Catch-Up Mini-Reviews

Detective Comics #856

Tec3

Greg Rucka’s story in Detective Comics isn’t particular deep.  It’s a relatively simple story, in fact: Batwoman learns that the new leader of the Religion of Crime is coming to Gotham, goes, confronts her.  It’s a pretty standard adventure comic, with Rucka’s usual capable plotting and dialogue.  In fact, the more concise, fun Question back-up in the book features slightly sharper writing thus far… but no one will confuse that for the better read.  Hamner continues to turn in clean, dynamic work on the Question back-up, while J.H. Williams III’s work on the main feature remains stellar.  The book is gorgeous and well-written, and consistently worth your time.

Grade: B+

Wonder Woman #35

Wonder Woman

Gail Simone finishes up this brief arc with a few revelations and a lot of aftermath left over from “Rise of the Olympian”, including some dark promises and new powers.  All of it sets up the next big story, but it’s done in one of the book’s most engaging, fun arcs Simone’s run has produced.  She goes a way too heavy on the fan-worship of Black Canary in a number of awkward, uncomfortable internal monologues from Wonder Woman, but the arc otherwise offers action with gorgeous, fluid art from Lopresti paired with a simple story setting up another major new chapter in Diana’s life.

Grade: A-

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #4

Ink4

Ink continues to be a pleasant surprise for me.  Fiorentino’s art, while occasionally muddy, is improving, and he’s demonstrated himself to be an apt choice to illustrate just how formidable the Tattooed Man can be.  Wallace’s story, meanwhile, generally maintains its pleasant mix of urban crime drama and superheroics, though the more action-oriented approach to this issue meant that it sacrificed a little bit of the drama in favor of the superheroics.  A late game plot twist took that shift a little too far, however, and the issue ends somewhere between the ridiculous and the parodic.

Grade: B+

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #4

Dance4

Dance finally pulls itself out of the slump the mini had been in and starts moving forward.  Though the last issue was of a high quality, the mini really wasn’t going much of anywhere.  With the team broken up, however, and the media blitz that had blinded them for the first few issues fading, Most Excellent Superbat finally has time to check up on his home country.  Not all is right in Japan, however, and he’s forced to get the team back together again.  Casey’s writing of these new teen heroes remains relatively sharp, while Chriscross’ cartoony art more than keeps up with the book’s humor and energy.  If only DC’s other teen heroes were even half so interesting right now…

Grade: B+

Incognito #6

Incogni

Brubaker and Phillips complete the first arc with the strongest, most exciting issue yet.  We learn even more about the origins of the Overkill brothers, learn about why Yuri was created, and see a massive showdown between Zack and his old allies.  All the action is well-illustrated by Sean Phillips in some of his most exciting fights yet.  The book is undeniably over the top, but it loves living up its pulp roots.  Though it’ll be quite some time before we get the next issue, the news isn’t all bad – the reason for the long delay is because Brubaker and Phillips will be returning to do a new arc on Criminal.

Grade: A

Runaways #13

Runaways

Immonen was responsible for last year’s manic, excellent Patsy Walker: Hellcat.  Unfortunately her Runaways, which finds her teamed with Sara Pichelli, lacks both the momentum and the cleverness of her debut work. Pichelli’s art is clean and cartoonish, giving the book a sense of energy, but it isn’t enough.  It isn’t enough, however.  After subpar runs from Whedon and Moore, Immonen and Pichelli needed to start their run off with a bang.  Unless the end of the arc offers up some pretty massive surprises, it’s safe to say that she’s failed to do so.

