Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 02/22/12

What's this?  The Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews on a Saturday?!  Despite whatever amounts of surprise you may or may not be feeling, I hope you'll welcome this, perhaps, unexpected early addition to your  weekend.  As eagle-eyed readers may have noticed in my Previews for the week, I only bought three comics this week, so those are the reviews you'll be getting!  I hope you're ready, because I have some things to say about American Vampire #24, Chew #24, and Flash #6.  So hit that jump and check it out already!

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Raphael Albuquerque

I know I've said this every time I've talked about American Vampire of late, but I'm still so glad that this book has returned to its former amazingness.  This is both a testament to how bad the previous "Beast in the Cave" storyline was (both objectively and compared to the American Vampire norm) and how good "Death Race" currently is (so good).  Scotty Snyder and Raphael Albuquerque seem to bring out the best in each other, because when these two work together, it's magic.

People often praise Snyder's ability to write convincing horror comics (and rightfully so), but what's always impressed me as much - if not more - is his ability to really inhabit the time period his stories are set in.  One of my favourite aspects of American Vampire is its slow march forward through time and the different ways that Snyder incorporates that into the story.  To put it bluntly, these stories always feel like whatever era the characters are inhabiting, and "Death Race" has really managed to deliver on the 1950s.

Virtually every aspect of this arc has embraced its 1950s present, but none moreso than our current leading man, Travis Kidd.  As a young greaser, he is more or less the embodiment of the age who just so happens to also hunt vampires.  I've also enjoyed how his internal narration has focused on a TV psychologist's analysis of what plagues "kids these days", further reflecting the time he lives in.  Of course, Snyder goes even further than that by tying the psychologist conceit into the theme of each issue thus far, with this issue looking at consequence.

It's been a nice thematic addition, but Travis' disdain for the prognoses he's been repeating has become a brilliant piece of character work as Snyder and Albuquerque have offered numerous flashbacks to the cruel treatment that Travis received in an insane asylum as a child.  This is the type of writing one expects from Snyder, where every detail is important and no moment is wasted, but it's still incredibly gratifying when he pulls it off, as he definitely does here.

It also helps that the issue is action-packed and filled with snappy dialogue.  And that Albuquerque is all over this issue in a big way.  He's like a man possessed, drawing the hell out of each and every panel.  I've been following his work for a long time now, but it still blows me away what he can do with pencils and inks.  A wicked car chase?  Check.  An awesome knife fight?  Oh, yeah.  An awesome knife fight taking place in the midst of that wicked car chase?  You betcha.  And that's not even including some of the brilliant full page (and double page) splashes that he throws out like it's nobody's business.  Word are not enough.

Verdict - Buy It.  This arc has been a true return to form for American Vampire.  Everything you've come to expect from this series is back and better than ever.  The cliffhangers in these issues have been absolutely nuts, and this issue is no exception.  That last line in particular is killer (pun intended).

CHEW #24
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I love Chew.  Love, love, love it.  John Layman and Rob Guillory have really created something unique with their ongoing tales of Tony Chu, a police officer who experiences all of the memories of anything he eats, whether it's vegetable, animal, or human.  It's a crazy premise that these two gents have been continually pushing to the nth degree.  As much as I was attracted to the idea when I first encountered this title year ago, I had some doubts as to how long such an idea could sustain an ongoing story, but Layman and Guillory have gone and shown me (and any other would-be doubters).  20+ issues in, Chew is just as full of life, action, and ridiculous ideas as ever, and that suits me just fine.

This issue is an excellent example of that, as it opens with a five page prologue centred on participants in an international butter sculpting competition.  And since that's not bizarre enough, there's one gentleman in particular, named Hershel Brown, who chooses to make his entry out of chocolate instead of butter, is promptly disqualified for this breach of the butter by-laws, and subsequently throws a rather extended fit.  It sounds kind of like a terrible skit you might catch on a late-night sketch show until Hershel pulls out his chocolate katana and starts stone cold murdering everyone in his rage.  Okay, so that still sounds like a bad late-night skit, but Chew plays it straight (well, as straight as it can under the circumstances), like it does for everything else, and we get the plot for this chapter of "Major League Chew": stop that chocolate wielding madman.

While Tony is ostensibly the book's protagonist, he is still in the process of being kidnapped, so he only appears for a single panel in this issue (although he's referred to throughout).  Consequently, the sweet task falls to his daughter, Olive Chu, and her two companions / secret agent trainers, Tony's original partner, Mason Savoy, and Agent Caesar Valenzano.  And the task they have ahead of them is a serious one, as Hershel has started dealing chocolate-flavoured arms, culminating in a working chocolate laser gun he intends to sell off to some ne'er do wells.

That last sentence is an excellent example of why Chew has worked so well.  It takes these ideas that are completely off the wall, links them to the already established "superpowers involving food" theme, and then treats them (more or less) seriously, following them to their ultimate conclusion. Hershel Brown is an xocoscalpere, meaning that he can sculpt chocolate so accurately that whatever he makes works as well as its real-life counterpart, in this case a chocolate laser gun.  This is but the most recent example of the amazing work that Layman has been laying down throughout the series.

The fact that it is Olive, Savoy, and Valenzano who react to this threat is yet another demonstration of how far this book has come.  While Tony is a central part of the overall narrative, the secondary characters have all received more than enough attention to be able to carry an issue (or more) on their own, which is exactly what happens here.  The trio's stakeout of Hershel's arms deal both brings earlier threats back to the fore and develops Olive's character and powers even further.  Considering there's only 20 pages worth of comic here (five of which is prologue), it's amazing how much Layman and Guillory can fit in.

