Thursday, July 1, 2010

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/30/10

Welcome to another edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  On tap this week are some of my favourite titles, including Atomic Robo and Green Lantern, as well as some new faces, like my testing the waters on Paul Cornell's Action Comics debut and the new Batman Beyond miniseries.  Hit the jump for the reviews!

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Pete Woods

In the aftermath of the destruction of New Krypton and still reeling from his experience with the Orange Lantern ring, Lex Luthor is left with an unsatiable hunger for power.  He wants, no, needs to have the power of one of these rings again and is making it his goal to get one at any costs.

This premise is actually what drew me to this comic. Well, that and the fact Paul Cornell is writing it.  It's compelling to read a book from the bad guy's perspective once in a while and I've always found Lex to be one of the most compelling villains - when written properly - to focus on and Cornell did not disappoint in this regard.

Cornell's Luthor is a mix between the super genius, cool and collected Lex and the more fantastic, Silver Age or movie interpretation that flirts with the more Saturday morning cartoon villain-like aspects of the character.  One minute, he's calmly dangling from a rooftop, fully aware his captors will not drop him and works out the exact situation he's in and how to get out of it and in others, he's using a robot Lois Lane with full combat capabilities to combat his enemies.  It's a nice mix of both extremes of Lex Luthor's character.  

As mentioned, Lex is after a power ring and has made it his one goal in life now that Superman has gone on a walk about.  The avarice based orange ring has left him with a burning need for that ring and it's almost like he's switched his Superman obsession over to the ring with how he's ignoring all things Superman-related in this issue.  I really enjoyed this aspect of the story and look forward to reading more of it in the months to come.  

What's interesting is that Lex is looking for a Black Lantern ring instead of an Orange one.  He's come to the conclusion that the black rings could not have just disappeared and all that energy must be somewhere.  This builds on the earlier parts of Blackest Night where he was shown investigating the black rings first before becoming an Orange Lantern deputy. He actually tracks the latent energy of the rings throughout the cosmos and it's shown forming a ring around the universe and entering "other dimensions".  Nekron's realm perhaps?  Anti-Matter Universe?  Lex was interrupted before he could investigate further, but I'm intrigued by the development.  

One thing I was expecting to see in this issue, though, was Larfleeze.  With such a compelling cover, I fully expected a follow-up to a recent encounter between the two where Lex was teaching Larfleeze about Earth culture over in Green Lantern.  There was never any conclusion to that scene, which leaves me wondering if it was before or after the events of this issue and just what happened in it.  

If there was one negative thing I could take from this issue, it would be the creepy Lois Lane robot.  Yes, those previews that had people wondering what Lois was doing having dinner with Lex were fake in so far as the Lois was just a robot created to give perspective and varying opinions for Lex in his mad quest for a power ring.  I never really thought of Lex as going so far as to create a Lois Lane robot, but maybe we can blame it on his ever growing greed and avarice leading him to wanting his own Lois Lane enough to make a robot.  

Verdict - Buy It.  Very good first issue to this arc.  Enjoying the Lex Luthor centric story and looking forward to seeing how his quest for a power ring turns out. 

Written by Brian Clevinger
Art by Scott Wegener

After Dr Dinosaur made last issue a strong candidate for Best Single Issue of the year, the Atomic Robo team had it's work cut out for it with this issue.  What's shocking is that they managed to do a much more "mundane", or at least as mundane as any day at the Tesladyne offices could be, story and make it work just as well as the laugh a minute, high octane adventure of the previous issue.

The basic premise of this issue is that there's a ghost-like being (Sorry, "odic perturbations".  Wouldn't want to give the paranormal wack jobs any ammunition by referring to them as ghosts) appearing every 16 hours in the Tesladyne HQ.  Robo and the team are using science to explain and figure out just what this thing is and how to communicate with or get rid of it.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this issue was the continuity employed.  This is the fourth volume of Atomic Robo and a lot has happened over those volumes.  Typically, issues are relatively self-contained and rarely reference past issues unless it is a direct continuation of a story or event.  This issue seemed to go out of its way to drop little references to past stories in this volume and even drew on the previous volume to help solve this storyline.  If you were coming in fresh, these were not huge plot related references and are pretty much self-explanatory in their use, but for those that have been reading and following Atomic Robo for any length of time, the little uses of continuity are nice nods. 

