Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 01/18/12

Apologies for the tardiness of this week's round of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews.  It was far from my intention to keep you waiting.  It's been a busy week and all that.  Regardless, things are finally ready to go, so I invite you to hit the jump to check out my thoughts on Amazing Spider-Man #678 and Batman #5, along with a handful of quick shots for good measure!

Written by Dan Slott
Art by Humberto Ramos

I'm feeling a little torn about this issue.  On the one hand, it's the opening of what looks to be a nice, relaxed two-parter where Spider-Man will have to dig deep to save the world.  On the other hand, it's the opening of what looks to be a nice, relaxed two-parter where Spider-Man will have to dig deep to save the world.  I know that probably sounds pretty contradictory, but hear me out.

I jumped on to Amazing Spider-Man about a year ago when Dan Slott came back to the title, and for all of that time, it's been pretty dang good.  I've lauded Slott's work repeatedly throughout reviews and previews on this site, and his enjoyable take on everyone's favourite wall-crawler continues here as ever.  But that's kind of my problem.  I feel a little spoiled to say it, but as good as Slott is, a year of reading his work on Spider-Man is starting to feel like more of the same.  Even when something is really good, it can lose some of its novelty when it continues to be good in the same way, which is what I'm finding here.

The basic premise of this story is that while working at Horizon Labs, Peter and Grady Scraps (one of his fellow scientists) travel 24 hours into the future to find a New York that has been completely destroyed due to their (well, Peter / Spider-Man's) absence from the time stream.  Jumping back in time, and armed only with a future newspaper from the timeline where New York isn't destroyed, Grady and Peter try to stop said destruction from happening.

It's certainly the type of wacky and fun idea that fits perfectly into the type of stories that Slott has been telling.  And he and Humberto Ramos pretty much nail the execution, but I found myself feeling a little let down at issue's end.  While I hadn't read this particular comic before, it had a lot of things in common with other stories I've read in the past year, and maybe that's the problem.  Things are beginning to feel a little formulaic. As I said at the start of this review, I have no doubt that Spider-Man is going to ultimately succeed, and while that's pretty much true for any comic you'll find on stands, it's also important to maintain a degree of uncertainty in a comic's resolution, which is currently missing in this arc.  It's just too big of a disaster to actually come to pass.

Verdict - Check It. I feel like a jaded reader to say this, but New York isn't going to be destroyed in Amazing Spider-Man #678, which takes any suspense that could have existed right out of this story.  But who knows?  Dan Slott has impressed me in pretty much every other issue I've read; maybe he has one heck of a rabbit to pull out of his hat in part two.  I sure hope he does.

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion

This is a damn impressive issue in what has been an impressive opening arc for Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman.  Last Bat-time we saw our hero captured by the Court of Owls, trapped in their deathmaze without any hope of escape (technically, they called it a labyrinth, but "deathmaze" has a certain ring to it).

While that remains a pressing problem, the issue actually opens with a short dialogue between James Gordon and Harvey Bullock that properly sets the stage for what's to come.  James has been turning on the Batsignal every night, despite Batman's absence, and the conversation between the two touches on Batman's importance to those around him and the wider world.  On its own, it's a nice little treatise about the character, but it also functions as a good shorthand to advance the story the required week to bring us to Batman's current state after seven days in said deathmaze, and it's pretty dire.

Introduction aside, this issue is pretty much solely concerned with following Batman's slow descent into madness as he tries to out-think and out-maneuver the Court of Owls, who remain rather mysterious and enigmatic.  In that sense, this issue (and again, this arc) is rather unlike most Batman stories, because he seems to be rather unprepared for what he is facing, which isn't exactly a common thing for him.  While I would certainly agree that having a hero win without difficulty does not make for interesting reading (see my review for Amazing Spider-Man above), I'm definitely not used to seeing Batman struggle so desperately.  That being said, I'm willing to go along with things because of how well-crafted they are.

A few more pages are spent establishing Bruce's struggle to maintain his sanity and find a way out of the deathmaze, and then things get interested.  While Bruce's grip on reality starts to twist, so does the page of the comic.  Snyder, Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion literally rotate the comic book ninety degrees, forcing you to read the book what would normally be considered sideways.  It's a brilliant way to have form reinforce content, taking the reader out of their comfort zone to reflect Batman's difficulties.  There are a few more things of a similar nature that the creators use to show Batman's increasing madness, but I'll leave them to you to discover.

My main gripe with this issue is that it feels a little bit rushed.  While I appreciated the opening scene, the fact that this is a twenty page issue means that everything else has to get jammed into the remaining seventeen pages, and the story suffers a little for it.  The entire thing is robbed of some of its gravitas as it feels like everything happens just a little bit too quickly.  This issue would have really benefited from having a few more pages.

Also, the fanboy in me continues to not be entirely won over by the idea that something like the Council of the Owls has existed in Gotham since pretty much forever and that Batman had no idea.  Add in how thoroughly they're trouncing Batman right now, and it kind of feels like Snyder is throwing Batman under the bus to show the reader how nefarious / badass / cool this new addition to his rogues gallery is, and it's not working for me. But maybe that's just me.

