Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 11/16/11

Welcome on back to another round of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  We've got ourselves three books on deck this week, including Blue Beelte #3Punisher #5, and a mystery book that I wasn't actually intending on picking up until I got to the store this week.  What could it be?  DC?  Marvel?  Some other company?  The only way to find out is to hit that ol' jump, so I'll see you on the other side!

Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Ig Guara & Ruy Jose

I got into comics in a big way near the end of Jaime Reyes' initial run as Blue Beetle.  I was hearing lots of good things, but I must confess to being hesitant about jumping onto the title when it was already well into its run.  Of course, the book was cancelled shortly after that, but the good things I had been hearing didn't stop.  Eventually, I tracked down all of the issues from the series and thoroughly enjoyed reading through them all.

I may have missed it while it was happening, but that doesn't change the fact that that was a darn fine series.  It had a great balance of seriousness and humour, told a story that was approachable to readers of all experience levels, and was appropriate for readers of all ages.  I'll admit that it kind of lost some of its luster towards the end of the run (which I assume is partly responsible for its ultimate cancellation), but it still stands as one of my favourite books.

All this to explain why I, like many, had been waiting for Jaime to get another try at bat in his own book (those Booster Gold backups obviously don't count).  Well, DC finally deigned to acknowledge our yearning and brought back Jaime Reyes as the Blue Beetle with their New 52 effort this past September.  Unfortunately, as I've said in past reviews, this relaunch hasn't been all that great, and issue #3 sadly continues that trend, with Tony Bedard and company not doing all that much to maintain reader interest.

I've explained before that Bedard has not strayed incredibly far from the original series in terms of storytelling, and while that remains true, it's also become clear that pretty much all of his changes have been a disservice to the book and its characters.  For whatever reason, Bedard has decided to remove pretty much any and all subtly that existed in the first series.  Instead of Paco having a nuanced character arc of dropping out of school, joining a metahuman gang, and becoming a better person for it, he's just a straight-up gangbanger from the get go.  Up to this point, Brenda has no discerning characteristics apart from being the girl Jaime has a crush on.  Her aunt, La Dama, was slowly revealed as the leader of a major crime syndicate who maybe wasn't all that bad in the end, but this time around seems to be a pure villain with no redeeming qualities.  And don't even get me started on Jaime's family.  This relaunch is as simple as simple can get, with Bedard giving us flat, archetypal characters instead of anything of substance.

However, it's not just the characters that are being mistreated, the story in this book is moving at an absolute snail's pace and has thus far refused to offer any real reason to continue reading.  La Dama wants the Scarab for reasons that she has yet to explain beyond "it's a powerful weapon", resulting in it seeming like a pretty big MacGuffin.  The Blue Beetle "race" has come to Earth with the seeming intention of killing everyone "just because".  Even Jaime's family's distress over Jaime's disappearance seems forced.  There simply isn't that much going on here to make this book worth reading.

Last time around, I said that I was enjoying Ig Guara's art, but it didn't impress me as much this issue.  It's serviceable for the most part, but it isn't nearly good enough to hide all the shortcomings on the writing-side of the equation.  Additionally, there are some wacky things going on with anatomy that aren't disastrous, but they do put parts of this comic squarely in "uncanny valley" territory, which took me out of the reading experience.

Verdict - Skip It.  There is a slight chance that my criticisms of simple characters will be addressed in the issues to come, but considering that after three issues they are still as flat as the American Midwest, I wouldn't count on it.  As it stands, this is a rather basic superhero book that doesn't want to take any chances or risk any kind of misinterpretation, which takes most of the life out of what's going on in the pages.  It's not the worst book out there, but there's so many better ones that are more deserving of your time and money.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checchetto

I've been buying this book since it launched in August, and while I've been digging every issue, I don't think I realize how much I've been enjoying it until reading this week's issue.

Greg Rucka is among my favourite writers out there, and one of the things I appreciate the most about his work is that he never phones it in. His comics are always well thought out, deep, and complex.  And he's brought all of that and more to Frank Castle's deeply disturbed corner of New York.

After a big fight with the new Vulture back in issue #3, Frank came out rather the worse for wear, falling from the sky and breaking his leg, among other serious injuries.  Last issue saw Norah Winters help bring him to relative safety and wrestling with whether or not she should reveal her role in all of that.  And while all that was going on, detectives Oscar Clemons and Walter Bolt were out and about, trying to find suspects related to the "Wedding Day Massacre" that opened the first issue that was instigated by The Exchange organization.  As I said, complex.

One other aspect of Rucka's writing that I really like is that he always strives to make his comics feel "realistic".  I recognize that that is somewhat oxymoronic in a books that routinely feature superpowered heroes and villains, but Rucka manages to accomplish said feat more often than not.  For example, this issue opens up 100 days after the Punisher's fall, having had to take the time to (mostly) heal up before getting back into the swing of things.  And it's intense.

The Punisher wastes no time getting back into action, and detectives Clemons and Bolt find themselves once again showing up too late, finding corpses where they were hoping to find witnesses or perpetrators.  However, this series is far from being just about the criminal that the Punisher kills; it also takes the time to really look at the people living in this world and how the world around them has impacted their lives.

