Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thor (comics)

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Collects: Thor #1-6

I've gotta say, mythology in comics usually doesn't do it for me. It's part of the reason you don't see many comics reviewed here that dabble in it; it's not the reason I haven't touched Hercules yet, - I actually like Greek mythology a lot - but it is part of why I haven't bothered with Marvels Thor. Something about it when translated into a comic medium just seemed off to me, so I've long avoided many comics that deal with it.

However, sometimes a comic will get so much praise that I end up ignoring my personal preferences and give something a shot I might not otherwise. Thor by JMS is one of those times. JMS is a rather controversial writer - especially since he went to DC - but his Thor run garnered acclaim and I'd wanted to give Thor a fair shot, so the first trade of his latest ongoing seemed as good a place as any.

The story starts from the ground up. Ragnarok has come and gone; the cycle finally broken by Thor himself. After his victory, he went missing; left to sleep in an endless void. But now, he has returned. The cycle of Ragnarok behind them, he brings Asgard back, settling it in Oklahoma. Now he must find the rest of the Asgardians hidden away in humans scattered all over. But the world has changed in his absence and it may not be ready for the gods to live among them.

These days, new ongoings have a habit of being inpenetrable just as often as they make themselves accessible to newbies. There's been several occasions where a new number one continues a story from someplace else, which really defeats the purpose of a number one issue. If you're not getting in on the ground floor and learning everything you need, then what's the point? The new Thor series doesn't have this problem, thankfully. I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to Thor and his mythos at Marvel, but by the end of the first issue, I felt like I knew what I needed to. This is pretty important to me; as cynical as comic readers generally are with their "oh there's no such thing as a new reader" business, there are people who would like to read new things or read comics. But comics have a reputation for being impenetrable for newbies, one it's probably earned; I've heard some say "you know, I wish comics weren't so hard to get into so I could read some [insert chracter here]", which leads me to think there really ought to be more effort into making them easy to get into. As a newbie to Thor, I appreciated feeling as though I had been brought up to speed despite not knowing a lick of the lore prior. Comics need more of this sort of thing.

This volume's starts off slow, but each issue seems to ratchet the momentum up a bit. First, Thor is back, then in the second issue Asgard returns, in the third Thor finds his first hidden Asgardian and so on. It feels like you're along for the ride as the Thor mythos are rebuilt from the ground up and for a reader new to Thor, that's a rewarding feeling.

Most of the book is well written. There are some particularly nice moments as we watch the Asgardians interact with their neighbors in the town near Asgard. Actually, the residents of the nearby town are probably what surprised me the most; I wasn't quite expecting to like them as much as I did, but lo and behold, I did. They also bring about some genuinely funny moments in their interactions with the Asgardians, which is welcome.

Unfortunately, it's not all roses. If there was a rough issue out of the six collected here, it was definitely the third one. In it, Iron Man guest stars as Thor finds himself in a Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Just by that previous sentence you can probably see where it went wrong. JMS has brought in real world events before - see the 9/11 issue of Amazing Spider-Man he did - and it's exactly the sort of thing I hate in comics. Not only did this come years after the disaster in question had come and gone, JMS used it to get a bit preachy. One of the citizens is pissed at Thor because he didn't do anything - despite the fact that, you know, the dude was dead when it happened - and irrationally blames the heroes despite Thor explaining that there was no way he could help. Then Thor feels bad because he could have stopped it. Only, you know, he couldn't, because this is a real world disaster we're talking about here; if Hurricane Katrina never happened this issue wouldn't have existed, which makes this whole exercise feel pointless and stupid. At least Thor didn't respond by taking a walk around America.

Worse still is the appearance by Iron Man, as this book takes place back during the time Iron Man was the Director of SHIELD. After Civil War manhandled the character, it became hip to have Iron Man show up in a book so that the title character could tear him apart. Not only is this annoying for fans of the character who already didn't care for how Civil War twisted him, but it happened so often that it quickly became tedious. Even if, by chance, you DID want to see it happen, it's kind of hard to pump your fist and say "yeah, give that mustachioed prick what he deserves" after the twentieth time a book had their main character tear open the armor like a can opener and beat the stuffing out of him.

