Sunday, October 7, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 10/03/12

So when I said that I was only buying two comics this week, that wasn't entirely true.  As our Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews will attest, I actually bought three.  Somehow I'd completely forgotten that John Layman and Jason Fabok's Batman run started with this week's Detective Comics #13, which I simply had to check out.  So hit the jump to see my thoughts on that, as well as Animal Man #13 and Sweet Tooth #38.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II & Joseph Silver

After the line-wide pause that was DC's Issue Zero, Animal Man is back to really get this whole Rotworld storyarc off the ground, with things escalating in a pretty big way.  Issue #12 of both Animal Man and Swamp Thing saw our Red and Green heroes travel into the world of the Rot where Anton Arcane performed some obligatory taunting while explaining that they'd blundered into a trap.  This issue gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "One Year Later", as Buddy Baker finds himself back on Eart three-hundred and sixty-five days (or so) after he and Alec Holland took their trip into the Rot.  And let's just say that things haven't gone well in their absence.

Much of the issue is spent with Buddy discovering this awful new world, including its damned denizens.  While the character figures out what's happened relatively quickly, we still get a considerable amount of exposition from his fellow survivors to bring everyone up to speed.  It's certainly an efficient manner to get a year's worth of tragedy to fit into two pages, but it's also a little disappointing.  Receiving what amounts to a montage of a handful of heroes dying at the hands of the Rot is cool and all, but it doesn't really elicit much in the way of actual emotion.  On the plus side, Lemire more than makes up for this glossing in the explanations Buddy's guides offer in how they managed to survive and how the Red has evolved to help man's continued existence.  It's some interesting stuff in this bleak future.

Speaking of, Rotworld definitely isn't just a name, as the art team really shines in showing how the Earth has been impacted by the Rot's spread.  Before now, we'd only been getting glances of the Rot, but this issue does a great job of depicting a post-apocalyptic world where pretty much all of man and his accomplishments have been choked out by death and decay.  It's kind of an odd thing to compliment, but the visuals admirably depict a world that is just as grim as those words sound.  This goes a long way in making Buddy's horrified reactions believable, helping the reader to understand what he's feeling.

As Buddy discovers how the world has changed in his absence, part of the book is spent looking in at how the rest of the Buddy clan are making do pre-Rotworld, in the immediate aftermath of Buddy and Alec's foray into the world of the Rot.  While it does make for some difficulties in verb tense when writing about it, these pseudo-flashback scenes are the strongest part of the the book.  Knowing that things cant' end well, considering the present / future Buddy has found himself trapped in, there is a real sense of foreboding in all the Baker family scenes as we wait for the other shoe to drop.  It adds a lot of the suspense and terror that was more present towards the beginning of this book's run, and I must say that it's a welcome return.  I also must say that the other shoe definitely drops at issue's end.  In a big way.

My biggest complaint amidst all this death and mutilation is that it is obviously temporary.  No matter how you look at Rotworld, it's pretty clear that the entire New 52 isn't going stay dead.  As much as things look dire and hopeless, you know that Buddy Baker and Alec Holland are not only going to find a way to fix things, they're going to undo all the bad that's happened.  To an extent that's true to every story from the Big Two right now, but it's doubly so for one that only ties-in to three issues and kills virtually every single character in DC's stables.  I'll definitely be doing my best to ignore this reality, but the fact remains that this awfulness can't stick, which takes away some of the story's legs.

Verdict - Check It.  Jeff Lemire's first issue of the Rotworld storyline is a good one, but it gets a little bogged down in setting up the new status quo for the arc.  It definitely looks like it'll keep picking up and I'm dying to see how the past and present will mesh-up, but those are things that are yet to come.  As is, there's a lot to like, but it's not quite up to par of some of the earlier issues.

Written by John Layman
Art by Jason Fabok
Backup Art by Andy Clarke

I first became familiar with John Layman through his run on Chew.  The wacky and off-beat humour he brings to that book is what makes that book so darned good, and it's what got me excited to see what he would do with the Caped Crusader when he was announced as the new writer for Detective Comics.  Part of me kind of hoped he would be able to infuse some of that zaniness into Batman's ongoing adventures, but I should have realized that such a dream wouldn't be terribly likely.  At the same time, I must say that I was really surprised by how average Layman's opening salvo turned out to be.

While Scott Snyder came in and really shook things up when DC gave him the reigns to Detective two years back, the story that Layman tells honestly feels like it could have been written by just about anyone.  While his work on Chew is so distinct and unique, there's very little of what I associate with Layman's writing that comes through here.  Instead, we get a pretty by-the-numbers story of The Penguin wanting people to like him instead of fear him.  It's a concept that's been explored before, and Layman doesn't do all that much to make the retreading of old ground feel worthwhile.  He sprinkles in some detective work, mysterious gangs, and a hit on Bruce Wayne, but none of these things are new either, making for a comic that is narratively unremarkable.

