Sunday, December 23, 2012

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 12/19/12

Welcome to your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for the week.  In recognition of just how many books dropped this week, I've tried to offer a few extra reviews to tell you more about these various titles.  So hit the jump to see my thoughts on Black Beetle: Night Shift #0, Django Unchained #1, and more!

BATWOMAN #15
Written by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Art by Trevor McCarthy & J.H. Williams III

Now this is a bit of an odd issue.  Right in the middle of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman's Wonder Woman and Batwoman team-up arc, pretty much everything is put on hold as we take a time out to go see what Maggie SawyerGotham City cop, has been up to.

Thankfully for the reader, Maggie has been up to an awful lot.

While Maggie, as Kate Kane girlfriend, has been a routine fixture in the pages of Batwoman since the opening issue, we haven't really spent much time in her headspace, something that changes here in Batwoman #15.  Indeed, the entire issue is narrated by Maggie, and the reader gets a real sense of Maggie's frustration and desperation with the case of the missing children and with how out of hand everything has been getting in Gotham lately.  While we've heard Kate muse on these topics, it's interesting to see Maggie's thoughts on the matters, both as a non-superhero and the lead detective on the case.

The entire issue feels like a bit of an interlude from the main story, giving us the layperson's perspective on what's been going on from Maggie's point of view.  It ends up providing a bit more information and nuance to the overall story, while also acting as an excellent character study on Maggie herself.

For that reason, I'm a bit more willing to accept Trevor McCarthy's sudden return to art duties in the middle of the arc, something that I'd been upset about when I realized it was occurring.  I had initially assumed it was simply due to Williams not having time to finish the issue, but while that may still be the case, the fact that this issue is distinct from what's been going on in the ongoing story makes the switch more acceptable.  It becomes a conscious choice to change the visual style to reflect the change in narrative style for this issue, a choice that works quite well.

Obviously, it helps that McCarthy does an excellent job here.  His strong, clean lines fit the aesthetic that Williams uses, while at the same time being entirely McCarthy's own.  Williams is not absent from the book's interior, as he provides the art for the first and last pages, but I'm almost tempted to say that Williams work is out of place here considering how much this issue hinges on Maggie Sawyer instead of Batwoman and Wonder Woman.

Verdict - Check It.  This done-in-one interlude looking at Maggie Sawyer adds a different perspective and some extra information on what's been going on in this book with Medusa and her nefarious forces, and while it was a bit of a surprise, it wasn't an unwelcome one.  It certainly helps that I've become a big fan of Maggie over the course of her relationship with Kate Kane, but this is, plain and simple, a solid character study that can be enjoyed by all (although those final lines are tragically ironic for readers who have been following the series).

BLACK BEETLE: NIGHT SHIFT #0
Written by Francesco Francavilla
Art by Fancesco Francavilla

Francesco Francavilla is a great comic books man.  I don't need to tell you this, but I feel like it warrants mentioning nonetheless.  Francavilla clearly loves comics and stories from the pulp era, and he has an amazing ability of infusing his work with that passion in a way you can't ignore.

Unsurprisingly, Black Beetle is an excellent example of this.

Black Beetle is Francavilla's own character, a pulpy vigilante who protects the streets of Colt City for reasons that are his own and he's pretty good at it.

Night Shift transports us back to the 1940s era in which Black Beetle resides, telling the story of the Hollow Lizard, an Egyptian artifact of possible great power, and the evil Nazis who want to possess it.  Add in the Black Beetle, who will do everything he can to stop this, and Antonia Howard, the researcher who gets caught up in the whole affiar, and you have yourself a pretty good setup.

The book is mostly concerned with seeing how all these disparate elements come together, and while it isn't the most complex story ever told, I can tell you that these elements come together incredibly well.  Francavilla is excellent here, building some tense and exciting scenes throughout the book that are dripping with his signature flair.  As anyone familiar with Francavilla's work can guess, his art sells the whole issue.

