Friday, October 26, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 10/24/12

Welcome to the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  There were plenty of great books out this week (including Bravest Warriors #1!), but I'm zeroing in on A-Babies vs. X-Babies #1, Debris #4, and Punisher: War Zone #1 this time around.  All very different comics, they each had their strengths and weaknesses (some more than others).  Check behind the cut to check out my thoughts on these titles!

Written by Skottie Young
Art by Gurihiru

Why can't Marvel's actual events be this much fun?

This whole book came out of a one-off variant cover that Skottie Young did for the actual Avengers vs. X-Men event, and although you might think that a story that boils down to "what if all the characters were toddlers?" wouldn't have a lot of legs, Young and Gurihiru are happy to prove you wrong.  This whole thing is completely ridiculous, but it's also masterfully done.

From start to finish, this one-shot is all about fun, something its creators never lose sight of.  The motivation for the book's conflict is that Cyclops has stolen Captain America's teddy bear for no reason and won't give it back.  It's super basic, but it's also all that this book needs to get to the action, which is the important thing here.  Young does a great job of writing just enough.  That is to say, he writes exactly as much as each and every scene requires.  No more and no less.  It's an impressive display of restraint and serves the issue well, letting the story speak for itself.

And for a story that is little more than these babified heroes beating the snot out of each others, there's a surprising amount of story, small character nods, and in-jokes to be found in this book.  It's hard to say how much of it is Young and how much of it is Gurihiru, but it's all great.  Whether it's easter egg messages in building blocks or tacit teddy bear cameos by the likes of Spider-Pig or the Pet Avengers, it's all in good fun and it all speaks to the kind of care that went into this comic.  For my part, I'd vote the best aside as the background appearance by Power Pack during the first double-page splash, characters Gurihiru has also done great things with in the past.

For those of you familiar with Gurihiru, you'll know that while Young's initial designs were what launched this whole thing, Guirhiru does an excellent job in realizing a comic's worth of adventure for these heroic tykes.  Gurihiru has always had an energy and zip to his cartoony lines that translates perfectly to this exercise.  He does a brilliant job of interpreting all of these various characters in their diaper-clad doppelgangers without ever losing sight of who these characters are.  And his colours are equally impressive, making every panel pop.

Verdict - Buy It.  A-Babies vs. X-Babies is a very silly little comic that is oodles of fun.  Skottie Young and Gurihiru deliver an issue that is virtually nonstop action while staying true to all the featured characters.  Even better, they stick the landing, providing an explosive conclusion that is every bit as satisfying and fun as the rest of the book.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Riley Rossmo & Owen Gieni

Kurtis J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo's latest collaboration is over and done with this week's Debris #4.  Their  post-apocalyptic sci-fi story has followed the quest of a young woman by the name of Maya to find a fabled land of water to save the settlement she calls home has been a pretty exciting ride, and this issue is no exception.

The entire four-issue miniseries has moved along at a rapid clip, and while it is certainly preferable to see that as opposed to the drawn out decompression you can sometimes get, I feel that, taken as a whole, Debris could have benefited from having a bit more room to breath.  It is clear that Wiebe and Rossmo have a well-developed world on their hands here, but there simply was not enough time nor space to really plumb the depths of their creation.  There have been many hints and references to the world our character inhabit, but not enough of them have gotten the proper chance to flourish and grow.

You definitely can't charge Debris with dawdling, and this issue is no exception.  However, where the quick-fire plot movement has generally been good thus far, there's just too much going on in too short a space here.  Wiebe actually introduces a few key ideas this issue that are paid off at the conclusion, and it just feels a little too rushed.

Part of the problem is that in the first three issues Riley Rossmo's gorgeous visuals helped soften the blow of the expedited storytelling.  His beautiful vistas and kinetic action-sequences told just as much as Wiebe's words.  That's definitely still here, but Rossmo only did the breakdowns for this issue, leaving Owen Gieni, the colourist for the book, to do the finished art on top of the colours.  The end result is immediately noticeable, as things look a little off.  While Gieni does a fine job as a fill-in, his style is very different from Rossmo's, leaving the book with a sketchier, rushed appearance that emphasizes the rushed nature of the script.  This not to impugn Gieni's work, more to say that the sudden switch in artist and style for the last issue is jarring, making it more difficult to get into the narrative.

That being said, while there are some problems with this issue, it is worth noting that the strong narrative that Wiebe has been building remains.  And while it would have perhaps been preferable to have an extra issue to properly fit it all in, Wiebe does give us a relatively satisfying conclusion to the story.

Verdict - Check It.  Kurtis J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo's Debris was a rather large departure from their previous work on Green Wake.  But it was also a welcome one.  This story is built far more on action scenes and beautiful landscapes, providing for a different type of stunning art.  A sci-fi tale of adventure and discovery, Debris was definitely an enjoyable, if slightly rushed, comic book.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico

Despite appearances to the contrary, I don't solely read fun and lighthearted comics that are appropriate for reads of all ages.  I mean, they're a pretty large portion of my regular pull, but I also like books to which qualifiers such as "dark" or "gritty" could be applied.

Greg Rucka's Punisher is definitely one of those books.

While his run on the title technically ended with Punisher #16 last month, Marvel decided to give Rucka five more issues in this War Zone miniseries (not to be confused with the film of the same name or the earlier Punisher spin-off series that had two volumes).  It's a bit of an odd move, especially considering that this is pretty much a direct continuation of the story Rucka has been telling in Punisher, but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.  If it means we can get a few more issues of Rucka's excellent interpretation of Frank Castle, I'll take it.

And that is exactly what we get here, as Rucka follows Frank as he continues to react to the events of the past few issues.  Well, to a certain extent.  As this is a bigger story that does feature The Avengers finally taking issue with Frank Castle's actions (*ahem* mass murderer), the stakes are a little higher.  This is both good and bad because it means that you get interactions between Frank and the likes of Spider-Man or Wolverine, but it also means that there isn't as much time or space for Frank or his supporting cast.

Indeed, that supporting cast, which has been such a strength for the series, is almost completely absent.  Rachel Cole-Alves is obliquely referred to by two nameless police officers, and no one else makes so much as a cameo appearance.  No Ozzy Clemons.  No Norah Winters.  While it's still Rucka's Punisher, things aren't quite the same.  With the higher stakes comes a larger scope, taking time and focus away from some of the elements that made this book unique.  Unfortunately, it means that, at the end of one issue, this book feels a bit more like your run of the mill superhero comic.

Part of this also comes with the change in artists.  Carmine di Giandomenico is a very talented guy, don't get me wrong, but he also has a very different style from the likes of Marco Checchetto or Mico Suayan.  While Rucka's previous collaborators had a gritty and loose aspect to their work, di Giandomenico's work is much more polished and defined.  It's a small thing, and Matt Hollingsworth's continued tenure on colours mute the impact, but the book nonetheless ends up feeling different due to this change over.  Again, it feels more like the rest of what you'd find coming out from Marvel instead of like something set apart from the rest of the pack.

Verdict - Check It.  It's only one issue, but thus far, Punisher: War Zone doesn't feel quite as strong as before.  It might simply be the adjustment to the bigger cast combined with the switch in artist, but Frank Castle's world suddenly seems safer and less dangerous.  There are certainly exceptions, but I hope they'll be a little more common in upcoming issues.

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