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

Foilball’s Review Roundup #54 – The Final Bits… of AWESOME!

Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam! #2 (****1/2)

This is one of my favorite new books and I don’t care that I’m just about 20 years past the target demographic. This comic rocks. It’s better than 90% of the “adult” super heroes comics being published today and here’s why: 1) It’s super fun. 2) The art is Amazo-ing. I love the whole “unfinished sketch/storyboard/panels within panels thing Mike Kunkel has going on. It’s brilliant! 3) It’s fricking cheap! $2.25! Who cares if the paper isn’t glossy!?! It’s $2.25! 4) OH! And every issue has a section in the back that’s in code and you have to use “The Monster Society Code” to break it! FUN!!! 5) And for those interested in continuity, this book is a direct sequel to last year’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil mini series by Jeff Smith. I loved that book, but I have to admit, Mike Kunkel’s Shazam is miles better. No lie. Apparently, Kunkel used to do a little book called Hero Bear that I’d heard of but never read and consequently missed the boat on. Totally feel like an idiot. So, if you like fun and great art, give this book a try. If you don’t like it, then you, sir, have no taste.

Fables #75 (****)

Ah, this really hit the spot. Finally. This is the type of Fables war story I’ve been waiting for. Huge epic battles combined with intimate character moments. It took him 75 issues, but Willingham finally forced me to care about Prince Charming! And the art was also superb. Mark Buckingham grinds out another fabulous issue. What an underrated talent that guy is, right? This isn’t the final issue of the series, but it could easily have been so. My only complaint is that I kind of wish Boy Blue and Bigby had died. Boy Blue’s charm has been running thin as of late and I’m sick and tired of the “all-powerful” Bigby wolf. Like, the guy isn’t God, or Jesus, or Moses even. Get over yourself, you hairy monster.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 (****)

Sometimes, and I may get blasted for this, but sometimes I can’t take George Perez pencils. They just… bother me. His layouts are busy and a lot of his faces start repeating. BLAH. What I’m trying to say is that this time I enjoyed his art. It was still uber-busy, of course, but somehow Geoff Johns expert dialoguing mitigated the groan factor. As far as this being a Final Crisis tie-in, I don’t know. How does this story fit exactly? Isn’t Superman zooming through the Multiverse at this point in the FC plot? And what does the Legion have to do with anything? This mini, unlike Revelations, feels like it could’ve been just as well served without the FC banner. Could I be missing the obvious link to FC? Maybe. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Green Lantern Corps #28 (***1/2)

I really want to love this issue, and this arc in general, but the art is just SOOOOO pedestrian. Boring. It feels like fill-in art on some crappy mid-90’s Marvel book. I really like this Sixth Sense character though. I bet Johns and Tomasi are gonna get a ton of mileage out of him once “Blackest Night” starts.

Spawn #182 (****)

Again, WHY? Why are they changing directions? YET! AGAIN! When the story has been so good lately! ARRGH! Admittedly, this issue was a bit of a dip in quality, mostly due to the extraneous amounts of exposition… but… it was still better than 90% of the first 100 issues. At what point do I finally cut my losses and break up with Spawn? Is it time? Yes, I think it is.

Series Review: Silent War

That’s right, folks. On a day that featured the release of two event books (Trinity 1 and Secret Invasion 3), I’m going to review an almost universally ignored pseudo-event from last year. Ha ha!

I’m a big fan of the Inhumans. I became interested in the “team” through the Heralds of Galactus expansion of VS System, but it was reading the Son of M mini from the Decimation “event” that got me hooked. That led to me going back to read the Paul Jenkins/Jae Lee 12 issue Marvel Knights series, which was quite excellent. One of the things I really dig about the Inhumans is the sort of caste system that we have set up in Attilan. You’ve got the Royal Family at the top of the chain, followed by the Royal Guard and the rest of the standard citizens, with the Alpha Primitives at the bottom. I wanted to read Silent War due to its coming out of the events of Son of M, and I picked up issues 2 through 6 at the Wild Pig sale in October of last year. Didn’t read them, of course, until I finally got around to getting the first issue at Wizard World Philly this past Sunday. I pulled out the rest of the series and gave it a read.

First thing’s first, I really like the way that David Hine decided to expand on the slight framing device from Inhumans, where certain issues were written from various perspectives (Lockjaw and Triton, for example). Silent War pushes this device to the forefront, having the caption narrative handled by a different character for each issue. Gorgon, Crystal, Luna, Medusa, Maximus and The Sentry (that’s right. The Sentry) all give a different perspective on exactly what’s going on in the Inhumans’ war on Earth. And once again, it all comes down to Black Bolt. It’s a further exploration of exactly how a society deals with a leader and monarch who cannot speak and never shows his entire hand. There’s a lot more going on here from a plot perspective, with terrigen crystals being misappropriated and government conspiracies, and an appearance by X-Factor and some Attilan political intrigue, but this story is really about the characters. The arrogance and desperation of Quicksilver. The slow loss of innocence of Luna. Medusa’s frustration in dealing with her husband and his problems with communication. Black Bolt’s reaction to betrayal in his ranks and the tension that comes from his inability to release. And you’ve got another Sentry issue with him staying out of a fight in the standard Sentry way, but his narrative is not actually written like a child. It’s so refreshing. You’ve got a guy that rationally realizes that if he joins a fight that involves Black Bolt, it’s going to escalate to the point that both men would have to let loose, which could easily lead to the destruction of the eastern seaboard. There’s no whining about The Void. There’s no babying of him by the rest of the Mighty Avengers. It’s the best handling of The Sentry since the original Jenkins work. In fact, all the writing in this book seems to be a love letter to those two Jenkins works (Sentry and Inhumans).

We’ve got some pretty crazy art going on here too. Frazer Irving’s painted style is strongly reminiscent of early 1920’s expressionist art and film, using angled architecture and at times very over exaggerated facial expressions and movements. He does some neat little tricks here and there too, including a much appreciated and well executed homage to Edvard Munch’s The Scream involving Black Bolt in issue four. It many ways, the use of Irving here is another call back to the Jenkins/Lee book, as he follows in Jae Lee’s tradition of using darker and more muted tones to characterize Attilan as more of a prison than a home. Irving does an excellent job with the Inhumans themselves and all the other crazy terrigenesis’ed folks you see in the book. The art is definitely not for everyone. But I quite like it, and I think it’s well suited for the subject matter.

I guess the last thing to talk about is the ending. It’s a pretty big change to the status quo of the Inhumans and Attilan. And it sets up quite a lot of potential for the future. But it has also been pretty much ignored in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. We’ve got two hooks here. It’s after Civil War (as the Mighty Avengers show up) and it’s before World War Hulk (the attack on the opera house was mentioned as one of Black Bolt’s transgressions). But we see in World War Hulk that Black Bolt is still in charge of his people, and the events didn’t factor in to New Avengers: Illuminati or any of the Secret Invasion stuff thus far. So it’s a story without a time. You know what? Who cares? This is a very well written and well drawn book. What else do we need? I loved the hell out of the story, and I do want to see the continuation of a Maximus and Ahura led Inhuman civilization, how long it takes to fall apart and how Black Bolt comes back into prominence. Hopefully we’ll see that one day. Inhumans fans should definitely read this, but for those not familiar with the events, it’s a good idea to at least read Son of M and possibly Marvel Knights Inhumans as well. Great stuff.