Monday, August 25, 2014
Artists: Jae Lee, Ben Oliver
Collects: Batman/Superman #1-4, Justice League #23.1: Darkseid
A good writer paired with a fantastic, but slow, artist. Said team is put on a monthly. Guess what went wrong?
By now, Batman/Superman has a bit of a reputation. It's constantly late, with delay after delay marring its schedule. Prior to the relaunch, this kind of thing wasn't as big of a deal unless the delays got out of hand - see Superman: Last Son - but after a relaunch that's done a good job of reigning in a publishing line riddled with delays, a comic like this will stick out like a sore thumb.
But hey, do you know what people never remember after a book has hit collection? Yup. Delays. Lucky, then, that Batman/Superman is good enough that it will probably overcome its punctuality issues as years go by.
It never hurts to start from the beginning. Cross World is the story of the first meeting of Batman and Superman in the New 52. It may even be the first time their initial adventure as a duo has been told in decades. So already it has instant appeal. Throw in alternate Earths, doubles from said Earth, even the impending threat Darkseid and stir. Not a bad concoction.
Cross World is not nearly as earth shaking as I probably make it out to be, but it serves its purpose well as an introduction to the Worlds Finest Team. Pairing them with older, wiser versions of themselves on their first adventure - who are, in contrast to "our" Batman and Superman, long time best friends - is an inspired move that serves up a nice contrast. Nothing groundbreaking, but it doesn't need to be; you don't always have to reinvent the wheel.
One thing I particularly enjoy is that it has a place in the puzzle of the DCU's beginning. There are plenty of things to criticize when it comes to DC's approach to the New 52 initiative, but one thing they did right was to stagger the rollout of any origin stories, taking that task one piece at a time. The end result is a linear telling of the DCU's opening year, starting with Batman: Zero Year, feeding to Batman/Superman to Grant Morrisons Action Comics run to the Origin arc of Justice League.
Say what you will about some of those stories - you may recall that Origin is not my favorite comic - but we have a straight line through the big milestone moments. That may be a first for DC. Most attempts to tie things together in the past were wild and often contradictory, leaving plenty of questions as to what was canon and what wasn't; see the did-it-or-didn't-it-happen dance around JLA: Year One for just one example.
If anything bothered me, it's the ending. Essentially, the adventure is wiped from their minds, save the scenes in the park where they meet for the first time in their civilian identities. Obviously, that's not built to last - you just know they'll remember the events at some point - but it feels like a cheap out. That said, it doesn't ruin the book.
Jae Lee's artwork really elevates the material, in my eyes. This would be a perfectly readable arc without it, but Lee's style goes a long way toward making it a must read. Lee is minimalistic in regard to background, but coupled with his sense of design and panel composition, it works amazingly well. Your eye sticks to what it needs to. I'm sure this comic is maddening to read in single installments, given the mammoth delays, but as a collected edition it has none of those issues and holds together beautifully as a result.
I doubt Lee will be on the book for long - when you need six months worth of fill-in to keep a book going between arcs, even with a crossover, the writing is on the wall - but it's nice to have while it lasts, even if DC ought to have known better.
Also collected is the villains month issue for Darkseid - also written by Pak - which serves as something of an origin story for the New Gods. I'm not sure if it's all new material - I'm not well versed in the Kirby lore - but it's fairly compelling backstory. It may be the first concrete details we have regarding the New Gods in the New 52. I'm not entirely sure. Either way, it fits in well, given its ties to a character that played a major role in the events of Cross World.
One more thing to note. I don't know if it's just the copy I got from the library or it's a recurring issue, but several pages of the first issue collected were quite blurry. Production error? Whatever the case, it's distracting and can make the test difficult to read. I hope it's not a major problem.
All told, I don't have any major complaints with Cross World and I liked it enough that I'll be back for more.
