Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #6 (Marvel Worldwide)
by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay & Dave Meikis
Heinberg’s plot threatens to collapse under the weight of all of the Marvel continuity that’s such an integral part of the story. It’s as though he looked to some of the most convoluted stories in Marvel’s recent and not-so-recent history and decided to take care of loose threads and unanswered questions. Not only is there an overwhelming amount of continuity to wade through in the exposition-heavy script, but Heinberg has populated the story with crowds of characters. It seems that just about every Marvel hero but the Fantastic Four turns up in this story (of course, the FF’s archenemy has served as the antagonist for the previous couple of issues). At first glance, I would be loath to recommend this comic book to anyone but the most devoted of Marvel zombies, but I have to admit, seeing all of these colorful characters together was a lot of fun. Heinberg manages to include some moments of humanity in between all the continuity references, and while he’s included a lot of Marvel’s history here, he does explain it fairly well in the script. I was reminded of the DC titles of the 1970s and ’80s I read as a kid that sent me scrambling to learn more about the characters and events to which they referred.
Jim Cheung’s art throughout this series has been absolutely lovely, and the strongest visual he’s offered is his depiction of the Scarlet Witch. He brings such a softness, beauty and kindness to the character that one can’t help but be drawn to her. And liking Wanda adds to the story, as the central plot point now is whether she should be allowed to live just when she’s regained a sense of herself and a sense of happiness. There are times when his linework here reminds me of Oliver (The Mighty Thor) Coipel’s work. Ultimately, though, Cheung boasts a distinct, attractive, clean style, and that it stands out as unique and recognizable is one of the things I like about it. I was also pleased to find that the participation of three inkers for this issue doesn’t lead to any kind of inconsistencies in the visual style of the storytelling. 7/10
Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance #2 (DC Comics)
by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
I don’t know if the next (and final) issue in this limited series will bring some kind of finality to the characters’ stories, but if the title character survives, DC would be crazy not to publish more stories featuring this incarnation of Batman (and other alternate Flashpoint heroes) in the future. Yes, I know the publisher has a line-wide relaunch coming in September, but the concepts that DC’s writers and editors have come up with for some of these characters in Flashpoint are too good to just throw away altogether. Knight of Vengeance stands out as the strongest of all of the event spinoff titles, due in no small part to the talents of the creators. Azzarello had me completely fooled. I should have known that the Joker’s identity wouldn’t be as obvious as thought it was after reading the first issue. The revelation at the end of the issue was tremendous, set up perfectly with by Azzarello’s carefully crafted script. To be honest, though, what’s even more engrossing than the surprise is the fact that this issue is really Jim Gordon’s story, not Flashpoint-Batman’s. Gordon is such a sad, sullen figure, desperate to make a difference and to prove himself to his employer and friend. He recognizes his friend has one weak spot, and he sets out here to fill that void, to carry out the one task that the Batman can’t perform.
Risso drenches the comic in darkness, reflecting the damaged, dirty nature of Thomas Wayne’s and Jim Gordon’s souls. Obviously, the darkness also serves to advance the plot later in the issue and to establish a creepy atmosphere. His vision of the Joker is as memorable and disturbing as the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the iconic villain. I love that he and Azzarello are joined here by their collaborators on 100 Bullets. Colorist Trish Mulvihill and letter Clem Robins know exactly how to complement the writer and artist’s styles.
It was recently reported that the sales on Flashpoint #1 fell under the 100K mark and well below the numbers DC’s main competition posted with its Fear Itself event book. However, those numbers reflect sales before the release of the spinoff titles such as this one. I suspect the strength of storytelling such as what’s to be found in Batman Knight of Vengeance might serve as a boost to the Flashpoint brand in general. 9/10
Flashpoint: Hal Jordan #1 (DC Comics)
by Adam Schlagman & Ben Oliver
On the other hand…
For the most part, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the various Flashpoint spinoff books, in part of the alternate interpretations of DC’s characters but also because most are telling self-contained, interesting stories. That’s not the case with Flashpoint: Hal Jordan. There’s no story to be found here at all. There’s some action, yes, but the plot itself isn’t revealed here. Furthermore, the cliffhanger on the final page is resolved in a different comic (Flashpoint: Abin Sur the Green Lantern #2), and it doesn’t even lead anywhere interesting. Furthermore, writer Adam Schlagman doesn’t even offer a new, fresh take on the title character. This is Hal Jordan just as he is in the comics… wait, that’s not true. He’s just as he is in the Green Lantern movie. In fact, a big chunk of this issue plays out exactly like several scenes from the movie. I understand the marketing thinking behind that move, but in an effort to appeal to fans of the flick, DC has forgotten to begin this story.
