Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 03/07/12

Alright, we've finally got your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews ready to go.  We've got some quality books to work through, so hit that jump to see how Amazing Spider-Man #681, Animal Man #7, and Batwing #7 stacked up!

Written by Dan Slott & Chris Yost
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli

When Slott first came onto Amazing Spider-Man for his current run all the way back in November 2010, this series seemed like it was always doing something exciting.  Peter Parker's life was in flux, Spider-Man's enemies were changing, and things were always moving forward and upward.  For a good long while, this series was earning that "Amazing" epithet that's plastered across its title page every week.  At no point was this more true than during the rather amazing Spider-Island storyarc, where things really got crazy.

Unfortunately, since that difficulty wrapped up, it's really felt like the title has been biding its time, waiting for the next big thing.  Where before things were happening and changing, it feels like the book no longer has any real direction.  It would be more accurate to just call this book Spider-Man right now, because this comic has been treading water at best.

As I said last week when talking about the opening of this two-parter where Spider-Man and the Human Torch have traveled to space to save John Jameson and the rest of the stranded astronauts, there just isn't that much to the story.  It's a fine two-part adventure, but it feels like there's noting at stake.  This is just another day in the life of Spider-Man, where he has to go save the day and it doesn't really matter what the trouble is.  Just like during the time-travel two-parter before it, there's no real concern that Spidey and the Torch could possibly fail and - spoiler alert - they don't.

This book seems to have fallen into a bit of a formulaic funk lately, putting Peter through whatever paces seem to be appropriate for the problem-of-the-moment, only to have him come out on top through some ingenuity on his part.  That's great and all, but it isn't doing anything for me anymore.  Things need a good shakeup - and soon.

Fortunately, the issue does end with Doctor Octopus and the Sinister Six rearing their heads to say that their master plan is finally ready to go.  The comic even finishes with a tagline promising the "Ends of the Earth".  This is good, because Doc Ock's final plan has been in the works since Slott started on this title, so hopefully things will pick up with the new storyline kicking into gear.

Verdict - Skip It.  I've been pretty forgiving of Amazing Spider-Man because of how great Slott's work has been, but the past few issues have been quite ordinary, and I'm not willing to shell out $3.99 for that.  The verdict might be a little harsher than this book deserves, but I know that Slott and company can do so much better.  Hopefully the teaser at the end delivers some more exciting stuff soon, otherwise I'll be moving on from biweekly webheaded adventures.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Travel Foreman & Steve Pugh

Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman's Animal Man is probably on a lot of people's lists for the best things to come out of DC's much-hyped New 52.  And for good reason, too.  This talented creative team has breathed new life into Buddy Baker and his family, giving them real and dangerous conflicts to deal with and making every issue worth reading.

The first arc saw the Baker clan discover that Maxine, their youngest, has superpowers similar to her fathers, which was more or less good news.  Unfortunately, the bad news was that this discovery was accompanied by a nefarious force known as The Rot coming around, intent on destroying pretty much all life, with Maxine and the rest of her family chief among their targets.  After some exciting moments of daring do, the arc ended with the Baker's reunited, having successfully eluded the Rot's grasp - at least for the moment.

This arc, aptly titled "Animal vs. Man", opens up pretty much exactly where things left off, with the Bakers sitting in their RV trying to figure out what their next move should be.  The family is going a little stir-crazy, arguing and bickering about what would be the best course of action.  Lemire does an excellent job of showing the differing personalities of this unorthodox family and how their frustrations are starting to boil over.  The emphasis that Lemire has placed on the entire Baker family throughout the series - as opposed to simply focusing on its titular patriach - has been one of the best parts of this comic.  Each character brings their own nuances and perspectives to the situation and seeing how they all try to deal with the awful situation they've found themselves in continues to be a treat.

Speaking of treats, Buddy and Cliff's trip to town for supplies is a definite highlight of the issue.  It's an excellent way to expand on the father and son's increasingly challenged relationship, as well as providing a cute bonding moment between the two when Buddy steps in to help his son impress some girls.  That infusion of humour - which has been seen throughout the series - is yet another reason why this book is so darn good.

