Thursday, September 13, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, 12th of September


The #0 issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Batman" offers a very unusual entry. Starting with a heist scene that would not be out of place in a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, the creators feature an early Red Hood phase Joker gang, before getting back to Alfred and lieutenant Gordon. The story is almost evenly divided between the two halves, and amounts to a fairly disconnected day in the life of Bruce Wayne, covering out the early days of his mission.

Snyder and Capullo naturally fare better when it comes to conveying the opening action sequence, which manages to hold the reader's attention despite the familiarity of the tropes involved. Capullo's work is rough, but effective, with clear layouts and a reasonably distinctive designs of the two relevant Red Hood gang members. The backgrounds are sparse and generic, but the art conveys everything it needs to keep up with the tense dialogue. Inker Jonathan Glapion opts not to refine Capullo's pencils and carryies over the artist's scratchy, kinetic line.

Where the story stumbles is when Bruce returns to his temporary abode and starts conversing with Alfred. The butler voices his suspicion towards his master's early, pre-Bat-suit mission, before the writer decides to avoid tradition and instead of providing some kind of closure towards the Red Hood gang plot, he brings in James Gordon for a long conversation piece that rounds out the issue.

In so doing, the writer tries to recreate the typical Batman and Gordon rooftop dynamic, but there's little tension in the ground the two cover here. Bewaring the scene's static nature, Snyder introduces a ticking clock gimmick, by having a Batarang about to activate just out of the lieutenant's reach. The device is not entirely unsuccessful, but its artificiality becomes apparent as the reader gets to the final page.

In realizing that Snyder's script comes to no real conclusion but simply stops, the reader is made painfully aware that the rooftop scene was an underwhelming substitute an additional action scene following the opening, and that there is not even a hint of resolution of the immediate plot. The story ends up being simply a short window in the life of "Batman: Year One" phase Bruce Wayne, dedicated to setting up the upcoming Joker crossover. As for the resolution of the cliffhanger, the reader is told to wait until 2013, where it wil presumably be revealed in a "Death of the family" flashback.

As for Capullo's work, it strangely becomes more defined during the conversation pieces. The backgrounds are more than serviceable, and his layouts manage to liven up the static pages in ways that seem natural. Strangely, the younger selves of Bruce and Jim end up receiving very diverting redesigns. FCO Plascencia's palette of blues and grays is in full display, but the future Batman's blue eyes end up highlighting his youth and arrogance in a very unfamiliar way. Likewise, Jim Gordon's bushy hair and stunted posture provide a caricatural look for the character whose mannerisms seem broad, if familiar.

No doubt these are carry overs from the artist's early days as a Todd McFarlane devotee, but they are usually better integrated. Yet, for all of his shortcomings, no doubt coming on the heels of the deadline pressure (which has already necessitated Becky Cloonan filling in for Capullo in the previous issue), the penciller's style remains direct and in synch with Snyder's script. Seeing the tighter, more direct line signals to the readers that Andy Clarke continues to illustrate the back-up, even before they get to reading the credits.

James Tynion IV has sole credit as the writer of the piece, taking place a year into Bruce Wayne's career as Batman. Tynion IV frames the sequences featuring Batman's future Robins around Gordon's conversation with his daughter Barbara. The lieutenant is justifying the use of Bat-signal by highlighting the inspirational aspect of Batman's mission, which Clarke proceeds to illustrate in the three two page sequences.

The cutaways are short but informative, carrying over the momentum before they converge just as Gordon lights the signal. Some of Jim's narration goes overboard in explaining his motivations, but the story is otherwise functional, if unnecessary. The main thing the reader comes away from is the writer adding an edge to the future Robins, that oddly succeeds in making the problematic Jason the most sympathetic of the three. The backup goes on to clarify the characters' New 52 origins, but it doesn't elevate the eight pager from its function of a storytelling exercise.

Batman's origins and the details of his modus operandi are at this point so familiar with the audience, that there was no reason to reiterate the basics in this title (not to mention the character's other concurrent solo series). Taking the Red Hood plot as the single plot strand that has direct bearing on the upcoming events, and seeing it cut short to make place for a highly unnecessary backup story reflects the counter-intuitive move of having an entire month of editorial driven flashback stories in each of the publisher's ongoing series. Hopefully, the creative team will deliver on their promise to follow up the events of this issue's cliffhanger, which is the only way to justify the purchase of this #0 issue.


The Frankenstein #0 issue offers a primer in respect to the character's early days, setting up his relationship with the scientist who made him. Loosely inspired by Mary Shelley's novel, the action oriented story follows the monster as it gains sentence and makes its first steps in the world of men.

Despite the S.H.A.D.E. director captions, Kindt and Ponticelli serve up a very dynamic retelling of the Frankenstein story, punctuated only by some conveniences when it comes to the series' overall continuity. For instance, there is no reason for why the monster doesn't slaughter it creator, as it does to the men serving him. The plot point makes sense only as it sets up the ongoing title's next arc.

