Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 10/05/11

We're trying something a little different for this round of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  The main reviews you'll find within are spotlighting some of the smaller books that came out last week, including Snarked! #1, Severed #3, and Sweet Tooth #26.  But fear not, you'll also be able to find some shorter reviews for some of this week's bigger books, such as Action Comics #2, Animal Man #2, and more.  A bit of an experiment, hit the jump to see how it pans out!

Written by Roger Langridge
Art by Roger Langridge

Oh Roger Langridge, I'm so happy to have you back on a monthly comic book series.  While I truly fell in love with Langridge while he was writing Thor: The Mighty Avenger (as I've told you all ad infinitum), I unknowingly first encountered his work while reading Boom's The Muppets series a year or two earlier.  His work on Thor was certainly far more emotionally poignant, but his time with The Muppets showed me how funny the guy can be - and how much fun his art style is.  Snarked! is a lot closer to The Muppets than Thor, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

This series is really fun because it draws liberally from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland stories, but does so on its own terms.  There are a lot of characters taken from those tales, but Langridge puts his own spin on each and every one.  The Walrus and the Carpenter (here known as Wilburforce J. Walrus and Clyde McDunk) are friends who trick oysters, as in Carroll's poem, but they also happen to be con men (with Wilburforce being the brains and McDunk following his lead).  There are lots of other familiar faces, such as the Cheshire Cat (a reporter for The Daily Jabberwock), a rather young Red Queen (here a very young Princess Scarlett), and the looming threat of the titular Snark, among many others.

While it's certainly fun to see how these characters are interpreted by Langridge, the best part of the book is that it tells a pretty enjoyable story.  While this is an all-ages comic, so the story isn't exactly earth shattering (evil advisers want to steal the throne during the King's absence), Langridge recognizes that many readers will be familiar with the tropes he's presenting, and he takes the time to play with and sometimes subvert them.  It also happens to be rather well-written, which perhaps shouldn't be a huge surprise.  There are a lot of funny moments throughout the story, including some rather enjoyable wordplay, which fits in both with Langridge's style and the Carroll source material quite well.

I'm also a big fan of Langridge's art, and he does not disappoint here.  The character designs are all great (especially Wilburforce and McDunk), and they are all quite unique.  No character could be confused for any other, as Langridge always takes the time to ensure everyone has unique characteristics and silhouettes.  When such a thing cannot be said for so many main stream comic books, it's a step that is much appreciated. Additionally, I'm always amazed at how much Langridge can fit into a single page without things ever feeling cluttered.  Pages routinely 6 or 7 panels, and it always feels right.  Langridge has an eye for pacing, and his comic book sense are on full display here.

Verdict - Buy It.  This is a great comic book.  It's well written, well paced, and well worth your time and money.  Langridge knows his comic books, and he delivers a really good one here that promises some good issues to follow.  I love his past creator-owned works, and it looks like Snarked! will soon be joining that group of quality titles.

Written by Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

When I talked about the opening issue of Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, and Attila Futaki's new series from Image Comics, I spoke in a generally positive manner, but was a little let down by how slowly the story was moving.  Here in issue #3, things are still moving at a leisurely pace, but I've really come to appreciate what the team is doing.  I've seen a lot of people comparing Severed to an Alfred Hitchcock film, and I would say that's spot on.  By spending so much time on character development, Snyder and Tuft make the reader care about who these people are, so when the moments of horror come, they're actually pretty disturbing.

The story picks up on Jack and Sam teaming up to make some money busking to try to make it down to Mississippi to find Jack's father.  They soon run into the strange and murderous man from the first issue, who has taken to calling himself Alan Fisher, a phonograph peddler.  From there, the rest of the comic is pretty much the two children having dinner and conversation at Alan's kind of creepy apartment.  And it's great.

While that might not sound terribly thirlling, the dramatic irony of the reader understanding just how nefarious Alan truly is makes a lot of the issue rather uncomfortable.  Many comments take on a completely different meaning with that knowledge available, and Jack's innocent naivety only make things harder to watch.  At times, the comic really does feel like a classic horror film, with scenes that are hard to read.  I could list off a number of them, but the moment with the bear trap really stands out for me.  It was written and paced so well that I honestly had a hard time turning the page.  I'm just thankful that Sam's more world weary ways are around to try to temper Jack's terrible decisions.

And while Snyder and Tuft certainly deserve kudos for creating such an effective comic, Futaki's art is a huge help in establishing proper mood and atmosphere.  The scenes with Jack in the first issue started off with bright and clear colours, but as time has passed, the world Jack inhabits has become darker, and the colouring has changed to reflect that.  Even as this issue progresses, things become a lot dirtier and grimier,  reflecting the potential danger that comes with Alan Fisher's presence.  It's a subtle thing, but it completely changes the meaning of a number of scenes within the book.  Futaki is also doing a killer job framing his panels, with the way images are laid out often being just as important as what's in them.  I hope Severed is just the start of his North American work, because I want to see a lot more.