Still, it's not enough to drag down the trade as a whole; the fourth issue gets a little preachy, but it's otherwise not as bad as I'd feared.

Oliver Coipel's work here also cannot be understated. He draws Thors head a bit blockier than I'd expect, but he otherwise draws the hell out of this book. He seems right at home with the granduer of the material, drawing splash page after gorgeous splash page of the mammoth floating Asgard. His fight scenes are also rather striking. I was pretty impressed. I hope JMS gives him even more to work with in future volumes.

The Score: 8 out of 10

In all, I enjoyed this book. I'm not sure I can call myself a Thor fan just yet, but this book went a pretty long way in making me a convert. It's a bit of a slow start, but it's accessible to a newbie and if things keep up in the next volume I'm hoping things will pick up even further. Still, what's here is pretty compelling and I'm intrigued enough to come back for more. Recommended.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Secret Invasion (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Lenil Yu
Collects: Secret Invasion #1-8

Well now, that was certainly a waste of time.

Marvel doesn't exactly have a great track record with events in the 2000's. Most of them sucked. Harsh, maybe, but it's true. Some did have redeeming qualities, but I can't think of one that was genuinely good.

I thought this would be the one to break the trend. It had a good setup - hell, if we're being honest the entirety of New Avengers up to that point had been leading to it - a decent hook and it had readers completely engaged. People were scrambling about, searching past Bendis comics for hints or clues; that's pretty much when you know you've got everyones attention and interest. It should have worked.

Should have.

Bendis and Marvel promised that you could read just the main miniseries and get a complete story, so I put that to the test. Well, the claim certainly holds up, mostly because there's nothing here. Skrulls invade and the heroes fight back. That's it. This comic is one giant brawl between heroes and aliens. A brawl that someone decided it should take eight issues to tell. Even on a payoff level it doesn't deliver.

At one point, the entire event was going to be split between Mighty and New Avengers, showing characters abductions and replacements by Skrull agents in the past while the battle raged in the present. Think what DC did with Sinestro Corps War. But eventually they went with a standalone miniseries, with all the abductions relegated to the tie-ins. The reason boils down to money, but it damaged the integrity of the event; eight issues of fighting could have been eight issues of deftly plotted invasions, reveals, answers as to when people were abducted and all the trimmings. Instead, we get filler.

Now lets be real here; the question of who was a Skrull and who wasn't comes out to about ninety percent of the buildup to Secret Invasion, including the ad campaigns. With all the explanations held elsewhere, the most interesting part of the story is gone. It's like they stripped the meat off a bone and then handed it to us. As a result, we get eight issues of fighting in the Savage Land and New York City. Eight issues of fighting that had the entire line tying into it for upwards of ten months.

Worse still, after all that buildup, the Skrull reveals aren't even all that interesting. There are maybe four major reveals and they all happen in the first issue. Half of them aren't even superheroes. There was a very real fear going around at the time that the event was going to be used as a cop-out for the actions of certain characters over the past couple of years. Turns out Secret Invasion didn't pull any of that at all - Bendis pokes fun at it with a few fake-outs - but the flipside is that we went through months of characters braying about how they couldn't trust anyone - to the point where fans were saying "enough already, lets get to the invasion" - only to have almost all of the heroes be the real deal. All that hysteria over nothing. Moderation is good - and if the story went too far in the opposite direction I would have been pissed about that - but it felt like the infiltration didn't have the impact that it needed.

Secret Invasion is also packed with filler. Lots of it. Seriously, there are sequences where it's so obvious wheels are being spun because "holy crap I have to fill eight issues". This is at its most noticeable when characters seem to flit in and out of the story at random, ultimately doing nothing of consequence. One of the most ridiculous involves Marvel Boy. We see him from time to time in the course of the story before he's inspired to join the battle. He then makes his presence known on the battlefield, telling the Skrulls that the battle is over and they've lost. We don't even see him again after that aside from him being present in a crowd scene. He just vanishes from the story. That's just one example; they're all over this book.

