Sunday, May 13, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/09/12

We have a slightly lighter round of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews than normal, but it's not entirely my fault.  My shop didn't have all the books I was expecting, so my haul was a little smaller than I was planning on.  I will be getting all my books eventually, but in the interim, I'm limited to telling you what I thought about Demon Knights #9 and Punisher #11.  Fortunately, there are some interesting things to say, so I hope you'll hit the jump to see my thoughts!

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Diogenes Neves & Oclair Albert

Oh, Demon Knights.  Whenever I find myself wondering if was worth losing all the great titles we had pre-New 52, I can at least take a small bit of consolation in knowing that we wouldn't have you without that event.

DC's superhero fantasy comic has been a true treasure since it launched along with the new crop of books back in September.  What started out as a great excuse to see some witty banter and fun fights with a medieval flavour has slowly transformed into a well-developed title whose large cast of characters have incredibly nuanced (and often conflicting) motivations that, month in and month out, never cease to entertain.

After having finally defeated the Horde that they'd been fighting with since we first met them, the Demon Knights travel towards the city of Alba Sarum, where they are quickly engaged on a rather unique mission.  It seems that Merlin (the one and the same of Arthurian legend) has recently been "killed", and it falls to our heroes to travel to Avalon to recover his soul and bring him back to Alba Sarum.  If this sounds like a pretty generic stroyline that could fit most any basic fantasy setting, that's because it pretty much is.  The impressive part is that Paul Cornell manages to make it feel far more fresh and interesting than it has any right to be.

This is accomplished, for the most part, through the amazing character work that Cornell has sprinkled throughout the narrative since we were first introduced to our group of adventurers.  Over the past nine issues, we've slowly learned more about each and every one of them, and it's hard not to be somewhat concerned for how they'll succeed in this new endeavour.  It also helps that along the way we find out that (of course) there's more to some of our heroes than we knew, one of the group's members is planning another terrible betrayal, and for good measure, the whole team gets put on a boat to spice things up a little (with potentially fatal results).  Cornell is also certain to throw in a good amount of levity and humour to make sure there's no way the reader can lose interest.  There's nothing terribly earth shattering in this issue, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun.

And thankfully, Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert (along with a small army of artistic collaborators) continue to provide the perfect visuals to Cornell's fantasy world.  I could probably spend an age complimenting all the good work that they do, but I'll focus a bit to talk about the brilliant character designs these gentlemen continually provide.  Since the first issue, Neves and Albert have done an excellent job of making each and every character unique, while still clearly fitting into the world they all inhabit.  This is definitely the case for our seven lead characters, but it also holds true for secondary and even tertiary characters.  Case in point, I'm hard pressed to recall if the royal personages who assign our heroes their mission are named in this issue, but I never had an problem knowing who was who.  The character work is so strong that it's not a problem to distinguish one from another.

Verdict - Buy It.  Demon Knights deserves far more praise than it gets.  Cornell, Neves, and Oclair are making something really special and fun, and more people should be giving it a gander.  If you're looking for something new, this issue is an excellent introduction to the characters and their world.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Mirko Colak

Speaking of good introductions, this month's Punisher is a nice done-in-one that, like Punisher #7, focuses in on our diligent police officer supporting cast.  Except instead of looking at Detective Oscar Clemons, we spend some quality time getting to better know his new partner, Detective Walter Bolt, who while describing a recent incident involving a supervillain and some zombies, finally admits his aiding and abetting of the Punisher to the wider police force.

This is classic Gerg Rucka from start to finish, as he manages to provide us with a perfectly constructed story that fits perfectly into its twenty page issue with a degree of seeming ease that just doesn't seem fair.  And like a true professional, Rucka manages to do it in a manner that also builds on every issues that's come before, while also explaining everything you'd need to know if this was your first issue of the series.  Excuse me if I gush a little, but he really knocks this one out of the park.

A story that revolves around a z-list supervillain and his zombie horde could easily come off as rather ridiculous, but in the way that Rucka does, it somehow reads as perfectly reasonable.  It's played stright and is taken seriously by the players living through it, so as a reader, you can't help but treat the situation with the same respect.  Which is what makes the final moments of the issue all the more impressive.  Based on the first few pages, it's not exactly what you might have been expecting, but taking the comic as a whole, there wasn't really any other way it could have ended.  The fact that Rucka can pull off that kind of misdirection without feeling like he's mislead you makes for one heck of a read.

But Rucka doesn't do it alone.  Following the seeming revolving door of guest-artists, Mirko Colak comes along for the ride.  And like all the fill-in artists before him, Colak is really good.  So much of Rucka's writing depends on the image on the page to get the entire meaning across, and Colak is more than able to rise to the occasion.  Whether it's Walter's knowing smirks, the cops' surprise at his revelation of helping the Punisher (and Ozzy's lack thereof), or any number of other minor - yet important - details that you'll find all throughout the issue, Colak nails every single one.  I'm not terribly familiar with his past work, but I will definitely be on the lookout for what he does in the future.

I find myself saying this every month, but I love Rucka's take on the Punisher.  I'd never had much interest in Frank Castle, but Rucka has won me over to him.  I think it's due in large part to Rucka approaching this series in a similar way to his work on Gotham Central.  I've made the comparison before, but I find that the more I read of Punisher, the truer it holds.  In this series, the Punisher, as Batman was in Gotham Central, is ostensibly the lead character, but he's more often than not treated as a force of nature by the world around him, which makes for a fascinating way to look at a character.

Verdict - Buy It.  This issue is kind of the perfect storm for me.  I really like Greg Rucka, I really like done-in-one comics, and I really like this iteration of the Punisher.  Taken all together, I can't help but ask what's not to love?  It's not quite as good as the Ozzy-centric issue, but it still makes for a great read.

Again, a little shorter than I originally intended, but it's all about quality and not quantity, right?  How was the quality of the week on your end?  Lots of great books to occupy your time or was it a bit lacking?  Hit up the comments to share your thoughts on it!

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Jack Santino said...

I think Demon Knights should add backup stories. These could expand on the lead characters such as Horsewoman or Al-Jabr (my two favorites); and stories exploring other characters appropropriate to the milieu, both new and old. Much like All Star Western does. I would pay $3.99 for that.

Jack Santino said...

Viking Prince. Silent Knight. Shining Knight. Others?

Grant McLaughlin said...

@Jack - That's actually an awesome idea. I'm usually not a huge fan of backups, but I'd line up to get my hands on something like that. I'm always impressed how Cornell finds the time for each character to have some moments to themselves, but I wouldn't mind each one getting a bit more time in the spotlight.

Jack Santino said...

Thank you, Grant. We need to get this idea to DC!

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