Sunday, September 18, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 09/14/11

After missing last week, we're back in business with this week's (only slightly tardy) Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  It's a week of new beginnings, as I'll be offering my thoughts on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #1John Carter: A Princess of Mars #1, and Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1!  Hit the jump to check out this cornucopia of coloned comics!

Written by Joss Whedon
Art by Georges Jeanty

While not on my Preview list, I did end up getting my hands on a copy of the first issue of Buffy: Season Nine.  To be honest, this wasn't really my intention.  I had originally been excited for Buffy and company's return to canonical storytelling with Buffy Season 8, but as that series progressed, I found myself less and less interested with what was going on.  It seemed to me that things got a little confused in the translation from screen to funny book, and by the end of issue forty (I bought forty of those issues?!), I was rather underwhelmed.  However, I never bothered to take Buffy off my pull list, and I didn't realize that I had purchased the comic until I had gotten home (another sign I might be picking up too much every week).  Since I ended up with the book, I figured I might as well offer some thoughts on it.

The comic opens up an indeterminate period of time after the close of last season, with an entire page of Buffy waking up terribly hungover (although she actually looks like she's dead).  The book then jumps back to the night before, showing Buffy welcoming her friends to a house party at her new apartment.  This sequence quickly introduces Buffy's "new" status quo of living with two roommates in a small apartment and not doing all that much with her life (which actually isn't all that new considering a number of storylines from the show).  

These first two pages also introduce the two interlocking timelines of the issue: the morning after timeline, where Buffy is coming too after a night of partying too hardily, and the party timeline, showing Buffy's progress over the course of the evening.  It's an interesting idea, but the execution leaves something to be desired.  The "morning after" timeline adds up to Buffy worrying that she made an ass of herself and wondering what she could have possibly done to be so hungover.  The "party" timeline advances chronologically, showing the evening's progression in a straight linear order.  There's some mildly interesting story hidden in this disjointed narrative, but the bifurcation of the issue obscures a lot of this, begging the question of why it was necessary to open the story in this manner.

The dialogue doesn't fare much better, to be honest.  The Whedonesque quips and retorts are out in full force, and it's really starting to feel forced.  I usually find myself enjoying the way Joss Whedon turns his phrases, but it's wearing a little thin in the Buffyverse.  These characters have been around for many a year, and it feels like their speech is regressing, if anything.  To be fair, the worst perpetrator of this is Buffy Summers, and it appears the thrust of this storyline is examining how she is regressing and refusing to move forward as a character, but that doesn't change the fact that most everything she says comes off as kind of annoying.  That's not really going to keep me reading.

Perhaps unsurprising at this point in the review, but I wasn't super impressed by the art, either.  I hadn't been a huge fan of Georges Jeanty's work on the last season of the series, and I found myself distracted by a lot of the same things.  I'm not asking for a Buffy comic to be photo-realistic, but I feel that Jeanty's art to be a little too far on the cartoony side of the spectrum at times.  Too many of the characters don't really look like their television counterparts.  The most glaring example is the series' lead, as the Buffy in this comic book doesn't look like Buffy at all.  For the balance of the issue, she just looks like some random, airheaded blond girl, which might be supporting the aforementioned character regression, but maybe isn't the ideal.  I also found that Buffy hungover looked way too much like she was dead, which distracted me to no end.

Verdict - Skip It.  Admittedly, I didn't really enjoy the end of the last volume of Buffy, but this first issue doesn't really offer any new reasons to get on board.  In fact, a lot of storytelling beats feel like they've happened before, which only acts to further disinterest me.  Your mileage may vary, but this one issue is enough for me.

Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Written by Roger Langridge
Art by Filipe Andrade

I'm not sure how it happened, but even though I went into this comic with no expectations, this book was not at all what I was expecting.  Although it's written by Roger Langridge, I found it to be very different from most of the work he's been doing of late.  Perhaps that's due to this being an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel, perhaps it's simply Langridge trying something new.  Regardless of the motivation behind the change, it makes for an interesting read.

