Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/27/11

Welcome back to the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  We've got some quality books on deck, so let's get directly to those reviews, shall we?  Hit the jump to read my thoughts some of the books that came out this past week, including Amazing Spider-Man #666, Captain America & Bucky #620, and more!

Written by Dan Slott
Art by Stefano Caselli

I love this book.  Ever since Dan Slott's return to Amazing Spider-Man last year, this title has been one of the most fun books on the stands.  I have enjoyed every single issue that Slott has penned, and things have only been getting more exciting as draw ever nearer to the Spider Island summer event.

Billed as the prelude to Spider Island, Amazing Spider-Man #666 does not disappoint.  This issue is filled to the brim with story, touching on virtually every single aspect of Spider-Man relevant to Slott's current run.  Which, considering everything that's happened thus far and all the teams that Spidey is a member of, means there is a lot of jumping around throughout the issue.  However, despite moving quickly through the many characters, situations, and plot points, everything reads incredibly naturally.  A testament to Slott's writing abilities, this also has the added benefit of making the issue a pretty good jumping-on point for new readers, providing almost all the information you need to understand what's going on.  Fortunately, it also reads just as well for people who have been following the entire run up until this point.

Slott is in top form throughout, spending as much time on every moment as is required.  It feels like everything that happens in this issue is happening for a reason.  There are few, if any, wasted moments within the entire comic.  Pretty much every character that is currently linked to Spider-Man makes an appearance in one way or another, but Slott takes the time to provide the necessary explanations to make it feel genuine, instead of like a constant parade of cameos, which is what the entire exercise could have felt like.  He crams in tons of fun, interesting, and important character moments in a way that makes sense and flows extremely well.

On the art side of things, Stefan Caselli is also bringing his A-game.  With all the different moments and characters showing up, Caselli has ample opportunity to flex his artistic muscles, and he more than rises to the occasion.  This is perhaps the best looking Spider-Man book I've read in a good long while, with Caselli depicting exciting action scenes, quieter character moments, and everything in between with seeming ease.  Even though he only shows up for three panels, I would like to take a moment to rave about his J. Jonah Jameson.  Those three panels of frustration for Jonah are fantastic and are but one example of Caselli's great work.

Verdict - Buy It. In my mind, Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man is what Spider-Man comics should strive to be: exciting, accessible, and fun as all get out.  As I said at the beginning, I've enjoyed virtually every issue in this run, but the most impressive thing about Slott's work is that it just seems to get better and better.  This issue is no exception, and it somehow is making me more excited for the coming storyline.  Although I've enjoyed all the artists Slott has collaborated with, I must admit to being happy to see Caselli working on this arc, because, in the same way that Slott seems to "get" how a Spider-Man book should read, Caselli definitely "gets" how a Spider-Man book should look.

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Raphael Albuquerque

I often forget that Scott Snyder's arrival at DC is still relatively recent.  His work on American Vampire is one of the main reasons for this, because the comic is so well-written and so innovative that I can't believe that Snyder has only been working at the Big 2 companies since 2009.  He and Raphael Albuquerque have been combining for some of the best comic book storytelling happening right now.  Their unique take on the vampire myth is genuinely exciting and has made for some of the best stories of the past year.

If you aren't familiar with the series, American Vampire features the idea that there are different breeds of vampire.  The generally accepted definition of vampires that we hold in real life corresponds to vampires native to Europe.  But during the era of the Old West, somehow a new breed of vampire, an American vampire (thus the title), comes into existence.  Unlike the European variety, there are only two known American vampires, Skinner Sweet (the original) and Pearl Jones (sired by Sweet).  The series has mostly focused on these two characters, with Pearl perhaps getting a bit more screen time thus far.

However, the most recent arc, "Ghost War", has been centred squarely on Pearl's human lover, Henry Preston.  Set during World War 2, Henry has accepted to go on a dangerous mission with a few members of the Vassals of the Morning Star (a group dedicated to eradicating the vampire menace) in the hopes of getting them to leave he and Pearl alone.  Of course, this being a story, the mission has gone completely FUBAR and the surviving members and Sweet (who just happened to be around) find themselves prisoners of the Japanese, who have developed yet another breed of vampire that is more beast than man.

