Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 03/27/13

Easter got the jump on me this weekend, so your Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews are running a little late.  It is a week of new beginnings, as we're looking at B.P.R.D. Vampire #1, East of West #1, and Time Warp #1.  Hit the jump to see what kind of comics these number ones were!

Written by Mike Mignola, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
Art by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

From the moment I heard that Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba were returning to the Mignol-verse for another kick at the can, I knew that I wanted to check it out.  It didn't matter what it was, because when it comes to these two amazing creators, whatever they're working on is usually worth looking into.  Also, I guess vampires are pretty cool?

Either way, I can say that I was not disappointing by B.P.R.D. Vampires #1.  The book opens on a wintery landscape, overlooking a river in a forest.  However, these pristine whites are marred by the bloody corpses of a number of young women who have been left for dead by the fiend who has murdered them.    The crimson of their blood stains the land and over-saturates the river's dark waters.  This scene sounds brutal, and to a certain extent it is brutal, but Ba and Moon manage to infuse it all with a sense of haunting beauty that only they could manage.  To top it all off, the scene is entirely silent, leaving the reader to take in and ponder the death and destruction.

The trail of blood eventually leads to some titular vampires who engage in some appropriately vague and foreboding dialogue that lends yet another air of Mignola to the title.  From there, we move to Agent Simon Anders, our protagonist and one of the lead characters from the earlier B.P.R.D. 194X books.  Simon speaks with Professor Trevor Bruttenholm about his troubled spirit and his desire to leave the Bureau in search of vampires.  It isn't only the opening pages that are without dialogue, as there are lots of silences here.  Indeed, the entire issue is filled with poignant pauses, lending this issue a slow pace, but it is deliberate and calculated, giving time for characters and readers to consider what's happening or what may happen.

The plot of this issue is actually quite simple and a little light, but the atmosphere that Ba and Moon build make for a memorable read.  As you reach the last page, you're left with a sense of foreboding that is difficult to shake.  It wouldn't be right to label this comic as horror, but there are moments that are somewhat unsettling that really stay with you.

This is also helped by Ba and Moon's art, which is brilliant as ever.  Every moment is gorgeous and has an added gravitas to it due to the twins' skilled work.  If you've ever read a comic by these two, you know what I'm talking about.  They can easily render character and setting, but more than that, they also capture mood and atmosphere in every aspect of their work.  Their layouts and pacing is spot on, and having Dave Stewart on colours means that everything looks that much better.

Verdict - Buy It.  There is a lot of imagery in this book that fit that haunting beauty label, and it makes for a memorable read.  Considering this book is done by a team of writer/artists, it's not surprising that the words and art support each other so readily, but it does make for a mighty satisfying reading experience.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta

It's finally happened.  After years of trying, I've finally found a Jonathan Hickman comic that I like.  How appropriate that it's all about the end of the world.

I've never been able to get into a Jonathan Hickman comic, so I came into East of West #1 with little in the way of expectations.  All I really knew is that it involved westerns, science fiction, and probably had some kind of high concept to it as Hickman's books so often do.  It had that and much more.  I would argue that that "end of the world" bit would definitely qualify as high concept, particularly because it looks like our protagonist is Death, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Conquest, War, and Famine also figure into it, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

This opening issue is remarkable for a number of reasons, one of which is the 32-pages of comics you get for the $3.50 price tag.  Another is how well Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta use those pages.  This is a dense book that wastes no time.  Everything is meaningful, and while Hickman and Dargotta are by no means in the business of giving readers all the answers to start, they do a bang up job of giving the reader what they need to know to follow and be interested in what's going on.

The book opens with a six-page prologue where Conquest, War, and Famine awake to find their fourth sibling missing, quickly reaching the decision that, if he has abandoned them, he must be killed.  Hickman and Dragotta then hit the reader with two title screens (for lack of a better term), one with "The things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us" and the other with the book and chapter titles.  This sequence really sets the tone for the comic as a whole, as it is brutal, efficient, and endlessly fascinating.

We quickly learn that the United States East of West takes place in is quite different from the one in our world.  Due to a mysterious combination of mysticism and religion (to name but a few things), the Civil War (which went way longer in this world) and a strange meteor strike lead to the creation of the Seven Nations of America.  This piece of alternate history is told through a slick three-page introduction in chapter one, which brings everyone onto the same page, while leaving plenty of questions to be answered later on.

