Friday, July 13, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, July 11


The latest issue of DC's "Batman" finally concludes the 'Court of Owls' storyline, with an epic fight between the supervillain designed to be the final nail in the Court's plan to destroy Batman. In many ways, the confrontation mirrors Bruce's initial fight against the Talon, but it definitely suffers due to the last issue's cliffhanger. Tying the villain's identity to Batman's past is in keeping with the arc's general approach, but the creators' awareness of the shocking implications works to undermines the immediacy of the story.

Considering that DC has already allowed for an in-continuity son of Batman, adding retroactively another personal relation doesn't necessitate a never ending monologue where the bulk of dramatization falls on the hands of the artist. Seeing a capeless Batman propelled through the air, silently listening to the villain's ironically laying out his plan while supposedly trying to find a way to counter him does not really provide for memorable storytelling.

The company should have used the opportunity the "New 52" relaunch provided them to simply remake the Batman continuity any way they saw fit. By softly remaking the franchise, and politely adding the wrinkles of new Court of Owls mythology makes sense from the standpoint of not wanting to irritate the fans of the more traditional incarnations of the character. Yet, outside the willingness to provide some changes for the decades old arbitrary status quo of Batman, there is nothing really controversial about the storyline. Batman the character that has been changing constantly in the years since he debuted, and mostly for the better, to the point where every opportunity to genuinely tell new stories should be welcome and tried out, if only to try and realize the potential in the idea.

More problematically, the villain's outfit seems very generic and despite the effort, Snyder and Capullo have yet to present him as the worthy addition to the rogues' gallery. Somewhat similarly to Hush, the mastermind ultimately lacks both in the character design and character, which will hopefully be changed the next time he shows up in the more consolidated form. The back-up likewise continues to derive most of it's tension from the implications involving the Wayne family history, but reads even more overwrought. James Tynion IV continues to co-writes the seven page Rafael Albuquerque illustrated addendum, that finishes the three-part "Fall of the House of Wayne" story.

Jarvis Pennyworth' story is yet another piece of world building working to provide a stronger foundation for the pulp-inspired character, re-calibrated by Scott Snyder. It ultimately boils down to a second epilogue, enabling the "American Vampire" artist Albuquerque to provide a scene where Bruce confides with Alfred regarding the Court, much like he did with Dick in the Capullo drawn sequence several pages before.

Judging by this issue, despite the interviews promoting the upcoming Joker starring arc, Snyder and Capullo are firmly dedicated to continuing the story of Wayne's clash with Court of Owls. It remains to be seen how the creative team handle such an ambitious piece of raising of the stakes superhero storytelling, and whether their more cerebral efforts will ultimately rival the 1990s "Knightfall" experiment.


Ed Brubaker concludes his second to last arc on his Captain America run, which he has been working on since 2005. Patrick Zircher has illustrated the entirety of the "Shock to the system", with this issue serving as an long fight sequence that culminates the immediate plot. Ever since the latest relaunch, and arguably even before, back to "Captain America: Reborn", a certain lack of enthusiasm has slowly started to dominate the title, with this proving as the ultimate example of competently put together comics, that lack the energy of his earlier work with the character.

The fourth part of the arc reintroducing Scourge to the Marvel Universe plays out in a fairly predictable way, with the bulk of the conflict lying in Cap's previous relationship with the man under the mask. To Brubaker's credit, the story works if the reader is unfamiliar with the character, but that doesn't make it into anything more than a cliched four issues, that justify their existence mainly by having the whole scheme concocted by the villains who have plagued Steve since the relaunch.

Said villains make no appearance in the story, which deals with the deaths of supervillains in the witness protection program. In execution it has felt too short to properly elaborate on the idea, with the political content seeming particularly bland and neutered. The brainwashed villain serves as the mouthpiece for Codename Bravo's philosophy, that at this point in the series feels about as argumented as Commander Cobra's agenda in "GI Joe".

Patrick ("Mystery Men") Zircher's work is solid, yet his capable renditions in the house style will hardly make the reader seek out the work on his name alone. The final two pages are pencilled by Mike Deodato, Brubaker's collaborator on the "Secret Avengers", and use the political potential to sets up the next arc. Co-written by Cullen Bunn, "New World Orders" aims to bring Brubaker's run to the close, and will hopefully provide a more engaging reading experience.


The second issue of Matt ("Super Spy") Kindt's run on "Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E." continues to pick up on the hints of a conspiracy in the ranks of S.H.A.D.E. Despite his work on "Animal Man", Alberto Ponticelli once again finds time to illustrate the title on the monthly schedule, as the writer takes Frankenstein to a new, impossible underwater location. Following the last issue's sojourn to the cloud city of Untropolis, DC's answer to "B.P.R.D." features Frank and Nina heading out to the city of ex-spies located inside the Leviathan. This is in keeping with the depiction of Monster Planet's continent sized monsters from the book's opening storyline, and helps carry over the feeling of consistency, despite the change of writers.

Since his first issue last month, Matt Kindt has introduced the theme of Frankenstein having flashbacks to the lives of people from whose limbs he was created, and #11 features a succession of silent panels telling a tragedy relating to high seas. Ever since Grant Morrison's remake of the character, Frank has been depicted as a highly fatalistic immortal with a strong sense of justice, but what Kindt seems to want to bring to the title is a deeper and more personal understanding of the character.

