Saturday, July 7, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/04/12

Welcome to your first edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for the month of July!  I usually spend all my time looking at the physical comics you can get at your local comic book shop, but in recognition of the launch of Monkeybrain Comics this week, I'm also taking a look at some of their titles!  And I must say, at 99 cents a hit, it's hard to try just one!  So hit the jump to see my thoughts on Bandette #1, Edison Rex #1, Sweet Tooth #35, and more!

Written by Paul Tobin
Art by Colleen Coover

I love the chemistry that Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover have on the comic page.  Considering the two are married, I guess it should be expected, but it's still worth commenting on.  The two really seem to understand what the strengths are of the other, and their work together emphasize these talents to their maximum degree.  Bandette is only the latest of their collaborations, but I think I'm already prepared to call it my favourite.

Bandette appears to be the story of a young woman who dresses up in a brightly coloured costume to fight for justice.  Except her definition of justice also includes sometimes stealing things from people if it's appealing enough.  There's definitely a bit of moral grey in this whole thing, but it's hard to notice amidst how colourful and bubbly this issue is.  We open on Bandette committing one of her robberies and the whole scene is a ton of fun.  She spends the majority of the crime monologuing to herself on various topics related to her surroundings (including the guard dogs, her larcenous ways, and so forth), and while the guards don't appear to be "beguiled by [her] adorable outfit [or her] charming with", I certainly was.

By the end of this issue, we actually get three different storylines going.  And while I imagine they will ultimately all connect up at some future point, I was impressed by just how much Tobin and Coover managed to fit into their inaugural issue.  We have the aforementioned robbery, a mysterious phone call, a high speed chase, and multiple calls for help, among other things.  This comic really seems to have it all, which is especially impressive when you consider that it counts but thirteen pages.

And while I adored Tobin's dialogue, it was Coover's terrific art that really made me fall in love with this book.  The world she depicts certainly has some things in common with our own, but it's far more imaginative and cartoony than the one we are forced to inhabit.  I could honestly read comics drawn by her all day.  The solicitations for the book call it a mixture of Tintin and Nancy Drew, and although I haven't spent that much time with either of those properties, I'd say that Bandette actually reminded me of Curious George due to the art style and the colour-scheme.  And that is not a bad thing.  At the same time, a girl who wears a red wig when dressing up as a vigilante also puts Batwoman in my mind, but that's probably coincidental and speaks more to me as a reader than Tobin and Coover as creators.

Verdict - Buy It.  This might have been my favourite comic that I read this week.  Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover have a really fun concept on their hands of a girl who is kind of a hero and also likes to steal stuff sometimes.  The whole experience is a bundle of fun, and I am eager to see what comes next.  

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Dennis Culver

When I started reading Edison Rex #1, I was pretty sure I'd read this story before.  Chris Roberson's Valiant and Edison Rex shared a surprising amount of things in common with two DC characters you may have heard of, namely Superman and Lex Luthor.  The comparison is easy to make (especially considering that the Man of Steel was one of Roberson's last assignments with DC), and it's that Roberson wants you to draw that comparison.  You go through the story thinking you know where it's all going until you don't anymore.  And while that's pretty much the end of the issue, that's also where things get really interesting.

The story is basically Valiant confronting Edison Rex in Rex's secret bad guy lair, which also happens to be incredibly familiar as lairs go.  It's pretty much a combination of every single lair, whether superhero or supervillain you've ever encountered, and it does it's job just fine.  This whole issue is about lulling you into a false sense of nostalgia-based security so that the end can pack as much punch as it does.  Admittedly, it isn't a mind blowingly out of left field end, but it's still different from what we know.  And the character's reactions to the situation is what makes this comic worthwhile.  While things begin with a fine sheen of nostalgia surrounding them, but the end of the issue, we're firmly in the realm of dealing with the ramifications of our actions.

I didn't really have any expectations going into this issue. To be honest, I picked it up on a whim to see what this whole Monkeybrain thing was about.  But it really surprised me.  Roberson makes what could have easily been a forgettable Superman and Lex Luthor-lite story feel meaningful and important.  That being said, a large part of the kudos must go to the book's artist, Dennis Culver.

Culver's inclusion was actually a big part of the reason that motivated me to check out Edison Rex first.  I've been following his work at his sketch journal for a long time, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him doing some comic book work.  Considering how long I've followed his work for, I was pretty sure that Culver would do just fine, but I didn't realize he would make such a big impact.  While Roberson's script is sound, it's Culver's character work - his expressions in particular - that really sell that revelation at the end.  The plan was too good to be true, so when it works out, no one on page seems to really be able to grappled with that fact, making that final page all the more meaningful.

Verdict - Buy It.  This issue is almost more of a thesis statement than anything, as it's clear that the coming issues will be somewhat different in how they are composed, but I think I'm hooked nonetheless.  Roberson has a solid concept behind him, and with Culver providing the art, I'm hard pressed to resist this package.  And once again, at 99 cents, you'll be hard pressed to find a better use of a dollar.

Written by Matthew Dow Smith
Art by Matthew Dow Smith

I picked up this comic based solely on the previews at Monkeybrain's website.  I didn't really have much of a clue on what the heck it would be about, but I really dug the way everything looked.  Matthew Dow Smith's minimalist colour-scheme (in that there is black, white, and blue) really grabbed me, and I couldn't help but want to know more.

