Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 01/11/12

Welcome, one and all.  This week, I find myself looking through some of the comics that Image had on tap for the week, including Heart #3 and Joshua Luna's new book Whispers #1.  It's time for your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews, so let's get it on!

Written by Blair Butler
Art by Kevin Mellon

After last issue having a few too many Fight Club parallels than would be totally desirable, I am happy to report that Heart #3 is virtually Tyler Durden free.  Instead, we focus back in on Oren Redmond's personal quest to become the best damn mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighter that he can be, which is a good thing.  This issue is rife with ups and downs as Oren struggles to with his first in-ring defeat and the decision to trim up to qualify for a lower weight class where he might have more success.

Blair Butler continues to impress with her well-constructed narrative, walking the reader through Oren's difficulties step by step, making sure that everything is clear while still maintaining Oren's voice.  It's a remarkable balancing act that Butler seems to nail with ease, which is a boon to readers who aren't overly familiar with MMA fighting (such as myself).  Once again, Butler's passion is evident and it's infectious.  It's hard not to find yourself rooting for Oren, even if you're not normally a fan (and even though he's not always the most sympathetic of characters, which is another reason to be impressed with Butler's work).

In fact, Oren's characterization is a definite highlight of this book for me.  His motivations have developed slowly and naturally over the course of these issues, and so his ultimate reactions always make sense and feel honest.  This was especially true during Oren's fight against a rather flamboyant contender, where Oren's ego from his earlier wins really gets in the way of him taking the match seriously.  It makes for some good dramatic irony, where Oren is rather full of himself, while the reader has a pretty strong idea of what's coming next (which also adds a tinge of tragedy to the scene as well).  Butler has formed an engaging protagonist in young Oren "Rooster" Redmond, and I'm happy to follow his successes and defeats as he moves through his MMA career.

I'm also really enjoying Kevin Mellon's work on art.  I thought it was solid from the first issue, but I find myself liking it more and more as we move along.  It's not what you'd call flashy, but that's not what this comic needs.  The story follows the sometimes gritty and violent life of a fledgling MMA fighter, so the art's unfinished look is an excellent compliment.  Mellon does a brilliant job depicting the speed, power, and brutality of all the fights - as well as their after-effects.  I don't want to imagine this book with any other artist drawing it, and I think that says a lot for how well the writing and art have gone together.

Verdict - Buy It.  Butler and Mellon's work continues to roll right along.  After a minor hiccup last issue where things were a little too similar to Chuck Palahniuk's best known work, everything seems to be back on track as Oren works his way into trying to make something of himself.

Written by Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

It's hard to believe that this title first started up all the way back in August, but here we are months later with things almost wrapping up.  I've said it since that first issue, but it bears mentioning again that perhaps the strongest element of Severed is its pacing.  Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, and Attila Futaki have bided their time, moving the story ahead only as much as the narrative required and no more.  For their patience alone, these gentlemen should be lauded.  But they do us one better by putting that patience to good use by telling a horror story that uses mundane, everyday things to create genuine terror.

Jack Garron has been slowly making his way across the United States to meet up with his father, a traveling music man whom he has never met.  Along the way he's ridden the rails, befriended a streetwise girl by the name of Sam, and generally done pretty well for himself.  But all the while, he's been moving ever close to being in the clutches of the character known only as the Salesmen, a rather disturbing gentleman who is more or less this book's equivalent of the boogeyman (but real and terrifying).  Last issue, Jack finally got wise to the real danger he's in, but it was unclear whether or not this recognition had come too late.

This issue aims to provide at least a partial answer to that question, and it is, in a word, thrilling.  And in pretty much every sense of the term.  Snyder and Tuft continue to pay off the slow build they've been working on, and when Jack finally makes hi move, this escalate in a big way.

Virtually the entire issue is at least somewhat difficult to read - and like I've said before, that is definitely a good thing.  Normally, I wouldn't think a comic book would be a terribly effective medium for horror.  The fact that it's all still imagery and that the reader controls how quickly or slowly the story moves would strike me as difficult challenges to overcome  Yet, to the all of the creators' credit, overcome them they do, turning these challenges into advantages.

The still panels are often used as a tangible snapshot, freezing in on a moment just before something truly awful could happen, and I've found it to be genuinely uncomfortable at times.  Meanwhile, the reader's control of the story's speed becomes another advantage, as it can often be somewhat challenging to continue reading, resulting in the unsettling moments being drawn out even longer than is sometimes comfortable.

I don't want to provide any real concrete details here, since a big part of this book's impact comes from its reading, but I do want to emphasize what great work Snyder, Tuft, and Futaki are doing.  As I've said, the plotting has been excellent thus far, and that continues to be true in this issue.  There are some questions being raised (not the least of which being how we'll get back to that framing narrative that opened this miniseries in issue #1), but I have faith that answers will be provided.  Attila Futaki also deserves his fair share of due.  This is a horror book, and pretty much all of its thrills and chills stem from what the reader sees, all of which is Futaki.  He has a visceral, detailed style that makes everything that's seen - and the things that remain unseen - that much more effective.  Combined, these three are making some wonderful comics.

