Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Justice League #3-4

I don't think I've written a scathing review yet. I've been more than fair to most of the titles I've reviewed. Well, I have to say, I've really given this book the benefit of the doubt so far and I think I have to lay it out there...

Justice League #3-4
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Jim Lee
Inks by Scott Williams
Cover Price: $3.99 Each

In a nutshell:
Each issue another hero joins in on the action. "Hey, lets team up!", (insert some childish comment from green lantern here) Big Action, Big Action... Next issue, another hero joins in on the action... "Hey, lets team up!", (insert some childish comment from green lantern here)...

By the end of the fourth issue you realize that there hasn't been a breath since first panel of the first issue, and that's not a good thing. The story started in issue one with Batman and Green Lantern in action and each issue another character has joined in on the action in an implausible way, and there is almost no story besides the action. The story that is there seems stuffed in in an unnatural way. In fact, nothing in this comic feels natural (Cyborg gets one of the most bizarrely rushed origins I ever read). Geoff Johns has written some of the best stories by DC Comics in the last decade. This is not one of them. I remember listening to Jeff Loeb being interviewed on WordBalloon once and he spoke of how he tailors his stories for his artist and I can't help but feel that that is what Johns is trying to do here because nothing here feels like a Geoff Johns story. The difference is that when Loeb did Hush with Jim Lee he actually had a story with all the bells and whistles. The dialog in this story seems like it's trying to be Brian Michael Bendis but reads more like Tiny Titans. The characters don't even seem to have the same personality that they do in the other books that Geoff Johns is writing that features them. Now come on, be honest, Johns didn't really write this, did he?

Why did I pick it up?
Because this is the series that has gotten the most media attention, I'm committed to seeing this story arc through.

The Good:
In the third issue we finally get Wonder Woman although she seems to have the bubbly naive personality Starfire had in the classic New Teen Titans stories. And the story really gives props to Aquaman who comes off as a major badass in this story. But the draw of the book is getting to see Jim Lee draw all the major icons, even if their appearance is some what less iconic because of the ridiculously out of date costume modifications by Jim Lee. And by issue four Lee's art finally is starting to look like what we expect from the superstar and I have to say Jim Lee can make even the lame look pretty spectacular.

The Bad:
I'm going to use this space on a little commentary about Cyborg's new look. In the 20th century we had this vision of what the 21st century would be like that was "big". The future was expected to be huge and metallic, and blasting off. But the reality is that the trend of the 21st century has been the opposite. Everything is becoming more subtle. Instead of bigger, it's been smaller. Instead of in your face graphic design, we get "classic". So if Cyborg was added to this team because he's the character that DC feels represents the 21st Century, why is his new design anything but? Don't get me wrong, Jim Lee does cool machines as well as anyone, but I don't think that's 21st Century. How about making Cyborg look a little more like an iPhone, sleek, classic, subtle, with a whole lot of surprises packed inside...

Is it worth it?
This book is a dollar more than the other DC titles and the extras aren't interesting at all. The appeal is the art and for some people that's enough. But it wasn't enough to keep Image Comics on top in the 90s and this is the weakest story I've ever seen Geoff Johns write. I'm still holding out a little hope that the story will really pull together, but this feels like an improve session that so far just goes on and on and on...

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DC New 52 Review: Wonder Woman #4

Wonder Woman #4
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chang
Cover Price: $2.99

In a nutshell:
The Goddess Hera is really pissed off that Wonder Woman is the illegitimate child of her husband and she decides to pay Paradise Island a visit.

Hera is a jealous Goddess. She is very deeply hurt that her husband seems to have no interest in her but is out shagging everyone else. She also feels betrayed by Queen Hippolyta whom she has favored. From the three previous issues I expected her to be vicious. What has surprised me and adds layers to the character, is that she genuinely seems to feel love for Hippolyta whose betrayal might hurt her as much as her husband's cheating, and regret for the vengeance she knows her anger demands. Anyone who has been in her situation can relate to her. The quality that makes her pathetic is that she continues to pine for Zeus, who is obviously unworthy of her love, instead of demanding more for herself and moving on. But then, Gods can be as human as anyone and while there are those of us who make very intentional decisions so that we are not tragedies of our circumstance, there are many that see a sense of romance in their own tragedy of love and even though of us who get beyond it have to suffer through it before hand. Meanwhile Wonder Woman is getting to know her half sister Strife and gets some perspective of her family and her relationship with her mother. But just as in life, sometimes we don't say the things we should to the people we love until it's too late...

