Saturday, August 6, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/03/11

Welcome to another round of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  We've got a lot of books to go through this time around, including both full length reviews and a handful of quick shots, so hit the jump to see my thoughts on Flashpoint #4, Punisher #1, and many more!

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Andy Kubert

If there's anything you can say about Johns and Kubert's Flashpoint, it's that the book has been consistent.  The problem is that it has been consistently underwhelming.  There have been a few moments of brilliance throughout the series, but they are continually marred by uneven and directionless writing.  Unfortunately, this pattern holds true for issue 4, with the creative team offering yet another iteration of a story that seems to be going nowhere incredibly slowly.

As mentioned above, the main problem I have with Flashpoint is that the plot is moving at a snail's pace.  In three issues, the Flash has realized the world he knows has been inexplicably changed, found Batman to get his help, got his own powers back, and freed Superman from shadowy government imprisonment (after which Superman promptly flew away).  That's it.  And the worst part is that, of the few things that have happened, barely any of them seem to be relevant to the overall plot.  A major reason for this is that Johns has barely spent any time explaining what that plot is supposed to be.  Thus far, Flashpoint has been tangentially related event after tangentially related event, with the only overarching connection between each being the opportunity for yet another character to appear to show how drastically the DC Universe has changed.  But without any meaningful driving force to the book, these walk-on cameos come off as virtually meaningless.

The strangest thing is that, despite the series lacking any real direction (apart from a vague understanding on Barry Allen's part that he has to stop the Reverse-Flash - for some reason), this book is terribly overwritten.  Every single panel seems to be covered in dialogue, turning nearly every page into a wall of exposition.  However, it feels like the vast majority of this telling is unrelated to what passes for plot in this book.  Sometimes you can almost tell why what you're reading is supposed to be important, but the actual connections are often absent.  More often than not, it feels like the wrong things are being explained (for example: Why did Enchantress suddenly join the team?  And more importantly, why did she just as suddenly betray the good guys during the big fight?).  It's frustrating to be flooded with information, only to find most of it entirely useless.

These problems are found throughout issue #4, but there are some redeeming qualities for the book.  For all the boring dialogue and meaningless action, Element Woman's return (after appearing for all of five panels in issue #1) is a breath of fresh air.  Realistically, she isn't super integral to anything that's going on and her arrival is virtually unexplained, but she is a character that is at least a lot of fun to read, something that is severely lacking in this book.  Her complete lack of social graces makes for some cute and funny moments that I wholeheartedly enjoyed (Frankly, it makes me wish that she had starred in one of those Flashpoint tie-ins instead of any number of the terrible titles they went with).  Additionally, although the story continues to drag its feet, Kubert puts in solid work throughout, ensuring that Flashpoint #4 is a mighty fine looking book, if nothing else.

Verdict - Skip It.  This isn't a horrible comic, but it's also far from a good one.  For DC's summer event, you'd think that they'd do a little better, but instead they've put out yet another underwhelming offer for readers to work through.  I keep hoping that things will pick up, but with one issue left, it doesn't seem terribly likely at this point.

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

For all the bad I have to say about Flashpoint #4, I have an equal amount of praise to heap on Knights of Vengeance #3.  This mini-series, featuring the reuniting of the 100 Bullets creative team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, has been the best thing to come out of Flashpoint.  Seriously, you should be reading this.

Telling the story of a Gotham City where Thomas Wayne - and not his son Bruce - becomes Batman, this series has succeeded where so many other Flashpoint tie-ins have failed.  Firstly, it has offered a compelling spin on a well-known character (like DC's classic Elseworlds books), and secondly, and far more importantly, it followed up on that premise with a fantastic story.

Last issue ended with Thomas arriving moments after Commissioner Gordon died while trying to save Harvey Dent's kidnapped children (twins, of course) from the devious hands of the Joker.  With that, it was also revealed that, in this world, Martha Wayne is the Clown Prince of Crime.  With most of the action covered in issues #1 and #2, this issue focuses on resolving what's left while also looking at flashbacks to explain how things ended up this way.  And to put it bluntly, it's great.

