Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Hulk, X-Force and Batman: Battle for The Cowl

For this edition of What I've Been Reading, I'm taking a look at another bunch of comics I thought would be of questionable quality. First up, X-Force Vol 2, which I picked up the see if Mike Choi's art could make me change my mind about the series. Plus, in my review of the first volume, plenty of people defended the series and I wanted to see if it did improve as time went on. Next, I take a look at Batman: Battle for the Cowl since, much to my surprise, Tony Daniel's work on Batman has been getting some positive buzz. Granted, Battle for the Cowl isn't Batman but it's the only Batman comic written and drawn by Daniel that is available to me. Finally, I continue to read Jeph Loeb's Hulk, out of some kind of perverse obligation, and make my way up to Hulk Vol 4. Hit the jump to see what I thought of all of these comics.

Written by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost
Art by Mike Choi, Alina Urusov and Clayton Crain
Collects X-Force #7-11

It's amazing how much a different artist and colorist can change the tone of a series. The art by Mike Choi, with colors by Sonia Oback, make the series much less relentlessly soul crushing than the first volume. It is a very noticeable difference. Other than that though, not much else has changed from the first volume.

Some of the characters, like X-23, at least seem to be human now but others, like Archangel, only think about killing, quite literally. The inclusion of characters like Elixir, Vanisher and Domino do also help to lighten the mood but it's never enough to make the book palatable. I mean, X-Force spends about two issues dismembering mindless Marauder clones and the first issue begins with Wolfsbane and Archangel going insane and trying to kill each other.

There is some good stuff in the book though, but that doesn't even begin to make up for the bad. Warpath has his own subplot in the collection which is pretty good and makes good use of Ghost Rider but it's sole purpose is to allow him to turn issue #11 into a info dump so the readers, and X-Force, can find out exactly who Eli Bard, the mystery villain from the first story arc, is. And it's not even a remotely interesting answer! Bard was far more interesting when he was a cipher. His origin and motivations are incredibly cliched and while he wasn't much of a character in the first volume, at least he had an air of mystery around him.

Each issue is also narrated by a different character which is interesting since it provides a different perspective on the events of the story. It doesn't add much since I found the story itself unappealing but it's still a nice narrative technique.

The Stepford Cuckoos also make a quick appearance and it leads to an interesting idea that I liked very much. Kyle and Yost kind of hint at factions developing in the ranks of the X-Men, specifically Emma Frost against Scott Summers, but this goes nowhere in this volume and is already resolved in the Utopia crossover. I would love to see different factions show up in the X-Men since there is no way they would be a monolithic group but said factions are always given their own book which removes any kind of conflict. Still, it is an interesting moment in the comic.

Those are a few points where the comic is actually good but they are easily overshadowed by the rest of the collection, which is awful. Every problem I had with the first volume shows up again here. That said, the overall quality is definitely an improvement over the first volume. Aside from the lighter tone brought on by Choi's art, the writing is also lighter, relatively speaking. It's still dark and overly morose and not something I'd actually want to read on an going basis but it is more tolerable than it was in the first volume. If the first volume was a one on a scale of ten, then this volume would be a two or three, maybe even a four. Yes, it is technically an improvement but it's still not very good.

Choi's art does stand out though, which is a lot more enjoyable than Crain's. His work is easier to follow than Crain's, partially because of the lighter color palette than Crain used and partially because his art is just cleaner. His characters also have a far wider ranger of emotions and body language so they do more than just grimace the entire way through the story. His characters designs are nice and there is some attention to detail that adds to the overall quality of his work as well. The only downside is that there are one or two instances of random posing.

Alina Urusov, who does the flashback sequences in issue #11, is easily the best artist who worked on any of the issues in the collection though. Her art is very lush and eye catching. It also stands out from the rest of the work collection since the tone between her work and the rest is very different but it stands out in a good way. I'll definitely keep an eye open and see if I can find more of her work in the future.

I would like to finish this up with a quick observation. In a comic where about half the content is made up of people violently dismembering each other, Wolverine can't say f#%&, he has to say flamin' instead. Make of that what you will.

Verdict - Avoid It.

Still interested in X-Force, Vol. 2: Old Ghosts? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Tony Daniel and Fabian Nicieza
Art by Tony Daniel, Dustin Nguyen, Guillem March, ChrisCross, Jamie McKelvie, Alex Konat and Mark McKenna
Collects Batman: Battle For The Cowl #1-3, Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead? #1 and Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive? #1

Rather than discuss all of the problems I had with this collection, I'm just going to go ahead and list them all since, well, they don't really require any discussion.

