Friday, March 1, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 02/27/13

In a surprise twist, your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews are coming at your early this week.  So you should take advantage of this sudden appearance and check out the takes we have on Comeback #4, Five Weapons #1, and more!  See you on the other side of the cut!

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

The world of Comeback has been a messy one. Set in a time where time travel exists and has been deemed illegal, the comic tells the story of Seth and Mark, two men who work for one such illegal outfit that specializes in saving people from untimely deaths in the past. For a fee of course. Unfortunately for our intrepid protagonists, things have been going wrong for them since issue #1, and rock bottom somehow keeps getting a little bit further down. That's certainly the case as Comeback #4 progresses, leading us to a brand new low.

Of course, difficulties for our leads makes for good comic book reading, and that trend also holds true. Ed Brisson once again demonstrates his dislike of exposition, skipping long explanations in lieu of more significant moments and action. Brisson has been writing one of the tightest stories in recent memory, where everything builds on everything else and no moment is wasted. There's no hand holding or coddling here. The reader has to keep up with what's happening, but Brisson's writing is so strong and Michael Walsh's art is so clear that there's no need. While panels often have a minimum of dialogue, the story that Brisson and Walsh remains clear as day due to their storytelling talents.

Thanks to the work of Brisson and Walsh, Comeback is filled with rounded and believable characters on all sides of the conflict. They have clear motivations and hopes that have had real impacts on the story, and that obviously holds true here. However, while the criminals and cops who live in this world are an integral part of the narrative, they are not the only ingredients that have gone into making this comic what it is. Time travel has obviously been kind of huge, but its role is pushed even further to the forefront of the story in this issue. Like any time travel story worth its salt, Comeback's rules of time travel are varied but also internally consistent. So much so that time travel is almost like another character, playing its own role in effecting the narrative, something that we see first hand as we learn of a new rule that has some major consequences for all sides of the FBI investigation of Reconnect.

And let me tell you, those consequences are going to be a game changer. The craziest thing about it is that this revelation comes with one issue to go in the series. With one issue left, things have been turned on their head, and it's now even less clear where this whole story is going. That mystery that Brisson and Walsh create is damned impressive and makes what has been a stellar title even better.

Of course, it is worth pausing to speak more at length of Walsh's contribution to the book. He is an incredibly skilled artist, and he has been improving each and every issue. Walsh has been acing the quiet moments that have been the slow burn of Comeback's story, but the script for issue #4 really gives him the opportunity to let loose in a big way. He aces the action scenes in this issue, and they are all the more powerful due to those quiet moments that we've been seeing all along. Unsurprisingly, Walsh continues to own those, too, delivering some back and forth between Agent Tanaka and Reconnect's head honcho that is every bit as tense as the main set piece of the issue.

And when it comes to lauding Comeback's art, you can't forget to talk about Jordie Bellaire's brilliant work. She's blowing up right now, colouring a jillion books and doing a fantastic job on each and every one. Her work in Comeback #4 is no exception, as she jumps back and forth between different palettes depending on the mood and atmosphere, and the book is always better for her contribution. I really hope that Brisson, Walsh, and Bellaire can find another project to work on post-Comeback, because these three are magic together.

Verdict – Must Read. Comeback continues to be phenomenal. All the individual pieces are brilliant, and they perfectly support each other, resulting in a whole that is greater than its parts. This series has been compelling as all get out since issue #1, but the twist the creative team drops in this issue takes the story to another level entirely. Comeback #5 cannot come soon enough.

Written by Jimmie Robinson
Art by Jimmie Robinson

I know that some people aren't fans of public school, but it seems to me that Jimmie Robinson's Five Weapons might be taking things a little too far with the institute of higher learning that he presents us in his brand new miniseries. Five Weapons Academy is one part private school and one part training ground for the assassins of tomorrow, teaching its pupils in the ways of the five weapons from which it takes its name – knives, clubs, archery, exotic weapons, and guns. However, while I wouldn't necessarily be keen to send my hypothetical children to such a place, I was happy to read about the fictional children who do attend the school in this story.

