Friday, January 28, 2011

The Weekly Crisis Down Under Reviews for 01/26/2011

Hi all, just your friendly neighbourhood Aussie here to drop some quick reviews for you all. I’ve got a smattering of publishers to represent here with looks at Secret Avengers, Fantastic Four, Conan: Road of Kings, Detective Comics, and Thunderbolts. No bad comics here, though nothing a superb masterpiece either. See what falls between and how.

Conan: Road of Kings #2

Written by Roy Thomas
Art by Mike Hawthorne
This book continues the tradition of being just a damn fine Conan book. It’s got the look and the feel, though sometimes the writing feels more like the old Marvel Conan comics but it’s written by Roy Thomas so you kind of have to expect that.

This issue sees Conan resting up in a town called Shadizar the Wicked. You know there’s plenty of mischief to get into in a town like this and Conan certainly gets into the thick of it. Krimsar, the only surviving pirate from the previous issues cataclysmic boating accident, prods Conan into some thievery, not that Conan usually needs much pushing to engage in a bit of taking what he wants. I don’t really like how easily this weak fool is able to push Conan’s buttons, he should be above that sort of play, but it gets Conan to enter the bejewelled tower so I guess it works for the narrative even if it feels a little forced on the character.

Once in the tower, a typical Conan/Howard moment occurs as a tentacle guardian of the riches emerges and battles these two shadows of the night. Of course, the sentry is first activated when Krimsar grabs the one jewel you know you shouldn’t grab. Note to self – if I’m ever robbing a temple or tower or throne room, make sure to leave the ruby in the eye of whatever statue it is in. It never works out well. Basically, the entire scene is kind of a barbarian mash up of what would happen if Scrooge McDuck kept a dianoga in his money pit. If that sounds like fun for you then, yeah, this comic is going to deliver.

Verdict – Check It. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled for Conan comics, but I usually set the bar high for his four colour adaptation. This one is good but it lacks that great feeling. Conan is his usual assertive self, with the men and the women, and the art from Hawthorne is very fine but overall I get a thin feeling from this tale. It’s getting there, sure, but it’s not blowing my socks completely off. I’ll stick with it but there’s better Conan books out there.

Detective Comics #873

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock

I was a massive fan of the last two issues, and the start of Snyder/Jock’s run on the title. The first issue was good and in my opinion the second issue topped it. The stage was set with Dick Grayson infiltrating an auction of gruesome Gotham accoutrements, and of course the main selection was a Robin themed item – probably the worst weapon you could associate with a ward of Batman.

The first two issues set up a vibe, this felt like some gritty 70s flick. It had a Polanski tone that made me think we were back on the streets. This was a detective putting his feet on the trail and his body on the line, and by the end of the last issue we could see that Dick had certainly put his body on the line. The cliffhanger left him attacked by this Auctioneer’s gas and threatened with the violence of a mob of Gothamites high on the horror of life in their fair town. The stage was set and the stage was dark indeed.

This issue opens with a great sequence of Dick beating his way through the people and through the toxin in his system. His internal monologue is strong, especially as he fights the gas, which is making him hallucinate and picture the crowd as monsters, by remaining true to the facts. He reminds himself who these people are and where he is. It’s a great calming technique to keep his head in this dangerous situation.

My first gripe comes with Dick’s escape. Once we see he is out it’s all just assumed he gets away. I want to know completely how he got away from these people. They didn’t seem like the kind of crowd to just stop because he gets more than two metres away, these were blood thirsty people and they’d track him mercilessly just to feel the thrill of the kill but we don’t see what happens and so I don’t really know how Dick does it. This is all too easily glossed over and makes the escape, and the threat, feel weaker because of it.

Though, it must be said, my favourite moment of this year comes when Dick wakes up after the attack. The toxin is still working in his system and he imagines that he has lost his legs. It all turns out to be a gas induced hallucination, natch, but there was a moment where I really wondered if it might be real. I’m sure they could hook him up with some cybernetic legs, or something, and I was a little worried. It also seemed more plausible because I didn’t know if he had truly escaped, or how, so that was effective. The imagery of Dick with bandaged stumps is my pick for moment of the year, so far.

