Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 02/08/12

Here at the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews, we have a week of beginnings and endings.  I'm, of course, referring to the much anticipated Adventure Time comic book adaptation, Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's exciting Conan the Barbarian, and the finale to the chilling comic book horror that has been Severed.  So let's hit the jump and see how these books were!

Written by Ryan North & Aaron Renier
Art by Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb & Aaron Renier

When I heard that Ryan North was going to be writing an honest to goodness print comic, I was more than excited.  When I heard that it was going to be an all-ages book, I was over the moon.  When I heard that it was going to be an Adventure Time comic, I wondered to myself what the heck Adventure Time was.  But in spite of my lack of current TV show knowledge, my excitement continued unabated.

Having read the first issue of Adventure Time #1 (and catching an episode or two), I can now tell you that it is a series starring Finn the human and Jake the dog, two best pals who get up to irreverent and exciting adventures.  And as far as adaptations go, Mr. North and artists Shelli Paraoline and Braden Lamb have made a pretty darn good one.

The story opens with the (evidently evil) Lich escaping from a carelessly placed bag of holding and promptly using it to start sucking up the world.  Once alerted to the Lich's malevolent maneuvers, Finn and Jake spring into action to stop him.  Unfortunately, they arrive too late, seeing that Princess Bubblegum and the Candy Kingdom have already been sucked up into said bag of holding.  Before they can react, the Lich sucks them up too, and they find themselves lost in a desert world devoid of live, save for the hilariously named Princess Desert (on account of the fact that her head is a big dessert).  From there, we get the ol' To Be Continued.

All things considered, it's a pretty solid opening story.  Everything certainly looks a heck of a lot like the show, and as far as I can gather, it reads a lot like the show as well.  But I'm happy to report that it's also signature Ryan North, with a lot of his stylings and habits coming through loud and clear (including alt-text at the bottom of some pages and a T-Rex cameo).  The whole thing reads quite well, having a strong balance between story and gags (the battle burn page was fun and bringing it back for fighting the Lich was a nice touch).  My only complaint (if you can call it that) is that the book wasn't as funny as I was expecting.  I found myself smiling almost throughout my read, but I did not guffaw (or lol as the kids maybe still say) as much as I thought I would.  However, it still makes for an enjoyable read.

Paroline and Lamb's artwork really impressed me.  As I said above, it definitely does not stray over far from the TV series' style, but the two managed to maintain that look while adding in a lot of excellent comic book elements all over the place.  It's nothing overly flashy, just a lot of small things, but it really shows how much they care about their work, which is always nice to see.

All this being said, North, Paroline, and Lamb's story isn't the only thing you get in this issue.  It seems that Boom! is planning on having indie creators offer back-up stories in each and every issue, and Aaron Renier gets the nod for this maiden voyage.

I was a little annoyed when I realized this would mean we'd be getting less Ryan North, but after considering the matter a little more, I appreciate that it could mean that some lesser-known creators will be getting more eyes on their works than they would be getting otherwise (and ideally, more fans as well).  That's pretty classy on Boom!'s part.  And it certainly doesn't hurt that Renier tells a pretty cute story with his pages.

In the appropriately titled "My Cider the Mountains", Tree Trunks, a cute little green elephant, brings an order of cider to Princess Bubblegum, only to be told that the princess doesn't like her cider anymore because birds now bring her mystery cider "from the sky".  Perturbed, Tree Trunks goes to the mountains to discover where this cider is coming from.

This story is a lot of fun, and perhaps my favourite part is that Renier uses his own artistic style and not that of the show.  I find it adds a lot of charm to the story and (perhaps unsurprisingly) does an excellent job of distinguishing it from the main narrative.

Verdict - Check It.  Adventure Time #1 is a lot of fun.  It might not necessarily knock your socks off, but if you like Adventure Time or all-ages comics (or know of a young reader who likes either of these things), this book will have something for you.  It's my understanding that this printing sold out on its first day, but your local shop might still have a copy.  Otherwise, Boom! is reprinting this issue, or if you can't wait, you can always get it online.

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

Here we have yet another title I was rather excited for based mostly on the creative team instead of the actual property being adapted.  When I heard that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan would be working together again, my question wasn't "on what?" it was "when's it coming out?".  While I'd never encountered Conan (outside of seeing parts of Conan the Destroyer on late night TV years ago), I was excited to see what these two talented people could do with the character.  And I was not disappointed.

Wood has really captured the pulp fiction style that Conan demands.  His writing, whether in the narrative captions or the dialogoue, is excessive and filled with unnecessary flourishes from the get-go - and it works really well.  The overdone dialogue is the perfect fit for this book, and the fact that the narrative caption boxes are written with a typewriter font is an excellent touch.

In much the same vein, the story moves real fast, wasting no time on pesky things like details.  This story only spends its focus on things that are interesting and exciting to read.  If that means that Conan befriends Tito and the crew of the Argus mere moments after threatening their lives if they don't help them, that's okay.  Wood and Cloonan are clearly of the opinion that glossing over extraneous details that need to happen anyways for the rest of the narrative to work, and that's fine by me.  Their lifelong kinship might be a bit rushed, but if it means we get to have more swordplay and adventure, I'm not going to complain.

