Mega Review

So, it’s been awhile.  I keep compiling the books for the week until I reach the point where I am now, with a good 12 almost full reviews written up.  I know, madness.  But…here you go!  The first batch of ’em.

DC/Wildstorm: Dreamwar #1

I normally avoid crossovers.  Whether it’s the idiotic Marvel/DC crossover that had Storm beating Wonder Woman, Wolverine beating Lobo, or Aquaman beating Namor, or the lackluster Captain Atom: Armageddon, the fan-vote thing is rarely the way to go, and the threat is generally…well, uninteresting, to say the least.  Keith Giffen, famous for the critically-acclaimed JLI and Annihilation, takes a stab at this crossover miniseries between DC and Wildstorm.

In the first issue, we know precious little.  It’s all set-up.  It’s generally interesting, well-done set-up, but we still know nothing about why this is happening, why these people.  Of course, this being a crossover, this issue is largely fighting between heroes, because…errr…that’s what heroes do when the meet, I guess.  The notable exception, and the part that sold me on the book, is the JSA meeting the heroes of Tranquility.

As far as crossovers go, it’s definitely competent and definitely better than average.  But not by much, and while all the components work well together, ultimately it’s nothing more than a beginning to a series of seemingly meaningless, random fights.

Grade: C+

DC Universe #0

 

DC Universe isn’t going to be a long review…because it wasn’t really a comic.  It was an ad.  It was a good ad, I thought, but it was an ad nonetheless, dealing with important upcoming storylines.  Most of the ads were compelling three-page previews, though I doubt they sold anyone on anything they weren’t planning on getting already.

It’s greatest failure is that it’s a horrible jumping on book for new readers, and the 50 cent price tag meant that it SHOULD have been the perfect place.  Most of the previews required at least some prior knowledge of the books previewed to understand and appreciate them, meaning new readers would have just been lost and potentially put-off buying any of the books.

Still, it was an interesting experiment, fairly well-written and with exceptionally good art.  I view it as a set of trailers, and some of the trailers definitely whet my appetite for what’s to come for DC.

Oh, and Barry Allen’s back.  I’m sure someone is happy about that.

Grade: B

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle #1 (of 3)

Jim Butcher has done pretty well for himself since starting The Dresden Files in 2000.  The series has become quite popular, coming out reliably every year.  Eventually, it spawned a TV show that was…let’s say, less than impressive, though it got better as it went on.  It has a pen and paper role-playing game coming out soon, and Butcher is working on a movie for when the film rights return to him in a few years.  And now, it’s crossed over to comics with this three-issue prequel to his first novel, Storm Front. 

As for how it was…it was good.  Not spectacular, but good.  A good amateur attempt on the part of Butcher, obviously unaccustomed to the restraints in dialogue space and panel description, it was none-the-less unspectacular.  Still, it will be interesting to note whether or not Butcher improves over the life of this three-issue series, given how much his novels have improved over their 8 year life.

The art, like the writing, is fine but unspectacular.  Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the Dresden Files, you won’t want to miss this competent prequel.  It may even bring in a few new fans to the series.  But this first issue is almost entirely set-up, and not the most compelling set-up I’ve ever read.

Grade: C+

Checkmate #25

Castling pt 3

I’ve been looking forward to this issue, and dreading it, for months, now.  On the one hand, it’s Rucka’s last issue, his finale!  On the other hand…it’s his last issue.  That’s depressing.  But, the first few parts of Castling have been excellently handled, so I was understandably excited for this last part of it.  However, this final issue is something of a let down.

It’s not bad.  But, you know what, Checkmate has, over the past 24 issues, proven that ‘not bad’ is not good enough as it has consistently provided the smartest, best superheroics on the shelves.  This issue was overly hurried to the point that it hurt the book. 

Scenes involving the Rooks weren’t always clear, either in art or in caption, and while the Rooks were definitely enormously competent, Rucka definitely did not have them live up to the hype as some of the most deadly weapons in the DC Universe when it came to covert ops.

Aside from some unclear panels, the art was some of the best of the series.  The action scenes especially were dynamically brutal while maintaining their sense of sci-fi madness. 

Overall, if you’ve been reading Rucka’s run, you’ll pick this up, but don’t go out of your way to find it.  It’s not a bad issue, and the rest of the Castling arc is well worth the read, but as Rucka’s farewell, it left me a little hollow.

