Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 09/19/12

So things got a little out of sorts last week, but have no fear, the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews are here!  This time around, we're zeroing in on Batwoman #0 and Peter Panzerfaust #6, looking closely at what makes these two books tick.  I'll see you on the other side of the cut with a full report!

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

J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman have been working hard to make Batwoman the best series that it can be.  We all know the long delays in this book actually getting going (exacerbated by the ultimate decision to hold off until the launch of the New 52), but Williams and Blackman simply used that time to make the book even better.  While fill-in artists have been necessary to keep the book coming out on time, I'm know I'm not alone when I say that Batwoman is better in every single way when Williams is on art.  The writing on this book has been terrific, but it's the artwork that puts this book over the top.  Every single issue they've put out has been amazing, and Batwoman #0 is no exception.

For one thing, it's way better than any of the other issue zeroes that have come out this month.  And for another, it somehow manages to tie in the New 52 Batwoman stories with the earlier Greg Rucka / J.H. Williams III Detective Comics run, while also acting as the perfect interlude for the current "World's Finest" arc that was introduced last month.  It's a ridiculously impressive balancing act that makes for an absolutely stunning comic.

The issues opens with the revelation that Kate used to record messages to her father for him to find in the event that she died while out as Batwoman, a practice she stopped after Beth's death way back in Detective and her subsequent estrangement from her father.  We discover this former habit because Kate has decided to start it up again for one last recording to her father in case she doesn't make it back from her current Medusa case.  So the entire issues becomes Kate telling her own backstory to the person who helped make it all happen.  What follows is some absolutely amazing comics.

We get an issue filled with Kate Kane caption boxes on each and every page that explain and provide commentary on the many panels that make up her memories of those times.  The confessional style of Kate's narration provides a small spin on the traditional telling of a comic book hero's "Secret Origin" that makes all the difference.  And because it's a such an open conversation between a daughter and her father, each moment feels more real, augmenting its impact tenfold.  There are numerous gut-wrenching moments throughout this issue, where your heart can't help but go out to Kate.  The day of Beth's funeral jumps to mind, but so to dose Kate's self-destructive binge drinking and a number of other moments.  The entire issue has a sense of honesty and raw emotion to it that is really something to behold.

The lengthy confession also makes this one of the denser monthly books out there.  Simply put, Kate's got a lot of things to get off her chest, which ends up making this issue feel far fuller than its twenty pages should be.  It's a wonderful side-effect, as it allows the reader to spend more time with the fantastic story Williams and Blackman have crafted, and it gives the reader more time to spend with Williams' art, which is always a good thing.

I've long lionized Williams' for pretty much everything he does artwise (and I'm not alone in this), but I've always been particularly fond of his habit of using unique and distinctive visual styles to represent different aspects of Kate Kane's world.  Batwoman and some of the people and things surrounding her have always been rendered in a hyper-detailed painterly manner, while most everything else has been done in a slightly looser, drawn and inked style.  While the former makes a few appearances throughout the issue, since this is the story of Batwoman's birth, the latter style reigns supreme here.  Along with it, Williams brings a more traditional 6 panel grid to tell the story, a grid that is slowly blown away as Kate moves ever closer to her life as Batwoman - a nice piece of symbolism that recognizes the innovative panel layouts that he's become known for.  He also just does a phenomenal job of picking the images that give the story the most bang for its buck.  It isn't news that Williams is ridiculously talented, but I'm happy to report that he continues to put those talents to good use.

Verdict - Must Read.  Batwoman #0 is easily the best origin issue we've seen from DC this month, but far more than that, it's one of the best issues we've seen from DC this year.  Williams and Blackman (along with Dave Stewart's delightful colours) have come together to deliver a brilliant issue that is wrought with emotion, can appeal to readers old and new, and is just some plain great comics.  Go and read it, enjoy it, and then read it again.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Tyler Jenkins

Peter Pan and World War Two still don't really strike me as two concepts that should go well together - more of a peanut butter and salsa rather than a peanut butter and jam thing - but Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins proved quite conclusively in the first five issues of this series that J. M. Barrie's characters actually fit quite well in the setting of Nazi-occupied France.  Who knew?

Fortunately, Wiebe and Jenkins' work has been rewarded with a new ongoing status to this wacky adventure, with the series switching storytellers for the new arc.  While Gilbert Agnew was a capable raconteur for our first foray into this world, Wiebe takes things in the direction that he teased at the end of issue #5: how Félix was freed from his German captors.  In that issue, Gilbert mentioned that that was a story for Julien to tell, and so we open the issue seeing Monsieur Julien Gingras standing in front of a class of French students recounting some of his experiences from the Second World War.  From there, our interviewer, John Parsons, reappears to catch the next leg of the story.

The strongest part of the first storyarc was how seamlessly Wiebe was able to mix the fable of Peter Pan into the very real dangerous lands of World War Two, and that is, of course, still quite present here.  However, there is also a big difference between the stories caused by the switching of narrators.  While Gilbert was often focused on Peter and how he was reacting to the world, Julien is a much active character.  That aspect of narration is still present, but Julien is speaking of his own actions, not those of Peter.  It's a nice change of pace that results in a very different focus for the tale.  The characters don't feel as much like they're waiting to react to outside forces, instead taking things into their own hands.

Case in point, the issue follows Julien's elaborate plan to (as promised above) free Félix from those nasty Germans, which involves all sorts of fun things like going undercover as a Nazi, surreptitiously acquiring small arms to fight said Nazis, and having the plan go all to hell.  Again, the narration ably navigates all these different aspects, while both maintaining suspense and providing a small sense of hindsight to the whole affair.  By switching to Julien's point of view, Wiebe also does a good job of demonstrating how much richer the world he's created actually is.  While we got glimpses into all the different characters, moving to a different narrator emphasizes how varied they all truly are, which is a nice touch.

Tyler Jenkins' style has grown on me over the course of this series, and he really seems to be stretching his wings in this issue.  While his layouts have been somewhat more traditional in past issues, he seems to be experimenting quite a bit here, pushing some boundaries of how pages can and should be setup.  It's not quite J.H. Williams III type stuff going on here, but there is a definite energy going on as he plays with panel placement to evoke different atmospheres and moods.  It's some genuinely cool stuff.

The series has also switched colourists, moving from Alex Soliazzo to Heather Breckel, and while I don't know if it was intentional, it's a nice way to reflect to slight shift in tone here.  Julien's story feels more active and more dangerous (or at least dangerous in a different way) than Gilbert's, and Breckel's colours on Jenkins' images creates a sketchier and, dare I say, grittier vibe to the world that fits right in.  Solicitations aren't clear on whether this is a permanent change, but I'm hoping it will be.

Verdict - Check It. Peter Panzerfaust continues to impress with its imaginative reinterpretations of both a literary classic and one of fiction's most common historical events.  Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins make quite the storytelling team, and the addition of Heather Breckel to the fold is a good one.  Julien's story has gotten off to a good start, and the book's cliffhanger definitely leaves me wanting more.

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