Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 11/02/11

Welcome to November's opening salvo of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  Lots of books on deck this week, so I'll keep this preamble to a minimum.  Hit the jump to see my thoughts on Action Comics #3, Amazing Spider-Man #673, and lots more!

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Rags Morales, Brent Anderson, & Rick Bryant

When it was announced that Grant Morrison was coming back to write some more Man of Steel material, I was initially quite leery of the idea.  It really seemed to me that he had said everything he needed to say with All-Star Superman, which is pretty much one of the greatest Superman or superhero stories ever told.  However, as Action Comics #1 drew ever closer to release, I started to come around to the idea.  If Morrison had taken the assignment, it followed that he probably had more stories to tell.  When I heard that he was taking the character back to his roots as a protector of the common man against the tyranny of the greedy affluence of society, I started to get excited.

And then the first issue came out.

It wasn't bad, per se, but looking back on it, there were some underlying problems.  These only became more evident when the second issue released, which had a whole bunch of things going on, but nowhere near enough time or space to spend enough time developing those ideas.  Unfortunately, that is very much still the problem in this third issue.  Frankly, it seems to be getting worse.

This issue is all over the place.  It starts with a little vignette with Clark dreaming about the destruction of Krypton, and jumps to the police coming into his apartment to look at all his things and his landlady seemingly discovering his secret identity.  Without spending any time on that, a stranger gives Clark an inscrutable warning, we get a glimpse at Clark's mysterious tipster, the world turns against Superman, an alien virus invades some of Earth's computers, and John Corben gets turned into Metallo.  All this - and more - is jammed into this issue, and it's simply too much.

The comic skips a whole bunch of actual development, leaving it to the reader to fill in the gaps with their prior knowledge of the character.  This makes the whole book rather unfriendly for anyone who is unfamiliar with Superman, and while I will freely admit that most people have a general understanding of him, but parts of this story require some rather in-depth knowledge for it to make sense.  I know Morrison likes to make his reader work, but this is ridiculous.

The worst part of all this is that the book is once again $3.99 for 20 pages of content.  Maybe that is all that they can manage to stay on time (which would certainly explain the two extra artists brought on to help Rags Morales), but it's too expensive for what it is, and the story just isn't making all that much sense.

Verdict - Skip It. This book isn't worth it.  After issue #1, and even at the end of issue #2, I felt like Morrison was taking this somewhere - and maybe he is - but at this point, I have no desire to see what that ultimate destination is.  Pass.
As well, this book

Written by Dan Slott
Art by Stefano Caselli

"Where are my pants?"  That's how the epilogue to Spider-Island begins, and it is perhaps the perfect summation of the summer's (now late-fall) hit event.  It's been funny and fast-paced, while still taking the time to have some serious and poignant moments as well.  And it did it all without having to bust out the seriously overused signature character death that every event seems intent on having.

Okay, so maybe "where are my pants?" doesn't represent all of those things, but it was a pretty funny line, so...

Anyways, Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos, and Stefano Caselli (in the prologue and epilogue) simply went out and told a great story, which seems to be increasingly rare when it comes to company events.  Other creators would do well to take note (I'm looking at you, pretty much everyone else).

This epilogue issue, like the entire event, manages to give pretty much every single character their time in the sun, offering the perfect amount of time to conclude the parts they played in the whole story.  It's astounding how concise Slott can be with his moments, sometimes ably wrapping up entire storylines with a single word balloon.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this man knows Spider-Man and writing his stories seems to be the gig he was born to do.  Almost every single moment of this issue (and again, the entire event) was right on target, making for one of the best reads I've had in a good long while.

Of course, it wasn't all perfect.  There were some hiccups along the way, and this issue's treatment of the Peter Parker - Carlie Cooper relationship is chief among them.  While I understand the argument that Pete had so much on his mind that he forgot about Carlie for a bit, I just can't accept it.  The moment where she turned into a monstrous spider was one of the strongest of all the issues, and it just doesn't make sense that that would slip his mind.  There's also the problem that their breakup was incredibly rushed and unsatisfactory.  Again, I recognize that that kind of thing can happen in real life, but it doesn't mean that it makes for a rewarding read.  Like many, I thought Carlie was a solid addition to the Spidey's strong supporting roster, and taking her out so quickly seems like a pretty big waste.

Apart from that glaring misstep, I would say that this issue, like the event, was pretty darn good.  Unsurprisingly, the same can be said for the artwork.  As amazing as Ramos was on the book (and he was quite amazing), Caselli is more than able to come in and wrap up the whole story.  Indeed, his work on this issue, like most everything he does, is top notch.  That final page is particularly touching.

Verdict - Buy It.  Amazing Spider-Man has been an utter joy since Dan Slott came back to write it, and Spider-Island has been among his best work on the book.  It does so much right and is so much fun.  If you missed this event, you owe it to yourself to pick it up in trade.  If you have read it all, I salute your good taste.

