Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's Comic Time (4/22/09)!

Holy big comic week, Batman! At long, long last we learn "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader." And while Marvel throws everything and the kitchen sink and two Avengers books at us, our good buddy BKV takes a few minutes from working on Lost to let loose another issue of the greatest comic on the shelves.

Also, don't forget to check out the latest episode of the That's a Wrap! Podcast: Sorry, Joel Edition!

Comics for the Week of 04/22/2009

DAREDEVIL #118 - "Return of the King, Part 3"
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Michael Lark

Well, since the return of Wilson Fisk seemed doomed to fall apart, at least Brubaker has made things more interesting and complicated than him betraying Murdock to return to power. Fisk seems to be deteriorating mentally, or he gained the power to converse with the dead. But either way the alliance falls apart, the book certainly seems to have even more life to it with the return of the main antagonist of the series. Even the rather unimpressive Lady Bullseye character becomes far more engaging once pulled into the situation when Murdock and Fisk are also both in the mix. Rather silly characters like Turk and Owlsley become more urgent and credible when they can share the page with the Kingpin. Unlike the various crime lords of a series like Batman, Marvel seemed to create such an overwhelming personality in Wilson Fisk that nothing else has managed to live up.

It seems this entire story will be set in a tremendous snow storm, if for no other reason than to let Lark continue to raise his already impressive game to a new level. Much like predecessor Alex Maleev, this style would never work in a main-line team book like the New Avengers, but for a gritty crime-noir like Daredevil its a wonderful match of artist and theme.

If anything, this book might be in danger of becoming too gritty. I mean for Murdock to have his first girlfriend become a villain, get murdered, rising from the dead and become a villain again, his greatest love dragged into a world of pornography and drugs and later murdered, his wife assaulted and driven insane, institutionalized and taken away by her parents...... when is enough, enough? On top of everything else, even Foggy, the one supportive constant in Matt's life fire's his partner (how does that work exactly?) and leaves due to his involvement with Fisk. Once we get through this arc can the poor bastard get a break for a while? Despite how well-done his pain is handled, we're pushing the barrier of "too much."

Final Score: B-

DETECTIVE COMICS #853 - "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Part 2 of 2"
Written by Neil Gaiman, Art by Andy Kubert

Step 1: Get complaints about Kubert delaying this final Bruce Wayne story through two-thirds of the miniseries establishing his replacement as Batman.

Step 2: Reread chapter one to remember all we'd forgotten about the arc over the many, many weeks.

Step 3: Read this issue.

Step 4: Try and contain review to something more objective than a love letter... (that was Billy's big hook with Collateral, so must strive for originality)

After all that, I'm left absolutely floored by each of these two issues, but of course the second volume will have a much more visceral and immediate impact with readers. Whereas the first set-up the concept of a viewing of Batman's body with various friends and enemies telling the story of his life and death, this issue continues the concept, but quickly reveals the meaning behind all this. It turns out that the mysterious woman isn't Gaiman's Death (ah, nuts).

For all my griping about his delays both here and earlier at the start of Morrison's run of the main title, I have to concede that Kubert did so far beyond a phenominal job here, referencing multiple eras of the art of the Dark Knight from Golden Age to present day and its something a more iconic name like Jim Lee or John Cassaday might not have been able to achieve while still having all the same delays.

Three pages in the middle are the highlight of highlights here, with the image of Batman cast against his city, battles and enemies. Wonderfully rendered, but with Gaiman brilliantly burning down this history to the most basic elements. And like what Morrison tried to do in Final Crisis, examines the cyclical nature of storytelling in comics... the utter lack of endings. At the same time mature and innocent, the grand conclusion to the Bruce Wayne character is far more than I hoped for and a far more meaningful conclusion than his death in Final Crisis or any in-continuity battle could have been.

I know I'm being pretty unspecific, but the idea of ruining anything in this series seems too abhorrent to attempt. Perhaps on par with his work on The Sandman, Gaiman is reaching a rare pinnacle for comics that doesn't come along too often. Read this story. Read it now. Seriously, these are just come reviews, go find both issues and tear into them ASAP. The internet will be here when you get back.

Final Score: A

EX MACHINA #41 - "Ring Out the Old, Chapter One"
Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Art by Tony Harris

After too long a wait (again), Vaughn continues on his final year of this comic which due to lasting longer than Y: The Last Man and maintaining its quality far better than Fables or any mainstream book with its constantly revolving creative teams, has secured the honor of best comic in the world. A near impossibly high standard of expectations come every month.

It's those kind of expectations that make stand alone issues like number 40, where Vaughn and Harris inserted themselves into the story, a little harder to accept. And then issues like this seem to be more about set-up of what's coming. The forces plotting Hundred's downfall are still in the planning stages, reporters are circling with some vague references to hidden secrets in his past and of course we've known from the first issue that everything end in tragedy. Let's just say his dream of becoming President of the United States isn't destined for success.

This issue's flashback again highlights a battle between the Great Machine and Pherson, who given his more recent prominence in these makes me think he'll be around in the main story before everything is said and done and feature prominently. Vaughn continues to show that Hundred did manage to sometime do some good in the GM days while never becoming as competent as a more mainstream "super-hero."

