Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/30/12

Welcome one and all to our Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  I invite you to hit the jump to see some of my thoughts on this week's crop of titles, such as Animal Man Annual #1, Grim Leaper #1, and more!

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Timothy Green & Joseph Silver

This was an amazing issue.  Jeff Lemire, Timothy Green, and Joseph Silver combine to provide a stellar done-in-one story in the first Animal Man Annual.

The comic opens immediately after the events of Animal Man #9, but instead of following Buddy Baker's descent into the Red, we take a closer look at the rest of the Baker clan.  If you've been following my Animal Man reviews, you'll know that Buddy's family is one of my favourite parts of this series, so this was a fine decision by me.  The story really breaks down to Socks (the Red avatar that has come to our world to protect Buddy's daughter) telling Maxine (Buddy's daughter) a story about a previous encounter between the Red, the Green, and the Rot.  It's an incredibly simple idea, but the execution is spot on.

Socks' story takes place in the small town of Stone Lake, Manitoba in the year 1894 and follows the then-current avatars of the Red and the Green fight against the Rot, as seen through the eyes of Jacob Mullin, that era's version of Animal Man.  The leap through time is a brilliant choice that enables Lemire to tell a complete story, while also drawing plenty of parallels to the present conflict between the three groups.  This story not only provides a pretty good idea of what some of the elements of the forthcoming Animal Man-Swamp Thing crossover could be, it also acts as an excellent introduction to Lemire's interpretation of the Animal Man character for new readers.  This comic expertly balances the needs of new readers with those of long time fans - a rather impressive feat.

The story is perfectly pace, slowly developing from the initial problem of dying animals into a full-on invasion by the Rot.  Jacob's difficulty in dealing with all the craziness and his new found powers are very well played, with that era's Swamp Thing doing an excellent job of providing exposition in an organic way.  And the implied parallels to our current story become much stronger as we reach the conclusion, providing even more foreshadowing of what may come.

Timothy Green and Joseph Silver do a wonderful job of putting the images of the story to paper.  While Travel Foreman is no longer on this title, Green and Silver really seem to be channeling his style into their own, providing for a stunning look back into Animal Man lore.  There are some rather grisly visuals to be found within this book, and our two artists pull them off with seeming ease.  While most of the page layouts are pretty routine panels on a white background, every now and then we get some really great two-page spreads that hint at what these two gents can be capable of.  I wish they'd done a bit more of that, but I'm hard pressed to complain with the excellent stuff we do get.

Verdict - Must Read.  This comic manages the incredibly difficult task of continuing an ongoing narrative while also being entirely approachable for new readers, something that should ideally be far more common than it actually is.  Jeff Lemire, Timothy Green, and Joseph Silver truly made a wonderful comic together, and I hope that these gentlemen will get further opportunities to collaborate in the future.

Written by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art by Jay Fabok

After all the good work that Scott Snyder has been doing with Batman since he first came onto Detective Comics way back when, it was only a matter of time before he produced something that was less than amazing.  I would argue (quite strongly) that Batman Annual #1 is that less than amazing title.  While the comic book reintroduction of Mr. Freeze has a lot going for it in theory, this issue's various parts fail to real combine into a complete whole, resulting in a disjointed and underwhelming read.

I recognize that this is pretty harsh, but when you routinely produce work of the high quality that Scott Snyder does, the missteps become rather glaring when they occur.  And like his earlier "Beast in the Cave" arc over in American Vampire, "First Snow" is what I would call a misstep.

This issue is the equivalent of Mr. Freeze: Year One for the New 52, set in the midst of the ongoing "Night of the Owls" Batman event.  While I've repeatedly expressed my dislike for Snyder's Court of Owls, their involvement in this story has little to do with my problems with it.  To be honest, as someone who is mostly sticking with Snyder's main Batman title during this event, I'm not quite clear where this fits in.  I don't really remember reading about Mr. Freeze actually being involved in any of this.  Beyond the solicitation, I don't know why I'd assume Mr. Freeze would be involved with the Court of Owls at all, which makes for some jarring moments where the characters seem to know more about what's going on than the reader does.

However, that is a minor issue when compared to the actual focus of the issue, which is Mr. Freeze's backstory as it exists in DC's new status quo.  For anyone familiar with the character, there's a lot of retreading here: thematic links to the cold throughout Victor Fries' life, working to revive his true love Nora, and the tragic accident that turns our young researcher into Mr. Freeze.  Snyder fills in some holes here and there, adding additional nuances to the story, but the vast majority is stuff you've seen before.

The biggest difference between the new Mr. Freeze and the old one many readers would be familiar with is a twist that Snyder throws out towards the end of the issue.  And while I felt the issue had problems prior to that moment, this is really where things fall apart in my mind.  The twist relies on the reader seeing Mr. Freeze as a sympathetic (or at least tragic) character, but that sympathy is never actually created.  Instead, we see repeated instances of Mr. Freeze indiscriminately killing innocent people in cold blood for little to no reason, along with numerous other examples which paint him as a rather serious psychopathic murderer.  Accordingly, when it's revealed that Mr. Freeze's goal of reviving his wife, Nora, may not be quite as it appears, it isn't a gamer changer.  It mostly just follows the same perverted logic that we see from Freeze over the course of the entire issue.  So what could have been a really interesting nuance to the character ends up falling completely flat (those last two pages especially had no emotional resonance for me).

