Sunday, April 14, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 04/10/13

Happy Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews, everyone!  We've some exciting books for you this week, including Sledgehammer 44 #2, Theremin #1, and a couple of Bat-books for your reading pleasure.  So please feel free to hit the jump and see what all the fuss is about!


Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki
Backup Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Backup Art by Alex Maleev

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman has had some pretty strong direction sine the beginning of its run. We opened with the sprawling Court of Owls, which lasted quite a number of issues and took up the majority of Bruce Wayne's attention for that first year of publication.  Soon after, we moved into Death of the Family, where Joker wrecked some havoc on Gotham's first family.  Come June, we'll be zipping right into Zero Year, where Snyder and Capullo will have the chance to recount their version of Batman's origin.

However, for the moment, we are in story arc limbo.  Instead of providing its own driving force, Batman seems to be temporarily at the mercy of editorial whims.  Last month saw an issue dealing with the fallout of Damian Wayne's untimely passing (or as DC likes to call it, Requiem) and this month sees the start of a two-part storyline that appears to be based entirely on DC's WTF month gimmick, as Bruce not only uses a gun (as the cover advertises) but he also commits some pretty serious crimes within the opening pages of this issue.

Unfortunately, the editorially mandated need for a WTF moment robbed that opening scene of any real tension.  While that scene was supposed to be jarring and surprising, the fact that a good portion of it was telegraphed on the cover means that it mostly comes down to waiting for the reveal explaining why things aren't the way they should be.  And without going into detail, that reveal is both pretty underwhelming and pretty routine for a Batman story.

That is perhaps my biggest qualm with the issue: Snyder's writing is technically proficient, but it lacks any real heart.  He has developed certain habits in his writing of the Caped Crusader, and when they're applied to such a worn down premise as the one you see in this issue, it starts to feel formulaic.  Something bad happens?  Check.  Batman investigates it?  Check.  He starts monologuing about his discover and how it shares parallels to something else he knows about?  Check.  He confronts a villain and we get a cliffhanger?  Check, check.  Narratively, the issue feels like a game of Mad Libs, with Snyder fitting in the blanks where ever he can find them.  It yields a story, but it falls flat, failing to resonate in any significant way.

Although the book is a little bland in the writing department this month, it still looks pretty amazing.  Capullo (with Danny Miki on inks and Fco Plascencia on colours) is doing cool stuff on pretty much every single page, ranging from things like making a panel gutter into a gun trigger to laying down some solid facial expressions throughout the comic.  The transition between moments, the action, and most everything else are all brilliant, but it never quite comes together into a coherent whole, which is truly unfortunate considering all the work that went it this.

When it comes to the backup story, we get the first half of a Batman / Superman team-up from James Tynion IV and Alex Maleev.  Bats and Supes investigate a supernatural mystery while Clark also tries to get Bruce to open up about Damian.  The mixture is nice, although I would have preferred a bi tmore from their attempted Damin conversation - perhaps there will be more next month.

Artwise, Maleev is awesome.  I'm really happy to have him drawing some Batman and will gaze adoringly on most any rendition he offers.  This short story is obviously no exception (although New 52 Superman's costume looks a bit too busy when Maleev draws it - however, I'm inclined to blame the design over Maleev's impressive skills).  It feels like these two creators are still feeling each other out, and I look forward to seeing how their collaboration evolves.

Verdict - Skip It.  Scott Snyder's writing simply isn't up to snuff.  Beyond a small moment of Bruce mourning Damian's passing that is barely related to the rest of the issue, there is virtually no emotion to be found here.  Greg Capullo's brilliant art and James Tynion IV and Alex Maleev's intriguing backup are not nearly enough to make up for how cold and lifeless this issue feels.  It seems like we're killing time in the lead up to Zero Year, so you might as well stay away until that hits in June.

