Monday's Thought Balloons (Comics Reviews) on Tuesday

Here is the first of the new weekly review installment. Enjoy. Find comics, read them, scan them, love them.

Rating Scale (based on the thought processes of Ash from The Evil Dead Trilogy):

1 out of 5 Boomsticks = total misfire - you suck, asshead.
2 out of 5 Boomsticks = dud - lotsa ammo, no boom
3 out of 5 Boomsticks = bang - Shop smart. Shop S-Mart!
4 out of 5 Boomsticks = deadshot - Hail to the King, Baby!
5 out of 5 Boomsticks = superfine - Filled with atoms and molecules, and things you primitive screwheads wouldn*t understand!

Avengers #500 and 501 - Marvel Comics
writes: Brian Michael Bendis
pencils: David Finch
inks: Danny Miki

The first two chapters of the "Disassembled" storyline that will see the end of the long running Marvel title. The opening of the story "Chaos" finds the Avengers relaxing in their headquarters when a supposedly dead teammate shows up at the front door. When that zombie-like ally explodes, killing another Avenger, Ant-man, Chaos ensues. Brutally attacked on multiple fronts, the Avengers quickly find themselves outnumbered, outgunned and outclassed. With more deaths promised and the resurrection of the team advertised with mostly new members in the November-shipping New Avengers, this story promises to have lasting effects on the entire Marvel universe.

Having only just started reading The Avengers during Geoff Johns' run on the title, I am not as emotionally attached to these characters as long-time fans. Bendis has received a lot of slack in the fan press and online for the quick and apparently uncalled for abuse to the team and the resulting deaths. Looked at by many as a quick gimmick storyline, designed to attract people with shock value only, the book reads differently to me. Not knowing a lot of the history of the team during its latest incarnation (this is the third series of the team, the original having been launched in 1963 under the reins of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) I find that Bendis' story is gritty, intense, and pulse pounding. Normally a writer who depends on talking heads and slow moving character development, this is a departure for Bendis and shows his creative depth. Portraying classic heroes like Iron Man and Captain America as indecisive and confused is not a slight by the writer to those characters, but rather a more realistic take on how any person would react under such horrific conditions. When She-Hulk loses her cool and "hulks out" it is regressing the character and that's exactly the point. This is a calm and reasoning lawyer who all of sudden turns into a raging monster on par with her cousin David (the Incredible Hulk) Banner at his worst. And no one in their reviews seems to be pointing out the obvious -- if Tony (Iron Man) Stark can be made to appear drunk at the UN when the recovering alcoholic hasn't had a drink in years, don't you think that whoever is ultimately responsible for this vicious attack on the Avengers could have also drugged She-Hulk in the same manner, to cause her breakdown?

On the art side of the equation things are a little less clear. While I think that Finch is an above average artist and very good at big action scenes, he doesn't quite have the chops to pull off the emotional elements that are key to this story. Bendis would be better complemented by a more well rounded artist for such a big story. Marvel is really touting this as their big "event" story of 2004 and as such should have had a higher profile artist on the gig -- my pick would have been Bryan Hitch (regardless of his slow turn around time.) That being said, however, I have to commend Finch on the above-mentioned She-Hulk scenes (started in #500 and ended with aplomb by Captain America in #501) -- he pulled it off in spades. It's blurry with rage and chaotic beyond the call of duty.

All in all, I am really looking forward to the remainder of this story. Sure, everybody is sick of the death of characters just to sell books. But Bendis has never been about that kind of storytelling and I am confident that all of the destruction and mayhem are serving a bigger purpose. Bendis is a long term, big picture type of writer and for those readers who stick in for the long haul, the pay off is always worth the blood, sweat and tears that you put in.

4 out of 5 Boomsticks! (I reserve the right to downgrade this, if the last two parts of the story totally blow!)

Batman #631 - DC Comics
writes: Bill Willingham
pencils: Kinsun
inks: Aaron Sowd

Part of the massive, 3-month long "War Games" storyline, this is the pinnacle issue of Act 1. For those unfamiliar with the Batman books (including Detective Comics, Nightwing, Legends of the Dark Knight, Robin, Birds of Prey, and Catwoman) these "event" stories happen pretty much on a bi-yearly basis now * something so big going on that it carries over into all of the books and effects the lives of all the characters in the Batman Family. Last time around, Batman's alter-ego, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, was accused of murder and then became a fugitive of the law (check out the trade paperbacks Bruce Wayne: Murderer and Batman: Fugitive).

This year's macro-series finds the Batman operating mostly alone in Gotham, having alienated some of his most trusted allies and his partner, Robin, having given up his heroic mantle because of a promise to his father. When the devious Penguin unleashes a genetically altered Scarecrow on some of the other crime families in Gotham City, the ensuing power vacuum leaves the city open to a massive gang war. It's Russian mob vs. Asian street gangs vs. meta-freak. A bloodbath results and Batman has to do everything he can to hold the pieces together -- including trusting new allies that he normally wouldn't deign to speak to.

So far this storyline has been so-so to me. Admittedly, I have not read all of the 8 parts that made up the first act, I only read the main titles (Batman, Detective, Robin, and Nightwing.) But, in all fairness to the writers, I didn't need to read all the parts to follow the story fully - which is great when you consider the price of buying all the books. The flip side of that, however, is a proof to my "so-so" analysis - not enough important stuff is going on to justify the length of the story. Decompressed stories are great when the creators are exploring characters and their motivations, but this story is all about sweeping change to the criminal landscape in Gotham and Batman's role in that arena. So action is the key to the story, and Batman works best in those stories as a super-hero, not a detective. Another problem is the so-called "mystery" of this entire storyline -- the question of who started this gang war. If I'm right about who it is, I figured it out in the very first chapter (Batman: the 12-cent Adventure) and it didn't take a Batman-caliber computer to put it together. Hopefully, I'll be surprised at the end and the obvious deduction that I made is just a red herring.

The three things in the story so far that stand out as the better parts of the story are so buried beneath the machinations of the gangs and Batman's operatives, that they are almost overlooked. First, Batman's relationship with police Commissioner Jim Gordon has always been a classic comic element. But since Gordon's retirement from the force, Batman has been at best on a no harm, no foul-type of truce with the Gotham City Police Department and the new Commissioner Akins. This storyline is finally bringing the strain of that relationship to light. Second, the recent retirement of Robin and the much bally-hooed (bally-"booed" on a lot of the message boards) replacement by a female Robin also seems to be coming to an end, with the return of Tim Drake to the Robin outfit and some resolution to the strained relationship between Bruce and Tim.

Finally, the last element of this storyline that seems to be a goal of the writers is the outing of Batman. I don't mean that he's gay (although he seems to have more kids staying in that stately Wayne Manor, that Michael Jackson has at Neverland . . . ) but rather televised proof that Batman indeed exists. Where the caped crusader has always relied on the myth of his existence to scare criminals (a superstitious and cowardly lot), this new public revelation of him, in broad daylight no less, is bound to have dire consequences for his crime-fighting future. That's if the writers follow through with it. We'll see.

With 16 more issues to come in this gigantic story, I am not sure how much more the writers can stretch the gang war theme. They better have something big up their sleeves if they expect readers to stay tuned and commit the cash to follow the rest of the story. I didn't mention the art, because, while its not bad, it's just about competent and not much more -- basically, it doesn't rate mentioning one way or the other -- eh.

3 out of 5 Boomsticks.

So that's the first. Let me know what you think and more to come next week - and I promise, those'll be shorter!

1 comment:

KJ said...

"Gimme some sugar baby!"