Sunday, April 21, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 04/17/13

It's time again for our Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  We have some extremely excellent books on deck today, including a number of newly anointed Eisner nominees.  So hit the jump to see my thoughts on Adventure Time #15, Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures #7, and Bandette #4.  You won't be disappointed.

ADVENTURE TIME #15
Written by Ryan North
Art by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
Backup by Jeremy Sorese

Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb have been wowing comic book readers in the pages of Adventure Time since issue #1.  Thus far in our time together, our main story arcs have seen Finn and Jake fight and defeat the Lich, travel through time to fight the future, and save their friend BMO (along with every other robot) from a terrible computer virus.  But in between those exciting adventures, we've also gotten some wonderful stand alone stories, including meeting the totally math Adventure Tim and going on a Choose Your Own Adventure Time.  Adventure Time #15 is yet another one-shot, and this time Finn and Jake have to deal with the pesky being known only as the Magic Man.

In this issue, our plucky heroes must contend with the great difficulty of losing their voices, and I don't mean that they've been yelling too much.  No, within the first few pages of the story, that aforementioned Magic Man curses Finn and Jake so that they cannot talk.  However, they are not completely silent, as the two are still able to express themselves through symbols appearing in their word balloons.  Therefore, Finn, Jake, and the many princesses of Ooo must find a way to restore their regular powers of articulation.

There actually isn't much more to the issue beyond that, but that wonderful idea of speaking through images is used to incredibly clever effect here.  The trick isn't what I'd call revolutionary, but it is nice to see some playful experimentation used to tell a charmingly engaging story.  This is the kind of thing that wouldn't work in any medium besides comics, and we get lots of  fun little moments, such as Finn and Jake's word balloons showing a person's rear end as a way to say "but" or their quaintly roundabout manner of expressing "Adventure Time", to name but a few.

North does a great job of making the whole thing feel very natural and readable, when the idea could have easily fallen apart during execution.  It's a lot of fun to see the ways that the characters play with Finn and Jake's strange affliction, whether its in battle planning or sandwich making.  And from a reader perspective, it's quite enjoyable to work through the images to find their pseudo-hidden meanings.

As always, kudos must be given to Paroline and Lamb, who do a terrific job on art duties.  They pack this story with lots of wacky visuals both in the foreground and background that spice things up quite nicely.  They also do a great job on character expressions for the many scenes of Finn and Jake "speaking" to each other with their unique iconography.  Not to mention the task of developing a comprehensible and recognizable iconography in such a short space.  There were no moments where I found myself unable to decipher what Finn and Jake were saying, which is an impressive accomplishment.

As is the custom of Adventure Time comics, this issue has a backup story, this one written and drawn by Jeremy Sorese.  His style is quite exaggerated, telling a wild story of Finn and Jake searching for their friend BMO, while fighting off strange neverdowells in the sky.  It's a fun, whimsical little story, although it suffers slight from feelings of repetition (as the last Adventure Time arc was also all about saving BMO) and being a tad rushed, as there are some poignant moments that don't really have enough time to cause any real impact. However, it is still a nice accompaniment to the most excellent main story by North and friends.

Verdict - Buy It.  Adventure Time is continually one of the most fun comic books around.  There's a reason why it was nominated for three Eisners, and this issue is a perfect example of that.  Finn and Jake's unique dialogue is a welcome experiment at a time where so many comics are content to stay the course and do what they've always been doing.  The fact that it fits so well into the overall narrative is icing on the cake.

ATOMIC ROBO: REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #7
Written by Brian Clevinger
Art by Erica Henderson

Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures initially came into existence as a pseudo anthology where Brian Clevinger and a rotating cast of artists would tell numerous short stories set in the Atomic Robo universe.  The stories these creators told ran the gamut of styles and time periods, including war stories, kung fu tales, and historical fictions.  One of my personal favourites was a tale set in the 1800s, starring Nikola Tesla (the in-universe creator of Atomic Robo) and his band of historically appropriate men and women.  The story was memorable for its setting of two flying zeppelins battling it out in the open skies, but also for how fun the interactions between these characters were.  Consequently, when I heard that the next round of Real Science Adventures stories would focus on this group - called the Centurions of Science - I was pretty excited.

Atomic Robo: RSA #7 is the first issue of that new story, and while I remain excited to see other parts of the Atomic Robo world, this corner seems to have a surprisingly large amount of talking thus far.  As the opening issue of the storyline, there is a lot of exposition to get out of the way, but it comes at the expense of the overall plot.  There is a different feel from the main Atomic Robo books here.  Things aren't quite as overtly humourous and feels a little less dynamic.  At least in this issue, even when there's action, it still feels like there's a mighty lot of talking.