There's also an occasion where a scene just straight up does not make sense. The climax of the book involves some last resort doomsday weapon the Skrulls had. What it is or how it's actually resolved, I really don't know. Bendis doesn't tell us anything about it, much less how it's resolved. It looks like a tornado hits the character in question and they dissolve on impact. Whatever it was, it happens and then the story goes on its way with no explanation in sight.

I'm not even going to touch the ending, because it's simply insane and makes no sense whatsoever; I realize Marvel - and Bendis - wanted a certain status quo, but what they went for is more like trying to shove the meat clever in a slot made for the steak knife.

It's written, well, like a Bendis comic. Which is to say that it's at times overly quippy. Better people than I have pointed out Bendis' flaws as a scripter - there are times where everyone sounds the same, it's all too fixated on cool lines and so on - but the man can write a good comic. I've read some of them. This isn't one. Most of his bad habits as a writer are on display here.

Lenil Yu does the art; I can't say I'm a fan, but I don't dislike his work either. He does well enough - and packs detail into the fights - but there are times when his art is too scratchy for my liking. I guess it comes down to my personal preference. Others seem to get more mileage out of it than I did.

At any rate, this story is deeply, deeply flawed. There is so much wrong with it that I simply cannot recommend it. Bendis had a good thing going here, but whether it's the format getting in the way or otherwise, it just didn't work. Damn shame too; part of me thinks it should have worked. I hate it when potential is wasted.

My Opinion: Skip It

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Batman: Arkham Reborn (comics)

Writer: David Hine
Artist: Jeremy Haun
Collects: Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum, Arkham Reborn #1-3, Detective Comics #864-865

Man, that's a striking Cliff Chiang cover, innit? I love the guys work. Wish he did more interiors.

Anyways, despite his prominence on the cover, Batman doesn't figure much into this story; he's in it, but he's only an element in the story instead of the protagonist. The star of the show is Jeremiah Arkham and Arkham Asylum itself. The whole of the Arkham Reborn saga is kind of a parallel plotline to the "Batman Reborn" retooling of the Batman line; while the rest of the line was fooling around with the shiny new status quo, David Hine quietly crafted a story of Arkham's rebirth into something quite possibly even more sinister than ever before. It's status as a parallel plot is both a blessing and a curse, however, which I'll get to later.

During the events of Batman RIP, Jerimiah Arkham was ejected from his beloved asylum by the Black Glove. Not long after, the asylum was destroyed by the new Black Mask while a battle for Batmans cowl raged. Unwilling to give in, Jeremiah decides to rebuild Arkham, but what it turns into may be even more dangerous than what it was before. Mysterious incidents involving the inmates occur and it almost seems as if the asylum itself is working against him. The question quickly goes from asking if anyone can be rehabbed in Arkham to asking if the asylum itself can drive a man to insanity all on it's own. The title - Arkham Reborn - is apt, as in a way this story is something of a rebirth for more than just the infamous home of Batmans rogues.

In all, it's a compelling read. David Hine writes a tight story with plenty of tension. You just know everything is going to go horribly wrong - it is Arkham Asylum after all - but there's the question of how it's all going to come crashing down. Hine brings in elements of past Arkham Asylum related stories to play off of and the result is gripping. Jerimiah Arkham has always struggled to keep some semblance of control over the asylum and there has always existed the question of whether it's affected his sanity. This book seems to settle that question rather definitively and I'm interested in the changes it brings to the asylum.

An action packed book this is not, so if that's what you're looking for, this probably isn't for you. A lot of the page time is spent on Jeremiahs thoughts and mental health. Even when a riot occurs a bit after the halfway mark of the book, it doesn't focus on the action or Batman getting things under control. After all, there's no need; that's just another Tuesday in Gotham. It's used as a device for the story, wrapped within a few pages and putting more pressure on the principal character.