Likewise, the inclusion of Lady Frankenstein brings nothing to the story at hand, and only makes sense in the context of Frank's previous adventures. The character's further adventures, as selected by Kindt likewise follow up on the connection with his creator, leading up to another brawl that finishes the issue. Kindt does a solid job in depicting the monster's fanatic tendencies, as well as its sense of nobility, while casting light on the previously underplayed Victor Frankenstein connection.

Ponticelli's rugged, kinetic style helps visualize the grim and determined story, which is surprisingly grounded considering the title's tradition. The artist's design for Victor seems as uninspired as the doctor's one-note lunatic characterization, standing in stark contrast to Frank's single-mindedness. Otherwise, the penciller/inker continues to provide clear layouts and fast flow, without cohering into an all around smoother presentation.

Despite the rough edges to his work, Ponticelli remains a rare DC artist who has managed to not only keep up with the deadlines but also pitch in to help illustrate "Animal Man". The story ends with a montage delineating some of Frank's other adventures, but the visuals only highlight the problems with the character starring in an ongoing title. At this point, after a year of stories featuring the monster and his supernatural allies, there is still a feeling that DC would have been better off producing an occasional mini-series with oddball pulp premise.

Looking at the title from both the creative and the commercial standpoint, it's hard to see the series lasting past the arcs featuring the protagonist confronting both Victor and S.H.A.D.E, respectively.


The third entry in the "Everything burns" crossover comes in the "Journey into Mystery" spin-off, once again illustrated by Carmine di Giandomenico. In keeping with the crossover, it offers little actual momentum, with most of the plot progression carried through conversations. Once again, the characters reveal secret histories behind their previous dealings, and the Asgardia/Vanir war gets relegated to the sidelines.

In keeping with the title, the chapter focuses on Loki, and his devious ways. To the writers' credit, there is a real sense of Laufey's son manipulations reaching critical mass, and him struggling to find a way to square off all the accumulated debts and broken promises. The story starts with stylized captions typical of Kieron Gillen's "Journey into Mystery", but they evaporate as soon as the writers complete the introductory scene.

Yet, it's unlikely that a reader not keeping up with the previous chapters, or even the entirety of the Loki-starring "Journey into Mystery", will be able to make much of what happens in this issue. Keeping up with the static nature of the crossover, the creative team surpasses the challenges the God of Mischief encounters as he ventures into Muspelheim. The character focus breaks only for the subplot involving Volstagg, that was chosen to lead the Asgardian effort to counter the Vanir.

Despite this unlikely turn of events, Fraction and Gillen go to great lengths to make it feel like a temporary role, that the Voluminous warrior takes with a heavy heart. The crux of the issue revolves around an eight page conversation between Loki and Leah, that will be hard to fully appreciate for anyone not previously acquainted with the title. In the process, Thor's half-brother executes another of his manipulations, which the creators try to get across as a major plot point, but it falls short for reasons regarding the very same character history.

Thus, the character's betrayal already hints at a noble higher purpose for his actions, which will be revealed at a crucial moment during the crossover. Thanks to the company's marketing department, it's already certain that Loki will play some kind of role in an upcoming "Young Avengers" title. In terms of the crossover, the suspension of disbelief should be stretched to except everything including the character's eventual heroic sacrifice.

Even as Thor and his friends are progressively closer to defeat, the writers are careful to keep up the whimsical tone. Thus, the captions return to illustrate "Volstagg's War Journal", but beyond the surface Punisher parody stands a scene that illustrates the biggest weakness of the crossover. The writers once again use a two page sequence to remind the reader of the scope of the war, but it only serves to underscore their disinterest in the epic storytelling that would go with the implications.

A true commitment to a fantasy war would seemingly take years and years of continuous publication to support the various fronts and alliances made on the way. Gillen and Fraction are not set on writing that kind of "Lord of the Rings"-inspired story, as "Everything Burns" aims to achieve a completely different set of goals.

Marvel and the respective writers are mainly using the storyline to wrap up the iteration of the title started with JMS' revamp before the Marvel NOW! relaunch. As such, the crossover is not only timely but time constrained. To the writers' credit, the slow paced, character centered crossover is everything but a dashed off effort to wrap up the loose ends and end the books in the way that does not entirely alienate the existing audience.

Unfortunately, the biggest point of contention still comes from the artwork, which tries to match the title's seedier nature.  Yet, the artist's angular style is not an ideal fit for a dialogue heavy script, even if the ornately designed characters find themselves in exotic locations. Di Giandomenico's characters grimace, but they lack the expressiveness needed to carry over the long conversation scenes.

Despite a lack of strong definition, the artist's style is kinetic and elaborate, but the computer coloring underscores that he is simply illustrating the wrong storyline. When employed during the "New Mutants" crossover, Di Giandomenico helped define the look for the chapters in both books, and its hard to imagine the story without his art. Yet, "Exiled" was an action packed superhero story, aiming for a much lighter and more traditional tone. "Everything burns", with its two pencillers achieves a dynamic quite different than the more harmonious effort of its co-writers, and really brings into question the publisher's decision to rush the story into print without a unified visual aesthetic.

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