For an opening story, it doesn't do all that much to grab you and hook you in.  There's some hints that all of these things could ultimately build into something more exciting and novel, but none of that actually occurs in this issue proper.  This wouldn't be such a big deal if there was only a few books starring Batman, but when it seems like every second book from DC features the character in some way, shape or form, failing to provide a clear reason why someone should read this version of the character instead of every other one is a pretty big oversight.

The issue's saving grace is Jason Fabok's awesome art.  He did some great work on the Batman Annual earlier this year and he decisively shows that that wasn't a one-off.  Everything just looks right.  Batman is sufficiently badass and serious.  Gotham is sufficiently grimy and dark.  For someone who has only drawn a handful of Bat-issues, Fabok really seems like an old pro, knocking out polished panels left and right.  While Layman's story leaves something to be desired, Fabok really owns this issue.  His comfort level is super impressive, and I look forward to seeing more of his work down the line.

Although Layman's main story is a little lackluster, he does somewhat better in the backup story, which looks at what it takes to survive as a criminal in Gotham City.  It's a nicely paced little piece that builds its theme well and throws out an interesting twist to spice things up at the end.  The story focuses on Ogilvy, one of the Penguin's cronies who's also featured in the main story.  As far as I know, Ogilvy is a new character created by Layman, and I like that he decided to explore him in a little more depth here in the backup.  Add that fact that the story opening with "Earlier this week...", it looks like it'll actually connect with the main story in a meaningful way, which is something that backups don't seem to do enough.  Andy Clarke's artwork is quite appropriate to the story, as he renders Gotham and its citizens in a way that's similar to Fabok, but distinct enough that there's no confusion between the two artists' work.

Verdict - Check It.  John Layman's first issue of Detective Comics demonstrates that he definitely has a long-term direction of where he wants to take his run with Batman, but it's not yet clear whether that direction is going to be worth following.  A lot of what we see in this issue has been done before - and in some cases, it's been done better.  But while the writing is a bit of a let down, the art is anything but.  Jason Fabok takes an average script and makes it shine awfully bright.  The backup is a little better storywise, but all in the all, this issue doesn't bring anything new to the character.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire

I'm going to be so sad when this series finishes.

Sweet Tooth #38 is only the latest great issue in what has been a series filled with them.  Jeff Lemire shows yet again why he's considered such a strong comic book writer and artist as he continues to bring his post-apocalyptic epic to a close.  Things have been building to a final showdown between Jepperd, Gus, and company and Abbot and his dastardly dastards for quite some time (I suppose since they first escaped from Abbot's clutches), and the clash between the two sides finally gets going in this issue.

Lemire really demonstrates his ability to write a mean ensemble book, making perfect use of each and every one of his characters as he slowly works his way to the climax of this much awaited fight.  The issue opens on Dr. Singh writing in his journal about the upcoming conflict, using the same overblown diction and language that's been his trademark since he started believing in the "religion" that he found in Gus' Dad's writings.  It's actually quite well done, as it uses Dr. Signh's pre-established characterization to further emphasize how dire the upcoming rematch with Abbot's forces will be for our group of protagonists.  Lemire also does a brilliant job of jumping between all the different characters to show how they are preparing for the final fight.  The page that is simply three close-up shots of Dr. Singh, Jepperd, and Gus is particularly striking.

From there, we pause in the movement towards the fighting for an excellent scene of character development with Becky and the children.  Hiding in one of the labs before they prepare to run away to live to fight another day, Gus continues to try to come to terms with what the group has learned in Alaska, and there's some great moments from all the characters involved as they comfort and reassure each other.  It's nice to see characters continue to grow even as we get so close to the end of the whole series, and this aside is a great way on Lemire's part to build more anticipation for the forthcoming violence.

And then the fight hits.

Those two opening scenes only cover six or seven pages, leaving a good chunk of this issue's contents to focus on explosions, profanity, and gunplay.  Lemire really knows both how to write and how to draw some exciting fight scenes, as there are plenty of moments that really grab you or really stand out for just how cool they are (Jepperd jumping from that roof and seemingly hanging in midair comes to mind).

And then the complication hits.

Of course, with at least one more issue of fighting to go, you know that the whole thing wasn't going to finish up in this issue here, but Lemire's curveball feels believable, and the characters' reactions to it feel doubly so. There are a few moments that teeter on the edge of action movie cliché, but I feel as if Lemire manages to skirt that line without ever crossing over it too far.

Verdict - Buy It.  Jeff Lemire is really good at this whole comic book thing, and Sweet Tooth continues to prove that on a monthly basis.  This issue is jampacked with character and events and explosions, and it's all super well done.  More importantly, however, is that Lemire uses all the work that he's done in previous issues to make these things even more exciting and even more meaningful.  But if you've been following this series, you should already know that.  If you haven't been following it, make sure you follow through on your trade waiting, because Lemire has been killing it on this book.

My continued praise of all things Jeff Lemire seems to have no end in sight, but if that means I get to keep reading brilliant comics by him, I'm not going to be too upset about that.  Detective Comics showed promise, but I don't know if I'll be coming back to see if it follows through on them or not.  How was the week on your end?  Hit the comments to share your thoughts!

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