If there's a problem with the book, it's that it's abundantly clear that it was hampered by the need to keep from spoiling events in another book; events I'm now forced to dance around while talking about it in case I have a reader who doesn't want to be spoiled. The presence of the new Black Mask - a plotline handled in Tony Daniels "Life After Death" storyline - is made clear throughout the book, but Hine is forced to work around the subject for most of the storyline. But between the Arkham Reborn mini and the publishing of the Detective two-parter that ends the story, that whole business had been resolved, so the Detective issues open with it clear who Black Mask was, assuming that we read that storyline. Also, a character incarcerated at the end of the mini is suddenly walking free in the 'Tec issues with absolutely no context; again, I assume it's a question answered elsewhere, though I'm not entirely sure, as I haven't read "Life After Death". It's very jarring, as some of this stuff simply does not flow from the ending of Arkham Reborn. It harms what's an otherwise compelling read; even just a few pages showing what happened between them would have helped with the transition. Instead, the knowledge is assumed; not good, especially when it isn't something minor or easily ignored.

Why this happened, exactly, I just don't know; the Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum one shot collected here summarized the events that affected this story, effectively getting us up to speed. Why it didn't happen with the Detective issues that desperately needed it, I haven't a clue. Hell, the fact that this story was being finished up in a book that had nothing to do with Arkham prior - Batwoman was starring in 'Tec right before the two part wrap-up of the Arkham story - should have been reason enough to get readers up to speed. It makes no sense whether you put it in the context of a trade or a monthly.

The art by Jeremy Haun is good, solid work, but I'm not entirely sure it was suited for this sort of story. The bulk of the story deals in madness and insanity; I don't want to rag on this too hard, as Hauns work here is quite good, but my point is that it seems more suited to a superhero book. I personally think this mini needed the work of an artist whom's style is more apt to dark, haunting imagery. So, basically, very good art paired with a story it wasn't suited for.

Still, despite the flaws, I felt that the story still managed to come together. Arkham Asylum's always been an interesting part of the Batman mythos to me. It's pretty over the top by this point - we're at the junction where even characters are referring to it as a revolving door for the insane - but nonetheless fascinating in it's own way. Not too many stories really focus on it a lot though; it's more of a backdrop in most regular Batman adventures. But it seems that every now and then we get a story spotlighting Arkham and its crazies. When they're this good, they're welcome.

I just wish the choppy transition late in the book didn't hurt it so much.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

In all, the book is still a good read despite everything. I wish I could give it a higher score, but I felt that the trouble late in the book surrounding the jarring shift hampered the book too much. But it's still a worthwhile read. Maybe even worth a purchase, especially if you like a good Arkham story.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hulk: Red & Green (comics)

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Arthur Adams, Frank Cho, Herb Trimpe
Collects: Hulk #7-9, King Sized Hulk #1

The Jeph Loeb Hulk run gets a lot of hate. It's not unfounded; all you need to do is take a look at one of the free five page previews from one of the issues to know the comics are dumb as a post. Loeb doesn't even try to make it anything but, so a spade may as well be called a spade. At some point this past decade, Jeph Loebs scripting abilities went to hell, but at the same time, the man is practically magic when it comes to attracting top tier artists to his projects. This volume boasts the talent of Arthur Adams and Frank Cho; so on those grounds I gave it a read.

After reading it, all I can say is... well, at least it all looks really good.

The book has two main "stories" here. See, at the time, the Incredible Hulk series had been renamed Incredible Hercules and followed that particular character. But since then, Green Hulk was running around and there was only one Hulk book. So they decided to go in halfs. Half an issue would follow Hulk classic and the other half would follow the new Red variety.

Anyways, the one starring Green Hulk finds him in Las Vegas. Apparently, Wendigos are all around and infecting the whole of Vegas. Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel and the Sentry drop by and Banner Hulks out. By the end an entire section of Vegas likely needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and for some reason known only to the creators it's actually snowing. Over in the Red Hulk tale, She-Hulk decides she wants some payback for being smacked around by the Red Hulk in times past. So naturally, instead of actually coming up with, you know, a plan, she just rings up a few of her gal pals, announces their arrival to the Red Hulk - I guess she's never heard of the element of surprise - and then proceeds to try beating the hell out of him. Since, of course, we're talking about Red Hulk here - who is a villainous Gary Stu if ever I saw one - it's no spoiler to say this doesn't work out so well.

