Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/16/12

Welcome to your latest edition of the ever exciting Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  When I sat down to decide which books I should focus on this week, I didn't have an overaching theme in mind, and maybe I still don't, but the three comics I'm offering thoughts on are all from smaller publishers, so there's that.  So I invite to follow the cut to see my thoughts on Adventure Time #4, Atomic Robo Presents Real Science Adventures #2, and Saga #3.  It'll be fun!  I promise.

Written by Ryan North
Art by Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb
Back-up Story Written by Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos
Back-up Story Art by Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos

Oh my glob, you guys.  Adventure Time the comic continues to be algebraic!  It's seriously lumping fantastic! ---

Err, sorry about that.  Was just getting a little carried away in my exuberance for Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb's totally fun adaptation of Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time (with Finn and Jake!).  And it's hard not to when the whole package is so darn good!

For those who haven't been following at home, the entirely evil Lich found a bag of holding and sucked up pretty much all of the world, including our battle burn slinging heroes (see Adventure Time FCBD issue for that [which was also great]).  Fortunately for the world, Finn and Jake, along with Marceline the vampire and an army of sand Finn and Jake golems courtesy of Desert Princess, outsmarted the Lich, freed everything from the bag, and threw said Lich into the sun for good measure (and for a pun so awful [read: great] that it puts CSI: Miami to shame).

With all that out of the way, we get a chance to slow things down and tie up all the loose threads from this opening arc, including the question to clean all of the kingdoms of the sand that now inconveniently covers them (much to Jake's chagrin), find the now missing Desert Princess, and fill in the hole that now (has always?) exists in part of the Earth.  If you've been following the series, it's not rocket science to figure out how these problems will get solved, but it's the journey to solve them that's worth the read.  As I've said before, Ryan North has found the perfect way to combine his writing style with that of the show, and it makes for a rip roaring good time.

Once those problems are taken care of, we still have room for a quick epilogue that adds quite the tragic spin on the creation of the happy go lucky world our characters reside in.  I don't know if this has been explained at all in the show before, but I'll be mighty intersted to see if this is picked up in later issue.

I hope it goes without saying that this book's greatness is due in large part to the great work by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb.  In case it doesn't, this book's greatness is due in large part to the great work of Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb.  They do a terrific job recreating the show's style, but their real strength is as comic book storytellers.  It's clear that this is not their first rodeo, as their layouts and scene choices invariably are the perfect manifestation of North's ideas.  I really look forward to many more issues of this trio working together and getting to know each other's idiosyncrasies even better.  I imagine the rewards of this experience will be quite rewarding for the reader.

All this being said, as is the wont of this series, there is a backup story by an indie creator in this issue as well.  This time around, it's by Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos (with colours by Joey Weiser), and without meaning to cause offense, it's... alright.  It has some moments, but it seems much more geared towards a younger reading audience, with humour that isn't as readily transferable to an older reading bracket.  There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't pack quite as much of a punch next to the lead story, which is just so strong.

Verdict - Buy It.  I think Adventure Time #4 is the most fun I had with a comic book this week.  It's definitely my favourite purchase, despite the fact that it breaks so many of my usual rules: it's $3.99, with only 22 pages of content (eight of which are the back-up story), but I don't care.  I'm always willing to be a bit more lenient for smaller publishers, that there are no ads certainly helps, and most of all, the fact that the story's just plain awesome is a pretty good argument in favour of this book.  This comic is a ton of fun, and that's what I want from my comics.

Written by Brian Clevinger
Art by Ryan Cody, Rob Reilly, John Broglia & Zack Finfrock

It was a bit of a longer break between issues than I imagine anyone really wanted, but if it was used to shore up the material within (which is pure speculation on my part, nothing more), it was worth the wait.  Heck, even if my random, completely groundless theory isn't accurate, it was still worth the wait, because Atomic Robo Presents Real Science Adventures #2 is a big step in the right direction for this series.

Once again, we're getting four short stories or portions of stories (ranging from four to eight pages in length)  in this package for the low, low price of $2.75, and the second kick at the can provides for, on the balance of things, a much more enjoyable reading experience.  It might sound strange, but I got the distinct impression that the writing in these four stories feels more sure of itself.  While the first issue sometimes felt like it had something to prove, #2 seems more relaxed and more focused on simply telling some quality Robo stories, which is fine by me.

The opening yarn is part 2 of the Harper Lee inspired (title-wise, at the very least) "To Kill A Sparrow".  I was unsure of this story last time out, and I can't say that it's much improved here.  There simply doesn't seem to be a lot of meat to this tale.  Sure, it's great that Sparrow and Virginia Hall are getting into lots of Nazi-themed scrapes and hijinx, but I'm still waiting for this story to really pop.  There just doesn't seem to be much in the way of reason to follow the rhyme, resulting in a bunch of action scenes that continue to ring a little hollow at the moment.

Fortunately, this opener is followed up by the infinitely silly "Monster Hunters", which involves one of my favourite aspects of Robo lore, the Yonkers Devil.  And it's also a Team Fortress 2 mash-up.  Just 'cuz.  As I said, it's a rather silly affair - almost Looney Tunes-esque at times - but it really captures the humour and feel of the main Robo books.  All these disparate parts come together for one heck of a ride, leading up to a nice twist(ish) ending that somehow manages to tie this back into the wider Robo-narrative.