One additional note: this book doesn't have any ads in it (at least not during the actual story part of the comic), and that is a huge boon.  The fact that the story can continue uninterrupted goes a long way in helping to maintain the mood that is so skillfully created throughout the pages of this comic.  It also makes for some great value, as you get twenty-two pages of story without ads for $2.99.  If only the Big 2 could offer that kind of value...

Verdict - Buy It.  This comic subscribes to a style of storytelling unlike any mainstream book that's coming out right now.  The slow pace could be confused for decompressed storytelling, but unlike those stories, here in Severed every panel and every word is important.  Things are building slowly, but there are building towards something big.  I'm already getting squeamish reading this title, and things have barely gotten started.  I am both excited and reluctant to see what comes next for Jack and Sam.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Matt Kindt

In today's comic book market, solicitations say little and mean even less.  If you're lucky, they might give a (very) general idea of what's going on in the comic that particular month, but any modicum of useful information is often completely obstructed by an staggering amount of hyperbole.  And while I'm still unsure if The Taxidermist arc will "change the course of Sweet Tooth forever", I was genuinely surprised at how big of a change of pace this was for the book.

After the last arc ended with the group splintering apart, the story has jumped back to 1911 to follow a crop of brand new characters, whose actions will apparently have grave ramifications for our present day heroes, Gus and Jepperd included.  As I mentioned in the Previews, I was hesitant when I discovered that Jeff Lemire would not be drawing these issues, choosing instead to bring Matt Kindt to fulfill the art duties, but I now understand the choice.  The difference in artist and art style is representative of the story's change in direction that comes from switching time periods and characters.  Of course, changing the visuals is the easiest way to symbolize that departure from the norm, but perhaps more impressive is that Jeff Lemire changes his writing style almost completely for this issue.

The story opens with Thacker (our point of view character) explaining that he is keeping a journal while on a seemingly hopeless mission to find his brother-in-law to be in the hinterlands of Alaska.  What follows is a comic that is incredibly text-heavy.  It is a little overwhelming at times, but it really helps to demonstrate how different this issue and storyline is from everything else that's happened in Sweet Tooth, which is neat.  However, while the variance in art and writing is impressive, does it make for a good read?  At this point, I would say it does and it doesn't.

On the one hand, the story that's being told, while it is wildly different from the rest of the series, is really interesting.  The characters that Lemire introduces, including Thacker, Captain Jasper, and the crew of the Aberdeen, are all intriguing in their own way, and the events that take place during this issue make me want to read more.  But at the same time, if the comic didn't say Sweet Tooth on the cover, I would assume that I was reading the wrong comic.  At this point, this arc has virtually nothing to do with the wider story that Lemire has been telling, and while I understand that the answers will surely come in the next two issues, it is disappointing that the links couldn't have been more explicit in the beginning of this new story.

Verdict - Check It. This is a really good comic, which considering that it's being penned by Jeff Lemire, shouldn't come as a huge surprise.  However, as I say above, this is also a big departure from what he's been doing thus far in Sweet Tooth, and no matter how good the issue is, it's a little distracting to find a story that has almost no relation to what you've been reading for twenty-five issues.  I'm excited for what comes next, but I feel like the transition could have been handled a little better.

Quick Shot Reviews

ACTION COMICS #2 - The first issue set this series off to a rather solid start, and Grant Morrison and Rags Morales (with some fill-in help from Brent Anderson) continue that momentum here with the follow-up issue.  Things kick off in a big way, with our younger Superman being tortured by Lex Luthor and his stooges in an attempt to find what, if any weakness, the Man of Steel might possess.  It's a good sequence that shows how cold, calculating, and unreasonable Lex Luthor can be.  The reveal of Lex's big question is also pretty funny.  A nice moment of levity there.

Of course, Superman won't take being tortured lying down, so he proceeds to escape in a pretty sweet action sequence.  I really enjoyed how annoyed he got with all the people trying to stop him, insisting over and over again that they can't hurt him.  You could sense the eye rolling on Clark's part.

The issue moves a little quickly, but it generally works pretty well.  The main complaint I have with this book is that it is way too short.  Just as things are heating up, you realize that the book is only twenty pages long and the rest of the interior is just filler.  As cool as it might be to read some behind the scenes interviews with Morrison and Morales, I was not at all happy to find out that I'd paid $3.99 for a twenty page comic.  What happened to "Holding the Line", DC?

Verdict - Check It.  It's a good comic and I enjoyed my time reading through Superman's latest adventures, but the price point is all wrong.  Especially since the first issue actually had more story pages, it was a rather unpleasant surprise to find out that this book was so short.  If you're charging an entire dollar more, you need to offer something to make the purchase worth it, and I'm not sure DC did that this time around.

ANIMAL MAN #2 - Lemire and Foreman continue their exciting tale of Buddy Baker and his family's super messed up adventures.  Things go from bad to worse as Buddy develops an intense full body tattoo and Maxine's powers seem to portend some rather dark forces at work.  While the comic asks us to put a lot of faith in the creators, since they aren't really explaining a lot of what's going on, I'm willing to bet that things will become clear as time goes on.

