Thursday, January 26, 2012

Captain America: Two Americas (comics)

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Luke Ross, Butch Guice
Collects: Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield, Captain America #602-605

And so, with Bru's big Captain America epic out of the way - and one of those re-numberings that Marvel loves so damn much - it's time to move on to other stories, with Bucky still holding the shield for the time being.

Now, I just love those comics where the backstory is almost as interesting as what's within the pages. The main arc here caused some minor bitching from Neo-Con pundits - who of course only care about comics when an American icon goes against their shitty ideals - for showing what was essentially a Tea Party rally - complete with "Tea Bag the Dems" signs - and having Falcon remark that he - a black man - wouldn't feel comfortable among a bunch of angry white people. Why would he feel that way? It's not like there's any underlying racism at one of those gatherings, right? Marvel caved and changed the signs, sadly.

That's interesting, of course, but what makes the whole thing hilarious is that the minor alteration really didn't change a thing; while the sign was changed, that was never as big a deal as the story in question.

See, this story picked up on a prior plot thread during the Brubaker run. Anyone with a passing familiarity with Captain America knows that he was frozen in suspended animation for decades, but during the time he was gone the US decided to train replacements to keep the icon in play. The 50's Cap went crazy from the Super Soldier Serum and Bucky fought him once in recent times. Now he's back, only this time he's joined with a radical movement and trying to find the "real America".

Crazy Caps inner monologues essentially amount to a big "in my day" spiel. He's lost and confused, wondering what happened to the great America of his youth. He wants to reclaim that fleeting memory, through force if necessary. In a way, he's almost pitiable; it's not hard to relate to a feeling of your country circling the drain, having lost itself along the way. I feel that way at times, especially when I hear about the latest bill that will torpedo American rights for the interests of Big Business. But - and this should sound familiar - he's misguided, failing to realize his methods and solutions will only make matters worse. Only Crazy 50's Cap has the excuse of being insane.

The plot is dressed up with some superhero conventions, of course - talking heads debating politics would be one boring comic - but, even with the overt references removed, it boils down to kicking Tea Party/Neo-Con politics in the nuts. Maybe not to the degree of a Bioshock - which took a heaping dump on Ayn Rands entire philosophy - but it's plain as day. Remove the bombs, the spandex and the tech and you've got a fairly accurate portrayal; after all, how many times have we heard several of them talk of revolution or overthrowing the government? Hell, a fairly well known author once said as much because the government was slowly legalizing gay marriage and apparently that means that the government is corrupt. Gay Marriage: Totally destroying our country more than Wall Street, am I right?

The cherry on top is the minor theme of racism, which even ties into that whole revolution thing; after all, I'm pretty sure we fought a civil war over similarly wrongheaded ideals like, oh, I dunno, the persecution of blacks.

So it provokes thought and says something. Even with all that, though, it's not one of Bru's best Cap stories. Granted, that still places it well above most of the competition, so that's not exactly me condemning it. It's another volume of Brubakers Captain America run; that's not a bad thing. Its problem may just be a combination of being more of a straight up adventure than Bru has done in a while and the fact that the story is coming right after the end of Bru's Captain America epic, after which most things would seem unremarkable.

Oh, there's also this one shot special about whether Steve is going to take the shield back or if Bucky will keep it a while longer. It's kind of pointless. I really don't get why we had to have a special to answer that question instead of a regular issue of the Captain America comic. Anyways, it gives us our answer with minimum thrills - not Bru's fault, since I can't picture an exciting comic about who will wear a set of clothing any more than I can about talking heads discussing politics - and sets Steve Rogers up for what he'll be doing while Bucky stays in the outfit for a while.

I think at one point one issue specials were supposed to be, you know, special. Seems almost quaint now. I guess tough decisions on who will wear the flag on their spandex is the new special.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

Another good volume of Ed Brubakers extended Captain America run. It feels a bit like a breather arc between big stories, just with bombs, fake Caps and some political underpinnings. Next volume is supposed to be pretty heavy for Bucky, so it's fitting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Batman: Noel (comics)

Writer/Artist: Lee Bermejo
Original Graphic Novel

This book just kind of snuck up on me; I didn't even know it existed until a week or two before its release late, late last year.

Batman going through his own version of A Christmas Carol is something I'm a bit shocked hasn't happened before. Doesn't it seem like everything goes through the "A Christmas Carol" homage? Maybe it's just my memories playing tricks on me.

Here, it works better than a lot of other attempts. The narration overlays a telling of A Christmas Carol over Batmans "humbug" of a Christmas. Batman is, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge, with all that entails.

I don't hate the super gritty, dark, dickish version of Batman - in small doses, at least - but only when it adds to the story, which rarely happened in most of the stories from the 90's up to about seven years ago. Here, it makes sense. The Batstard incarnation - or the Dick Knight, if you prefer - meshes the character with the tale of Scrooge. After all, a Batman with a better balance won't have much to learn from such an ordeal, which is the entire point of the tale. The end result works better than I expected.

Lee Bermejo isn't exactly known for his writing, so I tried not to expect much. Artists trying their hand at writing tends not to work out that well. Plus, I wasn't sure what to expect without Azzarello, who typically teams with Bermejo. Pleasant surprise here; Bermejo can actually hold his own in this department. He easily nails the premise, the narration and the characters; this certainly won't be the best written GN I read this year, but when you consider artists going for writing is always an unknown, it certainly deserves mention and praise.

Bermejo's art is as great as always. I have to believe that there's a group of people out there who don't like his art. I mention this because I could understand why; I'm not always looking to read a comic with art of this variety. But the difference between a style that doesn't work for you and bad art is the craft; Bermejo knows what hes doing, from panel flow to layouts and so on.