Azzarello and Risso's familiarity with each other is abundantly clear, as the text and art support each other in a manner that does not occur enough in mainstream comic books.  Azzarello writes the hell out of this comic, and Risso's art is more than capable of keeping up, making for an engaging read that is brimming with atmosphere.  The jumping back and forth between past and present is treated masterfully, making for some incredibly emotional, and surprisingly chilling, scenes.  

Verdict - Must Read.  This is what Flashpoint should be about.  Honestly, this is what comic books should be about.  Azzarello and Risso tell a great story with a clear beginning, middle, and end without talking down to the reader, while also delivering some highly memorable moments.  Every aspect of this mini-series has been excellent, but the last scene is particularly haunting.  If you've missed out on this book, you should rectify that oversight as soon as possible.

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by David López

As I said earlier in the week, I didn't have much of an idea as to what this book was about, picking it up based solely on the lovely preview that has been appearing in the back of some Marvel comics.  Boy am I glad I did pick it up, because Mystic #1 looks to be the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

I mentioned that I thought this looked to be a Hayao Miyazaki-esque story, but it seems like Mystic has far more in common with the works of Charles Dickens.  It stars two young orphan girls, Genevieve and Giselle, who are forced to work off an ever-increasing debt to to the wicked (and appropriately named) Mistress Alenawful, proprietess of the "Limpet Hall Orphanage for Girls".  And while Oliver Twist is a great work to build a story upon, Wilson and López go much further than that.  While the world the girls live in certainly has a lot in common with Victorian England, the vast city of Hyperion is also filled with steampunk technologies and mysterious magic.  The world Wilson and López are creating is fascinating, and the world building they do is organically intertwined into all aspects of the book.  Everything, from the writing, to the art, and even down to the character designs, play a part in developing this exciting new world.

The narrative is arresting, grabbing the reader from the beginning and refusing to let go.  Things move quickly, but it never feels like the story is being rushed.  The character work is equally strong, as Wilson easily defines  who Genevieve and Giselle are and what hopes and dreams they harbour in their heart of hearts.  The dialogue is snappy and the character actions make sense and are believable.  The only downside I can offer is that Mystic is perhaps not the most original narrative, but there are some fun twists thrown in to spice things up.  Furthermore, there is something to be said for a well-told story, originality be damned.

Happily, Wilson's well-ordered words are accompanied by some even better art.  I am unfamiliar with David López, but after reading this issue, I want more.  A lot more.  He has an extraordinary style that seems to perfectly depict every type of scene.  Actions scenes are clear and have a strong sense of movement.  The emotion and honesty in his quieter scenes seem entirely genuine.  Even his establishing shots are something to behold, and do a good chunk of the world building.  His panel work is also top notch, showing some real creativity that adds a lot to the scenes in question.  Suffice it to say, he does some good work.

Verdict - Buy It.  This is a great comic.  The only thing keeping me from putting Mystic down as a Must Read is that it might not be for everyone.  It is an all-ages comic, which is a turnoff for some (though I can't understand why), and it is very different from mainstream comics.  I'm not kidding when I say it reminds me of Dickens, because this book has more in common with Victorian Literature than modern superhero comics.  In my mind, that is a good thing.  If you agree, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to get your hands on this book.  You will not be disappointed.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checchetto

I feel like Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's Punisher is a book that requires multiple read throughs.  Like, Daredevil #1, this first issue contains two inter-related stories.  And while they can both stand on their own, the whole is greater than the individual parts.  The first story is much improved with the knowledge gained from the second story.  And vice versa.  It's also worth nothing that both stories are told in very different manners, making for a really interesting read.

The first story opens with five pages that are completely devoid of dialogue.  It's a gutsy beginning and puts a lot of the heavy lifting on Checchetto from the get go, but he does a great job.  Without any words to work with, he quickly establishes the three different narratives that form the main focus of the book.  We're introduced to a wedding party, a young policeman, and an older detective.  While we learn a lot more about these elements of the story as the narrative progresses, these first few pages tell us a lot from the beginning.  The wedding party is soon interrupted by armed men who come in guns blazing, gunning down almost everyone in the reception hall, a scene that Checchetto absolutely kills (sorry about that pun, but I couldn't resist).  From there, Walter Bolt (the young policeman) and Oscar Clemons (the older detective) come onto the scene to try to solve the mystery of what happened.  Greg Rucka comes with them, delivering some solid writing that says a lot with little.  Their investigation and interactions are fascinating to read, and the reader learns a lot about both characters as they try to determine what went down and why.

