Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rapid Reviews Round Two

And another week of Rapid Reviews. This week is interesting in that two of the books (while still entertaining) were a bit of a let down, given the premise, and the other was an interesting examination of the notion of a superhero team. First off we have...
Invincible: The Viltrumite War (Volume 14 of the standard TPBs).

For those that aren't regular readers of Invincible, this book is probably not going to be a great starting point. Unless you like lots of blood and violence. Still Interested? This volume covers the inevitable fight between the Coalition of Planets (featuring the titular Invincible) and the remainder of the Viltrumite Empire. Amazon claim it's worth $14 USD for 196 pages. So, yes, there's a lot of fighting, yes Invincible get's nearly killed a couple more times (seriously the guy cannot fight Viltrumites to save himself), and yes the war ends in the one volume. With a truce. Really? I get how that's the rational and adult way that conflicts end, and I get that without the Viltrumite menace hovering away, it's hard to make this book much more than a modernised version of early Stan Lee Steve Ditko Spider-man stories, but really? A truce? That's like if at almost any point during Dragon Ball-Z Goku and <insert villain here> ended the fight be having a cup of tea. Not quite what was called for.
Robert Kirkman's writing is still fine and dandy, and Ryan Ottley's art is still delightful, but the ending did leave me flat. As did the ongoing theme of Invincile getting the crap beaten out of him before going back for more.
Recommendation: Not an introductory volume for Invincible, but worth the money for those already reading.

Next up...
JLA: Tower of Babel
Or put another way "What If Batman Had Plans To Defeat The JLA, And Ra's Al Ghul Used Them?". This book is, in my mind, one of the best concepts ever, but not properly executed. It is completely believable that Batman would have such plans. It's completely believable that they could fall into the wrong hands. The resulting fall out is also believable. The book fails on two counts. First, I find it hard to believe that Ra's would succeed in all the early stages and still fail in his plans (which, had he succeeded, would have been no real problem with another Crisis just around the corner at the time this was published). Second, it just seemed like it was a "cool" story that didn't have a lot of depth and weight to it. Some people will lay the blame at the conglomeration of writers (Mark Waid, Dan Curtis Johnson Christopher Priest, and John Ostrander) while ignoring the concept of editors asking for meat on the bones which comes at the cost of the artists' (Howard Porter, Steve Scott, Mark Pajarillo, Pablo Raimondi, Eric Battle, and Ken Lashley) over use of splash pages/panels to tell a denser story (I'm sure if I ever wrote an editorial, that'd be target number one). That still doesn't address the first problem though. How is it that Ra's continually comes up with ways to almost take over the world, but falls short every time? It's like he needs to have a specialist that sees these plans to completion for him.
All that aside, it's a pretty book, and a good story. Good thing Amazon marketplace sellers don't charge too much for a copy (though as this was a present, I can't comment on exact prices) of this 160 page tome.
Recommendation: While it may not be an entry point to the JLA, it's a good book for anyone that's got a couple JLA tales under their belt. If you were to read Infinite Crisis, this book's probably more relevant than many of the lead in mini-series were. I'll also point out that while it's not really graphic in the violence, it's quite brutal in terms of the idea at the root of it all.

Finally this week, it's worth following up Tower of Babel with...
JLA: Divided We Fall
Which takes place directly after Tower of Babel. Mark Waid is writing by himself this time, and we do get more depth (so yes, having half a dozen writers doesn't help things necessarily). Art is split across Bryan Hitch, J.H. Williams III, Phil Jiminez, Javier Saltares, Ty Templeton, Doug Mahnke, Mike S. Miller and Mark Pajarillo. Again, this was a present, though allegedly reasonably priced for the 208 pages. After Batman being voted out of the JLA, the team is clearly having a crisis of confidence as a group, and individually. The first half of the book is showing how they don't work as a team any more, and the second half shows how they don't work as individuals via (somewhat heavy handedly) Alien stuff happening that splits each member of the team into their civilian identity and their superhero persona (except Wonder Woman and Aquaman who at this point do not have separate identities).
The heroes win the day (and reunite themselves and the team), however it's a close run thing, and the divisions of personalities is not necessarily what people might expect.
To be honest the "team divided" story had to be dealt with somehow following Tower of Babel, but it could easily have been resolved via 10 volumes of Bendis dialogue style, instead f having actual action occur. And that's impossible to fault. The writing is good, the art is clear, and the story is reasonably compelling.
Recommendation: Not essential reading by any means. Adds nothing to anyone's understanding of the modern JLA, but does give a look at what makes the a super-team tick, and also worth a read if you bothered to shell out for Tower of Babel.

