Friday, July 9, 2010

*Updated* Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/08/10

A couple of quick reviews for everyone to kick of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  I'm going to update this post with the the rest of the reviews later tonight or sometime tomorrow.  It's too freaking hot inside to write any more at the moment.  Ryan will have his reviews up later this evening as well, so check back for those, too.  Hit the jump for the first wave of reviews.

Update - Added reviews of Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #1 and Secret Six #23.

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

I'm going to state that I did enjoy this issue and am still impressed with the Grim Hunt storyline so far, but, man, was that a horrible cop out on the "death of Spider-Man" last issue.  

This issue plays out pretty much as you'd expect it to do.  we get a brief follow-up on the return of Kraven, some nice narration from Madame Web with the ominous and foreshadowing of the Spyders fighting back against the Hunters and then it goes into how Kaine managed to trade places with Spider-Man before concluding with Peter 'returning from the dead'.  The story moved along at a brisk pace, gave us answers and even went into Kraven's state of mind and set us up for the rest of the arc.

It was obvious, in hindsight, that we'd be getting a swap-out of Kaine for Spidey, but it just doesn't make any sense to me.  It's really a huge pock mark on an otherwise great issue and story so far.  Yes, I can see Kaine, the clone, sacrificing himself for Peter, the original and one with a real life and that could fit in with his character and line of thinking.  However, the manner in which they do it is just so self-serving.  They changed Kaine's look and made the so-called Hunters, people that have stalked Spider-Man for months and have been building up towards this moment for years, unable to tell the difference between two men of completely different body sizes and proportions.  The kicker is he's wearing skin tight spandex, which should make it completely obvious it wasn't Peter.

Don't believe me in the size differences?  He's just a clone, right?  Should be identical and hard to tell without the mask off to show the degeneration effects on his face?  Wrong.  Look at this comparison of Ben Reilly and Kaine from the Lost Years, which takes place shortly after the original Clone Saga (ie where the first clone and the Miles Warren appear).  Ben is the exact duplicate of Peter at this point while Kaine is much bigger and muscular.  Okay, big jacket, beard, artist exaggerating for a cover, could have lost some bulk over time, etc.  How about this shot from the recent Who Was Ben Reilly? storyline in the Brand New Day era circa Amazing Spider-Man #608-609.  You can't tell me Kaine could pass as Spider-Man in this image, even with a shaved beard and a haircut.  He's a head taller than him and far bulkier.

Even looking past the size differences, the manner in which the events unfolded in the flashback annoyed me.  Kaine stumbles upon Peter after he falls into the grave, as seen in the previous issue.  He strips Peter down, puts the costume on and then buries Peter alive in the grave.  All of this takes place in the same graveyard as the Hunters that were chasing Peter and all of it happened between panels of Peter falling in the grave and then Kaine, in costume, jumping out and attacking them before dying.  The timeline for swapping out and burying him just does not work for me.  

Now, as I said to start, while the Kaine/Peter swap bugged me, I don't think it ruins the story.  I know I spent several paragraphs discussing it, but, hey, I'm a Kaine fan and comic nerd, so it's kind of required I nitpick things into oblivion.  I actually still enjoyed the issue.  The Kraven parts were really well done.  The use of Kaine as the sacrifice has resulted in a sort of undying, incomplete Kraven returning.  He was at peace in his mind.  He'd accomplished everything he wanted in life and died.  He's actually upset at returning.  He actually lashes out at his family over it, which results in his daughter, Anya, stabbing him in self-defense.  It was here we found out the resurrection "failed" as he still lived afterwards. 

Another part I enjoyed was showing the effects of Kraven's return and playing up the Spyder/Hunter mysticism at work.  Madame Web's narrative works great here and the brief interludes showing animals running wild at the zoo, in the streets and just spiders and vermin reacting to the 'web being broken' added some depth to the story beyond just the standard hero vs villain nature of the story.  

Regarding the back-up, the Kaine/Kraven 'first meeting' was still a little off to me.  They've given him a more suicidal mentality in that he became an assassin for hire just to die at the hands of someone because he's too afraid to kill himself and I'm not a fan of it.  He was all about hounding Ben in those days so that his "brother", Peter, could live his life while Ben suffered for trying to live a real life.  It's not a gross mischaracterization, but not a change I like.  However, the battle between Kraven and Kaine is interesting in that it plays out so much differently than a similar exchange between Kraven and Spider-Man.  

