Sunday, May 5, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 05/01/13

We've a somewhat all-star cast of books on the Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews dockets this week.  We'll be looking at Matt Fraction and Francesco Francavilla's Hawkeye #10, Mike Carey's newest book Suicide Risk #1 with (relative) newcomer Elena Casagrande, and Gail Simone and Freddie Williams II's brand new The Movement #1.  While they're all cape books, they approach the genre in very different ways.  Hit the jump to see how they compare!

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Francesco Francavilla

It should come as no surprise that I am a firm Team Hawkguy supporter.  Considering how many Eisner nominations it received (5 of Marvel's 7) - especially compared to the relative dearth of superhero titles on that list - I also think it's safe to say that I'm no alone in that position.  That being said, I still feel a little sad when the title doesn't feature both Matt Fraction and David Aja's presence.  The book simply hasn't felt the same when Aja has been missing from its interiors.  So while Francesco Francavilla is probably one of the best artists you could get for a fill-in, I was still a little leery about the whole thing.  Having gone through the issue, I definitely found it to be a solid comic, but I feel my apprehension was nonetheless warranted.

Let me explain.

Matt Fraction is obviously a mighty talented writer.  He has plenty of wonderful ideas in his head and a seeming knack for translating them to the comic book page.  He clearly knows how to write to an artist, which is obviously a good thing, but it's also been why I don't always look forward to these fill-ins.  Without Aja, the book's often shifts away from the pseudo-lighthearted tone that has made this series such a joy to right.  And that's exactly what happens here, as Hawkeye #10 combines Fraction and Francavilla's sensibilities into a comic that's much darker than you might expect from earlier fare.

This issue focuses quite heavily on the fiendish fiend who (spoiler alert from last issue) bumped off Grills last time around.  This is done through both dialogue and flashbacks, as Kazi (as it turns out he's named) chats with Kate at one of her father's parties.  We learn quite a bit about his background and how he came into this story, although there is definitely a lot left unsaid.  Fraction also uses this opportunity to explore Kate a bit more, as we get a look at some of the things that have been going through her head.  There's some neat moments where we see how she has both rejected and adopted some of Clint's mannerisms.

However, this book is more than a chatfest, as those aforementioned flashbacks provide Francavilla plenty of oportunity to deliver some of the prettiest pages of the year.  Francavilla's unique colouring style is on full display here, as he uses plenty of gaudy oranges and blues throughout the issue that work to accentuate the difference in tone from this issue.  For the better part of the issue, it's hard to imagine how Francavilla's art could be more different than the Aja's, which again helps to differentiate things, but it verges on alienating regular readers at times, as the book ends up feeling really different from the Hawkeye norm.  Towards the end we retrace some steps from last issue, which once again assert the differences between the two artists, but in another way, also helps to bring the two worlds together.

Verdict - Check It.  Hawkeye #10 is a good comic, but I'm not sure if it's necessarily a good Hawkeye comic.  Tragedy and pain is always bubbling under the surface in Fraction and Aja's pages, but here they burst through, taking centre stage.  The sudden difference in tone and focus makes for a somewhat odd reading experience, to say the least.

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Elena Casagrande

I missed Suicide Risk #1 on the solicitations for the week, but I'm real glad I didn't miss it on my shop's racks.  I'm mostly familiar with Mike Carey's writing from his brilliant work with Peter Gross on The Unwritten, but that series has been more than good enough to convince me to try out pretty much anything Carey works on, regardless of what it may or may not be.  Fortunately, in the case of this team-up with artist Elena Casagrande, it turns out that it is quite good.

Suicide Risk is set in a world where superpowers are relatively new, but instead of developing from, as the comic so delicately puts it, "get[ting] bitten by a radioactive kangaroo or caught in a nuclear hailstorm", people generally receive their superpowers by paying someone for them.  Also, it seems that virtually everyone who gets superpowers ends up eventually turning bad.  The who, how, and why of it all is still up in the air, but that is the basic gist of what's going on here.

Our point of view character for the ride is officer Leo Winters, a policeman who struggles to keep fighting the good fight in the face of these overwhelming odds.  The story opens on him recounting the latest incident in what seems to be a long string of failures in facing off against these supervillains, and while that opening is a pretty blatant example of a character providing exposition for the reader's sake, Carey and Casagrande handle it pretty well, all things considered.  Leo's recounting is mostly done through flashbacks to the event itself, with him providing some narration to explain things, and it's both an informative and exciting introduction to the world.

The motivations behind the conflict aren't particularly well-established - the villains have some hostages (possibly from robbing a bank) - but they serve well enough.  Carey gets the chance to show off how superpowers work in his world with some surprisingly inventive superpowers and character name, but the best part of this sequence is that it quickly establishes how talented Casagrande is.  I wasn't particularly familiar with her work going into this, but she really rises to the occasion here.  Her character designs are  all really neat, and some of the ways she realizes the superpowers Carey has come up with are really impressive.  There's an instance where a villain with vocal powers lays into some police officers, and it looks brutally gorgeous, to name but one of the many highlights.  Happily, Casagrande continues the top notch work throughout the comic itself, with some excellent assistance from colourist Andrew Elder.

