Man, it is such a pain to review this book. Because of the world we live in, there’s a suspicion in a lot of white guys’ hearts that if we say anything negative about something that involves a primarily black cast, we’ll be pegged as racists. And no one wants that. Well, I suppose people who are genuinely bigoted don’t mind so much, but that’s not the point. So, as I recall, I reviewed the first issue of this, then kind of panicked and passed on reviewing the second. Don’t want to come off as too hateful, y’know.
But here’s the fact, at least the way I see it: this book just isn’t that good.
Wanna hear something funny? Originally, I wrote “But here’s the fact: etc, etc etc” above. Then I thought, I should be more specific, make sure that I don’t seem like I’m trying to force my opinion on anyone. It’s not a fact; it’s an opinion. That’s what I’m talking about here. Damn.
Marvel had an absolutely huge deal out of this book and I was all geared up for it. For one thing, I’m a very big Kyle Baker fan. To the best of my knowledge, I have all of his work. And I’ve enjoyed it. A lot. I’ve sold more copies of You Are Here and The Cowboy Wally Show based on personal recommendations than any other graphic novel or trade paperback in my store. For another thing, it’s simply a very good concept for a story, one that should have been done a long time ago (though, I understand why it wasn’t, since Marvel was poorly managed for quite a while and some would say it still is). It’s a set-up that’s entirely logical, based on what we know about the ethics (or lack thereof) of the American government during that time period.
However, there is a problem. It’s a big one. The problem is that the book simply isn’t that interesting.
Morales has, for all intents and purposes, taken a high concept that could have really gone somewhere and boiled it down to “white people bad, black people not.” I mean, it’s hard to say “black people good” because there’s not even a really strong positive black character here yet. One of them is openly characterized as a sociopath in the summary page. The protagonists (Maurice Canfield, Isaiah Bradley and Lucas Evans) can be accurately summarized as “the rich guy, the poor guy and the cynical veteran.” They’re absolutely that one-dimensional.
Now, this is not to suggest that the characters of African-American descent are the only flat ones in the book. Apparently, there is no a single, solitary soul in the American military who happens to be both not black and disturbed by this project. Sure, we’ve got a blonde-headed nurse whispering “Good luck” to Evans as she injects him with the Super Soldier Serum, but she still injects him, doesn’t she? So she’s not too bothered by it all, evidently.
Kyle Baker, who I hoped would be the saving grace of this book if the story fell through, is turning in possibly the worst performance of his career. Now, for Baker, a bad performance is still half-decent, but a lot of the panels here simply look really rushed. It’s like he’s not even trying. I remarked in an earlier review that it’s sort of embarrassing to have recommended this book to people based on the prospect of Baker’s artwork, because they keep coming in my store and saying, “You like this guy?” To which I have to respond, “Yeah, but you don’t understand…” And then show them some of his more impressive work to try and save some shred of credibility.
However, my biggest complaint with the book is the glacial pace that it’s setting. And apparently Marvel is silently acknowledging this by extending the length of the mini-series by an issue. Think I’m kidding? Look at the bottom of the cover. “III of VII.” Bet you missed that, ’cause I almost did.
In the end, I feel like I’m being overly harsh. But then again, I don’t feel bad for having high expectations, since Marvel set the bar so damnably high with all their hype. For the amount of time Quesada and Jemas spent talking about this book, it should have been much, much better. I’ll be thinking along the same lines next week and looking in your direction, Rawhide Kid.
Now this is more like it. This is what I wanted from this book to begin with.
The last arc was good, don’t get me wrong. It set up the lead character, Detective Driver, rather well. Gave him a motivation that will obviously carry over for quite some time (he’s not a big fan of Batman) and it wrapped up quickly. I was just a little annoyed to see them fall back on using Batman’s rogues gallery so quickly, as I had really hoped that Rucka and Brubaker would try a little harder to separate themselves from the rest of the extended family of Bat-books. With that in mind, it’s a relief to read this issue.
When I first read the early online previews of this book and the Previews solicitations, I had hoped for a sort of “Gotham City Blue,” a police procedural that just happens to be set in Batman’s hometown. That way, it would be appropriate to occasionally mix in elements of superheroics, as they’re part and parcel of the setting, but it would be required (like it is in Powers). That’s exactly what we’re given here.
The first arc opened with Detective Driver and his partner investigating the abduction of a fourteen-year old girl. That plot thread was promptly dropped when they accidentally discovered Mr. Freeze’s hideout, leading to Driver’s partner being murdered by the aforementioned supervillain. In this issue, Driver resumes his investigation, taking no time off to mourn the death of his partner and friend, much to the consternation of his superiors and awe of his colleagues.
