Friday, November 30, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 11/28/12

Step right up, one and all, we're happy to announce some Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  This time around we're zeroing in on Chew #30, Masks #1, and Planetoid #4, so hit that jump to see how these books stack up!

CHEW #30
Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Comics, like all types of stories, can affect you in a number of different ways.  They can be a reassuring beacon in a time of darkness.  They can be a rollercoaster thrill ride that leaves you in a cold sweat.  And sometimes they can be a punch in the gut that takes you completely by surprise.

Chew #30 is that gut punch.

John Layman and Rob Guillory have been entertaining us with the often irreverent adventures of the cibopathic Tony Chu and his colourful cast of supporting characters for a good thirty issues thus far (including that Puyo one-shot from a few months back), but for all that lightheartedness, the duo hasn't been afraid to toss in some mighty serious curveballs.  One need only think back to Tony's kidnapping back in "Major League Chew", the appearance of alien scrawlings in the sky in issue #14, or even Mason Savoy's heel turn at the end of the first arc.

Suffice it to say, Chew #30 outdoes all of those previous examples.  While the issue opens with the some jokey tone that we've come to know and love, looking in on the disaster that is the Chu-Sharma wedding between Toni and Paneer, things quickly take a turn.  A rather dark, gruesome, and unexpected one.  But despite that, it still fits in perfectly with the story that Layman and Guillory have been telling.  As demonstrated above, the two have gotten into the habit of shaking things up, especially around milestone issues, and this is about as shaky as I can imagine.

Guillory does an excellent job this issue, as he is given some rather challenging scenes to draw.  Chew has not been overfilled with full-page splashes, so the ones that do show up always have a bit more resonance to them.  That holds true here as Guillory offers two super effective pages.  The first is shocking and impressive in the defiance Guillory manages to convey, while the second is beyond words in the effect it creates (and its own silence, leaving the reader to have to take in the image in its entirely to understand exactly what has transpired).

This startling revelation is followed by a moment where the rest of the cast reacts to the news of what's happened.  It is only a page long, but it allows the book to reemphasize what the reader already knows - that what has occured is a Big Deal.  This quiet moment is interrupted by a four page gag that initially seems a little out of place, seeing as it completely changes the mood of the scene to provide some foreshadowing of what's to come and pay off a joke months in the making, but the two moments end up working quite well next to each other.  Although that gag subverts the feeling of the cast's reaction, the gag is itself subverted by a quick return to the cast's reflection, which is the mood the issue and arc finishes on.

Verdict - Buy It.  John Layman and Rob Guillory know what they're doing when it comes to comics and Chew #30 proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The two have built up an amazing, intricate world in these first thirty issues, and while we've gotten some answers, it's clear that there are still - and will continue to be - many questions to explore in the thirty issues that remain in this series.

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Alex Ross

I, like many, have long been enthralled with Alex Ross' amazing painted comics.  His work is like no other and always seems to be worth the price of admission.  It certainly doesn't hurt that he's been involved with some excellent projects, like those prestige Justice League books with Paul Dini or the venerated Kingdom Come with Mark Waid.  No matter what the work, Ross always brings his A-game, filling every page and panel with beautifully detailed work that oozes with care and passion.  The trade-off, of course, is that his work can take some time, which partly explains why he's been doing far more covers than actual comics of late.

All this to say that I was excited at the announcement that Alex Ross would be returning to doing the interiors on a monthly book for the eight-issue Masks miniseries from Dynamite Entertainment.  It didn't hurt that Chris Roberson (of Monkey Brain and iZombie fame) would be writing.  Or that the series would feature some of the original masked heroes of the pulp era, including Green Hornet, the Shadow, the Spider, and many more.  It sounded like the kind of crossover that seems so right that one can only wonder why it hadn't occurred before.  These all definitely helped, but it was Ross' presence on the title that got me to drop the $3.99 cover price to check this whole thing out.

So with all that in mind, was the book any good?  Has the wait for Ross' return to the comic book page been worth it?  Visually, the answer is a resounding "yes!", with Ross delivering the same type of gorgeous pages that he's become so well known for.  Whether it's brawls in dark alleys, high class dinners in exclusive clubs, or the new shocktroops of the questionable state governments, Ross nails each and every moment in the book.  The whole thing is beautiful and will quickly remind you of why you fell in love with Ross' work in the first place.

