Friday, August 10, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, 8th August


The latest issue in Snyder's sprawling Batman run is the definition of a fill-in. A supporting character from one of the previous issues gets fleshed out in a story without any real tension or a reason for its existence. In many ways, the Becky Cloonan illustrated pages bring to mind an indie aesthetic that's sympathetic to modern Gothamites spotlighted in the issue, but there is a real feeling of artificiality throughout the story.

The book tries for a controversial angle with the lead character's gay brother, but it all comes off as forced. In a lot of ways, Batman #12 recalls the vastly superior "Batman Year 100", but with a key difference. Paul Pope focused on the vigilante's helpers precisely because he wanted to keep the lead character as an enigma. Scott Snyder has continually let in the reader on Bruce's innermost thoughts, and in a story as personal as "Court of Owls", there is really little point to flesh out a minor character's inner life.

Had Greg Capullo been able to keep up with the grinding monthly schedule, it's doubtful that the writer would ever have come up with the story. As such, he tries to get the reader to sympathize with Harper, the electrician, and come up with the way how her little contribution impacts Batman's mission, but the results are ponderous.

Previously, the Greg Rucka/Ed Brubaker side characters were so strong and so well defined, that they managed to carry a whole book, that was for some time a standout in the Batman line of titles. There is no evidence that reading about Harper and her brother would be a pleasant experience, and something that the reader would cherish month in and month out.

The issue dispenses with the back-up, to provide additional pages that explain the tease Harper gives in the opening, but the presence of a different creative team jibes strongly with the intended purpose. If the idea was to have strong indie talent present a honest tale of real life young adults, then the presence of Snyder protegee James Tynion IV as a co-writer, and much more importantly, Andy Clarke, really dispenses with the intended effect.

Cloonan has repeatedly shown that she is adept at depicting action (in this issue even), thus having Clarke provide seven closing pages comes off very abrupt, considering the difference in style. The featured villain had previously shown up in the pages of Snyder and Jock's "Detective Comics" run, and comes off as cartoonish, but not much more exotic than the typical Batman rogues.

The next month's #0 supposedly sets up the forthcoming developments in the Snyder/Cappulo run. With the Joker mega arc opening the second year of the "Batman" stories, the Harper story will no doubt soon be a distant memory, a not to successful tangent reminiscent of the Vertigo side stories bridging the gap between two bigger stories realized by the title's regular penciller.


The second part of "The New World Orders" maintains the same solid, if underwhelming tone of the opening issue, with Cullen Bunn trying his best to channel the Brubaker's plot into a semblance of a typical issue of the run. The results, coupled by Scott Eaton's continued competent, but unrefined work (this time inked by three inkers) seem a bit more accomplished than last time, but never approach the clarity and the definition of Steve Epting's cover.

Eaton's work is nevertheless more caricatural and works with more energy, reminiscent of Mark ("Ultimate Spider-Man") Bagley's work. His rendition of Agent 13 is particularly nimble and spunky, even if it sticks to the traditional rules of the genre when it comes to objectifying women.

As for the story, most of it deals with the TV pundit Reed Braxton, who comments on the Discordian invasion and riles the common man against Cap. It's a well paced issue, if ultimately slight on plot development, but it's unlikely to change a reader's mind on the last stretch of Brubaker's run. With most of #16 told from the perspective of Carter and Dugan, the next issue should return the focus on Steve, and bring him closer to the masterminds behind the invasion scenario.

By adding a third party to the Bravo-Captain America conflict, Brubaker was consciously prolonging the clash, making it more meaningful when Steve finally overcomes the enemy's barrage, but stylistically, the book offers the reader very little. By this point in his 8 year run on the title, the writer has told similar stories with much more energy, and its hard not to look at "New World Orders" and see much more than echoes of more accomplished stories from back when the Brubaker/Epting "Captain America" was routinely hailed as one of the best superhero monthlies.


On "Frankenstein", Matt Kindt brings his first arc to a close with a well-paced issue, framed as a conversation between the S.H.A.D.E. director and his chief scientist. By now, it's apparent that Kindt aims at making the book into more of a spy epic, and has used "Satan's Ring" as a test to see how well DC's Creature Commandos fit into the mold.