Grade: C

Doktor Sleepless #13

Sleepless

After a lengthy delay, the good Doktor returns.  Things are heating up in Heavenside, mostly according to the Doktor’s plans.  The issue reads like a montage of the city going to hell, and while it isn’t the most creative or compelling issue Ellis has turned in thus far, it is nonetheless immensely satisfying to see everything come to a head like this.  Rodriguez continues to improve as his design becomes more confident and his figures become less stiff.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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Detective Comics #855

Doktor Sleepless #11

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #3

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #3

Incognito #6

Runaways #12

Wonder Woman #34

Catch-Up Mini-Reviews

Captain Britain and MI:13 #15

Britain

Thus ends one of Marvel’s strongest ongoing books.  Cornell and Kirk wind down their title with the massive “Vampire State” arc that should’ve been cheesy as hell but ended up being gripping, exciting and just downright fun.  The issue is packed with excellently written and drawn action set-pieces that build off of everything that’s come before to give the issue the emotional closure it needed without sacrificing the excitement.  Top quality work.

Grade: B+

Runaways #12

Runaway

Immonen still hasn’t brought the energy of her absolutely fantastic Patsy Walker: Hellcat mini to the title, but her second issue shows a small amount of improvement over the first.  Pichelli’s art renders everyone and everything in the title improbably pretty, if overly cartoonish, but she handles the issue’s dramatic moments quite well.  Nothing spectacular yet, but more than good enough to keep giving it a shot.

Grade: B-

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #3

Ink3

Ink continues to be the surprise of the Final Crisis Aftermath titles for me as it uses the conventions of the gritty crime drama to tell the story of a supervillain seeking redemption.  Wallace and Fiorentino make the tale a little more complicated than it needs to be by having Richards’ tattoos come to life, but the metaphor is apt: escaping a life of crime is already hard without having those closest to you trying to drag you back into it.  

Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

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Captain Britain and MI:13 #14

Runaways #11

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #2

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #1

Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #3

Dance

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance is a strange little book.  On the one hand, it almost feels as though it doesn’t take place in the DC Universe at all.  We’ve had only a few cursory, generally insulting, references to the Justice League and their big-name heroes.  We’ve seen none of the landmarks of the DCU.  All the locations have been either sci-fi takes on existing cities or places of Casey’s own creation.  And yet, Dance also feels like a quintessential DC book in the way it incorporates the existence of superpowered beings into its setting – with a keen eye for the fantastic, for better or for worse.

Dance #3 is, in many ways, the strongest issue yet.  The Parasitic Teutons of Assimilation are fun, bizarre foes, and are more memorable than the past two.  We see the Most Excellent Superbat hit rock-bottom.  We see how the characters are really reacting to the pressures of being teen celebrities, teen heroes, or just plain teens.  In a way, everything that’s been simmering below the surface of the first two issues bursts out here in a variety of smart, interesting ways.

It also features the return of ChrisCross on art.  He does a great job with the bulk of the issue – his action scenes are dynamic and exciting and the P.T.A. design is a blast – but his faces vacillate wildly between expressive and offputting.  Still, despite that, he does some pretty stellar work here.

But not all is quite well with the issue.  Though it handles them better than previous issues had, it nonetheless feels like a bit of a retread of the problems and realizations we’ve seen before.  Every issue has seen the team realize, in one way or another, that they aren’t getting what they want.  I can totally buy it being difficult for teens to break the routine and try and change – especially at the expense of fame and fortune – but, nonetheless, we’re three issues through a six-issue mini and I don’t know that we’re too much farther along, either in terms of story or in terms of character arcs.

Despite those complaints, however, this was a rock-solid issue of comics.  Casey did a great job at bringing the sexual tensions to bear in the middle of an action-packed, humorous issue.  And, even though he’s the closest thing we have to a narrator, this was the first time we really saw much of the personality of Most Excellent Superbat, who has become a remarkably complex character in the span of three issues.  Still, it feels a bit like Casey is spinning his wheels right now, as though he planned for less than 6 issues and is just killing time for now.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #2

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1

Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #2

Ink2

As you may have seen in my last review, the first issue of Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink was a surprise favorite of mine.  Yes, it’s cliche that the new African American superhero has to deal with gang violence in the ghetto, but comics fans have long since learned that there’s nothing new under the sun: what matters is how you tell it.  And Ink #1 was told with style.  You’ll be pleased to know, then, that #2 continues that trend.

