Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Comic Book Reviews - May 9, 2018

In a week dominated by DC, it takes a certain anti-hero from Marvel to rise above the rest. But that doesn't mean we get shirked some goodies, like a whole heaping of Stephanie Brown, or a ton of emotions with Wally West! Also the Justice League has to fix the broken Source Wall. No biggie.

Detective Comics #980

Writer: James Tynion IV / Pencils: Scot Eaton / Inks: Wayne Faucher / Colors: John Kalisz & Allen Passalaqua / Letters: Sal Cipriano

The penultimate chapter of James Tynion's run of Detective Comics has arrived! Though by the feel of things it wouldn't really feel like that, so I'm kind of hoping we get an extra long issue next time to get some good wrap up for all of our characters. This issue is definitely one of the standouts for this "Fall of the Batmen" arc since we don't deal a whole lot with Ulysses as much as we do the real threat all along, Brother Eye. Brother Eye is basically in full-control here, and he's imposing as ever and Tynion really makes it show, backing our heroes into a corner at every situation.

This comic does a lot with Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, and Batwoman as they combat Brother Eye and the OMACs. Batman isn't given much to do, but as has been the case for much of the series, that's fine, since he's the hero of the book, but not the main protagonist. We've definitely been missing Batwoman in some of these recent issues, ever since the spectacular Detective Comics #975, and having her back here in good form was a much-needed return to form.

The same can be said in spades about Stephanie Brown, making her grand return to stop Tim Drake, as she is one of the only ones capable of shutting down his tech, since she is one of the few that knows all about it thanks to their relationship. She stands out the most this issue as she deals with serious revelations about the past and also shows how great a hero she really is. For those who may not remember, Stephanie Brown was at one time Robin and then, for a good while, she was Batgirl. She only began as Spoiler, and while we haven't gotten to see her as those roles yet, she's really coming into her own as just Stephanie Brown, a girl that's always lived in the shadow of others but knows better than anyone that you don't underestimate an underdog. This issue ends with one of her best moments in recent DC history, and if anyone was on the fence about liking her or not, this will probably tip the scales toward making her a likable character. She just adds such an interesting dynamic to Gotham and the Gotham Knights.

This is also a very well-drawn issue. There's a good bit of action, sure, but also a lot of character expression as there are some major revelations made throughout the story. Eaton draws faces incredibly well and incredibly realistic, with solid proportions and emotions to evoke what is happening at any given point in the panel. Kalisz and Passalaqua also do great coloring work to not overshadow the great penciling done on Eaton's end; there are a lot of oversaturated and overdone colors throughout the book that don't detract from what's going on in every panel; colors are never a distraciton, and definitely help set the mood of the scene. 

Justice League: No Justice #1

Writers: Scott Snyder, Joshua Williamson, James Tynion IV / Artist: Francis Manapul / Colors: Hi-Fi / Letters: AndWorld Design

You know when something like the Source Wall gets a crack in it, you figure that it probably deserves something like a miniseries featuring every major DC character to see some resolution. Well, that's what we have here, even if what we have here is a little slow. I have to imagine that they took a slower route to this in order to catch up readers who skipped Dark Nights: Metal (and, really, I can't blame them) and are jumping in to see this hodge-podge of characters, as well as read a book with an all-star creative team. I mean I'd read a book with any one of these three writers attached with Francis Manapul, sounds awesome.

And the writers do a pretty decent job of not stepping all over one another's toes. I'm not sure who was in charge of what, or if maybe it was more of a "we're all making the story, and one of us makes the script" kind of thing, but it never feels like it's three separate writers trying to tell a cohesive story. Sure, sometimes there are bits that feel weird...mostly anything having to do with Damian or Harley Quinn, but that's because those are two characters that, let's be honest, probably shouldn't be in this book.

There are some glaring absences here, replaced, instead, by some questionable super-villains. Though what makes me scratch my head at this is how the one who assembles the team, and all the members, already seems capable of sending out armies stronger than these characters. While I get that the point is to somehow use the four cosmic energies, if this guy has armies this strong, can't he just fight these forces himself?

There is an interesting subplot involving Amanda Waller that we don't get to see much of and has me curious as to what direction this will lead the Suicide Squad and A.R.G.U.S. going forward once this miniseries is all done.

The best part of this book is the art, done by Francis Manapul. Several of these characters, like Starfire and Harley Quinn, have noticeable redesigns done to them that feel completely natural, and even look a little better than their normal gear. Each character on their own is uniquely designed and there isn't a single panel that looks or feels out of place. Manapul draws action, bombastic, and quiet moments so well. He's really one of the best in the business right now.

I mean he's contending with several stars of the DC Universe and beyond the fact that each one gets their own little moment, each one also looks fantastic. He doesn't skimp out on any of them. If you're a fan of a character in this book, they're drawn properly; although it is odd that Superman gets two redesigns: one where he has the red trunks, and then another where he doesn't. Weird. 

