Oh man, I’m way behind on my writing for Eye on Comics. It’s been a crazy month, but I can’t attribute the lull on the site entirely to being busy. Some of the blame can be attributed to procrastination and laziness, which I’m assuming was caused by some sort of viral infection my stout frame has managed to fend off by way of a superior immune system and sheer, hairy manliness.
This small collection of capsule reviews has been lying around on my computer for at least a couple of weeks, unfinished and begging to be fleshed out. I finally managed to do so today, because, arbitrarily, I decided I needed at least one more site update before the end of April 2012. Contained herein, you’ll find reviews of Batman #8, Courtney Crumrin #1, Saga #2 and Saucer Country #2.
Batman #8 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Greg Capullo, Rafael Albuquerque & Jonathan Glapion
With the first page of this series, writer Scott Snyder set is apart from the other Bat family comics as the best of the bunch, but after reading this first chapter in the “Night of the Owls” crossover story, I think Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason take the lead with Batman and Robin (especially given the strength of their most recent issue). The strength Snyder brought to this relaunched series with the first story arc isn’t really to be found in this ramped-up, action-oriented followup. The mystery and conspiratorial tone of “The Court of Owls” has been replaced with a swarming of super-villains who have managed to pierce the seemingly impenetrable shield of secrecy and security surrounding the Batman legend. The first story arc was about the myths that built a city, about a great man being torn down a hidden reality that figuratively and literally came crashing down on him. This story arc appears to be about wise-cracking thugs and armor that would raise Tony Stark’s eyebrow. I think what was most disappointing about this script was how the various Talons that descend upon the hero sound like car-jackers and con men, not half-dead, finely trained assassins. The backup story is a bit puzzling because I don’t see why it’s run as a separate backup story. It’s a part of the same story as the main story, not some untold tale unfolding behind the scenes or off to the side. It’s a much more chilling aspect of the story, though, but it’s more than a little repetitive.
Given the frenetic pace of the action throughout the issue, pencillers Greg Capullo is definitely in his comfort zone. This is the sort of material at which he excels. The Batman’s secret weapon revealed later in the issue looks more than a little ridiculous, though. More impressive is Rafael Albuquerque’s work in the second half of the comic. It’s quite unconventional in tone, reminding me a fair bit of the style of Nathan (Haunt, DMZ) Fox. I particularly appreciated his incorporation of characters with real body types, rather than the multitude of impossibly buff and/or lean paragons of physical prowess presented in the main part of the issue. 5/10
Country Crumrin #1 (Oni Press)
by Ted Naifeh
I’ve long been a fan of Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin comics, published as one-shots and limited series by Oni Press in spurts over the past decade or so. There’s so much strength in the premise and the tight, little cast of characters, I’m surprised it took this long for an ongoing series to arise. Of course, Oni’s success with regular, monthly titles is a relatively new initiative, and I’m looking forward to see how (and if) Naifeh adjusts his storytelling approach for the more open-ended format. In this first issue, he introduces to a new character, one I rather enjoyed. At first, it seemed as though the title character was earning a best friend or a sidekick in her supernatural adventures, but Naifeh took the story in a different direction than I expected. Holly’s confidence and rebellious side makes her an excellent fit into Courtney’s world, and I worried as I approached the issue’s end, despite the satisfying nature of the plot, that Holly’s would be a fleeting presence in the world of the Crumrins. Fortunately, it seems her role in the story will continue, and my hope is it’ll be an ongoing one. I look forward to seeing if Holly becomes an antagonist or an ally.
