Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 12/14/11

We've got ourselves some interesting books to look at for this week's round of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  If you've been wondering how American Vampire #21, Batwoman #4, and Demon Knights #4 were, then this is the perfect post for you, because those are the books I'm looking at this time around.  So hit the jump already and see what I thought of them!

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jordi Bernet

With this issue of American Vampire, Scott Snyder and Jordi Bernet finish up their Beast in the Cave storyline, and I have to say, I'm happy to see it go.  This three-issue aside started off well, but the second issue really didn't add anything to the American Vampire mythos, and the third issue accomplishes even less.  A bunch of stuff happens, but none of it really means all that much, resulting in a conclusion that left me pretty cold.

The story really focused on the relationship between James Book and Skinner Sweet in the time before Skinner was turned into a vampire, which I found to be a really interesting choice.  I was curious to see where this would all go and what the point of it was.  Unfortunately, now that it's all said and done, I'm not really sure what, if anything, these three issues managed to accomplish.

There's really been two concurrent, but ultimately separate, narratives running through these issues.  We've been following James and Skinner as they grew older and both ended up in the American Army in southern New Mexico preparing to fight some aboriginals that are camped up on a ridge.  And, at the same time, we've been on the other side with Hole in the Sky and his men as they also prepare to battle.

The former story mostly acted as a character study for James and Skinner, which was interesting, but I don't know if the reader really learned anything that they didn't already know.  James is a bonafide good guy, while Skinner is a pretty rotten apple.  That was already pretty well established, as far as I'm concerned.  It was kind of interesting to see that Skinner was already pretty bad before becoming a vampire, which could partly explain why he became so evil, but there wasn't really anything done with that fact during this storyarc.

On the other side of the equation, the Hole in the Sky storyline seemed like it was going to help explain how the American Vampire species was first created, but that never really materialized.  Mimiteh, the ancient aboriginal vampire, seemed like she would provide all the explanation we'd need, but nothing came of it.  All we got was Hole in the Sky stealing her powers somehow and a quick fight between the two that resulted in all the aboriginal fighters dying due to Mimteh's displeasure.  It was an odd storytelling choice that meant that the "big fight" between the American soldiers and the aboriginal fighters that the issues had been teasing never actually happened.

Verdict - Skip It.  Maybe I took the wrong expectations out of the first issue of this storyline, but I feel like it didn't accomplish anything that it set out to do.  James and Skinner's relationship is almost exactly as it was before issue #19 opened, the origin of the American Vampire is no more clearer, and I just don't really understand what these last three issues accomplished, apart from killing time.  We'll be back on track come next issue, but I would have been happy to have skipped this tangent.

Written by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Art by J.H. Williams III

You better get that broken record out, because I'm going to say it again: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman's Batwoman is absolutely amazing in every way possible.  You need to be reading this book, because it is something incredibly special.  Batwoman is head and shoulders above pretty much any other book that is on the stands right now.  The story is engaging, the writing is rock solid, and the art is out of this world.

This issue opens up on two parallel storylines, seeing Bette Kane run into some major trouble while out on patrol as her alter-ego Flamebird while Kate Kane's relationship with Maggie Sawyer heats up.  These two narratives are really on the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, but they are presented simultaneously in the pages of the comic, and the contrasting imagery is quite poignant.  I've often lauded Williams' innovative page layouts, and he does something particularly neat during this sequence, surrounding Bette with Flamebird shaped borders that are made of fire.  However, as Bette's situation worsens, the fire starts the sputter, ultimately extinguishing into smoke to represent her difficulty.  It was a small thing, but it had a real impact on the reading experience.  These kind of details are found throughout every issue of this series, and they really point to how much work and effort has gone into the creation of this comic.

From there, Kate really hits the streets to find out more about the missing children case that has been plaguing Maggie and Gotham City as a whole, while the Department of the Extraordinary finds Bette and continues their work to find out Batwoman's secret identity.  Things develop quite rapidly in both narratives, leading to the arrival of Director Bones, the boss of the Department who is both kind of hilarious and kind of terrifying due to the fact he has a skull for a head.  I can't wait to see more of him in the issues to come.

