Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/24/11

A little later than intended, but the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews are finally ready.  Three reviews on the docket this week, including a pair of concluding Batman books and the most recent offering of FF.  Check after the cut to see what I thought!

Written by Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins
Art by Trevor McCarthy

Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, and Trevor McCarthy's Gates of Gotham series has varied in quality from issue to issue.  The title started out strong, but as it progressed, the book lost some of its momentum, with the most recent issues getting a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information the creators were attempting to convey.  Happily, Gates of Gotham #5 is a return to form, managing to wrap up all the storylines in a satisfying manner and bringing its focus back to what matters most: the characters.

The history of Gotham City that has been revealed over these 5 issues has certainly been interesting and has provided a sense of cohesion to the world of Batman, but it was starting to get in the way of the series' story.  That problem is avoid this time around, as the series finale does an excellent job of building on what's come before in a meaningful and creative way.  The flashbacks that have been occurring throughout the title are tied in to the present-day narrative in a concrete way and are actually used during the book's climax to help Dick Grayson defeat The Architect's nefarious scheme.  It's gratifying that all the exposition, which was starting to feel unnecessary, could be made relevant so effectively.

The issue also makes good use of moments from the earlier issues to finish up its many character arcs.  Damian and Cassandra have been butting heads throughout the series, with a lot of the friction stemming from their failure in disarming the "modified dead man's switch" at the Iceberg Lounge back in issue #2.  They are confronted by the same challenge in this issue, but they approach the problem in a different manner, learning from their mistake.  They are many call-backs in that vein throughout this finale, and they work really well because they make what happened previously feel important and worthwhile.

Perhaps the best part of this comic is that Trevor McCarthy is back on art.  His absence from issue #4 was keenly felt and his return is much appreciated.  He brings a lot of energy to his work that, quite simply, makes the story better.  His art has a real sense of movement that makes everything he does pop.  His action sequences feel more immediate.  His establishing shots have a sense of scale.  Despite the fact that his style is looser and perhaps cartoonier than most mainstream superhero artists, everything feels real and like there's weight behind it.  He is in the zone throughout this issue, and it makes for a visual treat.

This issue does a great job of paying off everything that the creators have done throughout the series, which is great.  However, this issue's ability to emphasize the importance of everything that's come before is also a little frustrating, because it highlights the fact that the series has been a little weak on an issue to issue basis.  While everything reads well now that the entire series has been released, it wasn't the most gratifying series to read through on a monthly basis.  If I hadn't known in advance that this series was only 5 issues long, I would have dropped the book after issue 3.  This series is greater than the sum of its parts, because it was written with the trade in mind, which is disappointing when you're reading through those individual parts once a month.

Verdict - Check It. Despite my little rant at the end, this is a good conclusion.  Frankly, it's possibly the best conclusion the series could have gotten.  All the characters got to have their moment in the spotlight, there was a sense that something relevant has happened, and there were hints at what is yet to come (I imagine the events of this series will play a role in Snyder's forthcoming run on Batman).  It's just too bad that it couldn't have read a little better as a serial publication.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Scott Clark

While Gates of Gotham took a turn for the better this week, Batman Inc. took a turn for the... incomprehensible?  Grant Morrison has always been known for experimenting with big, high-concept ideas, and the idea behind this issue, "Batman and Oracle fight crime in the Internet", ranks up there among some of his wackier ideas, but it doesn't quite work.  While there are some moments of brilliance throughout the issue, there just doesn't seem to be enough space to fit everything in.  The whole thing comes off feeling like Morrison was so busy pushing the envelope that he forgot what the message was supposed to be.

The biggest experiment in Batman Inc. #8 is that the entire issue was done with computer rendered 3D art.  It's a really interesting approach that fits in perfectly with the "Batman in the internet" conceit, but like the writing, it doesn't always work.  There are some really dynamic and creatively exciting scenes, like Oracle kicking someone so hard that binary literally explodes out of their head.  But there are also some tedious moments that fall flat, like almost every single scene involving the board members that Bruce Wayne invites to see the wonders of Internet 3.0.  This strange mixture of awesome and boring is really jarring and hurts the book in the long run, because for every unique visual that help draw you into the story, there are four or five awful images that take you right back out.