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jordi Bernet

After the last issue, I was cautiously optimistic for the current The Beast in the Cave arc, which seems to be telling the origin of Jim Book and Skinner Sweet's relationship.  It was an interesting decision to jump so far back in time after killing off Sweet in AV #18, but I was on board to see where it was all going.  The fact that it was hinted that the story could potentially reveal the origin of the American Vampire species only served to whet my appetite further.

Last issue finished with Hole in the Sky entering into a spooky cave to find Goddess Mimiteh, an ancient aboriginal vampire, who looked pretty peeved at his presence, which led me to believe that this iteration would have a pretty intense opening.  Instead, we flashback even further into the past for Mimiteh to tell the story of how she first became a vampire.  It was an interesting tale, but it was a little jarring to open with such an in-depth narrative.  As fascinating as the story was, it took up eleven pages of the book, which is rather substantial when there's only twenty in total.

Additionally, although I enjoyed the story, it was a whole lot of exposition that ultimately didn't provide any further clues as to how American Vampires first came to be.  Mimiteh, like Skinner Sweet before her (technically after her, chronologically, I guess), gets bitten by some European Vampires and wakes the next morning as the evil creature of supreme power that we've seen before.  While I understand that telling the actual origin of American Vampires would probably be a poor decision for the wider narrative, teasing at doing just that and ultimately offering a non-explanation is a pretty big let down.

Frustratingly, with all the time spent on the flashback, the present-day sequences end up being a bit rushed.  Mimiteh tells Hole in the Sky that she will not help him fight the American soldiers, but doesn't really offer any reason for her decision.  It seemed like there was a lot going on there, but it simply wasn't given enough page time to explain why she made that choice.

After some more friction between Book and Sweet, we jump back to Hole in the Sky and his troops readying their attack, and Hole in the Sky reveals that he has somehow taken Mimiteh's powers for himself.  Unfortunately, this moment also suffers from being rushed, and it ends up being the exact same cliffhanger that we saw last issue, which is rather disappointing.

On the art side, Jordi Bernet continues to impress.  He has some sweet layouts and breakdowns, and his pencils, inks, and colours are all pretty amazing.  For all that, his great work doesn't do much to hide the fact that this issue is really exposition heavy and takes twenty pages to accomplish what could have been done in far less.

Verdict - Skip It.  As a discrete object, this issue doesn't do all that much.  Seriously, for all the storytelling we get, this issue breaks down to "Hole in the Sky gets vampiric powers".  That's it.  As much as I love Scott Snyder (and, as we know, it's a lot), this issue doesn't stand up on its own.  It'll be great once the rest of the story is told, but if I was just starting out with the series, it wouldn't keep me around.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Matt Kindt

Oddly, Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth and Scott Snyder's American Vampire are pretty similar at the moment.  Both are in the midst of telling flashback stories set near the turn of the century that involve native peoples of some description (in this case, the Inuit of the north) that purportedly will reveal the origins of major parts of their respective series.  For Sweet Tooth, that means that we're looking at the beginnings of the plague that killed off most of humanity, created the hybrids of today, and has pretty much been the driving force of the series.

I was intrigued by the first issue, especially the way Jeff Lemire changed his writing style and brought on Matt Kindt to represent the shift in time.  Both of those moves really wowed me, but my main complaint was that it wasn't entirely clear how any of the events were related to the main story.  Fortunately, this issue answers that question, providing a whole whackload of backstory and information to begin to explain what this apocalyptic disease is all about.

Seriously, while American Vampire was a bit of a let down, Sweet Tooth pulls out all of the stops.  This issue has some sweet action, intriguing mysteries, and satisfying reveals.  At times it is a bit of a talking heads issue, but everything they're saying is interesting and helps the reader better understand the world these characters live in.

The parallels between American Vampire and Sweet Tooth are actually kind of creepy, as this issue also features a character going into a dangerous cave with the result of unleashing terrible evil on the world, but it plays out much better in Lemire's work.  Instead of flashingback to some even further back time, the story focuses on the events of the cave and provides a concrete example of the consequences of this action.  It makes for a much more enjoyable read, to be certain.

The other thing that this book has going for it is that Matt Kindt is really coming into his own.  I spoke quite highly of his work last month, but in this issue he really raises his game.  The beautiful water colour work is still the order of the day, but it just seems much tighter throughout the issue, with Lemire giving Kindt plenty of opportunity to flex his artistic muscles.  And flex he does, showing a range of emotions, actions, and dreamscapes with apparent ease.  Again, while I prefer this book with Lemire on art duties, Kindt is proving to be a more than capable substitute.

Verdict - Buy It.  Sweet Tooth #27 succeeds in a number of places where American Vampire #20 fell short.  A lot of the same things are going on here, but it seems far more relevant and interesting in this book.  To be fair, it's worth noting that Lemire actually does seem to be building up to at least a partial explanation of how the virus first began.  There are still a few pieces of the puzzle that are yet to be revealed, but it genuinely feels like we're getting somewhere.

