Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 04/24/13

Come one, come all for another exciting round of  our Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  There's plenty of intriguing titles to peruse this week, including Amala's Blade #1, Helheim #2, and Young Avengers #4.  Hit that jump to check it all out!

Written by Steve Horton
Art by Michael Dialynas

Amala's Blade is a new fantasy comic book created by Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas and published by Dark Horse Comics.  Horton and Dialynas actually made a few short stories starring Amala and her world for the pages of Dark Horse Presents last year, but those are not required reading before diving into this miniseries.  And dive you should, as Amala's Blade is a rather enjoyable yarn.

Amala is one of the realms' greatest assassin, but despite the connotations that such a position might hold, she is somewhat of an easy-going person who doesn't necessarily revel in the work she does.  Part of this might also have to do with the fact that she appears to be haunted by the ghosts of those she has slain, something that is starting to get in the way of her job.  Indeed, in spite of the comic's subject matter, Amala's Blade is quite all-ages appropriate.  There are many threats and dangers throughout the world, but they are muted to a degree.

It also helps that the world that Horton and Dialynas are creating is crazy cool and looks awesome.  Beyond Amala and her assassinations, there is a wider conflict between the two sides known as the Modifiers and the Purifiers.  The former are a group of people who use technology to modify their own bodies to become bigger and stronger, while the latter use steam technology to improve their weapons and equipment in the battles between the two sides.  These are background details at the moment, but the attention paid in developing them adds credence to the world as a whole, not to mention the fact that it appears the conflict will increase in importance as the story goes on.

As an introductory issue, Amala's Blade #1 happily subscribes to the school of show and don't tell.  It adds up to some most excellent world building, as we see bits and pieces that manage to create a pretty solid picture of what's going on.  As the artist for the issue, Dialynas takes full advantage of this, letting his imagination run wild to create some some really inventive settings and characters.  His style also feels wholly appropriate for the type of story that Horton is telling, as it captures the action and adventure incredibly well.

Verdict - Check It.  Amala's Blade #1 is an enjoyable yarn that promises some solid moments in the issues to come. If you're a fan of fantasy and high adventure, this is definitely worth taking a gander at, as Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas appear to be laying the groundwork for a mighty fun read.

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Joëlle Jones

I did not take the opportunity to write about Cullen Bunn and Joëlle Jones' Helheim #1 when it dropped two months ago, and part of me still regrets that oversight.  With the release of Helheim #2 this week, I won't be making the same mistake twice.

For those unfamiliar with the book, Helheim takes place in a medieval fantasy world of vikings, witches, and wars that the reader does not yet fully comprehend.  It is set in a cold wasteland where the environment is as unforgiving as the horrors that hide just out of sight in the darkness.  Violence and blood are what takes the day, but thus far victories have been Pyrrhic at best.

It is a pessimistic world.  And it is also a fascinating world.

The first issue saw Rickard, a prodigal viking son, fall in battle to those nefarious forces, only to be resurrected by Bera, his lover who just so happens to also be one of those witches, as a barbarous Frankenstein's monster.  While the book's title and cover made such a transformation all but guaranteed, it was still handled quite effectively.  Bunn paced the process well, and Jones delivered some suitably macabre visuals to really sell the wrongness and depravity of Bera's actions.

Issue #2 picks up shortly thereafter, opening with Rickard's father and another member of his village setting out to destroy the abomination that Bera has created.  It's a short scene, lasting only three pages, but it does a great job of summarizing the major beats from last issue while also providing new information and motivation for these characters.

From there, the vast majority of the issue becomes focused on an extended scene that acts mostly to demonstrate Rickard's new status quo as a terrible beast sewn together from the bodies of the dead.  We certainly learn a lot, as it becomes clear that Rickard isn't the mindless evil that his father presumes him to be.  As well, it appears that Rickard doesn't yet understand exactly what he's become and Bera isn't being entirely forthcoming about her actions, which could lead to some interesting revelations and realizations down the line.

