Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/20/11

After a brief hiatus, I'd like to welcome you all back to the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  Although you might not notice it immediately, there is a slight difference to this week's edition.  Namely, there has been a small change in authorship.  Kirk has been kind enough to recruit myself, Grant McLaughlin, to join the Weekly Crisis as the new resident reviewer.  As much as I'd love to talk all about how much I love comics and how excited I am to be here (note: I love them a lot and I'm very excited), I know you fine folk are likely itching for some comic book reviews, so I will delay no longer.  Hit the jump to check out my thoughts on four of this week's books, including Batman: Gates of Gotham #3Daredevil #1, and more!

Batman: Gates of Gotham #3
Written by Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins
Art by Trevor McCarthy

I'm still not quite sure what to make of Gates of Gotham.  That might sound strange, considering that this issue brings us to the halfway point of this 5 issue limited-series, but I can't quite decide how I feel about the book, as it's been kind of hit and miss thus far.

The first issue had a solid premise, presenting dual narratives featuring a flashback story looking at the origins of Gotham City and a present-day sequence featuring a crime spree of death and destruction perpetuated by a brand new villain who is somehow related to that flashback story.  There were a lot of exciting ideas put forward, but all the time spent introducing those concepts didn't leave much space for anything beyond exposition.  We met Nicholas and Bradley Gate (the architect brothers who literally built Gotham City), members of the founding families of Gotham, and that mysterious new villain.  However, we didn't get much more than that.  By contrast, the second issue picked up on all that setup and hit the ground running.  It was filled to the brim with great action and excellent character moments, convincing me to come back for more.  Now that I've returned, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it all.

The flashback sequences continue to impress.  The creative team has managed to keep these moments distinct from the rest of the book.  The writing, art, and storytelling are kept quite different from the rest of the book, making it easy to distinguish one timeline from the other.  This is especially evident through the first page of the book, which quickly summarizes how the initial success of the Gate brothers changed Gotham City and changed their own lives.  It's concise, effective scripting at its best.

These past moments also continue to do a fine job of illustrating and expanding Gotham's early history, providing some interesting glimpses into the city's, and its inhabitants', days of yore.  Having already met this era's stand-ins for the Wayne, Elliot, and Cobblepot families, we are finally introduced to the representative of the Kane family line, a Mr. Cameron Kane who owns some unseemly land on the other side of the river from the main city.  Along with his introduction comes one of the first moments of conflict in this past timeline and one of the biggest missteps for the issue.

These rich socialites have been hiring the Gate brothers to build different parts of the city and, for poorly defined reasons, ask Nicholas Gate to be the final arbiter in deciding how the next phase of work will progress.  Building on some earlier moments in the issue, this scene is supposed to be a moral dilemma for Nicholas, as he has to decide between the option that is "structurally ideal", as he puts it, and the option that is favoured by his patron Alan Wayne.  Of course, Nicholas makes the decision that he believes will please Alan, leading to eventual tragedy towards the issue's end.  This makes sense from a storytelling perspective, but the issue doesn't really explain why Nicholas is the one who has to decide.  It's clear from the scene that everyone believes he is biased in favour of Wayne (which he is), and there is no clear reason offered to explain why would they agree to his decision.  I could understand the logic that, as an architect, he would be thought to be the best positioned to make the choice, but the comic doesn't take the time to present such a rationalization, making the whole sequence feel forced, which subsequently cheapens the tragedy that results from this moment.

The issue does a little better with the present day narrative, following the Bat-family's attempt to solve the continuing mystery of this new criminal's identity and motivations.  Although there isn't a ton of action in these portions of the issue, the book manages to maintain reader interest, providing a number of solid character moments for everyone involved.  Dick is plagued by self-doubt by his inability to quickly resolve the case, Tim makes some breakthroughs in the puzzle with his smarts and know-how, and Damian continues to steal every scene he's involved in.  Snyder and Higgins have really seized this character, making him shine in every panel.  There is a particularly great moment where Tim explains his theory to Damian of why Damian dislikes Cassandra so thoroughly.  Damian's lack of reaction works extremely well.  Speaking of her, I must say that it is unfortunate that Cassandra is under used this issue, but there is only so much space in each comic.

