Sunday, July 21, 2013

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 07/17/13

We're back at you with another round of Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  A combination of old favourites and new series on the docket today, as we're taking a closer look at Batwoman #22, Red Sonja #1, and X-Files Season Ten #2.  So grab that jump and see what there is to see on the other side!

Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Art by Trevor McCarthy
Colours by Guy Major

I’ve long been a supporter of DC, but even I have been having a hard time keeping the faith of late.  The constant editorial interference / sabotage, the lackluster storytelling, and now their seeming stealth price hike of September and October has me seriously re-evaluating the (admittedly dwindling) DC books that I continue to pull on a monthly basis.  The perhaps only exception to this rule is J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, and Trevor McCarthy’s Batwoman.  And to be frank, I feel that a big part of this is because they’ve somehow managed to get their own little corner of the DC Universe to do whatever they want with minimal interference.  While the loss of Greg Rucka remains unfortunate, there hasn’t actually been any significant change from Pre-52 to New 52 Kate Kane.

This leg of the series has suffered from some pacing issues and there are some inconsistencies in the overall narrative, but it also continues to have one of the strongest voices from DC’s stable of comics.  There is a large cast to contend with, and they sometimes duel for page space, but when they get their time in the spotlight, they almost always use it to good effect.  I was all over Wonder Woman’s presence in the last story arc, I’ve been head over heels for Kate and Maggie Sawyer’s ongoing relationship, and while I’m sometimes a little fuzzy on exactly what’s going on, the current focus on the Department of Extranormal Operations definitely has my interest.

It also doesn’t hurt that Trevor McCarthy has really come into his own on this title.  I’ll always hope for a Williams return to arting, but McCarthy has been rock solid of late.  He’s all over this issue, dropping some amazing sequences that really communicate the brutality of what’s going on, which is a good thing, because we have a lot of that this issue.  And while Dave Stewart has seemingly disappeared from colours, Guy Major’s take on the book looks brilliant.  It’s definitely different from Stewart – perhaps a touch brighter and more in your face – but it works quite well.

Amidst all that beautiful violence there is some narrative movement, as we see Kate continue her hunt to trap Batman, an odd scheme initiated by the D.E.O. that seems destined for failure.  The search takes her up to Alaska with cousin Bette Kane on a hunt for Bane.  While the callback to Knightfall is a nice touch, at the end of the engagement, it’s a little hard to say what’s been accomplished (although there are some nice character moments).  We also get some quick hits from some of Batman’s lesser known rogues, and then the issue moves into its focus: Bette’s ongoing training to bustup the D.E.O.’s grill.  It’s an extended sequence, and while there’s a lot of information and characters being introduced in rapid succession, the highlight reel nature of the pages works well.

Verdict – Check It.  Batwoman is a fun book.  J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman don’t always quite explain everything as thoroughly as maybe they ought to, but a close reading often allows a filling in of the blanks, which sometimes works better.  And while Williams is still missed on art duties, Trevor McCarthy seems to be getting better with every issue, which is saying something, because he was already pretty good to start with.  I don’t rightly know how my DC pull will look come October, but I have a funny feeling that Batwoman will still be there.

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Walter Geovani
Colours by Adrian Lucas

Going into Red Sonja #1, I was as unfamiliar with the character as I was when I picked up the Brain Wood helmed Conan the Barbarian relaunch from Dark Horse last year.  And like Wood’s Conan, the main draw for this title was the writer, in this case the most excellent Gail Simone.  I first came across her writing during her time with DC’s Secret Six, a title that I followed faithfully throughout its entire publication history.  That book delivered the most fascinating mixture of depravity, violence, and sympathetic characters that I’ve ever encountered in comics, and while I didn’t expect to find that in Red Sonja #1, it is nonetheless what got me in the door.

Simone’s debut with the female warrior, alongside artist Walter Geovani actually did have some moments that were reminiscent of her earlier times with that Secret Six, but on the balance, it had far more in common with your average fantasy tale of adventure.  There were big battles, mercenary brigands, kingdoms in need, desperate gambles, and all manner of items that you’d expect from swords and / or sorcery, but none of those disparate elements ever really coalesced into a larger whole.  Average is perhaps the best descriptor, because while it made for interesting reading, there wasn’t much in this comic that was different from what someone with a passing familiarity with the fantasy genre would expect.