Written by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs
Art by Dustin Nguyen

Earlier this week, I talked about how excited I was for the physical release of Batman 'Lil Gotham #1 this week.  Unfortunately, in spite of my enthusiasm, my local shop did not have any copies, so I was forced to head home empty handed.  Finding myself with a dearth of Dustin Nguyen comics, I bit the bullet and picked up the first digital issue of this series.  I must say, it was pretty wonderful.

Digitally, the comic is produced in the landscape format that has quickly become rather common to these types of series.  I imagine that, like most every other digital comic DC publishes physically, these landscape pages are probably stacked on top of each other to make a complete regular comic's page.

As for the stories themselves, they're all cute little affairs that take every advantage of the all ages label this comic so richly deserves.  Each issue is focused around a different holiday, as Batman and Robin get up to some type of adventure that is marginally related to the festivity at hand, and they're pretty much all adorably fun.

Nguyen employs his chibi-style renditions that you may recognize from his deviantArt, and the style works quite well for these stories.  They play somewhat fast and loose with actual DC continuity, but that's really for the best, as it allows Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs to tell whatever story they want or feel like.  They're generally light and fun, which is something we haven't gotten a lot of when it comes to Batman and friends lately.

Verdict - Check It.  These stories are a lot of fun, and I'm sure that's just as true with the physical copy as it is with the digital ones.  If you've been looking to spend some time in Gotham City that isn't all grim and dour, then 'Lil Gotham just might be for you.

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Jason Latour

I think it's fair to say that I was pretty fond of issue #1 of Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Jason Latour's Sledgehammer 44.  The book hit all the right notes, taking the best parts of World War II fiction with those of straight science fiction and combining them into one bang up read.  While it was advertised as such on that inaugural issue, part of me still can't believe that this story is over with issue #2.

I say that because Mignola and Arcudi do what they always do and tell a story of such high quality that you just don't want it to end.  At its heart, Sledgehammer 44 is surprisingly light fare.  Some American troops got ambushed by some Nazis last issue, they fight like hell here, and ultimately overcome overwhelming odds (but not without some losses of their own).  It reads like the plot synopsis of pretty much any World War II story you've ever heard, but it works.  Arcudi's dialogue has an honesty and gravitas to it that elevates the entire story to another level.

Of course, it also helps that Jason Latour comes out with yet another amazing issue here.  Mignola and Arcudi's work makes this story worth reading, but Latour's art is what makes it special.  He is all over the place here, delivering tense firefights, spiritual dialogues, apocalyptic visions of the future, and much, much more.  This issue is jam packed with crazy ideas, and Latour is more than their equal when it comes to wrestling them onto the page.  He mixes up his style continuously throughout to match what's going on in the story, and these shifts not only look beautiful, they always feel wholly appropriate.  While I'm obviously a fan of Mignola and Arcudi's writing, it's Latour's art that really makes me sad that this is the last issue we'll see of these colourful characters.  He breathes life into them and helps them pop off the page.  This is one of the  few instances where I think it's too bad that Mignola did the cover, as I'd love to see what Latour would dream up.

As with most any Mignola book, Latour is not alone, as Dave Stewart is his co-pilot on colours.  And just as Latour changes things up for the narrative requirements, Stewart is there matching him step for step.  The regular action has this excellent washed out look to them that allow more violent or action-packed moments to leap off the page with how bright they look in comparison.  As you would expect, Stewart does a lot of little things that improve this comic by degrees, and taken all together make the final package that much better.

Verdict - Buy It.  Sledgehammer 44 has been an entirely enjoyable look into a heretofore unexplored portion of both the Hellboy universe and Mike Mignola's storytelling.  The great focus on science fiction over fantasy (although it does rear its head in this issue) has been a nice change of pace for Mignola and company, with Jason Latour really shinning out as the high point of this particular collaboration.  This is easily one of the best two-part comics I've encountered in recent memory.  I urge you to give it a look if you haven't already.