I haven't really encountered Kyle Higgins before seeing his work in this series, but I have been pleasantly surprised.  He has a unique style which I find suits the story quite well, especially in the way he modifies it between past and present pages.  He also has an eye for panel layout, providing some wonderfully organized pages throughout the book.  One criticism on the art that I could offer is that I found the colours for the scenes in the Bat Bunker seem to be a little off.  I'm not sure if the colourist was trying to emphasize all the strange lights from the technology in the room, but it ends up giving everyone a really odd skin colour that looks kind of like a death pallor.  Not a dealbreaker, but definitely an unfortunate distraction.

Verdict - Check It. This is by no means a bad issue, but it isn't quite at the same level as the last one was. To be honest, it feels a bit like this issue is coasting on the success of #2. Things continue to build, but they aren't moving as fast and the logic doesn't entirely fit.  It all adds up to a couple of minor problems that are slowly threatening to overwhelm the overall story.  I must say, unless you're already enthralled with the tale that's being told, the book doesn't give a lot of reason given to get you to come back for more.

Daredevil #1
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Paolo Rivera and Martin Marcos

Wow.  I had absolutely no expectations going into this issue, picking it up based solely on account of how much Ryan loves this character, and I must say, I'm starting to understand the appeal.

This opening issue actually features two rock solid stories, the main feature, that counts twenty-one pages, and an equally excellent backup, that clocks in at ten pages (eleven with cover).  Both of these stories are fantastic and well-worth the price of admission alone.  Combined, they make this issue an absolute steal.

I must confess to being rather out of the loop with Daredevil's recent goings on.  I know that some bad stuff went down during the Shadowland mini-event and that he ended up exiling himself for a bit, but that's about the limits of my current knowledge.  For all that, I had no difficulty understanding and following what went down in this issue.  Daredevil #1 works as the perfect introduction to the character, giving the reader all the information they could need without making them feel like they're missing out on anything.

I recognize that I could better understand the Man Without Fear and that there were probably some moments within the comic that I would have enjoyed more if I was better acquainted with the character, but that's okay.  The creative team behind the stories in this book have ensured that readers can enjoy their wonderful tales regardless of how much they do or don't know about the character.  The beautiful opening page explaining Daredevil's backstory certainly helps, but the whole issue takes the time to explain what's going on and what matters, all without talking down to the reader. And to make things better, the entire reading experience is an absolute joy.

The main story, written by Waid and drawn by Rivera, is a whirlwind of activity.  In twenty pages, we see Matt Murdock stop a kidnapping, deal with the difficulties of being a lawyer many (rightfully) believe to be a costumed vigilante, and discover that there might be more to his most recent case than initially believed.  At the same time, Waid manages to naturally slip in all the background information about Matt and Daredevil that the reader could require.  The ease with which he seems to write the character is absolutely astounding.  If I didn't know better, I would swear that he's been writing Daredevil for years.  Everything that happens works.  I believe in the characters presented and the world they inhabit, and at the end of the story, I want to keep reading more.

On the art side of things, Rivera nails every single panel he draws.  I'm not familiar with his work, but after reading through this issue, I want to go out and buy anything I can find with his name on it.  He seems to have a strong sense of layout, mixing and matching his panels in a way that always serves to improve the story.  He has a wonderful, loose style that I would say sits in the perfect middleground between classic comic books and more modern realism.  He manages to fit in tons of information into each panel without it ever feeling like it's too much.  I must also take a moment to laud his depictions of Daredevil's powers throughout the issue.  There are numerous moments throughout where we see Daredevil's radar sense in action, and Rivera manages to represent it in an incredibly natural and convincing way.

Waid continues to flex his creative muscles along with the ever impressive artwork of Marcos Martin in the backup story that's included in this issue.  The tale is a self-contained story featuring Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson travelling through New York while they have a conversation about how Matt has been doing lately.  Consequently, there isn't really any action in this story, but that's quite alright.  Waid has clearly set out to pen a relaxed story of two old friends catching up, and it makes for good reading.  It is a story that seems to meander at times, while also having a very clear destination in mind, both in the physical endpoint of Matt and Foggy's stroll and in what the narrative sets out to accomplish.  I won't spoil either of those things here, but suffice it to say that both of those destinations are important and have a strong emotional resonance.