The other back-up, a two page spread by Stan Lee and Marcos Martin, was another fun short.  I absolutely loved Martin's layouts.  The story for this one was the two 'real world' criminals that escaped into the comic world followed Spider-Man home and saw him enter a building.  The two pages are layed out such that it shows Peter walking from room to room undressing, eating, etc and each panel is an actual room in his apartment.  It was just a perfect layout in my eyes and made the simple, light hearted script work.

Verdict - Check It.  Still a solid story, but some miscues really dulled my enjoyment of this one compared to the previous two parts. 

Written by Allan Heinberg
Art by Jim Cheung

I've been waiting for a follow-up to Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung's Young Avengers for the past four years.  While this issue does not share the Young Avengers name, I believe many long time fans can easily walk into this and treat it as a direct continuation of the series and it's Young Avengers #13 in everything but name to me.  

In this regard, the book is both a success and failure at the same time.  On one hand, it's an excellent continuation of the title and great to see the characters headlining a book again.  There's a few parts that feel awkward, such as some scenes that felt like they were hammering us over the head with a "these two characters are gay and that's edgy and revolutionary in comics!" type vibe that the original series didn't seem to have, but other than that, I really enjoyed the tone and pace of the comic.  It was like meeting up with an old friend and the characters were put on display more than actual plot or Wikipedia-like recaps.  The fact this works so well is a testament to good writing.  Another excellent part of this issue was the art.  Jim Cheung is stellar on this issue and he seems to get better everytime I see his work. 

On the other hand, it also feels dated, almost as if this takes place shortly after the original series ended.  The book even begins with a big disclaimer telling us to ignore continuity errors, such as Captain America and Iron Man in classic costumes and Steve being Cap instead of Director of SHIELD, and that the discrepencies will work themselves out in time.  That's rarely a good thing to see on the very first page of a comic and, while these aren't problems for me, it contributes to a dated feeling in a story that supposedly takes place in the present day setting based on the narrative listing Siege, Secret Invasion and Civil War all as past exploits. 

Another problem I had was with the plot.  Well, not exactly the plot.  It's more how some parts were executed.  For example, the story is primarily about Wiccan, the magic user of the group, losing control of his powers and putting several Sons of the Serpent members into comas without remembering it or knowing how it happened in the fight that starts the issue.  The Avengers are obviously concerned and want to take him into their custody at Avengers Tower to monitor and run some tests.  

This, to me, is pretty fine, but the writing seems to go out of its way to show the Avengers as the badguys.  This isn't even a teenagers perspective, but just plain 'rar, you come with us or we make you' type of writing.  They aren't compassionate and do not seem to care at all about this kid or his life.  This is Captain America, Iron Man and Ms Marvel we're talking about here.  It even continued later in the issue when Captain America convinces him to come after talking to Wiccan's parents.  That scene was well done and I liked seeing the conversation between those two, but no sooner does that end than they show the living quarters for Wiccan at the tower, which looks like some Spartan prison cell.  It's concrete walls, no paint, low lighting and a single mattress/no boxspring bed.  This is some multimillion dollar complex with training facilities and state of the art equipment and they have him in the janitor's closet!  It's really odd and seems only there to paint the Avengers as the 'bad guys'.  

However, I was still happy with the issue.  There are some hiccups here and there, but it was a strong debut issue and sets up the story - tracking down the Scarlet Witch to help with Wiccan and find out what happened to her after House of M and to see if she really did go crazy or was influenced, as they believe Wiccan was at the start of this issue.  The characterization and team dynamic is still great and the art is still top notch. 

Verdict - Check It.  A solid first issue.  I'm tempted to give it a higher rating, but there were some minor hiccups in this issue and it felt like a sort of reintroduction issue for past fans than a straight up story for anyone to pick up.  It's also on a bi-monthly schedule, barring delays, which are likely with Heinberg's record, and it might be a better choice to trade wait this one.  

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

Scarlet is the new creator owned project from Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev.  What's it about?  Uh, I'm not sure.  No, it's not a difficult comic to read.  There's no Grant Morrison-like obtuseness to this.  It's not some intricate mystery.  It's just nothing really happens here.  

