Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 12/12/12

Welcome to your weekly does of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  There wasn't an awful lot of titles on my list this week, but I'm happy to shed some light on my thoughts regarding Adventure Time: Marceline Scream Queens #6, Batman #15, and Demon Knights #15.  So I invite you to hit the jump and see how these books stacked up!

Written by Meredith Gran
Art by Meredith Gran

The first issue of Meredith Gran's Adventure Time: Marceline Scream Queens was really exciting.  The book had a lot going for it.  There was a solid balance of fun humour and enjoyable eccentricity throughout, along with some really wicked moments.  I'm thinking, of course, of the scene where Princess Bubblegum discovers the true meaning of Rock and / or Roll while watching the Scream Queens perform.  The four page sequence was done without any dialogue or sound effects, yet still managed to perfectly convey the emotions of all the characters present.  It was a super slick example of comic book storytelling, and it got me on board for the long haul.

But while that first issue set up a classic Odd Couple situation with the promise of some wacky subversion of expectations and colouring outside the stereotypical lines, the following issues din't quite live up to that claim.  There were a number of interesting ideas and concepts that Gran proffered for the reader's consideration, but few of these ever got enough space to breath and grow.  Perhaps more frustrating, there just hasn't been anything nearly as innovative as that initial scene of rock discovery, leaving much of what's come after feeling a little underwhelming.

All of which brings us to the sixth and final chapter in the story of the Scream Queens.  On the eve of their latest gig, Princess Bubblegum has left, Marcelene has lost faith in herself, and the band is in disarray.  On paper, the whole thing sounds pretty good, but in practice it doesn't quite work.  Seeing as the series has been so by the numbers, there's no real doubt that things will end well, which takes any tension the story could have had right out.  The only real question here is how the happily ever after will come about, and even that isn't too great of a mystery.

In the midst of all this is a overriding message to believe in yourself and do what's important to you.  It's kind of sweet and done well enough, if a little too on the nose.  Indeed, it feels demonstrative of this series' problem as a whole - it's not that Scream Queens has been bad; it's more that it hasn't been great.  The end result is that there's a fine story to be found here, but nothing you haven't seen before.  It would make a good read for younger comic book readers, but unlike more renowned children's stories, there isn't a ton here for older readers.  It's more Archie: Double Digest than anything else: harmless, if forgettable, fun.  And while there's certainly a time and a place for that, it is a little disappointing considering just how strong the opening issue was.

Verdict - Check It.  If you've read all the previous issues, then it's a no-brainer to pick this up.  However, if you're considering buying all the issues or picking up the eventual trade, I'd suggest doing so only for the younger readers in your life or for the die-hard Adventure Time fans, because there are other books out there that tell this kind of story better.

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion
Backup Written by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Backup Art by Jock

The opening and closing pages of this issue are wicked good.  Scott Snyder has been writing some amazing Joker, and this issue is further proof of that trend.  Bruce's meditations on his oldest antagonist is a brilliant look at the character and what he means to the Caped Crusader, and while the turn at the end of the issue has been heavily hinted at in previous issues, it was still as striking as a slap to the face.  Those pages are the perfect example of what Batman comics can and should be.

It's everything in the middle that leaves something to be desired.

Another of Snyder's hallmarks of late when writing Batman is ascribing new or additional meaning to things that have long existed in the Bat-canon.  That, too, makes an appearance here, and while it's interesting, like the Court of Owls from his first Batman arc, a big part of it is making Bruce into a more fallible character.  Considering how powerful and skilled the character has become in recent years, perhaps it's a necessary step, but that's a conversation for another time.  The bigger issue is that the revelation, while adding an intriguing new wrinkle to the story, also slows it down immensely.  While previous issues have been racing forward, this brings us down to a snail's pace, with the rest of the Bat-family reeling from the discover and Bruce downplaying its importance.  This takes us into some circular logic and argumentation that goes on way longer than it should have, killing a lot of momentum that's been building.