On the art side of things, Jay Fabok was great.  From start to finish, I must say that I really dug his artwork. But while his art proper was rock solid, I was particularly won over by the colouring on this book.  Quite appropriately, the colour blue infuses every single page from start to finish, providing an incredibly effective thematic unity throughout the comic.  That omnipresent blue emphasizes that this truly is Mr. Freeze's story, as his colour scheme dominates the entire story.  And it makes the occasional reds all the more prominent, as they really pop off the page.  It's a simple choice, but the impact is huge.  Was a big fan.

Verdict - Skip It.  Despite Jay Fabok's great art, I found the story to be really weak.  There's a lot going on, especially with the many flashbacks that occur throughout the story, but unlike his usual manner, Snyder is unable to bring everything together into a neat little package at the end.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Alusio Santos

Kurtis J. Wiebe's latest book from Image Comics has quite the premise behind it.  Grim Leaper is a "gory romantic comedy", working under the premise of its lead character, Lou Collins, being cursed.  His particular curse is that he is constantly dying and being reincarnated in other peoples' bodies.  It's an interesting concept, made all the more so by the inclusion of that "romantic comedy" part, which turns out to be him meeting a girl by the name of Ella who just so happens to be under the same affliction.

As an introductory issue, we spend a good portion of our pages going through the paces of explaining how that curse works (or at least Lou's understanding of it), going through a life or two in the process.  It's a pretty enjoyable time, if a bit on the slow side at times, but once Lou and Ella meet the interest really ramps up.  Admittedly, that is towards the end of the issue, but I'd say this issue acts as a pretty decent primer for what's to come.

I'm a little torn when it comes to Alusio Santos' art in this book.  I really like his lines and the way he mixes cartoony with realism, but I'm not exactly wild about the book's colour scheme.  Every panel seems to have one primary colour, with most of the panel being a shade of that, along with a secondary colour (and accompanying shade) to contrast and emphasize certain elements of the image.  It's without a doubt a bold choice, but I find it sometimes lends itself to a rather washed-out look, making the different parts of the page kind of blur together.  The technique does provide for some solid visuals, but it is rather distracting when it doesn't quite work out.

The issue also features a backup story by Joey Esposito and Jeff McComsey entitled "Drive Time Commute", under the (apparent) ongoing banner of "More Love Stories to Die For", starring two potential lovebirds whose paths just won't seem to cross until it's too late.  It's a fun little addition to the package that fits well within the theme and was well worth the read.

Verdict - Check It.  While there are some missteps along the way, on the whole Grim Leaper has a lot more good than bad.  And when you consider the fact that you're getting 27 pages of comics (spread across the main and backup stories) for a scant $3.50, that's a deal that's well worth your attention.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Tyler Jenkins

I'm always interested when creators decide they want to adapt classic works into modern day renditions.  My inner-English Literature major can't help but be curious as to how they'll approach the exercise, what they'll leave in, what they'll take out, and how that impacts the overall story.  It's been in that vein that I've been reading through each and every issue of Kurtis J. Wiebe's Peter Pan - World War II mash-up that is Peter Panzerfaust.  Since the first issue, this series has been a bit uneven, but Peter Panzerfaust #4 gets things back on track in a big way.  Peter and the Lost Boys, along with Wendy and her brothers, stumble upon an abandon farmhouse and decide to set up camp there for a bit to escape from the war.  While their reprieve is predictably short-lived, the quiet moments the gang manage to find before the dangers real world violently crash back into view are quite moving.  I'm also happy to report that Tyler Jenkins' art is growing on me more and more, with this issue being my favourite of his thus far.  As with most adaptations, these two aren't reinventing the wheel, but I'm pleased to say they're providing for an engaging read.  My only question is whether Tinker Bell will be making an appearance before we're through.

Verdict - Check It.

And that's me for the week.  How were things by you?  I'm always interested to hear your thoughts on books, but I'm particularly curious how you found the Batman annual.  Would you echo my assessment or am I being way too harsh here?  Let me know what you think in the comments, should you be so inclined.

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Jon said...

I can't agree more on Animal Man, Dc's diamond in the rough since last September.

As for Batman, I thought it was an enjoyable read that was great in the Annual one shot sort of way. I know many are in uproar over the Freeze character change, but if one is going to reboot and change nothing, then what's the point? I think the biggest "weakness" to this issue, in my mind, is that it is written for readers who have been following Mr. Freeze since the new status quo of the early 90's with TAS so the issue takes that character into account before the twist. It's not the greatest idea or execution, but it worked well enough for me to say that yeah, I think you're being a little harsh on it. It had a passable story and good art, so I would say it's worth at least a Check It.

Steve said...

Animal Man was a very solid done-in-one. I liked the framing sequence, although Socks definitely stole those scenes. Green's art was great; he did a spectacular job keeping up with the aesthetic Foreman created for the book.

I didn't at all mind the changes to Mr. Freeze's origin, but I wholeheartedly agree that I was confused at how this issue tied into Night of Owls. I felt like I'd missed something.

Grim Leaper was fun, but I thought it ended really abruptly. I flipped back a few times because I almost thought my copy was missing pages. The backup story, however, did absolutely nothing for me.

My issue of the week had to be X-Men Legacy. One of the stronger fight issues I've sever seen with great art and some nice character beats.

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