Frankly, it's rather amazing how much exposition they manage to fit in despite this apparent philosophy.  Despite their economic style, there's more than enough background offered to bring readers both old and new up to the same page.  Fortunately, like the rest of the book, the information they're giving is interesting stuff.  A large part of that is that the exposition is often accompanied by flashback panels, so we get to relive the fights and dangers they describe, instead of just listening to their words, which is nice.

This opening issue wastes no time bringing Conan and the reader to what's important, which in this case is Bêlit, the mysterious and deadly Queen of the Black Coast.  She is what matters at present, and she is consequently the focus of the narrative at this juncture, which serves the story admirably.

For all the great work that Wood does in the writing department, I cannot give enough credit to Cloonan and her fantastic art.  She does a brilliant job presenting all that action and violence I keep referring to, seemingly always picking the write moment to depict in her panels.  And it always works so well with Wood's words (the first page is perhaps the best example of the synergy these two obviously have).  I'm also totally in love with Cloonan's character design.  Her Conan is the embodiment of the young and brash warrior that he so clearly is at this point in his life.  You don't need any words to see the complete confidence that permeates his entire body and demeanour.  His repeated smirks tell you more than any amount of words ever could.

And all of the props must go to Cloonan for her work on Bêlit.  Cloonan manages to create that combination of sexy and dangerous with seeming no effort.  Every panel Bêlit appears on is oozing with those two characteristics.  It's something to behold.  Of course, we cannot forget about Dave Stewart's presence on colours, as he makes all of Cloonan's art look infinitely better.  Dark Horse spends some time in the back pages of this book bragging about the all-star team they've assembled, but it's clear that they aren't spouting hot air.  The talent of the creators is clear from every page of this issue.

Verdict - Buy It.  Conan the Barbarian is a book that is going places.  Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, and Dave Stewart seem to be the perfect compliments for each other, and I cannot wait to see the beautiful things they are going to do together.  If you haven't already, you should be giving this book a look, because it's well worth your time.

Written by Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Art by Atilla Futaki

I've been raving about the amazing work that Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, and Atilla Futaki have been doing on this series since the first issue dropped way back in August.  These gentlemen have been dedicated to the slow build they've been creating, and it's been creating some real thrills and chills along the way.  And here we have the finale to their horror series, where all their hard work comes to a head, and I gotta say, it wasn't quite what I was expecting.

The issue opens with Jack having been captured by the Salesman in the house that Jack believed to have been his father's.  Unfortunately for our protagonist, his entire journey was based upon false pretenses planted by the Salesman, as his father has been deceased for over ten years.  Now he's trapped with seeming no escape.

These scenes are brutal as hell.  The Salesman explaining his predilections for dining on young children and their (apparently) delicious dreams was definitely some cringeworthy stuff.  But nothing compares to the moment where (as shown all the way back in the framing narrative of the first issue) Jack loses his arm.  That moment is expertly handled by the whole team, offering just the right amount of shown and hidden to really focus the reader's attention on it, while also leaving much of it to the reader's imagination.

From there, we have the unexpected appearance of Jack's mother, but it is definitely a welcome surprise.  It provides another excellent moment for the Salesman to show how depraved he is, while also acting as an excellent opportunity for Jack to regain the upper-hand.

Futaki really shines this issue, as he has in every other one.  He expertly navigates the line between showing and hiding, seemingly always making the right choice of what to put in every panel.  There's really not a single moment where I wasn't impressed with his work in this issue, but I was particularly struck by how well he depicts the struggles between Jack and the Salesman.  It's quality stuff.

Of course, with the story coming to some type of resolution, it was only a matter of time before we returned to the framing narrative of Jack the old man and his grandson.  I'd been wondering how this would be handled since the framing narrative was introduced, and I must say that I found it to be a little underwhelming.  To be honest, the supernatural element that they bring in at the end feels a little out of place.  I know that they hinted at it in the first issue, but it seems a little off after all the steps and time they took to ground the story in reality.

As well, I wasn't really sold on Jack's panic at the story's conclusion.  After seven issues where Snyder, Tuft, and Attila have done an amazing job of creating fear through what's happening on the page, the end feels like they're telling the reader that what's happening is scary, instead of actually making it so, which is disappointing.  However, the final full page splash of the book's title on a black background was a nice touch.

Verdict - Check It. The framing narrative leaves a little to be desired, but the main story fires on all cylinders.  Things are brutal, exciting, and the reader is always left guessing as to how everything's going to finish.  The underwhelming conclusion certainly doesn't take away from what the team accomplished throughout these seven issues, but it is a little unsatisfying.

Some most excellent books coming across my attention this past week.  What did you think of these titles?  Are you on board for Adventure Time or Conan?  How did you feel about Severed?  I always love to hear from you, so feel free to share your thoughts below!

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