Williams' breakdowns might actually get even better for the second half of this issue, which is saying a lot, considering how amazing they were to open things up.  He really draws the hell out of this book, using various different art styles to depict all the scenes, settings, and characters that appear throughout the issue.  I'm particularly struck by the way he also draws Batwoman somewhat more realistically than her surroundings, making her stand out from the world around her as if she is different or unique in some way.

Another thing that was rather amazing is that there were no ads in this comic.  Well, I suppose there were ads, but they were all put at the back of the book.  DC seems to recognize the gem they have on their hands, as they let Williams' art go uninterrupted for all twenty pages of this issue, and it was a wonderful choice.  I've said it before and I'll happily say it again: Williams seems to be getting better with each and every issue.  Batwoman took its sweet time in actually get published, but it's been worth the wait.

Verdict - Must Read. I don't know how else I can say it.  At the risk of overstating things, this could very well be the best comic book coming out from any company at the moment.  If for any reason you haven't given this title a chance yet, you should get to your local comic book shop and pick up all four issues.  Williams and Blackman are making beautiful comics together and you want to be a part of this.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Mike Choi, Diogenes Neves, & Oclair Albert

I'm really enjoying Paul Cornell's Demon Knights, but this issue kind of came out of left field.  Up until this point, we've really just been following our plucky heroes as they fight off evil hordes or prepare to fight off more evil hordes later, but this time around we get an issue that is all about Shining Knight's quest to find the Holy Grail.  To be fair, it was pretty darn cool, but it didn't quite fit in with everything that's come before.

The book has been slowly working its way to the big fight in defense of the village of Little Spring, and just as it looks like that's what we'll get, Shining Knight faints and has a vision that lasts for the entire issue.  Indeed, there were only, like, five pages of this book that weren't vision related, which was a little odd.  On the plus side, those five pages were either quite funny or added some intriguing twists to the story as we know it, so that was pretty alright.

It also doesn't hurt that Shining Knight's vision was actually really cool.  It does seem a little random to have have so much exposition after three action-packed issues, but bringing in Merlin and Arthurian legends to Sir Yustin's backstory was rather interesting.  There was also some interesting prophecy thrown out there that, if followed-through on, will make this book a lot more than the simple hack-and-slash adventure it's been up until now.

And while the issue's story wasn't quite what I had been expecting, the art was as good as ever - if not a bit better.  Bringing in Michael Choi to support Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert seems like it was a good choice, because this book is filled to overflowing with impressive visuals.  Shining Knight's visions are really all over the place, and the art team is more than able to keep up with everything that's going on.

And while this was really the Shining Knight show, what little spotlight the other characters managed to get was much appreciated.  I absolutely adore this less serious and far goofier interpretation of Vandal Savage.  He steals pretty much every panel he appears on, although Exoristos, the Amazon from Paradise Island can sometimes give him a run for his money.  Fortunately, all the characters have their moments, including the often unbearable Jason Blood, which is impressive in my view.

Verdict - Check It.  I've been enjoying the heck out of this book, but it seems to have suddenly gotten a lot more depth than suggested in previous issues.  I'm not entirely certain how I feel about that, but I'll definitely be interested to see how the visions - and the various twists - play out in the issues to come.

So how did you find the week?  Have you been sticking with American Vampire?  Following Batwoman with bated breath?  Or were there other books that got the lions' share of your reading time?  Feel free to share in the comments below.

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Phillyradiogeek said...

Amen on your Batwoman review! It's a crime that more peopel aren't reading this title. It should be on every comic fan's pull list. If I could only get one title per month, this would be it!

Anonymous said...

I really like reading your reviews, but I have to disagree with your review of Batwoman. This book has amazing art (probably the best out there right now), but the story is underwhelming and doesn't seem to have moved since issue #1. Good book, but not he best being published by any company by a long shot.
Not even the best written book by DC right now.
Batman, Batman and Robin, Swamp Thing and Animal Man (in my opinion) are much better written books.

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