The writing is pretty bad. Loeb does not even bother to humor us with even the slightest hint of coherent continuity or plotting. It's basically the equivalent of a kid taking his action figures and smashing them together. Seriously, there are a lot of basic questions here that do not even receive lip service. For example, at a couple times during the story, we see that Banner is in captivity - where he has apparently been since World War Hulk - which begs the question of how the hell he's running around in Vegas, beating on a bunch of furry monsters. No answers; not even a hint that Loeb even cares. That's just one example of the story just plain not making sense. Out of nowhere the Joe Fixit personality emerges from Banner for no real reason and is gone within a handful of pages, having served no purpose.

By the time one of Marvels mystics shows up to Deus Ex Machina the problem away, you've pretty much given up trying to make sense of any of it. Hell, how the Wendigo's infect isn't even explained properly; Banners monologue explains it as the result of humans engaging in cannibalism, but then later in the story it seems to just forget it established that and suddenly it's done by being bitten by one, a la zombies. We get an amusing sequence with Hulk out of it, sure, but goddamn; retconning is one thing, but within the same story? It's all a mess.

The Red Hulk tale mercifully lacks the variety of problems the previous one had. But that's mostly because it's nothing more than a big fight scene. Red Hulk spouts about some plan every now and then, but we never get the idea that he has one outside of him telling us he does. Perhaps it was a bit clearer in the last volume, but judging by this one, I doubt it.

The last real story is a summation of the life of Abomination told from his death on backwards to when he was "born". Why it's even here, I haven't the foggiest; after all, the Abomination was killed in the last volume and plays no part in this one. But whatever, right? I just kind of look at it as an out of place extra.

Where the scripting fails, the art prevails. Seriously, for every bad moment brought by the writing, there's a gorgeous panel of art to look at. Arthur Adams draws the hell out of the Vegas story; the story may be stupid as hell, but it's kind of hard to really argue with Hulk smashing through a city of neon lights and busting up Wendigos in a casino. Though I will say that I found it kind of funny how he makes Ms. Marvel look like Empowered.

Frank Cho draws the Red Hulk story because of course Frank Cho is going to be called upon to draw a story where eighty percent of the cast consists of women. Ass shots aplenty. I love Cho's work and really, this kind of thing is pretty much his specialty. The dudes good at drawing beautiful women. This is a story where a bunch of beautiful women fight Red Hulk. The math's definitely sound and the man can draw some good facial expressions too. I like it, even if he does sometimes work to get in an ass shot; though to be fair, I didn't think it went to the levels of, say, an Ed Benes this go around.

Now, I've railed on this book pretty heavily, so it's understandable if you think I loathed it outright. These are, after all, comics that don't even manage to come within a mile of being genuinely good. But I have to admit, there is some enjoyment to be had. If you go in like you might a regular comic, you'll probably rip your hair out, because the book - and hell, most of the characters in it - borders on retarded. But if you stop thinking about and just enjoy it as a fight comic, you can find some fun within. It's basically two big fights drawn by some of the industries greats. Sometimes that's all you really need.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

I kind of hesitate to give this book a score even on the level of a five point five, but fun is fun, even if it's retarded fun. There's plenty of reason for most readers to hate this book; and honestly, I agree a hundred percent with most of the criticisms. But this volume at least had some merit. If the art wasn't even half as good, this probably would have gotten a four. I'd never recommend a purchase, - and I doubt I'll be back for future volumes, because I fear my IQ would drop sharply - but if, say, you were to find it at the library, the art makes it worth a check-out. But only one.

