Friday, August 13, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Comics of July, Part One

July was a small month for me and my haul for the month only totaled ten books. Luckily, most of the comics I picked up were good and a couple even were great so the month was a good one overall, even if there were one or two disappointments. There was also a lot of nice diversity in what I picked which made the month's offering that much more enjoyable. Hit the jump for my take of the first half of the comics I picked up from July.

Written by Brian Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

"The Nightly News did it better" would be my one line snark review of this comic. The core concept of both comics is basically the same - main character raging against an unjust and corrupt world. The difference though is that all of the energy and emotion Jonathan Hickman put into The Nightly News actually comes through and the first reading is like visceral gut punch whereas Scarlet is just dull and plodding. Aside from that, things actually happen in The Nightly News but Scarlet #1 just involves the character giving the reader her backstory, which is necessary but I'm not sure it's the best way to start out the series.

The other thing that The Nightly News has over Scarlet is that it makes it abundantly clear what the series is about by the end of the first issue. After I read the issue, I can't really tell you anything more than "Scarlet vs. the world" and not much other than that. Add in the fact that Scarlet isn't a compelling character either, which she bizarrely acknowledges in the comic itself, and you end up with a pretty dull comic.

Bendis breaking the fourth-wall was also something I thought didn't work but it wasn't a disaster like when he did it at the end of Alias. It's not a bad way to flesh out and develop a character, and I thought those parts did work well enough since it is a different way of delivering exposition, but I can't see what he would do with it beyond that. Then again, it's hard to see where Bendis is going with any of this since the point of the series is completely absent from the issue.

Maleev's art was also a huge letdown. The fact that there is a " Scarlet modeled by" credit pretty much sums up what's wrong with the art. It would be fair to say that Maleev's art has had photo-realistic qualities at times but a lot of the art looks like Maleev got lazy and just copied a bunch of photos. The coloring doesn't help with this either. A lot of the art is stiff and while the taking scenes aren't horrible, anytime there is some action the art falters. Badly.

I'll admit that I had some high hopes for the comic since Bendis and Maleev have done some outstanding work before, such as on Daredevil, and really wanted to get into something of Bendis's that wasn't written years ago. Unfortunately, after reading Scarlet, the thought occurred to me that Daredevil might be seen as the creative highlight of Bendis's and Maleev's careers. Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating with that last remark but, honestly, what great comics has Bendis put out since he started writing New Avengers? Yeah, he was finishing up Daredevil and the early issues of of New Avengers were actually good but Ultimate Spider-Man hit a slump that it took till the Ultimate Comics relaunch to get above average again, excluding The Clone Saga arc. House of M, Secret Invasion, the rest of New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers and Siege were all pretty bland, at best. And Daredevil is Maleev's best work to date so yeah, it's a weird thought to have but it could end up being  true in the long run.

Verdict - Avoid It.

Original Story by Richard Stark
Adaption by Darwin Cooke
Art by Darwin Cooke

You know, I think the crime genre just isn't for me. As good as Cooke is on this, and he's very good as always, I'm just not quite getting into it. It's the same as it was with the first volume, Cooke's skills more than carry the story for me but the story itself holds little appeal to me. Yeah, it's good and I enjoyed this short heist story more than the first volume, due to lack of familiarity with the material, but I'm just not being drawn into it in a way that I would like since I do enjoy Cooke's work so much. Still, despite the fact that the story isn't really doing it for me, Cooke's art remains impressive and is more than enough to keep me interested in the series.

The comic, in case you don't know, is a preview issue containing the first chapter of the second volume, The Outfit. It's $2, no ads, high quality paper and the only comic I own that has a larger page size is Wednesday Comics. That's right, this is bigger than Marvel's and DC's oversized hardcovers. This is how you get me interested in your projects, with awesome preview comics, not shitty and probably misleading teasers put out on the internet.

Verdict - Buy It.

Written by Mateus Santolouco, Eduardo Medeiros, Rafael Albuquerque
Art by Mateus Santolouco, Eduardo Medeiros, Rafael Albuquerque
Adaption by Ivan Brandon and Cris Peter

My primary reason for picking this up was to get some Rafael Albuquerque art since DC decided to price me out of American Vampire. I also was curious about the entire creative team being Brazilian and I've been more and more interested in foreign comics recently. All in all, Mondo Urbano was a satisfying read even if there are one or two missteps.

As advertised on the cover, Mondo Urbano contains plenty of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll plus a diverse and interesting cast of characters, a solid story and wonderful non-linear narrative.

The story revolves around a few key moments and events which are used to introduce the cast and set up all of the plot lines. Sadly, most of it is introductory and kind of shallow which isn't a surprise given that the whole volume reads like a prologue to the rest of the volumes that will follow. As I said though, the cast is interesting on the whole and the stories are engaging, which left me interested in more.

What makes Mondo Urbano distinctive, and worth picking up, is the art. All three creators contribute to the work and the art is done in a manner similar to Image United, but in a much better way. Each creator does one of three opening chapters on their own to establish their styles but, unfortunately, the chapters don't list who does what I so had to go on the internet to find out, which is not a good thing. After the opening chapters, the art duties are divided in all of the other chapters. The work is divided up with one artist doing multiple pages, a single page or multiple artists will share art duties on a single page.

