Abattoir #2 (Radical Comics)
by Rob Levin, Troy Peteri, Bing Cansino & Rodell Noora
I enjoyed the first issue of this horror/thriller limited series, and when the second issue turned up in my mailbox a few days ago, I was eager to see if the story about a macabre collector of locales of untimely demises would continue to hold my attention. I’m pleased to discover that it’s a fun story in the vein of a Stephen King horror novel. The horror takes on more of a psychological tone in this issue, as the old, creepy antagonist seems more human and manipulative than mysterious and monstrous. The plot has one major problem in that it features an unsuccessful real-estate agent who’s reluctant to sell a property. That’s a little hard to accept no matter how weird the client may be. Fortunately, the story moves at a brisk pace, making it easier for the reader to focus on other elements. I continue to be impressed with the writers’ portrayal of the stormy relationship the hero has with his wife; they clearly care for one another, but they also keep saying the wrong things. What’s most interesting about this issue is the notion that the conflict may exist inside the protagonist’s head. Developments give him and others cause to question his state of mind, and I find that to be just as interesting as the ghoul with a penchant for suburban death altars.
The realistic yet approach to the art enhances the horror aspects nicely and develops the tense, frantic mood nicely. I think what makes the realistic approach so effective is the portrayal of Rich’s family. We’re given a crisp, believable view of everything he has to lose, so that makes his frustration, anger and desperation all the more easy to accept. There’s a key dream sequence that could’ve been a bit clearer, but it’s understandable why the creators would aim for a dizzying, hard-to-follow tone in such a nightmare scene. Still, I think either more definition or greater vagueness and surrealism would’ve been better options in the context of this story. 7/10
Avengers #8 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson
While I thought the first story arc of this series ended poorly and awkwardly, I am enjoying this second arc, which not only introduces the popular “Red Hulk” character into the fold but focuses on the Hood’s efforts to empower himself once again. Bendis’ plotting is so methodical thus far that it makes the notion of a street-level villain’s awareness of and quest for cosmic omnipotence surprisingly easy to accept. Bendis returns to the concept of the Marvel Illuminati in this issue, portraying them as the ultimate guardians of the power of the Infinity Gems. Bendis maintains an accessible tone despite the significant number of past continuity elements that play a role in this plot. I love the tension among the members of the Illuminati, and the confrontation at the end of the issue works well. It might even be meant to mirror some readers’ distaste for the Illuminati concept in recent years. Bendis is clearly having some fun with the history of the shared super-hero universe here, playing to the concept’s strengths while generally avoiding the potential downfalls. There are a couple of elements in the title that still don’t sit well with me, chief among them Bendis’ characterization of Maria Hill and his inclusion of Noh-Varr (now apparently named “the Protector” instead of Marvel Boy). The writer’s take on the character, created by Grant Morrison, may be the most boring member/plot device to turn up in an Avengers comic.
The Protector’s dull nature extends to his generic costume; he looks like a starting template for character construction in an online super-hero role-playing game. Fortunately, John Romita Jr.’s work overall is quite strong. He and the other artists working on the issue foster a dreary, foreboding atmosphere, not so much emphasizing the growing danger that the Hood represents but the surreptitious and deceitful nature of the Illuminati’s affairs. There are pages that look a little too rushed, such as the double-page spread that serves as this issue’s cliffhanger (the linework is far too loose and rough), but key scenes look much more polished. And to be honest, even a rough image from Romita Jr. and his collaborators packs a visual punch. 7/10
Batman: The Dark Knight #1 (DC Comics)
by David Finch & Scott Williams
DC’s “Dark Knight” brand is a significant one, as it’s come to represent work of excellence when it comes to Batman stories. For comics readers, it brings Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns to mind. For everyone else, the words reminds the masses of director Christopher Nolan’s superb Batman movie sequel and the powerful performance of the late Heath Ledger as the title character’s most noteworthy antagonist. So when DC decided to launch a new ongoing series with “The Dark Knight” as part of its title, it was setting the bar quite high. Sadly but not surprisingly, writer/artist David Finch’s creative legs aren’t powerful enough to allow him to get anywhere near that level of sophistication and entertainment. He doesn’t offer up a particularly poor Batman story, but at its best, it’s nothing more than a typical, by-the-numbers Batman story. There are elements in the plot and script that I enjoyed, such as the notion of Killer Croc using a low-grade version of Bane’s Venom to augment his strength. But there are other elements that lurch awkwardly into the story, such as the introduction of a new (and ridiculously named) character from Bruce Wayne’s childhood and the suggestion that one of the Batman’s enemies casually refers to raping a kidnap victim.
Finch’s dark and gritty style certainly suits the title character and his world fairly well, and pairing him with Scott Williams, perhaps best know for bringing definition to Jim Lee’s pencils, was a smart move. Of course, Williams’ work doesn’t hide Finch’s style, so we’re still presented with a number of those squat faces for which the penciller is well known. It’s most apparent in the opening scene in the oddly horizontal faces of young Bruce and Dawn Golden. I must admit I do like the artist’s grotesque interpretation of the Penguin; apparently, he takes some cues from Tim Burton’s vision of the villain from Batman Returns, and Finch’s Batman looks as cool and intimidating as he should be. He’s clearly inspired by Frank Miller here, but by other artists’ interpretations of the character. I was reminded of the styles of Norm Breyfogle and even Irv Novick. 5/10
The Traveler #2 (Boom! Studios)
by Mark Waid & Chad Hardin
This third in the series of Stan Lee brainchildren from Boom! Studios! lands somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of quality, paling in comparison to Paul Cornell and Javier Pina’s Soldier Zero but far exceeding the chaotic din of Starborn. Mark Waid’s script is laden with science-fiction speak that boasts a convincing ring to it even though it explores the impossible and the fantastic. The time-travel premise that serves as the source of the title character’s powers is a lot of fun, and I like the air of mystery that it allows the writer to develop as he slowly hints at who the hero is, what drives him and how he came to be in this incredible situation. On the other hand, the villains are terribly uninteresting. Their powers aren’t as interesting, and they seem to be devoid of any real personality beyond their sheer malevolence.
But my real problem with the book is the disconnect between the script and the artwork. Whereas Waid’s script boasts a brainy quality that elevates the super-hero genre elements, Chad Hardin’s artwork is loud and ham-fisted in nature. He boasts an exaggerated, cartoony style that’s inconsistent with the more intelligent, meticulous nature of the dialogue and premise. Hardin’s work seems to boast a wide variety of influences, all across the board, from Cully Hamner to George Perez to even Rob Liefeld. It makes for some inconsistencies in the visuals. And the designs for the villains are terribly generic and say nothing about them. 5/10
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