Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/23/12

It's time for some Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  I'm pretty excited for the books we'll be looking at together, as we have Grant Morrison's relaunch of his Batman odyssey (not to be confused with Neal Adams' Batman Odyssey), Batman, Incorporated #1, the perennially terrific Chew #26, and a surprise entry in the form of Jeff Lemire's initial offering of Justice League Dark #9.  So get clicking through that cut and get reading!

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham

Grant Morrison's Batman Inc., like a lot of the good (and not so good) titles DC was publishing last year, was prematurely ended by the much vaunted New 52 reboot.  While there was an 80-page special thrown in there to cover the last few issues in the first "season", it was clear that there was more to come.  After all, Grant Morrison had been writing his Batman epic for years and ostensibly still had a ways to go before it was all said and done.  Enter Batman, Incorporated this week.

Morrison and recent collaborator Chris Burnham get right back into things, not skipping a beat despite the months away.  Frankly, the two may have gotten better during their "break".  The book opens with Bruce standing in the family cemetery with Alfred - a familiar setting for this series and Bat-titles in general.  The unfamiliar aspect is that Bruce appears defeated, calming that Batman and all its associated madness "is over". Just as Alfred tries to talk him out of such a decision, seemingly the entire Gotham City Police Department shows up to arrest Bruce.  That's page 1.

What a way to reintroduce a series, eh?

We immediately jump back one month to Batman and Robin chasing some goat-headed agents of Leviathan through a meat-packing plant, picking up on the drugged food thread from earlier issues of the series.  It makes for some neat action-packed (and somewhat gory, considering the abattoir they find themselves in) stuff that Morrison inter-splices with a Leviathan-hosted dinner party featuring members from Leviathan's slowly increasing Evil League of Evil (with apologies to Dr. Horrible).  The juxtaposition between the two scenes works incredibly well, especially when the Batman and Robin scene takes a humourous turn ("As of now I'm a vegetarian") and the Leviathan scene takes a corresponding turn towards the macabre.  Some very nice touches there.

These dueling threads continue throughout the issue and make it very clear that even though Morrison's had to move his story to the New 52, it's still his story.  He slips in a few passing references to what's happened since the last issue of Batman Inc. (including Batman slipping in the fact that Damian killed both Otto Netz and Nobody), but the focus is really on his own toys.  And that's fine by me, as the character interactions Morrison provides are razor sharp and filled with foreshadowing of later events (in this very issue and presumably in those to come).

The sheer amount of Morrison's past ideas and characters that he manages to pick up here is rather astounding.  The fact that the issue strikes me as more or less approachable (at least as approachable as a Morrison-written comic can be) is equally impressive.  It's also really cool to see how these past plot threads are picked up on, including all the Batman Inc. representatives that Morrison killed off towards the end of that last season, Talia Al Ghul's involvement in this craziness, and the big ol' bounty on Damian's head.  The little DC advert in the back of this issue calls Batman, Incorporated "the story of a man and a woman fighting over the heart and soul of their child".  Considering everything we get in this issue, I believe it.

Since Chris Burnham started working with Grant Morrison all that time ago, I've been somewhat leery of his work.  I'm not always the biggest fan of the way Burnham renders people, feeling like it's sometimes nearly the drawn equivalent of the uncanny valley, where things look almost right but there's just enough off to put it really far off.  While I'm still getting that sensation at times, I've got to admit that the man can draw.  And that's exactly what he does here, drawing the hell out of this comic.  Every page is packed to the brim with panels and action and cool, but it never feels overwhelming.  On the contrary, it always feel just right, which is amazing.  This is particularly true as we move towards the book's cliffhanger, which in the hands of lesser creators could have come off as trite or cliché, but under Morrison and Burnham feels meaningful and sincere.

Verdict - Must Read.  Grant Morrison is back in a big way.  His Batman story picks up right from where it left off, and it hasn't lost any momentum from the reboot or the time away.  If anything, I'd say it's somehow gained momentum,a s things are moving fast and furious.  It's good to have Morrison back on a monthly Batman title.

CHEW #26
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I always feel like I have a hard time reviewing Chew.  This title, starring a cop who gains the memories of anything he eats, is always so full of fun ideas and is so well done that it's hard to find anything new to say, which more often than not leaves me saying nothing.  But that's not really fair to this series.  It keeps finding ways to push its characters and premise in new directions, and as the beneficiary of all this great creativity, the least I can do is find a way to talk about some of the great stuff this series is doing.

So here we are.

The last arc, "Major League Chew", saw our hero Tony Chu kidnapped by Ameliz Mintz's (his girlfriend) ex-boyfriend, Dan, and forced to snack on the corpses of deceased baseball legends so that Dan could learn all about their kinky sexual dalliances for his book.  It was a pretty silly concept that was treated with near-complete earnestness, which is pretty much Chew's trademark at this point.  As with all good fiction, the good guys triumphed, with Amelia saving Tony from being auctioned off for his cibopath talents.  The only downside is that Tony was beaten pretty badly, ending up in a coma.

So with our lead out of commission, we switch gears slightly to focus on Tony's twin sister, Toni.  Considering that she is an agent of NASA and that this arc is called "Space Cakes", she seems like a rather appropriate fill-in for our regular lead.  And we learn quite a bit about Toni this issue, including her status as a cibovoyant, which means she can "bite into anything alive and flash with eerie accuracy onto upcoming events in their lives", continuing the book's theme of strange eating / food-related powers and (interestingly) mirroring Tony's power to see past events of things he eats.  Of course, Toni's power isn't quite as useful (as the comic readily admits), although John Layman does put it to some good use over the course of this issue.

