Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/04/11

I've got four reviews on tap for you in this edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  Of note is the second issue of Marvel's current event, Fear Itself, and a new series from Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev in the form of Moon Knight.  Hit the jump for these reviews and more!

Written by Christos Gage
Art by Sean Chen

I dropped this series after the first 4 or 5 issues. Wasn't particularly bad or anything, just wasn't for me.  However, I picked this issue up based on the cover alone.  Teenage super hero prom night with tuxedos and prom dresses on top of their costumes?  That just looked like it would be a lot of fun to read and, as it turns out, it was.

From the very start, the issue sets the tone of the story to come with fun, playful dialogue between Tigra and Hank Pym explaining the logic behind a costumed super hero dance (downtime a la ye olde X-Men baseball games after previous issue's struggles combined with some heroes invited that have secret identities still) and how Tigra's bikini is not her costume.  This leads into the big splashpage of every one dancing, in costume, at the party, which mirrors the fun of the cover page.

Was quite happy to see some characters from Avengers: The Initiative, a book Avengers Academy is a spiritual successor to, such as Butterball, Hardball and Komodo.  Was particularly happy to see Komodo get some actual speaking lines in a funny sequence of hitting on the actually much younger Reptil, who was stuck in a 30 year old body of himself from events in the previous story. 

Another thing I enjoyed while reading this issue was seeing the growth of some of these characters since I last read the book.  Hazmat and Mettle shared a nice moment and Finesse continued to be my favourite of the group. At no point did I feel like I had, in fact, not read the last eight or so issues with how well each was written. 

Verdict - Check It.  Everything was quite accessible and it was an fun and entertaining done in one story that has me contemplating picking up the next issue.  If you've got a few extra dollars in the budget this week, consider picking this issue up.

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Stuart Immonen

Fear Itself #2 suffers from the dreaded follow-up issue syndrome.  Issue one kicked off the event with great promise and excellent pacing.  Additionally, it had beautiful art and some powerful character moments while still pushing the story forward.

Issue two, on the other hand, feels like it was rushed, from both a story and art standpoint.  Furthermore, aside from showing a few of already known members of the Worthy gaining their hammers, not much else really happens here. The Serpent acts like an evil super villain, we get numerous mentions of spreading fear and told, through news reports of action around the globe, how much fear the populace is in at the moment and even Odin tells us how the Serpent is going to spread fear, but there wasn't a single moment in this issue that felt different than the regular Tuesday afternoon in the Marvel Universe to warrant all this fear. 

Gone were the real world examples of fear, such as losing ones home or riots over what to do with the Trade Center site, and in their place were your everyday, by Marvel standards, super villains - this time Sin or other hammer wielding characters - smashing stuff.  It just felt...underwhelming in terms of the pace and setup from the first issue in this context.

In terms of the Worthy, only three, four if you count Sin, were unveiled in this issue.  As we all knew, Juggernaut was one of the first to join the Worthy.  He simply gets his hammer at the Raft and, much like the SHIELD helicarrier crashing every other story, the Raft prison is destroyed in his wake.  The Hulk is the next to join the Worthy and it quickly becomes clear that those deemed 'worthy' by these hammers are being called to the hammers and, once possessed/wielding the hammer, are no longer in complete control of themselves (Hulk manages to tell Betty to run before rampaging). 

Hulk is Worthy
The final person to get a hammer is Titania, who picks up the hammer Absorbing Man was attempting to pick up.  She, once possessed by the hammer, tells Absorbing Man that he has to go north to find his hammer, which seems to indicate the personalities listed for each hammer know who the other Worthy are before they even have their hammers or were informed as to who should be getting them.  Titania actually confirms the lack of control to Absorbing Man when asked if she is 'still in there'.  Titania simply responds, "I am... NOT...'still in here'.  At least...not ALONE." 

