Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 11/30/11

Welcome to your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  With the end of the month upon us, there weren't as many books to choose from as normally, but I've decided to focus in on three rather distinct issues from three different companies.  So hit the jump to see my thoughts on Daredevil #6, Skullkickers #12, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1!

Written by Mark Waid
Art by Marcos Martin

I've been trumpeting the success of Mark Waid's relaunch of Daredevil pretty loudly these past few months, and it's for the simple reason that it's been really, really good.  This series has breathed new life into a character that had fallen into a somewhat depressing circle of "what awful thing could happen to Matt Murdock next?", and it's been a welcomed change.

Just as welcome has been the wonderful artists working with Waid, namely Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, who have thus far been switching off for each new storyline.  Daredevil #6 sees Martin finishing off this arc, as well as completing his time on the title - for now - as he departs to work with Brian K. Vaughan on some yet-to-be announced project.  It's a shame to see Martin go, because his innovative artwork has been an key part of the success of this relaunch, representing Daredevil's unique powers in ways that have not been used before.

But while Martin's work is as beautiful as ever in this issue, it just didn't feel quite as exciting as it has in the past.  To be honest, it falls a little into the "more of the same" category, and while that is still pretty stunning, it doesn't manage to wow quite as much as it has in the past.  However, that isn't so much as criticism of Martin as it is a criticism of the issue as a whole.

I can't speak to what the original plans were for this arc, featuring Matt trying to help save the innocent Austin Cao who accidentally heard too much at his former-employer, Midas Investments, but this concluding issue feels rather rushed.  It's good and there's lots of clever things going on, but it seems almost as if it was too well-plotted, as if the whole problem is wrapped up not so much because of Matt Murdock's ingenuity, but because the three issue story was done.  The issue struck me as the first instance where Waid plotted things too tightly for his own good, because everything that came up in the previous few issues was tied up with a neat little bow, with nary a loose end to be found.  It's just too perfect, in my estimation.

For example, we get conclusive proof that the whole danger to Austin's life comes about because Midas Investments has somehow managed to broker a deal between some major villainous heavy-hitters, namley A.I.M., Hydra, Agence Byzantine, Black Spectre, and the Secret Empire.  This is pretty exciting stuff, and while it will hopefully continue to be a problem for Daredevil to deal with in issue yet to come, it is virtually a non-starter in this issue, as Daredevil manages to dispatch the threat they pose rather easily.  I admit that it was a bit of a clever twist, but it came off as almost too convenient.

Speaking of villains, I was also rather underwhelmed with the newly-introduce antagonist, Bruiser.  He seems pretty interesting, what with being an incredibly powerful lucador and everything, and in theory I should be way behind him, but it really felt like Waid wanted the reader to like him instead of taking the time to make him likable.  His first appearance was KOing Daredevil quite handily, and throughout this issue various characters talk about how great and powerful he is, and while the idea of him working his way up to fight the Hulk is cool, when it comes to the rematch with Daredevil, Bruiser is defeated quite soundly.  The whole thing smacks of pumping up Bruiser just to make Daredevil look better when he ultimately wins, which isn't terribly convincing.

That being said, there's still a lot of fun things going on.  It wasn't everything it could have been, but the appearance of representatives from all five evil organizations was pretty fun.  And while the result of Daredevil's fight with Bruiser was a foregone conclusion, the journey to get there had some pretty solid moments from Martin's pen.

Verdict - Check It. For all this, don't let me give you the impression that I didn't like this issue.  I did like it.  Quite a bit, in fact.  The problem, as I see it, is that it simply wasn't as good as the previous issues have been.  t's a bit of a step back, but it's still much better than a lot of other stuff on the stands right now.  One less than stellar issue out of six isn't that bad of a record, and I'll definitely be back to see what the fallout is from all this.

Written by Jim Demonakos, Kyle Stevens, Howard Tayler, Zach Weiner, & Jim Zub
Art by Joel Carroll, Mike Luckas, Ben McSweeney, & Joe Ng

Along with Daredevil, I've been lauding Skullkickers pretty continuously since I started writing here at the Weekly Crisis, but I haven't yet taken the opportunity to sit down and review a single issue, an oversight I obviously intend to rectify presently.

For a brief idea of what this book is about, Skullkickers features the continuing adventures of two mercenaries in a D&D-esque world where they get up to near-constant hijinx and skullduggery.  It also happens to be a near-laugh riot.

One of my favourite aspects of the comic is that in between storylines, Jim Zub and Edwin Huang have gotten into the habit of opening up their world to other creators, giving them the chance to run wild with their characters in various one-shot adventures.  Skullkickers #12 is one such issue, so it's not exactly representative of what you get month in and month out, but it still provides the reader with four short stories that give a bit of a glimpse into Skullkickery.

All four stories manage to capture elements of Zub and Huang's regular tone, although it's interesting to see the different things that the various creators hone in on.  The opening tale, Band of Brothers, is also the longest one, clocking in at nearly 10 whole pages (there's nine total) of wacky action.  Very much in the spirit of the main series, Baldy and Shorty (as the human and dwarf protagonists often refer to themselves) decide on a whim to help an acquaintance of theirs get some performance time at the Wenches' Girdle, the local music hall.  Shenanigans ensue, including an extended fight scene that really keys in on Zub's hilarious onomatopoeia that is one of the signatures of the regular stories (my favourite is probably Arrow Assault in the Key of Death...).  The writing, done by Jim Demonakos and Kyle Stevens is sufficiently irrelevant, and the art, by Joe Ng, is more than up to the task of depicting all the ridiculousness (I was particularly fond of the drummer's battlesuit).