Ben Oliver is clearly an ambitious artist when it comes to the craft of comics. He plays with inventive layouts here, just as he did on Alpha Flight #0. Unfortunately, the diagonal, page-overlapping panels make it difficult to determine at times how the action is unfolding. Do I follow this panel into the next page to the one that shares its slanted gutter, or do I continue down the page? The characters aren’t terribly emotive either. I think Oliver has the potential to be a great comics artist, but he definitely has some development to do. It’s like he’s trying to emulate J.H. (Batwoman Williams III in terms of unconventional page construction, but he just doesn’t have the experience to pull it off yet. 4/10
Jonah Hex #69 (DC Comics)
by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Jeff Lemire
Jonah Hex is a series that I don’t buy regularly, but I always check it out when there’s an artist that I appreciate contributing to the book. This month marks one of those occasions, with writer/artist Jeff Lemire stepping into to join the title’s regular writers for a standalone issue. Lemire’s style is a perfect choice for this story, as his rougher, more exaggerated style not only suits the disfigured title character well, but it also avoids tipping the writers’ hand too early. Lemire’s depiction of a couple of haggard characters links them but also avoids making an overt, direct link between them, allowing the twist in the middle of the issue to have the proper impact. I also like that colorist Dave McCaig adjusts the usual color palette for this series to include some surreal green and purple shades that enhance Lemire’s oddball style nicely.
One of the things I like about Jonah Hex is that writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray never present the story I expect. In this issue, it looks as though we’re going to see Hex come to the rescue of an old prospector who’s been targeted by a group of unscrupulous men who think the weathered, quiet man has struck gold, but that’s not the case. The sudden twist is a trademark of the writers’ work on this series. One could even argue they follow something of a formula for these standalone stories. However, since I cherry-pick the issues I read, the storytelling doesn’t feel all that formulaic to me. Another appealing thing about this script is that it gives the reader a glimpse into who Hex is and what made him. Jonah Hex stories rarely delve into the Western hero’s personal side, but this one does. But while it’s telling, it also maintains the character’s stoic, mysterious qualities. 7/10
The Li’l Depressed Boy #5 (Image Comics)
by S. Steven Struble & Sina Grace
I noticed when this series started hitting the shelves of my local comic shop just because the title itself was so unique and interesting, but unaware of what exactly it was about, I let it slide by. Now, a review copy of this fifth issue found its way into my world, so I decided to peruse its pages. After reading the comic, I still don’t really know what The Li’l Depressed Boy is about, but it’s certainly not the surreal story it sounds or looks like. Instead, I found a convincing slice-of-life comic with which I connected quite well. The best thing this has going for it is the strong and warm vibe of friendship that the title character’s pal Drew brings to the book. Drew’s a free spirit, a complete contrast to the Li’l Depressed Boy’s personality, and the pair makes for a nice balance of characterization. Writer Steven Struble keeps toying with the reader as well, leading one to expect one thing but delivering another. I kept waiting for Drew to be a screw-up, a manipulator, but by the end of the issue, I was struck by the fact that while he has a flaky side, he’s a genuinely nice guy who wouldn’t see harm come to anybody. Maybe I’m mistaken, I’ve only just met these characters, and there’s really nothing in the way of background information or exposition to be found in the script. But despite the fact I’ve been left in the dark as to what happened before this point, I appreciated the characters and the everyday things they do here.
Sina Grace’s artwork is unusual but ultimately effective and attractive. The art is loose and rough in appearance, but that helps to convey the melancholy fog that looms over the title character throughout the book. The artist also brings a strong sense of place to the mix. While he boasts a simpler style, there’s also a convincing look to LDP’s apartment, the eatery in which he and Drew dine, and the landscape across which they travel on a spur-of-the-moment adventure. I don’t get why LDP looks so much different than the regular people around him, but that’s a failure of the writing, not the artwork. Maybe there’s no explanation and his appearance is merely meant as a symbolic representation of his depression, or maybe there’s something more to it. I’m curious to find out, but as far as my appreciation of this collection of interesting moments from a normal lifetime, the title character’s distinctive look doesn’t affect it. 7/10
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