The Flash #46

Writer: Joshua Williamson / Artist: Scott Kolins / Colors: Luis Guerrero / Letters: Steve Wands

We are officially one issue away from "Flash War" and I am officially PUMPED out of my mind because this issue does great work at setting up and finalizing the relationship not only between Wally and Barry, but also between Hunter Zolomon and Wally West for those unfamiliar with Professor Zoom. I really enjoyed the parallels here between Barry/Wally and some of what we see with Thawne/Zoom, and how the two pairings make for interesting student and teacher dynamics. It's also interesting that we see the villain's plans are mostly focused around his idolization of the Flash and trying to make him a better hero.

It is something similar to what we saw when Barry traveled to the 25th Century and Iris killed Thawne, but given how big a role Wally West has been teased at having, I think we can assume that this is going to be much more epic in scale.

This is mostly a Wally West focused issue as he contends with all of the memories he got back all at once, and I love the direction Williamson takes the story as Wally is no longer sure what's real or what's fake, because to him, all of these things (like the Flash Museum) were real, but Dr. Manhattan took all of that away from them. But in true form, Barry comes to help Wally out and they have some very touching moments throughout the comic that show why the two work so well together, and why they are one of the most iconic superhero/sidekick relationships in comics.

I wasn't big on Kolins' art at first but as the issue progressed I fell more into it. I thought it was a bit heavy on the lines, but he really draws the Flash suits well and since most of the issue sees Barry and Wally in the suits things progressed well for the art. Really when it came to having the speedsters out of the suits it was just decent, so it wasn't that big of a deal. He did nail the emotoinal moments, though, so in the end, solid stuff, can't complain.

Only two more weeks, folks! GET READY

Venom #1

Writer: Donny Cates / Artist: Ryan Stegman / Inks: JP Mayer / Colors: Frank Martin / Letters: Clayton Cowles

Not gonna lie, wasn't really keen on picking this up. Marvel's been pushing Venom pretty hard, given that there's a movie coming out and they have that Venomized thing going on. I thought that this comic would be more of that sort of thing, but guess what, I was wrong. Decided to flip through and hey, not only is it absolutely stunning artwork, but it's also a very interesting and complex story exploring the toxic relationship between Eddie Brock and his symbiote.

And I really enjoyed it.

I haven't read much from Donny Cates--if anything--but I heard fantastic things about this time on the recent Thanos book. And if it's anything like this? It has to be something special. Cates brings an excellent voice to Eddie Brock as well as the symbiote, establishing them as not two sides of the same coin, but two separate entities that most coexist with one another. The two are inseparable because they've been linked together for so long that living apart would be difficult. They feel for each other and look out for one another, so when the crux of this arc comes along to mess that up, there is genuine emotional turmoil from Eddie as well as the symbiote.

I did enjoy seeing Eddie Brock as a true anti-hero in this comic; he plays by his own rules, but doesn't want to do anything that would kill or seriously injure someone, because that's not how he operates anymore. He's chaotic neutral, but with a good heart. Guess that's what happens after so many years of torment.

This being an extra-long issue gives us more time to get to know Eddie Brock, so for those people who just think of him as Venom and nothing more, this comic will certainly help them get up to speed with where he is now. He's way more than just a Spider-Man villain; in fact, Spider-Man is not mentioned once in this comic. This comic almost feels like it exists in its own world, apart from a quick aside about the adventures of Flash Thompon's Venom a few years ago where he was hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy (yes, that was a real thing).

But like I said, the real thing that sold me on this comic was Ryan Stegman's art. And, good God, it is absolutely amazing. It's the exact style that a book like this needs; it's rare to see this from the get-go in modern comics. I think the last time a story and artist gelled so well together from the very beginning, for my memory, would've been Otto Schmidt on Green Arrow or Greg Smallwood on Moon Knight.

Beyond the style, though, Stegman's characters look phenomenal. Venom is imposing and intimidating, with one shot in particular looking menacing and yet so badass all at once. I do think his Eddie Brock is a bit beefy, like he has muscles from the 90s, but it's only something that looks weird when he gets placed in certain perspectives, or when you see him doing some reporting. He doesn't appear to be the reporter-type is all I'm saying, I guess.

JP Mayer's inks complement Stegman's artwork well, particular from the middle of the book onward, where we get the major thrust of what will probably be the story for this opening arc. He adds a certain heaviness to the shadows that gives everything a darker edge; while this could be done to add to the tone, I believe it's also done to help accentuate Eddie's current state of mind: things are clouded, and unclear, with more things being left in the dark as his world and the symbiote's come colliding and neither is sure what to make of it.

Because this comic relies on darkness, the coloring didn't need to be as good as it was, but Frank Martin does some really good work here, especially during the final fight scene. There's a lot of oranges, blues, and blacks throughout the comic but they're all managed well and it never feels like we're just staring at a bright orange page or that things are too difficult to see on the page because it's so dark.

This is not a comic to sleep on. Cates is doing some fantastic work with the character of Venom and I pray to God that Stegman is staying on for this arc. I may not read the book through to the end, but I think I'm committed at least until Stegman leaves the comic, because this was just such a good surpries and I am eager to see where this goes next. It's definitely a unique take on Venom and the symbiote lore, but from what I hear, Cates is probably the one best suited to tackle this sort of thing. 

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