Sunday, July 7, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/03/13

We're a little later than planned, but The Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews are finally here!  We've some quality books on call this time around, with Catalyst Comix #1, Masks & Mobsters #9, and The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1 getting my attention.  Click that cut to see how they all panned out!

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Dan McDaid, Ulises Farinas & Paul Maybury

It is so rare nowadays that you find a comic that really deserves "bombastic" as a descriptor, but Catalyst Comix easily fits that bill.  Joe Casey and company's new superhero comic feels like they distilled all the craziest parts of the Silver Age, cobbled it together with modern day sensibilities, and then put it all on an acid trip.  Everything about this book is loud and big.  The ideas, the art, the colours.  Everything.

There are three somewhat related narratives contained within this first issue, with Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas each responsible for a different one.  There isn't much in the way of introductions given for any of them, as Casey throws the reader directly into the fray, forcing them to catch up to the crazy stuff that seems to be constantly going on on the page.  The whole thing is kind of confusing, but that's clearly the intent, as the stories (at least the first two) are captioned to death, with the excessive narration putting some of Stan Lee's best hyperbolizing to shame.  It makes for an odd reading experience at times, but it's also quite different from most anything else you'll find on stands at the moment.  And with the whole package clocking in at 28 pages of story for $2.99, it's hard to argue with the value.

McDaid's story, The Ballad of Frank Wells, leads the comic and clocks in at 14 pages, making it the most substantial story in the book.  It stars Frank Wells, a hero of Superman-esque powers, fighting off a being of untold power and horror, doing his utmost to prevent it from destroying New York and ultimately the world.  This is perhaps the story with the highest caption-to-page ratio, and while they are filled to the brim with metaphor and embellishment, they are surprisingly low on actual substance.  The main intent really seems to be to create a mood for this intense battle, and I must say that it is quite successful on that count.  Things swing wildly from hopeful to dire throughout the story, and Casey and McDaid manage to consistently raise the stakes in a way that feels real and believable, which is impressive.  McDaid's art plays an especially important role here, as he manages to create the frenetic energy required to convey the struggle and power at play throughout Frank's insane battle.

From there, we move into Amazing Grace, a slightly more pensive story drawn by Maybury featuring Grace, a young woman of seemingly infinite intellect and ability and the society that she has founded to save the world.  They are struggling with what appears to be the source of Frank Wells, as Grace has traveled through space to find a singularity of evil, while her board members work back on Earth to provide her with some support.  The whole thing feels far more philosophical, as both the writing and art pack in plenty of ideas throughout the seven-page story, asking more questions than you can shake a stick at.  And Maybury also manages to fit in some spectacular visuals that give McDaid's work a run for its money.

Finally, we have Agents of Change, the story drawn by Farinas.  While all the art is eye-catching, Farinas' is perhaps the most unorthodox, as everything in the world he creates feels exaggerated and larger than life.  Of course, this effect works perfectly in the type of story that Casey is telling here, as we meet such colourful characters as Elvis Warmaker and Wolfhunter, to name but a few.  In a sense, this story is much quieter than the other two.  The story takes place at the same time as Frank Wells' epic battle, but it's on the opposite coast.  Despite the danger the world finds itself in, things are quiet in Los Angeles, and Elvis Warmaker is spending his day getting some more ink done.  Unfortunately for him, he's interrupted by some G-Man named Bert who wants to recruit him to what looks like a ragtag group of heroes tasked with saving the world.

All in all, there's a heck of a lot of world saving going on here, and it's all quite a bit of fun.  It's all big, crazy, and a little mixed up, but on the whole, it's a really enjoyable read.  Brad Simpson colours all three stories and his bright and colourful work goes a long way to emphasize the craziness of the world that's being created while also providing a link between all three stories.

Verdict - Check It.  Catalyst Comix is a strange beast.  It's still not quite clear what exactly this book is going to be about, but it has more than enough style to mask that fact for the moment.  All the stories have bright spots to them, but I must say that Ulises Farinas' is far and away my favourite.  He's still relatively new in comics, but I hope to see a lot more of him in the future.

Written by Mike Henderson and Joshua Williamson
Art by Mike Henderson

Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson's Masks & Mobsters continues to be one of my favourite books coming out from Monkeybrain Comics.  The comic is set in a 1930s America where gangsters reign supreme.  That is, at least, until masked heroes start popping up and causing them grief.  And if that wasn't difficult enough, the first issue in this series had a character by the name of Bobby Silver gunning down superhero Doctor Daylight.  The majority of the issues since then have been concerned with the fallout of that decision, as it completely changed the relationship between the two sides.