This issue opens with the group attempting to escape from the prison, and it's a doozy. Snyder builds on everything he's presented before, providing twists to the plot that make complete sense and yet still took me by surprise. Additionally, the tensions between Sweet and the Vassals plays out quite nicely, with Snyder taking plenty of opportunities to play with the fact that they are temporary allies in their quest for freedom. Things go from bad to worse and the cliffhanger on the last page is the highlight of the issue. Snyder plays off reader expectations throughout the comic, often throwing curveballs when the reader least expects it.

Despite everything Snyder accomplishes this issue, I'm tempted to say that Albuquerque is the one who steals the show. His style has been constantly evolving throughout the series, changing to match the needs of the story, and what he's done for this storyline has been unbelievably good. He has an impeccable mixture between realism and horror that begs to be framed and put up on a wall.  Every panel is filled with mood and emotion. His work is especially strong towards the end, as he moves quickly between intense calm and frenetic action with ease.

Verdict - Must Read. The series as a whole has been fantastic.  This storyline has been no exception, often providing both Snyder and Albuquerque ample opportunity to show off their many talents.  As this story moves towards its conclusion, I imagine that things are only going to get better.  I'm sure you've heard it before, but I'll tell you again: you should be reading American Vampire.  This book won the Eisner for Best New Series for a reason.

Written by Ed Brubaker & Mark Andreyko
Art by Chris Samnee

Kind of like my Daredevil review from last week, I came into this book with no idea of what to expect.  I had not read a single Captain America book, but had heard only good things about Brubaker's run with the character.  Hearing that they were offering a jumping-on point for new readers and that Chris Samnee, whose work I fell in love with on Thor: The Mighty Avenger, was working on it, I knew I had to pick up this book.  I'm really glad I did.

Despite the comic's title, Captain America & Bucky #620 is focused almost entirely on the latter half the duo.  This issue is the Bucky Barnes show from start to finish, telling the origin of the character and how he came to be Captain America's sidekick.  And even though Steve Rogers is barely in the issue, I don't care.  The story Brubaker and Andreyko are telling is engaging, well-crafted, and kept my interest the entire time.  In 22 short pages, they manage to tell me pretty much everything I ever needed to know about Bucky.  What's more, they managed to make Bucky a far more complex and sympathetic character than I ever imagined possible.  The parallelisms with his father and his motivations for training so hard are developed slowly, but are also very convincing.

Speaking of convincing, I was quite impressed by Brubaker and Andreyko's attention to detail in the setting and time period.  It's not exactly surprising that creators of their calibre would be so capable, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.  The backdrop of World War 2 is obviously very important to both Captain America and to Bucky, and it is well used throughout the story.  The "black market" Bucky runs for his brothers in arms, the town dance he attends, and the newsreels he watches all add to the atmosphere, but they also help build the setting and develop the characters.  You get the sense that the events taking place on these pages could only happen on the eve of America's entry into the Second World War.   

A large part of the book's success in evoking these past moments is due to Chris Samnee's brilliant drawings. As I mentioned above, I loved his work with Roger Langridge on Thor, but that book was quite lighthearted and I wasn't sure how his art would translate to a more serious comic.  Suffice it to say that the translation was a complete success.  It's perhaps a little hard to explain, but Samnee has always struck me as having a classic or timeless quality to his drawings, and that works very well for this tale set firmly in the lead-up to World War 2.  It is evocative of the style of the Golden Age of comics without being beholden to it.  Although he has no difficulty with the fights and moments of action throughout the issue, I would like to emphasize his expression work.  The faces seen throughout the comic convey a wide-range of emotion and meaning that adds a ton to the Brubaker and Andreyko's script.

Verdict - Buy it. I really liked this issue.  Really, really liked it.  The creative team seems to really understand each other, as the writing and art support and add to each other throughout the book.  They are telling an an engaging story, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

FF #7
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Greg Tocchini

It is only relatively recently that I've started buying Marvel books.  Consequently, I have not read a single issue of Jonathan Hickman's previous run on Fantastic Four.  To be honest, I came to FF based solely on the fact that Spider-Man was joining the team (as you may have gathered above, I have a bit of a soft spot for the ol' wall-crawler).  For the first few issues, my general knowledge of the Marvel Universe was enough to get me through what was going on, but lately that just hasn't cut it.