Once the introduction to the world is out of the way, we spend some time learning just who this Leo Winters person is.  There's some space given to showing his reaction to the difficult and deadly confrontation that he has just described, but the lion's share of what we learn comes from the following scene at the Winters' home.  It turns out that this horrible day just so happens to coincide with Leo's youngest son's birthday, so we see Leo and his family interact in a calmer environment.  There's some nice character moments that show a softer familial side to Leo, as well as some debate about the handling of the ongoing superpowered menace that adds a bit of nuance to the issue.  I was particularly fond of the bits and pieces of Leo's relationship with his wife Suni we see here, as it felt genuine and went a long way to rounding out Leo's character to be more than the "good cop" role that he so clearly is supposed to play.

From there, we move towards the issue's conclusion, as Leo takes some steps to find out more about the mysterious people who are offering superpowers to anyone with the cash to pay for them.  It's another interesting scene that manages to meld character work into plot development, and the cliffhanger comes as a bit of a shock, which is actually kind of a nice change of pace.

Verdict - Buy It.  Suicide Risk #1 is a mighty enjoyable read.  Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande combine to give us a brand new world of heroes and villains that feels deep and real, with some mysterious hooks that really grab you.  It's also nice to see original content coming from Boom!, which has often been more focused on (admittedly great) licensed content.  Here's hoping that future issues live up to the strong start we have here.

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Freddie Williams II

When DC announced that Gail Simone and Freddie Williams II would be collaborating on a new book called The Movement, it wasn't exactly clear what the series would be about.  The marketing seemed to imply that it might relate to the Occupy Movement in some manner, but all we really knew was that it would involve new and lesser-known heroes doing... something.  One issue in, that something hasn't gotten much clearer.

When DC made the move to 20 page comics a few years back, I felt that Simone was one of the first writers at the company to properly adjust her pacing and storytelling to that shift to shorter comics, but you'd honestly never know it from reading The Movement #1.  There's simply too much going on in too little space for any of it to make much in the way of sense.  Indeed, we have dirty cops sexually harassing minors, the appearance of Channel M (an embrrassingly transparent comic book version of Anonymous), a themed serial killer, and violent confrontations between police and our "heroes", to name but a scant few of the flood of things that occur in this issue.

Any one of these events could have sustained an opening story, but when you pile them all together into one single issue, you get something approaching an incomprehensible mess.  Over the course of the whirlwind pace the issue has to sustain to introduce all these elements, the reader meets at least nine different characters (ten, if you count Channel M), all of whom could end up being of relative importance as the series develops. However, like the plot elements, there is nowhere near enough space to learn anything of value about the veritable lineup of new faces.  Instead, we get the barest glean of what makes a character tick, although even that doesn't happen for everyone we meet.  Consequently, it's hard to care about anything they do at any point in the story.

Not only does such a deficiency of detail make it difficult to maintain interest in the story, it also makes it mighty challenging to understand who, if anyone, the reader should be rooting for.  More serious than the lack of clarity on who should be considered heroic and who should be considered villainous is the fact that, at this juncture, none of the characters are particularly likable.  Everyone seems mistrustful of everyone else, but since there isn't much offered to explain the why of this mistrust, everyone mostly comes off looking kind of like a jerk as they do their best to answer violence with violence and make as many threats as they can manage.

I've never had any strong feelings about Williams' art one way or another, but he acquits himself well enough here.  His exaggerated style captures facial expressions and body language in an efficient manner that hints at some of the thought processes that simply aren't explained in the story's writing.  He also delivers some interesting action sequences, which is a nice to see.  In fact, I'd call this one of the better efforts I've encountered from Williams.  Unfortunately, his work is hurt by colourist Chris Sotomayer's efforts.  I don't know who picked out the colour palette for this title, but it is far too dark.  There's certainly some thematic appropriateness for such a choice, but it really doesn't work in practice.  There's virtually no diversity of colour, with things ranging from murky to worse.  At best, the book looks bland, but more often than not, the colouring makes it harder to determine what exactly is going on.  There are a few small exceptions (such as Virtue using her rainbow bright powers), but everything else indistinctly bleeds into everything else.

Verdict - Skip It.  There are some interesting ideas at play here - probably a few too many, to be honest - but none of them get anything near enough space to properly develop into something more than ideas.  The end result is a confusing story that doesn't really add up to anything.  It also doesn't help that the book is aesthetically took dark for its own good.  Considering the creators at work here, The Movement could very well improve, but there simply isn't enough to warrant sticking around to find out.

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