The other main take away from this encounter is that monster Rickard can fight like a mofo, because a good chunk of this scene is a brutally violent fight.  And it's glorious.  Jones infuses this scene with a real sense of power and force, laying down some real eye catching acts of violence.  Even when Rickard is standing still you can feel the raw energy radiating off of him.  Colourist Nick Filardi plays an important role here, creating some of the most striking blood splatters I've encountered.  Normally I'd be tempted to classify their like as too much, but when combined with Jones' art, the spilled blood looks just right.  Filardi also does an excellent job of using that crimson in the background to emphasize the anger and emotion in different panels here and throughout the issue.

But while the fight is visually stunning, the sequence (which takes up 14 pages) does feel a little long considering how little immediate narrative payoff it provides.  As I said, it does shine some light on Bera's end game, but not quite enough to warrant the space, even with that awesome battle.   That being said, I was quite impressed with Filardi's colours for Bera after the fight, as she appears as far brighter and more colourful than the bleak and barren world around her.  It's a nice visual cue to differentiate her from everyone else.

The last few pages are dedicated to Rickard infiltrating the camp where Bera's enemy hides.  It provides a few more clues as to what is going on, but like the rest of the issue, it still feels like Bunn is withholding a little too much.  This sequence really amounts to being a preview of what to expect for next issue, while providing little purpose in the here and now.

Verdict - Check It.  Visually, Helheim #2 is a home run.  Joëlle Jones and Nick Filardi are a potent team, giving the reader a barren, yet gorgeous land of snow and cold populated by vikings and all sorts of badness for them to fend off.  The fights look cringe-inducingly wicked and are a true highlight.  However, Cullen Bunn's script feels a little light this time around.  It leaves you wanting more, but that's because of how little you actually get.  One or two issues of this isn't so bad, but hopefully he's a bit more forthcoming in future chapters.

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie

At a time where I find myself reading less and less Marvel (and DC, for that matter), I'm quite thankful that they see fit to publish things like Young Avengers.

While only four issues old, Young Avengers is already an excellent example of what I think superhero comics should be.  It's people by a fun and compelling cast who are made all the more fun and compelling through their proximity to one another.  It's got some killer art and eye-popping instances of pushing the comic book envelope.  And above all, it doesn't take itself too seriously.  That is not to say the book forgoes seriousness all together, but that the book and its characters also take the time to recognize the ridiculousness of the situations they find themselves in (or awesomeness, as the case may be).  It's this wonderful combination of levity and earnestness that makes this book so much fun to read.  Of course, it's also the mark of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's great skill and talents as individual creators and collaborators.

This issue sees our delightful group finally coming together as a whole and continuing to try to deal with the threat of their evil pseudo-parents.  Gillen does an incredible job of giving all these characters moments to shine (no small feat when you have six main characters), although it must be said that Kid Loki steals every scene he can.  Considering Gillen's history with the character and also the fact that Kid Loki is one of the few members of the team who isn't a straight up hero, this shouldn't come as a major surprise.  I'll certainly say that it isn't a complaint, because Kid Loki rocks.

McKelvie also does more than his fair share in highlighting these kids' throughout the issue, employing a number of neat and unorthodox layouts to do so.  One of these almost acts as an infographic for why Nor-Varr is a badass, with helpful numbered entries to explain exactly what he's doing and a few panels to highlight moments of particular heroism.  Once he and Kate Bishop save the rest of the gang, the possessed parents chase them through the streets of New York in a sequence of angular, diagonal panels.  It's a little offputting, but it mostly acts to create a sense of urgency and momentum that goes hand in hand with such a scene.

Of course, things start to look bad for our heroes, but Gillen and McKelvie do an excellent job of providing a sense of stakes and meaning to the challenge before them.  It's not failure that would be so bad (although it would be), it's that the character building Gillen and McKelvie have done lends a fuller sense of gravitas to the situation.  It's a nice change of pace from the number of books that throw meaningless threat after meaningless threat at its protagonists.

Verdict - Buy It.  Young Avengers is a master class in what superhero comics should be.  You get the sense that Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie care about these characters, and with all the work they put into this book, it's hard not to feel the same way.

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