Sunday, October 21, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 10/17/12

Welcome to this week's Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  This Wednesday saw the release of Top Cow's Cyberforce #1, the relaunch of one of their oldest properties, and while such things happen with relative regularity, the exciting difference is that the first five issues of this series are absolutely free.  For this reasons (and because very few of them seemed to be getting picked up at my store), we're spending a bit more time with that book in this week's reviews, along with some quick shots at the end for some of the other book's out this week.  So hit the jump to see how this crop of books looked!

Written by Marc Silvestri & Matt Hawkins
Art by Khoi Pham, Sal Regla & Sunny Gho

You know, I think I really liked Cyberforce #1. I say "I think" because even thoug it made for a pretty entertaining read, I couldn't for the live of me tell you what it's about.

I mean, I can offer vague descriptions as to what's going on in this issue.  Set in a rundown future (specifically Pittsburgh, it would seem), Carin Taylor, daughter of the Chairwoman (one of the most powerful people in the Western world), is on the run from... something, and somewhere between two and four different groups want to find her for... reasons.

That's about the best I can do for your at this point, because while this book is heavy on action, it's rather light on anything approaching explanations.  Simply put, there's no "why" offered at any point in this opening issue.  Things just seem to happen, with plenty of throwaway lines that hint at a something more, but with little in the way of proof that said something more actually exists.  It's entirely possible that there are elements throughout this book that would enable longtime Cyberforce fans to better appreciate what's going on, but as a reader who is unfamiliar with anything to do with this universe, a lot of the story sort of came off as pretty meaningless babble.

But in spite of these narrative shortcomings, the fact remains that a lot of this book's difficult to follow story looks and sounds pretty damn cool.  While they don't seem keen on sharing the details with the reader, the creators clearly have some ideas of what makes their world tick, because they offer a world that is both visually distinct and appealing.  Full points must go to the artistic team here, even if it's a little hard to quite know who did what.  Marc Silvestri, one of the original co-creators of Cyberforce, is credited with the character designs, and I must say that they are all quite eye-catching.  However, their strongest quality is that they all feel like they belong in the same universe, providing an immediate unifying feature to the comic page.

But while Silvestri may have conceived these ideas, it is Khoi Pham's pencils and Sal Regla's inks that realize them in this issue, and the two do a solid job.  They ably balance detailed pages when the story calls for them (such as the book's opening page) with faster, more kinetic movement when that's more appropriate.  There are a few panels that come off as a little too stiff or posed, but the work is generally strong.

However, I think the most important piece of the puzzle here is Sunny Gho's colours.  While the images tell you what kind of world these characters inhabit, the colours go a long way to establish the tone and atmosphere of the story.  At times, I would argue they do a better job than the actual narrative.  This is a very colourful book, which emphasizes the differences between the world of Cyberforce and our own, but the book is also infused with a lot of earth tones, demonstrating that despite the technological advances, Cyberforce remains an imperfect world that is still as damaged and dirty as our own - if not even more so at times.

The book also credits Stjepan Sejic for "Final Art Polish", but unless that has to do with the a certain eastern European country, like the story, I can't really figure out what that's about.

Under normal circumstances, I'd be hard pressed to recommend picking up this type of comic, but these aren't normal circumstances.  As I mentioned in the opener, Cyberforce #1 is FREE!  If I were shelling out $2.99 or $3.99 for this kind of thing, I wouldn't stand for it, but as it costs me nothing, I find myself willing to go along witht he whole thing.  The production values are certainly high enough.  While the story is not forthcoming when it comes to enabling the reader to completely understand what's going on, it is nonetheless interesting in a "what the heck is going on?!"-type of way.  I imagine the creators are raising so many questions in an effort to get readers hooked so that once they start charging for the book (come issue #6, I believe), people keep picking it up and start paying for it.

Verdict - Check It. The writing isn't bad, but don't expect to have the strongest handle on what's going on by issue's end.  Cyberforce #1's saving grace is its great art and its zero dollar cover price.  It will cost you literally nothing but time and the space to store it (and not even physical space if you download it from Comixology), so you can't really go wrong here.  We'll see if this gambit pays off in the long-run, but for the moment, there's no reason not to look into Cyberforce.

