Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 10/19/11

I'm travelling this weekend, so that means that we have a slightly shorter batch of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  Hopefully we can make up for that reduced quantity with some quality examinations.  I'll let you be the judge of that, as I take a closer look at Batman #2 and Blue Beetle #2, along with some quick thoughts on a couple of the other books that dropped this week.  Hit the jump to see how things turned out!


BATMAN #2
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion

I feel like Scott Snyder's comics just aren't fair.  How can anyone else in the industry compete when he seems to excel with every single property (whether company or creator owned) that he touches?  Everyone and their mother has raved about Snyder's run on Detective Comics, along with Jock and Francesco Francavilla, and rightfully so.  His character work with Dick Grayson and the Gordon family was easily among the best things in comics at the time.  Clearly DC has understood what they have, as they've moved him up to the main book, giving him a chance to write Batman with Bruce Wayne back under the cowl.

And it's something else.

One of the craziest things about Snyder's Detective Comics was how scary that book was.  While it wouldn't necessarily make you jump out of your seat (although there were a few moments where I would argue it did), there was always a huge amount of tension, leaving the reader to sometimes wonder how safe all the characters truly were.  This atmosphere was expertly created, and while it made for some rather memorable reading, it could sometimes be a little exhausting.

Snyder seems to realize that, because even though elements of his Detective run are apparent here in Batman, it's not always so dreary.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that Batman is a laugh a minute, but there are some moments of levity, and things generally don't seem quite so frightfully gloomy.

One of the strongest parts of this book is that Snyder has truly mastered the 20 page comic book.  Considering that he has often been writing three books a month since DC's editorial mandated shortening of its books, this shouldn't come as a huge surprised, but it is worth noting when so many other creators continue to struggle with this change.  While other comics will feel rushed or simply have wonky pacing, Batman feels like it is the perfect length.  Everything that needs to happen fits neatly within the front and back cover, and the comic ends leaving the reader wanting more.

The fact that Snyder is in the midst of telling yet another amazing Batman story certainly helps things along.  After last month's tense cliffhanger, Batman #2 opens with a pretty exciting start and then jumps back in time to show the reader how events ended up that way.  It's a tried technique, and Snyder uses it perfectly, grabbing the reader's attention and refusing to let go.  Things get especially interesting when the story nearly catches up to the beginning, giving the reader time to get to know Bruce Wayne's newest ally, Lincoln March, a little better.  Turns out this rich philanthropist also lost his parents, which motivated him to make the world a better place.  It's perhaps a bit of a heavy-handed parallel to Bruce's own situation, but it works in the context of the story.  Things only get better when the Court of Owls show up and we get some knock down drag out fighting, leading into a rather interesting conclusion.

Of course, as good as Snyder's words are, they get a lot of help from Greg Capullo's pencils Jonathan Glapion's inks.  These two manage to craft a book that looks as good as it reads.  The moments depicted throughout the comic all look great and always feel like the perfect choice.  The sheer amount of things that they can fit into a single page is something to behold, particularly since it never feels like too much.  It also helps to keep the story moving, as quite a lot can go on in these packed pages.  I'd also like to comment on the choice to switch the page background colour from black to white during the scene in Wayne Tower.  This was an incredibly simple - and incredibly effective - decision that emphasized the importance of what was going on and how it was different from everything that came before it.  My only qualm there would be the single page in the Bat Cave that also uses white as the background colour.  There doesn't seem to be any reason for this choice, and it slightly diminishes the switch when it comes two pages afterwards.  However, that's a relatively minor complaint when everything else looks so good.

Verdict - Must Read. It's hard to understand why DC bothers to publish eleven different Batman titles when Snyder and company are telling the best Batman story in the self-titled book.  Seriously, there's no need to read anything else starring the Caped Crusader, because this book has everything you could possibly want or need.  I am one hundred percent sold on this book and will be ready and waiting for next month's issue.