One last thing; can writers please be banned from writing "omigod"? It's horribly obnoxious. I do not know any real people who say that. If I did, I probably wouldn't want to hang around them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis (comics)

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artists: Julian Lopez, Carlos Rodriguez
Collects: Batman and the Outsiders #1-5

Is it just me, or is it a bit sad when the circumstances surrounding a book are more entertaining than the book itself? It seemed like this book pissed through creative teams on the way to being published. At one point Judd Winick was slated to write the book, then Tony Bedard, then one more if I remember right before Chuck Dixon was finally solidified as the writer. The cast of the book was almost as much of a question mark. At one point I was interested - putting Batman in a books title is an easy way to get my attention - but between all the ruckus leading to the books debut and Batman RIP making it clear the pointy eared ones involvement in the title would not last, the interest more or less bottomed out.

Turns out I didn't really miss anything.

So after a relatively disastrous team-up with the forces of Checkmate, Nightwing decided it would be a fairly ballin' idea to give the reins of the team up to Batman. It's a logical move for ol' Dick to make; after all, the Bat is the one who initially created the team to start with and has flitted in and out of their lives since. Batman does some trial by fire recruiting and this book starts up after all that has taken place. The first mission quickly leads them into hot water, OMAC's are involved and nasty folks need stoppin'. Sounds right up Batmans alley.

The book is pretty straightforward, yet still manages to be something of a mess. It feels like the book was trying to work out its creative nightmares as it went along, which leads to some odd instances within the comic itself. Several promised members featured prominently on the cover are gone by the end of the second issue - remnants of the plans of a different writer - and new members drop in seemingly at random, only to kind of hang around and not do much, at least not in this volume. Dixon works to get things to where he wants them to be, but even if you didn't know of all the behind the scenes malarky it's easy to get the feeling that the book did not go as planned.

The writing is solid, but not much more. To tell the truth, I'm not a huge fan of Chuck Dixon; I like some of his comics, but he is not one of those guys whose work I'll actively seek out. To me, he's always been middle of the road; one of the dependable workhorses of comics, if you will. You can depend on him for a solid script and timeliness - and hell, to be fair, sometimes you just want a straight up superhero adventure with no subtext - but if you want comics that really push boundaries or rise to great heights he's not exactly the writer you want to look for. Aside from some of his Batman and Punisher work, I have a difficult time remembering any stories he's written that didn't have the title "Year One". Sometimes I just find his work bland.

To that sense, this book definitely feels like one of his. Despite it's creative woes, he manages to pull the book into readable territory, which is no mean feat. But it's not something you're likely to remember afterwords, which is never a good sign.

I will give credit where it's due, however. Dixon makes use of several characters we haven't seen in a while. It's interesting to have Francine Langstrom as part of the supporting cast of the book, for example, as it's her husband - also known as Man-Bat - that usually takes up the page time. It's also nice to see something done with the Dibny's, who, despite receiving a fantastic setup for adventures as ghost detectives, have appeared in jack all since 52.

The art only compounds problems. Frankly, it feels rushed. Hell, it probably was, considering the trouble getting the book out there. The second issue has a guest artist and neither really turn in work that goes to a level much higher than "solid". One particular quirk to note is that Julian Lopez - the primary artist - has a tendency to overdo expressions; some of Geo-Forces midway through the book are almost comically overdone. The artist couldn't seem to settle on a consistent costume for Katana either, as it seems to change from issue to issue.

Oh well, at least Metamorpho has pants now; never could take him too serious prior.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

Solid, but ultimately forgettable. It has its pluses, but the flaws seem to outweigh it; and Dixon isn't exactly an exciting enough scripter to make the entire exercise worthwhile on his own. It's a shame too, as the hook has potential; alas, it never truly seizes it and considering there's only one more volume from Dixon I highly doubt anything introduced in this book got to play out in any interesting way. You won't miss much if you skip it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Daredevil Noir (comics)

Writer: Alexander Irvine
Artist: Tomm Coker
Collects: Daredevil Noir #1-4

This book kind of confuses me. Not in a sense that I couldn't understand the story. More in the sense that I can't understand why it exists.