The writing continues to be top notch, with Lemire doing a brilliant job with the Baker family dynamic.  I generally love his dialogue, and he continues to shine here, providing for some very convincing moments.  Foreman's art is still a little jarring at times, but it works really well during the book's many supernatural moments.  His work towards the end of the issue is particularly creepy.  I don't yet understand what The Red is, but I know that it isn't good.

Verdict - Buy It.  This new dynamic duo provide yet another quality comic.  There's still a lot left unexplained in Animal Man's most recent adventure, but it is clear that there is an explanation behind everything that's going on, and it will be revealed as time goes on.  I, for one, cannot wait.

BATWING #2 - I'm so glad that books like this can be part of the New 52.  For all the talk about restarting things and making things accessible to new readers, I feel like this is one of the few books that actually managed to accomplish that.  I'm really digging the story that Judd Winick is putting out here, with the brutal Massacre working to eventually kill all of the former members of The Kingdom, the heroes who first rose to protect Africa.  The world of Batwing feels like it has a real history behind it, and because all of the characters are brand new, there is a real sense that anything can happen.  While there are certainly characters who will survive no matter what, it's not quite clear who is in which category, something that can hardly be said for many of the other books coming out right now.

This book isn't perfect, but it does a lot of things well.  Not only is Winick telling a good story, Ben Oliver is doing some amazing things on art.  As I said last month, his photorealistic style is reminiscent of Alex Ross' painted work, but it is also very much Oliver's own.  I really like his panel layout and the sense of movement that you find throughout the book.

Verdict - Buy It.  This book is exciting in a way that I feel a lot of the new DC books failed to manage.  The story and art have some missteps, but they are generally of a pretty high caliber.  Perhaps most importantly, I'm excited to see what happens next, which is what every story should strive to accomplish.

MYSTIC #3 - Like Batwing, I'm really glad that books like Mystic have a place in the comic book industry.  This book, telling the story of two orphans girls living in a Victorian steampunk world that just so happens to be infused with magic known as Aether, is an absolute joy.  The comic is wonderfully written and features some gorgeous artwork throughout courtesy of the incredibly talented David Lòpez.  The general storyline, involving prophecies of potential doom that can only be prevented by a girl saviour, isn't exactly brand spanking new, but G. Willow Wilson manages to infuse a sense of novelty and excitement that makes the entire book sing.

The continuing adventures of Giselle and Genevieve can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.  To be honest, it's the type of thing I wish I could have read when I was younger, because the world being created is so exciting that it sets my imagination on fire even now.  I can't even fathom what it would be like to read at a younger age.  More people should be reading this story, because it's phenomenal.

Verdict - Must Read.  This comic is great storytelling.  There's a lot of classic conventions being put to work here, and it's all coming together to make a whole that is far greater than its individual parts.  I would put this comic in line with some of the better Disney films.  It's the type of story that has a sense of timelessness to it, and I imagine it could be enjoyed for generations to come if it were better known.

OMAC #2 - Oh, O.M.A.C.  I'm still surprise at how good you are.  This book is a wonderful mixture of past and present, taking all the craziness of the Silver Age without getting bogged down with how overwritten that era could sometimes be.  Admittedly, this means that the book's plot isn't always the most complex or rational, but there's enough pretense of logic so that any oversights are pretty forgivable.  In that sense, this book also has a kinship with 80s action movies: a lot of what's going on is telling a story, but a big motivation of that storytelling is to get as much fighting and action in as possible.  And I am not going to complain about that.

The fights are big, off-the-wall, and a ton of fun.  The writing is just kitschy enough, and the art is really good.  It fits the style perfectly, once again seemingly combining eras, with a lot of basic panel layouts that still manage to convey a lot of exciting stuff.  The relationship between Checkmate and Cadmus  is something that I'm eager to follow, and the reveal at the end of the issue was more than enough to pique my interest for more.

Verdict - Buy It.  This is classic comic book fun.  O.M.A.C. won't necessarily have you pondering the deeper meanings of life or whatever, but that's fine.  Not every book needs to be infinitely complex, and I'm happy to have more low key books like O.M.A.C. to kick back and relax with.

And there we have it.  What did you think of the books this week?  A lot of good ones, like myself, or did you wind up with a few less enjoyable reads?  How'd you like this take of the weekly reviews?  I always like to hear how it's going by you guys and gals, so feel free to share below!

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CombatSpoon86 said...

Good reviews, Were you able to flip through Swamp Thing. It's so leading to a crossover when you both look at this weeks and last month's issues of Swamp Thing and Animal Man issues.

Anonymous said...

Love Scott Snyder! Swamp Thing, Batman, and of course, American Vampire! Gotta tell you, though, Severed has been a bit of a let down. I've spent $9 for a "slow burning" story that I don't even know will pay off. I'd rather wait for the trade, if it's going to be like this. I got other things to spend my money on in the meantime.

Grant McLaughlin said...

@CombatSpoon - I managed to snag a look at a friend's copy. I have to admit that it is pretty good, if a little text heavy.

@Anon - That's a fair sentiment. I feel like it's having some organic building in intensity over the course of each individual issue, so I'm enjoying the slow pace, but I can also understand where you're coming from.

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