BLUE BEETLE #2
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Ig Guara & Ruy Jose

I still don't quite know what to make of this book.  There are still a lot of elements that feel almost identical to the original Jaime Reyes' Blue Beetle series, but there are also enough small differences to make the experience feel kind of new.  It makes for a rather conflicting read.

On the one hand, as a reader who is familiar with the character, I'm not terribly fond of the idea of buying a bunch of comic book issues that will be repeating things I've already gone through.  But I also recognize that this repetition is one of the things that makes Blue Beetle among the most successful books in the New 52, in that it is something that a brand new reader could pick up and, based solely by what's in the book itself, understand exactly what's going on.

And what's more, Tony Bedard is actually offering some differences with his retelling of Jaime's origin.  As I mentioned last time, there are a number of small things, including Paco already being a school dropout or La Dama's weirdness and partial nefariousness being way more obvious from the get-go.  However, there are also larger differences, the most evident from this issue being that the reader can actually sometimes hear the Scarab along with Jaime, which is a dramatic departure from the silent Scarab old readers would be familiar with.  I found this to be a very interesting choice, as I had always thought the silent Scarab was an effective - and often humorous - decision in the last series.  It's still early this time around, but Bedard seems to be using it to put a greater emphasis on the Scarab far earlier in the story, as well as to be far more obvious about the Scarab's questionable origins.

This new focus on the Scarab is supported by the positioning of the Blue Beetle "race" (for lack of a better term at this juncture) as what appears to be one of the first arc's main villains.  The appearance of The Reach (who played this role in the last series) was much later in the run, so I'm also intrigued to see how their early involvement ultimately impacts the narrative.

My examination of how this Blue Beetle compares to the pre-new 52 Blue Beetle aside, this second issue is pretty solid.  As mentioned above, Tony Bedard isn't straying from the source material quite as much as he potentially could, but when he does deviate, I find that the decision is generally a good one.  His version of the character seems like it's off to a good start, although I hope that the rest of the DC Universe can stay out of the story for at least a little while longer.  While I do appreciate my stories impacting the wider world, it is sometimes nice when the opposite, when everything you need to know about a story takes place in a single book.  It seems especially rare among the Big 2, so hopefully Jaime and friends can continue keeping to themselves for the foreseeable future.

As well, Ig Guarra and Ruy Jose are doing a fine job on art duties.  Generally, this is a good looking book.  The layouts and break downs are about what you'd expect from a mainstream superhero title.  It doesn't necessarily always wow you, but it does everything it does quite well.  And there are some impressive moments within the course of the book.  I'm thinking particularly of the giant alien ship towards the end, which looks quite nice, and the opening page, which is a drawn from Jaime's perspective as he looks out at the world for the first time as the Blue Beetle.  It was brilliantly executed and acted as a great way to get me into the story.

Verdict - Check It.  This book isn't reinventing the wheel, but it's doing a pretty good job redesigning it.  Tony Bedard's story choices, while mostly rather safe ones, seem to be serving the overall narrative, and Ig Guarra and Ruy Jose are trucking along quite smoothly in the art department.  If you've never read Blue Beetle, than I would strongly suggest giving this title a look, and if you have, it could still be worth a gander.



Quick Shot Reviews

JUSTICE LEAGUE #2 - Seven weeks later, the sequel to the best selling comic of the New 52 has finally arrived, but is it any good?  Well, I think it's pretty fair to say that when you have something written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee, it's going to be good, at minimum.  The continued fight / misunderstanding between Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern pays off pretty well, and only gets better with the addition of The Flash.  Cyborg's sidestory continues to leave a bit to be desired, while having some moments.  And Jim Lee absolutely kills it on art.  Like, really kills it.  Some fantastic stuff coming from him.

