Sunday, February 3, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 01/30/13

On this most Super of Sundays, what better way is there to pass the time than to hit up our Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews?  We've got an all-star team of books for you, including Hawkeye #7, the Hurricane Sandy issue, High Crimes #1, a thrilling new book from MonkeyBrain Comics, and Masters of the Universe: Origin of He-Man #1.  So what are you waiting for?  Click through already so you can check out all this comic booky goodness?

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Steve Lieber & Jesse Hamm

Oh, Matt Fraction and friends, do you guys ever stop making amazing comics?  My claims from earlier this week of David Aja being on deck for this issue were somewhat inaccurate, as this was the issue of Hawkeye that Fraction scripted in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  So instead of our regular schedule programming, Fraction and artists Steve Lieber and Jesse Hamm deliver two ten-page stories looking at our two Hawkeyes, Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, reacting to and dealing with the storm in Queen's and in Atlantic City respectively.

These two stories are obviously connected in that both take place during Hurricane Sandy, but beyond a few interactions between Clint and Kate, they are pretty separate affairs.  Regardless, both tales maintain the same charm and wit that this series has had in most every other issue.  With everything revolving around the storm and its impacts on New York, there's perhaps a bit more emphasis on people coming together to overcome forces bigger than themselves, but when you stop and think about it, that's really what superhero books have always been about, so perhaps it's not surprising that this comic works as well as it does.

The opening story, drawn by Lieber, follows Hawkeye as he helps Grills, one of the tenants of his building, go out to Queen's to make sure his Dad is alright.  It's a simple premise, but Fraction pushes it for all it's worth, telling a touching story about family, loss, and reconciliation, with Hawkeye traipsing around for the occasional bout of heroics and comic relief.  Clint is just as chatty as ever, and while it isn't Aja isn't the one drawing him here, Lieber does an excellent job of translating his art style to that of this book's.  The panel layouts are just as full and chaotic as ever and the use of white space at various points is incredibly well done.  And unsurprisingly, Lieber's art looks great.  He shows why he's such a respective artist with the work he does on each and every page, leading up the the solid full page splash ending that acts as transition to the next story.

It is at that point that we jump back in time to Clint chatting with Kate about her plans to attend an engagement party over in New Jersey.  This is where Jesse Hamm's art comes in, and while it's a bigger departure from the regular look of this book, it too works quite well.  His artwork is a lot more expressive and slightly exaggerated, and Fraction's script recognizes this fact, leading to a lot more physical humour - especially towards the beginning.  Things aren't quite as subdued as they normally are in Hawkeye stories, but that subtle shift is a welcome change for Kate's little romp into the wilds of Jersey.

Both stories maintain the same charm and wit that this series has had since its opening.  With everything revolving around the storm and its impacts on New York and surrounding environs, there's definitely an emphasis on people coming together to overcome forces bigger than themselves, but that's really what superhero books have always been about, so that focus rings true both for the subject matter being covered and the genre using to do it.

Another major highlight of this issue is Matt Hollingsworth's brilliant colours.  A key member of the Hawkeye team, he does a great job of maintaining visual cohesiveness between the two stories in this issue, despite the differences in the art styles.  The signature Hawkeye purple is present, but it isn't as front and centre as it normally is.  Instead, this issue is filled with the blues and greens of the storm, reinforcing the idea that the hurricane's impact is everywhere, impossible to ignore.  It's a small thing, but I think it works exceedingly well.

My only quibble with this issue is that I'm finding it harder and harder to avoid both saying and typing Hawkguy.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is definitely a thing that's happening.  So watch out for that.

Verdict - Buy It.  The fact that Fraction is donating his royalties from this issue to Sandy relief efforts only makes this issue easier to recommend.  Hawkeye #7 approaches the serious topic of Hurricane Sandy as only Hawkeye could - with a delicate balance between levity and earnestness - and it hits the marks (sorry about that).

Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Ibrahim Moustafa

Since its arrival on the comic book scene back in July of last year, MonkeyBrain Comics have been quietly releasing all manner of wonderful comics to the world through the magic of the world wide web for the low, low price of 99 cents per issue.  This week saw the beginning of High Crimes, an exciting new series from writer Christopher Sebela and artist Ibrahim Moustafa.

The book hits with a cool neat concept: high-altitude grave robbing.  The book's two leads, Haskell Price and Zan Jensen, work for climbing company that escorts thrill-seekers up the many dangerous mountains of the Himalayas, while at the same time finding the bodies of dead climbers from other expeditions, chopping off their right hands, figuring out their identities, and shaking down their surviving kin for money to return the bodies.  It's the kind of idea that seems so obvious in retrospect, but would never have actually occurred to you in a million years.  Thankfully, Sebela and Moustafa are the ones who did think of it, because they put it to great use here in their first issue.