The book opens in medias res, showing our protagonist being beaten and interrogated by a number of strange and monstrous green creatures.  It's clear that this interrogation has been going on for a long time and, more interestingly, that although John Carter understands the creatures, they don't understand him.  This makes for a bit of a confusing introduction, but it works quite well, because the reader and John learn about the world they find themselves in at the same time.  It's a clever way to give the reader an immediate connection to the book's lead.  It's soon revealed that John is being interrogated on Mars, having somehow arrived there while taking refuge in a cavern while escaping from a group of aggressive prospectors back on Earth.  This doesn't really explain what happened, but it's also clear that that isn't really an important part of the narrative.

The Martians soon decide to let John Carter explore their city on their own (although always accompanied by an enormous Martian dog named Woola).  This decision is a little confusing, because there isn't much reason given for it, aside from a vague implication that he could be useful at some undefined later point.  Regardless, John and the reader continue to explore the exotic terrain of Mars, discovering many sights and slowly learning the Martian language.  Tiring of his captivity, John Carter tries to escape one day, only to find himself fighting off two wild Space Apes.  He manages to subdue the creatures and is lauded for his combat prowess by his Martian captors.  From there, his captors' scavenger subsistence is revealed and the titular Princess of Mars appears.

The story is certainly interesting and kept me turning the page, but it does have some minor pacing issues.  The narrative can sometimes jump from one thing to the next without much in the way of warning or explanation, making it a little challenging to understand what or why something is happening.  The issue also reads a bit too much like an introduction, feeling a little overburdened by exposition to bring everyone up to speed on what's happening.  It takes away from the story, making things sometimes feel unnatural, as if they are happening solely for the needs of the narrative, with little to no thought given to character impulses or motivations.

That being said, there's still a lot of good to be found here.  The story's pace is slower than I was expecting, but it gives us some time to soak up the exotic characters and locales.  While I enjoyed most of Langridge's writing, it's truly Filipe Andrade's art that makes this book special.  His style is beautiful and does a wonderful job of evoking mood and emotion.  His renditions of John Carter are fantastic, but his work on Mars and the Martians are what really impressed me.  The setting clearly has some elements of ancient Rome, but it still feels like a distinct and real civilization.  I thought all of the character models were quite stunning, but I was particularly happy with Woola, the giant Martian dog, who perfectly combines the alien and the familiar.  I hope we'll be seeing more of that critter.

Verdict - Check It.  There's a lot of great stuff going on here, marred slightly by some jarring story moments.  It's hard to judge the series knowing that so much is yet to come, but I think that there is enough good in this issue to warrant picking up the next one.  Give it a look.
sometimes giving the impression that pieces are being moved from one place to the next because they have to be for the subsequent parts of this story to make sense.  It's a little frustrating to feel as if parts of the book are happening

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli

I come into this book as an Ultimate Spider-Man newbie. I've heard the hype about how good this series has been and how a number of people got back into comics with it, but I've never had the pleasure of reading any of it myself. However, if what's come before is anything like what we find in this issue that opens the next chapter in the Ultimate Spider-saga, I think I understand what all the hype is about.

The book begins "Eleven Months Ago", opening on Norman Osborne explaining to his new employee, Doctor Markus, that his job will be to recreated the Spider Serum that created the original Spider-Man. This sequence is really interesting and does a great job of introducing some key plot elements to new readers - rather important in a new number one. It also introduces the spider that will be providing the powers to our new Spider-Man. Surprisingly, Sara Pichelli takes no time to flex her artistic muscles, giving some fantastic and intense art in what is essentially a bunch of exposition. It's some amazing work that really sets the tone of the rest of the issue.

After a quick and enjoyable sequence involving Deadpool Prowler (kudos to Don Winslow for pointing out the correct identity here) robbing this lab (and unknowingly stealing the new radioactive spider), the story moves to the Morales family, which is heading to a prestigious charter school to see if Miles will have the good fortune to win the opportunity to attend. Miles is unhappy with the whole situation, his mother is hopeful and reassuring, and his father more pessimistic but still supportive. Of course, Miles, being the story's hero, is selected for the last available spot, and the family has a small celebration. This, too, is a rather short scene, but it does a lot to define who these characters are and what their relationships are with each other. It's incredibly well done, and once again, Pichelli does some great things to provide some emotion and foreshadowing.

The remainder of the issue involves Miles going to visit his uncle Aaron, who appears to be the black sheep of the family, being involved in some not-quite-legal things.  It is clear that Miles' parents don't much like him spending time with Aaron, but despite that fact, he is obviously a good man who cares for his nephew.  Their conversation introduces the idea of "making your own way" and doing the most with what life gives you, which I assume will be a big theme for this series.

