Thursday, May 26, 2005

Batman: War Games Volume I

Can anyone say "padded"? I know you can. Let's all say it together... PADDED! My biggest pet peeve with modern comics is the feeling that stories are getting drawn out more and more for no other reason than it's the thing to do. Marvel has been the most guilty party as of late with their making every story arc 6 issues so it'll fit in a trade, but DC has also been responsible for their fair share of unnecessary decompression, with this first installment of the three volume War Games uber-story being one example.

There really isn't a lot that goes on in the 200+ pages of this trade. The heads of all the gangs in Gotham get together, it hits the fan, a gang war starts, Batman and his cadre of heroes must take on the gangs, there's lots of fighting, a tiny bit of character development, and tons of boring. That's about it.

Almost every fight and close to every conversation felt unneeded and added just to make sure that each Bat-title would be touched by the cross-over so as to boost sales. The entirety of this volume could probably have been well told in about half the length and felt much more action packed by doing so.

What's worse is that since this is a three act story, this chapter ends quite abruptly with not even so much as a small sense of accomplishment after the events that transpired. Instead it just ends. If I would have known they were going to do that, I would have waited until all three volumes had come out to start reading because now I have to wait a good chunk of time before volume II is released and volume III hasn't even been solicited yet.

There are a few good things about this volume, but not many. It is nice to see all of the characters in the Batman line of titles work together on a common problem, but often the chemistry doesn't feel quite right. The action sequences are often decently illustrated so if you like countless panels of superheroes kicking and punching bad guys, then by all means pick up this volume, but if you want something more for your fifteen bucks then put this thing back on the bookshelf.

Art: 2.5
Story: 2
Overall: 2

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Superman / Batman 14 - 18

A lot of people hate this title and a lot of people love it. I fall into the "love it" category, but I love it for what it is--a big, dumb, fun superhero book. If you're looking for intricate storytelling, plotting that constantly keeps you guessing, or deep character analyzations you're going to be firmly planted in the "hate this" camp.

In this arc you get the opportunity to see Batman and Superman in a couple of different alternate timelines battling fellow superheroes and villains alike. The reason for the alternate timelines is that three supervillains from the 31st century have come back in time in order to attempt to change history by setting up Superman and Batman as the only superheroes in existence and completley under their control. This works out for a time, but it slowly starts to unravel.

As things unravel, you'll get a chance to see Superman and Batman kill Green Arrow, take on Ra's al Ghul with a zombie version of the JLA, fight on a planet where humans are animals and Gorilla Grodd rules all, and travel to the future to make a deal with Darkseid and an extremely old Superman among other things. This is definitely an action oriented arc, and a very well done superhero action story.

The action is wonderfully illustrated by Carlos Pacheco, giving all of the action scenes a larger than life feel to them. What is lacking in deep plot is easliy made up for in widescreen superhero action. Pacheco's art fits perfectly with this style of story as it isn't too realistic yet it doesn't stray into the cartoony which gives everything a semi-realistic feel while still staying away from the hyper-realistic tone that some of the new school superhero stories try to take on.

There is one big drawback to this arc, however, and that is continuity. This arc is full of it. There's so many characters from the DC Universe sprinkled throughout that someone who isn't a DC fan might be confused. Heck, I read plenty of DC comics, but even I felt like asking "who the heck is this?" more than a few times.

This title is consistently read by a giant audience, comics-wise at least, and it's easy to see why. For the most part the title is easy to get in to, it's not too tough on the eyes or the brain, and it's simply a lot of fun. I hope it sticks to the formula it's been using for the first 18 issues because it's working out perfectly.

Art: 3.5
Story: 3.5
Overall: 3.5

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Spartan: Warrior Spirit

Man, Kurt Busiek used to really, really suck as a writer, didn't he? After reading the Spider-Man / X-Factor crossover miniseries by him and now this four issue mini, I'm starting to wonder if the 90's Busiek is the same person as the recent writing genius of this millennium that everyone has fallen in love with. It's really quite amazing how terrible some of his old stuff is that it's sad and amazing at the same time.

This story focuses on Spartan, the leader of the Wildcats, and his origin. One of the staple things to do with a team book in the 90's was to give each important character their own miniseries to explore the amazing circumstances that made them who they were. Apparently Spartan was a real person at one point (he is nothing more than a spirit embodied in a robot currently). He was tragically killed so some doctor decided to take his spirit and use it to power his latest creation. Spartan never knows this, however, since he was purchased by the owner of the Wildcats to lead his team.