Written by Curt Pires
Art by Dalton Rose

Remember the theremin?  It looks like this?  Or for a more modern take, this?  It was accidentally invented in 1920 by a Russian chap by the name of Leon Theremin while he worked at a prestigious Russian (or I guess, at the time, Soviet) research institute.  It's most famous today for being that weird little instrument that you sometimes see people playing at random places.  It makes different tones and notes depending on where you place your hands in relation to its prongs.

I didn't really know any of this before reading Theremin #1, but writer Curt Pires did.  He knew all this and lots, lots more, and he put it to excellent use in penning one of the latest digital offerings from Monkeybrain.  As he explains in the extra content at the back of the issue, he had his own creative accident, stumbling onto the fascinating story of Leon Theremin's creation while working on another project and it stayed with him.  Happily for us, he's put that information to excellent use in this story, adding a couple of minor wrinkles to really up the ante here.

In the world of Theremin, a person's hand placement in relation to the device impacts far more than the sound it emits.  It can also allow a user to travel through time.  This addition makes the story of this strange, esoteric device into something far greater than you would expect.  It's an idea that is both simple and brilliant, a description that applies equally to the comic itself.

The book opens with an assassination and moves soon after into one crazy big set piece that really grabs your attention from the get go.  It's action-packed and fun, but Pires also takes the time to seed some important details that will come into play later (whether in the issue itself or later in the story as a whole).    From there we move into some background on the world that this Leon Theremin inhabits and some more hints of what's to come.  It's a fast moving read that rewards repeated read throughs.

Theremin is 14 pages long, and they are packed.  There is a lot going on in this comic, it moves fast, and it rewards repeated reads.  It took me a few go throughs before I felt like I had a handle on what's going on, and even now, I can't claim to understand everything that happens here.  However, this is due to careful writing on Pires part, leaving clues to entice your interest, but leaving enough behind the curtain to keep you guessing.  One issue in, I must say that I'm enjoying the style.

While I've spent five paragraphs on the comic without mentioning the art, please do not take that as a slight against artist Dalton Rose.  Most everything that I've said about the writing could be applied to the art in one way or another.  Rose has something of a loose, suggestive style.  I find I'm saying this a lot for Monkeybrain books, but while Rose's work might not be what you'd expect from a Big 2 superhero title, it would fit right at home in the bande déssinées of Europe.  And it works perfectly for this story here.

The opening set piece I mentioned earlier is one of the places where Rose truly shines.  Mr. Theremin is caught in his illicit activities, causing him to make a quick escape through time.  He falls through the Red that seems to comprise time travel in this story, fighting off his attackers as he does so.  At the same time, all these characters tumble past panels that provide some background on Leon himself.  It sounds a little complex - and honestly it is a complicated idea - but Pires and Rose pull it off with panache.  And while this is where Rose really knocks it out of the park, he's solid all over this issue.

The issue itself ends with six pages worth of behind-the-scenes content where Pires talks a bit of his own personal backstory, the story behind the comic itself, and the process of creating the book.  I'm usually not the biggest fan of this type of extended prose at the end of a comic, but Pires' conversational style makes this extra feel really worthwhile.  It's a joy to read, and it actually adds a lot to the reading experience itself.

Verdict - Buy It.  Theremin is a thinking man's comic.  It isn't always easy to read, preferring to challenge the reader, but I must say that, thus far, it's an interesting challenge.  Within the prose at the back of the book, Curt Pires writes that he hopes Theremin will find a community of fervent followers who really connect with the book's contents.  He admits that he's too close to the product to know if it'll succeed or not.  I don't know either, but you can count me in.  I want to know where this crazy comic is going, and at only 99 cents for the first issue, it's definitely worth a look to see if you might want to know too.

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Unknown said...

Oh man, I really liked Batman #19. It was a breath of fresh air following two back-to-back downer arcs with Court of Owls and Death of the Family. I loved those arcs, but issue 19 seemed like a big gear shift.

Admittedly, I only read this Batman book and Animal Man at D.C. So I'm not really following the Damian stuff. So I was actually pleased they didn't dwell on that too much in this issue.

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