Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/27/12

Happy Canada Day, everyone!  And happy Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  It truly is the best of both worlds that these two events can coincide, no?  So if you're not in the midst of celebrating your country's birth, you should hit the jump to see my thoughts on B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Exorcism #1, Flash #10, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009!

Written by Mike Mignola & Cameron Stewart
Art by Cameron Stewart
Colours by Dave Stewart

While I've repeatedly expressed my love for pretty much all things Mignola, I haven't actually read through an issue of B.P.R.D. in a number of years at this point.  I feel like the last series I picked up might have been 1947, but I'm not one hundred percent on that one.  Either way, my reading remission was by no means a reflection of the quality of the series.  It was more of a recognition that, as much as I may want to, reading every single comic book on the stands might not be a fiscally responsible decision.  So when push came to shove, B.P.R.D. ended up falling by the wayside while I continued to read Hellboy, Lord Baltimore, Sir Edward GreyLobster Johnson, and The Amazing Screw-On Head.  To name but a few.  Looking at the list now, my "fiscal responsibility" may have been slightly more laughable than I believed, but what's done is done.

All that being said, even though I haven't been actively following B.P.R.D., I have not been deaf to all the good things that have been said about the series over these past few years.  So when I saw B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Exorcism #1 in my shop, written and drawn by Cameron Stewart, I decided that I'd been away from this part of the Mignola-verse for long enough.  Considering the high quality of most every comic associated with Mike Mignola, this would probably hold true for any issue, but I'm really glad I got back on the B.P.R.D. horse.

The entire comic is pretty darn good, but one aspect that I really appreciated was how approachable the whole thing was.  As I said above, I haven't read B.P.R.D. in years, but I had absolutely no trouble picking up this issue and following along.  There was literally not a single moment where I was unclear what was going on.  It's a testament to how strong the writing is throughout the issue, as everything you really need to know is slipped into character dialogue or body language without ever feeling overly-expository.

The issue opens with a flashback to the year 1890 in a isolated manor in East Africa, where a black priest is in the midst of performing - you guessed it - an exorcism on an English woman.  It's only three pages long, but the whole scene sets the tone for the rest of the book quite nicely and transitions naturally into our present-day story where Agent Ashley Strode, the book's protagonist, is assisting in another exorcism in Indiana.  Our modern-day exorcism and its fallout manage to both tell the reader a lot about Ashley and set up the arc for the rest of the story.  Mignola and Stewart provide the reader with some incredibly efficient storytelling, moving things along at a rapid pace without ever going too quickly.

From this introduction, we move into the meat of the story, learning that Ashley has quite a lot to learn as a full-time B.P.R.D. agent.  Fortunately for her (or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective), Kate Corrigan has faith in her abilities and sends her off to Mexico to meet up with a former B.P.R.D. member.  Unsurprisingly, this mission manages to tie the opening flashback into the main plot thread in what I found to be a rather clever manner.  It's actually quite amazing how tightly plotted this introductory issue is.

Also, as you may have already heard, Cameron Stewart happens to be a pretty terrific comic book artist.  He has an excellent sense for layouts, seemingly always knowing exactly how many - or how few - panels should fill each and every page.  Some pages can have as many as ten panels splayed across them, but it never feels like they're overfilled.  His layouts, along with his wonderful art, perfectly convey every aspect of the script, letting a lot of the narrative play out in the images.  It all adds up to a great balance between word and image.  Also, also, Dave Stewart continues to be a complete stalwart on colours.  Just like every single book he works on, his colour choice is the perfect compliment to the tone and atmosphere of the page.  It's hardly a surprise he's taken the Eisner Award for colouring so many times.  The man is a genius.

Verdict - Buy It.  Exorcism is another excellent addition to the ever-expanding Mignola-verse.  It is a great character piece, looking at one agent trying to deal with the supernatural world that threatens our own and how she reconciles the two.  I'm really excited to see what comes next.  And I clearly have some reading to catch up on.

Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buecellato
Art by Marcus To & Ray McCarthy

This was not the strongest issue of Flash that we've seen from the Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelatto writing team.  I can see what they were hoping to do with the general thrust of their narrative, but it feels like they left out a lot of important pieces that would have helped explain things in a far more organic way.  And that's kind of the problem for this whole issue.  A whole bunch of stuff happens, and it is all kind of related to things that have come before, but none of it has enough time to be developed properly.  I get the feeling that we accidentally skipped a whole bunch of important things between issue #9 and this one.

For example, while I can see how they tried to set up this trip down to Guatemala in the last issue, there really wasn't enough groundwork lain for it to make all that much sense.  Why does Patty suddenly feel the need to solve the mystery of Claudio Mardon's murder?  Why is the Weather Wizard in Guatemala?  How did the Flash get there when he ended the last issue confronted by a Doctor Elias who had seemingly turned against him?  Like, there's just so many loose ends that I feel like I haven't been paying attention to anything that's been going on, but I swear I have!

