Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 02/06/13

First Sunday of February means we've our first round of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for the month.  We've quite a load of books on the docket today, including Green Arrow #17, Winter Soldier #15, and Young Romance #1.  So hit the jump to take it all in and see my thoughts on these books along with a couple more.

Written by Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder
Art by Steve Pugh, Timothy Green II & Joseph Silver (Animal Man) and Andrew Belanger (Swamp Thing)

The Rotworld storyline has been moving at a snail's pace, so I was pleased to hear that it would be coming to its end this week.  I was a little less thrilled to discover that it would be done in a crossover between Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but I figured that if I bought both issues to kickoff this whole event, I could stand to do so one more time, even if I only really follow Lemire's title.

The story continued in these two books was alright, although the elephant in the room of knowing that the apocalypse that Buddy Baker and Alec Holland have been contending with wouldn't stick continued to rob the story of any real dramatic moments.  As we all knew from Day 1, despite some setbacks here, our heroes found a way to turn back the clock to prevent Anton Arcane's dystopia from coming to pass, but unlike the claims on the cover to either of these books, the story wasn't actually concluded.

Yeah read that right.  Even though Buddy and Alec stopped the apocalypse, Anoton remains at large.  And this isn't even an example of the bad guy getting away at the end while our heroes finish happily.  Swamp Thing #17 literally ends with Buddy and Alec hopping into the portal that they presume will take them back in time.  We don't even get to see them come out the other side.  Instead, we have a byline promising "The greatest loses of our heroes' lives, in issue #18 of both Animal Man and Swamp Thing!"

So instead of finishing this story that has long overstayed its welcome as promised, DC expects its readers to buy next month's issues of Animal Man and Swamp Thing to know how things end, even though these issues were listed as the finale and next month's were supposed to be epilogues.  These things are written on the covers for goodness sakes!  DC clearly needs to double check their dictionaries.

Verdict - Byrne It. This is a pretty gross example of, at best, mismanaging expectations and, at worst, outright lying to readers.  There's nothing inherently wrong with these two issues, beyond them being a little ho hum, but the fact that they were billed as the conclusion to the storyarc when they don't come close to tying things up is pretty insulting.  I wouldn't see this as such a flagrant disrespect if the solicitations had simply been honest about when this story would end, but that appears to be too much to ask from DC.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino

While the world seems to have fallen in love with Hawkeye, Marvel's Golden Archer, with last summer's Avengers movie and the brilliant ongoing series by Matt Fraction and David Aja, DC's Emerald Archer hasn't gotten the same kind of love.  Granted, he's got a television show which seems to be relatively well received, but his comic book exploits have not fared quite so well.  Green Arrow has had a great deal of trouble finding steady footing these past few years, with constant creative changes and shakeups preventing the character and his many books from gaining any real traction or momentum.

It appears as if DC has finally brought out the big guns, bringing Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino onboard to helm the ship with Green Arrow #17 as their first issue.  From the moment you open the book, it's clear that these two mean business.  Over the course of these 20 pages they strip away pretty much everything to do with Ollie Queen and his secret identity, introduce a new villain, and most astoundly, make me care about Green Arrow.

By the time you get to the cliffhanger ending, Lemire and Sorrentio have pretty much killed or destroyed anything that was important to Ollie.  His company is gone, his friends are killed, and his secret identity is compromised.  It shows that Lemire and Sorrentino are serious about rebuilding Green Arrow, but this issue isn't limited to destruction.  We also get some vague hints about Ollie's life whose ultimate revelations will in all likelihood show how Everything You Knew Was Wrong, and while continuous reboots (especially reboots of a reboot, as we're getting here) can get tedious, the choice works well here, as it wipes away all the things taht weren't working and gives a level playing field to readers old and new.

Along with these mysteries of Ollie's past, we also get a new mysterious villain for the title.  Named Komodo, we don't know all that much about him beyond him being a darn fine archer (possibly better than Ollie) and that he tries into that aforementioned secret history that we've never heard of until now.  It's a little convenient, but it provides a nice focus to the whole book that helps one overlook the coincidence.

Speaking of focus, I'd be remiss if I didn't take some time to talk about Sorrentino on this book's art.  While you may already know him from his I, Vampire work, this is my first major exposure to the artist, and let me say that I am impressed.  The guy pencils, inks, and colours the book, and his efforts give thet itle a mighty distinctive style.  There's a lot of movement in Sorrentino's pages, with inset panels used with reckless abandon to focus in on action or points of interest.  His panel layouts are quite loose and open, as he sometimes fills the page to capacity while other times throws panels within panels for emphasis.  The colouring is a major factor in this as well, with Sorrentino having lots of panels and moments in black and white, only colouring in the parts of the image that he wants the reader to focus on in bold greens or reds.  It's really different and quite effective.

Verdict - Buy It.  Green Arrow has floundered since the New 52 reboot (and had been floundering for years beforehand as well), but the simple announcement of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino to this book showed a certain resolve to right the ship.  We're only one issue in, but already the title feels far more interesting than I can remember it being in recent memory.  It looks like these two gentlemen may have hit the sweet spot.

