Thursday, August 26, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Batwoman, Box 13, Daredevil and More

Today I'm taking a looking some various trades that I picked up because I was either interested in their concept or thought they would be great reads. One the interesting concept side, I picked up Cowboy Ninja Viking and Box 13 while I thought the quality of the creative teams would be more than enough to convince me to pick up Batwoman: Elegy, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and Neil Young's Greendale. Hit the jump to see what I thought of these comics.

BOX 13
Written by David Gallaher
Art by Steven Ellis

Box 13 was originally serialized as an app for the iPhone which is where my interest in the project comes from even though I enjoyed High Moon, a comic by the same creative team. I wanted to see how a comic designed to be viewed a panel at a time would read would as a print comic.

Overall, the art in the comic mostly comes off as generic and uninspired, at least from the panel and layout perspectives. The basic layout is a 4x4 grid over two pages, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but, unlike The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, it feels like a choice made out of necessity rather than one that is deliberate.

I would say it feels like this because while Miller, Moore and Gibbons threw in a lot variation in how they laid out and used the panels, Gallaher and Ellis fall back on the 16 panels created by the 4x4 grid more often than not. They do combine panels, mix up the panel sizes and amount per page but there never really seems to be a specific reason for doing so other than the panel needed to be a bigger size. Only on occasion do the variations on the 4x4 grid seems like they were some storytelling or similar reasons. To be fair to Gallaher and Ellis though, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns are some of the few comics that I've read that were always laid out in a grid so they are always going to be my point of comparison. Other than that though, Ellis's art is fine and he uses a nice, loose style that works well in the tone of the story.

As for the story revolves around Dan Holiday, an author, who has an "episode" every time he opens a specially marked box, the first of which lands him in a hospital/asylum and the second one causes him to break out and escape. He then teams up with Olivia, a girl he previously met a book signing where he got the first box, and who then go to try and find out what exactly has happened to him. While the story starts off well enough, the longer it goes on the more it unravels.

There are two main problems with the story. First is that a lot of it seems contrived. For example, why does Olivia help out Dan when she barely knows him? She works for the group that brainwashed him. Okay, but why does she fall in love with him when she's barely spent a couple of days with him? They spend more time running than anything else and they never really shown connecting in any kind of significant way.

The biggest problem though is that the reveal at the end is really weak. Basically, Dan was brainwashed as part of a weapon's program but then used by his father in order to kill himself. After Olivia prevents Dan from killing his father, they escape and reveal that there are more people like Dan which leads to the "To Be Continued" ending where they declare that they will find the rest of them. Honestly, had the ending been stronger, it, combined with the solid beginning, could have made up for the weak middle parts but it just brings the entire story down.

My main problem with the ending, aside from its "to be continued" nature, is that there is no resolution to anything that happened. Of course, this is because the central mystery is really the only thing going on in the story and it's going to, presumably, be resolved later but that makes Box 13 feel like an incomplete story. In fact, the end of the collection feels more like the end of a chapter rather than any kind of conclusion. Despite an interesting premise, Box 13's story is weak enough to overshadow that and provides an very unsatisfying reading experience.

Verdict - Avoid It.

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Written by AJ Lieberman
Art by Riley Rossmo
Collects Cowboy Ninja Viking #1-5

The title does kind of say it all. Cowboy Ninja Viking is a comic about a man named Duncan who is a trained killer with Multiple Personality Disorder, called a Triplet, which are the aforementioned cowboy, ninja and viking. As a premise for a story, that is something I can get behind and is the reason why I picked up the trade. Sadly, the series falls apart for two main reasons as it goes on.

While the combination of the titular Cowboy Ninja Viking is a good one, Lieberman litters the book with a bunch of other Triplets, none of which have the logic that makes Duncan's combination work so well. The biggest example would be Duncan's ex-wife, Grear, who is a chef, sniper and...actually, I'm not sure what her third personality is. Something to do with Japan but that's about all I could tell you. Most of the other Triplets are the same and while you can pick up on what some of the personalities are, rarely are they explained and most don't really make any sense, either in their combinations or why you would have, say, a killer surfer bum.

