Mini-Reviews

Arkham Reborn #1 (of 3)

Arkham

With the popularity of the absolutely stellar Batman: Arkham Asylum and the recent relaunch of the Bat-franchise, it should come as no surprise that Gotham’s infamous Arkham Asylum would get its own miniseries.  After the mass breakout from the Asylum and subsequent explosion, Jeremiah Arkham, ancestor of the Asylum’s original designer, has taken it upon himself to continue the grand, bumbling legacy of the world’s only criminal institution with a revolving door.

Hine does a good job building the book slowly, despite the fact that the entire mini-series is only three issues long.  Here we meet Arkham’s new staff, specifically Jeremiah Arkham, who believes in curing Gotham’s madmen with love and respect; Alyce Sinner, sole survivor of a massive suicide cult and expert on the criminally insane; and Aaron Cash, now Arkham’s head of security and one of the tragic figures to come out of Dan Slott’s excellent Arkham Asylum: Living Hell.  Jeremiah has met with some small success in his bid to rehabilitate, but we know that the laws of comic book storytelling says that that can’t last – Dr. Sinner soon betrays him, revealing the Asylum’s dark, heinous underbelly in a bid to keep things crazy.

There’s nothing unpredictable here, but Hine does a good job setting the mood and introducing everyone, while artist Jeremy Haun turns in excellent work on all fronts, designing a few new characters and an all-new Arkham and still managing to craft a few extremely memorable images.  The pair seem well-suited, and while it seems that the entire mini’s purpose is to keep Arkham Asylum the same hellhole it has been these past few years, at least they seem to be having plenty of fun with it.

Grade: B+

Detective Comics #858

Tec858

Years after the character was introduced and months into her first solo title, “Go” marks our first foray into the origins of Kate Kane.  Growing up moving from military base to military base, Kate and Beth Kane really only had each other growing up.  A few issues back, it was hinted that something bad happened to her growing up, and now we see what that is: after earning a post in France, Mrs. Kane, Kate and Beth were kidnapped by terrorists during a security alert.  While Kate couldn’t see what was happening to her mother and sister, the aftermath certainly left an impression.

Rucka’s storytelling is far more solid here than in the previous arc, perhaps due to the shortened arc’s tighter focus.  Whatever the reason, the issue provides a quick, tragic glimpse of an origin that didn’t go at all where I thought it would, and was wrapped up in a single issue, leaving next month for the fallout.  J.H. Williams III makes an abrupt shift in style for the bulk of the issue, giving the flashback to Kate’s youth a vastly more structured layout and color-palette.  The contrast between the two time-periods is gorgeous and memorable, once again suggesting Williams as one of comics’ top talents.

The Question back-up finally wrapped up its opening arc with this issue.  The lack of room the story had, confined as it was to these back pages, took away from some of the suspense the story might’ve had if it had had more room to build up an atmosphere or throw us a plot twist or two, but it has nonetheless remained a consistently entertaining action comic, thanks in part to Rucka’s collaborator, Cully Hamner, whose layouts and art make it a joy to watch Renee in motion.

Between the issue’s two parts, Detective Comics features a pair of artists at the top of their games, anchored by strong writing of two fascinating new heroines.  It’s well-worth your time.

Grade: B+

Astro City: Astra Special #2 (of 2)

Astra2

Astro City: Astra Special concludes on a high note.  Anyone who has graduated college can relate to what Astra is going through as she continues to tell her boyfriend Matthew about the increasingly bizarre possibilities open to a young woman of her immense talents.  From mundane jobs with research institutes on Earth to a chance to untie, one world at a time, a series of realities knotted together by a madman’s destructive last act, Astra has, for the first time in her life, no idea what to do next.

While the other part of the book will probably resonate less with others, using a now-grown child heroine to look at and condemn our deranged obsession with celebrity culture largely works.  Though there are a few painful, relatively clunky moments, Busiek works hard to keep the emotions honest and keep it all part of Astra’s story.

Astro City: Astra Special combines Jack Kirby’s flare for bizarre cosmic world-building with a more grounded, human story.  Anderson’s pencils are much improved when he’s dealing with these larger-than-life concepts, and together the pair brings us a small-in-scope, massive-in-scale story about the pains of growing up.  It isn’t the most memorable Astro City story, but it’s honest and entertaining, and continues to flesh out the best setting in comics.

Grade: A-

Blackest Night: Superman #3 (of 3)

BNSuper

Blackest Night: Superman, which started out so much vastly stronger than the other “Blackest Night” related books, ends here more with a whimper than with a bang.  The book does have some interesting revelations about the weaknesses of the Black Lanterns, as well as an explanation for what New Krypton is up to throughout the event, but it amounts to little more than that, in the end.

Despite its failure to live up to its own eerie opening issue, Blackest Night: Superman #3 nonetheless offered solid action illustrated by Eddie Barrows doing what he’s most comfortable doing, with (perhaps sadly) the best writing Robinson’s been doing, lately.  Robinson continues to use the emotional spectrum’s color-coding to vastly more effect than the main mini to give us a neat, inside peak into the characters heads in otherwise wordless scenes, a trick that works especially well with Psycho Pirate in the mix.  Ultimately, Blackest Night: Superman isn’t bad.  It’s just forgettable.

Grade: B

Mini-Grade: B

- Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Astro City: Astra Special #1

Blackest Night: Superman #2

Detective Comics #857

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