Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 03/21/12


It's time for some Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  There were a lot of books coming out this past week, and it wasn't easy to decide which ones to put the limelight on, I ended up deciding to look at four different books, including Amazing Spider-Man #682Justice League #7, and a few others that I've spoken of in past posts.  So hit the jump to see which books I picked and what I thought of 'em!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #682
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Stefano Caselli

I've been rather down on Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man since the conclusion of what I felt to be the rather exciting Spider-Island.  After all the action Slott crammed into that slugfest of an event, it has seemed to me that ASM has been stuck on autopilot. going through the motions without ever really putting anything meaningful at stake.  Now that Ends of the Earth has officially kicked off, I'm not quite so sure that that was the problem.

As I've said repeatedly here at The Weekly Crisis, I first experienced Dan Slott's writing when Marvel gave him the reins to Amazing Spider-Man a year and a bit ago for his The Big Time storyarc.  Having never really followed a Spider-Man ongoing before, things were pretty darned exciting, with Pete and company getting into all kinds of challenges and hijinx.  At this point, that fresh feeling isn't coming as easily to me anymore.  Looking back at things now, it seems pretty obvious, but contrary to my earlier guesses, the issue hasn't been that Slott's writing has changed; the issue of late is that his writing style hasn't changed enough.  To put it more simply, I've grown accustomed to Slott's style and mannerisms for our friendly neighbourhood web slinger, and the same old thing isn't really cutting it for me anymore.

This issue is a pretty good example of the phenomenon.  There are some pretty major problems facing both Pete and the world at large, including the more local obstacle of J. Jonah Jameson getting it in his mind to try and shut down Horizon Labs, and the rather more global issue of Doctor Octopus finally unveiling the beginnings of his master plan.  Both of these events are interesting on an intellectual level, but emotionally there is nothing pushing me to pick up the next issues to see how things play out.

On the plus side, it's nice to have Stefano Caselli back on the title for a bit.  While his lines are sometimes a little too realistic, on the whole, I'm a big fan of his style.  He excels at most anything he puts to paper, whether it's the opening action scene, quieter moments of conversation, or that two-page spread of Otto Octavius' dastardly machine at work.  My only real criticism of the book's art would be on the new Spider-armour that they bust out on the last page.  I don't know how much of it was Caselli's doing, but the nicest thing I can say about the suit is that I'm glad it will only be temporary.  It's simply too much for something that I'd be happy to see Peter wearing on a regular basis.

While I know that the Spider-burnout that I describe above doesn't exactly provide for the most fair analysis of a single issue, I just can't shake it.  And if, like me, you've been following Amazing Spider-Man for a good while, I imagine that you might be going through a similar thing.  Objectively, this is a pretty decent issue of Spider-Man-y goodness, but that doesn't change the fact that I've seen all this before in earlier issues of the same run.

Verdict - Check It.  If you haven't been reading ASM lately, there's a lot of good things happening here.  On the other hand, if you've been faithfully following Spider-Man's exploits under Dan Slott's stewardship, it might be time for a break, because ASM #682 isn't reinventing the wheel and the ride is getting a little old.


HEART #4
Written by Blair Butler
Art by Kevin Mellon

I've been quite positive for every single issue of Heart, a miniseries focused on one man's entry into the world of mixed martial arts fighting, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I found the concluding issue to be just as good.

From the start, Oren Redmond's story has been quite different from most other comic books coming out right now.  There weren't worlds at stake, our hero didn't have amazing powers, and the story didn't fit into a wider continuity, but none of that mattered.  Instead, Blair Butler and Kevin Mellon decided to simply go out and tell a quality story.  And that's pretty much exactly what they did and continued to do here in the series' final issue.

Last time around, we saw that after his early success in the octagon, Oren was starting to have some difficulties in the ring.  He dropped weight to try things out in a lower weight class, but things just weren't going his way.  That trend continues in this issue, as Oren finds himself without that killer edge that he once had.  Where before he was raring to get it on, he's far more hesitant during fights, and the results are not good.  Running up a series of harsh losses, it's clear that Oren is done for good.