My Opinion: Read It
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Collects: Captain America (2013) #1-5
Sad as it was to see him go, it's hard to argue it wasn't time for Ed Brubaker to take his leave. I've read most of his run and while I've enjoyed it consistently, it was clear he was running out of steam and wasn't necessarily writing the stories he felt passionate about anymore. You have to know when to step away and it seems clear Brubaker knew that. It was time for fresh blood.
Is this direction what the book needed? That I'm not so sure about.
Castaway in Dimension Z wastes no time in getting going. Cap is suckered into a train that blasts him to another dimension, one ruled by Arnim Zola, immediately finding himself in a bad way. He escapes, of course, managing to take Zolas artificially created son with him on the way out. Cap and his adopted son then fight for survival for over a decade in this harsh universe, the dream of making it home ever further with each year that passes.
There's something to be said for starting your run off with a bang, but I'm not sure how wise it was to lead off with this extended storyline. We're starting with a fresh volume not far removed from the end of one of the definitive Captain America runs. One has to assume that some people will be lapsed readers - Brubaker was on the book for eight or nine years, after all - and some may be coming in fresh. I don't think it's smart to throw the character out of his comfort zone immediately when you haven't even established that comfort zone at all in your run.
I think this has a detrimental effect on the story. It feels harder to explain than it probably is, but the simplest way I can put it is that Rick Remender never bothered to establish what it is that Cap is losing by finding himself stranded in another dimension for eleven years. If you're a long time reader, sure, you know, but for the purposes of the story, we never really met Caps friends in this run save Sharon, never got a bead on his life save one battle at the start and didn't get a feel for what he cared about back in the real world. It's like leading off with a "their personalities are different, they must be under mind control" story, which I've seen happen before; how are we supposed to have any idea they're acting off when the writer hasn't shown us what they're supposed to be like in normal circumstances? Same principle.
Worse than that, there's something about Dimension Z that doesn't strike me as particularly interesting. It's different, sure, but it feels uninspired. It's mostly a wasteland with a couple groups of weird looking creatures. It's clear we won't be there long enough to get a feel for the ecosystem or how it works - which are sort of hinted at here and there - and it's not visually dynamic enough to make you turn your brain off and forget to worry about the specifics. Dimension Z is just... there. It kind of failed to pull me in.
The timeskips aren't helping its case, either. There are two within the five issues collected. One right after the first issue, skipping a year, and another an issue or two later that skips ahead a whopping eleven years. Most of the trials and tribulations of surviving in this world aren't even touched upon. Same for any character growth for Caps adopted son Ian. Ian is kidnapped - or reclaimed, if you ask Zola - by the end of the fifth issue. He's only been twelve for maybe two and a half issues at that point. How are we supposed to care? We haven't had nearly enough time to get to know him.
It feels like this storyline is trying to pull the trick Cables series way back when did - where he hopped through time, raising Hope through the years - only skipping the character moments and compressing the hell out of it. This feels like the sort of status quo change you hinge upwards of thirty issues on, just to mine all the potential. Instead, we're halfway through, barely scratched the surface so far and only have five issues to go.
I have the distinct feeling that I'm just not getting it, but I genuinely don't know what there is here to get.
John Romita Jr.'s our regular artist. Very hit or miss artist, for me. This one lands somewhere in between. He does pretty capable work here, but at the same time, he shows a new weakness I wasn't aware of before. Apparently, JR Jr. has some difficulty with drawing varied age groups. At the start, Ian is a newborn baby; one year later, he looks like a four year old; eleven years later he still looks like a four year old. Pretty distracting and potentially confusing, especially considering this is a story that loves it some time skips.
I'm not overly impressed with the new direction. Truth be told, I was a bit bored with it. I may read book two to finish out the story, but if it doesn't do a better job of grabbing me, I may pass on following Remenders Cap run any further than that. Too many other books to spend time with.
My Opinion: Try It
Friday, August 1, 2014
Artists: Humberto Ramos, Ryan Stegman
Collects: Superior Spider-Man #6-10
Round two, FIGHT.