Of note is the fact that this is Brubaker’s first issue handling the scripting chores alone. Though Rucka is more famous, of the pair, for his crime fiction, don’t be fooled into underestimating Brubaker. He’s displayed a range throughout his career that would have undoubtedly brought in wider acclaim if he weren’t exclusive to DC (which, for right or wrong, the majority of fandom seems to be ignoring in favor of Marvel at this time). And this issue is no exception, as he easily mixes the camaraderie of desk jockey cops with the harsh realities of those working Homicide. The book isn’t overly light-hearted, but at the same time, it’s not unnecessarily grim. It just seems realistic, to be blunt about it.
Incidentally, perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I found the inclusion of a character named Romy Chandler to be remarkably similar to the name of an author that both Brubaker and myself admire: Raymond Chandler, who is generally acknowledged as one of the modern masters of crime fiction (if not the undisputed master). Given the subject matter, I find it hard to imagine that it was a coincidence.
In any case, books like this are precisely the reason that comic book fans should keep an eye on DC. Without the hyperbolic stage show that Marvel favors, they’re quietly putting out some of the best books on the market (Y: The Last Man, Fables, 100 Bullets, Flash and this one are all great examples). To boot, there’s not another book quite like this one on the market, though Marvel’s Alias comes fairly close, at least in subject matter if not in execution. It’s definitely worth your time to check it out.
OK, this is how crossovers should have always been handled and how they should probably be handled from now until the end of time. Millar has single-handedly sidestepped all major complaints about crossovers in this mini-series.
Complaint #1: Crossovers force you to buy a multitude of books that you normally wouldn’t.
Obviously, that’s not true, since this crossover is entirely contained in one four-issue mini-series. If you want to read the story, you’re required to pick up one extra book per month. And when you figure that The Ultimates basically never ships, you’re not being asked to spend much more to get the same amount of Mark Millar. Otherwise, if you’re not interested, the stories in Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates seem to be flowing around Ultimate War, at least for the time being.
Complaint #2: Crossovers disrupt the normal narrative flow of the books that they’re involved in.
See response to Complaint #1. Given the fact that this crossover doesn’t actually take place within the pages of either team’s book, you’re not getting something that you didn’t ask for.
Complaint #3: Crossovers never have any lasting impact on the books that they affect, despite claims to the contrary.
OK, I can’t really comment with any finality on this one. But the story that Millar is weaving, logically speaking (and I know that this is Marvel we’re talking about, so logic really has no place in this discussion), will have an impact on both Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates, for at least the near future.
I’ve said several times in my store lately that I think that Millar might be the best pure superhero action writer in the industry today. A lot of his work isn’t going to be remembered and revered twenty years from now the way nearly everything that Alan Moore touches is, but I think it’s safe to say that if a golden age of superhero yarns isn’t on the horizon, Millar is doing more than his fair share to usher one in. I mean, if this mini-series and this month’s issue of The Ultimates (#8) don’t prove that, I don’t know what does…
For the record, for those of you not reading, The Ultimate War is the story of what happens when Magneto gets free in a world that now has a contingency plan prepared for just such an inevitability (well, not exactly a plan about Magneto, but certainly one designed in the aftermath of his last jaunt into the public eye). That plan, simply put, is The Ultimates, led by Captain America and Nick Fury. Previously, after bringing the President literally to his knees, Prof. Xavier wiped Magneto’s psyche clean and attempted to rehabilitate him, despite making claims to the U.S. government that Magneto was destroyed in the struggle. Through sordid means, The Brotherhood discovered that their leader lived on and eventually freed him of his mental bondage. The federal government, in response to Magneto’s renewed fervor to subjugate humankind, dispatches The Ultimates to deal with the threat he presents, as well as bring in the X-Men, dead or alive, for the role that they played in allowing a wanted terrorist and murderer to go free and threaten the world once again. Magneto begins a systematic reign of terror, seemingly free to do as he pleases, looting the world’s art galleries and making violent symbolic gestures towards those maintaining the status quo. The X-Men, by contrast, retreat into safehouses, just in time for Wolverine and Shadowcat to return from the Savage Land with news of Cyclops’ apparent demise.
This issue: Magneto and Prof. Xavier continue their chess battle of wits. Next issue: The inevitable Big Final Battle. Your mission: read it and enjoy it.
Geoff Johns, quite simply, has a gift for Silver Age heroes. His work on JSA has surpassed that of his predecessor, the talented James Robinson, in my opinion. And that, in and of itself, is an impressive feat. But his work on The Flash is nothing short of outstanding, since month after month, he cranks out enjoyable, action-oriented superhero stories that manage to not insult one’s intelligence. If Mark Millar represents the best in the “modern” style of comic book action, Geoff Johns is the torchbearer for the old school and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
If I had to say that Johns had one talent that was more impressive than all others, I would say it’s his gift to take Silver Age villains, noted both far and wide for their less-than-sinister gimmicks and motivations, and make them cool again. He did it with The Trickster, for God’s sake. I have no doubt in my mind that he could make just about any hackneyed ’50s/’60s villain into a believable threat.