Naifeh’s usual gothic style is to be found here, and it’s as pleasing as ever. His deceptively simple character designs are contrasted by the textured backdrops and supernatural creatures that lurk within them. Most notable about this latest Courtney Crumrin effort, though, is it’s presented in full color. In the past, Crumrin always looked as though they worked best in black and white, given the cynical nature of the title character and the dark, eerie elements that swirled around her. But I have to admit the full-color version is even more appealing to the eyes. I think that’s in part because Colorist Warren Wucinich has opted for a muted palette. There’s something of a black-and-white vibe at play, because the colors never seem to stray far from a duller, even grayer tone. 8/10
Saga #2 (Image Comics)
by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Given that this issue doesn’t boast the extra pages at no extra cost the first one did, I figured there was no way this issue could prove to be better than the previous one. Boy, was I wrong. What had me riveted this month was the introduction of the Stalk, one of the bounty hunters hired to track down our heroes, kill them and abscond with their newborn child. The Stalk is a study in contrasts. When initially introduced, she looks like some kind of angel — her alabaster skin; her seemingly thin, fragile frame; her flowing blonde locks. She’s soon exposed as a monster, her arachnid legs and eyes betraying her nature as a predator. Staples’s design for the character reflects the inherent dichotomy. She’s lovely and revolting all at once. She instills a ghostly and dangerous tone in the character. Furthermore, the forest-dwelling “Horrors” boast similarly contrasting designs. They’re initially presented as a lurking danger, but prove to be something else altogether.
The Stalk’s status as a walking contradiction extends into her dialogue. She’s so incredibly alien, exotic and ghastly in appearance, it comes as a surprise when she talks a hip, urban woman of the 21st century. The juxtaposition of something that looks so alien but sounds so familiar is weird and interesting and entertaining. Of course, the two-sided approach permeates throughout the writing. The central characters are from two different worlds (literally), one horned and one winged (again, the angel/demon contrast pops up). The whole premise screams contrast, as Vaughan’s world-building brings fantasy and science-fiction together in one bizarre but enticing amalgam. The other aspect of the book I truly enjoy as a relatively new father is how Alana and Marko aren’t just trying to navigate a hostile landscape full of enemies, but they’re trying to learn how to be parents. The secret Alan shares and other bits of narration touching upon the experience of new parenthood bring these bizarre characters down to earth. 10/10
Saucer Country #2 (DC Comics/Vertigo imprint)
by Paul Cornell & Ryan Kelly
The typical image of a grey-skinned, anus-probing alien isn’t one that grabs my attention, but political drama is something I’m always interested in reading about. Writer Paul Cornell balances the two with great skill. While it’s clear something otherworldly is going on in this drama, Cornell keeps us guessing about how much of what the characters perceive is real and how much might stem from their own minds playing tricks on them. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue, I wondered if the premise would continue to hold my interest, given the UFO angle. After perusing the pages of the second episode, I’m convinced Saucer Country is not only as strong as the first taste suggested, but even moreso. Arcadia presents as a savvy protagonist, one who doesn’t allow her new motive in life blind her from the optics of her claims and the realities imposed upon her by a life in politics. Ultimately, the book seems to be about messages. Arcadia and her ex are trying to interpret the messages their muddled memories are sending them. The oddball professor who’s guided by omniscient imaginary friends is trying to heed the messages they send him while he contends with the insanity of his circumstances. And all the while, the people are Arcadia are wrestling with the message she sends the public by the decisions she makes, both those extending naturally from her bid to be President of the United States and those she wisely shares with a select few about her seeming close encounter. It’s a pleasure to see the premise growing beyond the central pitch of a presidential candidate with ties to illegal aliens (in the socio-political sense) and to nefarious aliens (in the literal sense).
Kelly’s art helps to keep the story grounded in reality. The alien riff is one that could overpower the more important political elements of the plot, but Kelly’s believable figures and backdrops keep us focused on the characters and circumstances. Mind you, as he demonstrates with the final splash page, he’s able to offer more unconventional, bizarre visuals when the story calls for it. The hallucination in the therapist’s office is a striking image, but I think what I like most about it is how it represents the paranoia and haziness of the mental images the character is experiencing. It’s an unreal, surreal moment, which is important because the reader doesn’t know yet how real it is (even if the character is already convinced, perhaps prematurely). 9/10
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