Sunday, April 8, 2012
Happy Easter Sunday, one and all! I don't have any chocolate eggs to offer you, so I hope you'll be satisfied with some Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews. We've got some interesting books on the docket, including the much-hyped Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 and the arc-concluding issue of Batwing #8. It's some exciting times over here, made all the more so by some quick shot reviews at the tail end of things, so hit the jump and give it all a look!
Art by John Romita Jr.
Huh. I've been bemoaning Marvel's "creative" (term used quite loosely here) decision to make their next big event a big ol' fight between the Avengers and the X-Men, and now that I've read the first issue, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing. I'm not one hundred percent up on my Marvel continuity, but I will admit that the book was pretty approachable, which is usually a definite bonus for something of this high-profile, but with all the time spent getting everybody to the same page, the story ends up being a little on the slow side.
The issue opens with a random planet (apparently named Gliese, which I definitely missed on my first few read throughs) being blown the heck up by the Phoenix, presumably to show how destructive and dangerous the whole entity is, which is all well and good except for the fact that the thing takes five entire pages. As much as I appreciate the reminder that the Phoenix is kind of a big deal, I don't know if I agree that devoting five pages to the whole thing is a good use of storytelling time. I think it's pretty safe to say that most comic book readers are aware that the Phoenix can lay its fair share of waste to stuff. And even if one isn't, well, I still contend that five pages is a little excessive.
Either way, from there we spend some time with the Avengers, where they end up doing some pretty basic day saving, preventing a plane from crashing into New York City (introduced by Iron Man very eloquently pointing out that "Guys... we got a thing here"). The sequence is a bit of a let down in the sense that it is all style and no substance. Every single character acts as if this is going to be really challenging, asking the others for backup or muttering silent prayers, but despite that, every single character does their part without difficulty. In the end, these pages don't develop anyone's character or prevent any true hardship for our heroes; it only exists so that the team can find Nova and learn what those first five pages already told us: the Phoenix force is coming back. Yawn.
Our initial moments with the X-Men aren't much better, as we have Cyclops forcing Hope to spar with him over and over again, with the usual result being her getting beaten and thrown to the ground. It's clear that this is to show how ardent and dedicated Cyclops is to preparing Hope for whatever it is she has to do, but it also makes him look like kind of a dick. Frankly, Cyclops only gets more dickish as the issue goes on.
The story really seems to be playing on the whole House of M mutants nearly going extinct thing, but Cyclops seems almost religiously zealous in his views and beliefs on that bit. I can't say if that is in line with his regular characterization or not, but I do feel that it isn't terribly enjoyable. It mostly feels like this was done to facilitate the plot: if Cyclops is a dick and Captain America isn't keen on compromising, it's really easy to get that first blow struck to subsequently have all these promised fights come to pass when the two get together to talk about the Phoenix / Hope. And while that's mighty convenient for all the issues to come, it doesn't make for the most convincing read.
On the whole, I'd say that that's the issue that the majority of this issue suffers from. By focusing on bringing everyone up to speed, the story is reduced to those pertinent moments that are needed for that purpose, leaving out pretty much anything beyond that. There's a whole lot of exposition going on here, and it gets a little dull by issue's end.
Verdict - Check It. I will admit that I came in with a pretty heavy bias against this series, but I still maintain that it failed to do all that much with its concept in this opening effort. There were some cool moments throughout, but nothing that really grabbed me and guaranteed my return for the next part of this event. Things could very well pick up in the issues to come, but I don't feel the need to see how that'll play out. Your mileage may vary, but I'll happily spend my comic book dollars elsewhere.
Art by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs
Speaking of biases, I went in to this issue pretty certain that I would come out of the experience pleased by it. Again, that may not make for the most objective thoughts on the thing, but it's hard not have some confidence in this title when Judd Winick has been writing it so well. His work on Batwing has honestly been some of the best I've seen from him, slowly developing the story and characters in a logical and engaging fashion. Seriously, some of the themes and motifs he's been throwing around have been downright excellent. And let's not forget that the artists he's been working with have all been downright excellent. Of course, the series' regular artist, Ben Oliver has offered a beautiful gritty atmosphere to the book, but these last two issues have been down by Dustin Nguyen, who just so happens to be my favourite artist for Batbooks, so there's that.
Unsurprisingly, Winick, Nguyen, and Derek Fridolfs do not disappoint here in the issue that concludes the series' first arc. Taking a quick moment, I would like to emphasize how much I appreciate that the first arc ran for eight issues. That might seem like a strange thing to some, but the fact that Winick was able to write the story of Massacre and Batwing's fight against the villain for as many issues as he felt necessary, without being limited to the usual 6 issue written-for-trade number, is a breath of fresh air. It makes me feel like each individual issue actually matters, and that they aren't only being thought of in how they'll fit into that eventual trade. But I digress.
