Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 09/05/12

Welcome, welcome to the latest edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  This time around, we'll be looking at Batwing #0, where we'll see if the origin issue can reignite the title's creative fire, Hawkeye #2, to determine if the series can overcome the dreaded sophomore slump, and Punisher #15, where a whole whackload of people died.  It's not rocket science, it's comic book reviews, so hit the jump to give 'em a look!

Written by Judd Winick
Art by Marcus To, Ray Winn & Richard Zajac

The thing I loved the most about Judd Winick's Batwing when the book started a year ago was how, while it was yet another superhero story, it was one that was firmly steeped in modern day realities.  When Winick was charged with fleshing out DC's only African-based hero, he did not shy away from many of the real difficulties facing parts of the continent.  While one could probably nitpick at some of his representations, it was nevertheless refreshing to see him and his characters grapple with some of these issues, an intention made clear when it was revealed that the book's lead was formerly a child soldier.

Winick was writing a thoroughly contemporary superhero story that refused to ignore the harsh realities of the world it set out to represent.  It used those elements to make the story better and more true to life.  However, once the first arc ended, this practice fell to the wayside.  Batwing pulled a complete 180, going from a nuanced tale of a superhero where the fact that he lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo was a key part of the story to a generic superhero book with African window dressing.  While the first arc was a story that couldn't be told anywhere else but the DRC, everything that's come since has been draw-by-numbers superhero stories where the location is irrelevant.

Batwing #0 puts an end to that, returning to what originally made this series worth reading.  Since Winick has already provided the "secret origin" of David Zavimbe, the issue focuses on his rehabilitation from being a child soldier, looking at the rehabilitation center he lived in and the figures who helped him along his path.  Winick treats the topic seriously, showing the difficulty David feels in transitioning to a life that isn't filled with bloodshed and destruction.  David is shown as a character who wants to do good, but doesn't necessarily know how, something that's made all the harder in a world where laws don't always help.  Eventually, he becomes a police officer, but sees that the force is mostly corrupt.  Frustrated, he ultimately takes matters into his own hands when tragedy once again strikes too close to home.  Winick presents a very natural evolution in David's thought process.  The whole thing definitely owes a lot to Batman's, but in a book called Batwing, it's not like they're trying to hide that fact.  It's also worth mentioning that Winick adds enough new and different elements to make it worthwhile.

I've definitely missed Ben Oliver's presence sine he left this book all those issue ago, but I feel like this is one of the best efforts from Marcus To and Ryan Winn (as well as Richard Zajac who's in to help Winn with the inks).  While the style isn't greatly different from what they've done in previous issues, it just feel more together here in Batwing #0.  It's entirely possible that part of my feeling here is based on the improvement from the written side of things, but for lack of a better description, this issue just feels right.

Verdict - Check It.  This is definitely a step in the right direction for Batwing, but with Winick soon to be leaving the title, one must wonder if it's too little too late.  With the identity of the new writer and the when of when they'll be taking over still up in the air, it's hard to say if it'll last, so I'd recommend you enjoy it while it's here.

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja

Matt Fraction and David Aja have something really special going on in their newly launched Hawkeye ongoing.  Telling the stories of what Clint Barton gets up to when he's not all dressed up and galavanting around with The Avengers, the formula they've hit upon is so simple that everyone else in the industry must be kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.  But then again, they're probably also kicking themselves because Fraction and Aja pull it off so well.  The two bring a surface simplicity in their writing and art that fits perfectly with the story they've set out to tell.

That's not to say that they're telling a simple story.  Far from it.  But they are choosing to forego overly convoluted stories / art that don't necessarily add anything to a comic.  They have a real economy to their storytelling that should be applauded, and while it wouldn't work in every single series, it's refreshing to see it here.

Case in point, this issue involves the presence of Kate Bishop, a character who was created in 2005 and who already has a backstory that is as long as your arm.  Among her many complexities is the fact that she also currently goes by the Hawkeye moniker.  Happily, most of that backstory is left aside, since it isn't relevant to the story Fraction and Aja are telling here.  Instead, everything the reader needs to know about the character is explained in three successive panels in the somewhat glib manner that Clint has repeatedly demonstrated thus far.  It is both surprisingly accurate and a good representation of the book as a whole.

No time or space is squandered at any point in this comic, and Fraction's parring down of the story to its essentials is reflected in Aja's art on the book.  That's not to say that Aja's art or layouts are simple or basic - again, the opposite would be far more true.  He uses more panels than just about anyone I can think of, but the the thing is, none of those panels are superfluous.  Each one plays a role in realizing the team's story, whether it's developing character, pacing, or just showing off a badass action sequence.  It's also a plus that every panel happens to be filled with some really purty art.  Aja's style is much simpler than many other artists, relying on fewer lines to get the point across, which both looks great and feels quite appropriate for the title.