Despite the varying styles, it does merge pretty seamlessly. You can tell who does what most of the time but this never gets in the way of the story surprisingly and it helps that all three artist use more cartooning styles on the cartooning/realism scale, with Albuquerque in the middle, Medeiros with the most cartooning style and Santolouco with the most realistic but even his has a lot of cartooning elements to it. Medeiros's art was the style I enjoyed the most actually, not Albuquerque's, which surprised me given that Albuquerque was why I picked this up. Of course, Albuquerque's work is up to his usual standards so it's not because of any downturn in quality on his part. Overall, the fantastic mishmash art in Mondo Urbano is it's best selling point and anyone who appreciates comic books as an art form should pick this up.

Verdict - Buy It.

Interested in Mondo Urbano Vol 1? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Max Fiumara
Collects Four Eyes #1-4

A Joe Kelly creator owned comic? Yeah, I'll buy that. With art by Max Fiumara? That's just sweetening the deal. About illegal dragon fighting set in Depression era New York City? SOLD!

Despite what you would expect, Four Eyes is a rather low key title with very little dragon fighting. Instead, the story centers on Enrico Savarese, a ten-year-old boy whose father was killed while trying to steal dragon eggs so the mob could host the aforementioned dragon fights. The story focuses on Enrico's entry into the cruel worlds of the Depression and underground fights. The series reminds of I Kill Giants in that it focuses on the main character's journey to overcome their rather difficult life situations with an emphasis on their personal development. What makes Four Eyes work, and differentiates it from I Kill Giants, is that, although Kelly presents the grim reality of the Depression, Enrico's naive optimism gives the story a more upbeat tone, which is what drives the series along with it's basic underdog vs. the world plot.

The only problem with the collection is the whole "volume one" thing. The story is mostly set up, introducing the cast, main plot and a couple of things that would play out in future volumes. There is a whole story in the collection with beginning, middle and end though but its purpose is still to set up a series that may never come out, which does make the collection feel kind of hollow. Of course, it's still an engaging story with wonderful art that only cost $10 so there is no reason not to pick this up.

Verdict - Buy It.

Interested in Four Eyes Vol 1: Forged in Flames? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

Written by Rei Hiroe
Art by Rei Hiroe
Adaptation by Joe Yamazaki

This is how you do build up, pay off and set up. Well, I guess the build up was in the previous two volumes but this one was all pay off. Very rewarding pay off at that. In addition to wrapping the current 33 chapter storyline, El Baile de la Muerte (The Dance of The Dead), the volume kind of feels like the culmination of a lot of developments over the previous eight volumes because, although Black Lagoon is a very action oriented series, it has always been character driven at its core. Various character arcs and development come to a head by the end of the story, revealing more about some characters while leaving others inexorably changed, which is what makes the volume so rewarding.

There are two things that really stood out to me about this volume as well. First, the 33 chapter story never felt artificially lengthened or decompressed at any point. Sure, there probably could be some trimming done, which is true about most stories anyway, but the story was well paced. The last three chapters of volume 6 introduced the story, volume 7 set up the players, backgrounds and motivations, volume 8 moved everything into place and volume 9 is the magnificent pay off. Each volume had an individual arc as well which not only made them feel satisfying on their own but was also moving the story forward so it never felt decompressed.

Aside from the plotting and everything coming together perfectly in the end, volume 9 feels like a turning point for the series as well. Obviously, this won't be know until further volumes come out but all of the major characters seem to have been fundamentally changed during the story or had something revealed about them that will have an effect on future stories. While these changes don't hint at any kind of story in particular, I am interested in seeing how they play out.

The other thing that stood out to me was the artwork. While Hiroe still brings a wonderful sense of chaos to his action sequences that always makes them a joy to read, what really stood out this volume was the characterization. Much of the character development in the volume is intimated through the art in way that stand out from all of the previous volumes. Rock's, the main character, development is perfectly visualized in the art to the point where you don't even have to read the dialog to see what has happened to the character. This goes for many of the characters as well and was a pleasure since it's not something you'd normally expect from a series like Black Lagoon.

Verdict - Must Read.

Interested in Black Lagoon Vol 9? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

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Marc said...

I read the first issue of Four Eyes back when it came out and thought it was just wonderful. I kind of lost track of it after that due to a number of delays, though, so it's great to hear that it's finally been collected and that it maintained its quality across the following issues. Definitely will be picking it up.

Mike Haynes said...

I really liked Scarlet. Granted, I never read a heck of a lot of Bendis' stuff before his Avengers run but I felt like he and Maleev really worked well together, much like the Spider-Woman run.

Eric Rupe said...

Mike - Haven't read Spider-Woman but Daredevil and Civil War: The Confession are the best examples of them working together that I've read. Both a definitely a step above Scarlet and I recommend them if you enjoy Bendis's and Maleev's work.

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