Sunday, August 5, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/01/12

August has already raised its rather warm head, and with it comes the latest edition of The Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  We're focusing in on three of this week's book, each one a comic that you could pick up with little to no prior knowledge.  So hit the jump to check out my thoughts on Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch, Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe #1, and Hawkeye #1!

Written by Evan Dorkin
Art by Jill Thompson

I'm pretty much in love with Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden.  Telling the stories of a group of dogs and cats who protect the town of Burden Hill from the supernatural, Dorkin and Thompson's work is for all practical purposes a children's book that is told in comic book form.  And that's fine by me.

Neighborhood Watch is a one-shot comic collecting three short stories that originally appeared in the Dark Horse Presents anthology, and if you missed out on these tales when they first appeared, you'll be in for a treat.  Dorkin's writing is brilliant throughout, living thoroughly on the "show, don't tell" technique, which is all for the good.  When combined with Thompson's painted panels, it makes for one rather alluring package, in my estimation.

The first story, "Food Run", looks at two members of the gang, Rex and Orphan (a dog and cat, respectively) trying to put a stop to a goblin that has been stealing chickens from a local chicken coop.  A simple premise, the story is filled with action throughout, with a good amount of time dedicated to a forest chase.  There's nothing fancy here, but Thompson still manages to make the whole thing look gorgeous, capturing the perfect moments to immortalize in her brilliant style.  There's also a really nice moment where the goblin's motivations are shown to be a bit more nuanced than initially thought.

The second story, "Story Time", is just that, as a member of the Wise Dogs regales some young pups with a fable of Bitan, perhaps the first dog of his order.  The story takes place in a fantasy-filled Middle Ages milieu, and the captions and images really do lend that storybook element that I mentioned earlier, although some of the imagery is a bit intense for a children's story.  However, it's all good stuff, with some rather thrilling things going on throughout.  The ultimate moral of the fable is both banal and disquieting, which gives an uncertain feeling to the story that makes for an interesting conclusion.

Finally, "The View From the Hill" sees a group of our canine and feline heroes encountering some lost sheep that end up being quite a bit more than they first appear.  The piece is filled with an awful lot of talking, but it   works incredibly well, raising a number of questions about life and what comes after it.  The whole thing is wrapped around a deceptively simple encounter that becomes the impetus for a striking visual piece towards its end.

While there isn't really any overarching connection between these stories, they all offer a glimpse into the world of Beasts of Burden, giving a morsel of what daily life could be like for these pets that interact with supernatural threats both big and small.  Dorkin and Thompson are storytellers of the highest order, and their talents are on full display from beginning to end.

Verdict - Check It.  There's a lot to like in this one-shot, but I know it isn't for everyone.  However, Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch's greatest concern is telling some good stories that, while perhaps focused on younger readers, can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  If that sounds like something you or someone you know likes, you should give it a gander.

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Dalibor Talajic

This is not how I would have approached the concept.

With a title like Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, I think you can be forgiven if you come into the book with some high expectations when it comes to death and destruction.  And so I was a little surprised to open up this comic to find The Watcher looking back at me, explaining the differences in multiverses and the like.  I didn't really think a comic like this needed a framing device to explain that some comics aren't part of mainstream continuity (with this one being an obvious example of that), but by issue's end, I really appreciated The Watcher's presence and role in this story.  He was far more important than I would ever have guessed.

To a certain extent, that seems to be what this book is about: subverting expectations.  While you might have an idea of what kind of death an destruction you'll get in this story, Cullen Bunn and Dalibor Talajic don't give much of a fig for what you expect.  While Bunn said as much in interviews, this book is played far straighter than I ever would have imagined.  Deadpool's signature craziness is here, but it doesn't come off as silly as it usually would.  In the pages Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool's quips mostly come off as pretty dark, just like everything else here.  This book means business.

From The Watcher's brief appearance, we jump to Deadpool dispatching his first victims, the Fantastic Four, Marvel's First Family.  It feels grimly appropriate.  And that's what this scene is - grim.  Deadpool straight up murders these characters, mostly before our very eyes, and if you thought this was going to be a laugh-filled lark, you quickly realize you're dead wrong.

I'm not familiar with Talajic's previous work, but he acquits himself pretty well in this comic.  I don't know if I'd put him among my favourite artists, but he does justice to every scene that Bunn writes.  I'd say that his facial work could use a bit more practice (especially when it comes to Dr. Brighton), but I don't have any complaints.  His action scenes are intense and his quieter moments work.  And with Lee Loughridge's colours, his lines remind me of Francesco Francavilla's work at times, which is never a bad thing.

The issue is quite concerned with setting the tone it wants right from the beginning, and I must say that it is very effective at doing so.  Any beliefs to the contrary of the grim and dark story we get are quickly quashed.  And while I applaud Bunn and Talajic for setting the tone they want so effectively, it makes the issue a bit of a slough to go through.  While it's kind of fun to imagine what it would be like if Deadpool tried to kill everyone in the Marvel universe, reading it doesn't have the same appeal.  I think "Deadpool Murders the Marvel Universe" would be a more appropriate title, as that it what this seems to come down to.  Bunn does smartly put in a reason behind all this killing, but it kind of only makes the whole thing more depressing.