Once the handful of hammers are found, the issue ends abruptly with a series of shots of panic and fear around the globe.  There's no real cliffhanger or epic moment or anything otherwise that makes the issue standout.  The bulk was, well, wasted on handing out hammers to everyone and we still have several more hammers to go, presumably in next issue or random tie-ins, to 'look forward to'.  Aside from a few pages to start, not much was done with Odin, Thor and the other Asgardians.  I was hoping to see more on Odin's state of mind similar to his conversation with the Watcher in issue one or his interactions with Thor in that same issue, yet he simply tells Asgardians to prepare for war. 

On the art side of things, I had lots of praise for Immonen last issue, but can't offer the same this time around.  While the art is definitely better than almost anything else on the stands, it feels like he was pressed for time and rushed through this issue when you put it side by side to last issue.  Perhaps it was the content - there was very little here other than Character A gets hammer, Character B gets hammer, and Character C gets hammer.  Add a random global shot of the chaos and issue was done.  Nothing to really flex the artistic muscles on here.  Serviceable effort and still good, but not up to his previous standards.

Verdict - Check It.  Very underwhelming issue that felt incredibly short and ends abruptly.  Aside from people getting hammers to join the Worthy, of which we learn very little about despite their being the focus of the issue, not much happens here and it still reads very quickly.  Little action, plot or character driven story here either.  Almost feels like filler two issues in. 

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev on a street level ersatz Batman character?  Sign me up.  I was actually coming into this hoping to see Bendis channeling some of his earlier Daredevil or Sam & Twitch work with Moon Knight.  After one issue, though, the verdict is out on just what to expect from this series. 

For those who've never read anything Moon Knight related before, there are parallels to Batman that can easily be drawn with the whole wealthy, gadget wielding, mask and cowl wearing, street level vigilante motif Moon Knight has going on, but the biggest difference between the two is that Moon Knight suffers from a dissociative identity disorder or, as incorrectly referred to by most, has a split personality disorder.  He also believes he is the avatar of vengeance for an Egyptian god, Khonshu, and uses that belief as his motivation for fighting crime. 

The concept is solid and there have been several Moon Knight series over the years with varying degrees of success.  The more recent series focused on Moon Knight trying harder to be a more proper super hero. Previously, he had no qualms with killing or excessive force and was more of a Punisher-like anti-hero than true hero.  The series didn't last long, but was well received despite the lack of promotion behind it. 

All of this makes way for what was described as a complete re-imagining of the character by Brian Bendis in this new series.  From what I can tell, the only thing that has really changed so far is that the dissociative disorder now features Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America guiding and talking to Moon Knight instead of his former alter egos.  Also, Moon Knight has moved out to the west coast to fight crime, taking him out of the traditional New York setting of most Marvel comics. 

Moon Knight vs Mister Hyde
It's an interesting twist on the character, but not some total rework like interviews would imply.  Also, the first issue spends a great deal of time trying to play up the idea that Moon Knight is actually taking orders from those three characters, telling the story as if it was not a known concept coming in (yeah, yeah, I know not everyone reads everything online).  The thing is, the big three heroes aren't written particularly well from a characterization standpoint.  As Bendis typically gets these three spot on in Avengers and other titles he's written, I assume it was intentional and Moon Knight's "fault" they sound like this or a cue to readers. 

My beef with it is that so much time was spent building up to the conclusion of the issue showing that they were all in Moon Knight's head and not real that it really makes an otherwise fine first issue fall flat on the last page.   We spend a great deal of time building up to a conclusion that was a known quantity to many before even reading this issue and quite obvious based on reading the issue even if you didn't know about the pre-release hype.  It's not even predictable or as dramatic as the whole build up to those last few pages or as the final splash page seems desperately trying to imply it is. 

In terms of the whole using these three super heroes as Moon Knight's new identity disorder alter egos, I'm actually still quite interested in seeing more of it and what Bendis has planned for us despite the underwhelming focus on the "reveal" in this first issue.  There's also the inevitable story of Moon Knight finding out they aren't real or other heroes realizing he's talking to and taking orders from imaginary Cap, Spidey and Wolverine.  Lots of possibilities with the concept.