Case in point: this issue Flash pursues Gorilla Grodd, whose rampage through Keystone City left much of the metropolis in rubble and one of Flash’s friends physically broken. Making his way south to Gorilla City, Wally confronts the simian society’s new leader about Grodd’s status before the inevitable fisticuffs with Grodd himself ensue. Now, I hate to sound like Don Cheadle on those NFL playoffs commercials, but Gorilla Grodd is a talking monkey. So, seriously, it’s kind of hard to take him seriously. But not Geoff Johns. He took a talking, psychic monkey and made him…a talking, psychic monkey.
I used to say that damned near anything could be improved, at least for comedic value, by throwing monkeys into the mix. After Johns opened this arc with gorillas parachuting into an insane asylum to spring their homicidal leader, a scene that was simultaneously hilarious and disturbing, I’m not sure that I’m able to use that line anymore.
In any case, this is the standard by which all Silver Age relaunches should be judged. I use the term Silver Age in reference to this book, incidentally, because the tone of it so clearly echoes that of the early Barry Allen Flash stories. There’s a sense of wonder and excitement, even when old, previously worn-out villains make an appearance, because you know that Johns’ take on them is going to be both fresh and respectful of what’s come before. He’s a very solid, go-to guy for any sort of superhero project and this book is no exception. In fact, it’s his most consistent work.
Incidentally, that Scott Kolins guy is no slouch himself. Page after page, month after month, he proves that quality and adherence to a schedule are not mutually exclusive. If I were launching a superhero book for DC, Scott Kolins would be the first guy I’d ask for to work with me, for that exact reason. His style is smooth and clean, with the sense of movement necessary to a book about a guy who runs fast, but not by sacrificing detail.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation #1
IDW Publishing – Max Allan Collins (w); Gabriel Rodriguez (a)
To be perfectly honest with you, it didn’t take much to satisfy me in regards to this book. I’ve recently become a really big fan of the show, due to my fascination with all things criminal, even to the point that it overcame my legendary hatred for anything that’s been tainted by the touch of Jerry Bruckheimer.
And given the fact that I already know, based on Road to Perdition, that Max Allan Collins is at least a competent writer, I was more concerned with the artistic side of things on this book. I’ve never read, to my knowledge, anything with art by Gabriel Rodriguez. Or, if I have, I wasn’t overly impressed with it, since I don’t remember his name. So I was relieved to pick it up, give it a quick flipping through and notice that Rodriguez has, if nothing else, got the facial features of the actual cast members down absolutely perfectly.
And that’s a bigger deal that it might otherwise seem. For me, licensed material revolves almost primarily around who’s doing the pencils. I mean, there’s so much red tape to go through in regards to the story, what with network/studio approval, that one can safely assume that the plot will be about what you would expect from the tv show/movie/what have you in question. So basically, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably enjoy the comic book. I think the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer comic book is probably a good example of that. In my store, everyone that enjoys the tv show also picks up the comic book. That’s just a fact.
And B: TVS is a perfect example of what I usually hate about licensed comic books: when the characters look nothing like the people who play them on the screen. I mean, seriously, what’s more annoying than a drawing of Han Solo that looks nothing like Harrison Ford? Very little, if you ask me (but I’m petty and overly critical, so what do I know?).
The plot of this first issue reads almost exactly like the first act of an episode of CSI. A pair of homicide calls divides the Las Vegas-based team, sending Catherine and Warrick to one end of town, Nick and Sara to the other, with Gil splitting his time between the field and the lab. Clues and evidence are gathered, the plot thickens. Both victims are prostitutes, 19th century bonnets are left at the crime scenes. Both crime scenes appear to have been staged, based on the positioning of the victims and the lack of blood splatter in what would otherwise be two very messy killings, leading the investigators to suspect ritual murder or serial killings.
Like I said, it reads like an episode of the show.
My only complaint is that apparently, at one point in the book, Catherine and Warrick get incredibly stupid, but just for that one scene. It’s pretty clear that Gil is leading up to revealing that their mysterious killer is aping Jack the Ripper (or, at least, I thought it was pretty clear), but his fellow investigators are simply dumbfounded by his allusions.
In any event, I’m not sure that this is a story that necessitates being drug out over the course of a five-issue arc, but I’ll stick around. The art is nice, conveying the story adequately and doing a good job of representing the real-life people that the book revolves around. Collins isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off with his story and he loses points, in my opinion, for falling back on such a tired theme, but it works for the most part, all the way down to Ashley Wood’s painted sequences that tell the forensic “story” of the murder, just like on television. Definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of crime fiction, or particularly if you enjoy the show (as, judging by the ratings, a lot of people do).