Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 01/23/13

With the week's end, we have for you the latest edition of the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  We're putting the magnifying glass to the conclusion of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's Stumptown, as well as the relaunches of Uncanny X-Force and Young Avengers.  There's a lot of exciting things going on behind the jump, so click on through to the other side.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth

And so with Stumptown #5, round two of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's Portland-based private eye comic book comes to an end.  After the big chase from last issue, things slow right down here, as the story gets a little bogged down with the aftereffects of all the laws that Dex Parios broke playing keepaway with those Skinheads.  The police procedural bits certainly fit right in with the grounded realism that has been one of Stumptown's hallmarks, but it goes on a little longer than was perhaps totally necessary.

Frankly, these opening eight or nine pages in the police station are kind of representative of volume 2 of Stumptown as a whole.  The story's been good, but with the exception of that car chase last issue, there hasn't been an awful lot of bang for buck going on here.  The comic has been a lot more about solving the case, but with Miriam's guitar mysteriously reappearing by the end of issue #2, it hasn't always been clear what case we've been following.  There's more of that here, as once Dex is out of the police station, she dives right into the next part of the puzzle without filling in any of the other characters or the reader as to what exactly is going on.  At this point in the volume, it's a little frustrating to not really know what's going on, and having to sit through Dex's eventual exposition once she deigns to share her hunch doesn't help matters.

Even more frustrating is that, after these five issues, there isn't complete resolution.  Dex and company have gone through all these hoops to find themselves without enough pieces to fill in the puzzle.  Rucka leaves the reader with a final page that ties up some of those loose ends (while also linking back to both the first issue of this series and the first volume), but it still doesn't really provide the why.  There's some interesting things on that final page, but more than anything, it makes this entire volume feel like a connector between volume 1 and whatever will be happening in volume 3.  While there's some closure offered, in the bigger picture, we've gotten nothing but questions, which is frustrating.

The other issue that's been present throughout this volume has been Matthew Southworth's seemingly constantly changing art style.  There's nothing wrong with experimenting with one's style, but Southworth has almost been changing things up every single issue.  This one is especially noticeable, as he moves to an even more minimalistic style that is quite low on details.  To be honest, the whole thing looks kind of muddy.

I will admit that part of my complain stems from not being terribly fond with where he has taken his art, but more than that, the constant change of visuals has made it difficult to feel any real continuity from one issue to another.  There was already a big change from how the book looked in volume 1, but the fact that the imagery hasn't been consistent from issue to issue has been even more jarring.

Verdict - Skip It.  If you've come this far, you might as well pick up the final issue of the miniseries, but I would not recommend this as an introduction to the world of Stumptown.  The story has been a little on the slow side, lacking much in the way of tense moments where one can be genuinely fearful for the characters and their well being, and that doesn't change here.  Unfortunately, the art continues to do so, making for another issue that doesn't really fit in with any of the other ones before it.

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Ron Garney & Danny Miki

While I wasn't in on every individual issue of Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force, I saw more than enough to know that it was brilliant.  With Marvel resurrecting the book almost immediately, it's hard not to be curious as to what's up, even if both the creative team and the comic book team are completely different.

One issue in, I'm happy to say that this iteration of Uncanny X-Force seems like it should make for a pretty darn enjoyable read.

The series open 6 months after the conclusion of the last one, focusing on Psylocke, the character who provides the main link between the last series and this one.  This jump forward in time is a clever way to give Sam Humphries the chance to set up a new status quo for everyone involved, and he does an excellent job of doing so in a quick and comprehensible manner.  There's some solid back and forth between Psylocke and Storm, as well as some flashbacks thrown in to get most of the important stuff out of the way, while also leaving most of the details up in the air so as to not lay all of his cards on the table from the get go.  Once we discover that X-Force is "dead" and both Psylocke and Storm's respective relationships have ended (and quite badly it seems), Humphries gives the reader what they've long been waiting for: Puck.

I'll admit that Puck's presence on this team did strike me as a bit odd, but throwing in less-established B (or even C) list characters to a team book can often lead to some surprising moments, because there's so much room for creators to play with these mostly undefined characters.  It certainly looks like that's what we'll be getting from Puck's participation, as he shows himself to be both quite capable and quite annoying.  A gruffer Deadpool perhaps?  It's hard to say, because soon after he shows up, the book hightails it into the big action scene for issue #1.