After a bumpy opening detailing a little about the origin of Mark Richards – an origin we didn’t particularly need, with too little space to make it interesting – we get back into the meat of things: Mark’s tattoos are operating independent of him.  He doesn’t know why.  He doesn’t know how.  All he knows is, there’s something big going down and he can’t trust his powers to help him deal with it.

Fiorentino and Dimotta still provide slightly muddied, but generally gorgeously painted interior art.  They shine most notably in the book’s generally well-handled action scenes.  The dramatic tension of some scenes doesn’t come out quite as well as it might under a clearer art team, but it rarely impacts the read as a whole.

The book still deals heavily with gang violence and corrupt cops, and I’m completely fine with that.  It’s part of the genre as a whole, and it’s a relatively realistic threat for a character who grew up in a poor neighborhood.  I’m not sure how well, necessarily, Wallace deals with some of the gang members as characters, as they’ve come off as perilously one-note thus far, but the book as a whole is good enough to warrant checking out on a monthly basis despite its frequent, minor flaws.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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Other FCA Reviews

Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! #1

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #1

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #2

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #1

Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink #1

Ink

Well, the last of the Final Crisis Aftermath books has finally hit with today’s Ink #1, and to my vast surprise, DC was saving the best for last.  Ink follows Mark Richards, the Tattooed Man, who, in Final Crisis: Submit worked with Black Lightning, and then went on to join Black Canary and other Justice League members to help save the world.  Inducted as an honorary member of the Justice League, Richards is trying to turn his life around.  

It isn’t easy, though – the same emotional and social issues that made him a criminal in the first place are still present in his life, and his neighborhood hasn’t gotten any prettier.  Wallace does a great job with the book’s most dicey proposition in dealing with the issues challenging Richards’ reform, most notably to do with his son.  He sets up a few different plot threads to follow through the series, from crooked cops to family troubles to a fickle public – and demonstrates a surprising amount of restraint.  This isn’t a book glorifying the violence of an anti-hero.  This legitimately appears to be an attempt to genuinely reform, and I’m genuinely curious to know if the character will succeed.

The art, provided here by Fabrizio Fiorentino and colored by Michael Dimotta, is fantastic, a high-quality job that seriously ups the creep-factor and gives the tattooed creations of the book an otherworldly edge.  Though it takes a few pages to adapt to the style, once you do you’ll find that it works extremely well in both the action sequences and the slower, more dramatic moments.  Though the dark, slightly scratchy style might not be up everyone’s alley, it complements the book well.

The book offers compelling set-up, strong characterization, fast-paced action, and some great art.  All-in-all, Ink looks like it might just be the star of the FCA line, and it leaves me eagerly awaiting more.

Grade: B+

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Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1

Dance

So far, I haven’t been terribly flattering to the Final Crisis Aftermath branding.  Run! was too generic and too slow as the first issue of an action book – and I can’t imagine it aspired to anything more than that – while Escape offered absolutely nothing in the opening issue unless you really like LOST, but thought it could use more superheroing.  The third of the four titles, Dance, seemed like it should be the hardest to do – comics does action and intrigue quite well, but there aren’t many comics that deal in teens trying to grow up; rather, most tend to revel in their angst without understanding where it comes from.

Dance #1, for all its flaws, cannot be accused of falling into many old stereotypes.  It is ceaselessly active and endlessly creative, sometimes in a way that almost reminds me of Joss Whedon’s better moments.  Much like Escape, there are plenty of small, clever touches – rather than caption boxes, we get tweets from the ever-connected Most Excellent Superbat, to give one example – that make the issue a bit more fun, and it’s needed.  Though we get more from the issue than we did from Escape in terms of action, drama and characterization, this issue is, nonetheless, pure setup for what is to come, offering only hints at the overall story – or even that there is one.