From here, the resolution comes too quickly and easily. Snyder races Dick back to the Auctioneer and has him stage an in-flight attack at 30,000 feet. There doesn’t seem to be any challenge for Dick to track the bad guy down and then tackle him, it’s again glossed over and feels weaker because of it. It doesn’t really take much skill, just one hell of a Batplane manoeuvre.

There is a creepiness to Guiborg as he uses some Venom and Man-Bat juice to freak out and become a literal monster. I thought this was a shame because the creep with the mask and the cane seemed like such a classy and insipid criminal that I didn’t ever imagine him being the sort of villain to take himself onto the front line. I had almost hoped to see him scurry away and live to creep out another day. This guy’s introduction had me feeling the same vibe I got when Jason Aaron introduced his villain, Dr Rot, in the Insane In The Brain arc of Weapon X, this adversary felt like someone who should stick around and really continue to poke our hero with trouble.

By the end, Dick is decorating the penthouse and there’s an obvious parallel between Dick putting his good things around him to feather his nest and really become the Batman and then the bad paraphernalia that Guiborg was selling to the Gotham elite. If Gotham is more obsesses with buying these terrible objects that represent the worst moments of their city then this shows a pretty deep seeded rot within the place Dick is sworn to protect. What you covet, and keep around you, and remind yourself of, is one factor to what you will do and what you will be.

Dick looks into a mirror on the final page and behind him is the city and the bats. It raises the question, might Gotham change Dick, and not always for the better? So far, he’s been a more quippy, light-hearted, dare I say happy Batman. Is that something that will, maybe needs to, change if he’s going to give Gotham what it needs? Does he need to change to combat Gotham or will he be able to inject some levity into the town he loves?

Verdict – Buy It. This is a good and smart comic – and the world always needs more of these. My major issues are with pacing. It feels a little rushed in parts and Guiborg would have benefitted from a bit more fleshing out before he hulked out. I finally dig on Jock’s art in this issue, his work represents that stark 70s vibe I’m feeling from the tone on the Gotham night air. This is a good start to Snyder’s run, almost like a mission statement and I am hooked to see what comes next.

Fantastic Four #587

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Steve Epting

Yeah, this is the Death Bag issue. I can’t believe I just bought a comic shrink wrapped, I feel like a pre-teen again. But at least I had no hesitation about tearing that black plastic right open. And, no, I didn’t get a Hickman signed issue, did anyone?

And, yes, I will discuss the death here. You’ve been warned.

Anyway, onto the actual content, this issue is fairly kick ass. It takes all of the plot threads that have been dangling and ramps their action quotient up to warp speed. But for all its grand pacing, this issue still doesn’t feel like it adds up to too much. There are major battles being fought on three fronts and only one of them was I truly invested in.

Reed is in a race to escape Nu-Earth before Galactus destroys it and just felt like this pressure filled race against time didn’t have much actual passion to it. Maybe it’s because I do not care what happens to Nu-Earth at all. Then there’s the idea of him saving Mother X, some bird with a head the size of a room that holds the consciousness of all the people from this world. It’s a zany idea, sure, but I’m not digging it.

Sue is trying to finish brokering this deal between the old and new Atlantis and this storyline works completely for me. Namor thinks she’s being set up for death and is trying to protect her. A shame he doesn’t realise she’s a girl who likes to look after herself. Whether the old Atlanteans speak the truth or not you get the feeling Sue will be able to handle herself here. She’s showing a lot of character here and I hope that sticks around for a while. For my money, she’s the best written character in this comic right now.

Watching Sue pimp-slap Namor with an invisible gauntlet might just be one of the best moments of the year so far. Seems this week has been good for moments that truly stand out. Namor’s reaction is…well, probably well written, I’ll give it that.