With a nice little wink to real life, Rucka sets this issue around Thanksgiving, allowing us a different look into each of the characters who has been appearing in the book thus far.  Nora Winters' budding friendship with the sole survivor of the aforementioned massacre, Rachel Cole-Alves (as well as Alves' challenging physio to properly recover) is quite touching, and I'm eager to see what Rucka has in store for the two, both of whom have been somewhat on the periphery up until now.  I also rather enjoyed the somewhat strained relationship between detectives Clemons and Bolt.

But for all that, the best part of this book was the young boy that was introduced as a pseudo friend and ally to the Punisher.  He didn't have all that much in the way of dialogue, but his every moment on the page spoke volumes, even when he didn't speak at all.  And his discovery at the end of the issue, after everything that takes place beforehand, was just a little bit heartbreaking.

However, Rucka is not the only reason for this book's great success.  Marco Checchetto draws the hell out of this one, doing the lion share of the work.  There are no less than four pages that are completely without dialogue, and there are two or three more that have very little, and they're all amazing.  Rucka can do this because Checchetto's images are so clear that there is never any doubt as to what is going on.  This book has a ton of heart, and Checchetto's work is what lets that all come out.

Verdict - Must Read.  Rucka and Checchetto's Punisher is one of the rare comics that demands re-readings to catch everything that's going on.  In a time when people often complain about the price of comics (with myself firmly among that group), having a reason to spend more time with one's books is always a good thing.  Unlike Blue Beetle, there's nothing simple here.  This book has a clear direction that it's headed in, and I can't wait for it all to come together.

X-23 #17
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Sana Takeda

I picked this title up on a complete whim.  I'd been hearing some great things about Marjorie Liu's work with X-23, but I figured that I don't buy books starring Wolverine, so why would I start picking up one starring his admittedly cuter lady-clone?  Anyways, when I heard that this issue would feature Laura babysitting Val and Franklin Richards, I was intrigued.

It just goes to show that a fun and clever premise can get a reader into a series, even when it's well into its run.  And boy am I glad I gave this one a chance.

The book opens with Gambit talking with Hellion about how maybe he's kind of an awful dude, and while I was a little lost on some of the finer details (such as who Hellion is), Liu's writing and Sana Takeda's art was more than enough to let me know the basics of what was going on.  I was really impressed, because I am a reader whose experience with the X-Men is pretty much limited to the 90s cartoon series and the live-action movies, but I was more than able to follow along.  They managed to make the character relationships clear, and again, even though I don't know the nuances of it all, I was able to appreciate what was going on, which was nice.

I'd also like to take a moment here to rave about Sana Takeda's art.  Seeing as how I'm rather tardy to this X-23 party, you might already know this, but Takeda knows her way around a comic book page.  There's an absolutely beautiful painterly quality to her work that won me over almost immediately.  I also really admire her panel work, as she's willing to cram in far more panels than most comics nowadays normally would, and it looks great.  The page right after Sue and Reed Richards leave for the evening has six near identical panels, and the effect is hilarious, smoothly paced, and perfect.

The above-mentioned hilarity is perhaps my favourite part of this book.  It has a wonderful little sense of humour that isn't in your face but still manages to add a lot to the overall story.  Indeed, the very concept of a superhero babysitting superhero children, while maybe something that's been done before, is played excellently here.  Everyone is quite earnest about the whole thing, but it's that earnestness that adds to the subtle humour.  One would expect something to go wrong in a story about babysitting crafty children, but the fact that they manage to summon a dragon-monster is something that could only happen in the context of a story like this.

Verdict - Buy It.  This comic was a lot of fun, and I'll definitely be back for part 2.  My only complaint is that I had the poor timing to discover the joys of X-23 right after its cancellation was announced.  Oh well, that's just how things go sometimes.  On the plus side, I can happily pick up the remaining issues knowing that I don't have to make a long-term investment in another title for my ever-growing pull list.  It's not much in the way of consolation, but you have to take what you can get.

And there we have it, folks!  Some familiar books, some new faces, and a smattering of verdicts all in between!  How was the week by you?  Anything really stand out, whether good or bad?  I'm all ears, should you want to share your thoughts.

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btownlegend said...

You are beyond right about Blue Beetle. This reboot is too similar to the last series and the differences are ...bleh. Bedard was the wrong choice. Bring back Rucka.

Eric said...


Anonymous said...

No batman review? wth?

christian said...

Have to admit, I loved Jaime's original series and the BG back ups, but these issues have been poor comparisons
I totally agree that particularly Paco and Brenda have lost any depth of charcater and LaDama is now just evil mustache twirling villianess rather than the conflicted and more subtle portrayal prereboot.

I do wonder if they had just jumped into a story of Jaime, rather than retelling a very recent origin (am I right in thinking only Kal-el and KAra have so far had this too?) it might feel less defined- like a photocopied picture of a superior original

And X23- pure awesome, and that cover- SOOOO much win going on

Simon McDonald said...

@ Anonymous

To be fair, do we really need another Batman review? There's only so many superlatives in the world we can use for Snyder's Batman run and I'm pretty sure we've maxed them out.

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