Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The New Avengers #28 Review

For those that haven't been following the universe-spanning events of "Avengers vs X-Men", the Phoenix Force has returned to Earth and splintered, taking five of the X-Men (Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik) as hosts. Despite the Phoenix Five doing everything in their power to make the world a better place, ranging from solving world hunger to providing electricity to areas without, the Avengers have decided such incomprehensible power cannot be trusted in the hands of mere mortals and that it will only be a matter of time before the X-Men are corrupted from within. As a result, the Phoenix Five have outlawed the Avengers as a group, driving them underground. This particular issue of New Avengers tells the tale of three captured team members - Hawkeye, Spider-Woman and Luke Cage, as they struggle with imprisonment and plot to escape the X-Men's brig.

First things first, glad to see that Hawkeye's condition has greatly improved since we last saw him in the pages of Avengers vs X-Men. He'd infuriated Emma Frost to such an extent, she decided Clint deserved to die and attempted to roast him like a marshmallow! There's no hint of his injuries here, so all seems to have gone well when Cyclops brought him back to life through sheer willpower. They even put him back in his costume, which I had assumed was burned up during the initial scuffle, but that's a minor quibble.

Unfortunately, while this issue may have brought an Avenger back to life, it certainly does no favours for their public relations. At several points throughout the story, the imprisoned heroes act disturbingly like psychopaths. Hawkeye and Spider-Woman being the pair most at fault. I suppose you could understand their behaviour taking their associations with SHIELD and their past life as spies into account, but they go to some questionable extremes to take down their X-Men captors. One flings a plate into the throat of a young girl and proceeds to break her arm, while the other manages to obtain a pen to write a letter...and holds it to her sympathetic teenage captor's neck, threatening to kill her. So these supposed superheroes are more than happy to physically assault teenagers and when that doesn't work, threaten their lives. Which part of these characterisations sounded good to Brian Michael Bendis as he was writing?

Thankfully, it's not a complete loss, as the moments where they aren't being totally out of character are actually rather charming. There's a particularly funny beat when Spider-Woman attempts to rescue Hawkeye from his cell, only for him to think it's a shape-shifter imitating her. The romance between the pair continues to be a highlight across the entire Avengers franchise, while also raising questions after coming out the same week as Avengers Assemble #5 which depicted an illicit kiss with Black Widow. It just goes to show, they can take the quiver away from Clint Barton, but he always has one "arrow" in reserve.

Luke Cage is the Avenger who comes out of the issue with his reputation most intact. Rather than follow suit with his deplorable colleagues, Cage's thoughts are geared entirely towards the welfare of his wife, Jessica Jones, and their baby, Danielle. It certainly doesn't hurt that the X-Man guarding him is Warpath. It's a lot easier to sympathise with Cage taking on a hardened veteran of X-Force over his team mates cowardly take downs of Magma and one of the Stepford Cuckoos.

As with the majority of these "Avengers vs X-Men" tie-ins, the intent comes across as muddled and confusing. Exactly which side are we meant to be rooting for here? This is a New Avengers issue, so you'd expect the title team to be sympathetic. However, all of the team's members come off extremely badly. Meanwhile, the X-Men, who are the captors in this scenario, are kind, considerate and polite to a fault. They're feeding the Avengers, bathing the Avengers, rushing to get whatever would make the Avengers feel more comfortable, but treated as the villains for their troubles. At the end of the day, the Avengers have never had a good reason to come after the X-Men or regard them so poorly. Infact, with so many members crossing over between the two, you'd expect the Avengers to think highly of Mutants. Until the day comes where the Avengers can produce a valid reason for fearing the Phoenix Five (other than "urmmmm, it could go wrong?"), I will struggle to empathise with their plight.

6 out of 10

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Batman: Earth One Review

Batman makes his Earth One debut in this long-awaited graphic novel from the superstar creative team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank! The Earth One line is yet another attempt by DC Comics to entice new readers with a definitive "modern" origin for their iconic characters. So far, Superman has been the only other character to receive such treatment, getting the line off to a precarious start, with huge financial success but critical derision. Much like that attempt, this novel tackles familiar tropes, whilst altering the mythos in small but distinct ways. Whether for the betterment of the franchise or simply the writer putting his own stamp on the character, we'll never entirely know.