Of course, Waid's work for this backup story is made all the better coupled with Martin's art.  I'm a little more familiar with Martin, having encountered his work in the recent "No One Dies" arc of Amazing Spider-Man.  I fell in love with his work there and I fell in love with it all over again in this story.  Quite distinct in its own right, Martin's work fits in quite well alongside that of Rivera's, as there are some similarities between the two.  The bright colouring shared by both stories certainly adds to this impression.  However, Martin is clearly no slouch, as he too has some unique ways of illustrating Matt Murdock's powers.  There is a wonderful two-page spread featuring Matt and Foggy walking down a New York street that is littered with panels emphasizing Matt's ability to hear, smell, and taste (he doesn't touch that much in this instance) that works perfectly.  As well, there's a fun little sequence where Matt learns to play the violin in a few moments through his augmented sense of hearing that is particularly well composed.  The entire piece is filled with small details that really add to the overall enjoyment.

Verdict - Must Read.  This is a fantastic start to what looks to be a great new series from Marvel.  I don't mean to gush, but as I'm sure you've gathered, this issue blew me away.  The writing and the art is phenomenal.  I wish more comics could be like Daredevil #1, because this book was an absolute pleasure to read, and if it's any indication of what's to come, I'm definitely picking up every issue.

Flashpoint - Deadman and the Flying Graysons #2
Written by J. T. Krul
Art by Fabrizio Fiorentino & Alejandro Giraldo

I read through every single Flashpoint tie-in that came out last month (which is a story for another time), and although I found most of them to be of questionable quality, Deadman and the Flying Graysons was one of the few books that I felt warranted picking up the second issue.  This was particularly surprising to me because it was written by J. T. Krul, whose work I don't usually enjoy.  However, I found his take on an alternate universe Hayley's Circus populated by Deadman and the entire Grayson family to be rather appealing.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, this series follows the ragtag members of Hayley's Circus, who have been stranded in Europe in the middle of the Atlantean-Amazonian war that has been featured throughout various Flashpoint titles.  The travelling entertainers are continuously on the move, hoping to stay one step ahead of the Amazons who seem to be following their every step.  Unfortunately for, and unbeknownst to, the circus folk, the Amazons are in search of the Helm of Nabu, which just so happens to be in the possession of the circus' own Dr. Fate, guaranteeing that those women of war will eventually catch up to the fleeing performers.

It's a pretty solid premise and made for some good reading the first time around, but this second issue really suffers from the rushed nature of being part of a three issue limited-series.  Simply put, too much happens too quickly.  The book starts with the Amazons attacking the circus and things only get more chaotic from there.  By issue's end, there have been countless deaths, including (perhaps unsurprisingly) the passing of both of Dick's parents (although at different moments in the comic), and it is just too much.  There is so much tragedy in such a short period of time that it ultimately has less of an impact than if it had been more spread out.  When people seem to be dying almost every second page, death quickly loses its impact.

This problem aside, the story remains relatively interesting.  Krul spent a good portion of the first issue setting up a binary between Deadman, presented as the ultimate loner, and the Graysons, presented as prospering through their mutual support.  The payoff for that clear divide is a little predictable and a little forced due to the rushed feeling of the comic, but it still works.  However, the reveal at the end of the issue as to how the Amazon's intend to root out the people hiding with the Helm of Nabu does not work quite as well.  It comes out of left field without any real warning and feels more like the character shows up for the sake of the cameo than for the sake of the story, something that I've noticed in far too many of these Flashpoint tie-ins.

I had been really impressed with the art in the first issue, but like the writing, it just isn't quite as good this time around.  For whatever reason, the quality of the art varies greatly from page to page and scene to scene.  I'm not certain if it is because there are two artists working on the book or if the work was rushed, but it is quite distracting.  At times, the art is crisp and complete, while at others, it will look more a series of sketches than a complete comic book page.  The figure work is also a little off throughout the issue, as many panels come off looking like the characters are posing instead of reacting naturally.  It can sometimes make it a little difficult to follow what's happening, such as one instance where I'm pretty sure Dick punches Deadman, but the swing isn't actually shown and Deadman recoils in what looks like the wrong direction.  It's unfortunate, because the art should support the story, but it detracts just as much as it helps in this book.

Verdict - Check It. Deadman and the Flying Graysons #2 is an alright comic book.  It's not amazing, but it's also not terrible.  While things come off as a bit rushed, if you can see past these shortcomings, there is an interesting story in there that could be worth your time.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #9
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Dan Panosian & Mike Grell & Nick Dragotta

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is one of those books that I'm not quite sure why it exists, but I'm really happy it does.  The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents property was originally created in the 1960s by Tower Comics and ran for a relatively short period of time.  Regardless, it somehow bounced around various different comic book companies over the years, releasing a few short-lived series here and there, until it finally ended up in DC's hands.  And then, to my continuing delight, they gave the book to Nick Spencer and he's been doing wonderful things ever since.

