Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reviews for Wednesday, August the 15th


Mark Waid's run on "Daredevil" has so far hinged on a retro esthetic, a modern reworking of the character, as originally presented by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. The current issue featuring an extended flashback framed by a couple of pages placing it in the context of the run so far, basically proves an extended tribute to the character's Silver Age adventures.

Mike ("Madman", "X-Statix") Allred, an artist self-consciously fixated on appropriating the traditional style for modern and subversive storytelling proves a natural fit. The story follows up on the split between Matt and Foggy, and provides a context to their relationship. Waid has previously detailed the two's college days, but this time he places the focus on the early days in the series, shortly after the character assumed the now-classic Wally Wood designed red costume.

Two thirds of the story are taken up by the taken up by the protagonist's fight against Stilt-Man, which Allred lays out in vertical panels, focusing on the visual potential of the overblown character design. Yet, despite the inventive way the hero finally dispatches the villain, the Matt and Foggy dynamic that gives context to the fight largely saps it off its energy.

By Stilt-Man being merely be a distraction from the much more everyday hit on the Foggy, the creators are largely dispensing with the Silver Age story logic. The character's inclusion comes off as being simply the case of Waid trying to see if how far he could stretch the retro approach. After the inclusion of the obligatory fight, the writer finally gets to the heart of the story, featuring a very humane scene that shows the best of Foggy and Matt.

Again, the reader is forced to accept the writer's skillful application of science fiction tropes to "Daredevil" and the effect it has on the reading experience. The counter-intuitive approach, which dispenses with the 1980s Frank Miller additions has genuinely made for a very interesting reading, making the new series such a critical success. Despite the increased schedule and the artistic changes, the series remains a love letter to classic Marvel, a particularly well realized book that has thankfully managed to gain a firm foothold in the Direct Market.


The penultimate part of the "Something to Fear" arc largely deals with the ramifications of the last issue, whose catastrophic events take their toll on these bruised characters. A single page featuring a zombie attack, but it only serves to accentuate that the series has entered a period of extended fighting between the survivors.

Kirkman explores the violence that has become the ultimate form of communication, and how this informs the characters of children sticking with Rick's group. "Walking Dead" reinforces that life is possible in the zombie apocalypse, but that the living must confirm to the brutality of the power struggle.

Charlie Adlard keeps the pace fast and energetic, but the thick inks don't never manage to hide the fact that he's working in a rush. Despite Cliff Rathburn's presence on gray tones, it's way past time that the book has had a consistent inker. Perhaps Adlard's way of working makes this problematic, but it's certain that a book could benefit from more definition.

An establishing shot of Gregory in his study survives the transition to page, and then largely on the strength of the layout. In a strange way, Rick's mid-story recap to Gregory inserts a strange feeling of ambiguity to the proceedings. By reminding the reader of the losses the enemy has suffered in their brief skirmishes, the writer puts the two major character deaths in perspective.

The passing of the two characters was felt by the reader simply because of the way the story is focused. In the broader picture, they are merely two casualties indiscriminately chosen by Negan as a way to retaliate. Once Rick and Michonne return to Alexandria, they are reminded that the hostilities are anything but one sided, hinting a quick resolution to the present predicament.

Still, no matter how much longer the creators keep the Saviors a threat, "Walking Dead" continues to be an engaging read, well suited to the twist and turns needed to keep a serial story going.


Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang finish out the first year of their celebrated run with a chapter that climaxes the immediate plot regarding Apollo's ascendency. It is a largely action issue, taking place on Olympus, as various Gods side in relation to the situation and their own agendas. The plot is made even more interesting as Zola's delivery is about to start, leading into a new set of questions.

The reader is invited to sympathize with Wonder Woman because she is the only one that rises above the intrigues to selflessly care for another. Azzarello repeatedly defines Diana by her unconditional love, justifying her role as the hero. Yet, she still feels like a one-dimensional superhero protagonist whose purity borders on obnoxiousness.

Diana, as designed by Jim Lee for the Geoff Johns-written "Justice League" continually undermines the Azzarello/Chiang dynamic. The final page of the issue tries for some sort of a compromise, in order to strengthen the title's connection with the wider DCU

For the moment, the Greek Gods provide more than enough entertainment value on their own. In the creators' hands, these thousands of years old myths are continually pliable and changing. This is why Apollo, Hera and ultimately even Hermes change their roles, and the implications seem to provide a much more natural story progression. More immediately, Diana's rivalry with Artemis seems like it could provide for a credible format for physical confrontations.

The character's over the top design and aggressive nature make her a more typical foil for what is notionally still a superhero book. Right now, the only character that sorely needs more fleshing out is Lennox, who reunites with Diana in the closing pages. In Hermes' absence, his indeterminate status as Wonder Woman's opposite number and possible romantic interest is likely to be more developed.

For all their attempts to stay relevant and powerful, the Gods that Diana keeps crossing paths with seem still beholden to ancient signs and portents, destined never to step too far away from their original limitations. Yet, the creators maintain the pettiness and sheer humanity inherent in their conflict.

It goes without saying that Cliff Chiang remains crucial to the book's success. Despite the many angry words exchanged atop Olympus, the setting remains distinctive. The mountain is sparse enough not to clutter the background of character focused panels, but the penciller/inker's ingenuity is glimpsed in a scene where a character is thrown off the cliff and depicted as starting to fall "for all eternity". The simple addition of the temple-like formations in the mountain rock reinforces the sense of place the creative team is trying to communicate.

This is especially important as the change of leadership starts effecting Olympus's look and feel, and the creators go on to feature a three page fight sequence that dispenses with the backgrounds for the sake of impact.

Taking all this into account, and with the promise of Diana confronting Ares (with their previous relationship to be spotlighted in the next month's #0), there is every indication that creators will keep up with this strength of the storytelling, delivering the best and most consistent of "New 52" titles.

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