Of course, the issue isn't limited solely to Baker family character moments, as Lemire offers the reader another mind-bending dream sequence / vision of the future to satiate their hunger.  Buddy finds himself in a future that can only be described as a wasteland of death, seeing his family aged but still trying to fight off the Rot in what appears to be a losing battle.  It's a creepy sequence that really shows what's at stake and provides the most direct hint yet of the upcoming Animal Man and Swamp Thing crossover.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the art is as strangely beautiful as ever.  Travel Foreman is only doing the inks here, working with Steve Pugh's pencils, but the book maintains the distinct look that's been so central to its early success.  The family moments are easily handled, but it's in the vision that these two really bust out their A-game.  They provide some genuine horrors, laying down terrible creatures that could not possibly exist yet still manage to look so real.  It's some hideous stuff, and it's exactly what the book requires.

Verdict - Must Read.  Animal Man has been one of DC's best, and it shows no signs of slowing down.  the combination of family and deadly superheroics sets this book apart from a lot of the titles currently on the stands.  More than that, it makes this book something special.  If you aren't already doing so, you should be reading Animal Man.

Written by Judd Winick
Art by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs

Dustin Nguyen is my favourite Bat-book artist.  I'll heap praise upon praise on J.H. Williams III for his work on Batwoman (and rightly so), but the fact remains that Nguyen's unique style is pretty much my favourite lens through which to watch the Caped Crusader in action.  His earlier work with Paul Dini on Detective Comics and Streets of Gotham was mighty fine and we get more of the same quality work from his pencils, Derek Fridolfs' inks, and Brian Robin's colours here in Batwing #7.

The issue continues Batwing's hunt for the murderous Massacre, which is taking him to Gotham City, where the last two members of The Kingdom (Africa's original team of superheroes) currently reside.  While it's a race against time to get there before Massacre does, most of the issue is focused on the past, using the trip over to give Steelback (one of the other members of The Kingdom) the chance to take us down memory lane and finally explain what the atrocity that Massacre has been blaming the superteam for is.

The flashback sequences are handled quite well, expertly jumping back and forth between narration and conversation as needed.  The sheer amount of information that is provided through the words and images is impressive, giving the readers a much fuller understanding of the work The Kingdom did and the sacrifices they made without ever feeling like information overload.  While the team has obviously been created specifically for this storyarc, as before it feels like they truly have a history behind them and that they are actually important.

I especially appreciated the manner in which the ultimate reveal was handled.  Batwing's repeated prompting of Steelback to explain himself reinforced how difficult that terrible choice was.  It wasn't easy when it was taken, and it's still hard for Steelback to live with today.  It was an excellent moment of character work going hand-in-hand with the wider narrative, teasing the reader for a bit before pulling back the morally-grey curtain.

Meanwhile, as Batwing and Batman fly towards Gotham in the Batjet, the Batfamily is hard at work trying to track down those two remaining Kingdom members, Razorwire and Staff.  These moments were mixed in throughout the issue and developed alongside the Kingdom flashbacks in a nice, complimentary fashion.  It was a pleasure to see Nguyen get some time to depict all the members of the Batfamily, and the dual-narratives worked really well together.  Considering everything that goes on in the Batjet, the cliffhanger conclusion to the issue felt particularly appropriate and got me genuinely excited for the next issue, which is always a good thing.

Of course, Nguyen and company shine throughout the issue, making Judd Winick's words all the better through the images they're couple with.  The action scenes are particularly great, but even the more "talking heads" moments are a pleasure to look upon.  Body language and facial expressions perfectly convey what's happening on the page.  It's great to have Nguyen on a Batbook - even if it is only temporary.  Ben Oliver's work may be the face of Batwing, but Nguyen is an excellent understudy.

Verdict - Buy It.  We're seven issues into Batwing, and this book still feels as fresh and exciting as ever.  Winick is crafting a brilliant origin story for Batwing, and one of the best parts is that it's going at the pace that's right for the story.  While many series seem to cap their arcs at six issues - written for the trade - we're still a ways off from Massacre's capture.  I really appreciate that the story is getting the space it needs; it makes the whole experience that much better.

And so there we have it.  Some real gems coming out this week as far as I'm concerned.  How did you find March's opening salvo of comics?  Anything really catch your fancy or were you a little nonplussed?  Hit up the comments to share your thoughts on the matter!

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Anonymous said...

Orc Stain! It's wonderful!

CombatSpoon86 said...

Animal Man and Swamp Thing were great this week. But gotta give Swamp Thing over the edge of Animal Man just because it was almost flawless

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