Geovani’s visual storytelling is perhaps the strongest aspect of the book.  I would say that it also falls squarely in the fantasy tradition of a healthy dose of pseudo-realism infused with lots of dynamic action.  However, Geovani also spends time with character facial expressions and body language, which makes the comic feel more present.  His pacing serves each scene well, and his layouts, while sometimes a little overbusy, also do a great job of reflecting the atmosphere of the story.  When Red Sonja gets into an unexpected scuffle, the panels suddenly become cluttered and off-kilter, mirroring the claustrophobic confusion of the fight.  It’s a small thing that communicates a lot.

Adrian Lucas’ colour palette is on the dark side here, but it feels like an apt reflection of the story itself.  Red Sonja’s world seems to be in a pretty bad way, and Lucas’ colours demonstrate that without abandoning brightness embracing muddiness.  He finds a good balance in between the two and always makes Geovani’s work look better.

Unfortunately, the artwork cannot hide the fact that the story being told here simply isn’t particularly interesting or novel.  That’s not to say that every narrative must be replete with innovative ideas, but if there isn’t a new or big twist, a story has to be that much better to cover that fact.  And while there are some good moments and a serviceable (if predictable) swerve towards the end of the issue, it simply doesn’t feel fresh enough to warrant a return for issue #2.

Verdict – Check It.  This comic is enjoyable, but unless you’re a big Red Sonja fan, it’s not quite enjoyable enough.  It’s nice that Simone and Geovani present Red Sonja as a badass woman warrior who is equal to any man (her bikini armour notwithstanding), but the fact remains that this comic never really differentiates itself from its ilk or offers a reason to come back for more.

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Michael Walsh
Colours by Jordie Bellaire

X-Files Season Ten, the comic book about a classic television series that I’ve never actually watched continues this month, and I’m pleased to report that Joe Harris, Michael Walsh, and Jordie Ballaire continue to weave a story worth reading regardless of one’s familiarity with the source material (i.e. in spite of my ignorance of it).

The pacing is surprisingly similar to the first issue, with a tense tease to set the stage before delving deeper into the story proper, but the creative team manages to organize things in a way that avoids a sense of repetition.  While this issue follows directly on the footsteps of last month, the rabbit hole only grows deeper, as we meet more and more characters who are clearly originally from the show.  I imagine these appearances are somewhat exciting for fans of the show, but while I can’t confirm such a claim, I can say that they are never confusing.  Although the number of characters seems to be ballooning, they always get enough of an introduction to ensure that the reader has at least a general understanding of who they are.

Harris’ story continues to move at a quick clip, jumping from character to character and from scene to scene without hesitation.  Like last time, this results in a number of moments taking place simultaneously and that narrative parallelism works quite well to establish and create tension and to move the story forward.  The mystery is still far from solved, but it’s becoming clear that its scope is perhaps far greater than initially thought (which partially explains the growing cast).

As always, Walsh’s art is a delight.  He’s as versatile as ever, nailing each and every scene, whether it’s a prolonged conversation between two characters, a tense investigation, or some brief moments of violence (of which there are a decent amount).  Having first really started to pay attention to his work with Comeback earlier this year and late last year, it’s great to see Walsh using some of the things he learned in that mini and branching out to experiment and try new things.  It’s also impressive to see the type of chemistry that he and Harris have already developed, as the story is organically weaved into every word and image in the comic – it’s almost as if they are working from the same mind.

Speaking of chemistry, Bellaire, Walsh’s partner in crime from Comeback, continues to be one of the very best colourists in the industry.  Her palettes always feel perfectly appropriate for whatever the scene may be, and they always make Walsh’s inks look prettier.  I was particularly taken with the use of yellow as shorthand for mental or physical agitation, something that was developed quickly and used to great effect over the course of the issue proper.

Verdict – Buy It.  X-Files Season 10 #2 keeps the momentum from issue #1 rolling – and then some.  The mystery continues to build, but there’s a real sense that it’s actually building up to something.  It’s my understanding that Joe Harris and Michael Walsh are going for short, inter-connected arcs, and I’m mighty interested to see how all these pieces end up falling into place.

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