Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Batman: The Bat and the Beast (comics)

Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Andy Clarke
Collects: Batman Confidential #31-35

So hey, one time, Batman totally decided it would be a rad idea to go chill in Russia and smack around their mob; unfortunately, this does not involve any communists finding themselves acquainted with Batmans boot, but I guess you can't have everything.

Peter Milligans back in this arc of the gone-too-soon Batman Confidential. Milligan apparently had a respectable run on the Dark Knight in the very early 90's, but I've never read any of it as of yet. It's not collected in trade and for the most part - Dark Knight, Dark City aside - seems like it was completely forgotten over time, especially considering Knightfall is the storyline everyone equates with the early 90's. Regardless of the quality of his work then, he's managed to come back now and pen a solid Batman adventure.

Basically, the Russian mob decides it wants to expand its business and Gotham seems as good a place as any. Batman gets wind of it - because there's nothing that slips by a badass of his caliber - and promptly boots them back out. Once he warns them off, something disturbing is brought to light; the person behind the whole thing has a nuke and if Gotham won't be the city destroyed by it, he'll just detonate it in another city.

Batman, never being one to leave a job half done, immediately leaves for Moscow to settle this matter. This is the meat of the story. Essentially cut off in a very foreign land, he has to start off from scratch. Unlike Gotham - where his name and reputation sends shivers down the spines of the underworld - the criminal element of Russia are not afraid of him. Oh sure, they've heard of him - something very likely, despite the Bat offices insistence in the 90's that word of Batman wouldn't get around as anything but an urban legend - but as far as fear they just see him as a kook in a costume. So if Batman wants to get at the head honcho of the whole thing, he needs to make them afraid, one goon at a time, while avoiding the big nasty beastie looking to protect its master.

Now, I've mentioned in the past that I like it when Batman has an adventure or two in other countries - it's good to get an adventure outside of Gotham once in a while - so right away you can probably guess that the choice of setting won points with me. It's more than just that, though. Milligan writes a very solid adventure in general with a fitting ending. He clearly knows what he's doing; and while we're always keeping an eye out for the next classic, it's never a bad thing to have a book that's just good, solid Batman comics. Especially when they get out of Gotham.

There aren't any real problems with the writing. Milligan writes an enjoyable, somewhat standard Batman adventure in a foreign setting. There aren't any greater meanings to be found here. Milligan does show us Batman essentially starting from scratch in his new setting, however, which isn't something we see too often. Here, he's faced with a different type of criminal; and Milligan shows Batman adapting, as he always does.

Andy Clarke is the artist and his work even helps elevate the book into something really enjoyable. Sometimes it's hard to describe why an artists work is good when there isn't some truly noticable style or choice. Sometimes an artist simply knows how to tell a story through art to the point where you don't even think much about it. I'd say Andy Clarke is one of those artists.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

This is just good, solid Batman comics with the twist of a foreign setting. I had fun and felt like Milligan did good work, which makes me hope to see his old Batman work hit trade so I can check that out. Sometimes a guy just wants to see Batman kick ass and do his thing in a different country. This story scratches that itch nicely, so if you're down with that, give it a look. Stuff like this is why it's a shame Batman Confidential is ending.

Monday, March 21, 2011

World of Warcraft: Book One (comics)

Writer: Walt Simonson
Artist: Ludo Lullabi
Collects: World of Warcraft #1-7

I've never played World of Warcraft. I know, it's odd. I must be one of the three guys who haven't. But it's not even just that. I've never really paid attention to Warcraft, period. Of Blizzards franchises, I was always more interested in the others; your Starcrafts and Diablos. So why am I reading a World of Warcraft comic?

Well, the name "Walt Simonson" is a pretty good reason to give anything a fair shot.

The story follows a dark elf, an elf druid and a human they dub Croc-Bait, all three slaves to an orc who trains them to be gladiators. But slavery is not for them - or, well, anyone really - so naturally they decide to flip him the bird and escape. Since it quickly becomes apparent that there's more to Croc-Bait than meets the eye, they decide figuring out who he is and why he's important is as good an idea as any. Thus, it's time for our trio to get into trouble, because what else is going to happen?

Since, as I mentioned, I'm not at all familiar with Warcraft, I suspected it might take a while for me to get what was going on. Surprisingly, it was easy to catch on. The Warcraft universe appears to pull from some pretty standard fantasy tropes, which made it easy to get the gist of the races. The only thing I was particularly in the dark about is the characters. I assume the three are at least semi-important to the WoW universe - who Croc-Bait turns out to be is one of those things that seems to be one of those "this guy is from the game" deals - but how or why eludes me. Doesn't much matter; they're likable for the most part, even if Croc-Bait himself is a bit stiff a character.

As I expected he might, Simonson plays the long game. There's no real "story arc" to be found here; while a given issue might contain some measure of resolution or revelation, there's no real stop to the flow between issues. Issue seven ends with the three sailing onwards towards their next destination, more or less saying "buy the next volume". I like it; you don't always see much of this kind of thing anymore.

Overall, the book is pretty well written. It feels a bit old fashioned - the amount of dialogue and exposition makes it feel a bit more 80's than something from the 2000's - but that seems to fit it just fine. For some reason, that sort of writing goes well with fantasy and Simonson knows how to make it work for the book.