Simply put, Scarlet, the main character, talks for a really long time, there's a sort of origin story where she details how a cop killed her boyfriend and framed the two as drug dealers and then, uh, she's now trying to expose the cop?  Maybe?  It sounds more like she's trying to take on the whole corrupted world, but the only thing she did was kill a cop and steal his wallet after he tried to feel her up in an alley to start the issue.  She's packing some heavy ordnance while prowling a rooftop at the end of the issue telling the readers that we're going to help her "stop all of it", but I'm not sure what "it" is or what she's doing or even how she's getting these weapons or what this comic is about.   

Regarding that 'asking the readers' bit, that's something Bendis employed throughout the issue.  Scarlet routinely speaks with square shaped dialogue boxes to indicate she is breaking the fourth wall and speaking to us, the readers.  It was an interesting technique, but I'm not a fan of the square speech bubbles and I don't like it being spelled out for us either with direct indicators of what is and isn't breaking the fourth wall.  I enjoy those moments when a speech bubble is both directed at someone and works in the context of the speech and also directed at the readers.  You can't really do that with this method.  

Another problem was the amount of text.  Bendis should have just did a visual novel with random pictures scattered about his novel.  He's a verboise writer at the best of times and it's usually regarded as his strong point, though can be viewed as a negative with the so-called "Bendis-speak" when characters get stuck in a typical patterns, but this issue took the cake.  It was primarily one character, Scarlet, throughout and she does not stop talking.  Ever.  Most are those fourth wall breaking explanations, but it also has here making casual references to random events and it's like this one, issue long narration instead of letting the beautiful artwork do the talking.  Combined with how very little actual information is conveyed throughout this issue and it's really vexing to see no oversight on this project intervening and telling him to tone it down a little on the text. 

Speaking of the art, this is some of the best work I've seen from Maleev in a long time.  His Spider-Woman work did not grab me in the least.  I'm not sure if he was forcing himself to do it or if he was simply working too many other projects, likely including this very issue, or not, but he's stellar on this issue.  If you are buying it, the art is probably the main draw here.  Some great stuff all around, primarily in the layouts and facial expressions.  

Verdict - Check It.  I didn't hate this issue and it's worth checking out to see if it interests you or if you are a fan of Maleev's art, but there's literally nothing I can tell you about the story.  I don't know what the book is about, what is going to happen or anything I'd call substantial.  Scarlet's boyfriend got killed by a cop and framed as a drug dealer.  She's getting revenge.  But not against the person who did it.  She's taking down "all of it".  With big guns.  I think.  Slow burns are nice and work with some well known characters, like how he joked about how long it took him to put Spider-Man in the costume in the Ultimate Universe, but when you don't know or care about the character, it doesn't work nearly as well.  Trade wait this one or possibly avoid it if you aren't willing to stick around for something to hopefully happen. 

Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Billy Tan

Christine did an excellent job reviewing Shadowland #1 already and there's not much else I can add to it that I didn't add in the comments there, so I'll simply direct you over to her review.

Written by John Ostrander
Art by RB Silva

This issue of Secret Six is a random done-in-one story set before the events of the past few issues  in the title.  It's easy to regard it simply as filler, especially since John Ostrander is the guest writer on the issue, and I wouldn't fault anyone for considering it as such, but that doesn't mean it wasn't an entertaining issue either.

Ostrander has been collaborating with Gail Simone on Secret Six off and on for the past year or so and has a great grasp of these characters.  He's even got the style and tone of the book down pat and is a more than worthy fill-in for Simone whenever the need arises.

This issue was actually quite straight forward in its plot.  The Secret Six were contracted by some wealthy businessmen with a penchant for hunting humans with high tech military weaponry and cybernetic suits.  They typically kidnap normal humans and hunt them and treat it like a game.  Seeking bigger game, they contract the Six under false pretenses and then proceed to hunt them once they get them to their remote island.  This, obviously, goes quite wrong for them as the Six proceed to kill every last one of them for their trouble.

Like I said, it's a simple plot and you've probably saw a movie or two based on the premise before of hunting humans like a game before.  The plot isn't really the focus of the book and it's more on the execution and seeing how each of our villains react to the situation.  Bane really shines in this regard.  They've got the standard electronic collars keeping everyone monitored on this island and Bane simply fights through the pain and destroys his.  There's another great scene with him killing his 'hunter' where the art uses some hilarious old fashioned sound effects in contrast to the gruesome scene.  Each character gets their own little sequence like this as they fight back against their pursuers before they all meet up again and leave the island, their captors dead and the Six no worse for wear.