While penciler Ron Garney and inker Danny Miki show throughout the issue that they're some pretty talented gents, said fight is a grand opportunity for them to really strut their stuff, and there's honestly a lot to strut.  I wasn't familiar with either of these artists before reading through this issue, but they won me over pretty quickly.  They do well on pretty much every type of scene, but I must give particular kudos for their action moments.  Garney seems to have a knack for picking the right moments to give the reader the proper sense of what's going on and how badass each combatant is.  Also, the main fight in this issue happens to take place in a club, allowing colourists Marte Gracia and Isreal Gonzalez some fun opportunities to put some visual exclamation marks on each moment of the battle in a way that fits right in with the story.  The whole thing is equal parts control and chaos, and it is one of my favourite fight scenes in a good long while.

However, just because fisticuffs break out doesn't mean that the story takes a back seat.  We get some interesting revelations and hints of future relations between members of the team over the course of the throwdown (particularly Psylocke and Spiral), and it ends with enough time for some big questions to be dropped before issue's end.  Firstly, Bishop shows up long enough to remind you that he's involved in this whole thing in some way, and then Cluster shows up just long enough to give us a pretty solid idea of how she's going to fit into the book.  And I must say, while the last iteration of Uncanny X-Force wasn't always the most functional of teams, it looks like this version will give them a run for their dysfunctional money.  I cannot wait to see that.

Verdict - Buy It.  Uncanny X-Force does not look like it will be a retreading of what Rick Remender did on the book, which is good news.  We've already seen what Rick Remender can do, something which Sam Humphries and friends seem to be acutely aware of.  There's definitely links between the two series, both tonally and in the characters involved, but it looks like we'll be getting a completely different take here.  Fortunately, it looks like it will be just as enjoyable as the last run - just in a different way.

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie & Mike Norton

"Being a superhero is amazing.  Everyone should try it."

As thesis statements go, it's a good one to have.

This isn't how Young Avengers #1 opens.  I mean, it's close to the opening, but there's some moments I'm skipping over to get here.  Nevertheless, I feel like it cuts to the heart of one of this book's main themes.  Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers focuses on some of Marvel's younger characters, and  like that quote, the creators do a great job in this issue of keying into that infinite optimism and exuberance of youth.  Gillen has an enlightening essay at the back of this opening issue about what Young Avengers is all about, and you should really read it in its entirety, but one of the most important things he says is that "Young Avengers is about being eighteen."

What he writes explicitly at issue's end is what that initial quote says implicitly within the issue itself.  And the rest of the issue builds on the exact same theme.  In only one issue, it's clear that Young Avengers is going to be a book about relationships, and while there's lots of different relationships and different types present here, they're all quite deftly handled by Gillen and McKelvie.  The most important thing for a book of this nature to succeed is for the characters to feel real, and that's exactly what we get.  Gillen manages to give unique voices to every hero we meet, while also remembering that they are young and new to so many of the things they are experiencing.  And of course, McKelvie's character designs are as beautiful and clean as you would expect.  These two creators know each other incredibly well, and this book and its readers are the beneficiaries of that.

While we get an awful lot of most excellent moments of passion and romance in this book, we also get the superheroics you would expect from a Marvel book.  Indeed, the two are not necessarily discrete entities as quite moments between characters often swing into big superheroy ideas and back in the same scene.  Like its characters, the world of this book feels fresh and excited, as if there are an infinite number of possibilities of where things could go.  While we are far from knowing much of what any of those might be, the very potential of this book is clear from beginning to end.  Gillen's writing is just as strong as it was during his thrilling run on Journey Into Mystery, and while I've long respected McKelvie's work, I don't know if I've ever seen his interiors be as exciting and mixed up as they are here.

Don't get me wrong, things aren't all happy go lucky.  We have some real conflict and the seeds of some real downers on our hands as the issue progresses, but that's all par for the course.  Gillen has also rightly pointed out that keeping the status quo of everything being peachy keen wouldn't make for a terribly engaging read, so look for some real challenges down the line for these youngsters.  The interesting part will be seeing how they react to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - and of growing up.

Verdict - Must Read. Young Avengers is teeming with energy.  Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are one of the most talented creator teams in comics right now, and it looks like they'll be laying it all down on the page in the issues to come.  Add in some of the most genuine characters and inter-character relationships that you'll find in comic books, and it's hard to think of any reason to be missing out on this title.

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