Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/15/12

It's time for your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews, everybody, so I hope you're all ready!  It appears as if we've stumbled upon the Strong Female Character edition of our reviews, as we'll be looking at Batwoman #12, Saga #6, and Wonder Woman #12, three books that all feature a strong female lead in their cast.  So hit the jump to see how each of these books turned out and whether they're worth your reading while!

Written by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Art by J.H. Williams III

There is little in the comic book industry that frustrates me more than when a series' regular artist is replaced by random fill-in artists without warning.  It's an especially egregious practice when the replacement artist's style is nothing like what the book usually looks like.  I know that this is done so that issues can keep shipping on time and that it also gives the main artist the chance to catch up, but that doesn't mean I can't get a little upset about the whole thing regardless of these very good reasons.  Fortunately, this is not an issue for DC's Batwoman.  Recognizing that J.H. Williams III's unique visuals can take a while to put together, it was wisely decided to have two art teams who would work on alternating storylines.  I think this is probably the best solution to the issue of tardy artists, and it is an especially good one in this instance because Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy were both quite capable in their stints on the book.  However, for all the talent they have, I have to say that they pale in comparison to Williams' terrific work.

Happily, Williams is finally back and he continues to be an inspiration.

In case that wasn't obvious enough for you, I really liked this issue.  Williams and W. Haden Blackman have been telling the same story, that of the missing children in Gotham City, since the first issue of this series, and Batwoman #12 adds additional layers of complexity to the narrative.  It's bold to have a storyline go on for so long in comics.  Frankly, it's a pretty bold move by our creative team.  Spending so much time on the same story has the very real possibility of things getting old or stale, but I feel like the opposite has been happening.  The longer we spend on the mystery of the missing children, the better the series has gotten.  The mystery has only grown in scale, until it's come to encompass pretty much every character in the book, and that only continues here, as it's revealed that the problem extends beyond Gotham's borders.

Indeed, as the solicitations revealed, the problem with Medusa and her many evils has reached Wonder Woman, who looks as if she'll be playing a big role in the coming issues.  This is something that I'll definitely be thrilled to see, as Williams really seems to be pulling out all the stops for Diana's appearance in this title.  Already well known for modifying his style for to suit the needs of the story, Williams does that to the nth degree here, as all of Wonder Woman's scenes are rendered in a style different from that of the rest of the book.  It's a simple choice that is by no means simple to pull off, but Williams manages it without issue, adding a nice visual contrast to these two stories that does a lot for emphasizing their similarities.  I'm also happy to say that, while Brian Azzarello's interpretation of Wonder Woman hasn't really seemed to fit into any other part of the DC Universe, I feel like Williams and Blackman's take on the character would fit right into what Azzarello is doing in her main title, which is kind of a nice change from the norm.

While comic books are supposed to be all about the interrelation between words and pictures, I feel like Williams takes this to a whole other level on his work on this book.  It isn't so much that the art supports the script and vice versa as that the two are one and the same.  Form and content are so closely linked throughout this series (and this issue especially) that it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other.  And let me tell you, it's something else.  Every single page is a work of art, but there's one scene in particular where Batwoman and Abott are wandering through an abandoned fun house that really hit this home for me.  The two characters are walking in circles, so Williams uses two pages to have them go in a literal circle on the page, with part of Wonder Woman's story in the middle.  It sounds so simple, but Williams renders the sequence in such a unique way I can't imagine anyone else in the business doing something similar.

Of course, props must be given to Dave Stewart who once again does a superb job on colouring duties.  I honestly don't understand how I'm only recently really starting to understand how talented this guy is, as he's pretty much all over all the best books around, but it's better late than never I suppose.  His colours are the icing on the cake, making all of Williams' gorgeous art look that much better.  Together, the two are making some simply sublime comics.

Verdict - Must Read.  Batwoman is an absolute joy to read.  The story is top notch, the art is just as good, if not better, and together it makes for one of the tightest packages around.  With a story that's been going since the first issue, it's not exactly easy to jump on, but if you haven't been following the book, you should give it a try anyways, because it's one of the best things happening in any superhero book around.

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I've said it before and I'll say it again - it's great to have Brian K. Vaughan back to writing comics on a regular basis.  And it's even better that he saw fit to team with an artist as awesome as Fiona Staples, who's been the perfect partner in crime for this fantastic science fiction comic.

Saga #6 is the last issue in the opening storyarc for this book, and it hits all the right notes as our heroes finally arrive at the mythical Rocketship Forest that they've been working towards since nearly the beginning.  Of course, like any good Vaughan-penned comic, things simply do not come easy for Alana and Marko, and they still have a challenge or two in front of them before they can finally escape the hell hole that has been Cleave.  Their ghostly babysitter / guide, Izabel, continues to provide some helpful guidance and comic relief, and the character moment that Marko has before they can move onto the next step was really well done, as it not only paid off things that Vaughan had been building since the fist issue but it also tied in quite well with the overall plot.