Admittedly, the talking is put to relatively good use, as Clevinger establishes a number of the story's main players, including two of our leads, Mr. Tesla and Mr. George Westinghouse, two men from history who Clevinger is repurposing for his own needs while still remaining true to who they were in life.  Like many Atomic Robo stories, it appears that the main thrust of the narrative will be looking at the possibilities of human achievement and accomplishment, in this case through the mcguffin that is stolen during this opening chapter.  Indeed, we also get to meet some of the book's antagonists, who unlike their more good-natured adversaries, appear to be a combination of pre-existing fictional characters, which is an interesting choice.  By issue's end, there is a lot to look forward to (including a nice little reveal on the last page), but the actual process of discovering all these things through reading the comic isn't as engaging as it could be.  Hopefully with so much setup done so quickly, that feeling of excessive dialogue and exposition can be alleviated in future issues to come.

Our artist for this issue is the exceedingly talented Erica Henderson, who although a relative newcomer to print comics, has long been working away at many online endeavours.  She has a wonderfully expressive cartoony style that looks quite delightful here.  Many expressions and actions are somewhat exaggerated, but they all feel perfectly appropriate to what's going on in the story.  Her choice of moments and page layouts also do a great job of conveying what's happening in an effective and engaging manner.  Henderson also colours the story, and she does quite well for herself.  Settings and pages have clear colour palettes that help distinguish them from one another and provide some visual flair.  Based on solicitations, I believe we'll be seeing different artists for each chapter of this volume of Atomic Robo: RSA, but I ardently hope this isn't the last we'll see of Henderson.

The last thing I'll comment on is the book's unique price and page count.  Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures has been going for $2.75 since its inception, often with 18 pages worth of comics in each issue.  This time around, the price remains the same, but we only get 16 pages worth of comics.  I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with such a price point, but this issue does feel a little on the light side - it seems that more could have happened.

Verdict - Check It.  If you're a fan of Atomic Robo, this series is a bit of a no-brainer, but there's lots to like even you are unfamiliar with Nicola Tesla's greatest (fictional) creation.  Although Brian Clevinger's scripting is a little on the slow side, the pieces that he's using look like they'll build into a compelling whole, and Erica Henderson is a lot of fun on the art side of things.  It's definitely worth a look, but this opener isn't as strong as it could have been.

BANDETTE #4
Written by Paul Tobin
Art by Colleen Coover

We have one more Eisner-nominated comic on our docket today, being Monkeybrain's digital Bandette from Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover.  Bandette racked up four different nomintations, and they are all well deserved.  In case you're unfamiliar with the series, Bandette is a self-proclaimed world's great thief who just so happens to have the thieving skills to back up such a claim.  She also happens to be charmingly nonchalant about almost everything, seemingly incapable of being serious.  In the three previous issues, we've also met a number of her colourful supporting characters, including Monsieur, a fellow thief who tries to look out for Bandette, Inspector BD Bélgique, a police inspector who is just trying to do his job and who seemingly cannot get away from interactions with Bandette in one form or another, and Bandette's lovable posse, the motley Urchins who are ready to help their leader at a moment's notice.

The book itself shares quite a lot in common with its main character.  Bandette the comic is filled with whimsy, jumping from moment to moment as seems appropriate and interesting.  And above all, it never takes anything too seriously.  The most important rule in this series is that comics should be fun.  Thankfully, Bandette always is.

The lion's share of the issue takes place in Père Lachaise Cemetery, where last issue ended, as Bandette and company try to fend off the first salvo of the malevolent Finis, a group who has decided that Bandette must die.  While such a propsition would be treated with due earnestness in most comics, Bandette refuses to treat the threat seriously.  Even as she fights with the first assassin (another costumed woman by the name of Matador), Bandette laughs off the danger, filling the fight with all sorts of witticisms and blase banter.  It's both perfectly ridiculous and completely wonderful.

Tobin writes some great dialogue, walking the tightrope line between effectively communicating story and character while also going on delightful tangents about anything and everything.  And Coover's art is as gorgeous as ever.  I hate to sound like a broken record, but it does strongly remind me of a combination of Tintin and Curious George, and I mean that in all the best ways.  Her visuals are the perfect expression of Tobin's writing, and the two elements go hand in hand to create the waggish world they have here.  It is no surprise that Coover was nominated for best penciller / inker and best colouring, because Bandette is some of the best you'll find anywhere.

On that same price / page note as above, it's also definitely worth noting that Bandette #4 is 17 pages of story for a scant 99 cents.  That is an excessively good deal, made all the better by how amazing the writing and art in this comic are.  You will not find this kind of value anywhere else, and it is well worth your time and money.

Verdict - Buy It.  It's honestly difficult to express how much fun Bandette is.  When so many comics continue to insist on the importance of grim and gritty, it is an incredible breath of fresh air to get something as fanciful as Bandette.  The characters and situations of this book are all large than life, but their writing and drawn with an honesty to them that makes it mighty hard to resist.  So why not head over to Comixology and pick up the issue today?


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