The comic opens with a thirteen year-old boy, quickly identified as Tyler, the son of the well-known (but rarely seen) Shainline family of assassins being enrolled at Five Weapons. Principal O sets him up on a tour of the school, a clever storytelling device that allows the reader to discover the world of Five Weapons at the same time as the book's protagonist in a smooth and natural manner. It's also an effective way for Robinson to show the reader what kind of story he is telling here. Even though it's set in a world seemingly filled with highly-skilled killers who send their children to a specialty school that teaches them how to follow in their parents' footsteps, the comic is quite lighthearted. There is violence throughout the comic, but it is abstracted and exaggerated to an extent that it doesn't appear that different from any other subject these students might be taking. This is another smart move on Robinson's part, as a story about children learning to kill easily come off as a real downer, but as odd as it might sound, it instead comes off as fun and funny.

Robinson's storytelling is incredibly focused, with no single moment feeling wasted. Even the smallest detail seemingly ends up being important as new questions and reveals are raised. We learn a lot over the course of this issue, and some of the things we learn place earlier lessons in new light or show them to be entirely false. It's an interesting narrative choice that ably shows this comic to be far more than a gimmicky story about child assassins. The final moments of the book both come out of let field and are telegraph pretty much from the get go, leaving the reader wanting more. Fortunately, it appears that Robinson will be delving into the depth that he's hinted at throughout this issue.

It didn't register on my first read through, but Five Weapons #1 has an incredibly simple layout. Every page is made up of between four and six panels that span the entire width of the page. The exact height of these panels can vary, but the width does not. There are no panels side by side in this comic, only above and below. It's an interesting choice that provides some visual consistency to the comic right off the bat. This is helped by Robinson's art, which is a type of expressive cartooniness. You'd never confuse it for real life, but it is still firmly based in reality, if slightly exaggerated at times. It fits the tone he sets extremely well, and while it isn't flashy, it's really well done.

Verdict – Buy It. This issue is all about subverting expectations, which is kind of funny, because as an opening issue, it's also all about creating expectations. However, Robinson ably navigates these seemingly contradictory objectives, providing an excellent first issue that presents an intriguing world with a powerful hook to get the reader back for more.

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico

Greg Rucka's Punisher: War Zone, the technical five-issue addendum and conclusion coming on the heels of his sixteen issue run on Punisher has been frustrating in its inconsistencies and differences from said initial time with the character.

During Rucka's initial run Frank Castle was obviously in the book, but he wasn't the central focus. A good chunk of the series was dedicated to how Frank's actions effect the world around him, whether it was through the viewpoint of the people he decided to punish or through how the supporting cast that Rucka slowly built interacted with the Punisher. Frank Castle was less a man and more of a force of nature, and the whole experience was electrifying.

Unfortunately, the role of the brilliant supporting cast of Walter Bolt, Oscar Clemons, and Rachel Cole-Alves was greatly reduced, if not entirely removed for War Zone. Of those three characters, only Rachel made any substantive appearances, and even so she was hardly the focus that she once was. Instead of the fascinating tale that looked at how Frank's mission has changed the world, War Zone was often reduced to being the simple Punisher versus Avengers beat 'em up that was promised in the solicits for the series. It wasn't necessarily bad, but it also wasn't special in the way that Rucka and company's earlier Punisher books were.

That new status quo continues here in Punisher: War Zone #5, but there are elements of the more nuanced stories that Rucka was telling beforehand sprinkled throughout the issue. This issue was probably the most successful when it comes to balancing the two different styles that Rucka has employed in the main series and this mini. The balance of the issue is dedicated to the Avengers hunting down Frank after he tricked them last issue and rescued Rachel from the imprisonment and execution that she had been sentenced to, so we've got lots of action scenes, but Rucka and Carmine Di Giandomenico get a lot of smaller story beats into the issue as well.

