Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, 19th September


The latest issue of "Daredevil" follows up on the Matt/Foggy split in a way that both introduces a new plot point, and teases a twist regarding our protagonist's mental state. Once again, Mark Waid focuses on Daredevil's legal career as a way of bringing in new characters and situations, while grounding the series in a semblance of reality.

Everything about this new story feels natural, and it works on a basic level that all superhero stories should follow. The creators offer an easily accessible issue that stands on its own, while being a part of the larger whole, that is informed by their previous work on the character. Samnee is equally adept in long conversation scenes, featuring Foggy and his new client, as he is in making the Daredevil sequences flow in a way that is organic and interesting.

His characters and expressive, and slightly exaggerated, which fits with the quirky script, The one page sequence the creative team devotes to Matt's burgeoning relationship with Kirsten likewise perfectly illustrates the pair's playful dynamic and the romantic tension that has been simmering between them. The subsequent inclusion of a character associated with previous runs on the title becomes both sudden and intriguing, with Waid giving the uninitiated the necessary information to follow the sequence.

The protagonist is as surprised by the sudden arrival, and the complicated continuity alluded to is anything but essential to understanding their current predicament. The imparted information was pertinent to justify Matt's reaction, which serves to reconnect him with Foggy, and in turn bring him in contact with the case. The writer uses Foggy's brashness to acknowledge that is too early for the two to start mending their relationship, but there is still a feeling that Waid could have found another way to get Daredevil in contact with the situation.

The following action sequence is as well executed as it is unlikely, but it serves to underscore the supernatural element of the situation, which is further cemented in the cliffhanger, that offers definite proof of a third party interfering with everyone's perceptions. This kind of stories, where the villain plants evidence and makes everyone assume the worst out of the protagonist can be as familiar as they are unrealistic, but thankfully, the creative team offers enough style and competence that it makes the reader enjoy the experience.

By focusing on the interplay of the characters, Waid and Samnee may be encroaching on the soap opera territory that was severely mishandled at Marvel during 1990s. Using a intuitive, detailed approach, the creative team (including the colorist, who notably changes the color scenes to avoid the captioned interrogation sequences slow down the book) successfully update the original Stan Lee/Bill Everett/Wally Wood "Daredevil". The continued audience support and the recognition when it comes to comics awards are the best example of how well the industry rewards such solid, wholesome entertainment.


So far, DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has allowed himself a great deal of fr`eedom in crafting the #0 issues of his books. Given that the entirety of the initial "Justice League" arc served to introduce the characters in their first adventure, the writer makes an unorthodox choice here, and uses the space as the continuation of the Shazam back-up.

The Gary Frank illustrated story largely serves as the character's superhero origin, and therefore fulfills the remit of a #0 issue, with additional emphasis on the subjective importance to the wider DC universe. On a structural level, there are a lot of problems with the issue, starting with the first page. A confusing layout choice makes it uncertain if the antagonist is present in the room, with the next page following up on Billy Batson.

Frank's representational artwork and a deep seated cynicism continue to sit uneasily with the traditional fairy tale elements, but the feature once again manages to provide a satisfying experience due to sheer experience of the creative team. Seeing the Seven Deadly sins of man in different colors, with their names floating under the designs in a graffiti-like font certainly seems like another in the line of heavy handed decisions made in revitalizing Captain Marvel.

The Golden Age property has proven so resistant to any kind of revitalization, and at this point the Johns/Frank effort seems like a credible attempt at keeping the characters around. Yet, seeing the Wizard, a confused old man who instantly rejects Billy as the champion seems as reactionary as the rest of the revamp. The creators stubbornly work in opposition to the naivety of the original premise, yet they don't go so far as to subvert it. The lesson seems to be that underneath the negativity, all of these are hopeful, optimistic characters, that just need a real chance to show their goodness.

This is the lesson Billy teaches the Wizard, who in trading with absolutes forgets the need for the Earth's magical champion, and ends up accepting the orphan so that he can combat the threat of Black Adam. After several hurried lines, Billy's mentor dissipates, leaving the problem child to find his own way with the powers and the maturity needed to wield them.

The creative team accomplishes this by bringing Shazam back to the streets of America, where he continues reacting to the situation in the way a pre-teen boy would. In Johns and Frank's hands this means leads to a series of quick confrontations, notable for their artificiality and the disturbing way Frank renders Shazam's face. The penciller/inker tries to recreate the C.C. Beck's design, which translates to the page in a very unnatural way. The popular artist, whose expressive characters owe a great deal to Steve ("the Preacher") Dillon's techniques felt much more natural when rendering the Christopher Reeve inspired Superman during his tenure on "Action comics".