Our second multi-part story is next, taking us back to Hong Kong to Robo's training with the legendary Bruce Lee in "Leaping Metal Dragon".  While this story is the same four page length as "To Kill A Sparrow", it feels much fuller, which is ironic because, from a pure plot perspective, not much happens.  However, that lack of forward progression is far more meaningful to the story here than the mindless WWII action of the earlier story.  Things are definitely of the slow and steady variety here, but you can tell that it's building up to something good.

And to top things off, we have "Atomic Robo vs. Rasputin", continuing the (two issue old) tradition of reprinting an earlier Robo story in the anthology (this time out of Atomic Robo Volume 1 #4, to be precise). If you haven't encountered this one before, prepare yourself for a simple story from Robo's early days, featuring some classic Thomas Edison jerkery, a phantasmal Rasputin, and Robo's vacuum tube powered proto-Proton Pack.  Also: suspenders.  The whole thing is almost over before it starts, but it's a grand old time while it lasts.

I haven't explicitly talked about the art in any of these stories, but it's all pretty good.  It's clear that Brian Clevinger (who wrote everything in this issue) is a man who can find talented collaborators, because that's what he's done here.  And Matt Speroni's colours on these stories (save the last one, which is all Zack Finfrock) work quite well.  He always provides the right style to compliment the artist he's working with.

Verdict - Buy It.  For $2.75, you're getting four rock solid stories (or parts thereof), which no matter how you look at it, is a pretty good deal.  I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention that what few ads there are in this book are saved for the end, which is a nice bonus.  ATPRSA #2 is a fine step forward for this anthology, and I look forward to what comes next.

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I didn't get a chance to review Saga #2, but as you may have figured, it was pretty good.  And - big surprise - the same is easily said for Sage #3, which just keeps things moving right along in its inimitable way courtesy of our superstar creative team of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

Things really went from bad to worse last time, as Marko, Alana, and Hazel were cornered by the freelancer The Stalk, Marko was injured defending his family, and they were left to fend for themselves against the horrible and mysterious Horrors.  After so much doom and gloom, things were due for a change of pace, and that's what we get here - more or less.

Don't get me wrong, things are still pretty dire, what with Marko being fatally wounded and everything, but it's not all the pits.  It turns out that the Horrors aren't quite what they've been made out to be (at least, not entirely), as our helpful guide Izabel tells Alana over the course of the issue.  It's quite the journey she takes our young family on, and it's cool to learn more about Izabel and her kind at the same time that our protagonists do.  It's a nice touch by Vaughan to link us even more with our leads.

While there are some sacrifices to be made, things really seem to be coming up Milhouse for Alana and company in this issue, which of course means it's the perfect time pull the rug out from under them again, which is exactly what we get.  Fortunately, Vaughan shows his wisdom by switching up what kind of threat is now besieging Alana et al.  Indeed, it's not imminent violence that we cliffhanger on, it's that's something potentially far more damaging.

While the trials and tribulations continues for our heroes, Vaughan and Staples don't forget about our supporting characters, giving both Prince Robot IV and The Will some excellent face time in this issue as their respective searches for said heroes continue to develop (or don't, in The Will's case).  Prince Robot features in an interrogation scene that nets him some additional information on his quarry and some further character development as the tired and frustrated war hero who's maybe seen just a bit too much.  Meanwhile, The Will has made good on his promise to blow his money in the Sextillion system with Lying Cat in tow, giving us the opportunity to explore The Will's strained relationship with The Stalk.  Both subplots make for good times.

Again, I seem to have failed to mention much in the way of Staples' contributions to this issue, but that is not meant as a slight against her.  It's more because of how well she and Vaughan work together.  Any successes in this book are just as much hers and they are his, for her depictions of all the stuff that has I've been lauding is amazing.  Vaughan has found an able partner in Staples who kills each and every scene that she does.  It doesn't matter if it's The Will eating Mega Ω's or Alana's desperation to save her family, it's all rendered with the same care and attention to detail.

Verdict - Must Read.  The creative names on the cover should be more than enough to convince you to pick this up, let alone the great work that they're doing inside the cover.  Should you need more coercing, consider that the book is $2.99 for 22 pages of story with  NO ADS.  None.  That's enough to get me to buy most anything, and when it just so happens to be the best new book of the year, that's even better.

As you know from my Previews, these books are only a portion of what I pulled down this week, but they are definitely among the highlights of what I read.  And while they are all very different comics, there is one connecting thread between them all.  Did you catch what it is?  That's right, it's that none of them had ads in the actual story part of the comic.  I hope you're listening comic book publishers (since you've obviously been waiting all week to read my reviews).  While cutting back on ads or taking them out altogether won't necessarily make a comic book any better, I can guarantee you that it won't make it any worse.

What about you, gentle readers?  How do you feel on the ad debate?  For?  Against?  Hit the comments and share your thoughts!

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Anonymous said...

I don't mind ads as long as they are there to help keep the price down.

Great review of Saga!

Naymlap said...

What did you think about Daredevil?
I thought it was just ok at first. The first half of the book was off, but the twist at the end redeemed it just a little.

Grant McLaughlin said...

@Naymlap - That's pretty much how I'd describe it. It really felt like it was retreading the same old ground, and while the ending was a nice turn, I do wish it had come two or three issues earlier.

Paul said...

This is probably dumb, but I'm never sure which is better: "Must Read" or "Buy It." I take the former to mean do whatever you can to read this book (borrow it, steal it, etc.) and the latter as more of a "add it to your pull list and read when you get around to it" kind of thing, but I'm not sure that I'm right.

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