Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's Comic Time! (4/1/09)

There's three other books I'm reviewing this week, but in the end, there can be only one. May it be Flash: Rebirth. Born in the highlands of Scotland over 400 years ago (actually the mind of Detroit native Geoff Johns spinning out of last year's Final Crisis event). It is not alone (the same creative team brought us Green Lantern: Rebirth). There are others like it, some good (books by BKV) some evil (books from Jeph Loeb since Hush). So let's watch out for spoilers below the jump, blast some Queen and get going.

Comics for the Week of 04/01/2009

Written by Jim Krueger, Art by Cliff Richards

In all honesty, I'm underwhelmed. After months on their own, Faith and Giles manage to help a town defeat a monster that did some harm, but kept the vampires at bay. While the idea of them walking the Earth and finding Slayers not in Buffy's army to help and offer guidance to is a good concept, this single issue does little to provide details on where they have been and what specific adventures they have had.

This story itself is not exceptionally unique or impressive, though Krueger manages to handle the unique voices of the characters with just as much ease as Brian K. Vaughn did in his earlier arc.

Richards' art is fine in all the scenes not involving action. But the climax of this issue is ruined by his confusingly thrown together battle. The basic physics of where in a room people are standing even seem to be lost in the rush. How weapons get from one person's hand to another is entirely unclear. And the conclusion is less about a dramatic ass-kickingly cool action and actually led to me saying, "Um, I guess it was time to end the fight..." But learn how to set and execute a decent action sequence and Richards would be more than capable of handling the book for extended periods.

Final score: C

Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Ethan Van Schiver

Did I build this one up enough in the opening? When I got back into comics several years ago (after a decade-long sabbatical), one of the first things I read was Johns and Van Schiver's Green Lantern: Rebirth which both fully reintegrated me into comics and brought back Hal Jordan (fav character #2). Just as important as the return of my third favorite DC Universe character, Barry Allen, this series mark the return to prominence of the character of the Flash. After the conclusion of an excellent five year run on the main title, Johns left just before Infinite Crisis. Quickly we saw the Flash of the last 20 years, Wally West, fill out a few mediocre issues after Johns left before he was taken out of continuity. The series quickly rebooted with the most recent Kid Flash, Bart Allen, taking up the coolest costume in comics in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, which lasted twelve issues. The series ranged in quality from just plain bad to possibly promising before Bart was killed off by the Rogues. The return of Wally a few months later has led to another string of unimpressive stories with him and his two young children. Given the inability to make anything else work, DC brought back the man whose death meant more to the DCU than any other. And no, even if I love the guy, I still don't know if its a good thing.

So how is issue #1? Well it looks fabulous. I can at least be definitive about that. Since GL: Rebirth, Van Schiver has reached the very upper echelon of comic artists, where our main complaint is that we don't see their work nearly often enough. But the great unknown for him here, something we glance only briefly is how well he will integrate a sense of the super-speed movement into the action. It's a conflict he hasn't addressed too much in work that I've read, but it will be a critical element as the series progresses. I would never claim Scott Kolins as an artist on Van Schiver's level, but on his long run with Johns, he was a master of bringing this sense of life to the speedster book.

The emotional conflict is very different than what Hal Jordan faced, here we have a reintroduction, not a redemption. And while Johns tries to give a new spin on a common theme (a returned hero being out of touch with today's technology) by having Barry state that the world hasn't past him by, it's just catching up a bit, he's still an isolated character. The only character he shares a scene with is Hal, apparently still getting used to being alive again. The main character drama in the issue isn't going to come until he interacts with other members of the Flash family in future issues (especially Iris, Wally and Bart - came back in Legion of 3 Worlds).

First issues, rarely blow the audience away. The reveal at the end of this month's issue is intriguing, but not mind-blowing. For now the series has just started to set the characters in place. So we hold out hope and hope that like its Green Lantern predecessor, the series cranks it up to 11 before all is said and done. That being said, Johns does a fine job of stage setting and has begun interweaving a story that will draw together all the remaining speedsters (Wally, Bart, Iris and Jai West, Liberty Belle and Jay Garrick). Johns has always done an excellent job of making the wide-reaching DC Universe feel smaller and more interconnected, so the Flashes (who infiltrate every level of the DCU mainstream: JLA, JSA, Titans (multiple incarnations), Legion) should be right up his alley.

Final Score: B-

Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Salvador Larroca

I have to give this point to Fraction, he has not only told interesting parallel stories for each of the three main characters in this book, but perfected the integration of the Dark Reign concept. The use of Norman Osborn and his League of Evil has been so integral and smooth that this book (not Dark Avengers) is the definitive title to read for this ongoing saga in the Marvel Universe.

In the main plot, Osborn sends Namor (looking even more impressive here than he did in his recent stint on Captain America) after Stark, whose taking a brief underwater sojourn to repair another of his old suits. While the fight is very well done, the big hit is the building tension of Stark being on the run without a moment's rest. This recently despised character (who still had time to go be a douche in the last arc of Mighty Avengers) is actually sounding like a good guy again. The solution of putting him alone, making a moral stand against a villain with the world against him has done more to make him look like a hero than he ever did running S.H.I.E.L.D. - it's so effective I have to wonder why it took them this long to get him back.

With Hill crawling through shadows and Stark and Pepper rocketing around in their suits, Larocca is shining more than usual. It's Namor and Osborn that get the short end of the stick as the artist is still struggling with facial expressions.

But between the continued usage of Osborn's influence, Tony's righteous struggle and the always interesting inter-cutting of Hill and Pepper's storylines, this book is rocketing forward and getting better every month. It's utterly refreshing to have multiple ongoing stories that are more than fights where the same panels and movements happen in each setting. So much so that I have to say the word again: refreshing.

Final score: A-

Written by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway, Art by Jerry Ordway and Bob Waicek

Talk about falling off a cliff. This book has in the span of three months plummeted off the deep end. This used to the THE DC title to read every month. Now, I'm actually looking forward to the end of a run by Johns. That's bloody well unheard of!

It doesn't help that Ordway has offered some of his least impressive work that I can remember. He certainly has left a long gap between himself and series regular Dale Eaglesham, who on this title emerged as a master of capturing unique and realistic facial expressions. The current work seems revoltingly bland in comparison (and yes, that's the most complimentary way I could put that statement).

Atom Smasher's narration isn't so bad, but that might have to do with him being one of my favorite characters. That the book sends so much time revising the history of the Marvel Family to the point of revulsion (the ghost of the Batson's dad with a hat straight out of 1932? The Wizard more incomprehensible than ever?) I have to wonder why DC needed to shove this crap into JSA besides having nowhere else to put it. But at least at the end Billy and Mary are in an interesting place - homeless on the streets without friends or powers. Given how terribly DC has handled them ever since Infinite Crisis, maybe they should stay this way.

And while I still look forward to Johns' last issue next month (for Eaglesham's return if nothing else), I'm debating dropping one of my favorite titles while Ordway runs things until Matt Sturges and Bill Willingham take over.

Final score: D+

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