Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Comic reviews for Wednesday, October the 10th


Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo debut the opening chapter of "the Death of the Family" crossover. The main story is set to run in "Batman", while spin-off titles tie-in, and for the moment, the creators deliver what they've promised. There is an ominous feeling to the episode from the start, building to the start of Joker's depraved revenge. With the character single-handedly executing his plan, the story maintains an atmosphere of the slasher horror movie, albeit one drenched in Batman mythos.

Snyder never forgets that he's writing a Batman story, structured as the traditional chase the villain ends the dark knight detective on. It's also just as much a Joker story, calling back to the character's numerous previous misdeeds, albeit with a ring of finality to it. Batman's nemesis launches his campaign of terror so aggressively, so relentlessly, that "the Death of the Family" seems poised to leave lasting ramifications to the title.

Capullo is likewise in full form here, making sure the reader sees every important detail of the grim proceedings, while drenching the story in unbearable paranoia. The artist keeps the Joker's character design a secret until the cliffhanger (which goes to explain his frustration when the posting of an upcoming cover spoiled the reveal on the Internet), but the character is still present throughout the issue. In contrast, the artist continually shows Batman under heavy light, caped and broad-shouldered, but woefully ineffective. Bruce is continually two steps behind his enemy, and it seems like he can barely follow the trail.

The story climaxes with Joker crossing the line and attacking a key Batman figure, revealing the extent of his knowledge of Bruce's operation. The rationale behind his enemy's current plan of attack works to establish the tie-in for the rest of the Batman line, but it remains to be seen how much it factors into the Snyder and Capullo's main story.

This is not to say that the start of the creator's second year of Batman stories is flawless, as the police station sequence and the later television broadcast announcing the villain's plan to the Gothamites exhibit some confusion in layouts leading to the lack of effectiveness. The fight in the factory that closes the issue is likewise so dense with details that it lacks a seamless storytelling flow (including an unfortunate prop that will momentarily take the reader out of the story), but in general the issue portrays both creators in a very strong light.

Snyder utilizes a lot of dialogue in these plot-oriented 24 pages, working in concert with Capullo's quirky, caricatural visuals to create a rare story that lives up to the hype surrounding it. The back-up reunites Snyder with Jock, the illustrator of his previous run on "Detective Comics". The painted pages are likewise disturbing, with the co-writer James Tynion IV elaborating on the plot point previous to Batman's arrival to the factory.

The story is no more than a vignette featuring Harley and the Joker, elaborating on their sick relationship in regards to a particular plot point. Tynion IV quickly achieves an atmosphere of abject dread, but his is a thankless task giving that the reader is already aware how the scene ends. In a way, the co-writer is being asked to shock the reader into a few moments forgetfulness, before the story returns to the relatively comforting reality of what the reader just saw in the final Snyder/Capullo pages.

Jock's work is traditionally angular and moody, but realized in the limited palette of reds and blues, except for the shock of Joker's hair.The close-ups on Joker's mouth are likewise effective, keeping the reader unaware of the character's position in regards to Harley. It goes without saying that the two character's share a very one sided abusive relationship, which excuses some of the violence on the part of creators, who thankfully restrain from depicting the full extent of implied depravity.


The finale of "New World Orders" follows the pattern when it comes to this arc, being the end of the plot-based exercise that had little to show for it. The Bunn-scripted issue covers the three fronts of Captain America and SHIELD's battle against Codename Bravo and the Hydra, with a real sense that the heroes are over-matched. Yet, once the protagonists make their way to the enemy commanders, they prove relatively easy to beat.

It's doubtful that Brubaker would have realized his plot in much the same way had he written the arc on his own, but as it stands, the villains who have tormented Cap since this iteration of the title launched prove little more than braggarts, who have managed to brainwash the American public to their side. The issue continues last issue's Baron Zemo/Agent 13 fight in a decent way, but the co-writer's addition of Dum Dum Dugan's work behind the scenes ultimately ends the satellite in a way that is a little too easy and convenient.

In turn, this makes Falcon and Diamondback's efforts superfluous, but the co-writers choose to utilize their short scenes to show the effect of enemy manipulation on the common man and set up a new dynamic between the characters. The heavy handed real world relevance issue ultimately proves like little more than an afterthought, and gets little more than a mention in Cap's fight against Bravo and Queen Hydra. The duel is remarkably short and efficient, but is notable largely because of its finality and the way Marvel chooses to present it.

Throughout the issue, Eaton underplays the more brutal elements of the script and sticks to a superhero aesthetic that de-emphasizes the violence. The reader is not made privy to the body-count behind the fake Discordian invasion, with the dialogue carefully explaining that despite the appearance, the fights against Zemo and Bravo carried no fatalities. Scott Eaton's work is therefore allowed to maintain a darker edge, while still working in the artist's exaggerated superhero style.

Unfortunately, the careful framing only accentuates the feeling that "New World Orders" shows the creators at their most restrained, presenting a story that tries to provide an epic sendoff to the plots and themes of this volume of "Captain America", but only succeeding in the former. The co-writers try to use the character's out of costume appearance to provide for some measure of closure, but the lessons learned feel broad and obvious. The writers are ultimately use the sequence to spell out their intentions and clue the reader in on the eventual fate of the principal players.

The story concludes on a genre standard vignette aiming to provide some ambiguity to the heroes' victory, but a long-time reader will likely be more interested in the one page teaser for the next month's story. With #19, Ed Brubaker concludes his run on the title, with the relaunch already solicited as a part of the Marvel NOW! initiative. Reunited with Steve Epting, the primary artist of his original "Captain America" stories, Brubaker will no doubt leave provide a poignant coda for the title that never really gained a foothold in this latest iteration.