Verdict - Buy It.  Fanboy griping aside, this is a solid comic book.  The rushed pacing hurts the story a bit, keeping this from being a "Must Read", but everything else is so good that it's forgivable.  Snyder continues to write a mean Batman, and Capullo and Glapion are doing a bang-up job of bringing his words to life.

Quick Shot Reviews

CHEW #23 - I love Chew.  It's humour really tickles my funny bone, and I'm always happy to see new issues of this book.  After really raising the stakes in the previous storyarcs by introducing the alien writing in the sky, John Layman and Rob Guillory have dialed things back to tell a more personal tale featuring Amelia's ex-boyfriend.  He's kidnapped Tony to use his cibopathic powers to learn about the sex lives of dead baseball players for a book he's writing, and it's just as ridiculous as it sounds, but in the context of the world Layman and Guillory have created, it also makes perfect sense.  While that craziness is going on, Colby, Tony's former partner, is having difficulties adapting to life with the USDA, and things are just as wacky there.  This book had some issues with its release schedule last year, but things are starting well for 2012.  Verdict - Buy It.

VENOM #12 - Rick Remender has been doing some good things with this series, featuring Flash Thompson as the latest inheritor of the Venom symbiote, but I'm starting to wonder where this book is going.  At this point, it's starting to feel like Flash has been under Crime Master's thumb forever, which means it's getting rather old. Blackmail is great and all, but it is a bit limited in what it can offer narratively, and that's definitely starting to show.  Perhaps the best example of that is that this issue's major offering is a big throwdown between Venom and Jack O'Lantern, which is all well and good, but if you've been paying attention at home, that's actually how issue #1 opened.  Unfortunately, that begs the question of what's really changed in the time in between?  That's being a little harsh, as there have been some excellent moments in this series, but it definitely feels like it's been stalled of late.  Flash's frustration boils over with him breaking up with Betty and looking for the solution to his woes at the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniel's. I know it's supposed to be dramatic, but it feels regressive to me. Verdict - Skip It.

Some mildly negative reviews this week, it would seem. Did you catch any of these issues? Are my frustrations warranted? Additionally, how do you feel about my Court of Owls issue over in Batman? Do you feel similarly, or am I way off base here? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so hit up the comments to let me know.

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Naymlap said...

Totally disagree with you on Spider-Man. It was really well paced, and while it's using a lot of the same toys in that Slott has been using, it does so in a very fun way. Character writing is spot on, and Ramos is probably my favorite Spider-Man artist of all time. This is a definite buy. It's not high-stakes enough for a must read, but it's pretty much representative of everything right with Spider-Man right now.

Mike-El said...

Be careful what you wish for on Spidey. I remember, not too long ago, being totally in love with the Straczynski run for how fresh and different it was, and about the same time I started complaining that it was feeling a little stale is about the same time we got the return of Ezekiel... that was, I felt, when it started feeling like JMS was phoning it in. From there it just nosedived into these terrible arcs like that "new" Molten Man and of course the infamous Osborn/Stacy lovebabies.

Just saying: be thankful for well-tread but excellent, or you could end up with entirely-new but atrocious :-)

Simon DelMonte said...

No, you aren't the only one with that feeling about Batman. It's a great comic, the best Snyder is doing, but it requires us to accept that the post-Flashpoint Batman is a bit full of himself and isn't really as awesome as we like. This is why I am enjoying Batman and Robin a bit more. It's not quite as accomplished, but it's a better take on the Bat.

Randy Benson said...

The thing about Batman is the idea seems pretty close to the kickoff of Secret Warriors.

It's tough to put that out of my mind and, just enjoy the story.

Unknown said...

As far as Venom goes, I share some of your disappointment with Flash's showdown. I mean they've been building up Flash trying to take down the Crime Master for so long that for Jack to just vamoose feels like a big letdown.

But I think it salvaged it with that final scene. Flash is just as letdown with the situation as the reader is. He's still trapped, at the whims of Crime Master should he call on him. He's completely hopeless so he does the only thing he can. He cuts off Betty so she can't get hurt and starts drinking away his pain. And then that last line, "We are getting used to it" really hammered home how the line between himself and Venom is starting to blur.

Like you said, back in issue one, Flash screwed up in fighting Jack, but at least back then he was still himself. The Venom symbiote was safe at base and he was safely on the wagon. Now, Flash is hopelessly dependent on the suit and the bottle.

Don't count Remender out just yet, my friend. He has some weaker issues but he always seems to pull it together at the end.

Christopher said...

Interesting comments about Spider-man, and the way you know that the city will never be blown to bits.
When Dinosaurus was threatening to blow up Las Vegas in Invincible, I was sure Invincible would save the day.. and then BOOM! Whole city gone.

But instead of feeling a "wow" moment, and thinking that it had changed the way I saw the story, I felt a bit let down by Invincible's inability to save the day.

Superheros should be saving the day. And if they don't.. then they're not very super, and not very heroic.

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