The nifty thing about Spartan is that when the robot body he currently inhabitates gets destroyed, his spirit is re-downloaded into a new robt body. Well, in issue one Spartan gets destroyed but instead of returning to a body in the Wildcats headquarters he materializes in a body in some temple with no memories. The majority of the middle of the story consists of Spartan fighting some green cyber goblin people while he tries to come to terms with his lack of memories.

Turns out there was some plot to trap an evil power source to use it against the enemies of the people in the village where the temple is located. Eventually Spartan realizes this, then the Wildcats show up, then there's some more fighting. Lastly the evil power gets out and starts devouring people. Thankfully Spartan is there and talks the evil power away. In the course of a two page spread, Spartan's superior will convinces the evil demon thingy to just go away. Add a couple of pages for goodbyes and it's the end.

Seriously, this is not even close to being as good as anything that Busiek has recently written. It's not even close to being average. It's cliched ridden, mindless action, poorly drawn crap. It's mini's like this that made Image look like such a joke in the 90's. I feel dumber for having read this.

Art: 2
Story: 1.5
Overall: 1.75

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Superman, Inc.

I'll admit it, I love Elseworlds stories. Not quite enough to buy them at full price, but I scour the bargain bins for them! Any time I see an Elseworlds I haven't read somewhere on the cheap, I snatch it up as fast as humanly possible. The novelty of having an established superhero in a role outside of the one he/she usually takes on appeals to me, which is probably good for DC since that means I'll buy them as opposed to yet another rehashed Superman or Batman book.

In this prestige format one shot, Superman isn't found by the Kents, but is instead run over by a drunk who finds the baby miracuously unharmed when he gets out of the car to see what he ran over. Taking this as some sort of sign he drops the baby off in the closest town and vows to give up drinking. With this premise in place, Clark Kent now grows up as Dale Suderman. Tragically, his parents die when he is young. His mother dies after seeing Dale use his power of flight as she falls down the stairs running from him. Dale's subconscious then locks away his ability to use his superhuman powers all the while he lets himself become obsessed with nothing more than being the most successful person alive.

Becoming a success was easy for Dale as his innate physical prowess in comparison to the rest of the human race allows him to become one of the greatest sports stars ever. He uses the money he earns in professional sports to fund his own business ventures, all of which are quite successful, mostly because of the positive outlook that Dale exudes to the public. In private, however, he is a ruthless businessman that will do just about anything in his power to gain even more accolades than he already has.

Of course, Lex Luthor doesn't like that someone is more successful than him, so this is where the core conflict of the story comes. Lex assigns reporters to dig up anything they can on Dale Suderman and when things do start to come out, it all falls apart for Dale.

The premise and execution of the story were both interesting enough, but the characters were given little depth. Dale was simply a man obsessed with success who breaks down when he finds out he's not who he thought he was. Lex is a less interesting version of his DC self. The supporting cast aren't really that interesting, but they're essential for moving the story along.

In comparison to other Elseworlds stories, this one isn't a bad one, but it's not one of the good ones either. From the art department, there was one huge mistake--Dale's haircut. It looks like something from a late 80's rock video and I laughed every time I saw it. I don't think any self-respecting business man would ever sport such an ugly cut, but apparently Dale can get away with it.

Give this a look if you dig Superman and Elseworlds. If you like one or the other it's probably also a decent read. If you could care less about either... why'd you read this review?

Art: 2.5
Story: 2.75
Overall: 2.75

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Spectacular Spider-Man 23 - 27

Throughout most of Paul Jenkins run of this iteration of Spectacular Spider-Man I've found myself either let down by the story arcs or baffled by the illogic of many of the character interactions. With this arc, Jenkins steps away from writing (except for issue 27) in order to let some of the events from the Sins Past story arc in Amazing Spider-Man be addressed. I didn't read Sins Past so I felt like I was missing out on part of the overall story, but even if I did have the overall story, I still don't think that would have saved this arc from being pretty... boring.

So there's a couple of kids that the Green Goblin had with Gwen Stacey who are now teenaged (I'm guessing) because they aged mondo fast by having Goblin blood in their genes. It sounds pretty contrived and stupid to me... mostly because it is, but this is a superhero book so maybe it should get a free pass... or not, because it's contived and stupid.

