Friday, September 10, 2010

Quick Reviews: Batman, Red Robin, Batman and Robin, Invaders Now, One Month to Live, Daytripper

Written by Fabian Nicieza; art by Cliff Richards.

Fabian Nicieza fills in for Peter Milligan, who was originally announced as the writer for this filler issue before Tony Daniel returns as regular writer and penciller. Given the last minute change, I'm assuming this was a bit of a rush job, but FabNic uses the opportunity to expand on a theme he's been exploring in Red Robin, namely, Vicky Vale's snooping around the Bat family, trying to expose their identities.

This is billed on the cover as "A prelude to Bruce Wayne: The Road Home." In other word, this is pretty much prelude to a prelude to the actual Return of Bruce Wayne, which will presumably take place in the final issue of said series. It's not a bad story, but it seems a bit unnecessary (much like the previous two issues from Grant Morrison).

Where the rushed nature of this job is most apparent, though, is in the art. There's an appalling lack of detail in Cliff Richards's lines, especially when it comes to facial expressions. And Damian looks like a 17-year-old girl instead of a 10-year-old boy.

Written by Fabian Nicieza; art by Marcus To and Ray McCarthy.

This was probably the weakest issue of Red Robin since Nicieza took over the title. I'm not sure why it was so unsatisfying. There's too much narration, not enough action. It seems like nothing much happens and this is just more filler setting things up for Bruce's return. It's possible that some of what ended up in Batman this week was originally supposed to be in this issue, which would explain why this all feels a bit redundant. The most exciting part of the issue is probably the short blurb at the very end of it where Nicieza teases some of the changes that are waiting for Tim after Bruce's return. Tie-in events often interrupt the flow of ongoing titles, and I think there's a bit of that going on here. Hopefully once that's been dealt with, the pacing will improve. I have faith in Fabian Nicieza. Meanwhile, Marcus To's art remains excellent.

Written by Grant Morrison; art by Frazer Irving.

This is another really good issue from Morrison and Irving, although it didn't quite blow my mind the way the previous issue did with its shocker opening. I don't even know what else to say about this. The next issue is going to be epic and I can't even... Words fail me.

Story by Alex Ross and Christos Gage; art by Caio Reis.

I decided to give this a try, because I was curious about this old-school team featuring Captain America (the first and the second), Namor and a bunch of characters I've never heard of before, including one that looks an awful lot like Martian Manhunter. This wasn't very good. The entire issue consists of this green guy gathering members of the old team, most of which have died and returned to life in one way or another. They're all conveniently hanging out in pairs, spending a lot of time reminiscing about the past while fighting monsters or villains, when they are summoned. Then they all gather in Steve Rogers office, where we are told for about the fourth or fifth time that they are the only ones capable of saving the world. And this is all because of this terrible thing that happened during WWII, the "darkest chapter in their history."

Maybe things will pick up in the next issues, but this was just about the worse possible introduction to a team of (to me) unknown characters I could've imagined, and it does nothing to make me want to continue reading. I've come to the conclusion that I'm really not a fan of Christos Gage at all. His dialogue is really terrible. (I haven't yet given up on Avengers Academy, which he's also writing, because I'm interested in the characters and the story, but that title is also on probation at the moment.)

Written by Bob Williams; art by Koi Turnbull, Shawn Moll, Mark Irwin and Allen Martinez.

I wasn't entirely convinced by the first issue of this five-part weekly mini-series, and now after another issue I'm still kind of on the fence. It's an interesting premise, but the execution is strange. The decision to have a different creative team on every issue (including different writers) is definitely a weird one, but it's kind of an interesting experiment. I was really annoyed by some stereotypical "urban" thug in the first part of this issue, and then by Spider-Man's totally off-key sassy dialogue.

For example: "Time to shake your booty on the catwalk and announce your brand name. Work it, girlfriend. Show Spidey the voguish heroic apparel that's going to be simply everywhere this season." Any one of these sentences would have been bad enough, but all three of them in succession is just ridiculous.

I can't really recommend this, although now that I'm two issues in and still kind of curious about where it's going, I figure I'll probably keep reading it.

Written and drawn by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba.

This series has been amazing and I was almost apprehensive about reading the final issue, afraid that it wouldn't live up to expectations. I still don't fully know if it does and I'm kind of reluctant to comment further at this point, because I feel like I need to let it sink in and probably re-read the full series in order to better process it.

All I can say is I highly recommend this series. I've resisted reviewing any of it until now because I always felt that it would be better appreciated as a complete work. I'll write more about it at some point in the future.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Comic Book Carnage #002

Yes, boys and girls, it's time for another edition of Comic Book Carnage, in which Mike and I talk nonchalantly about a few comics we've read recently. There may be spoilers involved.