Batwing #8 sees that final confrontation between Batwing and Massacre that we've all been waiting for, and let me just say, the wait was worth it. Winick has been spinning quite the yarn, and he manages to tie in most everything that we've seen in the first seven issues of the series to these twenty pages, which is quite the feat. We get the long teased reveal of Massacre's secret identity, and (just as I predicted and) despite all the telegraphing to the contrary, it was definitely not General Keita. While I won't explicitly tell you who's been committing all these atrocities against the heroes of The Kingdom, I will say that the reveal was handled extremely well. Winick has been in the habit of throwing in flashbacks to expand on his characters' motivations and histories, and he does that here in a manner that makes the reveal nearly heartbreaking, as well. It's really well done.
Frankly, the whole issue handles quite well. Batwing, along with the assistance of Batman, Nightwing, and Robin, gets to the bottom of the whole Kingdom-killings, and while they're kind of too late, they still ensure that justice is served (to the best of their abilities). I liked the choice of who the ultimate mastermind was and, again, how that played into everything that we'd seen before. I also really appreciated how the final bust set up a nice moment between David and Bruce, where Bruce reiterates his faith in David's abilities. It's maybe a little cliché, but I felt it added a lot to the conclusion (especially with that aforementioned flashback that follows).
Also unsurprisingly, Nguyen and Fridolfs do a bang up job on art throughout the issue. I could gush about Nguyen's style for pretty much ever, so let me just say that his regular skill and talent are definitely put to good use. Some great moments captured, along with excellent and effective panel layouts from beginning to end. And Fridolfs does a great job on inks putting the finishing touches on Nguyen's work. It seems that these two are getting into the habit of working together (considering they also team up on Batman Beyond Unlimited), and if that means I can have more Nguyen penciled work that looks like this, I'll definitely take it.
Verdict - Buy It. This was a great finish to what's been an incredibly fun and exciting introduction to the newest member of the Bat-family. The next issue will be involved with the Court of Owls crossover, and while I'm not keen on the arc in general, I have the utmost faith that Winick and company will be able to make it good and relevant to David Zavimbe. Can't wait.
Quick Shot Reviews
DAREDEVIL #10.1 - Mark Waid and Khoi Pham offer us the latest in Marvel's much-vaunted, yet numerically nonsensical, Point One initiative, providing yet another jumping on point to what is widely seen as one of Marvel's best ongoing series. It's a fun little story that manages to hit on a lot of what Waid's been doing with Daredevil since coming onto this title last summer. Pham's art has a loose, sketchlike quality to it that actually kind of reminds me of what Travel Foreman has been doing on Animal Man, not because Pham is drawing horrors (because he isn't) but because of how it sits on the page. Either way, it fits pretty well with the work that's come before him on the title, which is always a good thing. For me, the highlight of this issue was the end where the five crime groups argue over how they should regain the Omega Drive and Daredevil chides them for their inability to take a decision. It was a nice moment that demonstrates the "new" Matt Murdock and how he approaches these types of situations. My only complaint is that, in general, this book feels like some of the sheen has come of since the debut back in July. Don't get me wrong, Daredevil is still good, but it doesn't feel like it's innovating in the same way that it did when it first hit stands. But there's always time for a turn around, no?
Verdict - Check It.
SKULLKICKERS #13 - Jim Zub, Edwing Huand, and Misty Coats' D&D-inspired, fantasy comic book is back in business this month, and I must say that it's here not a moment too soon. I say this every time I talk about the series, but I totally dig Skullkickers. Every page exudes fun. This is a book that has a story to tell, but doesn't hesitate to throw in all manner of jokes and japes along the way, which I'm always happy to see. The new arc, "Six Shooter on the Seven Seas" appears to be no different, seeing our leads, Baldy and Shorty, stowing away on an all-female pirate ship to (who would have thought?) hilarious results. Their initial discovery by the lady buccaneers is rather silly, involving a food fight heavy with Skullkickers' trademark amazing onomatopoeia (including such goodies as "baguetteified!", "wiener-walloped!", and the clear and concise "food fight!"). Of course, our heroes are ultimately welcomed aboard, and from there, we get some time on the ship were everything is (ahem) shipshape. But all is not well on the Mermaid's Bottom (best pirate ship name ever?), as there are some mysteries introduced or reexamined here, including Baldy's strange ability to understand animals and the question of just what horrors the pirates have in their holds. This issue is classic Skullkickers through and through, and I can't wait to have more next month.
Verdict - Buy It.
That's me for the week. How'd you find April's opening? Did it treat you right? Or leave something to be desired? Hit up the comments to share your thoughts!