One of the kids (the boy) turned into the Gray Goblin. Just what the Marvel Universe needed, another goblin. Hobgoblin, Green Goblin, Gray Goblin, Purple Hobgoblin version II, etc. His sister, however, managed to turn out normal for the most part. She tries to commit suicide so the authorities in Europe call Peter since Sarah had a crush on him and wanted to make babies with him.

Mary Jane gets all jealous that Peter runs off to Sarah's rescue so she decides to fly over there and check up on him. The entire time Peter has been over there, Sarah and him have been going on quasi-dates "getting to know each other better". Mary Jane, upon arrival, just happens to stumble in to the mansion Peter and Sarah are staying at as Sarah kisses Peter. Soap opera drama ensues.

During all of this horribly boring and cliched romantic hulaballo, there's some drug running and a kidnapping to deal with, but that all takes back seat to the more important "relationship drama" of Peter, Sarah, and MJ. It really bored the hell out of me and it really makes me glad I ignored the whole Sins Past story arc.

Oh, one side note, Peter uses his Spider-Man powers while not in costume, in the middle of a crowd, TWICE, while he's over in Europe. Did Peter suddenly develop the superpower of ultra-stupidity? He thinks that no one in Europe will remember him. Man, if I saw some guys swinging with webbing out of his hands, I'd whip out my camera phone or something and take pictures. Peter = idiot.

Now, issue 27 is the complete antithesis of the arc preceding it. Jenkins returns to write the last issue of the series and it's a darn good one. I have a feeling he had written it a long time ago since it's a winter/Christmas story, but it's still good. Peter goes to visit Uncle Ben's grave and the majority of the issue deals with Peter conversing and bonding with the ghost of his dead uncle. It was actually a very tender and touching issue that almost completely made up for the mess that was Sins Remembered. It's a wonderful stand alone story, so go give it a look. It's one of the better Spider-Man stories you'll read for a while.

Art: 3
Story: 2
Overall: 2.5

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Nightcrawler 1 - 6

When Marvel did their big "X-Men: Reloaded" thingermabob last year I knew that in the glut of crap that was going to be dumped on the shelves there would probably be a title or two that turned out to be good. Two of those, Astonishing X-Men and District X I have been reading and thoroughly enjoying. The only other new title from the Reloaded event that I took a chance on was Nightcrawler's solo series and I am quite glad that I did.

Instead of this being just your average, paint by number, superhero book about one of a myriad of X-Men, Nightcrawler's book took on a definitively supernatural tone, which was a welcome surprise. I honestly expected nothing more than Nightcrawler teleporting around fighting bad guys for a few issues until Marvel pulled the plug on it. Out of all the solo series launched during the reload, Nightcrawler's series was the first to be cancelled... err, put on hiatus (it is coming back this summer, suprisingly). This didn't bode well for the book so I put off reading it, which is a shame.

In the first four issues, Nightcrawler is asked to investigate the murder of 13 dead children in a state establishment. One child who was present when the others were killed still lived, but he refused to talk. It is later revealed that the child is naturally gifted with the knowledge of magic. Upon finding this out, Nightcrawler pays a visit to Magik, who resides in limbo with two giant, homosexual snakes. While they work to figure out the mystery, Nightcrawler will encounter demons, a spontaneously combusting man, and more. As campy or cliched as this may sound, it is actually a very well written superhero/horror mix.

The last two issues of this arc has Nightcrawler examining the appearance of ghosts in the New York subway system. From the outset of this story you can pretty much guess where it is going, the ghosts' motivations, and how it will be resolved. Even so, it is still a decent read and for readers who haven't read comics for years and years, this will be a refreshing supernatural tale featuring the world's favorite teleporting half-demon.

I really hope that when Nightcrawler returns to store shelves with issue 7, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa will keep the focus on the supernatural as I feel it is a good fit for the book. Darick Robertson's pencils are not overly stupendous, but they are a treat for the eyes. His rendition of some of the demons in the first few issues were spectacular, however. Give Robertson a horror book and I'll buy it in a second as I think he is well suited for that type of book. All in all, this turned out to be one of the better series to come out of Marvel's X-Men: Reloaded event and I'm glad I gave it a chance.

Art: 3.5
Story: 4
Overall: 3.75