The Good:
Here's an example of a story that isn't trying to meet our expectations of what the 21st Century would be, but adapts it's myth in an authentic manner for the time. The Greek Gods aren't so regal, they're more of a reflection of ourselves which seems appropriate and relevant. There is a depression to them which represents the depression of the times we live in which is filled with disappointment and uncertain expectations. And of course it is in a world such as this that heroism can truly have meaning. Unlike the last incarnation of Wonder Woman, this version seems accessible, more human and down to earth in her emotions, and yet even more heroic in her dealing with them.

The Bad:
Towards the end of the book Wonder Woman returns to Paradise Island and it is clear what has happened to her mother, but it's not clear what happened to the other Amazons and I'm not sure if I'm supposed to know or if it's purposefully left vague and that's never a good feeling to have when you're reading a comic. But the real bad here is that this book deserves to be pushed by DC's marketing department the same way Action Comics and Justice League is. Wonder Woman is an icon. This, while perhaps not the story I thought I wanted for Wonder Woman, is a story that finally makes the character interesting. DC has emphasized it's reinvention of Superman in this relaunch. Here we have a reinvention of Wonder Woman, another of it's icons, that mirrors it in relevance and DC hasn't given it nearly the push it deserves.

Is it worth it?
My only frustration is that I have to wait a month for the next chapter!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1-4

I'm going to alter my formula for reviews a tad for this one because this book is a team book and it's a team book with unfamiliar characters who I think need some explanation. This is also the first complete story arc I've reviewed so far.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1-4
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Alberto
Cover Price: $2.99

In a nutshell:
This is like a hybrid between League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Hellboy with Universal Monsters mixed in. Don't let this book intimidate you, it's nothing but fun!

Why Did I Buy It:
The gorgeous covers by J. G. Jones really caught my attention but it was probably listening to an interview with Jeff Lemire on the WorldBalloon (highly recommended, best podcast about comics barnone!) which made me want to give the book a try.

The Characters:

Stands for
Super Human Advanced Defense Executive. It's a government organization that monitors and basically goes out and kills dangerous monsters.

Frankenstein: Presumably the Frankenstein monster from the classic novel, having survived for over a century and having been a Super Agent of S.H.A.D.E. for at least a while, killing off monsters and stuff like that. He is the leader of the new field team formed by S.H.A.D.E. He's a badass but he takes things very seriously and has an outspoken cautious morality when it comes to scientific indulgence. He's also very gentlemanly with the ladies. He also likes to recite classical poetry that has significance to him. He's basically the opposite of a pseudo intellectual. He's sophisticated and has a lot of culture but doesn't seem to give a damn about showing it off and usually is very standoffish and gruff.

Father Time: Another character who is very very old and has known and worked with Frankenstein for a long time. He generates himself new bodies every ten years and he is currently inhabiting the body of a Japanese schoolgirl which he seems to have a twisted sense of humor about and which seems to creep out the people who know him. He's basically the head guy of S.H.A.D.E. and he seems to be a little cavalier when it comes to scientific experiments.

Ray Palmer: Best known as the DC superhero The Atom, Ray is a scientist who seems to have perfected shrinking thing down beyond microscopic levels. It's not clear yet in this series if he was once The Atom of if that hasn't happened yet in this new continuity. He is the United Nations science liaison with the team. He observes the field team and helps them out with scientific solutions via holograms and audio feeds. He seems to have reservations about a lot of Father Time's scientific "progresses".

The Creature Commandos (Frankenstein's Field Team):

Lady Frankenstein:: Frankenstein's long time estranged wife. She seems to feel that they are essentially divorced, he seems to have a hard time acknowledging it. There were obviously personality issues that kept them from being a couple, however there seems to be a respect for each other, at least in their work (which is killing monsters). She is plainspoken and a little bitchy and she's a badass with her guns of which she has four because she has four arms. It looks like she might be the femme fatale of the group.

Dr. Nina Mazusky: She's the field science agent. She was married and was going to have a baby but the baby died and her husband left her so she decided to really throw herself into her work which lead to her transforming herself and other people into monster/human hybrids. She herself is an amphibian hybrid. Unlike the rest of the new team, Frankenstein takes to her right away and there seems to be some chemistry between the two. She is almost maternal with the creatures that she's experimented on and she builds an attachment to them which seems like it might create problems for her down the road.

