Thursday, June 24, 2010

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/23/10

I don't usually give spoiler warnings for reviews since I feel I have to talk about things of a spoiler nature in order to properly review it.  However, this week's Amazing Spider-Man#635 requires full spoiler warnings.  If you haven't heard what happens yet and don't want to be spoiled, I'd opt out of reading that review and just skip right over it if you click through to the body of this post.  Still want to read it?  Well, hit the jump to read that and the rest of the reviews for this edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!

Written by Joe Kelly, Stan Lee & J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Max Fiumara, Michael Lark & Marcos Martin

I'm not sure how to start this review.  I feel like there should be news reports and other public announcements from Marvel.  You see, Spider-Man dies in this issue.  As far as I can tell, there was no illusion, no swap out of the person wearing the costume (maybe) and no other possible way they can go back on this death.  The Kravenoff family kills Spider-Man in this issue.  I'll let that sink in for a moment.

Still with me?  While I was shocked and blown away by the death of Spider-Man in this issue, seeing as there are no news reports or major interviews with Joe Quesada or the Spider Brain Trust, I can only imagine this isn't what it seems to be or, this being a story featuring the revival of Kraven through magic, that Spider-Man will be back within the next issue or two.  That doesn't mean this fails as a story because it doesn't.  This was a well written issue that did a lot of things right and caught me off guard more than once.

Grim Hunt is all about the Kraven family taking up arms against Spider-Man in an attempt to exact revenge for their dead patriarch.  Using the precog abilities of Madame Web, they systematically manipulate events in Spider-Man's life so that they end tragically or in ways that see Spider-Man hurt the most, such as the recent death of Curt Connors's son or the capturing of Mattie Franklin during the Deadpool guest appearance issue.  They also funded and powered up many of Spider-Man's rogues gallery and have made Spidey's life hell.  And in this issue, they succeed in sacrificing Spider-Man's life to revive Kraven.

What really worked in this issue was the use of Ezekiel, who 'returned' last issue.  He conveniently explained everything that's gone wrong in Spider-Man's life and how it was attributed to spider totems and Kraven channelling the 'hunter' and all this other spiritual mumbo jumbo that was introduced in JMS's run on the book.  He even explains away his return as the spider god sending him back to warn Peter, who's the center of it all. It felt like a recap for new and old readers and a way to get Spider-Man moving and into the arc.  It worked well and made sense in context and I didn't question it for a minute. 

Turns out, this wasn't Ezekiel.  From Mattie Franklin's apartment, Spider-Man, Julia Carpenter and "Ezekiel" head off to save Arana, who is wearing her old costume in this issue (she's wearing a costume similar to Julia's in Young Allies) for those wondering who she is, from the Kravens.  During the fight, Arana is captured.  Ezekiel tells Spider-Man they need to gather an army of other spider totem champions in the form of Venom and Anti-Venom.  Spidey eats it up and follows Ezekiel with reckless abandon, only interested in saving his friends.

The shocker? This turns out to be the Chameleon in disguise and he was aided by Mysterio, both characters helped and in league with the Kravens from previous storylines.  It was probably one of the best written reveals I've read in a long time.  It just flowed perfectly and the minute you get to it, you are as shocked as Spider-Man is to find out it's not Ezekiel and you can't help but wonder how you didn't see this coming a mile away. 

With Spider-Man caught in their trap, the Kravens proceed to hunt him down and kill him.  The entire sequence is well done and it's worth noting that Spidey was already battered and beaten and even has swine flu.  On top of this, the Kravens are doing something that messes with his spidey sense and he's basically gone through his own version of Knightfall after the lengthy Gauntlet storyline, where he faced upgraded versions of his rogues gallery all year long and each ended disasterously for him both physically and emotionally.  The scene between Spider-Man and Madame Web, combined with her narration, really made this death sequence work for me.  You're left wondering how this is possible and when they'll have Kaine or the real Ezekiel or the Avengers or anyone come in and save him or even maybe some fake out.  