Last issue saw Black Bolt's return from death, which was probably super meaningful to people familiar with what Hickman has been doing with Marvel's First Family, but I didn't even know there was a character named Black Bolt.  So that kind of fell flat for me.  The whole narrative involving the Kree, their Supreme Intelligence, and the Inhumans was probably super interesting to those in the know, but to me, it was mostly incomprehensible.  There was a lot going on and the galactic scale is neat, but it was all beyond my grasp.  Unfortunately, FF #7 is more of the same.

Telling the second part of that story, Reed and Sue Richards, the Thing, Spider-Man, and everyone else who appeared in issues 1 through 5 are once again absent.  Instead, we follow Black Bolt as he travels the cosmos, fighting enormous tentacle monsters and reconnecting with Lockjaw (who I only know of, because I also have a soft spot for the Pet Avengers).  The two then return to the throne room that appeared in last issue and take back the Empire or whatever.  Again, it's kind of hard to follow if you don't already know everything that's going on.  The jumps through time and the high prose, although signature Hickman (from my understanding of his writing) don't help matters much.

Despite my difficulties with the plot, Greg Tocchini's art works quite well throughout.  My understanding of the scope of what's going on comes mostly from the visuals he provides.  As well, since Black Bolt is near silent for the majority of the story, many scenes succeed purely on Tocchini's ability to render them.  Fortunately, he does that quite well.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, these silent moments are my favourite parts of the comic, because I can actually follow what's going on.  That being said, Tocchini does a great job with all the scenes he's given and his loose lines fit perfectly with the story's mood and atmosphere.

Verdict - Check It. Even though I can't really parse the majority of this book, I don't necessarily hold its inaccessibility against Hickman.  I enjoy the same type of storytelling from creators like Grant Morrison, it just so happens that I am more up-to-date on what he's been doing with Batman than what Hickman's been doing with the Fantastic Four.  However, it is unfortunate that I can't take anything away from this issue aside from a feeling that some really cool stuff happened without being able to really understand why any of that was cool.  I imagine that if you're better informed than I am, your reading mileage will vary greatly.  For my part, I'm happy that next month looks like it'll return the focus to the Future Foundation.  That should make things a lot easier for me.

So what do you think of this week's reviews?  Am I spot on?  Way off?  Is FF any better if you have some clue as to what is going on?  Let me know in the comments below!

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max "nekron" power said...

ff is been a lot of fun to read and you're right, there's no jumping on point so far, not even for a hc or a tpb. Maybe i try captain america & bucky i left righ now at the end of gulag and jump to the captain america solo title

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why Weekly Crisis brought on board some to review comics who's hardly ever a Marvel comic outside of Spider-Man. They've been the #1 publisher of American comics for at least two decades now, and I think it's fair to say that everybody in the readership here has enough Marvel comics to at least fill the smallest of longboxes.

I certainly don't expect a reviewer to know who every character in the Marvel Universe is, but is it wrong for me to cry foul for not knowing who Black Bolt is? We're talking about a Jack Kirby creation from the classic first 101 issues of "Fantastic Four"... and somehow I think he's reading this and saying, "Who's Jack Kirby?"

Plus, I think a good deal of the contributors & readership here on Weekly Crisis was quite interested in the "War of Kings" storyline in the Annihilation comics, and so it feels like a step backward for this site for their new reviewer to not be up to speed with the events in the Marvel Cosmic line.

Matt Duarte said...

@Anonymous: We brought in Grant to review comics because we like his writing style and we thought he'd be a good fit with our regular team.

The fact that he doesn't know who Black Bolt happens to be is perfectly fine, as he is bringing a new perspective to the review that the rest of us (who do know who he is) wouldn't have picked up on. If he didn't enjoy the issue because it did not establish clearly who the character was, then a new reader might have not enjoyed it either. This is a valid concern and a fair point for him to raise.

As always, if you don't agree with a review on the site, we welcome you to submit your own review as a guest post and we will gladly post it.

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