On that note, props must be given to Guillory for yet another awesome looking issue.  A huge part of what makes Chew so special is Guillory's unique art style.  Its mixture of cartoony caricaturization and pseudo-realism is the perfect reflection of what the comic's story so often does.  It's also an excellent mirror of this book's rampant humour, as Guillory has a habit of tucking chuckle-worthy visual easter eggs into panel backgrounds.  His work this issue is as beautiful, brutal, and bawdy as ever, and that's exactly what this book needs.

Verdict - Buy It.  This done-in-one continuation of the current stroyarc is a testament to the strength of the world Layman and Guillory have created.  The book's protagonist is absent, the explored concepts are new, and we're following it through secondary characters, but it all feels right.  This series has become far more than its catch opening premise, and I'm mighty thankful for that.

Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul

So Flash #6 is more of the same from Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato.  Engaging story, beautiful art, terrific colouring.  The whole nine yards.  But while I've been able to look past some shortcomings in previous issues, I just couldn't do it this time around.  Despite having Captain Cold's first appearance in the DCnU and some cool action sequences, this issue did not grab me at all.

This issue had most of the elements that have led to success in previous issues, but it all fell a little flat in my eyes.  I was surprised at this at first, but I think it all comes down to the fact that Manapul and Buccellato's Flash is both doing too much and not enough.

This issue has three or four different storylines going on simultaneously (as many of the issue have) and while they are all kind of interrelated, their convergence did not work nearly as well here as they have in the past.  It felt pretty awkward, like there wasn't enough time for all the discrete elements to breathe on their own before getting jammed together.  They all came off as rushed, so it's not always clear what's at stake or why.  Captain Cold just kind of shows up, blaming the Flash for his sister's death (without bothering to tell the Flash that that's the issue), but unless I missed something, this hasn't really been touched on at all prior to this instance.  So Cold is mad as hell, but neither the Flash nor the reader really know why.

And that's not to say that a comic has to tell its reader every single detail about what's going on, but I feel like it's becoming increasingly common for the Flash to half-introduce something and then leave it up in the air for however long it feels like.  This could be a bit easier to swallow if this was a brand new series where everyone - reader and creator alike - was discovering the world together, but that is not what we have here.  Manapul and Buccellato's Flash is but the most recent iteration of a character that has had a long history, and I find that they are starting to over-rely on reader knowledge of who the Flash and his supporting cast are to fill in some of the gaps that they're leaving.

I wouldn't call this the best way to go about storytelling, and matters are further complicated by the fact that their interpretation of the Flash has many similarities to earlier versions, but with big differences that sometimes feel like they were picked at random.  Consequently, it can be hard to know what can be taken for granted and what is actually completely different from what you would expect.  Manapul and Buccellato are defining their world slowly, but I'm starting to want more clarity now instead of later.

Case in point, the issue opens on Barry and Patty Spivot's burgeoning relationship, as the two return from their first weekend away as a couple.  I really enjoyed this scene, which read as genuine and cute.  However, the whole thing is undercut when Patty asks Barry if he could arrange a meeting between her and Iris West, Barry's traditional love interest, to which Barry responds with some hesitation.  It comes off feeling like a wink from Manapul and Buccellato to the reader that - as we all know from earlier Flash stories - Barry has feelings for Iris.  And if that's the case, what's the point of this dalliance with Patty?  The whole thing was jarring, cheapened the moment, and really took me out of the story.

And the fight between Captain Cold and the Flash was great and all, but it was treated with a strange mixture of "been there, done that" and "first fight between Captain Cold and the Flash ever" that I could not get into.  There were simply too many unanswered questions.  "How many times have these two fought before?"  "Why doesn't Barry know about Len Snert's sister?"  And "why doesn't Captain Cold need his guns anymore?"  Inquiring minds want to know, but the book isn't big on answers right now, which is wearing a little thin.

Verdict - Check It.  Manapul and Buccellato are rewriting the world that Barry inhabits.  There's nothing wrong with that, but they haven't taken the time to fully express what the differences are and what they mean. Consequently, you end up with a world that looks eerily familiar to Flash-fans, but doesn't really make any sense yet.  As the above shows, I'm finding it rather off-putting and am losing patience, but maybe you are more tolerant than I.

What's your take on the Flash situation?  Are you also getting a sense of déjà vu, or is the whole thing as fresh and exciting as ever for you?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so hit up the comments, should you feel so inclined.

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Anonymous said...

uhm it's travis kidd right?

Anonymous said...

I loved this issue of the Flash. I was supposed to drop it after the first arc, but the preview was just delicious so I bought the issue. Now I'm a flash fan.

Grant McLaughlin said...

@anon1 - Crud. You're definitely right. I make that mistake pretty much every time I talk about the character. Thanks for pointing that out.

Kevin Tam said...

Flash caused that blackout in Central City (or at least that's the general consensus), which cut off Snart's sister's life support, so that's why Snart blames the Flash.

Other than the irregularity in the script, The Flash continues to be visually stunning, and I think this month's issue was a great example in color: the Flash (red, a warm color) vs. Capt. Cold (blue, a cold color)!

Also: KirkMANLY!

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