Having read the issue, I will say that Dow Smith is playing things quite close to the chest, as I couldn't tell you how much more that I really know, but I can tell you that October Girl #1 is a pretty darn good comic.  It tells the story of Autumn, a young girl in her final years of high school who feels that the mundane life she finds herself living.  Finishing up high school, wondering what to do about college, and working a part-time job she hates to help her family make ends meet.  This is the world Autumn lives in, but she yearns for the world of whimsy and imagination that she knew when she was younger.  Little does she know, that world she thought no longer existed is coming back in a big way.

I'll admit that that is more or less a retelling of the solicitation, but that's honestly the feeling you get reading through this comic.  Dow Smith organizes the whole story quite smartly, presenting that yearning at the start and letting it fade to the background as we are introduced the Autumn's daily life before digging it back out in a clever way at the end.  The whole story is only ten pages long, but it acts as a great starting point for the larger story it appears Dow Smith is wanting to tell.  The story is methodically told, with most everything the reader learns are either there to help establish the tone of the book, establish Autumn as a character, or are important to the wider plot.  However, it all feels very natural while it's happening.  Very little time is wasted in this story, which is probably for the best, considering its length.

I haven't spent a lot of time with Dow Smith's earlier works, but I've always felt his art looked familiar in a way I could never quite put my finger on.  After going through October Girl #1, I think I've finally figured it out.  His art really reminds me of Mike Mignola's earlier work.  The two creators obviously have a lot of differences in their styles, but Dow Smith's art has a deceptively simple, pared down look that emphasizes the essential qualities of everything he renders in a way that, for me, is reminiscent of Mignola.  And as I say above, I really like the limited colour palette.  It adds a lot to the story and works well with Dow Smith's personal style.

Verdict - Buy It.  The story is a little on the short side, but at 99 cents for ten pages of story, it's still a heck of a deal.  The whole thing, whether the writing or the art, is deceptively simple, but I think some great things are on the way from October Girl.  This issue looks like the start of something exciting, so I'd get in on the ground floor if I were you.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Leff Lemire

This series has been consistently great since it first appeared on comic book shelves, but Jeff Lemire has never been content with his book's status quo.  Regardless of how enjoyable Sweet Tooth is, Lemire has always been more than ready to shake things up by trying something new.  These past few issues have been an excellent example of that, with Sweet Tooth #33 shifting the book's perspective ninety degrees to provide a storybook-esque tale from the children's perspective similar to that of issue #18 and Sweet Tooth #34 involving Nate Powell coming in to draw the extended flashback sequence looking at the evolution of Johnny and Doug's familial relationship.

Of course, with this kind of an introduction, you know that something is up for Sweet Tooth #35, and that is, indeed, the case.  This issue focuses on Dr. Singh, who has amazingly already made it to Alaska, and his search for the origin of the hybrids and the plague that infected the world.  But Dr. Singh's exploration of the scientific facility isn't the only story we're treated to in this issue.  At the same time, we see what life in the facility looked like from the perspective of Richard FoxGus' father, back before the plague broke out.  However, unlike issue #34, the look into the past doesn't take place as a flashback; it happens at the same time as Dr. Singh's present-day search.  It sounds strange, but it's actually surprisingly simple.  Lemire breaks up each page to have the top two thirds tell Richard's story and the bottom third follows Dr. Singh.  In that way, we explore the same location from two different time periods at the same time.  And I gotta tell you, it's kind of amazing.

The way Lemire manages to connect the two stories by their shared location is brilliant.  It turns out that Richard was a lowly janitor and nothing more, but his narrative provides some incredible insight into how daily life in the facility went on, and Lemire does it all without any dialogue or caption boxes.  That's right, Richard's story is completely silent, told solely through pictures, like a snapshot into what his life was like.  That bold decision ends up providing some incredible moments of gravitas and emotion as things go south in what was an otherwise idyllic life for our protagonist's father.  There are plenty of moving moments throughout.

And at the same time (literally), we see Dr. Singh exploring the same locations long after the fact, filling in any gaps that might have been left uncovered from Richard's portion of the story.  And while Richard's story is quite complete, there's still lots of information to fill-in, as Lemire is finally starting to pull back the curtain on how his crazy world got as crazy as it is.  The explanations are quite satisfying, and Lemire actually connects the Matt Kindt drawn "The Taxidermist" three issue storyline into the main narrative in a way that had only been implied up until now.  Things are really heating up as we seem to be nearing the finish line for Sweet Tooth, and they're looking pretty exciting.

Lemire's art, as always, is easily among my favourite parts of this comic.  His still is as beautiful as ever, with every line seeming to hold some greater meaning within it.  The fact that he's telling two different stories at the same time is even more impressive, as he uses different comic techniques in the different stories as necessary.  There's a page in the Richard Fox storyline that is all black.  Nothing at all to see.  But even as that page is blank, Dr. Singh continues his discovery of the facility.  The two stories are distinct, but they inform and elucidate the other throughout.

Verdict - Must Read.  Sweet Tooth #35 is a great addition to the series' overall story, but it's also a really exciting use of the comic book medium.  Jeff Lemire's dual-stories could not exist in the same way in any other medium.  The fact that he can both add to his own narrative and push the boundaries of comics at the same time is nothing short of extraordinary.  You should already be reading this series, but you should definitely be checking out this issue.

What's that you say? I've already raved about pretty much everything Jeff Lemire has ever done?  That's true, but I'll stop praising him when he stops doing praiseworthy things.

There were a lot of interesting things going on in comics this week, and I hope you've either already seen it or will give some of it a chance.  Should you be interested in the Monkeybrain stuff, you can head over to Comixology to check out some of their new books.  And considering Comic Con is just around the corner, I imagine there's more on the way.  Have you already given a look at Monkeybrain?  If so, what were your thoughts on their offerings?

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