Huge props must also go out to Matt Hollingsworth, whose colours are perfectly in tune with what Fraction and Aja are doing here.  While Hawkeye never dons his costume, you'd have to be blind not to realize that this is a Hawkeye book, as every panel is awash in different shades of the purple that is his trademark.  I also really like the way most colours are flat, relying on Aja's art to give everything its texture or substance.  Both decisions fit well with the book's overall philosophy, while also giving the book a unique - and quite frankly, gorgeous - aesthetic that is all its own.

Verdict - Buy It.  Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth are doing some really cool things in this book, all of which add up to make it well worth your while.  Whether you're a fan of the creators, character, or superhero comics in general, you should give this title its fair shake, because it's doing some exciting stuff, all while telling interesting stories.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checchetto

The Punisher has been barreling ahead since the slight stumble that was "The Omega Effect" earlier this year.  Last issue saw Frank Castle and Rachel Cole-Alves finally take the fight back to The Exchange, killing a whole load of Exchange members, including Stephanie Gerard, the organization's leader and the person responsible for the Cole-Alves wedding murder from all the way back in issue one that got all these events moving in the first place.  Unfortunately for our two Punishers, their kill frenzy doesn't have them out of the woods yet, as Christian Poulsen, The Exchange's second-in-command, witnessed the killing of Stephanie et al.  And he's in the same building as Frank and Rachel.  To make matters worse, he kind of harboured an unrequited love for Ms. Gerard.

A setup like this promises some major repercussions, and Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto do not disappoint.  Rucka's regular terse and concise writing is on full-display here, giving us exactly what is needed to appreciate the story's events and no more, meaning that the issue is filled to the brim with actions and reactions from the entire cast of characters.  It's amazing how Rucka has managed to keep the entire book revolving around the events of the series' first issue, as everything that occurs here - and has occurred before - can be traced back to the Cole-Alves wedding killings in one way or another.  It demonstrates a single-mindedness and focus that is rarely seen in other books from the major publishers.

Revenge is a bloody business, and while this book literally stars a character who spends his days and nights killing those he deems to be "the bad guys", Punisher #15 is perhaps the bloodiest and most gruesome this series has ever been.  I've never been a huge fan of senseless violence in my fiction, but while the violence here is brutal to the point of sometimes being uncomfortable, it's anything but senseless.  There is clear motivation behind every shot fired, every life lost.  The slaughter is infinitely meaningful, because no only is there reason behind it, it is both Frank and Rachel's fault, even if they aren't the ones pulling the trigger.  Rucka does a phenomenal job of showing how the continually escalating vengeance that the Punisher metes out is problematic (to put it mildly) without ever belabouring the point.

But for all of Rucka's great writing, the real star in this issue, as in any issue he's been on, is Marco Checchetto.  He and colourist Matt Hollingsworth put on an absolute clinic of how to tell stories with images.  Seriously, I could go through every single page and point out something exceptional the two have done.  It may not be pushing the boundaries of what can be done in comics in the same way that someone like J.H. Williams III would, but Checchetto has such a strong sense of comic book storytelling that every page is so well-put together that it's sometimes hard to appreciate just how good it is.  Whether it's Christian's blinding rage or Frank kicking away a grenade or any of the many other things that are done so well, it all looks great.

However, I would be remiss if I did not come back to the aforementioned slaughter that permeates this issue.  Mass murder is not exactly an easy thing to depict, but Checchetto somehow manages to find the perfect middle ground between showing and implying, all without every coming off as exploitative or overly bloodthirsty.  It is a skilled and mature artist who can achieve such a delicate balancing act, and that's exactly what he does.  It's especially haunting in the issue's closing pages, where the characters walk among the carnage in a tear gas fog, only bits and pieces of the butchery visible.  It was an excellent visual that emphasized the confusion of the scene while also harkening back to the similar bar scene of the first issue.

Verdict - Buy It.  Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's Punisher has been one of the best books coming out of the Marvel offices this past year.  Frank Castle's actions and his world have been depicted through a serious lens that does not ignore the consequences of his deeds, and the story has been better for it.  It will be a sad day when Rucka's run on the character ends with the Punisher: War Zone miniseries - a day made all the sadder by Checchetto's absence.

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Anonymous said...

Marvel's doing real well with their recent, I guess I'd call them 2nd tier books. Scalet Spider, Venom, Hawkeye, Punisher, Age of Apocalypse, Winter Soldier, X-Factor, etc. They're not getting the attention of AvX or the new 52, but they're all solid books with great creative teams!

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