The other part of this issue that I loved was the revelation of just who the ghost-like being ended up being.  That person was none other than Robo's first and still greatest enemy, the one and only Thomas Edison!  I was not expecting this in the least and the hints at the backstory of how Edison became the ghost-like being will hopefully be told at some point in the future.  I loved the dialogue between him and Robo and he eventually returns to his former residence to end the issue, promising future encounters with Robo.  Robo's rogues gallery continues to expand and get better with each passing issue.  Could there be a Dr Dinosaur and Thomas Edison team up at some point in the future?  One can only dream. 

Verdict - Buy It. Just another day at the office for Atmoic Robo is just another great issue of Atomic Robo for fans.

Written by Adam Beechen
Art by Ryan Benjamin

Batman Beyond was one of the best reimaginings of Batman, and cartoon in general, when I was growing up and I enjoyed the series a great deal.  It was set in the near future and featured an old and retired Bruce Wayne that trains a new Batman, one Terry McGinnis, to take his place.  

It was a unique dynamic between Bruce and Terry that juxtaposed both characters' takes on the quest for justice and how they approach the mantle of the bat and crimefighting in general.  The biggest difference between the two was Terry had more of a Spider-Man personality and sense of responsibility than Bruce's driven and infallable methodology.  Terry was a teenager and made mistakes and learned from them.  Add some new villains and the odd old favourite and he had a respectable rogues gallery that was all his own, something most future stories fail to do as they roll out the old rogues and new Jr versions of them ad nauseum, diluting the appeal of the alternate takes on the classic characters.

So, with all that said, it was both with great pleasure and trepidation that I approached this new series for Terry and the Batman Beyond franchise.  On the one hand, I had been waiting for this franchise and character to be revisited again for a long time.  Knowing we'd never get another animated feature, I was pumped to support this book with a day one purchase. However, the trepidation comes from the writer attached - Adam Beechen.  While not the worst writer - he's actually had fairly average career if looked at objectively - he's also been responsible for effectively ruining several characters with aid from editorial mandates, such as a favourite of mine, Cassandra Cain, the former Batgirl, who was turned into a murdering villain during his Robin run.  

As you can see, I was not expecting much from this issue and made my opinion known in our Post-Crisis Previews leading up to the release.  However, after reading this first issue, I'm happy to report that I was quite pleased with the first issue.  It's not a perfect comic, but it hits a lot of the right notes and the characters were all written well and as I remember them.  We had a brief fight with Spellbinder to reintroduce us to the Batman Beyond universe and kick things off with a bang, Micron trying to recruit Terry into the JLA, Bruce and Ace in the Batcave and a nice visual tour of Neo-Gotham to ease us back into the world.  It was fun and visually appealing and Beechen did a great job in these scenes.

The art was another great part of this issue.  I was expecting DC to put a shall we say less than stellar artist on the book and just setting the book up to fail from the start.  I actually expected Ryan Benjamin to attempt to emulate the animated version's or the previous comic book adaptation of that series's art style.  Instead, he's made the book his own while maintaining the same visual appeal of the franchise. 

While I'd like to say the issue was all good, there were a few minor nitpicks.  For starters, I was really worried about the opening of the book that featured an aged Amanade Waller dealing with the atermath of a bloody escape of an unknown captive.  Batman Beyond wasn't a happy fun time world or cartoon, but for the debut issue, I was a little worried we were going off the tracks with how the deaths were on display in the first couple of pages.  Thankfully, Beechen jumps to the Batman/Spellbinder scene and things go a lot smoother from there.  

