Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 04/25/12

Hello everybody and welcome back to your regularly schedule installment of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  Many thanks to Ken for the fill-in last week while I was off galavanting through the Great White North.  But enough about me, you're here for thought on this week's batch of comics, and that's exactly what I'm here to give you.  So hit the jump to see my thoughts on American Vampire #26, Daredevil #11, and Flash #8!

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Roger Cruz

I'm happy to report that my excessive doubt for this two-part interlude from the main American Vampire story was not warranted.  While the three-issue tangent that was "Beast in the Cave" was a near-complete train wreck, the opening volley for "The Nocturnes" looks to be the exact opposite of that.  Namely, good.

The issue begins in 1950s Alabama, continuing the series' march into the future (or towards our present, depending on how you look at it), reintroducing us to Calvin Poole, our lead for this story.  For those of you who may not be familiar with the character, he was part of the team of Vassals of the Morning Star who accompanied Hank and Skinner Sweet on their mission to that random island that was full of vampires in World War 2 (and the "Ghost War" storyline, issues #13 through #18).  When we last saw him, he was being infected by the vial of Pearl's blood that Hank had brought along with him, effectively turning Calvin into the third American Vampire (that we know of, at least).

Don't be too worried if you didn't quite remember all of that - this issue does a great job of telling you everything you need to know about the character within the first half of the comic.  You don't get quite as thorough of a background as that, but you get the idea.  A taxonomist, Calvin is interested in defining and noticing the details of the world around him.  And one important detail about Calvin (beyond him being an American Vampire) is that he's black.

Now, that might seem like an odd thing to point out, but as the story takes place in the American South in the early 50s, race relations are kind of a big deal, to say the least.  Indeed, the transformation of the relationship between whites and blacks plays a pretty big role in every aspect of the story, and Scott Snyder does a great job of leveraging this historical period to develop the story.  The impressive thing is how he manages to subvert reader expectations over the course of the issue.  As we hurtle towards the issue's conclusion, the rowdy teens' apparent threats and the old, gentlemanly veterans' support take on completely different meanings, keeping things fresh and exciting, which is always a good thing.

Speaking of good, I apologize without reservations for doubting Roger Cruz's abilities.  His art is awesome from start to finish.  It actually shares a lot in common with Albuquerque's work, in my view, in that this issue fits in perfectly with the usual appearance of American Vampire books.  It's not that Cruz is copying, there's just a really nice overlap in the elements of their respective styles.  I think a big part of this also has to do with the excellent work of Dave McCaig, the series' colourist, who does a bang-up job keeping things looking just right.

Verdict - Buy It.  Calvin spends the issue complaining of how over enough time it can be difficult to find something new.  The story Snyder and Cruz put together ensure that he doesn't have to wait too long, which just so happens to make for a pretty darned good read.  This issue definitely adds something new to the American Vampire universe, and you should give it a look.

Written by Mark Waid
Art by Marco Checchetto

Despite my regular protests to this type of thing, I've really been enjoying the Avenging Spider-Man, Punisher, and Daredevil Omega Effect crossover.  It's hard to say no to something penned by writers as talented as Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, and getting three issues drawn by Marco Checchetto in one month is kind of like a dream come true.  And while the ride has been fun, there have been some missteps along the way, many of which are compounded by the somewhat underwhelming end we're giving here by Waid's issue.

His solo kick at the can starts off well, with Daredevil's plan having fallen apart due in large part to Rachel Cole-Alves pulling the double cross, taking the Omega Drive for herself, and throwing Daredevil into the eager hands of the Megacrime goons, who promptly begin the beat the heck out of our Man Without Fear.  Of course, Spidey comes in with the quick save to get Daredevil's fat out of the fire, swinging him to safety.  After Daredevil's plan is well and truly pooched, a nonplussed Punisher glibly says "I always thought your part of this plan was stupid".

I draw attention to that line because that has been my problem with the three-issue crossover as well - no part of Matt's plan has really made all that much sense at any point in this story.  The logic of his decisions and actions hasn't been terrible easy to follow, and his motivations for rushing the entire standoff aren't exactly self-evident.  He's clearly improvising, making things up on the fly, and while there's nothing wrong with that, it has felt at times like the writers have been doing the same thing, which isn't quite as acceptable.

Case in point, Daredevil's talk with Rachel about not following doing the Punisher's never-ending quest for vengeance.  I get that this is supposed to be the big "will she or won't she get redemption" moment, but it just doesn't feel right.  Perhaps it could have benefited from a bit more time and space to develop, but I feel like the ultimate result of the confrontation is the waste of Rachel as a character - at least for the moment.  There was a lot of interesting potential within her and it feels like it might have all been blown for very little pay-off, which is somewhat frustrating.