I know, odd statement; why does any story exist? But seriously, this book didn't exactly feel too far removed from the norm for Daredevil. I admit I'm not a regular Daredevil reader. I've only read a couple scattered stories. I'm not overly familiar with noir either, aside from enjoying a couple classics. But what I have read of Daredevil already felt immersed in noir - or at least to my admittedly limited understanding of it - which kind of makes the choice to do a book like this an odd one. If the main book dabbles in the genre semi-regularly, why bother creating a standalone alternate continuity story based around it?

I guess one could say they just felt like hitting all their icons with this noir line; actually, now that I think on it, that's probably it.

Still, it makes for an odd read. What little noir I've read tends to have a nihilistic view of the world; and to some extent, that continues here. But in trying to suss out what's different, I couldn't really find anything. This book has Matt Murdock as a blind PI with partner Foggy Nelson and Matt moonlights as Daredevil. The typical dame shows up, Matt's drawn into her world, including a coming gang war and everything just goes to hell for him. But, you know, isn't that more or less what happens to Daredevil Classic? Seems like every five minutes you hear about one of his love interests overdosing and his life literally being broken down piece by piece. Maybe it just seems that way because I don't read the book much. Regardless, that's how it comes off. I guess the biggest difference with this book is that instead of being dredged in noir like the regular Daredevil, this is soaked in it before being sauteed in the proverbial noir juices.

Regardless of all that, it's quite competently written. It read about as I expected and I generally enjoyed it, so I suppose in some regards it's a success. The inner monologues can get a bit purple, but as I understand that's pretty much how noir is done and such is done well enough that I didn't feel like it was a distraction. I suppose I could fault it for being so much like what I expected that little it did was a surprise, but there's something to be said for getting what you want out of a book. Still, I'm not sure there's anything in this story that made it a completely worthwhile exercise.

The art looks great and fits the story perfectly, but it too has its problems. I understand that a noir story is supposed to be pretty dark - lots of shadows, muted colors and so on - but there are times where I think this book goes a bit overboard. There are a couple fight scenes that contained panels where I just flat out could not discern what was going on. Did the Bullseye killer just stab him with a piece of wood in the water? Does that character have Daredevil in a headlock? Why do the limbs seem kind of off in that panel? Why does this panel look more like they're having a dance-off than fighting? What the hell is coming out of that pipe? How did that building suddenly set on fire? And so on. It's really the fight scenes that are the problem. For the most part, the book has solid storytelling through art, but it seems that when a fight scene comes about the books very genre gets in the way. I guess if nothing else, it proves a noir comic can be a bit too shadowy.

The Score: 7 out of 10

When you get down to it, I'm still not sure this book justified its own existence. It was a fairly enjoyable read, however, so it's not a total waste. It's not something I'd jump to recommend, however. I guess it depends on how much noir you like on your Daredevil. For me, it didn't dissuade me from trying others from the Noir line, but... well, it doesn't exactly inspire me to go out of my way to read any more either.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

Writer: Gerard Way
Artist: Gabriel Ba
Collects: Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1-6, two page internet preview story, Free Comic Book Day 2007 story

Holy hell, talk about defying my every expectation.

Listen. Between you and me? There was absolutely no reason for this to be any good. It's written by a singer in an alternative rock band. I've little experience with My Chemical Romance aside from hearing a song or two that I thought sounded kind of cool, but even if they're the best - or worst - band going, there's a difference between writing music and writing comic books. Besides that, the track records for any comic book written by a musician of any kind is piss poor. Remember those Insane Clown Posse comics? No? Good, you must have blocked them out of your memory. Couple this with the fact that I had never heard of the artist before and man I thought this was going to suck harder than a cheap hooker; Grant Morrison giving it praise is why I ultimately took it out for a read.

I'm sorry for not giving you the benefit of the doubt, Gerard Way; at the very least, you've proven you can put together a good comic.