Overall, this is a nice package. I imagine it would have been nicer for me if I'd read it during the Christmas season as intended instead of after, but it's enjoyable out of the season as well.

The Score: 8 out of 10

An enjoyable Christmas tale. I imagine it would be great to have once the holidays start to creep up again this year. It's not going to blow any doors down but it doesn't need to. I give it a recommendation.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Infestation V.2 (comics)

Writers: Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Erik Burnham, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artists: Casey Maloney, Gary Erskine, Kyle Hotz and David Messina
Collects: Star Trek: Infestation #1-2, Ghostbusters: Infestation #1-2, Infestation #2

So remember what I said about this event having some promise it wasn't quite living up to? You can go ahead and scratch that. This second volume kicks so much ass you could be forgiven for utterly forgetting that the Transformers: Infestation mini from the first volume happened at all.

I'm not even joking. It starts with the Star Trek miniseries, which is a complete jump forward in quality from anything in the last volume save Infestation #1. Kirk, Spock and Bones are besieged by zombies and have to fight them off.

This is a striking mini because the writing is there this time. There are no jarring character moments or tonal shifts here. The Original Series crew feels like they should, right down to their methods of solving the crisis. Normally, your heroes will immediately get to the decapitations when faced with a zombie menace. Not the OS boys. They are committed to finding a solution to the problem rather than just surviving, even if that means setting out to cure the damn zombie virus, which is not a goal you see everyday in zombie media (because, you know, they're fricking dead).

It continues into the Ghostbusters mini. This one made the entire event for me. You know the drill; our favorite boys with the neutron accelerators take on zombies. This one, however, is chock full of great moments, from a zombie Mr. Stay Puft to demon zombie cats to the original and zombie Stay Pufts duking it out in the middle of New York.

Better still, the voices of the character are almost pitch perfect. One of the tests, for me, of getting a character right is if you can hear their voice in your head, saying the lines. If it didn't originate in film or animation, go with an iconic version, like, say, Batman: The Animated Series Joker. I swear I could easily imagine Bill Murray saying the lines given to Venkman. Same goes for Akroyd, Harris and so on for their characters. It's the best part of an already highly enjoyable story.

Even better? Apparently this writer is on board the Ghostbusters ongoing IDW started up after this event. I am so on board for that.

Then, we finish with Infestation #2, which caps off the core plot of this event. I mentioned last time that DnA made that issue work by interesting me in characters I had no prior history with, despite them having been around a while. Nothing has changed with this installment and it's the cherry on top of the rest of the volumes ice cream. I'm interested in reading more of these characters now and apparently there are stories available for me to go to read more about them.

Artwise, all three stories are clear winners. The Star Trek miniseries is cleaner in the linework and coloring than the others. Ghostbusters was the one I had a bit of trouble with, since the style is a bit more exaggerated and cartoonish, but after the two minutes it takes to adapt you realize it suits the story very well. David Messina is still on for the Infestation issue and he does as well as last time.

I'm very impressed by how much the second half turned this event around from just above mediocrity.

The Score: 9 out of 10

This volume made the whole exercise worth it. It's a great read from cover to cover. I'd now recommend both volumes of this event to people, with the minor caveat that the first volume has a bit of subpar or jarring material. This one completely makes up for that, though.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Marvel Zombies Return (comics)

Writers: Fred Van Lente, David Wellington, Johnathan Maberry, Seth Grahme-Smith
Artists: Nick Dragotta, Andrea Mutti, Jason Shawn Alexander, Richard Elson, Wellington Alves
Collects: Marvel Zombies Return #1-5

I guess somebody at Marvel finally remembered the original Marvel Zombies - absent for three miniseries and a Christmas carol - were still surfing dimensions after the end of 2 and figured that was a loose end that could use some tying up, because the original Marvel Zombies are back. I didn't miss them. After the third miniseries kicked the franchise into gear, I found myself unable to really care if we ever saw 2's cliffhanger resolved; it doesn't help that Marvel Zombies 2 happened to be eight shades of mediocre.

Fred Van Lente's still around for this one, but unfortunately he only has the first and last issue. The other three are assigned to whatever names were drawn out of a hat that day and are pretty inconsequential. They're essentially one-offs that don't connect much to the overall plot; they carry some elements that factor into the conclusion, but at times they drift to the background. The Wolverine issue is probably the best of the Van Lente-less issues. Why Van Lente wasn't tapped to do the whole thing, I haven't the foggiest.

As usual, Van Lente manages some pretty gross humor, which is one of the lynchpins of the whole thing*. Zombie Spider-Man ends up using his cappilaries and veins like webbing, for example; it's funny in a completely sick way. The backdrop - Silver Age Spidey - and the lookalike art only amplify it. Though it goes both ways; there's something pretty eerie about seeing everyone from that more innocent time slaughtered wholesale and awash in blood.

But then Van Lente parodies a classic Spidey splash - where Parker throws the suit in the trash and walks away - and all is forgiven. He even manages to convincingly wrap the saga of the original zombies. Whether it was necessary is the next question.

Five different artists were tapped for this, one per issue. As you can guess, the styles vary wildly. One issue channels silver age artwork, another is dark and gritty, another is cleaner with the linework and colors, so on. Most of them do fine work, but I think this book could have done with more consistency in the art style. I guess that's getting to be a common complaint from me on these zombie miniseries, but to be fair at least this was planned and not someone pinch hitting for a slow but superior artist like what happened with 5.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

Easily skipped unless you just gotta know how the original zombies check out.

* It's too bad the others aren't as good at it as him, if they even try.