This iteration of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents seems to take place entirely outside DC continuity, which is fine by me, because Spencer has been doing great work developing the team and its unique history.  Long story short, the Agents are superheroes that work for the United Nations, but the catch is that the technology that gives each member their powers slowly seeps away their life force and ultimately kills them.  It's an interesting premise that has already made for some enjoyable stories over the course of this series' short existence.

More recently, Spencer has been exploring the past of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents program in a rather ingenious way, looking at different moments in the team's history in the 60s, 80s, and preset day, with a focus on the Iron Maiden, one of the team's oldest enemies.  It's been fascinating, in part because each era is drawn by a different artist (explaining why there are three who worked on this issue), giving each time period a distinct flavour and feeling.  As well, the different moments in time have focused on the relationship between the Iron Maiden and her daughter Colleen, who currently works for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents program.

Things have been slowly building as Colleen has been moving towards the Iron Maiden's secret hideout, and this issue features the confrontation between mother and daughter.  Their reunion is, of course, a violent one, and the extended fight scene is incredibly well done, featuring little to no dialogue.  This decision means that a lot of the issue depends on the art and Dan Panosian (the present day sequence artist) does a pretty good job with the tasks assigned to him.  Unfortunately, he is trying to fill some awfully big shoes, as he has recently come onto the book to replace CAFU who has been killing it.  So Panosian's work is hurt a little bit by the comparison, but it is still some quality stuff.

The book's mix of chronology makes for a very different read, because we're slowly gaining all the information related to what's going on in a somewhat non-linear fashion.  It forces the reader to do a bit more work, needing to draw some connections for themselves, which is by no means a bad thing.  I've really enjoyed seeing all the different aspects of this storyline revealed through the past and present, and Mike Grell (the 80s sequence artist) and Nick Dragotta (the 60s sequence artist) have been nailing their portions of the book.  It's also impressive to see how Spencer alters his writing style to mimic comic books from those time period, while also staying true to present day sensibilities.

My major complaint with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is no fault of its own - this book is too short.  When T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents first hit the stands, it was a as 30 page comic book that cost $3.99.  And it was worth every penny.  Spencer used every single panel in those early issues and nothing went to waste.  When DC started Holding the Line at $2.99, I feel like this book was the most greatly affected.  Going from 30 pages to 20 is a drastic change, and while I've never felt like Nick Spencer has told an incomplete story, I do wish he still had that extra space to really spread his creative wings.  The book is still worth every penny, but I just wish it could be a little bit longer.

Verdict - Buy It. I would urge you to give this book a chance if you haven't already given it a look.  The current storyline began in issue #7 and has been incredibly approachable for new readers.  Virtually everything Nick Spencer touches these days seems to turn to gold, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is one of the best examples of why that's the case.  Every issue has made for a great read, and the only thing holding this back from being Must Read is the loss of CAFU and those extra pages.

And so we find ourselves at the end of my first set of reviews for the Weekly Crisis.  I hope you've enjoyed them and I look forward to writing many more of these columns in the weeks and months to come.  However, if you can't wait until next week, you can always hit me up at The Thought Wrangler to see some of my other writings or check out my inane comments in 140 characters.  But while we're here, what did you think of this week's books?  Do you agree with my thoughts?  Disagree?  Were there any comics I didn't look at that you particularly enjoyed or particularly disliked?  I'm always looking for more comics to read, so leave a comment and let me know!

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Ken Boehm said...

Daredevil really was a great read, I didn't really know how much lighter it was going to be compared to the past years, but it's got that Karel Kesel/Joe Kelly vibe to it that I dig.

Steven said...

Waid's Daredevil is a blatant callback to not just the Karl Kesel run in the 90s, but more significantly to what THAT was, an homage to the pre-Miller DD days. Quipping and a more light-hearted tone.

The little bit at the end with Foggy didn't make any sense at all though. Foggy should be thrilled with this more open, less morose Matt. Having him act uneasy with it seemed forced. Writers have been having Foggy pine for this Matt for nearly 30 years in the comic.

CombatSpoon86 said...

I was so surprised how much daredevil was so good. The artwork was fantastic, the writing was fantastic. Add this to my pull list.

Nathan Aaron said...

Foggy's probably still wondering why Matt hasn't taken the time to apologize for almost killing him in Shadowland yet.

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