  • Black Mask is an obvious pet character of Daniel's. He shows up, out of nowhere, and not only manages to blow up Arkham Asylum but also coerces villains like Poison Ivy and Killer Croc into working for him since he managed to put implants into them while they were at another prison. He also manages to secretly get Two-Face and Penguin to start a gang war against each other and then he blows up half of Gotham for no apparent reason other than it's part of a "master plan."
  • Damian, a kid who has decapitated someone and beat Robin in hand-to-hand combat in one of his earliest appearances, is now a scared, sniveling, and incompetent brat. He also spends his time riding around in the Batmobile and picking up floozies. Said floozy is then eaten by Killer Croc after she is ejected from the Batmobile by Oracle.
  • Killer Croc somehow manages to knock the Batmobile off the road by ramming into. While it is driving down said road. In fact, he hit is so hard that all of the fancy shock absorbers Batman put into it couldn't lessen the impact, which Oracle comes right out and says. I guess Croc has Hulk-level strength now then?
  • Most of the characters are just generally idiots through out the whole story so that the plot Daniel wrote could work. Biggest example of this would be Two-Face shooting his first intelligence chief for messing up, despite the fact that it should be obvious to Two-Face that he didn't, and then he later killed his replacement since, well, Daniel writes Two-Face as a moron. No other reason than that really.
  • All of the heroes are just incompetent to one degree or another. Based on reading Battle for the Cowl, there is no way you would come away with the impression that Nightwing was not only trained by Batman but a was successful and highly competent hero in his own right. In fact, there is one splash page in issue #3 that has seventeen heroes on it, many with actual superpowers, and they, as a group, are completely incapable of stopping Gotham from falling apart.
  • All of the characters sound exactly the same, or close enough. In fact, the only reason why you would know that Knight or Squire are from England is that they occasionally use a word like "mum" or something.
  • Squire also looks like a whore.
  • Daniel still can't draw a comprehensible comic. You can tell what's going on and follow the story by and large but some of his panels are just...mind boggling. This example might be from his Batman run but his work on Battle for the Cowl isn't much better.
  • The whole mini just reminds of Countdown to Final Crisis in the sense that DC editorial wanted to do something with the plot points Grant Morrison was going to use in his run, hence Jason Todd running around as a gun toting maniac, but completely missed the point.
  • Speaking of Jason Todd, he now apparently suffered some sort of childhood trauma.  Not really sure what this adds to the character other than making him more messed up than he already is.
  • The Gotham Gazette issues are those kinds of comics Marvel and DC put out on occasion because god forbid we don't know what every minor or insignificant character is doing during the Big Status Quo Changing Event. Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of the two issues were other than to waste time.
  • Ending this on a positive note, the Gotham Gazette issues did have a combined 34 pages of wonderful art work by Dustin Nguyen, Guillem March, ChrisCross, and Jamie McKelvie.
 Verdict - Avoid It.
    Still interested in Batman: Battle for the Cowl? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

     Written by Jeph Loeb
    Art by Ian Churchill and Whilce Portacio
    Collects Hulk #14-18

    This is both the best and worse collection of Jeph Loeb's run on Hulk that I've read to date. On the one hand, there is finally something resembling a plot and point to this book but, on the other hand, it's an incredibly asinine and nonsensical conspiracy theory plot. It's kind of like Alice went down the rabbit whole but the rabbit whole was really a bottomless pit. It's all so needlessly complicated and obtuse. Red Hulk constantly refers to a group of fellow conspirators, that we now know to be The Intelligentsia, but he never actually says anything worthwhile about them. So there are pages upon pages upon pages of Red Hulk going on about absolutely nothing. It's kind of hard to describe just how...inane the plot is. It's nothing but vague references to this or that and absolutely nothing is said about them. It's kind of hard to describe just how circular and meaningless it all is.

    Loeb also begins to give Red Hulk something resembling a personality and makes some attempts at characterization. Red Hulk narrates the four issue Code Red arc and we learn about how awesome he thinks he is and how much of a hero he believes himself to be. Basically, it's just Loeb going "Look! This character I'm writing is the bestest character evar!" I found it annoying, putting it lightly. The weirdest thing is that it's incredibly hard to believe this is the same Red Hulk from the other 14 issues Loeb has written. He's basically gone from a kind of juvenile power addict to a man on a mission, for no apparent reason. But it's Loeb so it's not like I was expecting any kind of consistency from him to being with.