Final Score: A

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #25 - "Escape From the Eighth City, Chapter Three"
Written by Duane Swierczynski, Art by Travel Foreman

As cool as the concept of the Iron Fist is, the book is easier to take one arc at a time, as when I caught up on the book after Fraction left the title. But lately this story has seen much more impressive in concept than in execution. The idea of the many Immortal Weapons teaming up to rescue the prisoners of the Eighth City of Hell has never seemed as grand as we thought. With the grand escape winding down, we've yet to really see the grand scope of the city or found one person worth saving in the entire story.

A big part of my problem is the art, we've never really stood back and looked at this city, robbing the story of its scope. This is supposed to be the mystical equivalent of HELL, not just a collection of rooms and an arena that could be anywhere in the world. Too often is a wide shot nothing but two characters in the foreground with a white background. And that's supposed to be impressive how?

And nothing has been done to personalize any of the people suffering in hell besides the first Iron Fist, who is revealed to be the King of Hell... not too much sympathy there. And besides three or four people looking malnourished in the background, the poor oppressed innocents that are the purpose for this entire grand adventure have been entirely absent. We can only hope that the conclusion of this story, which thus far has them being let escape so the demons can come along for the ride, will raise the stakes a little. But so far, it's been a disappointment.

Final Score: C+

MIGHTY AVENGERS #24 - "Chasing Ghosts"
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Rafa Sandoval

Ugh. The artwork in this title has officially hit a brick wall. For every one panel that Sandoval handles adequately, there's a dozen pages that are absolutely disgusting. The only character with a consistent look seems to be Jocasta, a robot. Besides that its an absolute crap shoot if a character's face will be decently handled or a borderline-abstract mess. And because of that we all roll a snake-eyes... and not the good kind that's also a ninja.

Slott has at least done a decent job (though yes, one of his biggest problems is moving things along a little too quickly). By making the main source of their information, the astral projection of the Scarlett Witch, actually be a trick of Loki's, he tied it the larger Marvel Universe (Osborne's Cabal)and let them continue to move from one big fight to another and establish a significant first opponent.

They've also managed to bring one of the Maximoff kids back into the hero's fold with an excuse so ridiculous that the writer really has to make fun of it a bit himself. Quite possibly the most tongue-in-cheek reboot since Bob Newhart made the entire run of his show a dream of a previous television show.

Final Score: C

Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Billy Tan, Chris Bachalo and Various

How much can you really appreciate a book where the main artist is one of your least favorite in the industry? Tan's normally weak work has actually devolved a bit since his days on Uncanny X-Men. But this arc has at least has been redeemed by the addition of Bachalo. His work on the battle and the Hood's battle with the demon giving him powers is damn impressive. In fact almost everything about the villain has been more interesting in this story so far.

The Hood being tortured by a demon driving him after Dr. Strange and having hot bad guy sex with some old Iron Man foe is vastly more interesting than Spider-Man's karmic dilemma of flying in a stolen Quinjet. It just comes off as a very forced version of Spider-Man banter that he usually handles so deftly. I mean he couldn't think of anything for Spidey to complain about for the flight to New Orleans than the fact that they stole their Quinjet back from Norman Osborne. Since when does Spider-Man have a problem messing around with the Green Goblin???? C'Mon!

Hopefully, this might all pay off with a very interesting bad guy taking on the title of Sorcerer Supreme... and no I'm not talking about the son of the devil. If all this shoving of the Hood into the role is all a diversion, I'm going to punch a wall. The last few years, he's managed to outshine virtually every other bad guy that Marvel's premiere team has come up against. This is actually an excellent book if you only pay attention to the pages that he's on.

Final Score: B

THOR #601 - "Defining Moments"
Written by J. Michael Straczynski, Art by Marko Djurdjevic

Things generally aren't meant to be so interesting and engaging in one of these transition issues. With the big jump to issue 600 tearing down the status quo that JMS had developed over the last couple of years, this issue spend most of the time setting everyone on a new path. While Loki continues to distract Thor with a mission to find Sif before her imminent death, Little Bill and Kelda continue their star-crossed romance despite the Asgardians moving to Latveria because... um... Balder's stupid? And the Warriors Three forsake Asgard to join up with their buddy Thor.

With the exclusion of the last few pages, which definitely have a sense of being rushed to get a book out on time, Djurdjevic's art is it's standard fabulous. In the scene with the Warriors Three, I have to say he draws one of the better goats you'll ever see in a comic. Things start to become a little less fantastic in the scene where Loki visits Blake, an honestly frightening sequence given the unestablished abilities of the busted ass walking stick/Mjolnir. Marko's lines become less sharp, but still human-looking.

One thing that previous incarnations of Thor has always lacked until now is a consistent human voice to balance out the Asgardians. Excluding the brief time Eric Masterson held the hammer in the 1990s, the book has always tended to come off a bit... foreign, for lack of a better word. But JMS has consistently endeavored to blend this fantastic world into ours, separating them from their standard mythology than included the destruction in Ragnarok. From day one, Don Blake has been set-up as a unique human voice to balance Thor and his opening scene yet another great one between the two with more of their wonderful chemistry. Not bad considering the two
exist on different planes of existence at any given moment.

Final Score: A-

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