The other shoe never drops and Spider-Man ends up dead and Kraven is revived. I fully expect it to be reversed somehow before this arc is over - Kraven is resurrected, so Spidey obviously can be, too, with the established plot device, probably with Kaine sacrificing himself to revive Peter - but, still, Spider-Man's dead. That's just crazy to see happen and I'm still digesting it.  The only way I can see them fake this out is somehow having Kaine find a spare Spider-Man costume and jump in somewhere between the time Peter falls in a grave and the Kraven family jumps him, which is the span of like one or two panels, but there is no size difference to indicate it's Kaine either.  It's likely they'll go that route and I suppose Madame Web's dialogue could work both for Kaine or Peter, but I can't see how they can justify it with the art (Kaine is physically bigger than Peter) and the way this played out. 

The back-up story by JM DeMatteis also takes a similar turn with Kaine tracking down Kraven in a story set in the past before being, apparently, killed by Kraven after meeting up with him.  I originally mistook the first part of this as a more recent meeting between Kaine and Alyosha, the son of Kraven, but it's actually set well in the past with the original Kraven.  This mistake on my part complicates things a bit as Kaine is much different looking and has a different personality than he had during the Clone Saga or in his origin story in Spider-Man: The Lost Years.  He's acting like a thug and randomly hitting on girls and lacks the Kaine costume or signs of degeneration he had during that period.  It's not terribly written and I enjoyed the story, but it was odd reading as someone who has read just about every appearance of Kaine and knows the character quite well.  Those unfamiliar with him will likely have a different take on this.

Finally, regarding Stan Lee and Marcos Martin's two-page story, it was another fun spread that doesn't take itself too seriously. This one features Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four as the two 'real world' criminals escaped into the Marvel Universe.  Martin's style fits perfectly with this type of story and it's fantastic looking.  However, it's still a two-page story.  Most will not see the point of including it or disregard it.  I agree it will read much better when its collected in full, but I'm still having fun reading it and appreciate it as the extra it is. 

Verdict - Must Read.  Spider-Man dies.  I'm not sure what defines a must read comic for most people, but I think this one fits the bill.  It also helps that this was another compelling chapter of Grim Hunt with the great swerve with Ezekiel and it's a comic you should be reading.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Yanick Paquette

Sadly, Batman does not dress like the pirate on the cover to this issue.  He does wear a Batman-like pirate cape and cowl, but no Captain Batman swashbuckling on a pirate ship or anything remotely similar to what is happening on that awe inspiring cover.

Thankfully, none of that really mattered since it was still a highly enjoyable issue that delivered more of that Elseworlds-like goodness as Batman finds himself in another time period.  

What set this issue apart from the previous two was that this issue felt much more focused and gave a lot more bread crumbs for us to follow towards the overarching Return of Bruce Wayne storyline.  For example, the present day scenes with the JLA discussing their plans to save and/or stop Batman from returning to the present tie into Red Robin's ongoing and just read a lot better than the previous instances.  Previously, Superman and friends just showed up out of nowhere, spoke a few cryptic sentences and moved on.  Here, we're given a full scene that showed the concern his friends had for him and a greater sense of danger as they prepare for Batman's inevitable return.

The plot of this issue dealt with the pirate Blackbeard, in the aftermath of a battle with the Black Pirate, finding Bruce Wayne washed ashore near the wreckage.  Blackbeard wants the treasure of this 'ghost pirate' and threatens to kill the only other survivor, a young man named Jack Valor, who is obviously the true Black Pirate.  The pirates demand Bruce take them to the treasure, so he goes about entering the caves, which turn out to be the Batcave and the location is later revealed as Gotham.  

In the cave, there are the Miagani people defending a mysterious treasure.  They are the descendents of Anthro and the treasure turns out to be Batman's costume and utility belt from the past.  They acted like the standard aboriginal tribe that guards some mystery artifact and constantly watch the pirates as they make their way through an Indiana Jones-like series of traps, all of which Batman expertly guides them through, though some pirates still managed to mess up and trigger a few traps.  

This was one thing I don't know if I cared for - people dying around Batman and his not reacting to it.  Yes, they have him at a disadvantage and are forcing him to help them and, yes, he's not exactly 100% mentally at the moment, but the Miagani were killing pirates left and right at the end and Batman didn't so much as attempt to save any of them.  I could accept it in the previous pilgrim era since Batman couldn't remember anything and seemed to act more like himself and protested killing of criminals, but this just rang a little hollow to me.  I'm not going to drop all the titles or protest or anything crazy, but it was something I didn't like.  In the end, 11 pirates died in this issue and Batman then associates with the killers - the Miagani - without so much as a twinge of guilt over it.  I figured he'd try to help at least one of them subconsciously. 