Warren Griffith: One of Mazursky's hybrid, him being a werewolf hybrid. He is a new recruit to S.H.A.D.E. and is very eager to please his superiors. In this storyline it is suggested that Warren might be a potential love interest for Lady Frankenstein which you could see creating some drama with Frankenstein whom Warren looks up to.

Vincent Velcoro: Another of Mazursky's hybrids, him being vampiric mixed in with a modified version of the formula that created the batman villain Man-Bat. He was a pilot of S.H.A.D.E. before becoming a hybrid. He's got some attitude and can be a bit of a smartass.

Khalis: A mummy character which nobody seems to know that much about. He is the medic off the team and isn't as chatty as the other characters. He also has some very powerful mysterious abilities which take a toll on him when he uses them.

The Base of Operations
S.H.A.D.E.'s base is called the Ant Farm which is a three inch indestructible floating ball which contains contains a microscopic futuristic city which is maintained by thousands organic robots who have a lifespan of 24 hours and then decompose to be used as a "green" energy source for the city. Only agents are permitted to enter the ant farm and to do so they are simultaneously shrank to microscopic size and teleported in.

A small town in Washington State is invaded by monsters. The Creature Commandos investigate and discover that there is a wormhole inside the lake near the town and that for years monsters have been coming out of this lake and ultra-religious town folk have been sacrificing children from their town for year thinking that it was appeasing the "demons", which the monsters found amusing. What the monsters were really doing there was preparing a planet wide invasion for their masters whose planet is dying off. So the Creature Commandos decide to go through the wormhole and take the fight to the source.

The Good:
This book is pure escapism. It's mostly monsters fighting monsters, but you don't feel like a simpleton for enjoying it. It's well written and it has a sense of humor about itself. The covers by J. G. Jones are drop dead gorgeous and the interior art is very expressive and captures a lot of the personality of these characters while at the same time throwing a lot of big scale fantastic action at you.

The Bad:
Because the covers are so gorgeous they might create certain expectations and the interior art is such a dramatically different style, it might put off a lot of the people who were drawn to the book because of the covers (which is as good a reason as any). Ponticelli's art is a looser and sketchier style and it doesn't have the immediate appeal of J.G. Jones' covers. It took me actually sitting down to read the first issue to be drawn in but once I was really pulled in by Ponticelli's art which can really represent a lot of different layers in really nice way.

Is it worth it?
Only if you want to read a fun comic!

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Action Comics #4

Action Comics #4
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencils by Rags Mor
Inks by Rick Byrant
& Sean Parsons
Cover Price: $3.99

In a nutshell:
Braniac attacks using Metallo but we only get a snippet.

The world is under attack when the machines of the world take life and start attacking people. The machines are being controlled by a being that calls itself "The Collector of Worlds" but it's pretty clear that this is the new DC Universe's version of Braniac, which, like Geoff John's and Gary Frank's version in the collected story Superman Braniac, has a Borg like quality a la Star Trek, which was a characteristic in the Superman Mythos since the Silver Age but really hasn't been capitalized in a modern way until this last decade. Lex Luthor helped bring this alien here however when he finds that the alien can't be bothered with him further he ends up acting very wormy (not unlike the way Gene Hackman portrayed him in Superman 2 with Zod). It's obvious that unlike past versions of Lex Luthor that has had this reverence for him as the ultimate Superman villain, Grant Morrison has little respect for him and sees him as a pathetic fool. Which isn't to suggest that I don't think that Morrison will make him a credible threat. But it's not this romantically evil character that we've seen before and I can't help but enjoy this take on this very real character in our society. Suddenly this world that just last issue was crapping all over Superman through it's 24 hour news cycle is suddenly asking itself where he is, and will he help us.

Why did I pick it up?
Grant Morrison has won me over. I used to think he was terribly overrated but this man has consistently proven to me that he can tell many kinds of amazing stories.