Written by Allan Heinberg; art by Jim Cheung and Mark Morales.

Yan: Let's start with Children's Crusade. What's your general impression of the series so far?

Mike: I think it's an interesting plot but the execution is just not for me. I think it has a lot to do with Wiccan being the main character. Heinberg doesn't make him the most appealing character. There's little things he does, like how he's always making these "cute" comments to himself, that make him annoying to me.

Yan: Yeah, I think for me it's not really a problem with the characterization but more the dialogue. A lot of the humour that's thrown in falls flat for me. Like those "cute" asides you mention.

Mike: Also I don't really get a good feel for the other characters. They're just kind of hanging out playing the role of a Greek chorus.

Yan: I can't say I get a good feel for them either, but I'm always wondering if that's just because I'm such a Marvel noob. I do like the story, though. I started reading this because Quicksilver's quest to find Scarlet Witch was mentioned briefly in Avengers Academy. So I'm interested in where this is going. I'm definitely willing to give it a few more issues. I also have to confess an interest in the gay romance thing. There's not a lot of that in comics, so I want to know if they're going to take it any further. Like that interrupted kiss in issue #1 kinda pissed me off. I want to see them make out on panel.

Mike: I'm glad you brought that up. I think that Hulkling and Wiccan make a terrible couple. Maybe it's because one of them is a big green monster with who can grow veiny bat wings but I just don't feel any chemistry.

Yan: Really? I think they make an all right couple. I mean, this is the first time I read about any of these characters, so I don't really know where they're coming from or anything.

Mike: I don't know, maybe Heinberg did a great job of establishing a relationship with these two characters that he sees no need to flesh it out anymore in this series.

Yan: So you haven't read anything featuring these character before either, then?

Mike: Nope, this was all new to me.

Yan: I just assumed there was some history that I wasn't familiar with. But I do want it to get developed. So far it's been little more than a tease. And I also kind of wonder what's up with all the other couples forming in the team. In the space of a few pages it seemed like everyone was going to be involved in some romance with another member of the team.

Mike: Yeah, what's up with that? I guess that's just how it is with team books.

Yan: Especially teen ones, maybe. The art's pretty nice, though, I think.

Mike: Yes, I can agree with that. Jim Cheung is yet another example of Marvel's strong pool of artists.

Yan: I would even say it's the art that makes the relationship between Wiccan and Hulkling work for me. Somehow the fact that one is a big green monster doesn't seem that big of a deal. Although, I keep wanting to see Wiccan make out with his twin brother. But I guess that's 'cause I'm a perv.

Mike: Haha. Oh, who hasn't toyed with a twincest fantasy?

Yan: Maybe you can tell me a bit about what's up with Magneto. He always seemed like an interesting villain to me, because there are shades of gray to his morality. Do you think he's going to turn out to have evil motives in this story, or is he genuinely trying to find Scarlet Witch 'cause he cares about his daughter?

Mike: I have no idea, I almost wonder if he showed up just so there could be some wacky, over the top fight between him and Dr. Doom (since Doom shows up at the very end of #2).

Yeah, I don't know. I like how charismatic Magneto is (and again, I think this is mostly due to Jim Cheung's art). But once again I feel like my understanding of the character suffers from the fact that I haven't been following the Marvel universe at all.

Mike: You haven't missed much. It's just the DC universe with different costumes, that's the industry's big secret.

Yan: Ha!

Mike: This comic read like a bad TV teen drama but was drawn well enough to make me not wish death upon it.

Yan: Does that mean you're not going to keep reading?

Mike: Probably not.

Written by Nick Spencer; art by Joe Eisma and Rodin Esquejo.

Yan: Let's move on to Morning Glories. I'm going to take a guess that you hated this even more.

Mike: Haha, you know me so well. Let's start this one off a little less negatively and have you talk first.

Yan: Well, I have pretty mixed feelings about it. It's pretty stereotype-heavy. So blatantly so that I kind of wonder if maybe it's intentional. But it's hard to care about any of these characters, 'cause they're all stereotypes of annoying little brats we've seen in a thousand TV shows and movies.

Mike: Yes, exactly. Worst of all is how blatant Nick Spencer is about showing who the hero is. I mean showing the last character introduced playing with his little brother and promising to give him Grant Morrison comics was quite the eye rolling experience for me.

Yan: Yeah.

Mike: Morning Glories is one of the comics that takes a great premise and ruins it in execution.

Yan: Yeah, well, you kinda said the same thing about Children's Crusade. Which I guess says something about how common this is.

Mike: Okay, then add the word "another" to that previous statement. But this book is worse because even the art didn't try!

Yan: The art pisssed me off. I find it insulting to have the same panel copy-and-paste 8 times in two pages.

