Sunday, June 30, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/26/13

Let's roll out those Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews, shall we?  We've got some dandy books on the docket today, including the latest Atomic Robo storyarc, the doggiest Hawkeye yet, and Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's brand new Lazaurs.  So hit the jump to check out what these titles are all about!

ATOMIC ROBO: THE SAVAGE SWORD OF DR. DINOSAUR #1
Written by Brian Clevinger
Art by Scott Wegner
Colour by Nick Filardi

I am a longtime Brian Clevinger fan.  I read through 8-Bit Theatre when he was writing it, picked up his Nuklear Age novel way back when, and have been faithfully picking up Atomic Robo since the first volume hit comic shops.  Indeed, Robo was one of the major reasons I started patronizing my local shop on a regular basis.  And I've come to be pretty fond of that Scott Wegner chap, owning a few of his original pages.  So I may have a wee bit of bias here, but I'll do my best to look past it.

The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur is the eighth volume of Atomic Robo stories, which in itself is an impressive feat for two creators on a creator-owned property.  This arc opens by telling readers that a few years back Atomic Robo was accused of stealing nukes, and while he was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, most of the population still thinks he's a terrorist, which weighs on Robo.  None of this could really be considered a spoiler as it's pretty much all conveyed to the reader through the comic's paratext and first panel.  Once you've made it through that, you're up to speed on virtually everything you need to know for the upcoming story.

It's an incredibly example of concise storytelling, but it's also par for the Atomic Robo course.  Clevinger has never been one to dilly dally, with his scripts often being as action-packed as they come.  He is not a writer to waste time, and that is obvious throughout this issue.  Every page plays a role (whether large or small) in advancing the story.  There is no wasted space here, and to be honest, there isn't room for it, because this issue is packed.  There are two interlocking narratives, of Atomic Robo taking a team to Venezuela to investigate a former Nazi space project and the Robo team at Tesladyne HQ unexpectedly finding themselves with one of the nukes that Robo supposedly didn't steal.

Both narratives are excellently paced and timed, playing off of each other and using each other to create additional tension and interest.  Wegner is obviously a huge player here, as his artwork is what brings these stories to life.  And I must say that Wegner's art has been improving with each and every arc of Atomic Robo.  One of his great strengths is in character design, and there are plenty of great new characters introduced in this issue whose very design tells the reader plenty about who they are as people.  This is an obvious boon, as it means the book doesn't have to waste time with exposition, instead letting the reader discover more about who these people are by what they do and how they react throughout the comic itself.  Kudos must also be given to Nick Filardi, the book's colourist, as his work adds a lot of personality to Wegner's art.

Wegner's sense of comedic timing is also as strong as ever, with he and Clevinger combining for some excellent visual gags that add a lot of fun to the book.  This is particularly true towards the end of the issue, which nears slapstick levels of physical comedy (which is a good thing).  Of course, this is on top of Clevinger's hilarious dialogue, which also truly hits its stride as we near the issue's conclusion.

Verdict - Buy It.  Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #1 is perhaps a bit long title-wise, but it reads like a dream.  The book wastes no time, delivering enjoyable moment after enjoyable moment, and sets up what looks to be one of Robo's most exciting adventures yet.  It should be expected from a book with Dr. Dinosaur's presence, considering what a ridiculous character he is, but it's welcome nonetheless.

HAWKEYE #11
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja
Colour by Matt Hollingsworth

You should be reading Hawkeye.  I don't care what kind of comics you usually read.  Superheroes, indie, licensed, or whatever.  You should be reading Hawkeye.  Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth have come together to make one of the best comics on stands at the moment.  While the whole thing is undeniably set in the Marvel universe, much of its charm comes from focusing on the mundane aspects of that world.  Clint Barton has possibly donned his costume for a total of two pages (maybe), and most of his time is spent hanging out in the apartment complex he owns trying to look out for the people he cares about.  One of those people is his dog Lucky, or as he's better known Pizza Dog, and that's who this issue stars.  You've probably already heard this, but Hawkeye #11 is told from the perspective of a dog.  And it's brilliant.

The issue lives and dies on Aja's artwork, because as a dog, Pizza Dog can't really understand anything the people around him are saying.  Word balloons are mostly gibberish-filled, with Pizza Dog (and consequently the reader) understanding only every fifth word or so.  Instead of words, the issue is filled with pseudo-infographics, as Pizza Dog's senses tell him plenty of information about those around him.  Aja nails these images, drawing them in a simple and iconic manner that require no language to understand.  The whole thing makes for a completely different reading experience, as story is communicated to the reader in a manner quite unlike what you'll find anywhere else.