However, the rest of the book does more than make up for this.  Snyder's writing is razor sharp and Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion's artwork seems to be getting better each and every issue.  There are a number of pages here that speak volumes through their images alone.  Despite the slowness of the middle, the opening and closing manage to move the story forward in a very real way, which is quite gratifying.  As we near the final pages of the main story, there's a bit of an Arkham Asylum (the game and the classic Grant Morrison graphic novel) vibe going on, but it's not like those were the first (or only) story involving Batman, his rogues, and the infamous asylum of Gotham City, so that's hardly a big deal.

The backup stories thus far have focused in on Joker's relationship with other members of Batman's Rogues Gallery, and this time around we get a look at Joker and the Riddler.  It's only seven pages long, but Snyder and James Tynion IV make great use of it to elaborate on his interpretation of Edward Nigma and further hints at the terrible things that Joker has planned for Batman.  Jock is in once again to provide the art and he is - as always - terrific.  There's some rather grisly moments that grab your attention without feeling exploitative, and the final page between Riddler and Joker sends seem real chills down the spine.

Verdict - Buy It.  There's a little bit of stumbling over the course of Batman #15, but when this comic is on, it's on in a big way.  The Death of the Family storyline already feels like an instant-classic, and this issue is an excellent addition to the arc with Scott Snyder and company putting some of their best feet forward.

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Bernard Chang

Paul Cornell has been building to this moment for pretty much all 15 or so issues that came before Demon Knights #15 (including the #0 issue, of course), and while it does resolve quite a few of the plot threads that he's been dangling, the issue does feel a little rushed and overfilled at times.  We open on the enormous battle between the forces of Lucifer and the Questing Queen, with our heroes stuck in the middle of it.  Over the course of the issue, we see the fallout of Etrigan's betrayal, the resolution to Merlin's presence in the book, as well as a special last-minute appearance by some much needed allies, to name but a few things.  All in twenty pages.  As I said, it gets a little crowded.

On the plus side, Bernard Chang does a fantastic job keeping the pages of this book looking tidy, which is a tall order considering how much is going on.  Despite that challenge, Chang manages to fit in that ginormous battle along with a slew of quieter character moments throughout the issue.  It's actually quite impressive, as Chang peppers small panels emphasizing the violence and destruction of the warring factions to keep it in the reader's mind while giving the lion's share of the panel space to the characters we've been following from Demon Knights #1.  I was quite vocal in my displeasure when Oclair Albert and Diogenes Neves left the title, but Chang more than proves his ability with this issue.

While Chang's art seems to keep things manageable, Cornell's script is simply too full for comfort.  Considering that he's off the title as of this issue, it's understandable that he would want to tie up as many loose ends as possible, but there just isn't enough space here to properly do that.  Instead, the major conflict that's been building for so long is virtually cast to the side, with a deus ex machina coming to our heroes' rescue to allow Cornell to focus on closing down the arcs on the various members of the Demon Knight team.  This too is done a little too quickly, but there are some genuinely great moments sprinkled in there, including a lot of one on one interactions between team members (I'm thinking particularly of Sir Jystin and Exoristos here).

However, while completing the current arcs, Cornell also introduces new quests and conflicts for all of the characters.  And the last piece of text informs the reader that the next issue will take up the story thirty years down the line from this moment.  It makes for a bit of an odd conclusion, but the ambiguity is clearly there to make Robert Venditti's arrival on the book a better jumping on point for new readers.  That cuts both ways though, meaning that this also feels like a pretty decent place to jump off.  We'll see how the title fares.

Verdict - Check It.  There's some good stuff happening here, but a lot of it is in danger of being lost in the noise of everything else that happens in Cornell finishing off his run on the book.  I feel like the series itself would have been better served by giving Cornell another issue or two to really conclude, but that's obviously not going to happen.  Demon Knights was one of my favourite things to come out of the DC relaunch of last year, but some of its initial energy and passion seems to have been lost along the way.  It's hard to say if Robert Venditti's arrival will fix any of that, and I'm not one hundred percent certain I'll stick around to find out.  We'll see.

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