Quick Shot Reviews

BATWING #3 - I'm still enjoying Judd Winnick and Ben Oliver's Batwing, but the decompressed storytelling is starting to be a little grating.  At the end of issue three, we've met Batwing, his nemesis Massacre, and discovered that the former superheroes of The Kingdom that Massacre is murdering did something terrible (although Thunder Fall passed before he could explain what that something was).  As interesting as this brand new world has been, the slow pace we've been getting is starting to give me the impression that the creators might not have all that much material up their sleeves.  The pace isn't bad enough to turn me off the series yet, but if they don't drop something big soon, I'll be checking out.

Verdict - Check It. The story continues to be engaging, but could be moving a little quicker.  Fortunately, Oliver's art is as stunning as ever, which makes the pace a little easier to swallow.  There's some things going on in the periphery, but I'm not sure when they'll get any storytime.  We'll see how the next few issues go.

ROGER LANGRIDGE’S SNARKED #2 - The second issue of Roger Langridge's adorable Snarked! was just as good as the first.  Frankly, it's classic Langridge: wonderful art, great comic book storytelling, clever writing, and lots of fun.  This book sees the nefarious royal advisors bring in the dangerous-sounding Gryphon to hunt down and find the missing Princess Scarlett and Rusty, who continue to try to convince the Walrus and the Carpenter to help them find their missing father.

Of course, this being a children's comic, the Gryphon, while formidable, is also outsmarted by the good guys, who manage to get away to hash out their plan.  Amidst these events, Langridge manages to fit in lots of jokes, clever witticisms, and a handful of cute moments where you can't help but go "d'awwww!".

Verdict - Check It.  Realistically, barring a drastic turn in quality, I'll be along for the entire ride of this series.  As I've said before, I know that this kind of comic isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for good old-fashioned comic book storytelling where every issue moves the plot forward that also happens to be a ton of fun, then look no further than Snarked!

Whew!  Lots of comics to work through, but I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts as much as I did putting them together.  Of course, there are plenty of other books that I could have spoken about here, but there's only so much time in the day.  What were your thoughts on the week?  Any books that stood out for you?  Any that really let you down?  I always love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to share 'em below!

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Klep said...

Thank God Carlie is gone. She was a terrible character and, judging by her constantly changing appearance, Marvel had as little respect for her as I did. She was spiteful, jealous, and selfish, no matter how many times Marvel had other characters telling us she wasn't. Peter, and comics in general, are better off without her around. This is the first positive development for Peter's personal life since before BND.

Jon said...

I continue to thoroughly enjoy the Animal Man/Swamp Thing goings on as they stand.

I couldn't agree more on both Spider-Man (and spider-island in general) and Action Comics, so far.

CombatSpoon86 said...

I dropped action after issue 2. Didn't feel it was worth the 3.99 tag. Asm was a good ending to the event. American vampire was ok but slow.

the biggest books were Animal Man and Swamp Thing. You can just feel the crossover coming together just by reading both books. The red and the green.

Keith said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessments of American Vampire and Batwing.

On AV, the flashback was fun, but didn't need to be as long as it was. I do disagree with your take on the art, however. I couldn't place what it was that was turning me off the art at first, but then it hit me when looking at one of the close up panels on Mimiteh's face during the flashback: I felt like I was looking at a Disney princess. The art is far too "kiddish" for AV. I think the overall mood of the story thus far is so intertwined with Rafael Albuquerque's art I don't like seeing fill-ins on the main title (I did love Sean Murphy's art in AV: SOTF, however.) For my money, Albuquerque is the only person with any business drawing the book.

On Batwing, I was along for the ride on #1 and then on #2 I started getting that "hurry-up-and-give-me-something-to-chew-on-feeling." I didn't pick up #3 and after reading your assessment I'm glad I didn't.

Great reviews this week. Thanks!

Grant McLaughlin said...

@Klep - So maybe I should change it to being "one of the few" who's said to see Carlie gone. Whatever you think of the character, I think it's a waste to shunt her off to the side so quickly and with so little build-up. Kind of cheapens her time as Pete's gf.

@Jon & @Combat - I'm feeling more and more that maybe I was a little hasty to drop Swamp Thing, but I'll stand by the choice. For now.

@Keith - I will admit that Mimiteh was rather ladylike for a killer vampire, but I maintain that Bernet's doing a pretty good job in the art department. But at the same time, I will agree that I would rather Albuquerque draw every single issue. But when he's not available, Bernet is a capable fill-in.

CombatSpoon86 said...

@grant. If your reading Animal man, they've been doing interviews that they were crossing over the book. Lemire and Snyder all but confirmed it. Plus Swamp Thing has been pretty well written. Especially since they introduce the new villain the Rot, which is the green entity. Also having the red entity in Animal Man. It's not too late to go back and get issues of Swamp Thing.

Klep said...

@Grant Her time as Peter's girlfriend was cheap to begin with; I don't think it's a waste at all. Like I said, she was a terrible character, and it was obvious that not even Marvel had any respect for her given that they couldn't even be bothered to enforce a consistent appearance for her.

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