Chriscross does fine work with the art, never worrying about the drive in comics towards hyperrealism in many ways and not being afraid to shift back and forth from some of the weirder moments of the issue – the ghost of a pre-70s Japanese monster-hunter, a really quite pretty sequence of dance moves from Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash – on to darker subjects like the devestation of post-Darkseid Midway City.

The Super Young Team wants to grow up, but they are a product of their generation.  I am reminded, of all things, of a quote from the recently aired FOX pilot “Glee”: “Nowadays, being anonymous is worse than being poor. Fame is the most important thing in our culture now – and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, its that no one’s just gonna hand it to you.”  In a lot of ways, that sums up the Super Young Team pretty well, or it did.  Casey throws in hints of maturation, but on the whole, the issue gives Dance a promising start.  Maybe the petty angsts of the modern Titans will finally be supplanted by a more interesting take on the concept.

Grade: B

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Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape! #1

FCAEscape

Of the Final Crisis Aftermath titles announced a few months back, Escape seemed like the worst fit.  Why had the Global Peace Agency so rapidly gone what seems to be bat-shit crazy?  Wait, Nemesis?  And who the hell is this writer?  Nothing was clicking for me as I read the description, but Final Crisis left me with good will, and I loved the cover art, so I decided to check out the first issue and see if it came together for me as I read.

Unfortunately, it never did.

Now, to clarify, this is not to say that I think that Brandon is unskilled or that the series will not come together.  The issue gave me a great deal of hope that, as a collection, it could be quite an interesting read, thanks to a dozen or more small touches that ratchet up the suspense and mystery.  Unfortunately, as a single issue, it follows the worst of the LOST stereotypes – all questions, no answers, no sense, no grounding.  There are familiar faces, but they are hardly recognizable as the characters we knew, and since we have little to no idea what’s going on here, there is little reason to get invested.  

Rudy’s art complements the twisty nature of the issue.  Though his figures are often rather stiff, he manages to capture the trippy confusion quite well, especially in a brief showdown between Count Vertigo and Cameron Chase.  The panel structure and transitions are also extremely well-handled, helping the issue along in terms of pacing while making sure your eye is always engaged.  When the panel structure helps reinforce the claustrophobic nature of the writing, they’re doing something right.

As a collection, when there is not a month or more between each issue, this may be a book to keep your eye on.  Even the narration occasionally seems to be a part of the mystery as some words and names have been redacted before we read them… but despite the interesting touches Brandon throws in, as an introductory issue, Escape offers little reason to follow it month after month.

Grade: C+

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Review: Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! #1

run

Final Crisis was an epic series – say what you want about the quality, but the scope was undeniably enormous.  When it was announced that there would be a series of titles spinning out of it, I was reluctantly excited.  Though Escape made no sense and had a minor-league creative team at best, the other three had, I felt, some promise.  

Run!, the first of the four minis, does not live up to any of that promise.  Sturges has done some excellent work, most recently over in Blue Beetle, and his Vertigo titles have generally been fairly high quality, but Run! feels bland through and through, with none of the boundless creativity of Final Crisis, the wit demonstrated in Blue Beetle, or the darkly comic horror seen in House of Mystery… and the book desperately needs to be grounded in one of those.

Instead, it, much like last year’s Salvation Run, is a generic book about a villain in over his head.  It is by no means a bad book – the art by Freddie Williams II is great throughout, aptly illustrating just how much of a slob the Human Flame really is – but there just isn’t anything to get excited about.  It’s too slow for a balls-to-the-wall action book, but with no compelling drama to back it up and a purposely witless narrator telling us the story, the human element doesn’t work either.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Run! is a book that could’ve gone anywhere, and, faced with so many choices, couldn’t make up its mind.   Sturges is clearly a competent writer, but he just doesn’t seem to have a handle on villains just yet, and while there are a number of genuinely fun moments in the comic backed up by some solid art, there’s little that begs for five more issues.

Grade: C

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