Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 02/20/13

It's time once again for your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  This week, we're taking a closer look at Adventure Time #13, Baltimore: The Widow and The Tank, and Batwoman #17.  I'd invite you to hit the jump to see how these different titles turned out!

Written by Ryan North
Art by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
Backup Stories by Josh Lesnick and Chris Schweizer

Oh, Adventure Time.  Will I ever get over how extremely excellent your comic book adaptation is?  What's that?  Probably not?  When you continually have issues as solid as Adventure Time #13, I can totally see why.

We're plum in the middle of a storyline looking at BMO getting some type of computer virus, and like many Adventure Time tales, it's far better than it has any right to be.  Ryan North has a real talent for taking most any concept and milking it for all of it's comedic worth, something that he most certainly does in this issue.  Every page is rife with humour, with North often creating jokes from the unlikeliest of sources.  There is a good four-page sequence that's predicated almost entirely on the differences between movie hacking and regular old boring actual hacking that yields a foolishly high amount of laughs.  Part of me is still chuckling at it.

But with all the jokes that North constantly throws at the reader (including some great alt-text quips at the bottom of the pages), he also takes time to move the plot forward as we learn the secret behind Ewlbo, the strange wizard our heroes have been pursuing, and why all the robots have been acting so weird.  This reveal is a bit of a dense infodump, but North maintains that same volume of humour to word ratio to keep everything interesting even during those moments of exposition.

Shelli Parline and Braden Lamb also do their part, giving readers yet another solid looking issue of Adventure Time.  The script doesn't challenge them in quite the same way that past issues have, but their visual storytelling is as shapr as ever.  There's lots of visual jokes, plenty of creative character designs for the many robots, and an excellent Tron-esque scene where Finn, Jake, and Marceline throw on some virtual reality goggles to get to the bottom of what's going on.  The two acquit themselves quite well in this issue.

On top of our main story, there are actually two backup stories this month, both of which are pretty enjoyable.  The first is a two-page tale by Josh Lesnick about a creature that wants to eat the Candy Kingdom.  It's a silly and cute little comic that resolves itself as quickly as it starts.  The other story is a four-page comic of princesses and rad hats by Chris Schweizer that fits right in with the silliness of the Adventure Time universe.  The comic is also denser than a Matt Fraction and David Aja issue of Hawkeye, as Scheizer's pages are filled with panels, allowing him to pack plenty of funny moments into this small story.  That being said, he couldn't quite get it all in, as the comic will be continued next month, something that I'm rather excited for.

Verdict - Buy It.  Adventure Time #13 is a complete package, giving readers a main story and two backups that are all enjoyable for different reasons.  There's a lot to like here, especially when North, Paroline, and Lamb continue to work so well together.  Next month's conclusion looks to be quite the time.

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

Mike Mignola is kind of a storytelling genius - but you already knew that.  I love Hellboy and all of its many characters and stories, but Baltimore scratches a completely different itch than all of those other Mignola creations.  The beauty of Baltimore is just how tragic the whole thing is.  After his family was murdered, his only driving force is hunting down Haigus, the vampire who killed them.  So even though he seems to succeed in every story he's appeared in, there's never any satisfaction for Lord Henry Baltimore because his current victories can never bring back his lost family.  It's some pretty heady stuff.

While every Baltimore story is consequently technically about the search for Haigus, these two short comics are more removed from that than most.  That quest clearly remains in the background of Baltimore's mind, but these tales are more focused on small moments that occur almost aside from that seemingly eternal goal.

Both stories are relatively simple in their premises, but it is the execution that makes them feel special.  Ben Stenbeck does a masterful job in his layouts, continually picking the perfect moments to capture in his panels.  It's reminiscent of Mignola's own work in that Stenbeck's pages provide the perfect pacing, drawing out moments to their fullest extent and introducing new elements at just the right time.

I've long raved about Ben Stenbeck's art, and he is as good as ever in these two stories.  Indeed, it is his excellent rendering of characters and expressions that make his panel choices so effective, not to mention his brilliant rendering of scenery and backgrounds.  I'm glad that another publisher hasn't snapped up Stenbeck yet, because his art is an integral part of these Baltimore books.

Of course, Stenbeck is helped in this task by colourist extraordinaire Dave Stewart who absolutely kills it in this issue.  Reflecting the dark times of a vampire plagued Europe and the tragedy of Lord Baltimore's lot, Stewart's colour palette is muted and subdued.  It's like pathetic fallacy for colours, as Stewart's work embodies the tone and atmosphere of this world completely with his drained and earthy tones.  Even sunny days fail to bring much warmth to Baltimore's life.  The only brightness comes from the blood he sheds in pursuing his hunt for Haigus, a darkly appropriate reminder of what drives the man.

With Stenbeck and Stewart doing so much of the storytelling heavy lifting, it takes a lot of pressure off of Christopher Golden when it comes to scripting the stories' dialogue.  Happily, he doesn't rest on any laurels, instead delivering the terse and tight speeches that have been so common throughout past Baltimore stories, making these shorts even better than they already were.

Verdict - Buy It.  The creative team of Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Ben Stenbeck, and Dave Stewart has worked on every single issue of Baltimore, and it shows.  These men have built up some ridiculous chemistry with each other that they unleash to make these small looks into Lord Henry Baltimore's life come alive.

Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Art by J.H. Williams III

This is it, guys and gals.  This is the last issue of Batwoman that J.H. Williams III will be drawing for the foreseeable future.  Granted, I get that this Sandman thing and that Neil Gaiman chap are kind of a big deal, but I will still miss Williams on art duties for Kate Kane's ongoing adventures.

But I digress.  We do have this final issue before his departure, which also happens to be the conclusion to the World's Finest arc that has had the wonderful Wonder Woman come in to team up with our titular heroine.  Batwoman #17 also happens to tie up a number of plot points that have been going since the opening issue back in September 2011, so there's a lot going on here.

At first glance, it would appear that Williams wanted to send off his book in style, as this is one of the best looking issues of Batwoman yet, which is obviously saying a lot as Williams has been delivering issue after issue of Batwoman goodness.  In a series that has routinely pushed the bar in what comics can do, this might very well surpass all those previous efforts.  His layouts are fascinating as ever as he fills the book with double pagers that you simply won't see anywhere else.

Unsurprisingly, Dave Stewart's colours reign supreme once again as he finishes off each piece of Williams' art just so.  Whether it's monsters of untold horror, Batwoman herself, or any of the other various elements of this visually stunning book, Stewart nails it.  One of my favourite aspects of Williams' Batwoman is how everything is drawn in different styles depending on where they fit in with the narrative and world, and Stewart continues this habit, finishing the unique looks of our heroes, villains, and everything else.

With all the visual wizardry going on, it makes for one incredibly dense book which disguises the fact that it is a mere 20 pages in length.  Simply put, this is one busy comic.  For the most part, that is a good thing, as it keeps the story and reveals moving at a brisk pace, but it diminishes some of the drama tension from our heroes' ultimate victory.  After the lengthy battling and questing of the past many issues, it feels like they beat the big bad a little too easily here, robbing the moment of some of its resonance.  That being said, Bette's return to action as Hawkfire is pretty badass, and the closing moments of this issue are all kinds of great.  I just wish that the battle with Medusa could have felt as important and compelling.

Verdict - Buy It.  There are some narrative missteps in the issue, but it still manages to feel like an appropriate conclusion for this story arc.  This is doubly true as a conclusion to Williams' run as artist for the series, as he somehow manages to outdo himself yet again, raising the bar ever higher for comic book artists everywhere.

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