Verdict - Check It.  This is definitely a departure from the comic book norm, but I'm not entirely convinced it's a welcome one.  I'm not going to lie, the prospect of watching Deadpool slaughter a whole bunch of people in ways that will all likely be more gruesome than the last doesn't really appeal to me, but I feel as if I'm not the target audience of this book.  However, I am glad that books like this are coming out, because diversity in the types of comic books companies are putting out is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja

While hotly anticipated by many, Matt Fraction and David Aja's new Hawkeye ongoing series was noticeable absent from my initial pull list this week (as so many of you noticed).  Don't say I never succumb to peer pressure, because despite my earlier claims, I did end up snagging myself a copy of Marvel's Amethyst Archer's new adventures (does anyone call him that or did I just make that nickname up?).

Hawkeye #1 is a book that is filled with statements.  Fraction and Aja use each page and every panel to tell us what kind of person their Clint Barton is and some of the kinds of things we can expect from this series.  From the heroics on that opening splash page to the neighbourhood grill potluck to Pizza Dog, it all serves one purpose or another.  And that purpose is to shed some light on a side of Clint that I didn't think we'd get: what he gets up to when he's not running around with The Avengers.

Marvel's marquee superteam is, as Clint admits in these opening pages, filled with superpowers, magic, and all kinds of crazy things in between, but while Clint has been among their ranks a good long time, he really is just a guy with a bow.  And that's what this book is about.  Finding out what makes him tick when he takes off the quiver.

Fraction and Aja's decision to turn away from Clint's fantastic qualities and really put the focus on the pedestrian aspects of his life is a rather bold one, but I think it works pretty well.  We see that Clint isn't so different from the average person when he's on his off hours.  He's kind of a jerk at times, but he also cares deeply about the people around him and will go to bat for each and every one of them.  Of course, him being a superhero means that going to bat involves a bit more gunplay and brawling than the norm, but that kind of stuff does make for some entertaining reading.

The basic plot for this issue is that the landlord of Clint's apartment building wants to sell the building off to make some cool cash, something that Clint and his fellow tenants take some exception to.  Fraction and Aja do a good job of developing Clint and providing enough of a taste of his neighbours to let the reader understand what is at stake and care for the affected people.  There's also a lot of jumping back and forth in time throughout the comic, which goes a long way to increase the interest over the course of the issue, giving readers glimpses of things that they don't yet understand and providing even more reason to keep turning those pages.

I really liked the change of pace of this comic as compared to most anything else that Marvel or DC puts out on a regular basis, but the best part of it is easily David Aja's art.  Kudos must also be giving to Matt Hollingsworth, the colourist on the book, whose colours really make Aja's lines sing.  Together, these two are nothing short of spectacular, making for one of the purtiest books on stands.  They have a deceptively simple style that is packed to the brim with meaning and emotion.  I was also amazed at just how much Aja could cram onto a single page.  Seeing pages with 10 or even 12 panels is not out of the ordinary in this issue, but it never felt cramped.  It makes for a dense book, but that's a good thing, allowing plenty of time to get to know the characters and the world they live in.  I also love the way Aja mixes and matches his panels, making page layouts that are, in and of themselves, exciting to look at.  And that's before you even take the art into account, which is saying quite a lot.

For how much I dug the art, I wasn't quite as sold on Fraction's script.  I really like the focus he points on the story and the characters he's developing, but the narrative never really grabbed me.  When I finished the issue, I wasn't dying for more, I was actually a little underwhelmed.  There's definitely a lot to like in this issue, but at the end of it all, I wasn't left with an urge to know what comes next, which was a little disappointing.

Verdict - Check It.  This is an excellently conceived comic book.  Fraction, Aja, and Hollingsworth combine for a Hawkeye book that is unlike anything else available right now, placing the focus squarely on the life of a superhero in-between their superheroic activities.  I admire their zest for the mundane, but I'm not yet convinced I need to see more of it.  We shall see.

And that's all she wrote for the week.  Three very different books from three very different creator teams.  Did you read any of these titles?  What were your thoughts, if so?  Beyond these, what do you think did and didn't work this week?  If you're so inclined, I'd invite you to hit the comments to share your thoughts!

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Ryan said...

Like you I didn't have Hawkeye on my pull-list but thankfully my local shop had extra on hand. I liked the different approach to Hawkeye and found that Aja's art took my appreciation of the story a step further.

On an important side note I'd encourage anyone to read the premiere issue of Hawkeye while listening to "Fire Dance" by Dizzie Gillespie and Lalo Schifrin as mentionned at the back of issue #1. You get a whole new feel and appreciation for the book.

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