Now, Walt Simonson is a definite legend - his Thor run alone puts him at that level, but I'm also a sucker for Robocop vs Terminator - but he doesn't draw this. Ludo Lullabi - who the inside cover tells me is a French artist - does and manages to keep pace. I'd say his art is almost manga-esque in appearance. Lots of simple lines keep a clean look to the book that's rather appealing to the eye, especially great use of color all over the book. Lullabi's storytelling deserves some praise as well; action beats are easy to follow and flow well from panel to panel.

Speaking as someone who's not really knowledgeable about Warcraft, I was able to enjoy this volume just fine just as a fantasy themed ongoing. I imagine there's a lot here that will carry a lot of weight with actual Warcraft fans, but I was pleased with how readable it is on a basic level. I'm not sure just how much of that is Simonson and how much of it is the accessible nature of this variety of genre setting, but no doubt Simonson played a part.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

I don't know how much better this might be to a fan, but at the very least it's an enjoyable book from start to finish. Not even for a video game based comic. It's just enjoyable in general. I think it's worth giving a shot and I had a decent enough time once I got my head around the world I was presented with that I'll probably check out volume 2 at some point.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The New Avengers: Power (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Billy Tan, Alex Maleeve and a truckload of guests on issue #50
Collects: Secret Invasion: Dark Reign, New Avengers #48-50

After a two volume interruption for some Secret Invasion tie-ins, New Avengers is back to it's regular programming. Whatever that is. I don't read the book aside from occasional, random times like this. I like team books, but I've got a good idea of what I want and expect out of a book starring the triple A team of a comic universe. The Avengers very rarely hit that ideal.

First up is the Secret Invasion: Dark Reign special that bridges one even to the next overarching theme, included here because where the hell else were they going to put it? It's basically Norman Osborn - now the head of national security because 90% of the regular humans of the Marvel Universe are borderline retarded - telling other top shelf villains how it's gonna be. Cute, but too long. It's a lot of talking stretched to full comic size and as such it gets old quick. It's the kind of thing that, these days, would be relegated to a free twelve page digital exclusive to be collected later.

Instead, it's a full issue. Of talking ad nausem about things we could either already figure out or did not need so many pages. Yeah.

Next are the three issues of New Avengers they decided to collect with this volume. Two deal with a plot point that was set up at the end of Secret Invasion, with Luke Cages daughter swiped by the Jarvis Skrull as a hostage. Surprisingly, Bendis doesn't drag the kidnapping plot out for months, instead wrapping it within two issues, a much appreciated move on his part.

It feels a bit transitionary; I got the feeling just reading this volume that the Skrulls weren't going to be around for a while as they give way to the new Dark Reign plot. Bendis toys a bit with the remnants of the Skrulls - even the ones who just want to exist amongst humans with no problems - being essentially walking targets; much like how the Japanese were mistreated during and after World War II, it looks like, if found out, they'll receive little mercy*. Bendis doesn't exactly go anywhere with it though.

The last issue of the three is issue fifty; as you can probably guess, it's oversized. In it, the New Avengers become acutely aware of the fact that a dude who's crazy about goblins now controls SHIELDS and Avengers assets, not to mention has assembled his own team using their names. Understandably, they're kind of annoyed by this, so they decide it would be a pretty good idea to lure him into a trap before he's got his crap together. It's probably not much of a spoiler to say this doesn't exactly go as planned. Afterwards, Clint Barton proves he actually has a working brain by pulling a move the others should have thought of, but then considering what morons populate the Marvel Universe you can be sure he'll be brushed off.

It's all written okay, but I'm hard pressed to think of anything that really stood out here. It was nice to have the baby disappearance story play out as quick and neat as it did, but aside from that there's really nothing of note aside from the reactions to Osborns Avengers. The only thing it has going for it is the usual witty banter Bendis is known for, but that's not exactly enough to carry it.

The art's pretty mixed. Alex Maleev handles the Dark Reign special. I've enjoyed his work in the past, but I did not care for it one bit here. It's common to see characters not looking remotely like themselves. See Norman Osborn or even Namor, who looks like an unshaven hobo fresh off an alcoholic blackout. He draws a nice Emma Frost and his Dr. Doom is suitably menacing, but the others just look outright bad. Even female Loki has some unflattering panels.

Billy Tan handles the bulk of the rest. He's not too bad. Still, there are some "what the hell" moments. One full page splash shows a Norman Osborn at his desk who must have recently taken up weightlifting, judging by the sudden bulk he has. Other odd moments crop up, but not on the level of the SI:DR special.

As for the rest, issue fifty has a truckload of guest artists that literally draw a page a piece of the fight. I didn't understand the purpose of it at all. I get the whole issue fifty thing and that it's something of a milestone. No, the problem is that it's not exactly what I'd call a suitable conflict for such a showing of artists. It's basically a brawl with a super-powered gang. Sure, maybe it was too early into the new status quo for it, but the teased fight with the Dark Avengers may have served it far better.

The Score
: 6 out of 10

It wasn't all that great, but it wasn't aggressively terrible either. It's not exactly something I imagine making someone desperate for more of the book. Not much really happens and not much is collected in this thin volume. Can't recommend it, unless you're a completist or you have more of an attachment to the series than I do.

*By little mercy I mean shot in the side of the head, which is pretty much the heroes fault for happening. They walked into a bar filled with stressed, now unemployed SHIELD agents who just got done fighting for the planet and pointed out a skrull amongst them with the intent of interrogating her. What in the blue hell did they think was going to happen? A pat on her shoulder and "no hard feelings about that whole invasion thing"? I realize there was the pressing matter of finding Cages kid but goddamn. Good going heroes.