Unlike what you might expect, Oren's losing streak isn't a bad thing - it's a wakeup call.  While he certainly doesn't enjoy repeatedly getting his face beaten in, he realizes that he's moved on from MMA fighting.  In effect, Butler uses these setbacks as a springboard for Oren's own development.  Those loses were tough, but he learns from them and ends up as a better person for having lived through them.  Ultimately, the book moves away from the MMA aspect, emphasizing that the story has been a character piece about Oren and that the fighting was simply part of his life at the point we're following it.  In the end, he moves onto a different life.  It's not necessarily a better one, but it's a better one for him.

Even though I came into this series without much in the way of expectations, this wasn't at all what I was expecting, but it felt true and honest.  Oren gets a happy ending.  It's not the one he had been looking forward to, but it's good nonetheless.

Kevin Mellon has been brilliant on this book, and that holds true for this issue as well.  Frankly, I feel like he's been getting better with each and every issue.  There are definitely some great fights here, with Mellon showing us many different ways for Oren to lose, but there are a lot more simple, everyday life moments.  No matter what it is Mellon is drawing, it all looks good.  His loose style has been perfectly suited to the frenetic pace of MMA fighting, but it works just as well on the quiet moments, too.  I must admit to being pretty excited to see more of his work in the future.  Here's hoping it's soon.

Verdict - Buy It.  I don't know how many people were following this series, but it wasn't nearly enough.  Blair Butler and Kevin Mellon set out to tell a story about a young man's short time with MMA fighting, and that's exactly what they did.  There's a lot to be said for a book that knows what it wants to do and goes out and does it really well.  I wish there were more books like Heart coming out right now.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #7
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gene Ha & Gary Frank

The main thing that Justice League #7 has going for it is that it's much better than Justice League #1-6 were.  Things actually happen in a timely manner, there's some interesting character work happening here, and things generally read a lot better.  This issue is far closer to the average book that you would find on stands.

Unfortunately, Geoff Johns doesn't really push things much beyond an average comic book.  There is awfully little in the way of innovation here, as Johns offers a Justice League story that is rather similar to any other one you've already read.  Humanity mistrusts our heroes, there's some interpersonal drama, and of course, they fight some bad dudes.  There's nothing necessarily wrong with such an approach, but it's also nothing you haven't already experienced before, which begs the question of why one should bother picking it up.

The biggest difference from past iterations of the team is that Steve Trevor is their liaison to the United States government.  Like the rest of the book, it's not exactly earth shattering, but it does make for some interesting story dynamics.  I must admit that I was especially impressed with Johns' handling of Steve and Wonder Woman's relationship.  We've seen a lot done between those two, but those last few panels where he explains things to Etta Candy were actually pretty poignant.

However, not only is this the start of the second storyarc, it's also the first issue without Jim Lee helming the art duties.  Fortunately, Gene Ha steps up as a more than capable fill-in, laying out some excellent pages and panels.  There's a bit of a sketch-like aura to his art, but I think it added to the book instead of detracting.  At the risk of repeating myself, I think Ha's best pages are the same as Johns': the moments between Diana and Steve.  He really manages to bring out the emotions of the characters, providing a great support to Johns' dialogue.

While the main story was a decided step in the right direction for the book, the same cannot be said for the backup.  The twelve page story acts as Shazam's Billy Batson's introduction to the DCnU, and I gotta say, I kind of hated it.

Things start well enough, showing that the wizard is searching for a new wielder of his power and also functioning as a solid introduction to longtime Captain Marvel villain Doctor Sivanna, but things take a turn for the worse from there.  We are introduced to Billy, who is meeting with some prospective foster parents.  Everything seems well and good, the parents leave, and we promptly discover that this Billy Batson - while still a ten-year old child - is actually kind of a huge dick who appears to have a history of conning people.  Great.

It strikes me as a missed opportunity to turn Billy into the morally gray protagonist that DC already has in every single other book they publish.  While never a terribly popular or prolific character, Captain Marvel was always a positive and good-natured hero.  In a line of comics where such a thing is now non-existent, it boggles my mind that DC wouldn't want at least one character that could fit such a bill.  But then again, a lot of what DC has done lately has left me at a loss.