That being said, one of the greatest things about this series is that, while that overarching story is often there in the background, virtually every issue can be read on its own without any prior experience with or knowledge of the comic.  This issue is a done in one written by Henderson with Williamson providing some script assists.  The story proper looks at some mobsters running into trouble with a Creature of the Black Lagoon analogue down by the city docks.  The creature isn't happy about all the things they've been dumping into the river, but showing a surprising degree of resourcefulness, the crooks not only resolve the situation without violence, they bring the creature in on their capers.  Of course, those pesky heroes just can't let a good thing alone.

It's a fun little 10 page story that is well worth the 99 cent price of admission.  Henderson's script manages some nice twists and turns in that small space, and his art is as awesome as ever.  The creature looks fearsome and powerful, and there's some great mix of word and art that allows the story to pack in a ton of narrative in a short space.  The greytone colouring is also really nice, providing some great depth and energy to Henderson's inks.

Verdict - Buy It.  Like most of Monkeybrain's offerings, Masks & Mobsters #9 is high on both quality and value.  This series has routinely been one of the most enjoyable ones that the publisher has put out, and issue #9 is no exception to that rule.

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve Lieber

Now, I know I give Marvel Comics a hard time for their awful 20 pages for comics for $3.99 price point that they have on so many of their books, but I must also thank them for pricing pretty much every single one of their books that I actually want to read at $2.99.  Hawkeye, Young Avengers, and Daredevil all fall into this category, but that's not the only thing they share in common.  Like pretty much everything Marvel publishes, these are superhero books, but unlike the $3.99 offerings, these books all have something of a twist on the old and worn superhero formula.  Daredevil is perhaps the most traditional of the three, but they all do things that you are far less likely to find in more popular or mainstream books, and as much as I dig their price, it's the way they approach their subject matter that initially grabbed me and keeps me reading.

I know we're only one issue in, but I have a feeling that The Superior Foes of Spider-Man could very well be the latest addition to this group.  Its main difference from the three books I've already mentioned is that instead of simply approaching superhero stories from a different angle, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber are approaching supervillian stories differently.  Granted, supervillain might be a little strong.  There's a reason this book isn't named after The Sinister Six, even if that's what the villains within call themselves (despite the fact that they only have five members).  Simply put, these characters are definite C-Listers.  At best.

To be honest, that's a big part of what makes this book so much fun.  These characters have never known any real success in their life.  They've always been down on their luck.  Our point of view character is Boomerang, but everyone we meet is a regular Joe who's just trying to make ends meet.  That they just so happen to dress up in bright costumes and spend their days trying to hit a big score and take out Spider-Man is almost a side note in their daily lives.  It almost feels like the Seinfeld of supervillain comics.  Not necessarily because it's as funny as the show (although it has some solid laughs), but because it sometimes feels like it's a comic about nothing.  And that's a big part of what makes this so much fun.

Boomerang is an excellent lead, as his narration slowly brings the reader up to speed, listing off his own background information, giving some insight into his colleagues, and then seamlessly moving into the actual story of the issue, which more or less amounts to tricking his so-called friends into springing him from prison.  Along the way, we get some laughably pathetic robberies (including stealing a puppy for good measure while knocking over a pet store) that are quite a bit of fun.  However, it's not all fun and games, as Boomerang has potentially roped the group in over their heads.  Future issues will show whether or not they can stay afloat.

While the writing is wonderful, firm props must also be given to Lieber's fantastic art.  He provides a great mixture of realism to ground the story with picture perfect comic book elements to help things along when they move firmly into the realm of superheroism.  Lieber is just as home depicting those masked robberies as he is drawing the ridiculously cute puppy the Sinister Six find themselves in possession of (and I really hope that Inspector becomes a regular character).  Rachelle Rosenberg's colours were an excellent compliment, as they mirrored the balance between realism and comic book exaggeration.  Simply put, this book looked great.

Verdict - Buy It.  It's a little early to make sweeping claims about this title, but The Superior Foes of Spider-Man is off to a great start.  This book is a lot of fun, a great look at the other side of the superhero coin, and it looks like it's going to have a lot of heart.  I can't wait to see more.

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