However, when it comes to the writing side of things, things aren't quite so rosy.  Roberson keeps the tale in the 1930s milieu that most of these characters first rose to prominence in, but it feels like he's staying too true to the era as the script is occasionally somewhat overwrought.  Indeed, Roberson's writing is rather indelicate, shall we say.  There's little in the way of subtlety here with the characters repeatedly going on about the finer points of the differences between law and justice in the most belaboured way possible.  I understand that it's the book's main motif and theme, but do we really need to go on about it over five or six separate occasions in the first issue?  I recognize that it kind of fits the style of the stroies these characters originally appeared in, but the end result is a comic that comes off as a little clumsy and corny.

The whole thing calls to mind the DC Cry For Justice miniseries from a few years back.  Admittedly, it's a pretty easy comparison considering how that series aped Alex Ross' style, both series feature teamups of a large number of individuals, and both have similar refrains relating to justice, but the comparison ends there.  Masks, despite its flaws, is a far more enjoyable book than the train wreck that was Cry for Justice, but the connotations do remain.

Verdict - Check It.  The writing isn't anything special, but Alex Ross' art is.  If you have any fondness for Ross' work, then this becomes an easy recommendation, as Ross displays the same flair and panache that he has in past projects  but now featuring a fun collection of some of the great pulp heroes of yore.  Masks doesn't look like it'll go down as a classic, but it definitely seems like it'll be fun.

Written by Ken Garing
Art by Ken Garing

I have praised each and every successive issue of Planetoid for managing to continue the fantastic story Ken Garing is telling while also doing so in a manner that is different from earlier issues.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I intend to do so again for the latest issue of this wonderful limited series.

While issue #1 focused on exploration of the landscape, #2 on discovery of the inhabitants, and #3 building a new society, Planetoid #4 pulls back to provide a bit more background on our hero Silas and the universe he inhabits, particularly the Ono Mao Republic, the galaxy-spanning conglomerate that has been dogging Silas and company since issue #1.

We got a bit of this backstory in the first issue when Silas was speaking with Mendel, but while that instance felt a tad clunky and exposition-heavy, Garing does a much better job of weaving new information into the actual story of the book this time around.  A lot of it is still coming to us from conversations between characters, but it feels far more natural than the forced dialogue - near-monologue - that closed out issue #1.  It feels as if Garing has grown with his characters, getting a better handle of their dialogue as the comic has progressed.  Better still, some of the revelations here recontextualize what we've learned before, adding some nice twists to the narrative.

That being said, this issue is far more than talking heads.  There's a lot of stuff going on in this issue, and like earlier instances, things move at a quick clip.  We see Silas ambushed, imprisoned, and escaped in the course of these thirty-two pages, and that doesn't cover half the things that happen in this chapter.  What happens and where it all takes place tells us just as much about the world as the above-mentioned conversations.  Thankfully, the quick pace does not impede the flow of the story; while things move quickly, nothing feels rushed.

The issue also does an excellent job of building on past characters and events, for there are a number of moments that come directly from earlier scenes.  It's really nice to see these things coming back and paying off, providing for a real sense of continuity throughout the story.  And while things have been going well up until this point, this issue is most definitely where that streak comes to an abrupt halt.  Things get to be pretty dire before there's even a tiny bit of sunlight at the end.  This issues makes darned sure that Planetoid's finale will not be a boring one.  There's a little bit of drag here and there, but this book does a great job of moving pieces around to make next issue's climax as big and explosive as possible.

Garing also delivers yet another issue filled with brilliant art, as the gritty and detailed work that first won me over is here in spades.  The expansive landscapes are less common than in prior issues, but they are around and they look as good as ever.  But with an issue in which a lot of the action takes place indoors, Garing takes the opportunity to unleash some really devilish settings that make for some striking images.  Some of the art in this issue feels a little rough in places, but it's generally as strong as ever.  As always, Garing's sense of storytelling is top notch, as his pages are often laid out in really interesting ways.  I'm thinking particularly of the scene between Silas and Onica at the end of the book that concludes in the perfect way.

Verdict - Buy It.  Planetoid has been one of my favourite finds of 2012, and issue #4 has the same level of quality as the first three issues.  This series refuses to stand still, offering something new each and every issue while still maintaining a strong sense of continuity from one to the next.  There's been some problems with delays, but I'll be ready and waiting for Planetoid #5 when it hits stands.

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