in and this is decidedly a Reed-centric arc, but I hope to see some personality and fleshing out of the other members of this family at some point.
- Dr Doom's get moldy when stored in the basement.  Using electronic collars to 'lobotimize' Dr Dooms from across the Multiverse and then locking them all in the Council's basement is the dumbest thing in the history of dumb things.  Which Reed okay'd killing Galactuses, but opted for letting Dr Doom off with a lobotomy?  Stand up.  You're off the council.  If you can kill Galactus, you can kill Doom.  We all know one Dr Doom is going to wake up the rest and we'll have the Dr Doom Corps War on our hands (that actually sounds awesome, so may retract my negative for this point).

Verdict - Buy It.  Very, very solid start to Hickman's and Eaglesham's run on Fantastic Four and each issue has been better than the previous so far.  Would like to see more of the other Fantastic Four members, but also understand it's only two issues into the run and there's time to explore them later.

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank and Jon Sibal

+ Some small nods to Smallville and other continuities.
+ Lana Lang and Clark Kent relationship was nicely handled.
- Young Clark's freakish appearance will haunt my dreams.
- I've read this before.  So have you, you, and even you in the back there.  As feared, there's no "secret" origin here.  They, thankfully, avoid going into the full blown origin starting with the rocket from Krypton and Ma and Pa Kent finding the baby, but that doesn't mean this is anything we haven't seen or read dozens of times before.  If all Geoff Johns wants to do is shoehorn his version of the Legion of Super-Heroes into Superman's origin, by all means, do another arc on Action Comics and tell us what more you need to tell us in order to make it fit properly.  We did not need a six issue miniseries retelling the origin just so you can have make your Legion official.  (Note: the Legion doesn't actually show up in this issue, but are solicited for upcoming issues)
- It has to be said again - that Clark Kent is $%^&-ing freaky looking and scares the shit out of me.

Verdict - Avoid It.  Nothing new to see here.  Move along or pick up the trade if you want a Superman origin for your shelf.  No point wasting money on the singles.

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skund said...

I'm so glad you pointed out the horrible way Clark's drawn in Secret Origins. All I've seen so far is people praising Frank's 'youthful' drawings. But my god it's horrible. Clark is drawn as a freakish manchild. I have no idea what age he's meant to be, and there were a few stages in the issue where I thought there'd been a time jump of a few years. But no! Just more horrible Clark.

Eric Rupe said...

Funny thing is, Johns already "fixed" the Legion problem, if you consider it such, in Action Comics #858 when he showed Clark's first meeting with them as a kid in Smallville but I guess it doesn't "officially" count unless there is a six issue arc or miniseries detailing exactly how sometime irrelevant bit of continuity changed.

Kai Charles said...

i agree with you on detective ending abruptl, I love the character of Alice. I saw a story somewhere that she's going to show up in Secret Six for a few issues, should be good.

Pat said...

I'd love to see an Alice/Mad Hatter team-up

SpeedsterSite said...

If Cully Hamner left the Question feature I'd scream in ecstasy!

Kevin T. said...

Hey Kirk, have the PLUS and MINUS signs always been different shades of blue? I really like it; the different shades make the different points stand out.
Also, do you know if the Incredible Herc trades have the recap pages? I'm thinking about getting that in trade.

Kirk Warren said...

@Eric - That's exactly how I'm viewing it. His Legion isnt cemented in continuity until a miniseries/event like this Secret Origin, despite the explanation in his Action run already being more than sufficient.

@Kai Charles - Hmm, it would be interesting to see what she does in Secret Six. Simone has used the Mad Hatter in there before, so maybe they'll meet up there.

@SpeedsterSite - The art doesn't really bother me on the Question backups. It's different, but not offensive. It's mainly the story. Question gets caught/in a fight every month, makes a joke and escapes (or its a cliffhanger). Maybe it'll read better in one go, but month-to-month, I just can't get into it.

@Kevin T. - I believe I started colouring the positives with blue a couple weeks back. I do it manually, so I probably forget to colour code it sometimes.

Nathan Aaron said...

I gotta say, I actually enjoyed Amazing Spiderman 606 (and 605) I just finished reading both of them. 606 had a few ups and downs (uh, WHERE in the world did Diablo go?!), but I thought it was really fun for some reason. AND I will say that (and I have NO idea why?!) I thought the extra sized issue of 605 was probably THE best issue of ASM I've read since Brand New Day began!

I seriously don't know why, I just thought every part was written really well. And any MJ has got to be a good thing. Her tantrum being the reason they broke up (or at least part of it) I'm not really liking the direction they're going with that; but we only have part of the story at the moment, so I'll hold off until I get the complete story.

The only problem I'm having with ASM right now is this weird feeling that they're trying really hard to get us to feel all sad for MJ when Peter dates someone else, kisses the Black Cat, etc. When we KNOW we're not going to waste our time getting involved in the whole "will they get back together and get married thing" cause they pulled that out from under us already! Why are they playing us like that?! I don't like that at all, but otherwise, these last two issues really surprisingly rocked! (IMHO)

Julio said...

Incredible Hercules 135 was a truly great comic. I'm not really a fan of Amadeus Cho. He is just not as fun as Herc, and the way his super-intelligence is used is often not very imaginative. Besides, I'm really enjoying Herc's story now, with his new sidekick (the boy Zeus is a riot). However, I had a blast with this Cho-centered issue. It's one of those you need to read a couple of times to really understand what is going on, but from the beginning, even without getting what was happening, it was just too much fun. Cool, nerdy and intelligent, just like Amadeus should be.

The writers did an amazing job and the art kept up with them. Let's hope they keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Black Cat is a thief again....

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