Mike: Like that dinner scene with the frigid upper class family?

Yan: Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. That's bullshit.

Mike: The same thing is done a couple of pages later with that limo scene. Oh, well, on the bright side if you have a copy of #1 you can sell it on ebay for $20 these days. Oh, god, I would feel like a horrible person if I tricked someone into spending $20 on this comic.

Yan: Maybe I'm a masochist, but I kinda want to give this series another issue before taking it off my pull list. I think I'm curious enough about where it's going to give it a chance. It's really the art that makes me hesitate though.

Mike: Suit yourself.

Yan: I guess I just want to see if Nick Spencer is going to attempt to make these characters feel more human, or if he's just satisfied with relying on stereotypes. I'm giving it another issue to convince me, but that's it.

Mike: As for me, if this comic were a person I would be writing mean spirited things about it on the walls of some bar.

Yan: Instead, you can just write mean-spirited things about it on my blog.

SWEET TOOTH #13 (Vertigo)
Written and drawn by Jeff Lemire.

Yan: We saved the best for last. At least in my opinion. Sweet Tooth #13. Please tell me you didn't hate this.

Mike: Oh, thank God, an opportunity to prove I don't hate everything.

Yan: Good.

Mike: I know you felt differently, but I was not a fan of #12's format, which came off to me as a little too light on plot. #13 is the exact opposite and further develops a good deal of the cast.

Well, about #12, I just don't think it's necessary for every issue to drive the plot forward. I don't have a problem with taking a break if the issue is still going to do something interesting and provide nice art and good storytelling. And we did get a lot of history about Singh that we didn't previously have, so there was that too. But otherwise, I agree, now we're back into the action, and you can see shit's about to go down in a big way. And that's exciting!

Mike: One thing I feel never gets mentioned is that Jose Villarrubia's coloring really brings this book to life.

Yan: Good point. I was noticing it a lot in this issue. That dream sequence in particular. And that cover! Another thing that's amazing, actually, speaking of the copy-and-pasting in Morning Glories. How many times have we seen the almost exact same panel of that close up of Gus's eyes in this series? But Jeff Lemire actually draws it every time and puts some thought into how it's used. It becomes a visual motif.

Mike: Yeah, and I think it's Lemire's firm grasp of imagery that helps this book.

Yan: And sense of pacing, too. He uses these visual motifs to create interesting transitions and parallels between characters. And that page with the helicopter blade. It might seem crazy to devote a whole page to that when you only have 22 pages to tell a chapter of the story. But it seems so essential to his storytelling style. Those panels look like they were probably copy-and-pasted, too, but there are variations in the colouring, which makes it work.

Mike: It's one of those pages that could only exist in this book. Sweet Tooth is one of the last mainstream books willing to take risks.

Yan: I don't really know how mainstream it is. It's kind of an oddity even for Vertigo. It kind of blows my mind that Lemire is now writing DCU stories. As an aside, have you seen his preview of Superboy in Action Comics?

Mike: Yeah, it's what I was hoping for from him. Stuff like those weird Parasite looking frogs, the pig men hiding in the earth. It somehow got me excited about a book starring Superboy.

Yan: I'm really looking forward to it. After his shaky debut on the Atom Special, I was a little afraid that he just wasn't the kind of writer who can crossover into mainstream DCU from indie comics. But this restored my faith in his abilities. I think Superboy's going to be a great book. And personally, I like the character anyway, so...

Mike: All right, now that we've finished gushing about Jeff Lemire, any final thoughts?

Yan: Just that this was another great issue of my favourite book and this new story arc promises to get really intense over the next few months. Anybody who's not reading this is missing out big time. I guess that was still kind of gushy.

Mike: Jeff Lemire, I am proud of you and I always leave a space for you at my dinner table in case you want some ramen to eat or whatever.

Yan: Aw, that's nice. I hope he's reading this.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Read in August 2010

Action Comics #891, 892
Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #4
Red Robin #15
The Flash #4
Secret Avengers #3, 4
Sweet Tooth #12
Revolver (graphic novel)
Robin (ongoing) #1-4
Batman #480
Pluto (manga) vol. 7, 8
Solo #10 (Damion Scott issue)
Northlanders #30, 31
Morning Glories #1
Birds of Prey #4
Daytripper #9
Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #1, 2
Meta 4 #3
Four Eyes: Forged in Flames (TPB)
Legion of Super-Heroes #4
Superman/Batman #75
Avengers Academy #1-3
Batman #702
Bulletproof Coffin #3

Favourite issue of the month: Sweet Tooth #12. See my review here.

Other highlights: The conclusion of Pluto, the amazing Four Eyes, Daytripper approaching the final issue, and Paul Cornell's hijinks in Action Comics.

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