I would say that this all adds up to a pretty good book.  However, when the book is Justice League, "pretty good" isn't quite enough.  This title is supposed to be the flagship of the entire relaunch, and it just isn't offering enough.  We're two issues in and still don't have the whole team, and if the teaser at the end is any indication, the band still won't be back together by the end of the next issue either.  This book is moving too slowly, and while I imagine it might all come together pretty well in trade, it's not really worth buying in singles.

Verdict - Check It.  Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are by no means telling a bad story here, but I'm hard pressed to say that they're telling a story that is worth $3.99 a pop.  There's certainly a lot of interesting stuff going on, and the interactions between Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash were pretty enjoyable, but I don't know if it's enough to get me back for another go round.  Depending on what other books you have on your pull, your mileage may vary.



WONDER WOMAN #2 - Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have answered my prayers and delivered what I can only describe as one of the best Wonder Woman stories of the past few years, if not longer.  I realize that's a bit of a bold statement considering that there have only been two issues thus far, but these two just seem to get it.  Their take on the character is a lot more myth-heavy than recent versions, and while I don't often enjoy that in superhero comics, it works really well because of how they're telling the story.  They're adding in a lot more mythology, and in consequence, they're telling and pacing the story in the style of a modern-day myth.  So much of what goes on in these pages would be right at home in any of the classic Greco-Roman world, and I'm loving every moment of it.

A huge part of this book's success falls on Cliff Chiang's unique art style.  He has a perfect handle on how the world should look and feel, and it acts as an excellent compliment to Azzarello's storytelling.  Of particular note is Chiang's version of Wonder Woman herself: while there are certainly elements of feminine sexuality at play here, Wonder Woman's physique is much more that of a warrior than it has been in the past.  Simply put, she's a massive, intimidating presence.  And it's great.

Verdict - Buy It.  If you've been looking for a good Wonder Woman book to read - heck, even if you haven't been looking for a good Wonder Woman book to read - you should give this one a look.  While the character is undoubtedly the heroine readers are familiar with, Azzarrello and Chiang have put enough of their own spin on Diana to breath new life into her and her adventures.  This book deserves your time and money.

A bit DC heavy this week, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.  What titles did you work your way through this time around?  Any that you particularly dug?  Others that might not have been quite so good?  Don't hesitate to throw your thoughts up on the comments, should you be so inclined.


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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good reviews. Personally, I liked the second issue of JL. Keep the good job.

The Dangster said...

I don't like some of the changes made for Blue Beetle. I know he was made to be a Infinite Crisis character, but honestly I can take Paco being a drop out already or La Dama being evil from the get go (kinda ruins her depth), but I hate what they did with his parents.

Jamie's parents knowing he was the Blue Beetle from issue 2 was the best thing about the title. The fact his family is with him, made the book original and fresh. The tension came from knowing he was a superhero. Now he just resembles Spider-Man too much.

CombatSpoon86 said...

Wonder Woman is a big surprise. I didn't really expect it to be so good. Azzarello turned this character for me to a must read. ALL and ALL I love the new Wonder Woman series.

Anonymous said...

You guys thing Scott Snyder is impenetrable while Grant Morrison is the worst thing to happen to comics.

Naymlap said...

Wow. There's so much wrong with that anonymous comment. I think impenetrable is better used with Morrison, because some of his comics are dense to the point of being incoherent.
And I don't think I've seen anyone at this site call Morrison the worst thing to happen to comics. Grant's reviews highlight why he loves comments. It might not be the best review style (sorry, sometimes I don't like your reviews, but mostly I do), but it reflects his love for comics. At least he forms coherent opinions and doesn't drag people down.

matthew. said...

I hated JL 1 but I wanted to give another issue a go. I didn't hate the second issue as much, but it certainly highlighted many of the problems I have with Johns as a writer: the glacial pacing, the forced inclusion of "themes" at the expense of subtlety, and the rampant nostalgia. I am dropping JL but maybe when the 6 (!) issue origin story is done, I'll give the next arc a try. If it makes it that far.

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