Next up is a short four-pager by series' writer Jim Zub and guest artist Joel Carroll, telling a gruesomely cute tale of Shorty hunting unicorn, aptly titled Horney Horsification.  It is a fun and deceptively simple story told without any dialogue, substituting humourous symbols and images instead to show what Shorty is thinking throughout.  To go into more detail would be to reveal the entire story, but suffice to say that it moves quickly, has some enjoyable moments, and ends on a note that will probably make you smile (as long as murderous dwarves are your cup of tea).

Twang!, by Howard Talyer and artist Mike Luckas is probably my favourite story of the issue.  It features the simple premise of Baldy and Shorty ruining the many hunts of Irving Perkins McMarlowe, a newly introduced big game hunter, for reasons that are not explained.  There's not that much in the way of a point or story, apart from the two ruining Irving's day, but the whole tale has a Looney Tunes' vibe to it that I really dug.  Irving is very much the Elmer Fudd or Yosimite Sam to their Bugs Bunny, and it works brilliantly.  Props must also be given for all the different animal prey that they encounter, including a rather hilarious demon Winnie the Pooh-equivalent who also happens to be half-dragon.  This story moves quickly, and is enjoyable from start to finish.

Finally, we have the story I was perhaps most excited about, The Beholder, which is the story of well-known webcomic creator Zach Weiner (of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal fame), featuring the art of Ben McSweeney.  I was quite impressed with the way that Weiner managed to meld the style of SMBC and Skullkickers into a single entity that was true to both origins, while being something of its own at the same time.  Indeed, the story reads very much like the unholy demon spawn of those progenitors (in a good way).  Like SMBC, it is incredibly fast-paced, jumping from moment to moment, joke to joke, while still managing to present a story that fits perfectly within the wider-Skullkickers' universe.  This is especially true for the way in which Baldy and Shorty defeat their dangerous foe, which I'll leave to the reading of the tale to discover.

As I said above, this isn't exactly a perfect jumping on point to the Skullkickers book, but if you are looking for a comic that is lighthearted, moves at a fast pace, and gives you plenty of good stories to pore over, Skullkickers #12 manages to fit all of those requirements.  And at $2.99, it's hard to argue with the value.

Verdict - Check It.  I'm glad that Zub and Huang continue to offer others the chance to tell these "Tavern Tales", as they like to call them.  It's a fun chance to get some one-off stories, featuring familiar characters, that have a bit of a different spin to them.  I don't know if they'd be able to convince new readers to jump on, but it makes for a fun read nonetheless.

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Wes Craig

Now this feels like the Nick Spencer I first encountered with the initial relaunch of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents last year!

When that book launched, I had never read anything by Spencer before, but his fascinating, intelligent style more than won me over within the first issue.  I eagerly followed the rest as it slowly made its way to the final issue #10 of the first volume, but I must confess that it felt a little rushed and less vibrant with those last few numbers.  I can confidently say that that fatigue appears to be no more with this relaunch, and I'm happy to see that being the case.

There's a ton going on in this issue, with Spencer providing two concurrent stories for the reader to work their way through, and each one of them is exciting - but for different reasons.  The first, more action-packed storyline, sees the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in Subterranea on a peace keeping mission to, well, keep the peace during some protests in the midst of the Subeterraneans' religious holidays.  Of course, this being comics, things get pretty hairy, pretty fast, putting our heroes in a dangerous situation in the very early going.

However, it's the second storyline that really grabbed my attention, focusing in on Toby and Colleen as they deal with the fallout of the last series / go on a weird date.  As you might image, it's enjoyable, but kind of strange.  It gets a little exposition heavy, but Spencer's ideas are often so out there that I'm happy to spend some time listening to him explain how they work (in this case, explaining how the Menthor helmet forces its wearer to only take actions that are probably to improve the human condition).  It's wacky as heck, but Spencer has a way of grounding his ideas and making them seem plausible, no matter how ridiculous they are, and that skill is on full display here.  As well, even though he spends a good portion explaining things, Spencer still ensures to leave some dangling threads to keep the reader interested.

Admittedly, I can see this issue being a little overwhelming to readers new to the series, but I feel like there is enough information offered so that they wouldn't be at a total loss (unlike a certain Hickman title that I've recently had to give up on).  The book is exciting as all get out, moving at a rapid clip; Spencer seems to recognize that he has to make his 6 issues count, so he's not wasting a moment.

I expressed concern in the Previews about what Wes Craig would bring to this mini-series, and while it's still no CAFU, he does more than hold his own.  His style is a bit looser and cartoonier than I would initially prefer, but he manages a rather expressive style nonetheless, with a lot of moments improve by the characters' visible emotions.  It's a bit of an adjustment to a style so different from what came before, but I think he's going to fit in just fine.  I was especially impressed with the way he could jump from the chaos of the Subterrenea battle to the grace of Raven's first flight (and the lack thereof of her first crash landing) to the lengthy conversation (and neat flashback) between Colleen and Toby.  I think this is going somewhere good.

Verdict - Buy It.  It's only one issue, but it really feels like Spencer has regained his stride.  It picks up exactly where T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #10 left off, but it also feels like the series is getting some real direction again, which is a welcome sight.  I can't wait to see what comes next.

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