Sunday, January 6, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 01/02/13

The beginning of a new year means that you get to do a whole slew of things again for the first time, and I'm happy to present you with 2013's first round of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  This week, we're zeroing in on the new Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake miniseries, Glory #31, and the conclusion of Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus.  So hit the jump to see how these books shook out!

Written by Natasha Allegri
Art by Natasha Allegri
Backup Story by Noelle Stevenson

I didn't rightly know what to expect going into Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake #1, and the book still managed to defy my expectations.

The comic opens not with our leading ladies, but on a story about a woman made of fire who lived long ago. This story, told in the style of a children's fable, recounts the tale of how that flame woman brings boulders to life and protects them and how they ultimately repay the favour.  The sequence only lasts five pages, and it is an absolute joy.  Everything about the story, whether the writing, art, or letters, is beautiful, and it sets this wonderful and whimsical tone to the overall story that took me completely by surprise but was a welcome addition.

From there, we pull back to discover that Cake has been telling this all to Fionna as a bedtime story.  Fionna's response?  She proceeds to tell Cake how her "bedtime stories are awful" due to a dearth of punching and general actionery.  Cake will have none of it, responding that the important thing for stories is for them to "make you feel somethin' in your heart-pit".  While it's not exactly how I would phrase things, I can report with confidence that this opening issue is replete with parts that would appeal to the Fionnas and Cakes in all of us.  We quickly kick into the general Adventure Time wackiness that you would expect, but that sense of whimsy from those opening pages remains.  It looks like your "heart-pit" will be well looked after.

It's super obvious in retrospect, but whoever decided to pick Natasha Allegri, the creator of Fionna and Cake, to write and art this miniseries is a genius.  Her writing is replete with all the strange yet delightful Adventure Timeisms that you would expect from the series and its comic book tie-ins, and while they are as fun as ever, it is Allegri's illustrations that really makes this book special.  Her artwork is incredibly expressive and seemingly filled with movement.  Cake in particular feels like she's constantly moving, as she never holds the same form for more than a single panel.  The overall effect is the book flows naturally, making for an easy read.

Equal kudos must be giving to miniseries letterer Britt Wilson.  With this one issue, she may have skyrocketed up to the top of my favourite letterers list.  Seriously, her hand written style is unlike anything I've seen before in a comic book.  Her lettering runs the gamut from small and subtle to big and in your face, and it's all awesome.  Wilson's lettering is so expressive that you can actually pick out how characters would be saying their dialogue based on the way she draws letters and word balloons and also through the way she colours them.  Cooler blues mean characters are talking quietly, brighter yellows (along with jagged word balloon edges) mean they're yelling, and so on.  It's something that few comic books take advantage of, but it has an enormous impact on the overall reading experience.  Love it.

Like the rest of kaboom!'s Adventure Time books, Fionna & Cake looks like it will be having backup stories by rotating creators, and this time around that creator is Noelle Stevenson (who I was unfamiliar with, but who you may know from the internet).  And in that same proud tradition, the story Stevenson tells is hilarious, irreverent, and hilariously irreverent.  Titled "The Sweater Bandit", it is about (you guessed it) a sweater bandit who has stolen all the sweaters from Fionna, Cake, and company.  The whole thing is but four pages long, so it moves at a rather quick clip, and while there isn't much in the way of explanation for the motivations of this sweater bandit, the journey of discovering them is what matters (as does Fionna wearing Cake as a temporary sweater - it is kind of ridiculously cute).  This story is an excellent addition to the overall package.

Verdict - Buy It.  Kaboom! obviously wants to take as much advantage of having the Adventure Time license as they possibly can, and as long as they keep hiring such talented creators to do so, I'll be ready and willing to support their efforts.  Fionna & Cake manages to fit into the strange and odd stylings of Adventure Time while also bringing some new things to the table.  I'm really excited to see how this mini plays out, because this opening is pretty great.

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell and Ulises Farinas

Even though I jumped into this series without any foreknowledge as to what was going on or what it was about, Glory #31 was surprisingly easy to follow.  I obviously couldn't get quite the same emotional payoff for some of the scenes and reveals in this issue, but I was still more than able to understand what was happening and why it was meaningful, which is incredibly impressive for an issue of a series that is closer to its end than to its start.

Glory is a fascinating mixture of science fiction and fantasy that seems to work excessively well.  High adventure of the highest order, the whole thing is a ton of fun and real hard to put down.  Ross Campbell's art is bright and imaginative, constantly slipping between the fantastic and the mundane in brilliant fashion.  His character designs are also some of the most varied I've ever seen.  There's a number of aliens mixed in with our partially human cast, but no two characters look alike.  Body types are varied, aliens look alien, and the whole thing is just incredibly impressive.