Di Giandomenico hasn't been setting the world on fire with the work he's done in Punisher: War Zone, although part of that is due to him coming in to fill in for the uber talented Marco Checchetto, which is a hard act to follow. That being said, this is his best issue of the mini, with him delivering some excellent action moments throughout the issue. Tying up the remainder of the dangling story threads is no simple task, so the issue is quite full with lots of pages crammed with panels. Di Giandomenico seems to really benefit from this busyness, as his layouts and his work within those layouts stand up really well and do an excellent job of getting actions across in effective ways.

Speaking of endings, War Zone #5 does has some big shoes to fill in finishing up the excellent Punisher tale that Rucka has been weaving these past two years, and it both succeeds and falls short. This issue might not be the best for people who are sticklers for comic book continuity, as Frank's ultimate fate doesn't quite make sense considering what he's been getting up to in other issues. On the other hand, Rachel Cole-Alves' arc closes very appropriately, so it's a bit of a toss up.

Verdict – Check It. Punisher: War Zone hasn't quite been on the same level as Rucka's colonless Punisher, but this concluding issue is the best of the bunch. The writing and art are the best we've seen these past five issues, but there are still a few missteps that hold this conclusion back from being something truly great.

Written by Roger Langridge
Art by J. Bone

IDW have been producing a steady stream of Rocketeer comics. First they dropped a couple of miniseries of short stories, letting various comic book creators run wild with the character, then they released the Mark Waid and Chris Samnee Cargo of Doom book last year, and now they're giving Roger Langridge and J. Bone the opportunity to work their magic on everyone's favourite jetpcked hero.

With his writing on The Muppets and Snarked! over at Boom!, Langridge has shown himself to be a capable author when it comes to telling stories aimed at younger audiences. As well, Bone's artstyle has a number of unique qualities to it that also makes it appropriate for younger readers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, from the first issue, it appears that Langridge and Bone are writing a story that straddles ages, hoping to come up with a comic that is appropriate for readers young and old.

In that vein, the two have some very efficient storytelling in Hollywood Horror, bringing the reader up to speed through the dialogue between characters and character actions, teaching the reader without them even realizing it. Consequently, there's a lot going on throughout the issue, as we meet our characters and some of the challenges they'll be facing. It's mostly interesting stuff, with some Lovecraftian elements thrown in for good measure, but everything is so tightly paced and interwoven that the story sometimes feels a little overly convenient.

The series is set in 1939 Hollywood, which is perfect for Bone. His work fits the time period so well that it feels like he was meant to draw it. He has a Darwyn Cooke-esque vibe to his lines, but perhaps slightly more exaggerated. He also has a real eye for movement, capturing actions with ease and panache. Cliff's lower boy becomes a blur of jetstream and speed as he rockets across the sky and punches thrown have real weight to them. Bone's artwork is a true delight, and Jordie Bellaire's colours (unsurprisingly) make the whole package look even more attractive.

As I said, the story is generally well done, if a bit overfull, but there is one moment in the book where Cliff and Betty argue over whether or not it's appropriate for women to take risks in the same way that men do. While the conversation is very appropriate to the 1930s time period, it's been done to death elsewhere and feels a little tired here. This is the main point where the writing for all-ages feels like it fell a little short, and I earnestly hope that Cliff learns his lesson quickly so that Langridge can move on to more compelling problems.

Verdict – Check It. There's a lot to like about Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #1, but unlike the series' titular hero, the story doesn't quite soar. There's a bit of sputtering and stumbling that keeps the comic grounded. That being said, things may yet turn around and this book could still reach new heights.

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I've loved Rucka's Punisher since the beginning but Frank's continual beatdowns of Iron Man stretched credibility a bit thin...Tony is not such a moron that he's going to just trigger the traps Frank left for him in this issue.

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