This issue tries to quickly fill in all of this missing information, but it's all super rushed and still doesn't quite explain all these missing events.  During the onslaught of exposition, we learn that Barry seemingly didn't both talking with Doctor Elias, even though that seems like it would be kind of an important thing to do?  And Patty was captured by the Weather Wizard between issues?  It's a lot of exposition to take in, and it makes for a disconcerting and uneven reading experience.

To be honest, I was really surprised at this issue, because Manapul and Buccelatto had been doing such a good job on this title.  Especially of late.  While there were some early growing pains, it seemed like the two had finally figured out where they wanted their take on the Scarlet Speedster to go.  And then we get this incredibly uneven issue.  Part of me wonders if it has anything to do with needing to bring in Marcus To and Ray McCarthy in as a fill-in artists for the issue.  Don't get me wrong, they do some fine work, but maybe this points to there being some problem with production on Flash #10 being delayed or rushed?  I'm just guessing here, but the whole thing is a mighty odd departure from the quality that we've seen on this title in the past.

Speaking of To and McCarthy, they do a fine job in relief, but I will admit to being rather put out that Manapul wasn't on art duties.  His beautiful take on the Flash is a big draw for me when it comes to buying this title, so finding someone else's art inside is a bit of a disappointment.  While it is hard to not compare them directly to the man they're replacing, To and McCarthy do the book some justice.  I definitely appreciated that they kept the same style of layouts that Manapul has been using for the book, so there was at least some artistic overlap between the two teams.  I don't mean to be so hard on these guys, but Manapul's style gives the Flash a distinct look that separates it from every other book on the stands, so finding someone else on the interiors is a little hard to deal with.

Verdict - Skip It.  Like last week's Daredevil review, it might be a little harsh, but I was honestly disappointed with the writing in this issue.  The conflict between the Flash and the Weather Wizard should have been front and centre this entire issue, but it was lost in the shuffle of trying to quickly explain the many unclear actions and motivations that led to that encounter.  And the issue also suffers from the lack of Manapul art.  This issue would have benefited greatly from a bit more lead-up to the whole thing, instead of dropping the reader in the middle of it and trying to explain the whole thing during the fight.

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neill

After my extended rant about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 in this week's Previews, I couldn't leave this comic without any comment.  I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with the book.  While I maintain that 1969 was a bit of a confused mess, this final issue in the Century trilogy actually does a really good job of tying everything together.  The overabundance of literary allusions are still present (omnipresent, even), but they come off as far less distracting as they did last time.  Maybe it's because I know the source material Alan Moore is riffing on in this issue better than that he used in 1969, but things seem to hang together far better in this finale, which is a good thing.

We open on a broken League, with Orlando being the only one whose whereabouts we know.  However, very quickly Prospero shows up and declares that, as insisted upon in the earlier issues, the world is going to end so Orlando better get her act together and find Mina Harker and Allan Quatermain to stop things from getting too far out of hand.  From there, we go to assembling the cast of heroes, meeting up with some familiar faces along the way, and quickly head off in search of the big bad Moonchild we've heard so much about before.  That final confrontation goes pretty badly, the cavalry arrives, and the day is saved.  Kind of.

The whole thing is downright formulaic in its simplicity.  Each act of the comic performs a specific function that quickly whisks us along to the climax and conclusion of the story.  Granted, I am skipping over pretty much all of the details, but I think you get an idea for what I mean.  2009 is almost excessively readable for an Alan Moore book.  That's not to say that it's necessarily a simple story, because I don't think it is.  Or at least, it doesn't have to be.  

It's not the destination that's necessarily important here, and there's a lot more to this journey than good triumphing over evil.  In true Moore style, there are layers and layers of meaning to parse and digest, but it's nice that the whole thing can be read as a classic adventure tale, should that be of interest to you.  In that sense, I'd say that 2009 shares a lot in common with the first two volumes of  the LoEG, because it can more easily be enjoyed on those multiple levels, which is a nice change from 1969 and the Black Dossier, which were both a bit of a slog in my mind.

If you've been following the LoEG at all (and I should hope you have been if you're reading this issue), you know what to expect when it comes to Kevin O'Neill's half of the collaboration.  I mean, it obviously wouldn't be the League if O'Neill wasn't around to pull down the artistic duties.  His iconic style is on full-display throughout these 80 pages, and I must say, it's good to see his work again.  There's almost an ersatz nostalgia I'm almost wondering if I just wasn't paying attention in 1969, but I feel like O'Neill's work was the

Verdict - Buy It.  Despite my excessive slagging in this week's Previews, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 was a lot of fun.  I only had time to breeze through it for this review, and while that was far easier to do than I was expecting, I'm also excited to spend some more time with this title to really get at the deeper themes that Moore and O'Neill are getting at.  They look to be equally fun (or at least rewarding).  This is the kind of story that first got me interested in the League.

Some humble pie for me this week, but I'm always prepared to admit when I was wrong.  Especially when it results in me reading more great comics.  That's never a bad thing in my books.  For a bit of a different spin, and working under the assumption that you're way into Canada / US holidays, what are you planning on getting up to this July 1st / July 4th?  BBQs?  Fireworks?  Comics?  Feel free to share down below in the comments!

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