Seeing Frankenstein bond with Nina is likewise an interesting development, despite the heavy handedness of the scene. The issue ends with a high energy cliffhanger trying to marry the unrestrained indie comics scene with DC's more conservative approach to publishing, which brings to focus the many problems with the title. Despite their tries to produce a book that feels like a Mike Mignola creation, the editorial has managed to set up the title that is more akin to Jack Kirby's "O.M.A.C."

Thus, "Frankenstein agent of S.H.A.D.E." once again reads unfocused, never really managing the transition from a high concept "Flashpoint" tie-in mini-series to an ongoing title. In monthly installments, Kindt's story feels very random and haphazard, but to the writer's credit, he definitely approaches the project with a vision that is sympatico with its history. Hopefully, he will have enough time to escape from Jeff Lemire's shadow and present his own version of the concept.

In the penultimate chapter of the "Savage Six" storyline, Cullen Bunn and the departing writer Rick Remender give Lan Medina a fairly straightforward script to illustrate. With Robert Atkins' help, the original "Fables" artist serves another moody chapter in the escalating war between Venom and Crime Master. The representational artwork continues to present something of a tonal clash with the over the top writing, but Medina and Atkins certainly do their best to accommodate the grim and gritty tone of the Anti-"Spider-Man" title.

Opening with the twelve page fight sequence, the story quickly justifies the "Savage Six" subtitle, as Remender has Venom confront Death Adder. The Silver Age villain has previously figured in his "Punisher" run, and proves to be a fairly generic opponent. Flash narrates the entire fight, which does provide for some sense of urgency given that the antagonist is silent throughout. The creators largely resist from having Death Adder show anything in the way of powers, and quickly render him the weakest of Crime-Master's Savage Six. Seeing the neighbors organize to confront the threat on their own is a nice touch, but Medina and Atkins' work again lacks the proper touch to adequately present the middle aged balding man who spends most of his panel time in his underwear.

The whole time, Flash is focused on the implications of his loved one's kidnapping, which makes the follow up sequence when he finally catches up on Human Fly brutally effective. The excessive violence for once fits the story given the previous relationship between the two characters, and the situation involved, with the added bonus of the Flash arriving to the Fly's den in a logical way. The story concludes with the scene spotlighting Betty Brant, as set up in the two page subplot that breaks up the issue's two Venom sequences.

Eventually, the story peaks with the unexpected reveal of Crime-Master's identity, which makes his attack on Flash and Betty all the more personal. Unfortunately, bringing back a character who appeared once in "Spider-Man" 50 years ago supposes that the reader's intimately familiar with the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run on the character. The surprise reveal certainly dulls the impact if the reader only has a cursory understanding of Betty Brant, the former Daily Bugle secretary and Peter Parker's love interest that ended up being Flash's girlfriend. More importantly, it remains to be seen how the co-writers manage to fit a satisfying conclusion for a story with this many players in a single twenty page issue. The solicitation for #22 implies that Remender will be tying up some of the dangling plot lines in his last issue on the title, ensuring that Venom's final showdown with his own version of Sinister Six ends up as the book's strongest arc to date.


After all the hype about the record breaking sales, and multiple covers, Image has finally gotten around to releasing the milestone #100 of it's currently most successful title, "the Walking Dead". The slightly oversized issue starts off with a montage, establishing the location of each of the primary characters, before it puts the focus squarely on Rick, Michonne, Glenn, Maggy, Sophia and Carl. At that point, the reader is aware that the antagonists plan to attack at dawn, and that people in Rick's group will be taking turns in watching over the van as they camp for the night.

The simplified, RPG tactics employed by Kirkman are quickly forgotten as a mood of genuine horror takes over, threatening to take a series further in a dark direction. With the long-teased appearance of Negan, the issue quickly turns in a long monologue, with the villain stating his intent and making a show of power. Adlard's character design, as teased on the fourth consecutive thematic cover, depicts the man as an ego-obsessed bruiser, it's Kirkman's dialogue that completes the tone for the Governor's successor. Negan is depicted as immature and psychopathic, which works to irritate the reader just as much as it does the characters.

Yet, at the end of the speech, in which he keeps belaboring on the point of being surrounded by fifty of his own men, the leader of Saviors kills off a long-standing character. Adlard's blunt way of depicting first the injury and then death, serves to remind the reader that no one is ever safe in "Walking Dead", and works to give new blood to the series. The characters are forced in the new status quo, with every intention of getting their revenge, and using the first possible chance to try and restore their positions.

Kirkman is to be commanded for addressing some of the larger questions, particularly involving Rick, head on, but both the character death and the first inklings of the status quo come with their own misgivings. There were much more shocking deaths and shake ups in the series' past, particularly considering the massacre in #48, but where the new issue succeeds is in laying out the rules for the interactions between the human settlements in the immediate vicinity. For a long time, Rick and his band of men were allowed to force themselves into more or less functional communities, changing the series' focus into almost a zombie apocalypse diplomacy soap opera. #100 establishes a clear threat that brings some the immediacy back into the series, which makes the reader more tolerant to the sensationalistic way it has been presented in this issue.

No comments: