Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 10/12/11

Welcome back to this week's edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  We're trying last week's combination of longer and shorter reviews once again, so you'll be able to find my thoughts on Batwoman #2, Demon Knights #2, and more.  Hit the jump to see how this week went!

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy

So I think it's safe to say that my unbridled love for Scott Snyder is pretty well-known at this point. Not only do I seemingly buy every single book he writes, I have a rather hard time saying much in the way of bad things when it comes to titles he's working on. While a portion of this must be ascribed to my predilection for his prose, I like to think that a much bigger pat is simply due to the fact that he writes a damn fine yarn.

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest is a great example of this. On the surface, a male and a female lead fighting a bunch of nazi vampires isn't terribly novel (especially considering how common both nazis and vampires seem to be in current popular culture). And even this final issue of the mini-series isn't that terribly innovative. The leads get into a big action sequence and nearly overcome insurmountable odds only for one of them to heroically sacrifice themselves to save the other, leaving the surviving member to learn a valuable lesson about themselves. These summaries could describe dozens - if not hundreds - of stories, but the difference is that Snyder and Sean Murphy tell it so well that it feels fresh and original.

Indeed, a bit part of the success of this mini-series has been the collaboration between Snyder and Murphy. Snyder may be coming up with a lot of these crazy ideas, but Murphy is the one giving them visual life. And he does a hell of a job, too. All of the action pieces (and there's a lot of them) are really clear, but more importantly, they feel like action scenes. There's an intensity and energy in his work that makes the whole thing feel like a blockbuster movie with a huge special effects budget (in a good way). That being said, when it comes to that lesson the other lead learns, Murphy does just just as well with the quiet moments. The emotions and moments he depicts at the end of the issue feel just as real and intense as the crazy action from before. His diversity of talent has been a huge boon for this title.

It kind of goes with saying at this point, but Snyder's writing is top notch. He paces the issue brilliantly, and as I said above, provides an honesty to his characters' words that make this story far better than it might have sounded on paper. Survival of the Fittest didn't need to be nearly as genuine as it was, and it's for efforts like this that I'll give anything Snyder is working on a chance.

Verdict - Buy It. At the end of the day, this mini-series was an action story featuring two leads killing the heck out of a bunch of nazis, vampires, and vampire nazis, which is already pretty great. But Snyder and Murphy went one step further and created a narrative with some intense emotional honesty that made it even better. If you missed these five issues, give them a look when they eventually appear in trade. You shan't be disappointed.

Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Art by J.H. Williams III

I have to start this one off with a confession: when the entire internet was going crazy fro Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III's run on Detective Comics, I just couldn't get into it.  Certainly, I agreed that the art was out of this world, but the story failed to grab me in any real way.  Kate Kane was not someone I sympathized with, the Religion of Crime struck me as kind of silly (it still does, to be fair), and I couldn't help wondering why Gotham City needed yet another member of the Bat-family - especially one whose actions seemed to take place entirely outside any other story set in the DC Universe.

Now that I have that off my chest, I must add that I have no idea what I was thinking.  Going back through the Elegy collection, I realized that none of these things really mattered, because Detective Comics was straight up great comic book storytelling.  It has a strong and interesting lead, told an exciting story, and featured some of the best and most innovative art in comics today.  And even though Rucka is no longer on the title, that's exactly what Batwoman continues to be.

This book is - and always has been - the J.H. Williams III show.  I can be very complimentary when writing of artists' work, but Williams is in a league of his own.  Everyone always raves about his panel layouts, and rightfully so, because the way he arranges his panels can sometimes be as beautiful as the images he puts in them.  He has a brilliant sense of movement, and even though his layouts are quite different from your regular comic book, it's always an organic reading experience, with one panel naturally building to the next.

And what's in those panels.  My goodness.  It's not only amazing how well he can draw, but also how many different styles he can excel in.  The look of the book seems to be in a constant state of change, evolving in response to what's going on in the story, and the effect is masterful.  Just by looking at the way things are depicted you can get a solid idea of what is going on.  In that sense, kudos must be offered to Dave Stewart on colours who does a great job of making everything Williams does look even better.  I'm loving the combination, because it makes the whole book sing.

Artistic raving aside, there's obviously the question of whether the writing is any good.  As I said for last month's opening issue, the answer is a resounding "yes!"  I don't know how much is Williams and how much is W. Haden Blackman, but their combine efforts are so good that I don't even miss Rucka (something I never thought I'd say, seeing as he's one of my favourite writers).  These two just get it.  Every character reads like a fully-developed person and the numerous intertwining storylines are all fascinating.  However, as cool as the Department of Extranormal Operations, the Hydrology murders, and the involvement of Batman Inc. are, my favourite part of this title is the budding romantic relationship between Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer.  The two read incredibly well together.  In fact, I would say that their interactions are better here in Batwoman than they were in Detective Comics.  There's an air of earnestness and playfulness that wasn't quite there before that I'm really digging.  Hopefully we'll be getting a lot more of this in the issues to come.

Verdict - Must Read. I've been going on and on about how DC isn't doing so hot in their representation of women, and I'm happy to say that Batwoman bucks that trend.  However, while it's great that the book's lead is a strong female character, the reason you should be reading this is because it's a great comic book.  The writing is great, the art is arresting, and the interplay between the two is wonderful.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Diogenes Neves & Oclair Albert

In the never-ending deluge of DC superheroics, I continue to be thankful for the existence of books like Demon Knights.  While featuring a number of characters with direct and indirect links to DC's wider super-verse, this book has far more in common with the fantasy genre.  There's dragons, magic, and swordplay at seeming every turn, but it's also rife with moments of levity, making for a book that's half Lord of the Rings and half Dungeons & Dragons.  And it's pretty great.