One scene I really liked was that of the ending to the pirate adventure.  Batman, in his infinite preptime management, asks Jack Valor to listen to his story and record it in a book for him to, I assume, read in the future for his next jump through time.  It's just a perfect Batman moment in my eyes.

Artistically speaking, I thing I enjoyed Yanick Paquette's work the most of the three different artists used on each issue so far.  All have been distinct and well chosen for each issue's settings, but I found his the cleanest work. 

Verdict - Buy It.  If you're still on the fence with this series, this issue should decide it for you.  It maintains the Elsewolds-like theme while moving the overarching plot forward.  While still pretty light on the details, you can get a sense for where Morrison is taking this and it makes for a more compelling read than previous issues in that regard.

Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Adrian Syaf

Tony Bedard and Adrian Syaf's second issue is a much better outing than their first, both from a story and art standpoint, and I actually really liked the first issue, so that's saying a lot.  

I think the biggest difference between this issue and the previous is that the first issue for this new creative team felt like an epilogue or sort of introduction issue for the new status quo post-Blackest Night.  This one, save a few awkward sections, hooks you from the opening pages and propels the Alpha Lantern plot forward at breakneck speeds.  It feels like a major storyline is happening and everything that happened in this issue backs that up.  

Additionally, as mentioned, the art is a major step up from last issue.  I'm not sure if there were deadlines or nervousness or what, but to me, this is like night and day.  It's clearly the same artist, but the art just looks a lot better this month.  It's still going to take time to stop me from constantly comparing it to Patrick Gleason's work, but it was a much more impressive outing this time around.

The biggest surprise of this issue (well, not really since Tony Bedard and solicits confirmed it already) was the return of Cyborg Superman as the one behind the recent Alpha Lanterns gone bad subplot.  I was ready to dismiss this as another derivative Alpha Lantern plot until I found out about Cyborg Superman's return.  This was a major development in my eyes and, while the surprise of his appearance and involvement was spoiled, the execution was perfect and I'm really looking forward to seeing where Bedard goes with the story from here.

The awkward parts I mentioned above require my mentioning.  One instance I found a bit forced was the Kyle/Soranik/Jade sequence.  Kyle wakes up from a dream screaming Jade's name and Soranik goes all jealous girlfriend on him without listening to him at all.  It didn't read like the same Soranik that was confident in herself and their relationship nor the response of someone that knows what Kyle is going through with a formerly dead girlfriend coming back to life and all the other craziness going on.  They quickly move on from there, but I hope they don't go into a love triangle with such forced drama like this.  

Another awkward moment was with John Stewart working with Boodika infestigating the disturbance on Stel's homeworld.  John was retconned to be an ex-sniper.  Snipers aren't infiltration experts, yet he takes point on this mission for Boodika, who is later revealed to be under Cyborg Superman's control and they just wanted to forcibly recruit John.  While leading the mission, John dons green constructs of military head and chest gear as well as an assault rifle.  It makes no sense whatsoever in context of people that form shields around their entire body with a magic wishing ring powered by willpower.   I just hate the fact they try to define him by having been in the military and, more specifically, a sniper.  Every chance they get, they have him pop out a sniper rifle and military duds.  I don't really blame Bedard for this, though.  It's more like some mandate attached to John since his return in Rebirth and the retconned sniper origin.

Other than these few instances, I really enjoyed the issue.  The plot moves forward, we're given some big reveals with Cyborg Superman's involvement, they don't drag out the Alpha Lantern mystery and it hits all the right beats along the way.  

Verdict - Check It.  A good read that was a solid improvement over their debut issue last month.  Not a perfect issue, but enjoyable and I'm expecting big things with next month's issue now that Cyborg Superman is back in the mix.

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ron Garney

While I still liked this issue, it was easily the weakest part of this Deathlok storyline so far.  After an excellent cliffhanger to last issue, one where the death of the scientist that help create these future Deathloks died and it caused ripples in time that saw the current batch 'upgraded' to more deadly versions with super hero power variants (repulsor blasts, Wolverine-like energy claws, etc), this issue slows things down with a rather odd character centric piece.