Speaking of the art, RB Silva was a bit hit or miss.  It seemed too inconsistent to me.  When people wear masks, they look great, such as Deadshot and Bane, but when the masks are off, they faces looked off to me, particularly with Catman, who looked great in costume, but nothing like Blake does with the mask off.  Certain fight sequences were difficult to follow as well, such as Catman's leaping from a bridge to a helicopter drone plane, where it was just awkward looking how the motion for the leap took place.  These are minor complaints as the art did its job in most cases and did not detract from the experience, despite some minor flaws.

Verdict - Check It.  A fun, though cliched done-in-one story. 

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Dale Eaglesham

I was extremely intrigued in seeing what Ed Brubaker would do with the Nick Fury-esque Steve Rogers, who is now heading up SHIELD, in this miniseries.  With Dale Eaglesham on the art, it seemed like it would be a sure fire hit with me.

But after reading this first issue, I'm a little disappointed with what was on hand.  I'm not sure how to put this, but it didn't read like an Ed Brubaker comic.  As I consider his run on Captain America to be one of the definitive runs on the character, similar to a Bendis or Miller Daredevil run, and that he's also one of my favourite writers, I was a bit shocked at how, well, generic this read.  It was like a standard super hero spy story that, save the few bits of story related to the super-soldier serum and Cap's history, could have swapped out the lead character for anyone else and it would have worked just as well.

That's not to say this issue is outright bad, but it's not what I expected from someone of Brubaker's quality either.   The story is about a new Dr Erskine, revealed to be the grandson of the original super-soldier serum's creator reclaiming his grandfather's surname, heading up a hotshot research lab and rumours that he has cracked the super-soldier serum for a new generation.  This draws Steve Rogers, the new head of SHIELD, into the mix, as there are also rumours he will be selling the serum on the blackmarket. Rogers proceeds to track down Dr Erskine, infiltrate his exclusive part in a nice James Bond-like spy moment and then find out the truth behind this new super-soldier serum.

The problem I had with all of this is that there's not one bit about SHIELD in this issue outside of the knowledge we have that Rogers is the head of the spy organization.  It's like he's off on an adventure as Captain America, just in the new SHIELD outfit he's been sporting lately.  Another issue I had with it was that the super soldier serum pops up completely unnoticed by anyone.  If anyone was developing something like this, especially the grandson of Dr Erskine, I'm sure alarms would have been firing long before the events of this issue.  It just seemed very contrived to have him and the serum used in this manner.

I don't mean to make it sound like I'm bashing this comic into the ground or making it out as the worst book ever written.  I was just looking forward to this issue a great deal and was expecting big things.  I wanted to see Rogers reacted to his new position in charge of SHIELD, see how he handles things differently from Tony Stark, Nick Fury and Norman Osborn, and see a more personal view of the same character Brubaker is writing much better over in Secret Avengers.

Despite my own, possibly unreasonable, expectations for the book, I did enjoy parts of it.  The art was excellent.  Eaglesham was a boon for Marvel to snap up from DC and he does a fantastic job on the art here.  I loved the way he handled the infiltration scene and showing Rogers come out in the tuxedo. Also, while I think Brubaker fumbled the rapid introduction of Erskine and the super-soldier serum, it did make for an excellent ending to this issue, whereby Erskine was shot and killed.  The writing here was great as Cap realizes he's had to watch another Dr Erskine die in his arms.

Verdict - Check It.  Overall, I'm disappointed that my own expectations were set too high and I do feel this was slightly below Brubaker's standard quality, but it's still a solid story that moves from a simple Point A to Point B, likely due to the miniseries nature of the story. I'll be sticking with the title as it shows promise in the last few pages.

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Chris said...

See, what happened was that since "Who Was Ben Reilly" Kaine's degeneration increased a lot, that combined with being hunted and beaten by the Kravens has caused him to lose a great deal of body mass and height. Plus he's not wearing those huge army boots that probably makes him look and inch taller and his hair and beard make him seem bigger than he really is.

Yes I just made all of that up but thats how I'm going with it since I agree with you that "Grim Hunt" has been pretty good except for that minor little problem. I particularly like that Kraven is upset about being brought back, as I feel that fits his character so I think they nailed that part of the story.

Anonymous said...

I liked Scarlet a lot more than that. I loved the sequence of firsts and really liked the way she talked directly to us (It was like Ferris Bueller or Better off Ted). I might not agree with her bleak worldview, but at least it was interesting.

Ivan said...