Next week, I'll go back to a more standard review with something that initially looked like it would be a titanic slog to read, but rapidly became a pleasurable experience.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rapid Reviews Round One

In order to allow me to cover a lot of things I've read in the past few months in a few short posts, I've initiated a Round of Rapid Reviews. I won't go into a lot of detail but will give highlights, (dis) honourable mentions, and the usual details of who's to blame for what, and how much money to spend. Without further ado, let's discuss...

The Death of Jean DeWolff
Should be titled "Exploits of the Sin Eater"

This was one I grabbed while in Melbourne earlier this year. Amazon will ask about $18.5 USD for this 168 page book. It's written by Peter David (a good sign), and pencilled by Rich Buckler and Sal Buscema. Briefly put, Jean DeWolff (Spider-man's female cop buddy) has been killed, and Pete wants to catch the killer. Turns out the killer is an old geezer friend of Aunt May's. Peter near cripples the guy, and then has to deal with his guilt causing him to hold back in a fight with Electro. The art is good (not spectacular), and easy to read. Thankfully it hasn't been recoloured, s I doubt it'd look as nice.
The story is very much of the time, with Spider-man needing to deal with how his all consuming responsibilities as a hero clash with his underlying humanity. I'd like to say it's done better than most, but really the story is nothing overly special. How Eddie Brock could ever be plausibly retconned into being involved in (let alone caring about) these events is beyond me.

Recommendation: Spider-fans (be they casual or committed) will enjoy it. Everyone else will probably pass, as there's not much here that's not been done better elsewhere.

The Complete Ben Reilly Epic Book 1

I'd call it a turd-burger, but really you
wouldn't consider serving this to anyone.
Seriously awful. Amazon want to charge you $27 USD for this 120 page waste of time and space. The culprits for this train-wreck are Tom Defalco, Mike Lackey, Howard Mackie, Todd Dezago, Glenn Herdling, Evan Skolnick, Dan Jurgens, Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, Paris Karounos, Scott McDaniel, Tom Morgan, John Romita JR, Tod Smith, Joe St. Pierre, and Patrick Zircher.

If you must know what it's about, this is the sixth instalment of that "wonderful" period in the 1990s when Peter Parker was revealed to be a clone (not the real Spider-man) and Ben Reilly was revealed as the true Spider-man. If you'd read the fifth and figured that as the low point of the saga, think again. By the time this volume starts, Peter knows he's the clone, and has agreed to stop being Spider-man so he and a pregnant MJ can go and have a family life sans excitement. Thing is, from that point it takes until the last issue of the book for Ben to start out as Spider-man. There is not one single story in here that makes it worth my time to discuss the details of. The plots, logic, and dialog are terrible.
The art (excusing Mark Bagley and Sal Buscema) is full of woeful representations of human anatomy, and (in at least the case of an issue of Green Goblin) somehow makes it harder to read the stories (as if you'd want to). Every time I read something mildly objectionable in this era of spider-man, I think back to this Life of Reilly series of articles (now a blog) and wonder just how far they got it wrong.

Recommendation: If you happen upon this in a store, burn it. Otherwise, avoid all interaction with this book. Even if you want to read the Ben Reilly as Spider-man saga, this book doesn't advance the plot except for the last issue, and you'd pick up the plot advancement by reading the next volume.

