Sunday, June 9, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/05/13

After an unintended hiatus last week, we're back with an onslaught of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  Plenty of solid books on the docket, including Bedlam #7, Daredevil: Dark Nights #1, and Polarity #3.  So hit the jump to see everything that we have on offer!

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ryan Browne

I think it's safe to say that Nick Spencer is pretty keen on big concept comics.  Even a cursory glance at his bibliography reveals a penchant for the unexpected.  Some quick examples include Infinite Vacations, the comic about leveraging multiverses to literally buy your way into the good life, or Morning Glories, a book that's over 26 issue in and which I still have a hard time understanding exactly what it's all about.  When compared to those, a series about a supervillainous mass murder being lobotomized in an attempt to (possibly) make him a better person might seem a little tame, but Bedlam hit stands like a freight train last year, with Spencer delivering some challenging scripts and Riley Rossmo knocking out increasingly frenetic pages.

However, as the initial arc worked its course, the book lost some of that initial steam.  While it was still interesting to follow Madder Red Fillmore as he helped Detective Ramira Acevedo solve a new series of murders without letting her discover how he was so good at deciphering murders, it wasn't always clear where the book was going.  With the end of that first arc, the title saw Rossmo leave over creative differences, and Ryan Browne come in as his replacement.  While Rossmo is definitely a tough act to follow, I must say that Brown acquits himself quite well in his first issue.  And the artistic switch-up also seems to have helped jumpstart Spencer's own creative engine, as Bedlam #7 introduces a number of new wrinkles that feel as if they can breath new life into the title.

Spencer is a patient writer, and this issue features a number of examples of that.  The book opens with a flashback of Madder Red delivering some of his patented craziness, using the heads of two respected men from the city's religious community as puppets while his henchman machine gun down horrified onlookers.  While these three pages aren't directly referenced again within the issue, they do backlink to the events of the previous arc, featuring Archbishop Warton and his initial meeting with Madder Red that was mentioned in passing in an earlier issue.  The depravity on display also goes a long way to illustrating that Browne will be just as able as Rossmo was to keep up with Spencer's sick mind.

From there, we get four seemingly unrelated pages featuring four different interactions between the denizens of Bedlam City.  Again, these pages don't initially seem to go anywhere, but they will come back in a big way in the issue's finale.

The majority of the issue's pages are focused on some City Hall politicking, as Councilman Severin attempts to provide permanent funding to Detective Acevedo's Extraordinary Crimes Task Force.  Like the earlier pages, this sequence does an excellent job of alluding to earlier events without alienating readers who may not have read those issues.  All the information you need to understand what's going on is naturally worked into the dialogue, and while it looks like that Task Force will get its money, the fight is far from over on that front.

The book then segues into an extended conversation between Ramira and Fillmore at Fillmore's apartment, with Ramira offering to actually put Fillmore on payroll.  It seems that after his exemplary showing last arc, Ramira wants to bring Fillmore on board in an official capacity.  Spencer uses this conversation to remind the readers just how weird of a dude Fillmore is, as he spends the beginning of it hallucinating that his Madder Red personality is committing heinous misdeeds on TV and then goes through most of the conversation wondering if he is mentally up for the task of actual work and insisting that he consult his doctor (who, as a reminder, is another crazy supervillain whose true motivations are far from clear at this point).

And while Browne aced the gruesome opener to the book, he's also all over these quieter moments.  I've seen a bit of his work online at Gods Hates Astronauts, but its great to see him in a physical comic, too.  It's admittedly hard to compare artists to Rossmo, but Browne's style is just as energetic and unstable - perhaps moreso in some instances.  Spencer has found an excellent new partner in crime in Browne.  All that being said, the book moves seamlessly into its explosive conclusion, as those four initial random scenes come back in a big way at comic's end.  Unsurprisingly, Browne is all over this sequence, too.

Verdict - Buy It.  Nick Spencer and Ryan Browne have teamed up to give Bedlam the kick in the pants that the series needed.  Issue #7 feels fresh and full of possibility, which is a great shift from the conclusion of the previous arc, which felt a little stretched out.  Hopefully they'll be able to maintain this pace going forward.

Written by Lee Weeks
Art by Lee Weeks

When I first heard word of Daredevil: Dark Nights, I was excited to hear that Marvel was planning on dropping a bunch of short Daredevil stories that existed outside of normal Marvel continuity.  At the time, I thought that meant each issue would feature multiple short stories (or parts of stories), with the entire eight-issue run being required to get the whole story.  I was only half right there, as Dark Nights will end up telling three different stories, but they're being told separately.

So the first issue comes courtesy of Lee Weeks, a long-time artist whose well-known for his Daredevil work in the early 90s.  He offers a story set in the midst of a particularly brutal winter storm in Manhattan, with virtually the entire city being shutdown by the harsh snowfall.  Two parallel narratives are established in this setting: a heart is being transported to a New York hospital via helicopter in a bid to save a dying girl and Matt Murdock is checked into the hospital with amnesia after being beaten up in the blizzard.  Neither concept would be classified as particularly novel, but that actually works pretty well for Weeks' narrative, which has a very classic vibe to the entire thing.

These dual narratives are told somewhat out of order, but Weeks handles the buildups and reveals quite well.  I liked Matt's amnesia, as it allowed Weeks to play around with some fun tropes related to discovering one has superpowers and it made excellent use of the hospital setting.  To be honest, my biggest complain would be that Weeks' didn't push the memory loss quite far enough in this issue.  He does a good job establishing how it came about and following Matt as he struggles to piece things together, but by issue's end, it feels like many of these problems are resolved.  Even though he doesn't yet quite know who he is under the mask, the fact that Matt already has it on by issue's end is a little frustrating in some ways.