The bigger problem though is that none of the Triplets are in any way compelling or funny, since Lieberman often tries and fails to inject comedy into the book. They tend to be rather bland and there is no consistency in the way they are depicted. Yes, the are insane in way or the other but good fiction does tend to require some kind of structure and there isn't any with the Triplets. Some switch between their various personalities while some have a fourth personality that controls the other tree. Lieberman never goes into the details about the hows and whys of the Triples, which leaves a lot to be desired in regards to their basic natures. Another problem is that Duncan's personalities act as though they have been filtered through modern sensibilities while other Triplet's personality act like they are true to form. In addition to some structure, some basic consistency is key to a successful story, neither of which Lieberman provides with the Triplets.

The other problem with the collection is that the story is dull. I actually gave up at some point in issue three on my first read through. A lot about the series seems contrived, especially all of the Triplets after Duncan, and the story in the collection doesn't really seem all that inspired. There is kind of a mentor vs. protegee aspect to the story which drives the plot but always seems kind of tangential to Duncan's story. The real flaw in the story though is that there is no arc and nothing seems resolved by the end of the story, either plot wise as a whole or with Duncan. Yeah, it's an ongoing series but I felt that, at the end of issue five, nothing had been accomplished and the story was back at square one

Verdict - Avoid It.

Still interested in Cowboy Ninja Viking Vol 1? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Cliff Chiang

Never before have I had a comic that had my on the edge of my seat waiting to see how the ending played only to, quite literally, lose me in the last 15 pages. To say that the ending is massive disappointment, of the metaphorical kick the groin kind, is an understatement. What makes it kind of worse though is that, in retrospect, the ending is kind of obvious.

The problem is that the there are two distinct elements to the story and while I was interested one, the supernatural, the political undertones of the story are what dominated the ending but it is such a cliched political message that it almost ruins the whole experience for me. Fortunately, a lot of Greendale does hold up on further readings. The characters and narrative are still engaging even if I'm not as enthused about it all as I was on the first read. Dysart's work on the comic is solid and it's hard to place the blame on him for the things I didn't like since 1) he's done better and 2) he is just doing an adaption and I have no problems with it on a craft level.

The best thing about the comic is Cliff Chiang's art and he was the main reason why I picked this up since it had been awhile since I read something he did. If I were to recommend that you pick up this comic it would be for his art. He is one of the best artists currently working in the medium and Greendale is an excellent of example of why he is because he just kind of does everything right. Not to mention that the coloring by Dave Stewart, on the newsprint paper, perfectly match the tone that the story is going for and you have not only some great artwork, but great artwork does a wonderful job of working with the story.

Verdict - Check It.

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Written by Greg Rucka
Art by JH Williams III
Collects material from Detective Comics #854-860

These seven issues from Greg Rucka's and JH Williams run on Detective Comics is one of the those runs on a superhero comic that show just what the genre is capable of when put in the hands of creators who art at the top of their game. While the story by Rucka is good and does a great job of mixing the more absurd and realistic aspects of that are a part of any Batman character, what makes it stand out from everything else is Williams's impressive art.

As an artist, Williams is a master of the medium and his skills are on perfect display in these issues. Aside from some dynamic and imaginative layouts, what sets Williams's art apart from just about everyone else is that not only does he use multiple styles in every issue, he often uses them within the same panels. Aside from an establishing a different tone and mood for various scenes and characters, it brings the characters to life in a way using only a single style wouldn't and defines them visually in such a way that it is easy for a reader to get a decent sense of the character from just how they look. While all of this might seem like it would make the pages a jumbled mess, Williams is a master for a reason and the art ends up being some of the best produced by any artist in the past decade.