What was so odd about focusing on characters? Well, it jumps to the future and focuses on one of the Deathlok hosts - a pyschopath inmate that reads like a stereotypical homocidal maniac that only cares about killing.  He's unceremoniously killed off and we get a brief origin for the Deathloks and how Roxxon created them and used them to take over in the future. We follow the inmate's Deathlok, which he is still conscious inside of, though their is an AI that moderates his homocidal tendencies.  

Most of the issue was devoted to building up this single Deathlok and I felt like I couldn't care less the whole time I was reading from his perspective.  It felt like a generic insane badguy dialogue/monologue.  He wants to kill people, the AI won't let him.  He keeps requesting his kill count and wants details on how he's murdered people.  He's a sick, twisted man.  I get it.  I just don't care either.  

The entire point of this issue long introduction to a single Deathlok?  The resistence in the future is sending commands back to one of their operatives' past self.  She doesn't quite understand why she knows all these things, but goes about executing the orders given to her.  She was the one that helped Wolverine and the Avengers find the past versions of the resistence and save them from the Deathloks in previous issues.  Her new orders take a page out of the Deathloks's handbook and has her track down the past hosts to the Deathloks to kill them before they become Deathloks.  

I liked that twist, but it doesn't seem especially well thought out.  The hosts are just random people killed off and used as puppets for Roxxon.  I fail to see how killing that Deathloks's host will not just result in a new host having been chosen whereas killing a Roxxon CEO might have been a better choice.  

Verdict - Check It.  In the end, while I didn't hate this issue, I didn't overly enjoy it like previous ones either.  It just sort of went through the paces, almost like it was killing time (yes, a time travel joke, sorry) or padding for a trade.  The momentum of previous issues is lost and none of the promise on that previous cliffhanger was delivered.  The heroes seem to fight the Deathloks the same way they did previously, despite major upgrades and we're back to roughly the exact same spot we ended at last issue. 

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Akylle said...

This exchange between Madame Web and Spider-Man leads me to believe that it was Kaine underneath the mask:

Madame Web: "Don't you have any idea how special you are?"
Spider-Man: "No... not until tonight. It was nice to see what it was like."

GregVersion2 said...

Yeah, that was definitely Kaine being sacrificed there. The dialogue he shared with Madame Web and that scene at Michelle's apartment in the middle of the book pretty much confirm it.

Chris said...

Yeah I was going to say the same thing, I'm pretty sure it is Kaine who dies in the end because of the convo with Madame Web and also because he says he is going to kill some hunters....something Peter would never say/do. Spider-man is probably unconcious in that grave still or something. I was very glad/surprised with the Ezekiel reveal....totally should have seen that one coming but I def. did not.

Philipe said...

It was Kaine for sure. I thought it was a nice way for the character to redeem himself and a nice closure to that chapter of Peter's life.

I've been reading these Return of Bruce Wayne comics but I can't help but feel that they are very, very silly. And misleading too. I hate it when covers portray something that does not actually happen inside the comic. As for Bruce not caring for people dying around him...well, I think it would have been worst if he, in that situation, started preaching about senseless killing. Just saying.

nf said...

I don't read Marvel titles beyond Atlas so I don't have much to say on those books, but I did enjoy Green Lantern Corps and the return of the Cyborg-Superman, though I do wish he was still a member of the Sinestro Corps. I thought Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne was great and also really loved Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl, and Superman.

onefinemess said...

Duh. Good catch on the dialogue & Kaine. I missed that and just figured they'd do a resurrection cycle with Spidey as well.

Andre said...

Really? You took issue with pirates dying around a man who doesn't remember anything about his vow not to kill or anything else for that matter? Honestly, you are an obnoxious nitpicker.

stillanerd said...

Re: Amazing Spider-Man #635--I'm in agreement that the Spider-Man we saw brutally murdered and sacrificed by the Kravinoffs was actually Kaine in disguise and there are certainly plenty of clues within the story if you look for them (Peter and Kaine's conversation, Kaine making himself look like Peter, the lack of a tear on Spidey's right shoulder when he attacks the Kravinoffs, Spidey saying the hunters are the only ones going to die, his conversation with Madame Web, etc.) However, the most blatant clue could actually be this "Easter Egg" from issue #634 that someone on another board discovered. And yes, I double-checked this and it's actually there in the issue:

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