Interestingly, the second part of the arbitrary "Minimum Carnage" crossover provides for a pleasant diversion. Chris Yost, the regular writer of "Scarlet Spider" scripts the issue himself (with special thanks to "Venom" writer Cullen Bunn), and the mini-event feels slightly more organic.

This is not to say that the "Minimum Carnage" is now free of the exposition that weighted heavily on its first part, but that it builds up some rhythm when its two leads finally start interacting. The repentant, yet still aggressive Kaine has little time for Agent Venom, following Carnage's disappearance, but at least for a short while it feels that the writer will forgo the cliche of having the two protagonists fight as soon as they meet.

Yet, utilizing Venom's symbiotic nature, Yost still gets to include the fight a mere few pages later, providing for the issue's major fight sequence. Flash losing control of the symbiote seems to be unconnected to Bunn's plot of demonic possession and seemingly operates in disregard to the set-up as presented in the character's own book. Pham and Brown illustrate the sequence in a clear and energetic way, providing a lot of the flair missing from the story's initial "Alpha" issue.

The Microverse sequences substitute the slaughter from the beginning of the story with the fantasy sequences, teasing the role of an evil mastermind that is profiting from Carange's actions. The hooded figure could well turn out to be an analogue for the "Micronauts" arch-villain Baron Karza, but so far he appears only in hologram.

Meanwhile, the story's two discuss crossing over into the microscopic world, with Yost doing his best to discern between two anti-heroes. Scarlet Spider reluctantly follows Agent Venom's lead, with both ultimately defining themselves after Spider-Man. Following the requisite comic book super science, the two are once again separated. Pham and Brown don't invest a lot in the backgrounds of these Microverse sequences, but the colors help make the setting distinctive.

The microscopic world has a truly alien feeling, especially when compared to the drabness of the ruined space center where the most of the issue takes place. When Micronauts finally show up, they feel entirely of the place in what has become Venom and Scarlet Spider's space opera adventure. The reader is not expected to be aware of the company's struggle to keep the characters created while they held the licence to the property, with the freedom fighters instantly recalling the better known "Masters of the Universe", or even "Star Wars" characters.

The issue ends with Yost going so far to explicitly mention the "Star Wars" connection, right before Scarlet Spider is subjected to the monster that would not feel out of place in George Lucas' movies. Keeping Carnage out of the spotlight has definitely helped the story settle in a pulpy, adventure story direction, but there is still no indication that the crossover will ultimately cohere into a satisfying whole. For the moment, "Minimum Carnage" appears to be a little more than an unlikely, but inoffensive outing for its well defined leads, playing out in a completely different fashion than the 1990s crossover that inspired it.


To tie-in with this Sunday's premiere of Season Three of "the Walking Dead" TV-series, Image and Skybound present a Special issue of the comic book that inspired it. The "Walking Dead Special: Michonne" is meant to reintroduce the character whom the TV audience briefly saw in the final episode of the last season, a katana wielding lawyer who has long since become a permanent fixture of the comic book.

Two days before the Season Two finale, the March issue of "Playboy" published a short presenting the character's origin story. The six page Kirkman/Adlard collaboration wasn't reprinted in "Walking Dead" #100, and it's only now that Image has decided to present it, along with the character's original appearance. "Walking Dead Special: Michonne" thus combines the "Playboy" short along with "Walking Dead" #19, and offers no new material except for the Charlie Adlard cover.

The 6-page "Michonne's story" basically presents the first days of zombie apocalypse from the titular character's point of view, without offering any new information. There is very little dialogue in the story itself, as Kirkman prefers to narrate the events using caption boxes. Reading Michonne's recollections largely dispenses with the excitement reserved for the series, as the character obviously survives to join the book's cast at a later date.

The main series has long abandoned the initial shock of the zombie invasion, thus seeing the creators revisit the "Days gone bye" setting has some novelty. In the end, the short, no matter how well put together proves no more than a promotional item. As for the longer story that follows it, it takes place relatively early in the series run, and mostly presents an extended fight scene. There is some initial confusion regarding the setting, and the characters opposing Rick, but it ultimately boils down to a decent episode of a longer serial.

Rick and his group are vying for control of the prison with the group that previously held it, with the new player using the ensuing confusion involving a zombie attack to join in with the cast. And while #19 is ultimately Rick's story, showing one of the first steps in the character's gradual loss of humanity, Michonne is given enough space to showcase her use to the group. Basically, she is a genre character initially divorced from the every day problems of the group.

Kirkman and Adlard choose to portray her value primarily in terms of her fighting prowess and the appeal a beautiful woman wholly capable of fending for herself has to the audience. The character has since enjoyed a couple of relationships, but is still largely defined by her ferocity, which is somewhat softened with the "Playboy" short. Michonne is still a long way from a rounded character (that role has gone to Andrea, who also appears in #19), but the Special does enough to make her stand out.

Beyond the return to earlier storytelling modes, "Michonne" also offers a look into the evolution of Charlie Adlard's artwork. Reading the two stories back to back, it's apparent how the artist has changed the way he approaches the series. For a start, Adlard now chooses much thicker inking lines and seems to rely more on Rathburn's gray tones. The artist was stylistically mature when he inherited the book from Tony Moore, but he seems much more assure in these newer pages.

There is a more natural flow to the pages of material that premiered in "Playboy", as well as a tighter grasp on the figures. It remains to see how the artist's style will further evolve, but for the moment both him and Kirkman are overshadowed by their popular character. Even if this tie-in Special doesn't work to increase the readership of the series, it works to increase the awareness of the connection between the TV-series and the comic book that inspired it, which is more than enough, given the latter's success.

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