Another problem I had was that, despite the Spellbinder and Micron scenes, Beechen went with a more classic rogues gallery approach to the story than the Batman Beyond franchise typically did.  To me, Terry had one of the better rogues galleries in comics with Blight, Spellbinder, Inque, Shriek and so on.  Sure, he had Ra's al Ghul, Bane and, eventually, the Joker show up, but they were exceptions more than the rule.  Many future based reimaginings rely heavily on the past rogues or Jr versions.  Beyond did not.  In this issue alone, Beechen name drops Two-Face and features Mad Hatter before revealing - possibly, as there's no confirmation yet - the villain of the story in the form of Hush.  The arc is even called Hush Beyond.  Now, I like Hush and love what Paul Dini did to flesh out the character, but I hope this ends up being a red herring and it's not just the aging Hush seeking revenge on Bruce or a Hush Jr taking up the mantle, er, bandages.  

Verdict - Check It.  If you have any interest or fond memories of Batman Beyond, I think you'll really enjoy this issue.  It's a great return for the franchise and I was quite impressed with the debut issue, despite my minor misgivings. 

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke

If anyone had been worried Green Lantern may be slipping lately post-Blackest Night, this issue is surely going to remind them why this title is consistently one of the best books each month.  Together, Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke put together one of the most entertaining issues of the week and probably the best issue of Green Lantern in months and that's saying a lot seeing as it was already one of my favourite reads each month.

There were two things that really set this issue apart from previous issues.  First, Johns wrote a story that was tailor made for Mahnke and let him go wild with Lobo vs Hal, Sinestro, Carol and Atrocitus.  This issue reminded me why Mahnke is one of my favourite artists - he's just so damn good at telling a story and conveying action.  Since he first came on the title, it always felt like he was rushed or there were a veritable army of inkers inking his work, often times leading to an uneven and varying in quality, though still great, looking issue.  This issue still had a handful of inkers, but it looked much more uniform and consistent throughout and just showed off the goods.  

The issue pretty much picked up from the last with Lobo starting a fight with Atrocitus, whom he is pursuing for a bounty.  Lobo proceeds to throw down with everyone in one of the best fight sequences I've had the pleasure of viewing in a long time.  The Main Man has never looked this good and it felt like every character got their moment to shine.  Johns continues to make me wish Sinestro was the main character of this book by giving him several great moments in this issue and even Dex-Starr returned for his moment in the sun as he raged out on Lobo's dog.  

The second thing that made this issue so great was the return of the Tales of the Lanterns short that first appeared leading up to the Sinestro Corps War.  These introduced or told origin stories for the various Sinestro Corps members that would be appearing in the then upcoming event.  They returned briefly in their own miniseries leading up to Blackest Night and followed members of the newer corps, but never really captured the same feeling that those Sinestro Corps ones did.  

That changed with this issue as Johns dedicated a healthy bit of space to a Dex-Starr, a fan favourite Red Lantern more affectionately known as Rage Kitty.  It's actually a sad little story and even gives Dex-Starr some narrative parts as his owner is killed, he's forced out onto the streets and then nearly killed before receiving his Red Lantern ring.  I love how simple his narrative was and it just made me like the character even more.  

Verdict - Must Read.  Lobo vs the various Lanterns, Dex-Starr's origin, some of Doug Mahnke's best work on the title to date - what's not to love about this issue?

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Mike Deodato Jr.

I was quite impressed with Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato's debut issue on Secret Avengers.  I thought it was a near perfect first issue that didn't waste too much time on character introductions or team building and felt it read a lot like a book we'd been following for years.  It was like we knew all these characters and the dynamic between them all was great.  It even had a great cliffhanger that had me chomping at the bit for this second issue.  

Well, how did the second issue pan out? Honestly, I think it preservered the momentum that strong first issue built and made for a very good second issue.  Deodato's art felt less like people posing this month and the story took some steps forward, but there were some minor hiccups as well, primarily in the decompression and voices of certain characters.  

In terms of the plot, I felt this was another strong issue.  The team broke off into seperate groups We found out what happened to Nova and it's as feared with him wearing the Serpent Crown.  This makes for a very serious threat as an evil Nova on his own would have been difficult to stop, but now he's under the sway of the Serpent Crown and channelling its powers to boot.  