We also have Ulises Farinas coming in for the flashback portion of the issue, and one thing I can say that applies to both artists equally is that they can definitely draw scenes of action and violence with aplomb.  There's a sense of urgency in the comic that exists in both present and past, and Campbell and Farinas nail that in every way.  And when that urgency gives way to battle and fights, it's brutal in all the right ways.  There's no sugar coating of how vicious and ruthless things can get, but it never feels like too much.  It's a fine line, but both artists are able to keep their scenes of violence on the side of good taste.

In much the same way that Campbell's character designs are all unique, the same is true of Joe Keatinge's writing for these characters.  Even from this one issue, it's clear that everyone has distinct voices, wants, and needs.  I also appreciate how Keatinge mixes a lot of humour into the book.  There are a number of examples I could point to, but I'll limit myself to Henry's love for an apparently amazing sandwich press, which becomes a bit of an ongoing joke over the course of the issue.  And that's not even the only culinary themed joke in this issue!  However, what's most impressive is how Keatinge fits these moments of levity in without every distracting from the book's overall story.  Everyone plays these lighter moments straight, which often makes the jokes even funnier.

Verdict - Buy It.  Even from this one issue, it's clear that Keatinge and Campbell have a big story on their hands with a clear end point in mind.  With that end coming with issue #34, we'll be able to see how it all plays out sooner rather than later, which has its pros and cons, but I'm mostly happy to have discovered this gem.  This series is great fun and reading this one issue actually got me so excited about the book that I read through Keatinge and Campbell's entire run from issue #23, which is just as good.  I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Written by Sean Murphy
Art by Sean Murphy

I've really enjoyed Punk Rock Jesus.  Sean Murphy's art, unsurprisingly, has been amazing throughout.  For six issues he's thrived in black and white, hitting us with 32 pages of brilliant comics on a monthly basis, with every issue looking great.  And while Murphy is better known as an artist, his writing has mostly risen to the occasion, as he's presented us with a narrative that examines faith - particularly Christianity - from both sides of the coin.  And while Murphy has been quite critical of modern day Christians, he's still managed to strike a bit of a balance between the sides of spiritual belief and rejection, which has been to the story's benefit.

That is, he managed it well until this issue.

While Chris is the titular Punk Rock Jesus, this story has really been about his bodyguard and former IRA member Thomas McKael and his crisis of faith in the face of what is supposed to be the clone of Jesus Christ.  We've slowly learned more and more about Thomas' past, and this issue has a pretty big reveal that goes a long way to explain why he's the character he is, bringing in some spiritualism similar to the angel Chris' mother Gwen saw back in issue #3.

From there, we jump to Chris and the Flak Jackets' world tour finally hitting Jerusalem, where things go about as badly as you would expect.  There's some casualties and Thomas' faith is tested one more time, at which point the characters finally move to making Rick Slate pay for everything he's done over the course of the J2 project.  It's at this point that the issue starts to go off the rails.

The Chekov's Gun that was Chris' twin sister that Slate drowned back in issue #1 is finally paid off, but it's handled pretty poorly.  Indeed, even Murphy's own characters seem a little taken aback at how it's broached, with Thomas questioning in disbelief why nothing was done with this earlier (as it comes within the book's last five pages).  And more flagrantly, this revelation takes the book to new highs of heavy handedness on Murphy's part.

Punk Rock Jesus has always been pretty in your face in its criticisms of modern-day Christendom, and there's nothing wrong with pointing out the many problems that result from religion, but it's a fine line to walk.  Earlier issues were always moderated with hints of the possibility of the existence of a higher being, whether in the form of the aforementioned angel or Thomas' continued belief, but the conclusion of this book pretty much wipes all of that away.  Instead of having that nuance and ambiguity that's existed throughout the narrative, Murphy chooses a definitive ending, with his story fall firmly on the side of religious rejection with all of the subtly of being hit by a semi-truck.

This choice really hurts the story in my view, because it takes the ability of interpretation out of the hands of readers.  There's nothing wrong with pushing Thomas - the figure of faith in this story - all the way to the brink (as is done here), but it would have been far more satisfying if Murphy had ended the story even two pages earlier, leaving it to the reader to decide how things end.  The same meaning could have been maintained, but it would be due to the reader reaching that conclusion on their own instead of being force fed it by the author.

Verdict - Check It.  Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus has been a really enjoyable book - especially for one of his first major writing efforts - but the narrative stumbles as it reaches its conclusion.  For a book that's been so critical of Christianity and religion in general, Punk Rock Jesus has been awfully preachy, and while that's fine to an extent, this black and white comic could have benefited from a few more shades of grey.

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Anonymous said...

"... this black and white comic could have benefited from a few more shades of grey."

You're one of those types who thinks Evolution AND Creationism should be taught in schools I'm betting. Everything isn't fair in life. Especially not to those who insist we should take make-believe seriously.

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