Written by Jason Latour
Art by Nic Klein

Winter Soldier is also seeing a creative shakeup this week, as Marvel places Jason Latour and Nic Klein on the book to take over for the departing Ed Brubaker and company.  I did enjoy Brubaker's run on the character for a few issues, but I ultimately found it to be a little too similar in tone to some of Brubaker's earlier comics, so I eventually bailed.  However, during my time with Winter Soldier, I developed a certain like of Bucky Barnes, so I was eager to see how new blood might suit the character.

One issue in, I'd say the new blood suits him pretty well.

This issue is very much about setting up the new status quo for the title, as Jason Latour gives us an opening few pages that grab the reader's attention before switching gears to look at how Bucky is dealing with the aftereffects of his last adventure (where Black Widow ended up losing all memories of his existence).  It's a bit of a downer for Bucky, and happily for the reader, he seems to have a penchant for taking out frustration on others, so we get some quick action before Nick Fury shows up to try to give Bucky some direction in his life.  That leads us into yet more action, along with some hijinx and zaniness that could only come from a superhero book.

All in all, there's some interesting stuff going on here, and while the tone remains somewhat dark, it's not quite as bleak as Brubaker's time with the character sometimes felt.  It's still a little early to know quite how everything we see here will pay off, but the real star of this issue is Nic Klein's gorgeous art.  His style feels like a combination of Sean Murphy and general noir comics, having an immediate and clear presence.  His lines are simple, yet bold, offering you exactly what you need on the page and no more.  And his colours are killer, making all the linework he puts down really pop and stand out.  This is my first time really seeing his work, and I must say that I totally dig it.

Verdict - Buy It.  It's still a little early, but it certainly appears that Winter Soldier is in capable hands.  Jason Latour's story looks to have a good balance of superheroics and character, while Nic Klein's art is off the hook.  I'll definitely be back to see how their collaboration evolves.

Written by Andy Diggle, Ann Nocenti, Cecil Castellucci, Peter Milligan & others
Art by Gene Ha, Emanuella Luppichinno, Becky Cloonan, Phil Jimenez, Sanford Green & others

I like DC as much as the next comic book fan - frankly, looking at DC's relative marketshare and how many of their books I pick up, I probably like DC more than the next comic book fan - but Young Romance: A New 52 Valentine's Day Special #1 did not sit well with me as a comic book fan or a comic book buyer.

I've long found DC's oversized anthology comics to be a good source for fun and off-beat stories by lesser-known creators.  The stories weren't all hits, but even the misses would often try things that you wouldn't see from DC's regular roster.  These books always felt like a place to see some neat experimentation focused around a specific theme or holiday that you just wouldn't get otherwise.

Do not expect such a thing from Young Romance.  I didn't realize it going in, but with stories featuring the likes of Catwoman, Aquaman, Batgirl, Apollo & Midnighter, Nightwing, and Superman, only one was not written and drawn by at least one member of the characters' regular ongoing series.  This is a significant departure from things like DC's 80 Page Giants or Holiday Specials, because not only is that mix of up and comers and more established creators off, the stories you get here are pretty much identical to what you'd get in these characters' regular books.

And while the comics in this oversized issue are all new and original material, four out of the six stories end with a byline inviting the reader to continue following Hero X's adventures in the next issue of their respective comic.  It's hard to shake the feeling that you're reading an ad for these ongoing series instead of complete stories, which is doubly annoying because you actually paid money to read these comics.  And quite a bit of it.

AT $7.99, Young Romance can seriously cut into your pull if you have any kind of budget to follow.  And at a paltry 48 pages, it's mighty hard to rationalize the expense.  Especially when you compare it to some of DC's similar offerings from the past few years.  For example, the DC Holiday Special: 2010 had 46 pages of content but was three dollars cheaper at $4.99 and the Batman: 80-Page Giant 2011 issue had a whopping 69 pages of comics for only $5.99.  More recently, Batman: Annual #1 ran 38 pages for $4.99.  Admittedly, the DC/Vertigo Ghosts anthology from last Halloween, perhaps a more comparable book, cost $7.99, but it had 69 pages of content from some of DC's premiere creators, including Neil Gaiman, Geoff Johns, and Jeff Lemire.

Young Romance falls embarrassingly short of the value offered by any of these earlier efforts from DC.  It wouldn't be quite as egregious an offense if the stories within were all top flight, but they're all pretty average for the most part, with a few even feeling a little phone in.  Only Kyle Higgins and Sanford Greene's Nightwing feels like anything special, and there are still a few storytelling and art problems that hold it back from being much more than a good story in a subpar collection.

The only other aspect of this book that approaches a redeeming quality are the Valentine's Day cards that are included in the middle of the book.  There are some cute puns that brought a smile to my face (with the definite highpoint being the surprisingly self-aware "You've been rebooted as my valentine"), but it's hard to feel like this makes up for the wonky price of the comic, especially when it feels like its main intent is to sell you on other New 52 books.  Newsflash, DC, Marvel offers preview comics all the time, and their books are free.

Verdict - Avoid It.  DC's anthology books have often been a source of new creators and new ideas, but you won't find much of either here.  To be honest, you won't find much value for money either, as the book's price feels grossly inflated considering the relatively small amount of pages within.  You're actually paying more per page here than you would for a regular DC book (16.7 cents a page versus 15 cents a page).  Don't even get me started on how this compares to DC's other anthology books.

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