Meanwhile, the rest of the team has begun piecing together what's been happening on Mars.  They were confronted by a group of soldiers that were mind controlled or under the sway of the Serpent Crown as well.  What was interesting was that they were wearing the same uniforms as the Nick Fury led team that stole the fake crown from the Secret Avengers ship to end last issue.  And speaking of Fury, sadly, there's little explanation for his actions so far as he only appears in a handful of panels.  The mind controlled characters on Mars had all black pupils while Nick looked to be fine in the panels he was shown, so I'm going to assume he's not under anyone else's control, though it's possible he could still be an LMD or some other trope.  

As I mentioned above, one problem I had with the issue was the voices of some characters felt off.  most notably was Moon Knight, particularly when he addresses Steve Rogers.  At one point, he was waving his arm in the air and shouting enthusiastically for Steve, who he referred to as commander, to come look at what he found.  Last issue, I mentioned the discrepencies in how Nova and the Worldmind were portrayed.  

This was a much odder situation to me as Moon Knight has never struck me as the type to act in this way.  He wasn't a happy go lucky, eager to please character that would react that way, even for Captain America.  He's got a dissociative personality disorder and is routinely shown as a Batman-like character in his gruff manner of speech and actions. There were a few other instances where I noticed similar behaviour for characters I am familiar with, but none as blatant as the Moon Knight one.  Nothing that would make me drop the title or proclaim it terrilble for one line of dialogue being off, but a disturbing trend for only two issues in.

The other part that had me a little leary was the decompression factor.  While I think this issue did a good job preserving the momentum of that great first issue, this one felt a little less filling.  It's like we haven't really progressed all that much, despite another 22-pages of story.  Nova picked up the crown last issue and we only see him for the final two or three pages of this one as our heroes spent the rest of the issue searching for clues about what was going on on Mars.  Those clues?  Nothing really was revealed and it felt like we were just going in circles.  There wasn't even the entertaining action sequences or espionage bits that were sprinkled throughout that first issue as we were introduced to the team.  I was still entertained by the issue and enjoyed it, but it did feel a lot lighter on content than the previous one.

Verdict - Check It. It's a very solid second issue that I enjoyed, but it fell short of the bar set by the fantastic debut issue.  Decompression and some minor inconsistencies and characterization left me slightly underwhelmed at times, but I'm still quite happy with the title and recommend checking it out.

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Radlum said...

I was dissapointed by Secret Avengers; the plot is interesting, but the characterization is bland, the characters are becoming indistinguishable, which isn't something good for a team book. Let's hope Brubaker improves in the following issues.

Philipe said...

Yeah, Secret Avengers...I'm with you on this one. Thank God because IGN gave it an 8.5, which I thought was really really nice of them.

I agree with everything you said. I actually thought Moon Knight was acting a little crazy with the "commander" and all. Maybe that's the angle Brubaker is exploring, I don't know. But still...completely out of character.

Nothing happened on this issue, period. A lame follow-up to a great start. Hopefully things will pick up next issue.

twobitspecialist said...

How sad. I wanted to really like Secret Avengers #2. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't wowed like with #1. I thought to myself that maybe I was asking too much or something. You're right: nothing really happened to move the story forward.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Be damned if anyone is going to ruin my Secret Avengers experience, I'm still pumped for it.

But, question time, I'm actualling thinking about dipping my toes in the DC pool for some Action Comics; would it be worth my while? Is it $2.99? Convince me either way, people.

brandon said...

@Ryan L

Action is $3.99 - I didnt pick it up because of the price

Awesome reads this week: Elephantmen & Atomic Robo.

I wasnt thrilled that GL had 8 pages for the kitty origin.

Ivan said...

I just now realized the Atomic Robo guy is the same dude from 8-bit theater. Awesome, great to see a webcomic writer "making it big". I hope the guy from Dr. McNinja is next in line.

nf said...

I loved Dex-Starr and felt it was well worth the pages in Green Lantern.

Action was my book of the week though, by far. So good.

The Dangster said...

i think for the first time in like 5 issues, i was actually happy with green lantern and the fact it had content instead of Brightest Day bits.

twobitspecialist said...

@Ryan L. - Sorry, man. I read my issue before reading the reviews. This must be the first time I've done so ever, though.

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