Over the course of the rest of the story, we get two more near wordless scenes that rely almost entirely on Checchetto's talents and he nails both of them.  There is a two page spread where Walter gives the Punisher all the information on the investigation.  The scene is filled with emotion, and it only becomes more poignant after reading the second story.  The other scene in question is one of Frank Castle's few appearances within the book.  Despite the title, he's barely in any of these pages, but it works really well.  Even though he might not be physically there, his presence is felt throughout the narrative.  This conceit is literalized in the comic, because the Punisher does not speak a single line of dialogue at any point.  His actions are speaking for him.  And they say quite a lot.  When he shows up to enact some justice on the gunmen, Checchetto shines once again.  The lighting he uses and the images he depicts are powerful and cleary convey the brutality of the violence the Punisher is dishing out.  It also makes for an interesting ending that, in retrospect, echos the thrust of the second story.

Speaking of, that second story is quite fascinating.  It's an interview between Walter Bolt and detective Robert Seever, reviewing what happened in a recent case gone wrong.  Consequently, all the dialogue is between the panels, written in the form of the interview's transcript.  As the story progresses, the reader sees the distance between Walter's words and the reality of his actions.  It's an great example of the unreliable narrator and it is done in a way that I have not seen before in comics.  The story also does a lot to elaborate on what Walter's relationship to the Punisher is, which will clearly be coming into play in the issues to come.

Verdict - Buy It. I went into this series without much in the way of expectations, but this book still managed to take me by surprise.  The writing and art work combine for some powerful moments throughout both stories. Rucka and Checchetto clearly have a distinct Punisher story that they want to tell, and I want to be there to read it.

Written by Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

I'm not quite sure what to think about Severed #1.  A new horror comic from Image, it has a lot going for it.  There are no ads in the book.  The comic is over 22 pages long for only $2.99 (which is more than you'll get from either Marvel or DC).  And it has some great writing by Snyder and Tuft coupled with some beautiful art by Futaki.  But for all that, I don't know if the first issue really does enough to convince a reader to come back for more.

The story opens in the 1950s with an elderly couple watching Elvis perform on the television.  Their grandson soon enters saying that an old friend of the grandfather came with a note for him.  The old man then muses on how some things are too horrible to tell others and hints towards some nightmarish past.  From there, we jump back to America circa 1916 to delve into the story proper.  It's an interesting idea, but the frame narrative seems out of place in the context of a single issue.  Those first two pages are soon forgotten and they come off as the writers telling the reader that scary stuff is going to happen without necessarily backing up those claims.

The main narrative is split among two characters, Jack Garron, the younger version of the grandfather from the frame narrative, who lives with his mother in a farmhouse in New York state, and Frederick, an orphan boy in Illinois, who is taken in by Mister Porter, a mysterious stranger who works for General Electric.  Both of these stories have interesting moments, but neither really managed to grab me.  The series is clearly trying to playing with, and intending to subvert, the idea that everything was better and safer in the past, focusing its efforts on the mid-1910s.  Jack goes hoboing on the railroad to try to meet up with his estranged father to play music with him in Chicago.  Mister Porter starts to teach Frederick the ropes about working for General Electric.  Both actions start innocently enough, but take turns for the worse by issue's end.  However, for some reason, it falls flat.  I understand what the creators are doing, but it doesn't really grab me in any significant way.

Fortunately, even if I'm still on the fence about the story of this book, the art leaves no question in my mind.  Attila Futaki does an amazing job with every scene he's given.  His style is perfect for what Snyder and Tuft are trying to accomplish, combining the real and fantastic in one attractive package.  His lines and colouring are beautiful.  I could flip through this book and simply admire the pictures.  More importantly, if you did ignore the dialogue, those pictures still manage to convey everything that's happening in the story, which is incredibly impressive.  His facial work, body language, and backgrounds combine to tell a story all on their own.  While the writing leaves me a little cold, the art wins me over hook, line, and sinker.