The story starts with seven kids with extraordinary powers being born after a wrestler drops the atomic elbow on a space octopus. The seven are taken in and adopted, later becoming a dysfunctional family and superhero group, the Umbrella Academy. After seeing their first adventure, we jump forward twenty years. They've all grown up, one of their number is dead and by this time the team has long since disbanded. But now, their adopted father has died and the apocalypse is on the horizon. The remaining members of the team need to put their differences aside and reunite if there's any hope for the world.

First off, it's easy to tell Gerard is a fan of Grant Morrison. More than once this comic reminded me of the style of rapid fire ideas that can make Morrisons comics the most interesting thing to hit a page. From a living white violin with the power to bring the apocalypse through song to the Academy fighting an insane Eiffil Tower piloted by Zombie-Robot Gustave Eiffil, this comic is just bursting with the kind of insane fun that draws me in every time. He's also got a knack for writing a bit of dark humor here and there, which is more than welcome; juxtaposing an "isn't this worth fighting for" speech against a seedy streetcorner with triple X signs and hookers fighting next to a homeless guy is just morbidly hilarious.

To my surprise, it's all very well written. Way manages to craft some believable drama in the midst of the insanity, with the different relations between the dysfunctional kinda-sorta-not-really-a-family bringing some emotional weight to the proceedings. None of them are actually blood related and within the dynamic lie grudges, chaffing personalities and serious dysfunction. Some members get along well while others might come to blows. Way manages to make us feel like we know the members of the Academy fairly quickly, which I think is high praise. By the end, it's easy to be attached the the team and their insane world. It's even easier to want to see what might be next.

If Gerard Way is not a comic fan, I'll be surprised, because there are aspects to this comic that seem to homage some of the greats. Late in the book, when attempting to piece things together, The Kraken meets with a very Commissioner Gordan-esque inspector. The scene feels like a reference to Batman, right down to Kraken disappearing while the inspector is still talking. The team itself - including the power sets and general looks - feels very much like an homage to the Doom Patrol; hell, the fight with an insane Eiffel Tower made me think of the Painting That Ate Paris from Morrisons Doom Patrol run. Also, some character interactions remind me of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. By that, I'm thinking largely of the rivalry between The Kraken - a hot headed brawler who doesn't like taking orders, just like Raphael - and the team leader Spaceboy, who reminds me of Leonardo of the Turtles, only far more interesting (lets face it, Leo can be kind of a bland cliche of the stern leader just as often as he can be awesome). Some of it's probably intentional, some of it might not be, but it's nice regardless.

I mentioned earlier that I'd never heard of Gabriel Ba before and that's true, but I'll remember him from now on. His art is at times a bit too blocky for my liking - not really a fan of that sort of style - but he clearly has an eye for detail and skills in telling a story with art. The details in his art can convey as much about the story as the words. To elaborate on that a bit, one thing he did I liked happened midway through the first issue when we jump ahead twenty years to the time period the rest of the comic takes place in. The first thing we see is Spaceboy. In the twenty years since, his head has somehow been grafted onto an apes body. There is no exposition explaining this, the comic just moves forward; instead, in the background, we see newspaper clippings that give you everything you need to know about what happened without any exposition. Good stuff.

Also included in the collection is a two page story that was put up on the internet as a teaser of sorts and the Free Comic Book Day offering. The former is nice to see included - though it may be non-canon - but doesn't offer much. The FCBD offering, however, holds more value. Seeing as it takes place before the Umbrella Academy originally broke up as a team, it offers a look at the group in their prime, something we didn't see at all in Apocalypse Suite proper. It's very much in the same vein as the main series and I'm glad it was included. To round it off, there's a sketchbook section at the back, showing a lot of the original concept art of the series numerous characters. It's worth a look to see how the designs evolved prior to the project.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

Man, was this a great read. This was definitely a surprise in regards to how good it is; I'd heard the praise, but I couldn't believe it until I'd seen it. It's great folks. I'd recommend dropping the coin - followed by the Atomic Elbow Drop - as soon as possible. No hype; it's just great comics. I'll be back for Dallas and whatever else Gerard Way feels like writing.