Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/02/12

My apologies for the lateness of it, but your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews have finally arrived!  We're taking a look at some milestone issues this week, namely China Mieville's relaunch of DC's Dial H #1, The Tick #100, and X-O Manowar #1.  So hit the jump to see what the word on all these books is!

Written by China Mieville
Art by Mateus Santolouco

Okay, wow.  I didn't have much in the way of expectations going into this one, seeing as I had no idea what China Mieville was going to come up with, but even so, I was not expecting this.

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, the original Dial H for Hero premiered in the 1960s, and the concept was that there was this dial and when people used it, they would become superheroes for a short period of time.  Well, Mieville has takes that concept and turns it on its ear, offering us a darker look at the same idea, and while I usually decry grim and gritty for the sake of it, I must say that it works pretty well here.

The book opens on two friends, Nelson and Darren, both of whom have seen happier days.  Mieville does an excellent job of placing their issues and problems right into their dialogue, making for a very informative and yet organic introduction to the two.  They have a bit of a row and when Nelson follows Darren outside to apologize, he finds Darreen being beaten by some nogoodniks (as Darren's work isn't exactly on the level).  Panicking, Nelson goes to the phone booth that just so happens to be in the same alley to dial for help, where he is unexpectibly turned into a rather odd looking chap by the name of Boy Chimney.

The whole sequence is really well done, with Nelson being just as confused as the reader as to what the heck is going on.  For someone who is new to comics, Mieville has a really good handle on some of the unique tools and opportunities available within the medium, and he puts them to great use.

And while the original series was all about becoming heroes, I'm not so sure that Boy Chimney would qualify as such.  Nelson certainly uses his temporary powers to get Darren out of that tight spot, but he almost forgets to do so, being more concerned with laying a beat down on the thugs instead.  There's also the issue that Boy Chimney's powers seem to be entirely based on pollution, hardly the qualities of your average hero.  In fact, all the super powered beings coming out of that phone booth seem to be somewhat on the morally grey side, both in attitude and power set.

It's a really interesting decision on Mieville's part that makes the whole story far more engaging than I was expecting.  At the end of the issue, there are still a lot of answers left to be given, but that's fine by me because the questions being asked are so unique.

Happily, Mieville's great writing is paired with some equally great art from the pen of Mateus Santolouco.  I'm not familiar with his previous work, but he more than proves himself here, doing a great job of depicting the rundown city of Littleville and the unfortunate citizens who people it.  He also nails all the different superpowered figures we get in this issue.  I was especially impressed with Boy Chimney, who has this awesome Jack Skellington / undead bug thing going on that just works.

Verdict - Buy It.  Dial H #1 is the first part of DC's "Second Wave" for the New 52, and if this is a sign of what's to come, colour me impressed.  The story that China Mieville is telling is unlike most anything else on stands and, as an added bonus, also happens to be both really well told and interesting.  Combined with Mateus Santolouco's art, it looks like we have a real winning combination on our hands.

Written by Benito Cereno
Art by Les McClaine

I haven't done a great job of keeping up with The New Tick Series that New England Comics Press has been putting out over the past year or so, but I'm always pleased when I happen to catch an issue.  I'm not intimately familiar with the Tick's four colour existence, having first encountered this blue bearer of justice through Saturday morning cartoons, but from what I've seen, Benito Cereno is doing an excellent job of combining elements from both his comic book and television homes to make some great comics.

With all this in mind, when I saw that the 100th issue of the Tick was coming out this week, I was pretty sure I wanted in on that.  I don't really know the numbers behind how this is the 100th comic, considering that the new series is only around #10 or so, but if Marvel and DC can renumber their books at will, why can't everyone else?

And so, I picked up this issue, excited for what might lie within.  Unfortunately, the solicitation was a little unclear as to what that was, because I thought that this issue would have two stories - the lead one where Tick meets Robert Kirkmna's Invincible and a backup one that would summarize the 20-odd year history of our intrepid hero.  This was only half-right.  That initially story was certainly there, clocking in at a respectable 24 pages, but the backup was actually a prose summary of every major event in Tick history, along with some images from issues' past.  It was certainly interesting, but it also wasn't quite as exciting as a comic book summary of those same issues would have been.  And considering that the whole package was $6.99 for what amounts to a 24 page comic and an essay on Tick history, the price is a little on the steep side of things.

However, should you be able to look past the cost, Tick #100 is a pretty darn fun book.  The story more or less breaks down to Invincible showing up in The City due to a mutlidimensional raygun that the Tick misplaced, followed by the two teaming up to defeat Martin the Man from Mars, who is a very obvious Marvin the Martian knockoff.  The whole thing is (as Invincible repeatedly states) quite silly, but it's also a lot of fun, full of laughs, and super approachable.

You really don't need to have any prior background knowledge to appreciate what happens in this issue, so in that sense, issue #100 is like any other issue of the Tick.  It's a great superhero comic that doesn't take itself too seriously, parodying most any aspect of the superhero genre while happily existing under the rules of the genre at the same time.  It's a wonderful little balancing act of reverence and satire that Cereno has managed with aplomb since coming to the title.

