Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chris' Comics Corner

Hey all, I'm trying to get back on schedule, so this column includes reviews from the past two weeks, hope you enjoy.

Flashpoint #1
Publisher: DC
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Andy Kubert
Event Watch: Flashpoint Part 1 of 5


Flashpoint #1 is quite possibly the most important comic DC releases all year. Why? Because DC has a lot riding on the success of this limited series.

In the short term, Flashpoint is DC's big summer event and direct challenger to Marvel's Fear Itself. The sales of comics in the summer are driven by events and their tie ins, with the event books and their tie ins eclipsing the sales of just about everything else on the stands. With the two central protagonists of Fear Itself appearing in big blockbuster summer movies, Marvel already has the edge in this category, but Flashpoint boasts an unprecedented number of tie in miniseries. What Flashpoint lacks in exposure it might just make up in sheer volume.

However a short term victory in sales this summer has bigger long term ramifications for DC and the Comics Industry as a whole. As the name of this book might suggest, Flashpoint focuses on the Flash, and is the first DC wide event to place the Scarlet Speedster in such a position of prominence. Flashpoint is (and pardon me for what is the first of what I'm sure will be maaaaaaaaany puns) DC's attempt to see if lightning can strike twice and if Geoff John's can elevate the Flash to the same kind of prominence he achieved in elevating Green Lantern to, back in 2004. Looking even further down the road, the fact that every DC writer and editor has been sworn to secrecy on what the shape of the DCU will be in the aftermath of Flashpoint (In fact aside from Batman Inc., I have nooo idea what any title has in store past the summer) suggests that the companies future plans to reinvigorate its catalogue and compete with Marvel are highly dependent on this series (the foundation for the company's immediate future) being a success.

Like I said, there is a. lot. riding on this book.

So how was the first issue? It was…ok. Which given the enormously high aforementioned stakes, is not the best thing. By itself it is a good issue, but it is not what DC needed it to be. At least not yet.

The issue begins with Barry Allen realizing that the world as he knows it has changed. While the differences are subtle at first, he quickly makes two major discoveries: He is no longer the fastest man alive, and his mother is alive. This leads to a very powerful and heartfelt reunion between mother and son, especially for those who have been reading the recent relaunch of The Flash title.

As far as the story, things kinda go downhill from there. Not bad per se, just nothing exceptional. Most of the issue is devoted to Barry running around in confusion, which I suppose is necessary but in an event that is only 5 issues long that exists primarily to elevate the status of The Flash, having him bumble throughout the new reality powerless is probably not the best way to do it, as it does not give readers a reason to care about Barry as a person, or show just how cool a hero the Flash is. Granted there is still time to do this now that we've moved past the establishing phase but I really think it would have been better to hit the ground running. (…I apologized once, I won't do it again).

The rest of the issue is devoted to a vote among the heroes of this altered world on what to do about the war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman that's currently devastating Europe. While this sequence was fun and entertaining at times, it felt like what it was: a lot of exposition. Having the characters tell the readers about the problems that Aquaman and Wonder Woman are causing rather than showing us, leaves the reader with the impression that not a lot happened in the issue, when actually there was a lot of content packed into these pages.

I did like this scene, and I think it was an effective way to introduce us to the players and their world, but I think it lasted a bit too long, and would have felt more satisfying if it had done more to advance the plot. That being said, I commend the choice Johns made to populate this world with lesser known and new characters rather than alternate versions of the A and B listers. Additionally, the twist regarding Batman at the end of the issue was particularly inspired and satisfying.

Andy Kubert is a highly talented artist perfectly suited to the dark and gritty world of Flashpoint. Seeing his Batman swinging across the Gotham skyline makes me pine for his all too brief stint illustrating Grant Morrison's Batman. His character is especially impressive in this debut issue, possibly even a career high, as every face is unique and emotive. His layouts, choreography, and use of multiple angles reveals his vast experience and skill The amount of characters and actions that he packs into these pages could have easily overwhelmed another artist but Kubert handles it like a pro. My one gripe is that I'll have to wait at least another issue to see Kubert render The Flash in action.

I think the main strike this book has against it is the fact that DC decided to tell this story as a big summer event. Had this been just another arc of the Flash, I think a lot of these concerns would have bothered me less than they did in this context. However because the DC hype machine has been promoting this book 7 ways to Sunday, I entered into it with a good deal of knowledge of the direction of the story and the twists thrown the readers' way in this first issue. This Event Series still shows a lot of promise, and I am optimistic that things will look up next issue now that much of the groundwork has been laid.

Grade: B+

Birds of Prey #12
Producer: DC
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Jesus Saiz

Now that's more like it. Ever since Gail Simone returned to relaunch the title on which she had a career defining run several years ago, something has been…missing. This should have been an easy hit for DC, instead, it felt like something just wasn't clicking. There were a lot of great moments, and huge potential, but issue after issue that potential remained unreached. Maybe it was the merry-go-round of artists (7 artists in 11 issues). Or maybe it was the multiple status quo shifts and reveals that were never really fully explained before moving onto the next big idea.

All that changes with this issue. This is the book I was hoping for. This is the book I wanted to be reading. The renowned fun and personal chemistry between her cast of characters that Simone was known for on this title is in full effect. We get some fun interplay between Canary, Dove, and Oracle, a great team up between Huntress and the Question, and a laugh out loud moment featuring Hawk. The issue ends with a genuinely creepy twist that longtime fans of Simone will appreciate as being particularly deadly for our protagonists.

The new story arc and return to basics approach on Simone's side is only part of the reason why this issue was leaps and bounds ahead of it's 11 predecessors. The lion's share of the credit needs to go to artist Jesus Saiz for finally giving this series the proper tone, polish, and consistency that this title so badly needed. I love Saiz's thick line work and shading. At an average of about five panels per page, Saiz packs a lot of story into this issue, but his excellent handle on choreography keeps the action from becoming confusing or cluttered. His characters are sexy (without cheesecake factor), and expressive which is exactly what this book needs. I hope that Saiz is onboard for the long haul because he and Simone really clicked this issue, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Grade: A-

Avengers #13
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Brian Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Event Watch: Fear Itself Tie In

So Bendis has been utilizing this oral history of the Avengers prose feature to pad the books to justify the 3.99 price raise, and while I have little interest in reading Bendis's take on the classic Avengers stories of yesteryear, I applaud him trying to give the readers extra bang for their buck. He employs the same technique for this issue, but instead of prose blurbs, we get confessional style panel packed pages, interspersed with some expanded scenes from Fear Itself #1. The confessional technique actually works really well here, as it heightens the sense of anxiety and tension, as the characters are giving confessional interview both pre and post the events of Fear Itself, alluding to tragedy we are yet to see.

Bendis contrasts these scenes with a budding romance between two Avengers. And while he handles some aspects of developing attraction well, other scenes come off as being a bit juvenile. The exchange between Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel in particular sounded like the dialogue of Jr. High School girls, rather than two ex-military super heroines.

Bachalo handles the art chores exceptionally well on this issue. His style is infamously stylized and exaggerated and not what you would normally associate with the Avengers, however I think one of the best things Bendis has done during his tenure in the Avengers franchise is bring in artists not normally associated with the characters. I for one would be happy to see Bachalo take the reigns of an Avengers book, as it is hard to deny that his characters are larger than life, and I simply love his renditions of Thor, Red Hulk, Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman.

Grade: B+

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