That being said, I was more put off by the way that Weeks tied Matt into the heart transplant storyline.  This second storyline is introduced early on and then left to simmer on the backburner as we follow Matt's stint in the hospital.  I do think that the two are tied in quite well, with Weeks dropping hints as to the rising problem during Matt's portions of the issue, but the way the two narratives end up being tied together leaves something to be desired.  Through his powers, Matt discovers that the helicopter with the heart to be transplanted has crash landed in the streets of New York and immediately volunteers to go out and risk his life to find it, even though he still doesn't really know who he is (beyond the guy who wears the Daredevil costume).  It's the kind of thing a hero does, but Matt's tangential relationship to the whole thing makes it feel kind of tenuous.

Speaking of tangential, there are biblical allusions sprinkled throughout the issue, and while I'm generally a fan of literary allusions, these ones feel out of place.  They often relate to what's going on in the story in some capacity, but there simply doesn't seem to be a reason within the story to warrant their inclusion.  Perhaps it's my unfamiliarity with the character, but I don't even believe that Matt is normally depicted as particularly devout.  So while these passages offer some additional insight into the story's events, they are more distracting than anything.

Happily, Weeks' brilliant art goes a long way to softening those missteps.  Again, there is a certain classic feel to his pencil work, but that continues to be a good thing here.  The level of detail he puts into each and every panel is at times staggering, especially when compared to what you'll find in other monthly cape books.  He also has some really fun panel layouts that also really distinguish Dark Nights #1 from the competition.  Weeks' script is quite wordy in spots, but through his page organization, this fact is often masked or better yet weaved organically into the narrative.

I was particularly fond of Weeks' outdoor scenes.  His winter landscapes are gorgeous, as is the continuously falling snow hovering above them.  Kudos should also be given to colourist Lee Loughridge on those scenes, as his dark blues and blacks lend some great atmosphere.  On the other hand, I wasn't nearly as fond of the hospital scenes, as the colouring comes off as a little too harsh and artificial for my tastes.  I understand the urge to mimic the odd lighting hospitals can have and to represent Matt's confused state, but the colour palette just didn't sit right with me.

Verdict - Check It.  Daredevil: Dark Nights is not exactly what I was expecting, but it is still an enjoyable read nonetheless.  The narrative has a few minor issues, but overall, Lee Weeks has an interesting story on his hands here.  Of course, the fact that the art is so good goes a long way to making up for any plot shortcomings - especially with the search for the downed helicopter promising so much more outdoor scenes.  Issue #1 represents a decent start, and I'll definitely be coming back to see how Weeks' follows it up.

Written by Max Bemis
Art by Jorge Coelho

Max Bemis and Jorge Coelho's Polarity has been an incredibly pleasant surprise thus far.  I've liked how Bemis has focused the narrative on Tim, the twenty-something faux-hipster artist with bipolar disorder.  It's been nice to see the topic of mental illness - something that rarely rears its head in comics - as a central focus for the book, doubly so because of Bemis' personal experience with the disorder.  The fact that it is being used as the source of Tim's surprising superpowers is only the icing on the cake.  The book has also been quite refreshing due to Bemis' background as a musican.  Based on the story and script, the man clearly understands and has a certain respect for comics, but it's also clear that he isn't as beholden to certain conventions and tropes of the medium, which has been brilliant.  It isn't that he's reinventing the wheel here, but he seems to have a different way to get it rolling.

While this is clearly within the boundaries of a superhero book, one of the strongest parts of the miniseries has been Bemis' focus on his characters.  We've seen unsuspecting nobodies suddenly find themselves with superpowers before, and we've seen them try to deal with the sudden discovery, so finding that again here isn't in itself terribly exciting.  However, because Bemis spent so much time in issues #1 and #2 developing Tim, his best friend Adam, and his new lady friend Lily, these moments we know so well have additional oomph and meaning to them.  In essence, the fact that Tim has superpower is just another element to the overall story.  It plays a big role, but it isn't necessarily the central focus.

With issues #1 and #2 establishing Tim's powers and his somewhat selfish attempts to wield them, issue #3 throws out a bit of a swerve ball as Dr. Mays, Tim's doctor, tells him to cool it on the heroing and just live a normal life for a bit.  This leads to further character moments, which again, is nice, but of course, all is not quite as it seems.  There's quite a bit of darkness mixed in with Tim and company's relaxation, and things really come to a violent head as the issue swiftly moves towards its end.  Considering the cast and the opening pages of the issue, the conclusion here isn't the most surprising, but parts of it snuck up on me nonetheless.

While I've been lauding Bemis' writing, equal praise must be given to Coelho's artwork.  I've really been enjoying it since issue #1, and for those following Peter Panzerfaust, I would suggest that there are some similarities between his work and that of Tyler Jenkins.  Or perhaps Luther Strode's Tradd Moore.  Coelho's characters are exaggerated and all about their composite shapes.  Tim is all angles, while Lily is much softer and circular.  Coelho has a knack for composing every type of scene in an interesting manner, from big ol' action to talking heads, and his art is made all the better thanks to colourist Felipe Sobreiro's work.  Sobreiro's colours are loud and just a little too in your face, but that type of attitude works really well for the overall thrust of this book and the people inhabiting it.

Verdict - Buy It.  Max Bemis and Jorge Coelho continue to bust out the jams in Polarity #3.  Their book hit the stands with the big idea of bipolar disorder being the source of a man's superpowers, but in the subsequent issues, they've proven that Polarity is more than just a cute concept.  This is a solid book, and with the conclusion looking to be bigger and better than everything that's come before, you should definitely be giving it a look.

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Hansel Moreno said...

Looking forward to reading Polarity!

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