Ceej Says… Comic Book Day Reviews (14th Nov 2012)

Another week, and another a decent sized chunk of comics to get through.  Thankfully, there’s some really exciting titles here including more Snyder Batman goodness and a couple of really good-looking Marvel Now! titles. In total, we’re looking at…

Batman #14 (DC)
Batgirl #14 (DC)
Batman & Robin #14 (DC)
Suicide Squad #14 (DC)
Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel)
All New X-Men #1 (Marvel)
He-Man & The Masters of the Universe #4 (DC)
Great Pacific #1 (Image)

And since I have quite a bit to get through, I’m not going to waste any more time rambling.  So let’s see what comes out of the bag first…

All-New X-Men #1 (Marvel)
 “Dear God, please, please let me do something worth something before I go.”

Even if I wasn’t trying to pick up as many of the new Marvel Now! titles as possible, this is one that really captured my interest from the moment I heard about it, and was a pretty much guaranteed addition to my pull list.  In the wake of AvX, the idea of the original X-Men being brought forward in time to see how their lives end up (and all the fun and games that come with that) seemed like a really appealing, high-concept idea.  And if that wasn’t enough, having Brian Michael Bendis at the helm pretty much clinched it for me.

The book itself does a really great job of establishing the new status quo after the events of AvX, with new mutants popping up all over the globe and Cyclops, Magneto and Emma Frost playing the role of mutant ‘revolutionaries’, trying to recruit them as they do.  The new mutants themselves are introduced extremely well, and you instantly care about them and their struggles to come to terms with their startling new powers.  It’s stuff like that which made me enjoy the classic X-Men storylines so much, and despite all the negativity directed at the AvX event, this has to be viewed as one of the main positives to come out of it, for me at least.

The present day X-Men don’t get much time to shine, it has to be said, with the exception of Beast who gets some poignant inner monologue and who seems to be the main catalyst for the series’ premise.  We flash back to the past with the original X-Men having a crisis of faith regarding humanity’s treatment of them, and the whole thing is handled extremely well, laying the groundwork by letting us know exactly how each character views their current situation.

There’s not a ridiculous amount of action, nor many shocking twists and turns, but for an establishing shot of this post-AvX universe and a jumping off point for the new series, this comic really couldn’t have done any better.  New mutants, mutant revolutionaries, time travel… what more could you want from an X-book?

Iceman still looks weird, though.

Rating: 8.5/10.     

The hit rate of the new Marvel Now! books continues to be fairly high, with only Deadpool coming as a bit of a disappointment thus far.  Moving things along, up  next we haaaave…

Batgirl #14 (DC)
“I could do it.  I look in his spider-venom eyes.  And I know I could do it.”

One of the most appealing aspects of the Joker’s recent return for me was finding out how he would interact with certain members of the Bat family, given their individual histories.  The one I was particulary looking forward to was Barbara Gordon, who has had references to her ‘Killing Joke’ encounter with Joker littered all through her New 52 comic run ever since issue one.

The previous ‘Prelude to Death of the Family’ Batgirl issue had almost nothing going on in it (with the exception of closing off the existing story arc and a couple of pages of teaser at the end).  Fortunately, this issue delivers exactly what I wanted to see.  We get Batgirl’s reaction to the Joker’s return in sickening detail, as her emotions go from blind panic to insecurity to anger and back again, and the whole thing is masterfully done.  For something I’d been looking forward to ever since they announced Joker’s return, I’m thrilled that they handled it so well.

The artwork holds its own here, showing Barbara’s emotions beautifully as she tries to come to terms with (and formulate a plan to deal with) the return of the Joker.  I will say though that once the Joker finally makes an appearance, he really doesn’t look all that great, which somewhat deflates what should be a monumental moment.  Still, that minor niggle aside, the comic does exactly what I wanted it to do, and is perhaps the first meaningful ‘Death of the Family’ issue aside from the main Batman title.  The closing revelation was diminished slightly by the upcoming covers, etc. I’ve seen, but should still make for some great reading from here on in.

