7.01.09 Reviews

Batman & Robin #2 (DC): One of the things I’ve been hoping that G’Mo and F’Quit would do is begin to explore the relationship between Commissioner Gordon and Dick/Batman, so it was nice to see that ensue. The fanboy in me desperately wants Dick to just confess that it’s him under the cowl for a cool moment, but of course that obviously runs contrary to his idea that Gotham is never without the Batman and nobody in the inner circle should ever cop to Bruce’s death. Not to mention that it’s far better storytelling mileage to let Gordon’s keen investigative mind suss it out as his cautious apprehension grows into vague familiarity and then outright supposition. Quitely’s pencils astound from the first full page freefall; the odd angle choice, the detail in Damian’s boots, the way his cape begins to envelop him as he falls, the way the rope coils, and there’s something delightfully Eisner-esque in the way he integrates sound effects like “Smash” into the art of the impact point on the concrete wall. Regular readers of 13 Minutes will recall that Dick Grayson is my favorite mainstream DCU character since childhood. So this is really an added treat to see my beloved Grayson depicted by a brilliant creative team and officially taking on the role he’s been trained for his entire life. Working out the bugs of teamwork is evident in the sheer panic in Dick’s voice as he screams “Robin! Where the hell are you?” The first issue was solid, but the second seems to have really found its groove and is a much deeper character study. Dick struggles with the effectiveness of their recent exploit, using Alfred like more than a simple mentor, but as a priest in a confessional; “…four cops killed… it was a disaster, Alfred.” From the larger concept of settling in and establishing new relationship dynamics with everyone, to even smaller pragmatic concerns like the cape making him off balance during fights, every bit is nuanced and clever. Perhaps my favorite scene is the conversation between Alfred and Dick as they use the play/acting analogy in relation to the Bat mythos, all while Alfred cradles the cowl in his hand like Hamlet does poor Yorick. Grade A+.

Greek Street #1 (DC/Vertigo): Davide Gianfelice, whose already strong pencils delighted in Brian Wood’s Northlanders, gives us something with more of an Eduardo Risso influence here. Gianfelice is a versatile guy, able to draw Vikings, crime figures, and even cars correctly. It’s nice to see a Mercedes look just like a Mercedes and not a melted turd. Not only does the book simply look gorgeous, but Peter Milligan dives right into the story. There are a couple of rough spots that I’ll gripe about. I know it’s meant to play this way, but I have a hard time accepting exposition that feels so out of place and unnatural. I mean, any stripper who says “Medea and Agamemnon are still playing at the temple of Dionysius” raises my skeptical eyebrow. Along those lines, ultimately we find out that the following “typos” are intended as written word, done deliberately to emphasize the education level of the speaker: “handel,” “coudnt,” “don’t,” “your” instead of “you’re,” “youd,” “whats,” and “tho.” However, the problem is that we’re not told this is meant to be written word for quite a few pages, it initially reads like internal monologue. And… I don’t know about you, but when I talk to myself it’s usually spelled right. Without knowing the intention up front, it’s highly annoying and distracting; it pushed me out of the narrative and I kept flipping back to try and figure out what the hell was going on. There’s another outright typo: “You mean your macho uncle felt so sorry for he gave me a job?” with a missing “me.” Though the book is not without flaws, I really enjoyed it because it doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, once the stripper scene is over there is absolutely no exposition, and I really have no idea where it’s going, and that’s saying something. It’s nice to read something different that isn’t predictable or someone’s retread version of property “x.” It may be too early to call, but I feel like this could have the legs to be the next 100 Bullets in the Vertigo stable. Overall, a great package with 40 pages for a mere buck, and well placed house ads for the new Vertigo Crime line. Grade A.

Echo #13 (Abstract Studio): Echo is one of those books that’s put together so well, I often struggle to find some new way to explain away all the positives. I fall into that trap of letting the story take hold of me so effortlessly that I actually forget to put the “reviewer hat” on when I’m reading it. Before I know it, I’ll have read the entire issue, smile contentedly, and then look down at my notebook only to find blank pages. Oops. I forgot to review it! But maybe that’s the best compliment you can pay; that it pulls you right in and never lets up, never allowing you a moment to become disengaged or distracted, actively sustaining your interest and carrying you off to another place like all good escapist literature does. Looking back, I can say that Terry Moore is particularly agile at capturing the angry, irrational, impassioned, totally plausible, ordinary reactions to extraordinary sets of circumstances. He’s a real student of human behavior to be able to translate typical speech patterns and mannerisms so convincingly to the printed page. There’s a taut chase sequence, with added family drama on both sides, and media attention as a guy named Jack has one really shitty day. Even the bit players like Dan Backer have a real-world appeal to them that instantly makes you feel as if this is an actual, fully realized living person somewhere, not a comic book creation. Sometimes I wish Echo was just a few pages longer. It always feels like such a fast read, but of course, a very satisfying one. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #15 (Marvel): After being teased for so long in the book and even the movie, the long-awaited kiss (and more!) between Tony and Pepper finally takes place. I’m sure Matt Fraction deliberately left himself an out here, he could always excuse the whole thing by citing Tony’s diminished mental state, but oh, it was fun to see two people who so obviously care for each other finally demonstrate it physically. I don’t know what it is with Marvel books lately (Bishop in the Messiah War), but I’m tired of characters choking when they finally get their targets in their sights, like Madame Masque does here. Larroca’s pencils are still growing and he seems to be slowly relinquishing his tics. His photorefs aren’t quite as obvious as they used to be, something akin to using Katherine Heigl instead of say, Jessica Alba. I really like the way Fraction is exploring the deep-seeded insecurities of Maria Hill vis-à-vis the big guns in the Marvel U. “Costumed Al-Qaeda super-terrorists just committed suicide off of my building!” literally made me laugh out loud. This is soap operatic and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s serialized drama done very well. Iron Man may just be the place where Fraction proves himself as a writer. It doesn’t have the tongue in cheek whizz-bang of Casanova, the high profile spotlight of Uncanny X-Men, or the manic steampunk sensibility of something like Five Fists of Science, but he’s quietly and confidently putting out month after month of consistently great, long form storytelling. This writer isn’t just a flash in the pan buzz seeker, but a powerful contributor whose got legs as a storyteller. Grade A-.