Then there’s Johnny and Ben fighting alongside the Future Foundation to stop another annihilation wave. There’s a lot of people talking about how they’re thinking hard about the solution but it doesn’t feel like anyone is actually thinking that hard. Perhaps I’m being too hard on these geniuses. This sequence feels, despite all the IQ points involved, like the most action oriented set piece of the issue. The pace on this one is blistering and you actually feel a fair degree off the tension involved. It’s very well written for what it is.

As the wave of ruthless killing bugs swarm over the horizon, Johnny pulls an Armageddon moment and saves Ben to take on the horde himself. It’s a brave gesture and one that yields a very awesome moment – and I mean that word to say you will feel awe. Epting does well to show Johnny truly facing a planet worth of gnashing teeth and bug death. It surely isn’t going to end well but he faces it with a stiff upper lip and you know he’s going out on his own terms. Many have stated that you don’t see him actually die, he is just swarmed in a nasty double page splash, and I’d like to think this is merely Hickman and Epting giving him a hero’s send off. We don’t need to see him stripped to his bones and screaming in agony. The last image should be him giving his best, that is his legacy.

Then there is Ben’s reaction. It is understated and possibly perfect. This is how you handle death in comics. This is how you show true emotion. If you reread this sequence, you’ll pick up on a bit more and really soak in that death and what it leaves behind.

Verdict – Buy It. This one also just scrapes into this category. The Reed aspect is the weakest but I am digging Sue and while Johnny and Ben have left me a little flat lately this send off is quite well put together and shouldn’t be ignored. I think the next issue, as they all soak in the mourning of this hero lost, will be interesting but then the relaunch of FF might be my perfect place to jump off this title. I’ve liked Fantastic Four, Solve Everything was very strong, and that mostly wordless issue underwater along with the rest of Sue’s tale and Namor’s inclusion has been good, but the rest hasn’t been jumping into the great part of my pull list. I’m thinking maybe my $2.99 a month can go towards something new, something I’ve heard good things about but haven’t yet tried. Or maybe I’ll just stay with FF, who knows. I think I’ll go though.

Secret Avengers #9

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Mike Deodato

This story of Shang-Chi and his father’s return has really picked up my interest in this title. It’s still fairly more concerned with being a thrill-a-minute action Avengers comic than being more like the other character nuanced work Brubaker puts out but as far as a blockbuster comic goes, I could think of many worse. The main problem is, each issue seems to only push the entire narrative just a little bit further.

The Shadow Council that is playing the role of Big Bad here is an interesting concept. Headed by John Steele and Max Fury (a super soldier from before Steve Rogers and a Nick Fury LMD who gained his own life), this organisation has the possibility to actually be right, in the long run. The fact that they’ve sided with Shang-Chi’s clearly villainous father doesn’t help their cause, though.

Sharon Carter gets a nice scene with Max Fury that really pushes both characters further. Sharon is becoming a strong force within this comic even despite her role as damsel in distress on more than one occasion. I like the way she carries herself and speaks and this scene is great for her but for Max as well. He’s got all of Fury’s memories, and attributes, and so he’s still a slick spy who knows just what to say and how to say it.

Brubaker and Deodato like to give their characters something to do as they speak so last time we had Sharon giving Steve a back massage and this time we get Steve and Shang-Chi sparring. I don’t mind a bit of the Rocky style chat in the ring but I am not sure about the short shorts these two men don to get physical with each other. It was a simple moment that just made me stop. They’ve even drawn from a low angle, ha.

The issue leads up to a big showdown between Steve and Steele and the fight is impressive, if you’re into pages worth of punching and kicking. It might seem gratuitous but it does show us how much of a viable threat Steele is if he can hold such sway in fisticuffs with the Super Soldier premiere. As always, there are other aspects afoot to the goings on, these guys are the ‘Secret’ Avengers after all and the final moment of Moon Knight pulling a Lando made me smile. This is exactly what should be happening in a comic like this. It seems Moon Knight’s M.O. lately is sneaking into places where he shouldn’t be so hopefully he’ll enact more action than he did in Shadowland.