The same could be said for a lot of the dialogue throughout the issue.  Morrison has a habit of withholding information from his reader, making them "work" to understand what's going on, and while that can be a good thing, Morrison doesn't give nearly enough information to make his story coherent.  There are snippets throughout the narrative hinting at deeper meanings and greater dangers, but these hints are far too vague with no substantiation.  Consequently, it is difficult to know what the actual danger facing the characters is.  Because it all takes place in a virtual world, the stakes are unclear.  If they fail, do people die?  Or can they just log-out or reboot the system?  The book doesn't do enough to address these issues, and so it loses a lot of dramatic tension, since it's unclear why any of this matters.  There's a pretty solid reveal at the end of the issue that tries to assuage this problem, but it comes too late in the story to make a real impact.

Verdict - Check It. Realistically, Morrison's experiment goes a little off the rails here.  In many places, the comic is weird, unclear, or downright bad.  But it's not all horrible.  There's enough going on in this issue to make giving it a read through worthwhile.  It's far from a perfect story, but I do appreciate that Morrison is willing to take risks and try new things, even if they aren't always successful.

FF #8
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Steve Epting

Speaking of high concepts, Jonathan Hickman's run on FF has certainly had those in spades.  The past two issues were a little beyond my comprehension, focusing as they did on the Inhumans (a branch of the Marvel Universe that I'm not terribly familiar with), but FF #8 takes us back to Earth and the Future Foundation.  It also pays off a bunch of earlier storylines from Hickman's earlier run on Fantastic Four, but he does a surprisingly good job of almost making it possible to follow for less familiar readers such as myself.  I know I don't know everything that's going on, but the story is strong enough that it doesn't feel like that big of a deal.

After three big pages showing the chaos going on at the Forever City of High Evolutionary (which gives Steve Epting plenty of space to show off his beautiful drawings), we open with a family talk between Susan, Nathan, and Reed Richards.  As much fun as the big action set pieces are in this book (and they're lots of fun), I'm always happy when Hickman sets time aside for these quieter interactions, because his character work is top-notch.  The conversation between the three works incredibly well and their conversation oozes personality.  Hickman's grasp of the characters is clear, as he deftly jumps from one voice to another, providing the quality character interactions that makes this series such an enjoyable read.

However, the Forever City is not long forgotten and the Future Foundation (now bolstered in ranks by the villains who came by for the symposium on how to defeat Reed Richards) join the group to stop the hell that has broken loose.  Hickman's character work continues to shine in this sequence, but it's Epting who takes centre stage here.  His panel work and character layout are excellent.  He manages to portray the chaos and the scope of the battle with seeming ease.  Despite the limited space afforded to him, he gives a look into virtually all of the combatants on the battlefield, showing what they are or are not able to accomplish.  It's incredibly well done.

Of course, this being FF, Hickman isn't content to leave the reader only with some quality character work and enjoyable battle scene.  On top of those, he offers not one, but two big twists to keep the reader on their toes.  Reed comes to an important realization, but it interrupted before he can express his thoughts, and while the villains are making great progress fighting the four evil Reeds, the inevitable betrayal rears its head at an inopportune moment.  Both reveals are well-done and add to the reading experience.

Verdict - Buy It. FF #8 is good comics.  There's a lot going on and it's all really engaging stuff.  The interlude of FF #6 and #7 is really well used in this issue, making  a few moments way more meaningful than they would have otherwise been.  I'm back to being excited for this book and I cannot wait for next month's installment.

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Anonymous said...

Trevor McCarthy did the gates of
Gotham art. If you're going to review, please read the credits page. Higgins is the writer, Snyder did the plot.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Yeah, Grant, YA JERK! Why don't you check your facts next time as this clearly wasn't a typoid of any kind, I won't buy that excuse young man!

Grant McLaughlin said...

Oops. Corrected that little typo. Thanks for pointing it out, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

It's funny. Matrix ripped off from Morrison, now Morrison rips off from Matrix.

Jon said...

@Anonymous I guess in the end all is balanced?

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