There is an awful lot of gunplay going on throughout this issue, and Francavilla manages to make every instance where a gun is fired feel brutal and deadly.  There's a power behind every trigger pull, but even more impressive is how Francavilla manages to create a true sense of kinetic energy and chaos when bigger gun fights break out.  These pages are built in a manner that creates a feeling of how hectic and violent the whole thing would be and it's really neat to see that.  Similarly, when people die, they rarely die well.  Blood flies and is spilled on a regular basis, and while the final death toll is pretty high, none of the deaths feel cheap or meaningless.

Verdict - Check It.  This is a story of high adventure, where moral dilemmas are pretty black and white (with that assumption being put into question towards the end of the issue), and it's an awful fun adventure to be on.  Knowing that Fracesco Francavilla did every single part of the comic - from writing to art to colours - on his own makes the entire endeavour that much more impressive.  The Black Beetle is clearly a labour of love, and it reads that way.

A small comment on the actual comic book: there's no ads and the comic's pages are thick and glossy.  These are small things, but it makes the book feel more substantial than most comics you'll get and improves the reading experience.  This comic is all Black Beetle through and through, and that's a good thing.

DJANGO UNCHAINED #1
Based on the Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
Art by R.M. Guera & Jason Latour

As I said on Tuesday, I'm pretty excited for the Django Unchained movie.  And while I met the initial announcement of a comic book adaptation with relative indifference, that changed when I realized that R.M. Guera would be the main artist for the project.  His work on Scalped long ago convinced me as to how good Guera can be, so at this point I'm willing to give anything he's working on a chance.  Combining him with a Quentin Tarantino script made this a purchase a no-brainer.

And this issue really emphasizes how much it is a Tarantino script.  It's wordy.  Really wordy.  There's more dialogue here than you'd get in a regular comic, and that's partly because this is adapted from a movie script and partly because that's how Tarantino writes.  And it reads like a Tarantino project.  There's lots of clever bon mots throughout, and the book takes you into situations that you wouldn't expect that conclude in ways that you wouldn't imagine.

However, the real star here is Guera.  Even though this is adapting a movie (and one that hasn't even come out yet), Guera's inks (with Giulia Brusco's wonderful colours) make it feel like this story was created to be told through Guera's art.  This story is all about the Wild West, and Guera manages to oscillate between the gross depravities and high societies of the time with seeming ease.  There's a decent amount of people getting blown away in this issue, and Guera nails those scenes, whether big or small.  There's a moment where a poor sap gets his brains blown out, and while it's only one panel, the expression on that man's face is perfect.

Verdict - Buy It.  This project has been described as being based on Tarantino's uncut script for Django and that it will be showing a bunch of stuff that got cut from the final film.  It's hard to say whether that will be a good thing or a bad thing, since there are often valid reasons for things to be cut, but based on this opening issue, I have a good feeling about where this story is going.

HAWKEYE #6
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja

I'm so glad that David Aja is back.

Hawkeye #6 is amazing.  While Matt Fraction and David Aja have done some impressive things in their first three issues of this series, I feel like this issue is their best yet.  Titled "Six Days in the Life Of", the issue appropriately shows us six days in Clint Barton's life around the holiday season.  Therese days are December 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, and 19 (I list them out because December 16th isn't featured), but they are presented out of order.  Instead of going through chronologically, we bounce around between them, jumping back and forth through time.  It's an interesting choice that makes it necessary to read the issue a couple of times before you have everything ordered in your mind, but it makes for some excellent thematic connections throughout the story.

We open on a strange page of 24 panels, along with lots of white space, that turns out to be an advent calendar.  It's a unique beginning that creates some immediate tension through the exertion that Tony Stark and Clint are going through, but it's also an immediate example of how great Aja's art is.  This page is full to the brim, but it still works so well (and it works even better on the page turn).  It's also a great representation of the issue as a whole, as it's a perfect mixture between the lighthearted and the serious.