Hickman's story is as complex and out-there as his past projects would lead you to expect, but I feel like East of West #1 is one of his most approachable books to date.  In spite of all the complexity and layers of mystery that he's built into this narrative, it also happens to be one hell of an adventure story that can be appreciated solely on that level as well.  I was really impressed with the way he managed to blend his big ideas and a pseudo-western/sci fi story into one seamless whole.

Throughout this and the entire comic, Nick Dragotta is a revelation (pun definitely intended).  I enjoyed his work on earlier books such as THUNDER Agents and FF (also with Hickman), but what he lays down in East of West #1 is some of the best work I've seen from him.  His art is gorgeous, filled with plenty of amazing comic book realism throughout.  It reminds me a bit of what Fiona Staples is doing on Saga, although I'd say Dragotta's work is cleaner and more precise.  And while Hickman has obviously spent a lot of time imagining the crazy world of East of West, it is Dragotta's amazing work and awesome character and setting designs that makes it all real.  Props must also be given to colourist Frank Martin, whose work is equally gorgeous.  These two combine for one mighty pretty comic book, and I can't wait to see more from them.

Verdict - Must Read.  The story that Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta are telling here is an incredibly interesting one.  There's elements from all kinds of stories, including westerns, science fiction, the bible, revenge stories, and lots more, but Hickman and Dragotta mix them together into something that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Hopefully East of West did not fly under your radar, but if it did, I would suggest doing your darndest to get your hands on a copy.  The price to page ratio alone is worth the purcahse.

Written by Dan Abnett, Matt Kindt, Damon Lindelof, Peter Milligan, Toby Litt, Ray Fawkes, Simon Spurrier, Tom King & Gail Simone
Art by Mark Buckingham, Jeff Lemire, M.K. Perker, Victor Santos, Jorge Corona, Rafel Albuquerque, Tom Fowler, I.N.J. Culbard & others

Now this is what an anthology should be like.  After DC's incredibly disappointing Young Romance issue around Valentine's Day, I wasn't sure if it would be worth giving their jumbo-sized books anymore chances, but I'm glad I did so.

Time Warp #1 is an 80-page Vertigo book that collects nine eight-page stories from different creative teams that all  share a loose theme of "time".  Some stories employ the theme more directly than others, but it builds into each story in one way or another.  And to be completely honest, seeing the different uses of time that these creators come up with is half the fun.

Vertigo did an excellent job of mixing established creators with more up and coming ones throughout this anthology (and sometimes within the same story), and the freedom that the creative teams had in tackling the book's prompt makes for plenty of really interesting stories.  Some are a bit more straight forward or tried and true than others, but they are all of high quality.  Subjects range from classic time travel paradoxes to resurrecting loved ones to future wars to much else, and while some are obviously stronger than others, there aren't any that stand out as being particularly bad, which is nice.

It's hard to go into detail for all nine stories, but I was particularly fond of Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire's opening R.I.P. and Matt Kindt's Warning Danger.  R.I.P. stars Rip Hunter, and while it's hard to shake the feeling the character picked solely for that pun, it does make for an engaging read.  Rip is trapped in the time of the dinosaurs, and must rely on future iterations of himself coming to his rescue to make it out alive.  On the other hand, Warning Danger is set in the far future, looking at how warfare has evolved in the ongoing conflict between two nations fighting over the same resource-rich planet.  Both are solid stories, and like the majority of the tales in this collection, have a turn or twist at the end that enriches the entire reading experience.

Verdict - Check It. Time Warp #1 is a little pricey at $7.99 for 72 pages of comics, but it's nice to get so many different stories - especially when they're all so good.  No one called it in here, with every creative team doing their utmost to put their best foot forward.  This is an excellent example of why I think anthologies are great, because there are lots of fun stories here and they most likely never would have been told if it wasn't for this collection.  I hope Vertigo keeps this kind of thing up moving forward.

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Brian Catalino said...

East Of West= one awesome read! Thanks for the review!

Brian Catalino said...

East Of West= one awesome read! Thanks for the review!

Brian Catalino said...

Oops sorry for the double post

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