At this point, he has yet to find a way to make the original Captain Marvel design his own. The feature remains ill-balanced and somewhat dishonest, translating the children's power fantasy into a forced retelling that will hopefully be discontinued following the protagonist's confrontation with Black Adam and Sivana.

Without a major rethinking, a misreading of the material on this scale seems like a waste of the time for both of the creators, whose talents could be better used in bringing another character to the forefront of the modern DCU (or even creating their own properties, however unlikely given the writer's status at the publisher).

The remaining four pages feature Johns once more collaborating with another of the company's most prized artist, Ethan Van Sciver. The "Green Lantern: Rebirth" creative team feature another of the ominous "Justice League" back-ups hinting at an upcoming major event. The feature follows up on the Wizard's eventual fate following his departure from Shazam, before setting up the Question for a seemingly important role in the shared universe's near future. The artist's detailed style meshes well with Frank's work on "Shazam" and the teaser is unoffensive enough, if overtly dramatic.


The fourth chapter of the "Everything Burns" crossover presents a largely transitory entry. Despite being told in an issue of "the Mighty Thor", this plot heavy issue continues the spotlight on Loki. Repeatedly the episode calls specifically to the events in the relaunched "Journey into mystery"'s initial arc, to the extent that Thor is perpetually sidelined. Beyond the "Fear Itself" call back, Matt Fraction's own work with the mythos is at the moment relegated to the obligatory renaming of Asgard.

Yet, despite having a firm basis in Kieron Gillen's work, the storyline works as if features the same group of characters, especially when rendered by Alan Davis. The penciller's clean figures, richly colored by Javier Rodriguez do provide some variations when it comes to the pages featuring Thor's struggle. The character is inked differently, and feels slightly out of place next to the rest of the cast, who are more traditionally realized.

Usually, there is a slightly caricatural bent to Davis' figures, which disappears in the ethereal scenes featuring Thor in Musspelheim. The character's features look exaggerated to the point that he almost appears as if he was rendered by Mike ("New Avengers") Deodato jr. Aside from this, the issue covers several different battlefronts and generally succeeds to establish the escalating threat of Surtur unleashed against the Nine Realms. At this point, Vanir are largely forgotten about as anything but his proxies.

Having established that Heimdal shares their ancestry, it would have been interesting to his changing role in the story brought up by a deeper conflict than mere mechanic possession. Still, this makes sense given that the story prefers to flesh out the roles of the two book's mutual cast instead of focusing on a number of new characters.

Thus, "Everything burns" continues to slowly build to a crescendo that will pit brother against brother and everyone against Surtur, while no doubt finding the space to satisfactory resolve Freya's role. Despite the presence of two pencillers, its a model example of two titles wrapping up in a satisfactory way, in a storyline that has the appropriate gravity and requisite storytelling quality.


Cullen Bunn concludes his introductory storyline on "Venom" just before the title enters into the crossover. The three-part "Monster of Evil" nevertheless promises to carve out a new direction for the title, rooted in the occult and end of the world scenarios. Picking up from the loose end of the Ghost Rider-centered "Circle of Four" crossover, the new writer is adamant to continue pursuing the unlikely direction, with Thony Silas in tow as the regular penciller.

Three inkers are tasked with finishing the artwork, but the discrepancy only shows in the last several pages, serving as the epilogue to the monster fighting. The writer finds space to provide some background for the four demon possessed entities, but it still seems like there's too many of them. Even if the creators have found a way to introduce the titular Monsters of Evil earlier in the story, there is no guarantee that they would have left a better impression.

Silas seems particularly on form on the splash pages featuring the entities though, who remain colorful enough to capture the reader's attention. Beyond the fight scenes and Venom's scheming against Hellstorm, there is a nod to the traditional Spider-Man characters that made up the book's previous supporting cast. Yet, the writer seems very firm in taking the book in the new direction, one full of ominous portents.

Seeing that the creative team is apparently looking to expand the Son of Satan's role in the title, perhaps it's better that the readers approach him as a totally new character. The book plays fast and loose with the spiritual framework of Marvel universe in a similar way to Roberto Aguirre Sacasa in his work on "Nightcrawler", but for once the publisher's inter-continuity largely limits the implications.