    Issue #18, though, is one of those issues that makes me want to punch myself in the face for having read it. In it, Loeb has to explain why Doc Sampson, now just going by "Sampson" since he's evil and hardcore, has turned evil. Well, making an incredibly long and moronic story short, Sampson has turned evil because he's tried of being a nerd and wants to be a jock instead. Granted, that's isn't what his reasoning is in the comic but that is what it boils down to basically. And, since he's evil now, he gets a wardrobe "upgrade," which includes leather pants, going shirtless with his lightning symbol cut into his chest and muttonchops. He looks like some kind of silly serial killer, honestly. His new look is just embarrassing, really. It makes me laugh at him, not fear him or be impressed or be whatever the person who came up with the design was going for.

    What surprised me in this volume, in a good way, was Ian Churchill's art, which I enjoyed. A lot. Instead of using an Image style art you would associate with him, he uses cartooning style that seems like a less angular, more rounded Darwyn Cooke...not knockoff, but it's definitely influenced by him. Or, I thought so at least. I really did enjoy the style, so much so that I almost considered giving this a "Check It" but the story is still worthless. Churchill's art is great though. It's a fun and energetic style that takes on a life of its own. There is a vibrancy to it that makes it very enjoyable to look at and, more importantly, makes Loeb's story more palatable. Unlike the other artists who have worked on the title, Churchill's art brings a kind of levity and absurdity to the story. This down plays the Serious Business nature of Loeb's script in a way that Ed McGuinness's or Frank Cho's don't. I didn't really have any idea what to expect from Churchill but I was more than happy with what I got from him.

    Verdict - Avoid It.

    Still interested in Hulk Vol 4, Hulk vs. X-Force? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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    Monch said...

    I agree with your Hulk review. I like everything Hulk related (fav character), love the art, but the writting... leaves a lot to be desired.

    At least I have Pak writting incredible again :D

    The Dangster said...

    I don't know what to think about Churchill's dramatic art change. I'm used to him on Supergirl drawing, by his own admission, Jim Lee-knock off art. I kind liked his though, his characters were lankier.

    Agreed, Battle for the Cowl was a waste of time. Note Wildcat on the cover, he wasn't in the series.

    Anonymous said...

    Cowl is missing a verdict, but from the looks of it seems to be an Avoid it

    KentL said...

    Wow. Sounds like you had an overall unpleasant experience during your reading time here.

    I just finished Battle for the Cowl and The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul. Very glad I didn't buy either. Those two and the Rann-Thanagar Holy War Volume 1 book completed a trio of disappointing DC books obtained from the local library. (How unlikable is Captain Comet???)

    Glad I dropped the Hulk title long ago. I liked the concept of balls-to-the-wall Hulk action with tons of guest star face time, but the lack of plot and thin "who is the red hulk" mystery that *still* hasn't been resolved left me feeling like I'd wasted my money.

    Lucho said...

    Still Greg Pak´s Incredible Hulk run starting on #601 is quite enjoyable :)

    Anonymous said...

    Black Mask done all this stuff in BFTC because he is really DR Jeremiah ARKHAM.

    Think about it, He planted all those chips in their heads before moving them from the Ayslum before blowing it up.

    Rol said...

    I find Loeb's Hulk readable fun - as long as you remove your brain first and keep it in a jar on the side of the bed and refuse to let it see what you're reading.

    It's written by (someone with the mind of) a five year old, aimed squarely at a readership of five year olds. If I pretend to be five years old myself, it's great.

    Eric Rupe said...

    The Dangers - I've never like Churchill's older style but that's just me.

    As for Wildcat, I'm pretty sure he did show up in a panel or two. I believe everyone on the covers did as well.

    Anon 1 - Thanks. It's been fixed.

    KentL - Yeah, I got all of these from the library as well so.

    Lucho - I'm not really interested in Pak's Hulk since Olivetti does the art at the beginning and then it ties into FoH/WWHs

    Anon 2 - Not really sure that makes sense but I haven't read any of the other Batman BftC/Batman Reborn books either though.

    Rol - Personally, I've never bought into that argument but again, that's just me.

    Anonymous said...

    Anon 2 here.

    THis week's Batman reveals that the new Black Mask is in Fact: Jeremiah Arkham and Kitrina is catwoman's new sidekick.


    CATR's Chris said...

    The Battle for the Cowl was so non-compelling that I stopped the story half-way (something that I rarely do). Ever since, I thought I would like Dick as Batman, but that didn't happen. Not when Dick behaves like Bruce instead of his own self.

    The Dangster said...

    I think churchill grew grew on me a bit. I'll admit i hated him at first. I feel like there were some characters on the battle cowls that never appear and that always bothers me.

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