The Walking Dead Volume Seven
You know what it's about. You know.

It's The Walking Dead. Zombies. Bleak. People Dying. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard deliver another 304 pages of the most wrist slitting cmic book entertainment known to man, all for about $22 USD from Amazon. Reading this volume a couple thing struck me:
1. This series seriously needs a recap at the start of each volume; and
2. It's become so excessively repetitive that it's really only something to continue reading if you're committed to the series.

While there's not anything really wrong with the book per se (the art's good as ever, the characterisation , plot and dialog are all good), I think it's fair to say that the series as a whole is starting to lack clear direction. I get that it's the ongoing story of what would happen in a zombocalypse, but I'm tired of seeing the same repetition of "Rick's group find some place vaguely inhabitable, and begin to settle down. Human nature and zombies combine to screw things up, and lots of people die. Rinse, repeat." It's time to either focus on a different group of survivors (no reason they can't eventually team up with Rick's group), or wrap the series up with what I see as the inevitable conclusion: Rick and Carl are both dead.

Recommendation: If you've read this far, you probably need to decide if you're interested in more of the same. If so, keep going, else drop it like it's hot. If you aren't already reading, there's six volumes before this one that you need to read to be properly informed at each step along the way.

Well, that's a wrap for Rapid Review Round One. Next week, I'll be back with Round Two.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Plagued By Predictability

NOTE: No Zombies were included in this book.
After a long, long time between drinks, we're up and running again.
As part of my off-again, on-again interest in Northlanders, and my more than mild lust for completeness, I picked up a copy of Northlanders Book 4: The Plague Widow much earlier in the year than this review has been written.
It's a tidy little tome, which runs 192 pages for about $16.50 US at Amazon.
Succinctly stated the story is that of a widow and her daughter in a lovely village set in the Volga (Wikipedia tells me this is therefore in Russia - which I'd picked up based on the use of names like Boris, and a priest that looks like what I always seem to think Rasputin looks like), where they are viewed as an oddity by many of the men, but tolerated by the local government. Tolerated that is until the village falls victim to THE PLAGUE!
If you aren't on board at this stage, all I can throw in to entice you is gruesome violence and death, as well as swearing. If none of that does it for you, I recommend you pass on this book, and read something else.
Things (unsurprisingly) turn to custard as the village becomes divided during the epidemic, power plays occur, and the village is invaded. The key players are set up early on, and play the roles you'd expect. The writing is about mid-range for Northlanders: there's something different in it, but it ends up running to a pretty standard formula.
As happens fairly often in Northlanders, it's difficult to identify with any of the characters, and difficult to find one truly likeable character. As such, Brian Wood has to rely on his plot to get the job done. As I've said, the plot is predictable, if a change from the normal Northlanders "Vikings that don't like each other" stories. That said, elements of the story are quite logical, and convincing. It makes sense that a rural village in 1020 would not be prepared to deal with the menace that was the Bubonic Plague, particularly when they don't accept "crackpot" theories on communicable disease that the modern world accepts as fact. It is understandable that amid the chaos the village would be divided on whose leadership is best. Unfortunately, plague aside, this is standard fodder for "disaster" movies, and having a wife that loves such movies, I can't put this in the top flight of such tales.
On the upside, Leandro Fernandez turns in good art that allows you to clearly identify who's who in the zoo of main characters (something easily overlooked in the bleak worlds depicted in Northlanders, where most male characters have a beard, a tunic, and need to be created for a single 200 page story).The action is easy to follow, and the panel layouts don't stretch my brain or force rereads.

Overall it's a book that I can't really recommend to too many people. Northlanders fans will likely enjoy it, as will "disaster" movie fans. People that fall into neither of these camps should try earlier Northlanders books to see if they like the feel, before they see if they like Wood's experimental genre fusion.

Given the monumental delay, and the number of books read in the meantime, I'll catch up a little in coming weeks with a series of mini-reviews. Which books I'll review in which weeks will be a surprise.