One concept I really enjoyed with this issue was how Moon Knight's secret identity, Marc Spector, was selling the story of his life as Moon Knight as a new television series.  Bendis uses this television version to retell Moon Knight's origin in an TV promo-like sequence that I hope we see more of in the future.  I could see it used regularly as a way to fill in back story for random characters or other Moon Knight related details without it feeling like tedious recap pages or stilted dialogue from talking heads to fill in new readers. 

Artistically, I'm usually a fan of Alex Maleev's work.  Very few of his projects have disappointed me and I'm quite happy with how his style fits the character and story being told.  It's got that dark, gritty realistic tone that suits a character like Moon Knight. 

Verdict - Check It.  First issue has a lot of promise, but fell a little flat with a predictable ending everyone saw coming and the unnecessary amount of time spent building up to said ending.  Otherwise, a promising start to the new series with a capable creative team.  Should be interesting to see where they go from here.

Written by Paul Jenkins
Art by Roberto Delatorre

It's difficult to review this book due to the nature of the title and my expectations coming in.  Just look at the title - it's a prelude to the upcoming X-Men event, Schism.  The solicit tells us to expect this issue, and four issue miniseries, to lead us into and prepare the readers for said event. 

So, seeing as I was quite interested in reading the Jason Aaron penned event (and army of high quality artists rotating each issue) and how I've been more or less nonplussed with the current ongoing to the point I'm not reading them anymore, it's safe to say I wanted to read this prelude and catch up with and prepare myself for the event. 

What I got was an issue, while well written and enjoyable, had absolutely nothing tangible or remotely related to those expectations.  There was nothing Schism related that I could see outside of some early discussion on a major decision Cyclops had to make.  No, it does not say what that decision is.  We get some implied discussion about someone, or something, coming to Utopia in the future - not even a set date or time frame, just coming at some point - and the only hint of a Schism or split in the team is Wolverine vocally saying they should stay and fight the unknown menace or threat or, I don't know, maybe the IRS coming to collect or whatever they were discussing. 

And that's my biggest problem with the issue - this is all we got related to Schism in a book entitled Prelude to Schism.  A handful of pages with very vague and hushed discussion about something with no indication as to what the hell is going on.  We don't even get anything related to the current status quo or basic information as to the status of Utopia and mutants.  Just hushed whispers of a vague threat for Schism-related content. 

And now we are here.
What we did get in this issue that almost makes up for this misdirection from marketing is a fairly character driven tale centered on the Charles Xavier and Cyclops relationship with flashbacks and narration from Charles's point of view.  This is the kind of story Paul Jenkins excels at in my experience with his work and he does a very good job of portraying the current relationship between the two characters.  Xavier knows his time as the dreamer and leader of the X-Men has passed.  He knows Cyclops has grown from the scared and confused mutant boy into a man and one that has surpassed the teacher. 

However, Charles also knows this is a very difficult and pivotal moment for mutantkind and that Cyclops, as their leader, has some difficult decisions to make in the near future - again, a very vague allusion to whatever is set to happen in Schism with no real information for readers, though it worked in this father-son character story.  Charles knows from experience how difficult it is to fail his charges and even mentions several of his major failings, such as sending Vulcan and the other mutants to their deaths or with Jean Grey's death, and how, while he can't make decisions for or even offer advice to Scott anymore, he knows how he feels and will be there for him regardless of what happens. 

Verdict - Check It.  This was a very nice character driven story exploring their relationship.  In that context, I quite enjoyed it and was pleased with the issue.  However, it is difficult to ignore the complete lack of anything Schism related in a book marketed and labelled as a prelude to that event.  The vague generalizations at the start do not a prelude make.  Check it if you are interested in some exploration of the Xavier-Cyclops relationship; Avoid It if you want an actual prelude to Schism.

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Anonymous said...

The Maleev art style is a tribute to Sienkiewicz, one of the first artists on Moon Knight. That's why it's a lot less photo reference than normal, and has a lot more lines.
I loved it.

Midnight Monk said...

Shame you dropped Avenger Academy especially since the issues 11 & 12 were probably some of the best in Marvel compared to other book released at the time. Anyway you should check em out when you find the time

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