There's also various points throughout the issue where Aja renders part of the page or background in a barebones blueprint style that fits the infographic style that is happening throughout the gutters of the issue.  It's used to great effect, as it provides a distinct visual to the issue, while also elegantly representing the  difference in how a dog would see the world.  It's particularly well done because although the blueprints look quite simple, they still pack a lot of visual information into them, showing that different doesn't necessarily mean worse.

On top of all these visual cues are Matt Hollingsworth's fantastic colours, which are as good as ever.  The muted purple and yellows that have made this series look so good is as present as ever, and Hollingsworth once again makes it feel oh so right.  Indeed, Aja's blueprints could be called purpleprints if that didn't sound so stupid.  Either way, the overall effect is another issue that stands out from the pack, as it refuses to drift from its own visual identity, which is obviously great news.

All this amazing artwork is reason enough to check out the issue, but it also helps that the story held within also happens to be well worth reading.  Pizza Dog's world is a surprisingly active one, as he gets up to all sorts of adventure and shenanigans in these twenty pages.  He tries his paw at detective work, he's charged with protecting the apartment, and he may or may not fall in love (possibly just in lust), to name but a few things you'll see in these pages.  Casting a canine as the protagonist is far from a simple gimmick, as Fraction advances the story in many different ways, introducing some new characters who will likely be playing bigger roles in the issues to come and throwing in some conflict that will have major ramifications on Clint.

Verdict - Must Read.  Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth deserve plenty of accolades for going out and trying something like this.  Especially because they stick the landing so very well.  Pizza Dog was already one of the best supporting cast members in the Hawkeye book, but with this issue, it's clear that he's also a deep and well-rounded character that just so happens to be a dog.

LAZARUS #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark

Greg Rucka and Michael Lark are some of the most talented creators in comics today.  They've shown that in their many amazing projects both alone and together.  It's no accident that Gotham Central (which they worked on with Ed Brubaker) is seen as one of the best series DC has done in the past 10 years.  So when Image announced last year that Rucka and Lark would be teaming up for a brand new series called Lazarus, it was hard not to get terribly excited.

As time went on, details on what the series would be about started to trickle out.  It would be set in the future.  It would be science fictiony.  It would be all about money and power and the few who wielded the two.  It would star a woman responsible for protecting one of those powerful families.  And it would be pretty darn dark.  To name but a few.

Well, the first issue has finally arrived, and the wait was most certainly worth it.  Rucka and Lark's past collaborations are evident through the chemistry the two share, as Lazarus #1 is stunning.  Lark is undeniably a great artist, and he flexes his talents throughout the comic.  The opening pages are beautiful and horrifying as we see Forever, the book's protagonist, in a bloody fight with some late night thieves.  The moments Lark captures in his panels are perfectly selected, taking the reader through rapid fire sequences punctuated with deathly calms.  The whole thing is brutal and filled with death, but again, it's rendered in such a way that there is an eerie beauty to the bloodshed that can't be ignored.

Of course, while Lark is treating the reader to these visual delights, Rucka is wasting no time in laying the groundwork for the oncoming story.  There are not many words in this opening sequence, but the ones that are there speak volumes.  We learn that while Forever is quite strong and capable, she does not relish the brutality of the role she holds.  And her discomfort appears to be growing, much to the chagrin of her own family.  This initial sequence dovetails nicely into the main thrust of the book, as Forever meets with her brother Jonah at one of the family's compounds to deal with some potential betrayal on the part of the family's workers.

Forever questions whether the situation is as cut and dry as everyone else is making it out to be, and while it looks like she may very well be correct, none of the other characters see it that way.  Forever and Jonah are on a completely different level from those working for them (seeing as their workers are called "serfs"), and this distance looks to one of the main focuses of the narrative.  There is an obvious inability on the part of the elite to understand the rest of the world, and although an immediate consequence of that looks to be fighting between said elite, I imagine that there will be more to it in the coming chapters.

Verdict - Buy It.  Lazarus is some absolutely brilliant science fiction on the part of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark.  We're only starting to understand the world that Forever lives in, but it looks to be an incredibly fascinating one.  It's hard to not want to know more about what's going on, and like any good science fiction, it looks like Lazarus will have some interesting things to say about our own present-day society.  I'm definitely ready for more, and next month's issue can't come soon enough.


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