After an opening volume that put the pieces on the board, volume two offers more of the same. Make no mistake, that is meant as a compliment. The first five issues only scratched the surface of this idea.
As expected, SpOck pretty much wrecks Peters old life, one piece at a time. He's on the outs with the Avengers, he barely seems to pay much attention to Horizon Labs and most of the friends Peter made have fallen by the wayside. In its place are some new, equally interesting scenarios that come about due to the connections Ock establishes in his return to college in pursuit of his doctorate.
Less expected is the fact that the "back door" I mentioned in the last review is dealt with a hell of a lot sooner than I expected. I didn't go into detail last time, but the gist is that some part of Peter Parker remains in his mind, taking a visual form as some sort of apparition for our benefit. This seemed like the obvious solution to bringing Peter back when the time came, but the situation comes to a head here, within the first third of the series. I doubt everything is as it seems - I'm sure it will be revisited down the line - but for now it appears to have wrapped.
Not a moment too soon, in my opinion. I get why the fragment of Peter was there. People were pissed when this storyline kicked off. Marvel and Slott needed something to take some of the immediate heat off, so patting readers on the head and almost immediately assuring them that Pete isn't completely gone seems like a fair enough price to pay to keep it for a while.
Trouble is, it wasn't doing Peter Parker any favors. It's kind of hard to miss someone when they won't go away in the first place and Ghost Peter was verging on the point of being an annoyance. Using him to highlight the differences between his and Ocks way of doing things is fine, but there came a point where they were beating us over the head when the story didn't need it. It also doesn't make him look all that great; he gives credit where its due at times, but more often than not he's worried more about what is happening to his life and second guessing Ock than he is with noting the clear improvements to his crime fighting formula.
SpOck needed room to breathe and that wasn't happening with Pete around. There's a scene late in the book where Mary Jane finds herself in trouble; Ock doesn't know that, of course - even if he did, I'm not convinced it would have changed his mind - so he reroutes the call to the fire department - people trained to handle such situations - and thwomps some of Hammerheads goons across town instead. Mary Jane expects Peter to rescue her at every point in the affair - and, if we're being honest, he absolutely would have dropped everything to save her - but he never comes.
See? We can spot the difference in approach with no problems and we didn't even need Peter the Whiny Ghost to beat it into us.
Also of note is the new supporting character in Anna Maria, one of Ocks classmates in college. She really bucks convention in a way most female characters in Spider-Mans supporting cast do not. Peter Parker has had relationships with a fair number of women, but most of them are cut from the same cloth; stunningly beautiful, perfect in appearance, well loved and, in the case of Mary Jane, occasionally a model or actress. Anna Maria is a far sight under five feet tall and, while she's drawn as a fairly pretty woman, she's not supermodel level attractive like most of the girls Peter has falling all over him. She also has to put up with some obvious challenges, including the expected bullying. Her personality and outlook add something new and, frankly, she's the best supporting cast member Slott has made so far. It's kind of a shame she's probably going to fall to the wayside when Peter regains his body.
Humberto Ramos is back. Past reviews will show that he is not one of my favorites, but I've kind of come to terms with the reality that he's clearly going to be in the rotation of artists until Dan Slott decides to move on. To be fair, aside from a few scenes that show his weaknesses, he's does good work here that is mostly devoid of the oddly sized limbs that I hate so much. Stegman also returns for the last two issues of the collection; his artwork is stylized as well, but for some reason it goes over better with me.
Two volumes in and Superior Spider-Man remains a clear winner. Maybe I'll feel differently once we near the end, but it's kind of sad that I'm already a third of the way through this series. This really feels like a status quo that deserved an extension, much like the Dick Grayson era of Batman recieved. I genuinely think this could have carried another twenty issues, especially given the fact that Marvel double-ships Spider-Man books.
My Opinion: Read It