Sunday, January 1, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 12/28/11

Happy New Years, one and all!  Let's get things off on the right foot with your weekly dose of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  We've got some good books this time around, including the triumphant return of Raphael Albuquerque to America Vampire #22, the creator shake-up over in Captain America and Bucky #626, and the continued efforts over at Flash #4.  How does it all pan out?  You'll have to hit the jump to see!

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Raphael Albuquerque

Now this is the American Vampire that I know and love.  After the, shall we say, uneven interlude that was "the Beast in the Cave" storyline, Raphael Albuquerque is back on the book with Scott Snyder, and all is once again right in the world.

The series' chronological march forward in time is back on track, taking us into 1950s America, when times were good, cars were huge, and rock and roll was king (or so is my understanding from popular culture).  Snyder makes great use of the shift in temporal setting, introducing the readers to Travis Kidd, a self-taught teenaged vampire hunter who is both a product of his time and an excellent allegory for the society of today.

In point of fact, that element of Travis has been one of my favourite parts of American Vampire all the way since issue #1.  Snyder has a great talent for emphasizing the parts of the past that remain just as relevant to today's society.  Travis represents both the rebellious and independent nature of youth and the general mistrust / disapproval that society can sometimes hold for its younger generations.  They may be the future, but that doesn't mean they're not annoying as heck.

That duality seems to be at the core of Travis' nature and what is driving the narrative forward at this juncture.  The issue opens with a framing narrative monologuing on this very conflict, and Snyder does an admirable job of presenting the issue from Travis' voice while also introducing the character to the reader.

From there, we have a quick jump back to earlier that day where Travis seemingly patronizes the parents of his recent gal pal, Piper, that quickly escalates into a full-out vampire slaying.  It was an exciting sequence with some clever twists on Snyder's part that managed to give the cover a whole new meaning.  It's possible (and perhaps likely) that something of a similar nature has been done elsewhere, but it was new to me, and I loved it.

The book keeps up its quick pacing, seguing into a humorous malt shop scene with Agent Hobbes of the Vassals of the Morning Star, tying this issue in with the wider series and shedding the beginnings of light on Travis' motivations for freelance vampire huntery.  It's good stuff and continues to build interest in this new character.  Obviously, when a character is the point of view for the reader (as Travis is), it's hard not to develop a certain degree of sympathy for them, but I appreciate that Snyder goes further than that and spends the time to give the reader reasons to want to follow Travis' story.  The cliffhanger (jumper?) reveal at the end is a perfect example of this.

I'm ever so glad to have Albuquerque back on art.  Jordi Bernet did an alright job on his three issue stint, but this book just doesn't feel right without Albuquerque's touch.  His art is just as important to American Vampire as Snyder's writing, and this issue is an excellent reminder of that.  As always, Albuquerque's style changes in subtle ways to better evoke the book's current time period, in this case the 1950s.  There's a lot of attention to detail on things like architecture, dress, cars, and more, and every little bit makes the book better. I'm also a big fan of the way that he draws vampires; no one comes close to the way he can do it.  Welcome back, Raphael.  We've missed you.

Verdict - Buy It.  This book is the poster child for reliability.  The previous arc notwithstanding, when Snyder and Albuquerque bring their A-game - as they so obviously have with American Vampire #22 - there's no reason not to be reading this book.  "Death Race" is off to a great start, and I can't wait to see where this ends up.

Written by Ed Brubaker & James Asmus
Art by Francesco Francavilla

The first arc for the relatively recently renamed Captain American and Bucky was a big winner in my books, capably telling the origin of Bucky Barnes through a series of done-in-one vignettes that just so happened to add up to also tell an engaging narrative.  There were some shake-ups between that arc and this issue, namely the departure co-writer Mark Andreyko and artist Chris Samnee and the arrival of James Asmus and Francesco Francavilla to replace them.  I wasn't particularly certain what to make of Asmus, but I knew that I was excited to have Francavilla back on a monthly book.

All that being said, was it any good?  Is it still worth reading?