Hell, even Ben in that cover looks considerably buffer than Peter. Or maybe it was just JRJr's art at the time, I don't know.

The Spider-Man of my childhood was the Clone Saga Spider-Man, for good and bad, and I sad to see Kaine go. :(

twobitspecialist said...

@Kirk - Did you ever read Soul of the Hunter, which was about Kraven finding peace in the afterlife with Spidey's help? Do you think Grim Hunt flat out ignores that story?

Also, Kaine didn't disintegrate like Ben Reilly did? What's up with that?

Kirk Warren said...

@twobit - I think the Ben death was just a "he's dead and completely gone and theres no more clones, no siree bob, no clones. DEAD." type of ending for Ben. No other clones had that happen (unless they died by degeneration or Jackal triggered the degeneration).

As for Soul of the Hunter, I think it was just an attempt on Marvel's part to say 'suicide is bad' and, with it being supernatural/ghosts involved, I think we can rightfully ignore the prestige format one-shot. I personally didnt think it was a story DeMatteis wanted to write, but thats just my opinion based on the quality of it compared to his other work.

Philipe said...

I'm completely with you on the Children's Crusade. I just thought it was Heinberg's way of doing a "point A to point B" thing. He needed the kids to go chase the Scarlet Witch and this is the way he found to do it.

What of Magneto? I sincerely hope there's a good explanation for it other than being "cool".

Steven said...

@Kirk - If you think DeMatteis didn't want to write Soul of the Hunter then you REALLY don't know much about his writing. He's a total spiritualist. Possibly one of the most pretentious mainstream (not always in a bad way) writers of the 80s-early 90s. In fact, given that it was done five years after the original storyline, I would bet that the idea for SotH started with DeMatteis.

Also, big nitpicks with Children's Crusade. First, it forgets that Cassie and Vision spent a good period of time as full-fledged Avengers and why, WHY, WHY is Steve Rogers wearing his Cap uniform in this? There really is not a good reason.

Kirk Warren said...

@Steven - Because I thought SotH read more like an anti-suicide message than an actual sequel to Last Hunt and reeked of editorial influence, it means I don't know anything about DeMatteis's writing? That's a little unfair considering you then go on to state something as "in fact" despite following it up with an "i bet you this is why" bit of speculation. If you believe that, simply say that. You don't have to tear my opinioni on the story down to prop yours up.

As for Children's Crusade, they have the disclaimer and I believe it's due to how slow Heinberg and Cheung are. The story was probably written with broadstrokes/adjusted narration for the opening pages for continuity and was likely green lit before Siege's conclusion with Cap as the new Nick Fury. It's not a good reason, but the only one I can think of. It says it'll make sense by the end of it where this fits, but that doesn't mean much right now either.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed Scarlett, everything from the art to the dialogue shone for me. It had the feel of an indie movie, and I felt for her loss, and her anger alll of which have cultivated her reasoning.

Just hope the book stays strong and doesn't go down some type of "Foolkiller" route.

Steven R. Stahl said...

I read CHILDREN'S CRUSADE #1 (CC #1) and didn't think much of it, but that's primarily due to the structural problems of the miniseries itself. If one thinks of a story as a building, CC #1 is a skeleton. Heinberg ginned up a fight between the Serpents and the YAers to a) tell readers how lovable and admirable his teens are and b) have Wiccan use his alarmingly powerful magic. That might have gotten the story going, but it results in the story being all about the power -- Wiccan's and Wanda's.

Heinberg having Wiccan suggest that Wanda could have been manipulated and that the explanation offered in YA #11 for the twins' origin was "insane" shows that he's aware of the criticism directed at the YA series. However, he's still plotting poorly. Giving Wiccan the same power as Wanda results in the question: What do they do about it? They had Wanda disappear for years; will Wiccan disappear too? If they get rid of the powers somehow, some readers will be disappointed and writers who don't think beyond one story and think that being able to do anything is neat will want to bring the power back. The problem with the power was solved in AVENGERS WEST COAST #62, but the power was just irresistible to bad writers.

The storyline might be full of emotional moments as it progresses, but however it ends, the teens aren't likely to be any more of a group, in the organizational sense, than they were at the end of YOUNG AVENGERS.


Ivan said...

"Like I said, it's a simple plot and you've probably saw a movie or two based on the premise before of hunting humans like a game before."

Yes. Only the greatest movie of all time, THE PEST.

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