Verdict - Check It. The first issue of Severed is a little hit and miss.  The writing leaves something to be desired, while the art is absolutely gorgeous.  Snyder, Tuft, and Futaki write at the back of the issue that the series is meant to be a slow burn, so I imagine that things will pick up.  However, it is kind of disappointing that the first issue doesn't quite manage to stand on its own.

Quick Shot Reviews

BATMAN GATES OF GOTHAM #4 - This series had a decent start and gained a load of momentum from an excellent second issue.  But since that time, it feels like the book has been coasting.  The narrative, which seemed new and interesting at the beginning, has become cliché and formulaic.  Where there used to be a sense urgency, it now feels like all the characters are simply going through the motions.  The Bat-family is trying to stop the new villain, the Architect, because they're the good guys, and the Architect is causing havoc because he's the bad guy.  No more, no less.

On the plus side, Trevor McCarthy's art continues to impress.  He does some exciting things throughout the issue that almost make up for the shortcomings of the writing.  Unfortunately, even his solid drawings can't save what adds up to a somewhat boring and predictable mystery.  There's only one issue left, so I'll probably be back for that, but it's a shame that Gates of Gotham ended up this way after such a promising start.

Verdict - Check It.

SWEET TOOTH #24 - I can't say enough good things about Jeff Lemire's creator-owned series.  Sweet Tooth is an absolute joy to read, and this issue is no exception.  The series has a history of meaningful visions, and we get the biggest example of that here, as Gus follows a the lead of a skeletal deer for the majority of the book.  I love the way that Lemire alters his style for these segments, and the imagery seen throughout is rife with symbolism that one could spend ages deconstructing.

While it is primarily the Gus-show, Jepperd gets some excellent character moments that really pay off a lot of what Lemire has been building since the series began.  His rush to save Gus and his fear of losing the young boy ring true and only add to the strength of the issue.  The story ends with a cliffhanger that actually leaves me without any idea of what will happen next, which is incredibly refreshing.  And whatever might follow, I will happily be there to see it happen.

Verdict - Buy It.

ROGER LANGRIDGE’S SNARKED #0 - As I mentioned earlier in the week, this book is only a preview of Roger Langridge's new ongoing all-ages comic, Snarked, that will be starting in October.  Consequently, the book only has 8 pages worth of comic.  In spite of that, they were some of the best 8 pages I read this week.  Langridge's signature art style and witty writing are both out in full force, making for a solid story, even if it isn't particularly lengthy.

Taking Lewis Caroll's writings as their base (particularly "The Walrus and the Carpenter", who just so happen to be among the protagonists of the tale), Langridge expands greatly upon them, borrowing when necessary and creating entirely new things when deemed appropriate.  It all adds up to a comic that is well-worth the price of admission - especially when that price is a single dollar.  You should grab this preview if you can, and definitely pick up the series when it drops in October.

Verdict - Buy It.

A lot to go through, but these are only my thoughts on a few of the books that came out this week.  How did you fine folks at home make out?  Read any of the same comics?  On the whole, what did you think of your haul?  As always, feel free to share in the comments!

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Nathan Aaron said...

David López did all the art for Jim McCann's New Avengers: Hawkeye & Mockingbird mini, and the Hawkeye & Mockingbird (short) series that followed. Loved his stuff on those titles!

Grant McLaughlin said...

If it's anything like his work on Mystic, I'll have to get my hands on those series.

Simon DelMonte's Escape Hatch said...

Trevor McCarthy was not the artist on GofG 4. It jumped to Dustin Nguyen, possibly because the last issue has to ship this month and McCarthy needed help. (As usual, DC doesn't like to talk about such things.)

Grant McLaughlin said...

@Simon - So it was. Sorry to have missed that it was Dustin Nguyen and Derec Donovan on art duties for the issue. Especially embarrassing because I like Nguyen's art so much. Went with the solicit instead of double-checking the creator credits in the book. Looks like Higgins also needed some help, as Ryan Parrot is also credited as one of the writers.

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