Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's Comic Time! (3/4/09)

After kicking the tires and lighting the fires with a plethora of reviews last week, things are mostly quiet at the opening of March. And that was fine with me since it just afforded the opportunity to finish re-reading "Watchmen" for tomorrow's review. But for now we have the latest in the sometimes frustrating Buffy: Season 8, a pair of nice offerings from Marvel and one from DC which is a blatant (and blatantly successful) attempt to grab an extra $3 out of my pocket.

Comic Reviews for Week of 3/4/2009

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #23 - "Predators and Prey"
Written by Drew Greenberg, Art by Georges Jeanty

It's an adequate in yet another one-shot here in Season Eight and this month is a decent step down from last month's fun and funny effort. Jeanty's art has always been pretty hit or miss. When he really tries on a panel, everything is fine and dandy. But months like this his inconsistent lines and lack of significantly important detail really hurt the book. Prime examples include the background faces in the first two panels on page one, the first panel in page two and on and on throughout the book. Maybe I'm a stickler here, but just because someone isn't the primary focus doesn't mean you can skimp on through with stick figure-like lines and dots in place of eyes.

The story focuses on Buffy and Andrew road tripping their way to Italy and confronting the rogue slayer Simone and her crew. The writing has its good points and bad. The snippets of Andrew rambling that pass the trip itself (why don't they use Willow to fly if they're in a hurry? That really was a bad plot bunny to unleash.) are actually funny and no I'm not the least bit self-conscious that I could hold a very in-depth conversation about any of his topics. But the fight scenes are all rather awfully handled with no sense of motion or excitement to them. And how could I give a positive review that pulls out a deux ex machina for the conclusion... and even this gift ending is displayed so poorly, there isn't any real sense of why this solves anything. Altogether one of the most disappointing efforts from this title yet.

Final Score: D+

DAREDEVIL #116 - "On the Costa da Morte"
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by David Aja

In this prologue to the latest arc, Brubaker stays completely with the soon to be returning Kingpin, telling the story entirely from his perspective and chronicling the year that has apparently taken place since he left America back in issue #93. In some ways its an exercise in futility given that we know how the story will end by page two and trying to build some sense of identification and sympathy for one of the more omnipresent villains of the Marvel universe. But the running internal narration manages to sell the story by never shying away from the inevitability of the conclusion.

The eventual fight scene is just as violent and bloody as we'd demand out of the title. Even if its hard to buy Wilson Fisk holding his own that long against the ninjas of the Hand, Brubaker and Aja still make it all feel visceral enough to stay on the realistic side of that line. Even the return of the less than spectacular Lady Bullseye can't spoil the issue.

Aja's does an exceptionally nice job on the artwork, bringing a bit more substance than I've seen in much of his work, bringing it more in line with the style of the series' regular artist Michael Lark, who returns next month. While the return of the Kingpin might be a little too soon to have any exceptionally deep and substantive meaning, it should be interesting to watch him continue to walk the line between sinner and victim.

Final score: B

Written by Jonathan Hickman and Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Stefano Caselli

After the over-sized, espionage action heavy debut, this title slows down much more than a little in its second issue. Most of the time is spent setting up the situation at Hydra (who were revealed last month to have a far grander reach than we've seen to date) in the wake of Secret Invasion. Baron von Strucker looks to be Fury's first significant opponent, assembling his own warriors in between melting the faces off some punk Skrulls. When in need of a villain, why not go Nazi? And while Hickman has little time to bring much personality to the four main warriors of Hydra, they certainly look cool.

The focus on the villains leaves the main characters, especially Fury himself, relegated to limited amount of pages. The Warriors do manage to have some fun sitting around a lunch table in a scene that feels very much true to form that you would expect from Bendis. Phobos again manages to steal the show with a nice I can see a bit of your future monologue. While the remaining characters, especially J.T. and Daisy, are fleshed out a good bit more.

After a decent, but sporadic debut, Caselli shows a much more disciplined approach to his characters. The main drawback of the issue is that we're still spinning our wheels in the setup phase and to have the only action sequence of the issue belong to the villain makes things seem to fly by too quickly.

Final score: B-

Written by Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka, Art by Pete Woods

Rarely has anything by Johns had so many hurdles to get over before even starting for me. It's no secret I've been adamantly against the New Krypton storyline since the start. I understand their idea of surrounding Superman with other similarly powered characters to prove how special he is regardless of them. It's the same methodology behind stories that de-power him. In this case, I didn't care for it when they lived on Earth and moving to their own corner of the solar system didn't help. I mean, c'mon, they're Kryptonians and you moved them to the other side of the sun! It's the equivalent of having Matt Murdock move from Hell's Kitchen to Weehawken, N.J. Something tells me he could find his way back across the Lincoln Tunnel once in awhile. The ranting aside, there's no reason this book couldn't have taken place in "Action Comics" and let James Robinson tell the story of a world without Superman in the self-titled book. Instead I feel ripped off and show up this week ready to drop any of the three at any substantive annoyance.

This first issue gets a pass, doing a far better job of detailing many of the motivations in Superman leaving the planet then any of his books up to this point. Superman's attention is divided between observing and trying to keep Zod in check, his responsibility to his people and desire to guide them to a more accepting and modern society and his determination to find his adopted son, Chris Kent. The eventual showdown between Superman and Zod will most likely involve the young boy.

This issue is tough to critique since it is limited to basically having Superman show up, look around and get a job. But Superman seems more grounded and in-character than he has in several months and while most of the other characters mostly represented by Alura, her assistant and numerous soldiers are still a bit too, well, alien, they're slightly more understandable in their own setting than they were committing war crimes back on Earth.

A recurring artist on the Superman titles for awhile now, Woods first impressed me during the "Up, Up and Away" arc that followed Infinite Crisis. I worry about the use of shadows on character's faces during close-ups. It makes those several panels standout as vastly different in appearance from the majority of the work in the issue. In addition to his fine work on expressions and detail, Woods is able to capture a realistic sense of motion, especially during flight, which is a prerequisite for any artist tackling the Man of Steel.

The quality of the first issue has me thinking that if a drop a book over the next year, it'll probably be one of the regular titles. Because call me crazy, but when I buy a Superman book, I want... um... Superman involved at least a little.

Final score: C+

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