He manages to preserve Frank's relentlessness and personality, even adding to the mythos with the addition of flashbacks, setting up the arc where he squares off against his creator. The romantic subplot between him and Nina has likewise continued in a subtle and believable way, far surpassing the cues from the original "Flashpoint" mini-series.

The problem is that in the process of narrating some of the creator's wildly inventive ideas, the whole thing starts appearing beyond silly and childish. Seeing Frank dispatch the Leviathan goes a long way to cancelling the suspension of disbelief. A more nuanced portrayal, perhaps including the two agents who have yet to reappear in the book since the first part of the arc, would have brought some level of credibility to storytelling.

That the mole in the organization turns out to be an easily dealt with threat comes as a no surprise. Likewise, the eventual reveal of what is the significance of the Ring itself reveals it for a easily forgettable McGuffin. These two plot points would have proven anti-climatic in a better story, but in "Satan's Ring", they appear as just another underdeveloped bits of a strange, sprawling plot.

Alberto Ponticelli remains crucial to the book's consistency, as his visuals maintain the continuity and connect the disparate bits of the creator's imaginings. With the book's sales in the continual decline, its doubtful the connection to DC's better received Edge titles will convince the retailers to stick with the title in a firmer way. Hopefully, Kindt will find a way to make the strange mixture of Grant Morrison and Jeff Lemire ideas his own by then, and give the wannabe cult title a proper sendoff.


The start of "The Mighty Thor"/"Journey Into Mystery" crossover. Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction write a very confidant beginning to the nine part saga, without drawing too much on the established continuity. Aided by the exceptionally solid artwork of Alan Davis (himself making a strong showing at Marvel, with the concurrent release of the Clandestine tie-in Annuals), the pair begin their story in a manner that recalls both Hitchcock's "Birds" and "the Lord of the Rings".

The Aesir/Vaenir war that preceded the events of the crossover gets spotlighted in an easily understandable and appeal way, ala the beginning of "Fellowship of the Ring", and the writers take pains to start their story properly. Both the lyrical quality of "The Journey Into Mystery", and the straightforward pseudo-mythological superheroics of "The Mighty Thor" find a way to these beautiful pages, showing the beginning of the renewed hostilities between two mythological races.

The plot tries hard to incorporate all of the segments of the Asgardian Realm, both to show how far reaching the Faustian gamble of their opponents are, as well as to set up the players in the game of the rising stakes. All in all, a surprisingly enjoyable beginning of the event that promises to unite the two titles for some memorable storytelling.


This issue marks Rick Remender's final entry in "the Venom" series. After plotting the last arc that wound up written by Cullen Bunn, Remender writes the final issue of his run solo, illustrated more than adequately by Declan ("Hero Killers", "Thudnerbolts") Shalvey. The heavily narrated story brings thematic resolution to Thompson's father issues, while wrapping up the Jack-O'-Lantern subplot.

Obviously, both of these things are left for Bunn, and possible future writers to pick upon, but for now they are adequately dealt with. Once again, Remender appears very sincere when tackling Flash's inner life, and commits to tackling the dark subject matter in an adult way.

The flashbacks never feel like perfunctory origin sketches, but an actual attempt to get to the bottom of Flash's problems with aggression and substance abuse. Bringing in the father comparison does more than provide the back story, and ultimately ties back into his rivalry with Jack-O'-Lantern. The eventual clash feels a bit slighted, and even gratuitous, but is saved by Flash's eventual decision regarding the villain.

And while the parallels do eventually become heavy handed, Shalvey's artwork proves to be a very adequate conduit for Remender's final word on the character. The penciller/inker feels very sure when depicting superhero action, which has a great flow and clear line, while he adopts a softer tone for the flashback sequences. Lee Loughridge further separates the two by a limited palette of colors that further accentuate the quality presentation and reward the reading experience.

The writer's frank farewell on the letters page further reinforces the feel that he respects both the experience and the readers of the title, which he leaves in Bunn's capable hands. Hopefully, the editorial will pair the new writer with a regular artist, as the lack of visual consistency has proven the surprisingly strong title's chief problem.

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