Unfortunately, the answer isn't quite the resounding "YES!" I was hoping for.  The book is still good, featuring some fine writing and gorgeous art, but it's kind of extremely continuity heavy.  There's a lot happening in this issue, and consequently, there's a lot of explaining about what's going on and why any of it matters, but I'm hard-pressed to say that it's entirely convincing.  Maybe the conspiracy with the villainous Adam II and the heroic Bill Naslund and Fred Davis - the two who replaced Cap and Bucky after their WWII disappearance - is incredibly fascinating to long-time readers, but for a relative Cap newbie like myself, it's not that interesting.

I'm more than happy to see Francavilla's awesome and moody pages and panels, but the actual story that his art is telling isn't exactly what I'd call grabbing.  It's frustrating because his colour-work is especially impressive, conveying a dark and dangerous atmosphere that is nowhere to be found within the words coming out of everyone's mouths.  It feels like there's a lot of info-dumping going on int his issue to get all the pieces into position for what should be some cool future action, but it comes of as forced, not at all like the work done before the creator changes.  I don't know what happened with that switch over, but the spark and genuine excitement that I felt while reading through Captain America and Bucky doesn't seem to be there.

Verdict - Check It.  Your mileage may vary, but I wasn't won over by this issue.  If I hadn't just read five terrific issues of Cap & Bucky action, I would drop this title without hesitation as not being worth a monthly purchase.  As it stands, I'll have to put some serious thought into whether or not I'll be back for round two.

Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul

Sigh.  This was definitely an example of expectations hurting my reading experience.  The solicitations (and common sense) made it abundantly clear that Barry Allen, the protagonist of this series, was not dead from the bullet to the head that ended last issue, but this iteration of the Flash was very insistent on denying that fact, which frustrated me quite a bit more than I would have expected.

So when the issue opened up by offering further backstory on Manuel Lago and the legion of possibly malevolent clones better known as Mob Rule, I was distractedly wondering when Barry would show up instead of enjoying the experience.  Looking back on it, as origins go, it was pretty good.  Francis Manapul did some really fun things with the page and panel layouts, doing a great job of using form to reflect content, which I really liked.

The main problem (my waiting for Barry eventual reappearance aside) is that Manapul and Brian Buccellato are a little too insistent on showing just how badass their new character Manny truly is.  Describing him as "James Bond meets Batman" is perhaps laying it on a bit thick.  Surely these two creators have heard of "show, don't tell", right?

Anyways, from the origin, the book moves back into the present, jumping right into the character development portion of the text when Patty Spivot remonstrates Manny for being a flake until he realizes what a selfish person he's been and goes to see if Barry is alright.  To be honest, it doesn't read that well.  This issue is perhaps the first one where the quality of the writing isn't quite up to snuff.  Things feel too convenient and orchestrated, with many events moving at the speed of plot.  Everything that needs to happen for the story's sake does, and it feels unnatural, which hurts the reading experience.

On the plus side, Manapul's art and Buccellato's colours are as good as ever.  Manapul's loose, painterly style has been a favourite of mine since I first laid eyes on it, and it genuinely feel like he's been getting better with each issue, always trying something new, something that is extremely gratifying as a reader.  Risks may not always pan out the way they are intended to, but even something that doesn't quite work is preferable to the same thing ad nauseum.  And when experiments do succeed (as they so often do under Manapul's watch), it's a feast for the eyes that I simply cannot pass up.

Verdict - Check It.  The writing isn't quite what is has been and the game of Waiting for Barry gets a little old, but this is still a pretty darn good book.  At this point, the art is more than enough to keep me on board, but hopefully the writing picks up soon, because I can't subsist on art forever - regardless of how purty it might be.

And there we are.  Some variations in quality, but isn't that always the way?  How was the last week of December on your end?  Good?  Bad?  Other?  Hit up the comments to let me know!

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Kevin Tam said...

I was really pleased with Flash #4 last week. I don't think they took too long to show us that Barry was alive -- we waited a month for it, what's 17 pages?

I think Manapul's layouts were a really creative way to frame Manuel's flashbacks, and I positively loved Barry's sequence at the end. He's running out of an abandoned warehouse as it explodes behind him! Comic books!

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