Batgirl isn’t a title I’ve read much of to this point, nor is it one I’ll probably read much after the Joker arc is over, but for the time being, this is looking like it’s going to be essential monthly reading.

Rating: 8.5/10

Two belters to start the week.  Let’s try to keep the momentum going with…

He-Man & The Masters of the Universe #4 (DC)
“Why do they all feel the need to complicate this?”

DC’s He-Man title has been an enjoyable ride thus far.  Granted, it’s unlikely to win any awards any time soon, but as a lifelong He-Man fan, it’s cool to see DC’s take on Eternia and all its inhabitants.  As with last time, the main thing that’s concerning me is that the story seems to be meandering along at a fairly relaxed pace, which – with only two issues remaining of this six-issue run – may end up with an unsatisfying, rushed conclusion.

That said, this comic – while solid enough – is a bit of a step down from the previous issues.  The back and forth banter between Adam and Teela is still charming enough, but is starting to feel a little forced in places.  The artwork in some panels is fairly sketchy, and Pop Mhan’s rendering of Evil Lyn is nothing short of terrible.  Also, I’m not sure it’s strictly necessary to have quite as many shots of Teela’s ass, but I guess that’s a fairly common complaint in a lot of comics these days.

Story-wise, there’s not a huge amount of advancement here, save for the addition of an interesting thread featuring Teela and her similarly brainwashed father, Man-at Arms.  However, with the limited page space still to come, you can’t help but think that this isn’t going to get anywhere near the time it deserves.  So a fairly dull issue all in all, with nothing really of note happening, and some lacklustre art in places.

I think if this were to be a continuing series, the plot pacing and story telling could be improved greatly. But from DC’s point of view, I can definitely see their reluctance to start a brand new ongoing series without testing the waters first.  Hopefully sometime in the future, eh?  Anyway, I’m sticking with it to the end as I’m itching for the inevitable He-Man/Skeletor showdown from a strictly fanboy perspective, but I’m not holding my breath for this comic to suddenly become spectacular.  It’s solid enough for now, though.

Rating: 6.5/10.     

A little disappointing perhaps, but not exactly a comic I had unrealistically high hopes for.  Anyway, moving on we have…

Suicide Squad #14 (DC)
“Because, see, when I put my face on, it smelled from cotton candy and cheap cologne.  So, I knew my Harley had tried to get it.”

Suicide Squad is a title I picked up at the start of the New 52, and which I quickly dropped after a few issues due to it spectacularly failing to keep my interest.  But with ‘Death of the Family’ now in full swing, I decided to pick up this one again to see what kind of goodness we could get with Joker and Harley reunited.

Well, as it turns out, not a whole hell of a lot.  The bulk of the issue is filled with fairly lifeless exposition, as each of the current Suicide Squad members gets a page or two to see where they’re at mentally and physically.  For somebody that doesn’t follow the main comic – and I’m assuming quite a lot of their readership will fall into this category at the moment as people try to snatch up all the Joker goodness they can – this really doesn’t inspire me to want to keep reading the comic once “Mister J” has gone from its pages.

Sadly, as far as the content I actually picked up the book for in the first place goes – the aforementioned Joker/Harley goodness – there really isn’t too much to get excited about here either.  Granted, Fernando Dagnino’s Joker looks a hell of a lot better than the ridiculous Batgirl version, but there’s still not really much of any significance in his interactions with Harley.  The fact that Harley is wearing her usual Victoria’s Secret gear (a common complaint about this comic from what I’ve heard) kinda detracts slightly from their encounter.  This basically takes place before and after Batman #13, and there’s really nothing here you need to know that’s not covered in that comic.

So another week, another disappointing ‘Death of the Family’ crossover.  The Batgirl stuff is gold, and while I’m hoping the upcoming stuff with Jason Todd in Red Hood & The Outlaws is going to provide some interesting material, I’m really not holding my breath.  But, so long as the main Batman title continues to deliver, I have no problems fluffing out my collection a bit with this “hit or miss” stuff.  And, as I said last time, Capullo’s cover is fantastic.