Uncanny X-Men #513 (Marvel): Shit, this is going to be all kinds of whiny. So here’s Part 2 of the whole Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia thing. I’m trying to ignore that feeling of being so burned by the Messiah War X-crossover event nonsense I just endured and not let it detract from what this might be capable of. I’m also feeling rather spoiled by Yanick Paquette’s art last ish; I’m still annoyed (moreso now that I’ve seen Paquette) by Dodson’s idiosyncrasies, like Cyclops’ ugly visor. Fraction’s use of terms like “your kind" and “your people” provide the right level of emotionally charged energy, but… hrmm, after lavishing him with so much praise for Iron Man, I think he stumbled a bit here. George Orwell references? Yes! Go Matt Fraction! But dude, leave it alone. Don’t explain it away. Let the audience find it and use our intelligence, don’t drop a cool literary reference and then go on to have Beast explain how cool it was, what it meant, and why you used it. I hate to say it, but that’s a trap rookie writers fall into when they want to show off how clever they are. But then, he bounces right back with using Daken/”Wolverine” as a “gateway brand between the two teams” (Avengers/X-Men). That’s a nice bit of self-referential parody. Odd that Namor could just sneak into the base, nice security there at the HAMMER HQ on Alcatraz Island! I also think that we’ve seen Emma’s role before, remember Val Cooper as field leader of the government sanctioned X-Factor, a group of mutants ostensibly dealing with other mutant threats? Seems like a bit of that mojo was swiped. And we have a classic use of “insure” instead of “ensure.” Again, repeat after me everyone… “insure” means to secure indemnity to in case of loss or damage, “ensure” means to guarantee or to make certain of. The roller coaster continues as Fraction offers up interesting threads about the difference between torture and intelligence gathering, and detaining combatants without due process. Ultimately, the double-edged sword is that Uncanny X-Men is truly a product of its time; both in the social ideas it explores and its inconsistency as a product. Grade B.

Justice League: Cry For Justice #1 (DC): James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli take an interesting premise – living in the shadow of the now-broken trinity of Bruce, Diana, and Clark – and explore what that’ll do to the DCU. There are some choice lines to be found: “You want a league. I want justice.” And the art is spectacular, a realistic style that pops with plenty of detail and stylized lines and shadows. You’re waiting for the “but” aren’t you? Well, Ray Palmer, Mikaal Thomas, Congorilla, Freedom Beast? Really? Instead of underutilized, interesting characters, it reads like one writer’s obscure fascination. I think we all just expect more from this creative team. The story beats literally rely on spelled out heartbeats, which is just so overwrought with melodrama. Visually, this looks like a slick package, but seems to fall short on ideas. There’s really only one idea at play and it’s running parallel multiple times, starting down the path of a classic “gathering the team” issue. Maybe this will have the potential to turn into something, but it’s really a sluggishly slow start. Robinson says in his end piece “It’s hard sometimes to know if a miniseries is going to matter or not.” Yes. Indeed. Essentially even the writer is telling us, I think this doesn’t look like much, but trust me, it will be great! He teases the inclusion of Supergirl, Freddy Freeman, and Batwoman, but then doesn’t follow up. And btw, including Batwoman is probably a smart choice right now, but I hope we at least address the issue of why Dick/Bats was not asked to join. The Origin of Congo Bill backup is (boring) done by Len Wein and Ardian Syaf, whose art seems to be a blend of Jim Lee and Carlos Pacheco circa Arrowsmith. “Sudden earth tremor?” Uh, did you mean an earthquake? I really am looking for an anchor book to get back into the DCU right now, but I’m so skeptical about this for some reason. That feeling really distracted me from enjoying this. The text pieces were a nice addition, but it’s nothing very useful, and I didn’t think it justified the extra buck. This may sound unrealistic on my part, but in this market, with this economy, in this industry? Sorry, you need to wow me in the first issue. Despite high aspirations at gravitas and some really solid art, this left me feeling sort of indifferent. Grade B-.

I also picked up;

The Lone Ranger: Volume 3 (Dynamite Entertainment): Brett Matthews, Sergio Cariello, and John Cassaday… the third hardcover collecting issues 12-16, and really one of the best projects reimaging a classic property in recent history.


At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprise you have Cry for Justice such a high (ish) grade since it's getting bashed up and down the internet!

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Even though the writing is atrocious (for me, nobody has captured it better than Tucker Stone and David Uzumeri at The Savage Critics), I actually did like the art, it's that sort of pseudo-realism of Alex Ross. If you like him, you'll dig the art. But the writing, oh the writing...


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