While Williams's art is what makes the comic stand out from everything else, it rests on a solid foundation created by Rucka. The story is nothing original, it simply introduces the heroine's arch nemesis and reveals her origin, but he does in a very methodical way that makes the stock story elements he's using feel less worn that they actually are. Rucka also manages to balance the more conflicted aspects of the Batman books with the absurd, over-the-top, theatrical villains combined with the darker, more grounded tone that has been apart of the franchise since Frank Miller's work on Batman in the 80's. You have to look very hard to find either a better example of superheroes done right or a better take on anything Batman related.

Verdict - Must Read.

Interested in Batwoman: Elegy? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

Written by Frank Miller
Art by John Romita Jr.
Collects Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1-5

Do superhero origin stories need the hero to actually don their costumes in order to be considered a good origin story? Probably, but Miller and Romita make a strong case for the opposite. Murdock suiting up as Daredevil doesn't occur until the very last page but the rest of the story doesn't suffer because of it.

What makes The Man Without Fear an interesting origin story is that story made it feel as though Murdock becoming Daredevil was the least essential part of his origin, as odd as that may sound. The focus here is on Matt's life experiences and how that shapes him as a person rather than focusing on what made him a superhero. In fact, that Murdock does become Daredevil in the end seems kind of incidental to everything else in the story. Kind of weird when you think about but it's by Millar and JRJR so it's still a story good, just not the one you might have been expecting.

Another thing that surprised me about the collection was that the "grittiness" of both the story and art didn't bother me like it normally would. Partial because New York City around the time Miller was writing the story wasn't the same as we know it today. Secondly, as already mentioned, Murdock never suits up as Daredevil so there isn't the whole "bright spandex crime fighter fights drug deals, rapists and murders" problem that the whole "gritty realism" phenomenon brings with it. The Man Without Fear reads more like a martial arts story crossed with a crime drama and it better suits what Miller was going for than if Murdock spent any decent amount of time as Daredevil.

Of course, Romita's art is stellar as well even if his current style has a more refined look and feel to than was in is on display in The Man Without Fear. His work is looser and he uses techniques like crosshatching more which gives his art a more, I don't want to use "grittier," feel but that's what it essential us and it matches Miller's the tone script almost perfectly. An odd side effect of the story's age is that the splash pages are a lot more effective since they are used so sparingly when compared to many modern comics from Marvel or DC.

Miller's narration throughout the story also works well with Romita's art since he only uses it to cover things that Romita couldn't do in the art, which is also something that feels slightly out of place of the series's original publication date. The narration lacks Miller's more extreme writing tics so it doesn't over power either the story or art. Overall, a solid work by two of the industries better creators that, while it doesn't showcase the best they have to offer, still provides an interesting story that does show what they are capable of none-the-less.

Verdict - Buy It.

Interested in Daredevil: The Man Without Fear? Purchase it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Anonymous said...


I just finished reading the Cowboy Ninja Viking trade a couple of days ago and I have to disagree with you. I really enjoyed this trade almost to the point where I wanted to pick it up in singles.

If I have any real complaint it is the fact that having all the various triplets in the story can get kinda confusing (especially when some have similar personalities).

BTW I think Grear's third personality was supposed to be a samuri based on what that personality said.

brandon said...

I actually enjoyed Cowboy Ninja Viking in serial form but it did take a few reads to fully understand the personalities. It's not an easy read by any means.

However, I dropped the series when I saw the price bump and the fact that the trade contained extra material that could have easily fit in the monthly. Which is to say I liked it but not so much that rocking the boat would keep me on it.

Eric Rupe said...

Shawn - Yeah, the Triplets are too indistinct to pick them up out of a group, which is not really helped by Rossmo's art, even though I enjoy his work.

I also don't think Grear's third personality is a samurai but that's just my take.

brandon - I agree it's not an easy read but I never got the feeling that a deeper rereading would be rewarded aside from maybe figuring out who some of the characters were, like the various Triplets, but that should have been clear from the beginning.

btownlegend said...

Batwoman ended way too soon...I took it for granted and now find myself telling everyone how great it was...even though I should've since the beginning.

Steven said...

I look forward to the upcoming Batwoman ongoing series by JH Williams.

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