Rating 6.5/10.

We appear to be in a bit of a downward spiral, rating-wise.  Let’s see if we can’t turn things around with…

Batman & Robin # 14 (DC)
“The krill are swimming faster.  Whale’s coming Gepetto.  Coming for you and Pinocchio!”

This title has been treading water for the last few issues, but has still remained readable due to the strong, well-defined dynamic between Batman and Damian.  The bulk of this issue is focused on Damian as he does his thing, and his often cold, rigid demeanour makes an interesting contrast to his frequently child-like mannerisms.  The “eat to live” thing has gotten a little old by now, and serves merely as a backdrop for some Robin showcasing and Batman’s (slightly over-aggressive) concern for his son.

The artwork is always pretty solid in this comic, and that continues here with some memorable action and emotional scenes.  The main impact of this comic is delivered in the final three pages, and is – in my mind – worth the cover price for this scene alone.  It says so much about the relationship between Bruce and his son, and this has always been the main attraction for me to this comic.  Yeah, there’s a lot of filler earlier on, but the heart of the comic is still there, and the signposting for the next couple of Joker-centric issues was fairly well handled.

All in all, not perhaps as great as some of earlier comics in this series, but it still has enough of what I’m looking for (Robin being bad-ass, Bruce and Damian relationship-building moments) to make it an enjoyable read every month.  Solid stuff.

Rating: 7.5/10.      

A slight upturn in the ratings, which will hopefully continue as we dip into our bag of wonders with…

Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel)
“We have a ship made to sail through space and time itself is my point.  So then let’s sail it.”

I’m not sure if this makes me some sort of comic book philistine or something, but I can say right now that I have never – ever – read a Fantastic Four comic.  Obviously I know the premise, and I’ve read their guest appearances in other comics and crossovers, but for some reason the comic itself never really appealed to me.  Which seems like a shame, given the positive reviews quite a lot of their stuff has gotten.  Well, this seems like as good a jumping on point as any, so I figured I’d use the Marvel Now! refreshboot-thing to see what all the fuss was about.  The fact it’s written by Matt Fraction – whose work on The Immortal Iron Fist I loved and who has made Hawkeye an absolute revelation – didn’t hurt either.

The premise of the series is established beautifully in this issue, which is extremely valuable for a non-reader like myself. The members all get their time to shine throughout the issue, with some particularly hilarious scenes involving the Thing and some touching scenes with Franklin Richards. Reed seems a little more distant that I remembered him in other appearances, although given the severity of his individual situation, that’s hardly surprising.  In fact, the motivation behind the “Inter Dimensional Travelling Sci-fi School” premise is not quite as altruistic as I would have expected.

But yeah, this comic did enough to grab my attention for a first issue.  Sci-fi isn’t a genre I’ve particularly enjoyed in comics, but I think the cosmic globe-trotting of the FF family may be about to change my mind. The artwork is solid, the dialogue is great, and with Fraction at the helm, I have full confidence that we’re going to get some great characterisation and exciting situations.  I wouldn’t say I was completely blow away, but I was definitely intrigued enough to stick with this for the time being.  It has enough going on in it to keep it interesting for newcomers, and I’m sure it offers a great deal more to long-time readers.

Rating: 7/10.

Just what my bank balance needs.  Another “interesting” comic.  Sigh.  Anyway, the end is in sight, and I’m gonna save the biggie for the finale.  So up next, we have an impulse buy that grabbed my attention enough to give it a look..

Great Pacific #1 (Image)
 “It’s a Texas-sized idea.  The kind your grandad would have been impressed with.  The kind nobody has anymore.”