Grade: B-

SPOILER

As an aside, what does it say about comics today that the huge, shocking twist at the end is that the Rooks did not murder the infants?

Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters TPB

The Thunderbolts had long lived in relative obscurity.  They had their fans, but they hadn’t been involved in anything important since their admittedly interesting inception back in the Onslaught era.  Civil War changed all that.

The Thunderbolts became a team of supervillains hired by the government to hunt down unregistered superheroes, and this controversial position has led to, I think, a lot of misconceptions about the point of the book, at least from what the first trade seems to suggest.

Because, if there’s one thing Warren Ellis does well in Thunderbolts, it’s making otherwise C-F list heroes into the rebel heroes many of us secretly wish we were.  They become more than just super-heroes – everyone is a super-hero, there’s little special about that.  Jack Flag becomes a hero.  American Eagle becomes an icon of Anti-Registration spirit.  This book, it seems, is the most anti-Registration book of all.

All is not well, however.  While Ellis does a great job with his portrayals of the problems of such a team working together, and displays heroism among both the Thunderbolts and their victims, I have a hard time buying that the American public is quite as stupid as they’re portrayed here (though, the Edward R. Murrow reference was classy as hell and helped remind me that this isn’t the first time that extreme fear in the hands of the wrong people has led to some…idiocy).  The extreme stupidity displayed by the average American in Civil War was hard enough to swallow, and Ellis doesn’t try to expound upon what drove people to change so much so fast.  In fact, Ellis asks us to further believe that people could forget Osborn’s past, Venom’s past, etc….

Perhaps the most telling moment for me is when the Thunderbolts, in their fight against Jack Flag, blow up a bunch of cars, seriously injuring him.  Their reasoning is that he mined them in a set-up for his last stand, but that’s asking us to stretch our imaginations an awful lot: he booby-trapped an area of the parking lot on the off chance the Thunderbolts would arrive and then detonated them precisely when it would hurt him most and help him least.  It’s not the only moment like that, but it is the one that most stuck out to me.

Ultimately, Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters is an interesting opening story-arc to a series that has a lot of potential, and the opening arc sets it up well, but there’s this nagging feeling throughout reading that this is yet another step too far, that, once again, I can’t quite suspect my disbelief that far when it comes to the beliefs of the everyday person.  I just can’t bend myself far enough to believe that the general Marvel Universe population is quite as stupid as Marvel seems to want us to believe they are.

Oh, and Penance is still the stupidest idea in the last 5 years of comic books.

Grade: B

Welcome to Tranquility, volume 1 TPB

Welcome to Tranquility is among Gail Simone’s best work to date, and is very among her worst sellers.  This first volume deals with the murder of Mr. Articulate, one of a great many characters Simone created specifically for this book, and the investigation that digs deep into the dirty secret of Earth’s mightiest and most revered hero.

Welcome to Tranquility is set in Tranquility, a retirement community for super-powered individuals.  Heroes and villains live in (mostly) peaceful retirement with their children and grandchildren, leaving old rivalries behind and just trying to survive.  Simone expertly crafts an entire world from nothing, giving us heroes of every Age – detectives, romances, war heroes, and genuine super-heroes.  Almost everyone is guaranteed to find a new character that suits their tastes.

The book is rarely bogged down from the sheer number of the characters introduced, but at times it certainly is.  The book tries to help with this by introducing occasional 1-3 page ‘old school’ comics, recounting the Golden Age adventures of one or two heroes who will be important to the story.  Those stories are a pleasure to read, and a great way to be introduced to some important characters.  More over, they are referenced in-story, as part of an entire super-hero culture Simone attempts to build.

Like many of Simone’s books, Welcome to Tranquility has a great deal of humor in the book, balanced by excellent characterization and just a smidge of tragedy.  While the first arc is a murder mystery, it’s not one that the book gives you any chance to solve before the story does, and that’s something that can definitely annoy some readers. 

The book also offers a slightly darker take on the Golden Age, portraying them all as real, flawed human beings, building them up as the iconic heroes we know from comics early days only to tear many of them down as we so often do now.

Welcome to Tranquility is worth a read if you’re interested in something new.  New characters, a new setting, all profiting off of comics rich history without worshipping it.

Grade: A-

That’s it for my reviews for the past couple weeks.  Coming soon?  Stormwatch PHD, Blue Beetle #26, and the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, as well as what I pick up this Wednesday.

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