The Good:
You have to appreciate the irony here, suddenly everyone who was treating Superman as a threat is asking him for help. And again, I normally expect and appreciate Superman's modest and stoic quality that Christopher Reeves made such an example of, but you know, I think that when we see our world being eaten by the parasites who know how to work the system, not just the ones outside of it, it's hard not to see a man, who has so many powers and abilities and who refuses to challenge the system himself and who refuses to take any kind of stand for people in need if it might be considered political, as anything other than impotent which I think is exactly what Superman had become. Here, when the cops show up to arrest Superman at a moment of world crises, he's flippant. "Are you kidding? Slap on the bracelets boys. Otherwise stand back... and let me do my job!" He's not mocking them for being weak, he's mocking them for being so irrelevant to the real crises. And that's our problem in our real world so there is a payoff here!

The Bad:
It hasn't been that long since we got the Superman Braniac story by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank and so far this story hasn't really added anything to the Braniac Attacks motif. Making the Braniac character an insect of sorts is kind of creepy, which is cool, but it doesn't feel as creepy to me as the way Gary Frank portrayed Braniac and I think that when you rebook something you have to compare it to what it's immediately replacing. The back up story featuring John Henry Irons becoming Steel did nothing for me. It's not that it's poorly written or that the art is bad, I'm just not interested in the character of Steel. He's not who I buy the book for and having a story within a story just feels like a cheap way to squeeze something extra in that really wasn't needed. The art isn't a style that really turns me on. It just felt like filler and distracting filler because it takes place right in the middle of the story but it's by another writer and it just feels like a cheap way to introduce another character, and do we really need another introduction this early?

Is it worth it?
I feel like we haven't gotten enough movement in the main story for two months now and we're going to have to wait until issue 7 to move this story further since the next two issues are going to be an interlude, but it's the subtle presentation by Morrison of the character of Superman that makes this book worth following. I don't think the Steel extra justified the additional dollar that this book costs when compared to the other DC titles so hopefully DC is going to find their groove in justifying the extra dollar instead of just adding in filler.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

DC New 52 Review: I, Vampire #3

Please note, I have reviews posted for I, Vampire #1 and I, Vampire #2.

I, Vampire #3
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Andrea Sorrentino
Cover Price: $2.99

In a nutshell:
We finally get some supporting characters as we meet Andrew Bennet's (the pro-human vampire) closest friend as well as a new ally.

Once again the story is told from the point of view of a character, this time that of Professor John Throughton, a human, who has been a friend and ally of Andrew Bennett since Andrew saved him from becoming a victim of Mary in 1979. We learn that before the current escalating war between vampires and humans there was five years of vampire ceasefire with the only violence against humans being isolated instances. Andrew and John discuss Andrew's connection with the other vampires and John wonders whether Andrew is aware that if he took his own life it would end the threat of his offspring. As they prepare their move against the evil vampire forces, Andrew is attacked by a young girl named Tig who was taught to fight vampires by her mom after her father was killed by one. We get here an idea of what the "good guy" team in the Vampire War will be.

Why did I pick it up?
While I do think that I, Vampire #2 killed some of the momentum of the first issue by basically rehashing a lot of the same information (but from a different point of view), I still felt a strong interest in this book and where it's going.

The Good:
We finally get some more characters. As much as I think the relationship between Andrew and his lover/enemy Mary is the core of this book, by the end of the second book I felt that by focusing two issues on just that, we weren't getting enough of a picture of the world they live in. The character of John gives us a broader perspective on Andrew in particular, as a character he feels a kinship with, but also as a character he has some questions about as well. The character of Tig is not the most original character so far but she has the potential to add another dimension to this book. The art continues to be amazing and I think it serves this story very well. In fact, I have a hard time envisioning this book with a different artist and I'm hoping that it doesn't come to that, at least anytime soon.

The Bad:
I feel like the first person narrative is limiting the pace of this story as well as boxing it into a corner that keeps us focused very close (which is good) but at the cost of really getting a sense of what the bigger world feels like. We've seen the horrific images, but we haven't really seen a lot of pedestrians and normal world interaction. I think that this format can also feel a little inauthentic if it becomes an ongoing formula. I guess my hope is that at some point the story is going to break this format so that the story can flow in a little more organic way and we can get a more diverse view of this world in an issue, because at this point, I feel like we should have a little more perspective. Luckily what this format has given us is strong enough to hold my interest, up until now at least.

Is it worth it?
Everything this book has presented has been good and has left me wanting more. I don't feel like we've gotten enough yet to get a sense that the story as a whole will be satisfying, but what we've gotten so far has held my interest and I would recommend. The third issues picks up the momentum that started to slow down in the second issue and I'm continuing to look forward to what's coming next.