Every couple of weeks I tend to pick up a comic without any real knowledge or preconceptions about it, just to see if it’s any good or not.  Well, Great Pacific was one of those comics.  The story introduces Chas Worthington, a billionaire playboy with an urge to change the world.  Possibly.  Actually, I’m not entirely sure, as while the entire comic is based around Chas, I’m still not entirely sure how I’m meant to be feeling about him.  Is he being bullied off the board of his father’s company, or does he just not care enough to participate?  Is he trying to make a massive environmental breakthrough, or is he just doing it for himself?  I suppose this is a valid approach, allowing us to have the character better defined and his motivations explained and expanded on in the future, but all it succeeded in doing is making me not particularly care about the main protagonist and, in turn, the comic itself.

The art is passable, with some nice visuals offset by a sometimes awkward looking facial style, including the increasingly distracting eyebrows on most characters.  The story does very little to hook you in, and aside from a neat bit of excitement near the end, there’s not a huge amount going on here.  If this were a comic I’d been excited about and looking forward to, I’d probably feel better about sticking with it and seeing where the story goes.  However, for an impulse buy, it gave me almost zero reason to want to pick up the next issue, and as a result, I don’t think I will.

While Great Pacific may develop into a compelling story about a young man’s attempts to make the world a better place by dealing with a very real problem, as a first issue, it really didn’t grab me in any way.  Which is a pity, as I always love picking up random comics that turn out to be essential, exciting parts of my monthly reading.  Better luck next time, I guess.  Heh.

Rating: 6/10.

You win some you lose some, I guess.  But that’s part of the fun of comics, to me at least.  It’s always nice to take a gamble, and sometimes… well… they don’t pay off.  However, one comic that’s definitely not going to be a gamble is the last one this week, so let’s get it done with…

Batman #14 (DC)
“Hahahaha! You think you’re… hahaha! You’re not blinfolded, good sir.”

Therehave been a lot of positives thrown about concerning Scott Snyder and his revolutionary run on the New 52’s Batman title.  The Court of Owls storyline was masterful, and the prospect of him bringing his own twist to the Joker had fanboys like myself foaming at the mouth.  Well, hyperbole aside, so far the Snyder-written parts of the “Death of the Family” have been nothing short of spectacular, this issue included.  The Joker has been shown to be an unpredictable, downright terrifying psychopath, and his actions thus far (as well as the ‘Bat Family’s reactions to his return) have only served to emphasise just how big a deal this is.

As good as Snyder’s writing has been, Greg Capullo has been just as valuable to this comic, and his artwork captures the tension and horror of this issue perfectly.  From Batman escaping the trap laid in the previous issue to him returning to the eerily quiet Wayne Manor, to the final face-to-face showdown with the Joker himself, Capullo captures the aura of this comic completely.  There are so many great artistic touches too, such as the Joker-esque hi-fi display as Bruce plays back the tape, or the Joker looking down into the water on the bridge.  Joker getting his own individual font style adds an extremely nice visual touch, too.

The writing is still the backbone of this comic though, and Bruce’s exchange with Nightwing regarding Alfred’s disappearance and his refusal to fully accept is are first perfectly pitched, as is Bruce finally, grudgingly, admitting it to himself as he heads towards his showdown with the Joker.  There’s so much great stuff, so much memorable dialogue and inner monologue, that it’s tough to do it justice in a simple review.

I could go on for longer, but simply put, if you like Batman, you need to be reading this comic.  I can’t really say much more than that.  This is likely to become one of the definitive versions of the Caped Crusader that we can all look back on in years to come and think “man, that Snyder run on Batman was insane!”.  You have no excuse to be missing it while it happens.

Rating: 9.5/10

And that, my friends, is called finishing on a high.  All in all, a fairly up and down week of comics, but the Death in the Family arc continues to contain some real highlights, and Marvel Now! is doing some good work too.  That’s all for this week, but give us a look again next Saturday as we’ll have all the reviews from next week, including Hawkeye(!), Daredevil(!), Mind the Gap, Transformers and all your usual New 52 and Marvel Now! goodness.

The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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