Verdict - Buy It.  I'm really happy that I took a chance on his series when it was first announced.  While Scott Snyder often gets me on board without too much difficulty, this is quite different from his other works right now.  One of the best parts of this series has been reading it as a monthly, as it makes the sometimes unnerving cliffhangers last even longer.  Can't wait to see how it all gets tied up next month.

Written by Joshua Luna
Art by Joshua Luna

I flipped through this one on a whim in and decided to give a whirl without having much of an idea of what to expect.  Now that I've made my way through it, I'm still not quite sure I could explain what exactly is going on in Whispers, but I can readily tell you that it's something rather out of the ordinary.

The book opens with our intrepid protagonist, Sam Webber, struggling with the Herculean task of attempting to open a door.  It might not sound like the most earth shattering of obstacles, but the challenge comes, as we quickly learn, from the fact that Sam has some serious mental issues.  It's not explicitly described, but there are elements of obsessive compulsive disorder, general paranoia, and more, which all add up to making that door an insurmountable obstacle in his eyes.  To him, that door handle is a potential stronghold of all manner of germs, disease, and potential badness, and the thought of coming into contact with those things is nigh unthinkable in his mind.

I'm not often reading through portrayals of mental illness in my regular fiction fix, but I found Joshua Luna's attempt to be rather convincing.  As both the writer and the artist, he does an excellent job of pacing panels and captions in a way that evokes the fear and panic that Sam is feeling.  This is our first introduction to the character, and even at this early stage, many of Sam's idiosyncrasies and shortcomings come through clearly.

Once Sam does finally manage to breach the entrance of the cafe he had been standing outside of, we soon learn that, apart from his mental challenges, he also happens to be plagued by some strange dreams.  While he conceals his personal paranoia and fear from those around him, he is much more open to discussing said dreams.  A little too open, as it turns out, since his group of friends are dealing with far more important problems - Sam's ex-girlfriend, Lily, is dealing with mounting medical bills to support her sick father - they don't appreciate his constant insistence on talking about meaningless dreams.  When Sam doesn't pick up on the hint, they ask him to leave.

Sam is a surprisingly developed - and incredibly flawed - character, and reading a series that simply followed his day-to-day existence would likely be worth reading in itself, but Luna is just getting started.  That night, Sam learns that his strange dreams are a bit more serious than his friends gave him credit for.  He wakes up that night in the midst of a literal out of body experience.  After the mandatory freakout, he realizes that, although they can't see him,  he can instantly teleport to anyone he personally knows.  And more than that, he can influence they actions with his mere thought.

It's an intriguing idea that makes what was already an interesting concept far more unique.  And Luna does a pretty good job executing on all of these ideas.  Sam visits a few figures from his past, and these interactions do a great job in showing the reader the limits of these powers in a natural way.  As well, they are pretty solid examples of showing instead of telling, as all of these scenes continue to illustrate Sam's character quite admirably.

All that being said, I must admit to not being a huge fan of the art.  Since this is Joshua Luna's first solo effort, I obviously haven't seen him on his own before.  However, I did read he and his brother Jonathan's Ultra once upon a time, and I felt the same way about the art back then.  I find that it can come off as kind of unpolished in parts.  The style is alright, but Luna's figure work too often comes off as awkward and unnatural.  And it can be a bit distracting at times, which is unfortunate.  It's certainly not always an issue, but when it comes up, it takes you right out of the reading experience.

Additionally, while I was won over pretty handily by the ideas happening in this book, the writing does suffer from hiccups in places.  Some conversations feel stilted, word combinations don't always work, that kind of thing.  Although I find Sam to have a distinct voice, most of the other characters are rather one-dimensional at the moment, and they sometimes read as more juvenile than I imagine they were intended to be.  Definitely not a complete turnoff, but it was unfortunate to find these types of blemishes when the major ideas were so interesting.

Verdict - Check It.  There are definitely some missteps in this opening issue, but I feel that Whispers #1 was a success in spite of those problems.  Luna takes some risks here, and while they don't all pay off, I appreciate that he's trying something different from the norm.  It wasn't perfect, but I will give issue #2 a chance.

And there we have it.  Some interesting books from everyone's favourite comic book company that happens to be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year (or so all of its covers repeatedly tell me).  Did you have a chance to give any of these guys a gander?  If so, what did you think?  If not, what could you have been reading instead?

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Naymlap said...

I appreciate you reviewing small indie books to get them attention. But to talk about something else, X-Factor was pretty awesome this week. After an awkardly paced last story arc, this issue really pulled it together. The talky issues are always better than the action packed one, not sure why.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Heart is just a flat out good comic. I wouldn't go so far as to call it brilliant or anything but it is so damn enjoyable and really does not miss a beat. I'd rather a really good comic on every page than a great comic for only 25% of the material.

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