Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 11/23/11

It's time again for the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  It was a pretty quiet week for me, in the sense that I didn't buy a million comic books, but nevertheless, I did pick up some pretty interesting ones.  So I'd advise you to hit the jump to see my thoughts on Captain America & Bucky #624, Flash #3, and The Unwritten #31.5.  Let's do this, shall we?

Written by Ed Brubaker & Marc Andreyko
Art by Chris Samnee

Before I get into my thoughts on this week's edition of Captain America and Bucky, I feel like I need to take a moment to look a bit closer at that title, because as we're coming to the end of our first story arc, it is becoming less and less accurate.  There's certainly a lot of Bucky in this book, but Captain America seems to be increasingly absent as we move forward.  In fact, although his costume is present for the opening pages, Cap doesn't appear at all in this issue.  It really is the all Bucky all the time show.  Not that I'm complaining, as I've been digging the continuing adventures of Bucky Barnes, and I also understand that Bucky: The Comic probably wouldn't have quite the same name recognition to get it to fly off the shelves, but it's certainly odd that Mr. Rogers can't be bothered to show up in the book, even though his name leads the title.

But I digress.

That out of the way, Bucky: The Comic continues to impress.  After the apparent demise of Cap and Bucky last issue, we jump headlong into the Winter Solider years.  The issue provides a lightning quick summary of what went on during that period of the character's life, and it is pretty darn effective.  I've never read an issue featuring Winter Soldier before, encountering him only in summaries and Wikipedia pages, but Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko give more than enough to keep everyone informed and abreast of what's going on.

Indeed, I was amazed at the range of emotions that the creators were able to hit while recounting Bucky's time as the USSR's most dangerous assassin.  This builds from the missions we see Bucky run, his conflicts with his superior officers, and his romantic dalliances with Black Widow.  Of course, a good portion of the emotive impact of the issue stems directly from the running narration that Bucky provides throughout the story, which takes a rather intense turn towards the end of the issue that ties it nicely back into the opening of this story arc.

However, I couldn't possibly review this comic without spending some time talking about Chris Samnee's terrific artwork.  He has an amazing eye for visual storytelling, as none of his panels are ever wasted.  Each and every one plays in integral role in moving the plot forward, developing characters, or just being flat-out cool.  His character work is also top notch, especially when it comes to character expressions.  At many points throughout this comic, the facial expressions of the characters speaks just as loudly as the dialogue or captions on the panel.  I'm thinking of one panel in particular where Bucky is preparing to assassinate a Soviet turncoat, and the look of sadness he's wearing says more than the narration ever could.

And just as in previous issues of the series, Samnee is benefiting greatly from the work of his colourist.  Bettie Breitweiser's work does wonders, as the issue takes on a very blue colour tone as it progresses, mirroring Bucky's increasing regret and frustration.  The only thing that pierces this blue are the deep reds that are created from Bucky's various acts of incredible violence - and Black Widow's hair, interestingly enough.  It's perhaps a subtle thing, but it really added to the reading experience.

Verdict - Buy It. The first arc of Captain America & Bucky is at an end, and it's been a pretty impressive run thus far.  I'm not quite sure what's next for the book, but I am eager to discover.  I know that we're losing Samnee, which is tragic, but we're also gaining Francesco Francavilla, which should be pretty wonderful.  One thing's for certain, if the book keeps being this good, I'll keep paying my three dollars to pick it up.

Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul

I said it earlier this week, but it bears repeating: I don't understand why DC didn't give Francis Manapul the reigns to The Flash sooner.

In my time reading comics, although I've often preferred DC to Marvel (as I'm sure you've gathered from the way my comic buying breaks down), I've never been much of a Flash fan.  The character never really resonated with me in any real way.  Regardless of who was wearing the costume, the Flash has pretty much always been an honest, hardworking guy who always goes out and does his best.  And that's great and all, but it didn't do that much for me.  When Geoff Johns took over the title after resurrecting Barry Allen, I was there for each and every issue, but I quickly realized it wasn't for Johns' storytelling, which frankly, wasn't that strong at the time, it was for Manapul's amazing artwork.

Seriously, the things this guy does is absolutely astounding at times.  This book features the Flash racing to save a plane by using his powers to let it pass through the bridge it is in the process of crashing into, and not only does it look gorgeous, it happens in the opening pages.  That moment is only the beginning of a story that has a lot of threads going that also happens to look better than most any other comic you'll find (the only exception I can readily think of would be J.H. Williams III's Batwoman, but these are completely different books).  Again, I don't know how Manapul and Brian Buccellato are dividing the writing, but these two seem to be finding some pretty exciting ways for the Flash to use his powers, and Manapul is more than up to the task when it comes to depicting said powers.