Quick Shot Reviews

AMERICAN VAMPIRE: LORD OF NIGHTMARES #5 - Did you know that Scott Snyder is a great writer?  And that Dustin Nguyen is an amazing artist?  Your answer to both questions, was probably "yes", but just in case you'd forgotten, the two do an excellent job reminding you with their work on the final issue of their American Vampire mini-series.  Having set up all the pieces in the four proceeding issues, Snyder just lets the characters go wild, setting off plan and counter-plan that are each more exciting and thrilling than the last.  Every character gets their moment to shine, including Agent Hobbes, Felicia Book, and Gus McCogan.  And speaking of shining, Nguyen, who has been terrific since issue #1, unleashes some of his best work here, giving us some of the most depraved and twisted pages I've ever seen from his pen, and they're all brilliant.  That one splash page towards the end is definitely the highlight, but they're all great.  This book represents a great capstone in what's been a great miniseries.

Verdict - Buy It.

BATWOMAN #13 - J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman continue to make the best comic that DC is publishing at the moment.  The Batwoman / Wonder Woman crossover story they started back in August picks right up where they left off, with our two heroines going to see if Medusa is locked up in the prison where she should be.  Except for the first and last, every single page in this comic is a double-page spread, and they are all amazing.  I don't know how, but Williams continues to find a way to push the boundaries in terms of what is possible on a comic book page, and the winner is comic book readers everywhere.  Highlights of this issue include a labyrinthian page where Kate and Diana navigate an actual labyrinth, a breathtaking and innovative page that is the most stunning wall of text you will ever encounter, and one of the most visually engaging talking heads page I've ever encountered (along with a sweet transition to said wall of text page).  Oh, and did I mention that the story continues to be amazing?  And all the characters feel like real and distinct characters?  And that Williams and Blackman manage to fit in virtually every single relevant character they have in the series in these twenty pages?  'Cause those things happen to.

Verdict - Must Read.

HAWKEYE #3 - So I think we're all still kind of reeling from Hawkeye's meteoric rise to superstardom and popularity with the release of The Avengers this past summer (at least, I know I am), but you won't know it's such a recent occurrence based on Matt Fraction and David Aja's brilliant work on the new Hawkeye ongoing.  These two men have managed to pick up on that popularity and use the opportunity to tell some ridiculously enjoyable superhero stories without ever really bothering to include superhero-y things like costumes or super villains.  Instead, they've been happy to shed insight into what Clint Barton gets up to during his days off, which this issue revolves around sitting down and labeling all of his different trick arrows.  Of course, things get out of hand pretty quickly, and before you know it, Clint and Kate have somehow managed to get themselves involved in a high-speed chase with a convoy of Cooper Minis that ends up being the best story involving trick arrows that I've encountered from Marvel or DC.  Unsurprisingly, a big part of this issue's success rests on the shoulders of the crazy talented Aja, whose pages (thankfully) continue to have way more panels than you'll find in any comic book anywhere.  Props must also go to Matt Hollingsworth, whose colours are as impressive as ever, eschewing traditional superhero fare for less conventional choices like the common purple and well-used yellows and oranges you find here.  This book remains one of the best - and funnest - Marvel has on offer.

Verdict - Buy It.

X-O MANOWAR #6 - While I've really been enjoying Robert Venditti's take on the X-O Manowar character, the slow pacing that I initially applauded was starting to drag a little bit.  And while Ninjak is apparently the best thing since sliced bread as far as Valiant is concerned, his appearance last issue wasn't really helping things in my book.  Fortunately, Venditti and Lee Garbett pay off both choices, using this issue to connect all the disparate pieces they've been building up until this point and link Aric and Ninjak in a manner that I honestly was not expecting.  A big part of this also has to do with some intriguing decisions on the part of Vine plant Alexander Dorian, but that's something to be discovered through reading the issue itself.  Just as the story is getting back in gear, Garbett continues to do a great job on art duties since joining the team last issue.  His clean lines convey emotion and action with equal aplomb, and I'm eager to see how things go as he becomes more familiar with the characters and universe.

Verdict - Check It.

And there we have it.  A great week with lots of worthwhile books for you to pick up and read.  Did you check out Top Cow's Cyberforce relaunch?  If so, what did you think?  If not, why aren't you get free comics?  They're free!

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