Verdict – Buy It. I’m just tipping this issue into this category purely because I like it. It’s not a perfect issue, or series, but this arc is fun and this issue pushes our action closer to the point of the train wreck that is surely coming and it’s just fun. Fun with fists and feet and elbows and lots of muscle.

Thunderbolts #152

Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Kev Walker

I am digging on Parker’s Thunderbolts run purely because it feels different to a lot of what else is out there. This issue is very heavily action packed and it kind of feels like the way old comics used to feel. There’s fun in this madness, to be sure.

Cage explains they need Hyperion (the Marvel Superman, in a nutshell) to battle some very big hitters off the coast of Japan. When they arrive on the scene, you see he is right. A bunch of very large animal-creatures are storming the beaches and it’s just all too zany to be taken seriously, but Parker still treats it relatively so. The kicker is, no one thinks they can trust Hyperion but he claims he’s good and from another dimension and was subbed in by the bad Hyperion just in time to get caught. No one knows what to believe.

Once the battle starts, it doesn’t end. Seeing Hyperion punch a large tortoise in the head is a highlight, but so is seeing the pterodactyl-style flying monster bad breath him straight into a knock down punch from the Godzilla/Creature From The Black Lagoon hybrid. Hyperion stands from his newly created crater and the team realise they need to act like one.

Such monster revelry continues for many pages with different pairing of the T-Bolts doing their best against different creatures. It’s fun, not exactly ground breaking but fun nonetheless and that’s nice to have in the pull list every now and then.

At the end, there is a twist involving Hyperion. I won’t explain exactly what it is but it’s pretty good and will make next issue even more enjoyable.

Verdict – Check It. This is a simple and fun comic. It doesn’t warrant further study, I don’t think there’s any hidden subtext, but you won’t walk away feeling ripped off. This is an issue where you can switch your ‘thinking brain’ off and just turn on your ‘hell yeah brain’. You will enjoy the ride.

If you want to add any reviews into the comments then please do so. They don't need to be wrong, even just verdicts.

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twobitspecialist said...

Oh, no. No way, man. I know better than to try to check out Secret Avengers again.

Nope. No.

Radlum said...

The best part of this issue of Thunderbolts? Songbird's hair seems a bit longer. Also, the possibility of Fixer working for Zemo again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reviews, I missed that in weekly crisis.

Rocker69 said...

Thunderbolts was a lot of fun, but Secret Avengers should be renamed "Steve Rogers & His Amazing Friends". Brubaker is a great writer but he DOES NOT know how to write an ensemble comic.

Also great this week were Uncanny X-Force #4, Avengers #9 and Fables #101. Definitely recommend these.

Ken said...

Detective Comics is the best DC book at the moment. It reads a lot like Tomasi's Nightwing.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Anon3 - if I do it for no one else, I do it for you.

@Ken - I could get behind that sentiment - though I only read 2 DCU books...

p.golowatschew said...

"Songbird's hair seems a bit longer. Also, the possibility of Fixer working for Zemo again."

Hooray, back to the roots!

Naymlap said...

So this is how it is now? Now Kirk and no Power Rankings? That's really depressing.
That said, Ryan, I really enjoyed your reviews. But, I enjoyed Secret Avengers more than you did. It's just pulpy fun. And I'm partial to Beast.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Naymlap - the Power Rankings aren't gone completely...and I'm glad you at least enjoyed my reviews. Thanks. I thought more people would have taken me to task about liking SA as much as I did, glad you're loving it even more. That's cool.

Ryan Schrodt said...

@Naymlap - I apologize for not posting over the last few weeks. I've been taking a small break from reviews, but I'll be back very soon. I may post a catch-up Rankings this week, followed by full-reviews starting on Friday.

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