Verdict - Check It.  The main story won't blow you away, but it won't let you down either.  And with the Billy Batson backup, you're getting 32 pages of story for your $3.99, which is mighty rare nowadays.  The value's alright, but there are definitely better books out there.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #5
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Wes Craig & Mike Choi
Backup Story Written by Michael Uslan
Backup Story Art by Trevor McCarthy

Perhaps I spoke a little hastily about last issue.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 was a pretty big let down.  The characterization wasn't quite right, the deaths that occurred felt pretty meaningless, and the whole thing rang a little hollow.  That's the gist of what I wrote while reviewing the previous issue, and I stand by those words.  However, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 somehow manages to do the complete opposite of everything #4 did wrong and even makes some of those blown moments feel like they weren't so bad.

Nick Spencer's second go around with the Agents has felt a little directionless, almost as if it's been meandering about in the hopes that everything would eventually come together.  This has been especially evident when comparing this miniseries to Spencer's first ten issues before the reboot, which by contrast, felt incredibly tight and focused, as if every single moment mattered.  Spencer goes a long way towards rectifying that failing in this issue, opening the story with a three page flashback drawn by Mike Choi that ties Spencer's original run (both the main series and the backups) and the previous four issues of this series together in a neat little package.  The effort is certainly appreciated, but I do wish that Spencer had done something like this a little earlier on in the story.

As to Lightning and Dynamo's inauspicious demises, it seems they were a tad exaggerated, as they are handwaved away with a somewhat convenient deus ex machina that the reader could never have predicted.  It's somewhat frustrating, but it does take the sting out of how underwhelming and poorly handled their deaths were.

Continuing the theme of tidying up the mess he's made, the reveals that Spencer pulls out over the course of this issue are mostly satisfying, although I must reiterate my comments that it would have been nice to have them sooner than the penultimate issue.  Colleen's role in the whole thing was good in light of the opening flashback, and Raven's reaction to it came out of left field (in a good way).  That being said, I must say that Emil Jennings plan to save the Subterraneans from their tyranny has a few more similarities to Ozymandias and The Watchmen than might be desirable.  It's certainly not the end of the world, but it could have been better.

I've wavered back and forth on my thoughts on Wes Craig's artwork, and while some panels are better than others, I'm just not feeling it.  What it comes down to for me is that I don't believe his art is right for this series.  Part of that is due to the great artists that Spencer worked with on his initial T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents run (I'm looking at you CAFU), but it just doesn't feel right.  I will say that I greatly enjoyed the images of the Subterraneans celebrating their newfound freedom from the aforementioned tyranny, but a lot of the rest of the issue left me pretty cold.  Craig's art lacks a bit of consistency and I found it distracting at times.

This issue also features a backup story by Michael Uslan and Trevor McCarthy about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. ressurecting their Undersea Agent program.  It's kind of interesting, but like a lot of other elements in this issue, I can't help but wonder why a backup is being added so late in the run.  It doesn't appear to have anything to do with the main story and while there are some cool ideas being bandied about, there's no room for things to develop as everything is rushed and ends up not making all that much sense.  The logic behind running an unproven and experimental operation on someone, giving them zero time to adjust to their new powers, and then immediately sending them out on a highly dangerous mission with little chances of survival makes no sense to me, but that's what we get in this story.  So there's that.

Verdict - Check It.  As I  think I've made abundantly clear in the words above, there are a lot of problems with this issue - and the series - as a whole.  That being said, Nick Spencer's writing in this issue has me interested in what will happen next, which hasn't been been the case for earlier issues.  That may be somewhat damning praise, but that's the kind of book T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has been.

So that was the week on my end.  Many of the books out of the Big 2 weren't exactly ultra-inspiring, but the title from a smaller publisher was well-worth my while.  Is this a microcosm of the industry as a whole?  Or am I maybe reading too much into it to elicit a reaction?  Let me know!


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1 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with the Slott's Spider-Man, is that you get 24 issues in only one year, so that's why you get tired of his work so far, I think if maybe we were getting the series monthy, we would enjoy it more

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