The remainder of the issue follows the fallout from the city-wide blackout caused by the new villain, Mob Rule, and there continues to be a lot of interesting stuff going on.  We get some early glances of The Rogues, already promising revenge on our speedy hero, along with a whole bunch of intertwining plot points that are lead to Mob Rule, who is (are?) quickly becoming quite the intriguing antagonist.  The issue builds to a rescue mission by Barry and Patty Spivot going to save Barry's old pal Manuel Lago (who is directly related to Mob Rule), and while the cliffhanger is a little cliché, I'm willing to see past it because Manapul's art is so good and because the comic deals with it a little different than most others would.  I'll be interested to see how Flash #4 opens.

Verdict - Buy It. Manapul and Buccellato are nailing each and every issue.  This book is simply too good looking not to pick up, and if you aren't giving it a serious look, you're doing yourself a disservice.  Francis Manapul is, in my opinion, one of the best artists in the industry right now, and he's doing some pretty impressive things with the Flash, and what's more, I'm pretty sure he's just getting started.

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Michael WM. Kaluta, Rick Geary, & Bryan Talbot

Okay, full disclosure: I love The Unwritten.  Absolutely adore it.  This series from Mike Carery and Peter Gross started life as what seemed like a more adult parody of Harry Potter, but quickly moved past that initial appearance to become about far, far more than one piece of children's literature.  The series organically moved into being not about one story, but all stories that have ever been told and the impact that they've had - and continue to have - on the world that Tom Taylor and his allies inhabit.

I've regularly explained that this appeals to the English Literature major in me, but it is also just a beautifully fascinating concept that I love to see play out in the pages of the book itself.  The creative team has already done some pretty amazing things in their run, one of my favourites being a "Choose Your Own Adventure" issue that was quite interesting, but this most recent storyline, "Tommy Taylor and the War of Words" looks like it's really going to push the envelope.

Earlier this month we saw the opening chapter of the arc, and this week we have our first #.5 issue.  It's been explained that this will provide background on the cabal that Tom and his friends have been fighting, but I was intrigued to see how that would play out.  It turns out that it plays out quite well.  In the twenty pages DC affords its readers, we get three different, but interrelated, stories, all told from the perspective of Wilson Taylor's personal journal.  I said above that Carey and Gross get to play within the entire history of literature, and this issue really sees them take full advantage of that, as we get three stories that really run the gamut.

Our opening story is set in ancient China, following a scholar warrior hero who enforces emperor Qin Shi Huang's "burning of books and burying of scholars" edict, which gets pretty brutal, all in the name of controlling knowledge.  The second story features Homer Davenport, a political cartoonist for the New York Journal in the late 1800s, and his discover that his cartoons are having a real - and sometimes negative - impact on the wider world.  And the third story jumps to medieval Europe, focusing on Gutenberg, his printing press, and the efforts of the Church to prevent the spread of literacy (a.k.a. the spread of knowledge).  All the stories are interesting and well-composed, and when they are combined, their impact is even stronger.

What's even more impressive is how Carey manages to jump in and out of history, all the while using it to advance his own story about an ancient cabal that uses stories to control the world.  It's a lot of fun, and makes for compelling reading.

I was concerned about having three different artists working on a single issue, but seeing as there were three distinct stories, their differing styles worked quite well.  It actually made the jump from one story to the next a lot easier, as the change in style and imagery supported the change in time.

Verdict - Buy It.  Mike Carey is a very skilled and very knowledgeable writer, and this issue is strong evidence of that.  If you haven't been reading The Unwritten, this wouldn't be that bad of a place to jump on.  It doesn't lay out every single fact that's come before, but it does give a strong idea of what the current conflict is, and how it's been going for the different sides of the fight.  If the rest of the .5s are like this, I'll happily snap up each and every one.

As you can see, it was a pretty solid week on my end.  Indeed, I have no complaints.  How about you, dear reader?  Were your picks as rewarding?  Did you page through any of the above series?  If so, did you feel the same way?  Let me know down below!

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Jon said...

I had a pretty slow week, to be honest.

The Flash: Grant said pretty much everything I could, except that I was a big fan of the previous Flash run with Barry. Johns brought me over to the Flash a few years ago when I was attempting to catch up to the DC universe and was reading around the Identity Crisis/Infinite Crisis era, and found him interesting. I went back and read some of Wally's adventures during the Geoff Johns years and really dug it. It's a little later than that when I started feeling like Johns got lazy at times... (Also, proves that a new reader CAN in fact figure out what's going without needing a reboot...I know it's not the debate du jour anymore, but that's my two cents).

Aquaman #3: Oh man. I cannot stress enough how much I love this comic. Speaking of him, THIS is the Geoff Johns I remember from a few years ago. This will be a weird comparison, but I feel like this series is very much like one of my favourite series from the 90s, the x-files. It has weird, humour, violence, mystery, character development. It's great all around, and I really really really hated Aquaman, so I went in there with the lowest of expectations (even after finding myself enjoying the Aquaman parts of Brightest Day). I'm loving it so far, it's well paced and great to look at. In fact, it has the strange side effect that while reading it I get very thirsty.

Alpha Flight #6: Eugh...Is it over yet?

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