In that sense, Invincible's guest appearance, while sudden, makes a lot more sense than it might seem to at first blush.  Robert Kirkman's superhero book, while nowhere near as light-hearted as The Tick, is certainly far more self-aware of its superhero genre than most other books around.  Consequently, Invincible's presence is an excellent compliment to the world he's visiting.  The two heroes almost end up meeting in the middle, with Invincible being far less serious than he has been in recent issues of his own title and the Tick's world becoming slightly more serious with Mark's presence.

Les McClain does a great job of getting the worlds of the Tick, Invincible, and Looney Tunes (thanks to Martin and company) to coexist on the page.  His artwork is great, and I enjoy how his panel layout is far more dynamic than the norm for comics at the moment.  Considering how colourful the Tick's world is, that extra energy you find in the panels fits perfectly, helping everything to really jump off the page.  I also really enjoyed the two-page fight spread that was a clear reference to the style that is often found in the pages of Invincible.  It was a nice touch.

Verdict - Check It.  I had a ton of fun with this issue, but while it has virtually no ads and the 20 page Tick primer is nice to have, the $6.99 price is a bit high.  However, I find it a bit easier to swallow considering the size of publisher New England Comics is.  And frankly, sometimes you just have to splurge.  If you're a Tikc fan, this is a no-brainer.

Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Cary Nord

Speaking of relaunches, we have Robert Venditti and Cary Nord's offering for Valiant Entertainment's return to the comic book marketplace, X-O Manowar #1.  Although I'm unfamiliar with the original title that came out in the 90s, I can tell you that it stars Aric, a Visigoth who ends up getting his hands on some alien powerarmor that gives him some wicked superpowers.  The only downside is that he ends up becoming a man out of time, returning to the Earth in the present day.

Or at least that's how the original book ran.  We haven't gotten quite far enough to know if things will play out the same way again.  I can tell you that Aric is still around, as this book opens during a huge battle between the Visigoth and Roman forces in 402 A.D. and Aric just so happens to be one of the Visigoths present.  While the above-mentioned science fiction elements do slip in as the issue goes on, I really liked the opening Venditti went with.  It's a great way to start to understand who our hero is, as the way he handles himself on the battlefield ends up telling us a lot about the kind of person he is.  I was really impressed with this sequence, as it was an excellent example of showing and not telling, with Venditti and Nord showing us a heck of a lot of Aric in these opening pages.

Unfortunately for Aric, things don't go that great for his Visigoth brethren, and so he and a group of soldiers go to even the score under cover of darkness with their Roman enemies.  It's about here that the science fiction kicks into high gear, as Aric realizes that he's (once again) bitten off far more than he can handle, getting abducted along with some of comrades before he can learn from this hard lesson.

All along the way, Nord proves himself to be a more than capable partner for Venditti in this tale.  Nord's style quickly jumps from the distant Roman-Visigoth past to the advanced technologies and wonders of aliens with ease.  I must say that I can see why Venditti has spoken so highly of his collaborator, because Nord's work is fantastic.  Whether it's human or alien, action scene or talking heads, wide natural vista or the depths of space, Nord handles himself wonderfully, giving the reader a great view of what's going on within the story.  I haven't seen his work before, but I'm quite excited to see more in the future.

The Visigoths who are abducted deal with their change in situation surprisingly well, but that's just fine with me, seeing that an issue of them freaking out about meeting aliens would probably make for pretty dull reading.  Since they have their wits about them, they instantly start planning as to how they can get out of their imprisonment.  In the midst of that work, Aric sees the aliens trying to wield the battlesuit that (judging by everything we know, including the cover to this very issue) will soon be his.  There's an interesting wrinkle where the aliens explain that only someone worthy to wear the suit can do so without dying.  Considering we know that Aric is going to do just that, the prophecy is a little on the nose and superfluous, but I'm also willing to look past that bit as well.

Verdict - Check It.  All things considered, this is a pretty decent introduction to the character and the series.  Venditti and Nord really benefit from having 30 pages, as it enables them to take things a little slower than they could have otherwise, while still managing to get all the relevant details in there.  I hope they can keep up this kind of pacing, because I found myself really enjoying it.  It's a little early to say how this series will be in the long run, but I'm willing to stick around to see for myself.

And that's that.  Were you reading any of these books this week?  If so, what were your thoughts on them?  Hit the comments to share your thoughts, if you please!

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jacksyattering said...

DC had a strong week of premieres for me with only one disappointment:
- DIAL H was great.
- WORLD'S FINEST was a lot of fun. Power Girl remains one of my favorite comic book heroines...despite the loss of the boob window (sigh).
- EARTH 2 was as good as super-hero books get. I loved it.
- SMALLVILLE was the only book that I didn't enjoy. However, as much as I looked forward to it, I think it was destined to fail. Bad decisions, like a costume change, aside, it was nothing more than another, generic Superman comic. I couldn't even picture Tom Welling and co. in the rolls they played on TV. I see Lex and Clark in a comic and they go to the default voices they've used in my head over the last 25 years of reading comics. SMALLVILLE was the story of Superman before he put on the cape. I've been reading the stories from SMALLVILLE #1 since I was 10 in all of the other Superman books DC has ever published.
And how bad was Gary Frank's cover?

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