Miles then finds some of the items that Deadpool Prowler stole (reemphasizing Aaron's illicit activities), and is subsequently bitten by that radioactive spider (which bears the same number that won him the school lottery). Miles blacks out and awakes to find his Dad bickering with his uncle, providing more character development. It's an excellent scene that feels quite real, showing the passion of a worried father.  We then hit the end of the book with Miles discovering that said spider-bite has provided him some brand new powers (emphasis on the "new").

The whole comic reads incredibly well.  Bendis is offering some great writing that is approachable for readers of all ages, both new and old.  The introduction of all the characters and some of the themes feels quite natural and the whole package left me wanting more, which is a good thing.  As I mentioned throughout the review, Pichelli's art is stunning.  She owns every single panel she does in this book.  I really can't rave enough about how great her work is.  Everyone has a distinct look.  Everything feels real and important.  I can't wait to see more of her work, because it's already phenomenal.

My main gripe with this book is that there simply isn't enough.  Just as I was getting into it, the story came to a sudden end.  And while there's something to be said for hooking the reader for the next issue, the fact remains that this book cost $3.99 and only had 20 pages of comics within - not an amazing value.  I recognize that there weren't any ads in the book, which was kind of nice, but I have a really hard time supporting that price point.  It's simply too much money for too little content.

Verdict - Check It.  This book would get a much higher rating if it wasn't for the price to page ratio.  To be honest, even though I had a great time reading this comic, I'm not going to buy any of the following issues.  As great as it is, it's not worth 4 dollars for only 20 pages of comic.  I don't usually encourage trade-waiting, but that's what I'm going to be doing here, because it doesn't make sense to buy this series on an issue-by-issue basis.  I think Marvel really needs to think a little harder about their pricing, because I find this current situation to be too much.

What about you, dear readers?  How did you find the week?  Did you read any of these openers?  Were there other books that you were particularly enamoured with?  Don't hesitate to share your thought below!

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Ken Boehm said...

The pricing on Marvel books is getting out of hand, and will be the reason I won't buy anymore Ultimate books since all of them seem to be 20 pages for $4.

Don Winslow said...

It wasn't Deadpool in UCSM, it was Ultimate Prowler!

I liked it. It was nice to see the intentional parallels as Osborn told the story of Arachne, just as he did at Peter's origin.

so far, I like Miles Morales. he seems like a nice kid, with all the pressures that implies. I can't wait to see where this goes, especially with the new, different powers.

Anonymous said...

I recently dropped a ton of Marvel series because of the $3.99 price point, the lack of full digital support, and interest in DC's new 52. I initially planned on buying the Ultimate line digitally but with the $3.99 price for all of the Ultimate titles and no assurances that the price will be reduced a month later, I cannot justify buying these titles. The price is especially tough for the number of pages Marvel is giving readers. Action Comics was $3.99 but it had more pages and story than a normal comic. I may pick up some of the Ultimate titles in trade because I've read every issue of the previous Ultimate Spiderman and Ultimates series, but Marvel is pushing me away with the $3.99 price point.

Grant McLaughlin said...

@Don Winslow - That explains a lot. I was wondering how he managed to be so quiet for three whole pages.

Also, it is slightly embarrassing that I assumed that Aaron was a fence for Prowler and not one and the same. Oops...

Phillyradiogeek said...

The only Marvel titles I plan on picking up for the foreseeable future are Amazing Spider-Man, the two Hulk books, and the new Defenders book (and that one's only if it starts out interesting).

Klep said...

None of you guys have been reading Criminal? That's a real shame because the Last of the Innocent arc was basically perfect. I can say enough good things about it.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Klep - You'll find not only have I been reading Criminal but I've also been reviewing it:

And I reviewed the other issues if you click the links on the bottom of that page. And, yes, I loved the arc. I think Bad Night might still be my favourite - I need to reread it now to compare it to LotI, but I think the two make one hell of a noir companion piece.

Klep said...

@Ryan - I remembered after I posted that you had been reviewing them. It never ceases to amaze me how good Brubaker's noir is. I'm always eagerly awaiting whatever he does next.

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