In critiquing "Batman: Earth One", comparisons to Frank Miller's masterpiece "Batman: Year One" are unavoidable. That story told much the same tale, with a freshly trained Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham seeking vengeance for his murdered parents. Similarly, it documents Lieutenant James Gordon's troubles as the only honest cop in a corrupt Police Department. However, that is where the similarity ends, with both stories taking a very different structural approach.

Ironically, "Batman: Year One" feels timeless in comparison to this latest entry. Nothing in "Batman: Year One" relied upon style or pop culture references, of which "Batman: Earth One" is most definitely guilty. The look of Batman's equipment, infrequent mentions of reality shows and Blurays, something tells me this incarnation will date rather badly given ten years or more.

However, the changes aren't purely cosmetic, extending to some curious character beats. Chief among them, Bruce Wayne himself. No longer was he strictly an innocent child, from Geoff Johns' perspective he was a rather petulant and annoying brat. All other retellings of the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne have Bruce as damn near angelic, focussing on the innocence lost that night. Whereas, in this world, Bruce ran off stubbornly into a dark alley and led his family to the slaughter not by chance, but because HE INSULTED THE MUGGER! This may be slightly dark and sadistic of me, but after such terrible behaviour from the young Wayne, he deserved to be taught a lesson. I hate to think of the spoiled trust fund baby this incarnation would've produced.

As to the young man's burgeoning career as a masked vigilante, I say - don't give up your day job! Other accounts typically show small errors in Batman's early outings. Whilst here, he's frequently screwing up on a grand scale. So much so, it's easier to list his flaws than anything he does right. I can't help but wonder whether or not DC are trying to steal a page out of Marvel's playbook by featuring "relatable" heroes over their traditional gods-among-men. This is very much in the vain of Spider-Man, where he'll forget to reload his webshooter and come crashing down to the ground with a thud. It's basically DC via Marvel.

Some of the more fascinating changes come in the form of Jim Gordon and his new partner Harvey Bullock. Traditionally speaking, Gordon has always been the straight laced stick in the mud who'll do whatever is right, no matter the consequence. Meanwhile, Bullock plays things fast and loose, turning a blind eye to injustice, as long as it suits his purposes. However, Earth One finds the dynamic flipped somewhat, with Bullock displaying a striking level of naivety, while Gordon has become world-weary. This version of our favourite cop has been broken utterly by the Mob. He's not complicit in their crimes or even on the take, but after losing his wife in a suspicious car accident, he's also lost his will to fight back. It takes this new bumbling take on Harvey Bullock to bring him back to the side of the righteous. Alot of my favourite moments from the book featured the duo, whether it be Gordon rediscovering his passion for the job or Bullock being chilled to the bone at the atrocities of Gotham City.

One aspect of the book that nobody could fault is the art. Gary Frank has outdone himself, which is no mean feat considering his past work on Supreme Power and Action Comics. There are multiple single panel pages that stop the story dead in it's tracks, mesmerising you with their beauty. I was particularly impressed by images of Batman laying hurt in an alleyway and another later featuring him perched atop a nasty looking villain he'd just taken down. Whatever faults lay with this book, Gary Frank can sleep well knowing he's absolutely blameless. Artists of the future will be aspiring to his high standard for years to come.

I may be the wrong person to be judging this novel. DC and Marvel have flooded the market with revamped origins every couple of years and as such, I'm absolutely burnt out on any superhero's beginnings. Just as long as they have their powers and have a rollicking good adventure in the process, I'm not sure I need to know how they got into that position. Leave it a mystery, at the very least it won't be retold a hundred times over like a bad game of Chinese Whispers. "Batman: Earth One" is exactly that - a story that once held meaning, but has been told so many times that it's lost alot of pathos along the way.

5 out of 10