Not only is the premise really neat, but so are our main characters.  Haskell is an old hand at the grave-robbing game, knowing the ins and outs of the trade, and he has a bit of a fatherly air about him when it comes to his younger partner Zan.  She is a former Olympian snowboarder who wiped  out when things mattered most and still lives with that specter of failure.  She's self-destructing in a big way, living day to day on drugs and alcohol, with Haskell doing his best to set her back onto a better path.

The comic does an amazing job of imparting all of this information (and plenty more) to the reader over the course of the issue in a deft manner that folds the expositions into the narrative itself, so that the reader can learn by seeing.  The art is a big part of this, as it packs a lot into each page and panel.  The interplay between word and art is fantastic - towards the beginning of the issue, Zan wakes up from a dream in an opium den, which tells us more about her character than a series of essays worth of straight exposition ever could.

This comic also stands out because it has a very European art style to it.  The blurb at the back explains that Moustafa is self-taught is a self-taught artist, and I'm tempted to venture that his textbooks included a healthy dose of bande déssinées, because his figure work fits very much in that European mold.  His panel layout is much the same way, because although it isn't quite experimental in its method, Moustafa lays out his pages in a much busier and more kinetic way than you get from the average North American comic book.  As someone who is a big fan of the comics that our neighbours across the ocean put out, this was a welcome surprise.  If you're unfamiliar with the style, I'd heartily recommend checking it out.

But while the book has a great hook, the last two pages of High Crimes #1 shows that there's a lot more to this series than digging up cold bodies from various mountains.  Haskell and Zan seem to have stumbled onto one stiff in particular that will throw an enormous wrench in their gears, as things get knocked up to eleven.  It's great to see just how much thought and planning has gone into this series from Sebela and Moustafa, but I will admit that the actions in those last two pages seemed a little excessive.  While the rest of the story is grounded pretty strongly in reality, the last moments of this book bring things dangerously close to action movie territory.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm not entirely certain that it was the creators' intent.  We'll have to wait for the next issue to see.

Verdict - Buy It.  Beyond that last minute stumble, this was a great first outing for a new series.  I came into it with no expectations, and Sebela and Moustafa really wowed me.  They hit with a solid premise and follow it up with an even better execution, with both the writing and art being some top notch stuff.  If that's not enough to convince you to check it out, let me reiterate that the whole thing is only 99 cents.  That's right, you get an excellent 15 page comic for pocket change, and you can do so by following this link over to Comixology.  You can't find that kind of value anywhere else noways.  I'd definitely suggest checking it out.

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Ben Oliver

I jumped onto this title based solely on the credentials of the creative team involved.  Joshua Hale Fialkov has been building all kinds of buzz for his time on I, Vampire and Ben Oliver blew me away with the pages he put out while on Batwing.  So while I'm by no means a He-Man fan (Does that fandom have a name?  He-Manners?  He-Men Nation?), I figured that Fialkov and Oliver's involvement would make for an enjoyable story nonetheless.

I'm sorry to say that that's not quite how things panned out.

The book opens in medias res, with Skeletor and Prince Adam / He-Man about to duke it out, when it suddenly jumps back in time to provide some context as to what's going on.  Unfortunately, that time jumping never quite stops, as the comic jumps all over thep place like an overexcited kid playing hopscotch.  It gets hard to keep track of where in time we are, and more importantly, this temporal movement doesn't really add anything to the narrative beyond making things harder to follow.  Sadly, there isn't a heck of a lot of story to follow, as this 20-page comic mostly consists of Prince Adam confronting Skeletor, a quick vision, and Adam's transformation to He-Man.  There isn't a lot of meat on this comic's bones.

Granted, there's a lot of talk between characters as the story goes on, but beyond repeatedly making veiled references to some ill-defined elements of destiny, these conversations don't really accomplish that much.  For all the high and mighty words Skeletor delivers and the good and righteous retorts He-Man offers, neither of them say anything particularly memorable, with most of their dialogue feeling pretty clichéd and worn.  Even the mysterious Sorceress, while looking pretty awesome, doesn't add all that much to this story.

And while Ben Oliver's art is good, the hollowness of the comic's story makes it hard for Oliver's imagery to evoke much in the way of emotion or feeling.  They're some mighty fine looking panels, but the tension and excitement they're hoping to create just aren't there.  As well, with the comic taking place mostly at night in the surprisingly dank and dark Castle Grayskull, a lot of Oliver's art is drowned out in the shadows of the page.

Verdict - Skip It.  While it's always a good thing to check out new books, this is one that isn't really worth your time.  Neither Fialkov nor Oliver's skills really shine through here, leading to a comic without any clear sense of direction that simply falls flat in its execution.  Sorry He-Men Nation.

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Hansel Moreno said...

What? I was looking forward to JHF's He Man.

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