While the issue touches on how Tony and Amelia are doing, this is really the Chu sibling show through and through, as Chow Chu shows up to entreat Toni's aid in getting back at Barnabas Cremini, a chef rival of Chow's introduced in the prologue.  Chow's plan of revenge is revealed to be pretty petty, if quite entertaining, and the two siblings head off to lunch.  The whole thing becomes a pretty fun pseudo-buddy cop done in one that looks like it will ultimately be the beginning of some future conflicts.

Indeed, cibovoyant wasn't the only new food-related power revealed this issue.  We also get to enjoy finding out about sabopictors, who are people who can paint both texture and taste.  It seems like a silly, harmless idea introduced solely to fuel this Toni-Chow issue, but the one page epilogue ties it into the wider Chew narrative  in a succinct and unexpected way.

Of course, it should go without saying that Rob Guillory's art, as always, is an absolute delight.  The man's style is wholly unique, while being the perfect match for Layman's writing.  It's exaggerated and cartoony, while still being placed firmly in reality.  The parallels between the writing and art are seriously impressive, as is Guillory's ability to realize all the physical gags the script calls for (as well as some that it doesn't).

Verdict - Buy It.  This issue of Chew is like most others that have come before.  That is to say, it's amzing.  John Layman and Rob Guillory have somehow managed to continually maintain the same high level of quality from issue #1 until now, and I don't see that stopping any time soon, which is both astounding and worhty of recognition.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Mikel Janin

A bit of a surprise entry this week, I wasn't originally intending on picking up Jeff Lemire's first issue of Justice League Dark, but the night before New Comic Book Day, Scott Snyder told me (and all his other followers) on Twitter that this was going to be good.  Always willing to give new books a shot (and being easily impressionable), I decided to heed his unsolicited advice and give this issue a gander.

The book opens hard and fast, following John Constantine's infiltration of the strange death cult of a much more powerful (and undead looking) than usual Felix Faust in the middle of the Amazon jungle.  The in medias rea start works quite well, grabbing the reader's attention and forcing them to wonder a) what's going on and b) why is it going on.  Lemire actually does a solid job of answering the former in a smooth manner that also introduces new readers (such as myself) to the book's lead characters in a natural way, but his handling of the latter isn't quite as successful.

To fill everyone in on the question of why, we jump out of a raging battle to a flashback from a week prior, ending up in Constantine's apartment.  It's a bit jarring and really banks on the reader's interest being hooked by that opener, because the title grinds to a halt, switching gears over to some serious talking heads exposition.  The stuff that the characters cover is pretty nifty, showing that Lemire has some big ideas for his time on this book (while also giving it a nice little tie-in to the main Justice League book), but that doesn't change the fact that it's all a little rushed.  Lemire's pitch for his immediate plans on this title are crammed into three pages, making for a pretty dense wall of text.  It does bring everyone up to speed, but knowing Lemire, I feel as if he could have found a better way to share this information with the reader.

Regardless, we get some back and forthing between the present and the requisite "getting the band back together" scene (Lemire's figurative language, not mine).  It's alright stuff, but I was more satisfied with the protions of the book that moved the plot forward rather than the parts that explained how the narrative got to where it is.  Or put another way, the fight with Faust is what captured my interest, as it did a much better job of showing off the entire cast of characters, while the flashbacks really only told us about Constantine (and maybe a little about Zatanna, but mostly incidentally).

Throughout it all, Mikel Janin's art really impressed me.  This is a rather versatile dude, ably switching between the lush jungles of Brazil and the urban jungles of whatever city Constantine and company are currently based in.  As you well-know, I'm a sucker for creative panel layout and gutter use, so Janin got a lot of extra points in my view for just that.  He doesn't always push the literal boundaries of the page, but it always feels appropriate when he does, whether it's Zatanna's magic bolts becoming the page's gutters or the spider web gutters that surround the team when they are entering Faust's ancient layer.  They're small details, but they add a lot.  It's also worth noting that Janin just so happens to also be a really good artist who is more than up to the task of filling the pages with various characters up to sundry activities, which is kind of an important skill to have in a team book like this.

Verdict - Check It.  There are some moments that are a bit of a slog to get through, but as I said, it's clear that Lemire is bringing his signature great ideas to this comic.  With so much exposition out of the way, I imagine we'll get a lot more of the good bits in the coming issues.  I know I'll be giving them a look to see what comes.

And that's me for the week.  What did you get reading these past few days?  Were you big into Morrison's return to Batman?  Motoring along with the wonderful Chew?  Checking out Lemire's switch over to Justice League Dark?  Or were there other books that caught your eye?  Either way, please feel free to share your thoughts down below.

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Jon said...

I was hoping for something good out of the return of Batman Inc and I must say, honestly, that I was not at all disappointed. This followed the Grant Morrison led Bat-stories I've been following and loving for the last few years and it didn't feel shoehorned in at all in the "new" universe. I am quite pleased.

Anonymous said...

Anti-morrison. Sorry guys.

I am loving Lemire more and more every time I read something new he writes.

Anonymous said...

I would put Lemire's JLD on the must read list.

maybetoby said...

It IS good having Morrison back on a monthly Batman title. I remember when the new 52 was first announced I said "I'll be happy as long as Johns' Green Lantern and Morrison's Batman remain the same." It may have taken a while, but I am so happy that Batman Inc is back!

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