Granted, I must admit that there hasn't been all that much time spent with actual character development thus far, which is a bit disappointing.  A midst the near-constant action, we just barely manage to get the names of our remaining heroes, but there isn't much more than that.  So after two issues, our intrepid heroes aren't exactly what you'd call rounded characters.  It's evident that Cornell is relying heavily on character tropes and archetypes at this point, but it is still pretty early.  And with seven lead characters, it is a little challenging to delve into each and every one in only two issues.

This lack of character work is forgivable for the moment because the book is jam packed with action.  The issue opens with a battle against dragons, and before it finishes, we get mechanical monsters, winged demons, and giant fireballs to contned with, all of which makes for some sweet action and fine moments of heroism from our group of seven.

Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert continue to impress on art, doing a great job of bringing Cornell's wacky ideas to life.  With all the nonstop action, that makes for some pretty full pages, but things never get confusing.  Indeed, these fights are quite easy to parse and are a lot of fun to look at.  I'm also quite happy with the various character designs we're presented with, which go a long way to informing the reader about what kind of person every character is, a rather important thing in this book that hasn't had that much time for character development thus far.

Verdict - Check It. I'm loving every moment of this comic, but I recognize that it might not be for everyone.  On the other hand, if medieval superheroes fighting endless hordes of evil monsters a midst witty one-liners sounds appealing to you, I would strongly urge you to give this title a look.

Quick Shot Reviews

BALTIMORE CURSE BELLS #3 - I've had nothing but good things to say about this great series from Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Ben Stenbeck, and issue #3 gives me no reason to change that tune.  Things are ramping up for Baltimore and company, as a terrible demonic evil is resurrected, the not-so-pious Inquisitor closes in on Baltimore's trail, and Baltimore and his journalist companion are captured by the malevolent cult.  Admittedly, parts of this issue are a little exposition-heavy, but that's not super uncommon for a Mignola book, and as usual, the exposition is really interesting, so it's not really a problem.

Stenbeck continues to do a great job on the book's pacing and art, lining up his panels in a way that yields the most dramatic result.  His style is perfect for this book and makes the entire product that much better.  I must also spend a moment in praise of a comic book that still has 22 pages, something that is increasingly rare in today's market.

Verdict - Buy It. Baltimore is classic Mignola, and has the added advantage of being slightly more approachable than the years of continuity behind both Hellboy and B.P.R.D.  I'm always happy to get my hands on this series, and the creative team seems to be raising their game every issue.

FF #10 - I have gone back and forth and back again on this title, and the most recent issue does little to help me decide what my feelings are on the book.  I was a little disappointed in what came of the use of the Eldrac Door, but that's mostly because I imagined it would yield far bigger results.  In retrospect, Hickman's use of the device was perfect and quite capably got all of the characters to where they needed to be.  And Nathaniel Richards meeting with alternate dimension Reed Richards and Dr. Doom was pretty darn interesting.  I even found myself kind of interested in what was going on with all the cosmic Marvel characters, which haven't been blowing me away lately, so that's also pretty notable.

But at the same time, I seem to find myself wanting more at the end of every single issue.  And while there is something to be said for the proper use of cliffhangers, but yearning for more comes more from a feeling that there isn't quite enough story in each individual issue.  There's just so much going through it all means that no single story gets all that much time in the spotlight.  It seems to be rare to get a complete issue that can stand on its own with this series, and I'm getting the feeling more and more that this series will read a heck of a lot better in trade, which is frustrating.

Verdict - Check It. There's nothing wrong with the story, per se, but I'm increasingly of the opinion that Hickman's story might read better in trade, which doesn't really encourage me to continue reading it in serial.  As it stands, whether or not I come back for the next iteration of this series might depend on what else is coming out that week, which is too bad, but I'm having a hard time rationalizing why it is worth buying this title on a monthly basis.

JOE HILL’S THE CAPE #2 - Wow.  This series continues to take me by surprise.  It is exceedingly rare to find a story that seems to be solely about the bad guy and how he succeeds at all of his goals, that I simply can't believe that that's what's happening in Joe Hill's The Cape, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Eric has been wrecking absolute hell since discovering that he has the power of flight, and there is something morbidly fascinating about it.  So many stories like this would have the main character use his new found powers for good, and seeing this book's creative team do the complete opposite feels incredibly fresh and exciting.

Issue #2 is more of the same, with Eric doing some pretty awful and heinous things for reasons that only he can understand at this point.  The reactions of the characters around him are what makes this title work, because pointless destruction without a sense of its repercussions would fall quite flat.  That is definitely not what we get here, as The Cape continues to be a page turner, if only for the nagging feeling that the other shoe has to drop at some point.  Whether or not Eric is punished for his numerous reprehensible acts is yet to be seen, but I'll be there for the rest of the series to find out.

Verdict - Buy It. The Cape plays with a lot of the tropes we're familiar with from superhero stories, but it continuously turns them on their heads.  However, subversion for the sake of subversion can only take you so far, and everyone working on this book seems to recognize this fact, taking it that extra step to make sure they're also telling a worthwhile story.  Which they are.

The above is only a small portion of what dropped this week, but it's certainly some of the better books of all the ones that came out.  You might not be following all of them (or any of them), but I would heartily recommend giving them a gander if they seem at all appealing.  Which books stood out for you this week?  Any of these ones?  Or have I missed out on some of the other quality titles?  Please share your thoughts below.  I'm always happy to hear them.

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