As the story nears conclusion, Flash's actions become increasingly arbitrary. It's clear that the creators are committed to making the title their own, but it's hard to accept the change when it involves Venom keeping the demon who tried to possess him under control as he enlists his new supernatural aide to read up on the end of the world. By the time Katy Kiernan, the book's new Lois Lane analogue improbably declares that the Marvel mainstay Doctor Strange has repeatedly asked for her help, the readers will have to decide for themselves how much they trust the new creative team with the unlikely direction.

Flash's last page attempt to get back to Betty, a major link to the title's status as a Spider-Man spin-off, get cut off for the purposes of transitioning into the "Minimum Carnage" crossover. It remains to be seen how the book manages to continue once it stops functioning as a tie-in for the overarching Venom/Scarlet-Spider event.


Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard wind down the latest arc of "Walking Dead", with an issue that serves to underscore the character's predicament. The issue is not in the least subtle, and basically features Rick coming to a decision regarding Negan's captured leutenant, and surveying the rest of the cast to see if they agree with his plan.

Charlie Adlard is called time and again to illustrate the close-ups of characters talking, with layouts frequently featuring seven or eight panels. Michonne's reaction is most interesting, and the three page conversation scene seems in many ways the highlight of the issue. Adlard is particularly inspired when it comes to illustrating her features, that are for once tender and defensive.

Still, the conflict between Rick and Andrea makes up the crux of the issue. The characters are separated in the emotional way too, as their intimate scene lacks the empathy the protagonist shares with Michonne. From the artistic point, the issue is obviously hurried, as the artist takes more than the usual amount of shortcuts, with several repeated panels, and a persistent lack of backgrounds.

The artist does get to achieve a strong effect with a panel featuring Rick behind the fence, illustrating the character's forced retreat. The issue sets up Eugene's new role in the story, which comes organically from some of the last developments regarding the long troubled character. Otherwise, it is the last page cliffhanger that suggest a more proactive future for characters.

With "Something to fear", Kirkman has achieved a semblance of a story that stands on its own after several of the last arcs that had much looser structure. The last time the sprawling series tried a similar feat was with "the Hunters", and it's nice to see the creators returning to the more conventional format. Having said that, the effects of the last few issues (particularly #100) have come to more or less define the new status quo, and there is every indication that the series will return to exploring it in its own meandering way, a slow burn strategy that is not without its obvious strengths.


Both Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are confident creators, and it comes as no surprise that they try something new with #0. The perfunctory prequel issue is used to set-up the title's next story arc featuring Ares, but it stands out more for the way in which the story is told. Namely, the creators use the prequel issue to tell the story in a way reminiscent of a Silver Age Marvel comic.

Thus, the laconic Azzarello persists in using outdated techniques such as excessive captions and thought balloons, spelling out what is readily apparent on panel. Just like the superheroes of 1960s, the characters speak in banalities and frequently reference Greek heroes, leaving no trace of the writer's usual highly stylized dialogue. Chiang likewise tightens up his inks and provides a much more defined look for his pages, filled with familiar panel layouts. The colorist shies away from an over-reliance on the primary colors, saving the book from devolving into outright pastiche. Yet, the tribute is apparent in little details like teenage Diana's huge expressive eyes, and the Minotaur wearing purple shorts.

By deliberately slowing down the pacing, the writer forces the reader to appreciate this accessible entry point into the creative team's controversial rebuilding of the Wonder Woman story. Surprisingly, Stan Lee's trademark self-doubt does prove to be a viable technique to understanding Diana's views on the Golden Age fairy tale society.

At first glance, Ares' dialogue sounds like deities from Marvel's "Thor", but there is some genuine emotion between his actions. At first, it may be hard to respect the character clearly modeled on the writer's current look, but the Wonder Woman/Ares dynamic eventually does make up for an interesting conflict. Eventually, the addition of Daedalus' labyrinth and Theseus-like battle with the Minotaur end up being so derivative that they make a full immersion next to impossible.

The artificiality of both the trappings and storytelling comes as an in-joke between the creative team and the readers, whose attachment to Diana's conflict with her mentor will likely determine their enjoyment of the issue. In any event, one must respect Azzarello and Chiang's audacity to satirize DC's Zero month, who have certainly found a way to follow the company's edict, set up the upcoming storyline and enjoy themselves in the process.

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