Speaking of characters, I feel like it's a general truth for Vaughan's comic book work that his characters all grow and develop in incredibly organic ways, but more than that, that their eventual links and relationships with each are built just as naturally, almost as if there's no other way things could have happened.  We definitely get an example of that in this issue, with a terrific moment between Prince Robot IV and The Will that will probably come back to haunt Prince Robot sooner rather than later.  It's also impressive how Vaughan always seems to have an eye towards plot, as this interaction between these two characters ends up providing new information to Prince Robot and Special Agent Gale (who makes a short appearance here that is as enjoyable as his earlier ones) that looks as if it will impact their machinations down the line.

The entire issue is seeing in story, as every action seems to directly impact everything else, but in true Brian K. Vaughan style, the whole package is somehow filled also filled to the brim with humour that always hits the right notes.  I mention Izabel above and Alana is also a great source of humour, but I think Hazel is  possibly the best thing this book has going for it.  Her narration is an absolute joy, and her interjections make for some of the sweetest, saddest, and funniest moments in the entire comic.  The last page in particular, which has a pretty solid reveal that will be changing the status quo for our new family, is made all the better by the addition of a single sentence from Hazel.  It takes the moment from great to perfect, making for a great ending for the arc.

It must be mentioned that, while Fonografiks does most of the lettering fro the book (which is great, by the way), Fiona Staples is the one responsible for Hazel's words, as she paints them into the world itself.  It's a simple thing that makes her words feel more important than regular caption boxes (of which there are none in this book).  Along with the razor-sharp dialogue Vaughan provides, it makes for some good comics.  Of course, Staples is also drawing and colouring the entire book, and just like always, she does a bang up job.  I was particularly impressed with her rendition of the Rocketship Forest and the rocketship itself, but the whole book is great.  For all the good work that Vaughan does on the script, I'm really glad that he recruited Staples to participate in this new venture, because her presence makes the experience that much better.

Verdict - Buy It.  This series is not losing any of its momentum or quality.  It seems to be getting better and better every issue.  You should be reading this, and if you've been trade waiting, you're in luck, as the collected trade will be coming out in October while the series takes a short break for Staples to get back up to speed.

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang

This was a good week for the Amazonian Princess, as Wonder Woman not only shows up in the pages of Batwoman but also has a pretty solid issue of her own to hang out in.  To be honest, "solid" is selling it a little short.  In a month that has been filled with cliffhangers leading up to September's month of issue zeroes, Wonder Woman's is probably the best one.

Similar to Batwoman, Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have been working on the same storyline since the opening issue last year, and things really come to a head in Wonder Woman #12.  Apollo and Artemis' scheming is finally laid bare, as Apollo makes his move for the throne of Olympus.  However, Wonder Woman and company aren't about to take that laying down, so we get an issue that is jam packed with immortal brawling, making for some pretty good reading.

Cliff Chiang is a good as ever here, delivering his usual fantastic style of bold lines and dynamic panels.  It goes really well with all the fighting, as Chiang nails each and every moment.  Azzarello has a busy script, with lots going on throughout, but Chiang's gorgeous pages never feel overfull.  In fact, I'd say it's quite the opposite, as Chiang gives every moment sufficient room to breath and everything seems to get its fair share of time in the spotlight.  Chiang does especially well when Wonder Woman shows off what may or may not be a new power for her New 52 incarnation.  The sequence might require a little bit of explanation in future issues, but it's really impressive when you're going through it.

There's more twists and turns in this issue than a backcountry trail, but they all work perfectly, paying off a number of plot lines that Azzarello has been building since his beginning with the book.  I'll admit that Zola is starting to feel like a bit more trouble than she's worth, as she's seemingly constantly being put in danger.  The whole song and dance is starting to get a little old, but the slight nuance that is offered the second time around in this issue more or less makes up for it.

Speaking of, while Azzarello and Chiang's run on Wonder Woman has been great, it has also been rather separate from the rest of the New 52.  For example, as I mentioned above, it seems as if every single appearance by Diana in other titles is completely unrelated to the characterization and events that seem to be going on in the pages of this book.  I don't really mind this, but I know that it can be an issue for some.  I mention this because the cliffhanger that I alluded to earlier finally ties Wonder Woman into the wider universe in a big, if somewhat unexpected, way.  Well, maybe not completely unexpected, but either way, it works perfectly.  It's almost unfair that we'll have to wait two months to see what comes next.

Verdict - Buy It.  I'm still thrilled to know that there's a Wonder Woman book on stands that is worth reading, and Azzarello and Chiang do not disappoint in the twelfth issue of their run.  There's a new order of things in Diana's world, but things are far from over.  As we move into year two, I'm excited to see what comes next, which is definitely a good thing.

So that's our three books starring three lovely ladies.  They were all pretty darned good, so I hope you managed to work your way through at least one of them this week.  If you did, what were your thoughts on the books?  As glowing as my own or did you have some reservations?  Let me know in the comments below!

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CombatSpoon86 said...

Loved Saga and Wonder Woman. Have to pick up Batwoman later this week. Didn't realize J.H. was back on art duty and this was the beginning of the Wonder Woman story. Must buy.

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