Fraction's writing is spot on, abounding with quick witticisms that fit every moment they fill.  This issue not only runs the gamut of emotions, it's also all over the place in terms of what Hawkeye is up to.  We see him interacting with other heroes - both in uniform and out - his tenants, Kate Bishop, and those dastardly Tracksuit Vampires that have been bothering him since issue #1.  These jumps often occur in tandem with the leaps in time, so it never feels disconcerting and means that we get to have as many cute, funny, and heartfelt moments as possible (and lots of action, too).

Of course, Aja is the real star here, making comics like no one else can.  While other comics usually stay to five or six panels per page, Aja routinely packs his pages with panels numbering in the double digits.  And it works.  It works oh so well.  It allows Aja to capture moments in ways that would be impossible in any other book, and it also has the added bonus of making for a longer reading experience.  I continue to be enamoured with his minimalist style and with Matt Hollingsworth's terrific colours.  The purple overtones are back, but they're also mixed in with Christmas-y reds and greens and dark, nighttime-y blues and blacks.

Verdict - Buy It.  This book is packed with greatness and you should be reading  it.  There's no excuse not to as far as I'm aware.  The only thing about Hawkeye #6 that I'm not wild about is the issue's cover, and that's mostly because it eschews the purples that have been so present inside and outside the book itself.  The rest of it is gold, so get on that.

MASKS #2
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Dennis Calero

So while I had assumed that Alex Ross would be the artist for every issue of this miniseries, apparently that isn't the case.  Here with Masks #2, we've switched over to artist Dennis Calero, and by the looks of future solicitations, he'll be doing the remainder of the miniseries' issue as well.

I recognize that this doesn't directly relate to the contents of Masks #2, but it is somewhat disingenuous on Dynamite's part to have so thoroughly hyped Alex Ross' involvement in this book for him to only actually do the interiors for one issue.  When Masks was announced, there was a lot of hoopla made of the concept but also over the creators.  And the creators mentioned were writer Chris Roberson and Alex Ross.  Looking back at those announcements, it was never explicitly stated that Ross would be painting every single issue, but it also wasn't stated that he wouldn't be.

If I'd checked the solicitations more thoroughly, I would have realized that Ross wasn't doing the interiors on this comic, and while I probably should have done that, I had taken for granted that Dynamite was talking about how involved Ross was because he was in it for the long run and not exclusively because they wanted to make money and increase sales on their new series through the use of Ross' name.

I probably wouldn't be as concerned about this if Masks #2 was a slam dunk of an issue, but the reality of things is that it isn't.  While I'm unfamiliar with Dennis Calero's work, he actually does a pretty good job in relief of Ross here.  His work isn't painted, but there's nonetheless a certain overlap in style between the two artists that makes the switch-over a bit more bearable (although Calero does seem to skimp on backgrounds a little too often).  He won't be my favourite artist anytime soon, but he does a fine job here.  I also appreciated that Calero maintained the angled panels that Ross used in the first issue, which provided some additional visual continuity.

Unfortunately, Calero's art can't hide that there simply isn't very much going on in this story.  We get a few fights and a bit of chatter between our characters, but the plot doesn't really move forward in any significant way.  We're introduced to some new heroes, but we don't really know anything about them beyond the fact that they exist.  Meanwhile, the heroes we met last issue theorize that there must be other heroes willing to fight the Justice Party, which we the reader know is true because we met those new heroes.  But these sets don't meet each other, resulting in this strange dramatic irony that makes the book less dramatic.  As well, Roberson has a similar amount of overwrought and repetitive dialogue as last issue (read: too much), but without Ross' art to soften the effect, it's even more annoying than last time around.

Verdict - Skip It.  I am quite frustrated by Alex Ross' non-presence on this book (as you may have gathered), but the fact remains that, while Masks has a cool concept behind it, the execution is lacking, and there's no real motivator to stick around to see if things will improve.


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