My biggest problem with the arc as a whole is that, when it's all said and done, virtually nothing has changed.  Rachel is gone, but Matt still has the Omega Drive, Megacrime's still after him, and everything is as it was before this all started, begging the question of what the point of these three issues were.  I don't know if I can tell you, but it certainly doesn't look like it was pushing the story forward.  A shame, that.

On the plus side, Checchetto's art is as pretty as ever.  His signature mix between photo-realism and comic book goodness is on full display here, and it's a real treat.  This is a man who really understands the craft, always choosing the perfect moment to grab and hone in on to get the proper meaning across.  His Spider-Man is a little meaner and his Daredevil is a little more stubbled than I'm used to, but it still works.  Everything he puts on the page is gorgeous (and I must admit that I'm terribly partial to his bearded Frank Castle - I really hope that doesn't go away anytime soon).

Verdict - Check It.  The art is amazing, but the story doesn't quite keep up.  Things feel rushed, opportunities feel missed, and at the end of it all, little actually changed for these characters - especially for Daredevil, whose plight got this whole thing started.  It leaves me asking what the point was, which isn't a great feeling.

Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul

On the balance of things, I must say that Flash is a pretty fun book.  The majority of the story is back on track, and any shortcomings are more than made up for by Francis Manapul's stunning art (and Brian Buccellato and Ian Herring's colours).

We've really dived head first into the mysteries of the Speed Force lately, with the Flash literrally jumping into the Force to discover what happened to Iris West when she was sucked into a time vortex during Flash's fight with Captain Cold.  And the journey of discovery is a mighty enjoyable one - if a little schizophrenic tone-wise.  We open with Flash and Turbine fighting to the death, but after a vicious knee from the Flash, things suddenly calm down and they start talking about their shared plight.  It's a little odd how quickly that changes, but it's not really worth dwelling on.

What's of far greater interest are the concepts Flash and Turbine discuss and the visuals that Manapul offers to accompany these revelations.  As Turbine explains that Flash acts as a release valve for the Speed Force, Manapul gets the chance to unleash some truly spectacular, mind-bending landscapes on the reader, and it's some pretty amazing stuff.  I feel like some of the concepts the two character discuss might not stand up to close scrutiny, but that's fine - the logic of time travel and its ilk doesn't need to be airtight.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the sequences in present-day Central City.  Patty Spivot's routine of "mourning Barry's death while hating / blaming the Flash for the whole thing" is wearing pretty thin and suffers from a number of problems.  Firstly, Patty and Barry's relationship started off as kind of artificial and rushed, so this rushed mourning period isn't doing much to improve things.  Secondly, this situation of being down with the secret identity and loathing the superhero persona is almost as clich√© as you can get in comics.  There's nothing wrong with doing things that have been done before, but it does become a problem when that retreading of ideas isn't handled well.  Thirdly, if it's really been so long since Barry "died" that Patty's been mourning and we're getting a funeral, how come no one seems all that concerned about the whereabouts of the Flash, who would be missing for just as long?  I'm sorry if I'm belabouring the point, but this sequence really took me out of the story.  On the other hand, I did like the Maestro's cameo-appearance.  I assume that will be paid off down the line, but for the moment I'm content to enjoy that wink from the creators.

All that being said, Barry's sudden appearance in Gorilla City right next to the newly-anointed King Grodd is kind of awesome.  It defies logic, but logic be damned.  It's time travel and it's cool, so deal with it.

Verdict - Check It.  As I said at the start, this is a book that is a lot of fun.  It's not perfect, but it doesn't have to be.  There's nothing wrong with playing fast and loose with things sometimes, and Manapul and Buccellato are doing just that.  They also seem to finally be pushing their Flash into new territory, and I'm excited to see what we'll find.  Especially when the whole thing looks this good.

And there we have it.  My first set of reviews in a little while.  It's nice to be back, and hopefully I wasn't too rusty for your taste.  How was the week by you?  Good books coming across your plate?  Were you following the Omega Effect crossover?  And more importantly, does Spider-Man's "Magoo" nickname for Daredevil predate this story, or did they come up with it for these three issues?  I ask only because it struck me as kind of weird.  Anyways, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments below!

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Kevin said...

They introduced that nickname in the Black Cat/Spidey/Daredevil crossover, "Devil and the Details." Waid took over an issue of Spider-Man and used other terms such as "wacktalk.". . I try to ignore that.

I feel the same way about Daredevil, that there wasn't much point to the crossover. I feel a bit differently on The Flash though, I'm really impressed with the ideas they presented and the new character of Hynes. I'm hype!

sdelmonte said...

I'm teetering about The Flash. Great art, great ideas, but so-so execution as a result of a script that is clearly the work of two people still learning the ropes. I wish that DC had either assigned an experienced scriptwriter or a better editor to the book to help shore things up. At the same time, though, the art is so good that I am giving this book a longer leash than many other New 52 comics.

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