Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Snap Judgements:
The Spirit, Avengers: The Initiative, All Flash, World War Hulk, The Programme, Shazam!

As always, Snap Judgements gives you Triple-S comic reviews: short, sweet, and spoiler-free.

The Spirit #8: You Must Remember This, A Kiss Is Just A Kiss..

While most issues in this revamped run of The Spirit have been self-contained stories, "Time Bomb" fits into a larger continuity dating back to Issue #4. But despite having the events of a past narrative to spice things up, this issue ends up feeling very light on story. There's not one but two cliched plot devices - one is a ticking time bomb and the other I won't spoil, but it's all feels very unadventurous for a series that has distinguished itself with clever, off-the-wall storylines. But not all is lost, since Darwyn Cooke still fills the book up with art so rich and pretty you want to rub the pages against your face. There's also quite a few comedic moments to enjoy, even if the silliness keeps the emotional climax from feeling completely earned.

Tired Plot Devices + Purty Pictures- High Expectations = C+

Reviews for Avengers: The Initiative #4, All Flash #1, World War Hulk #2, The Programme #1, and Shazam! Monster Society of Evil #4 after the jump...

Avengers: The Initiative #4: Nice Going, Jerk!

Writer Dan Slott has a lot to say about about the teenaged trainees involved in the Initiative; if only he had more than 24 pages a month to say it in! Like the previous issues, Initiative #4 is jam packed with great characters, twisting conspiratorial plots, and solid, distinctive art. However, since every Marvel book is currently required to be ROCKED TO IT'S VERY FOUNDATION by World War Hulk, all the exciting developments of the last issues have to be pushed aside so the Hulk can come in and make these poor kids feel horribly inadequate.

Before the Hulk touches down, however, we get some great bombshell plot twists, one of which involves coverboy Hardball being even more of an ass than we'd suspected he was. At least he feels bad about it. Tool!

Mucho Intrigue - Big Bad Hulk + Hardball Ruins It For Everyone = B+

All Flash #1: The Flash Is Dead; Long Live The Flash

This is absolutely worth picking up for Karl Kerschl's unbelievably gorgeous art. Each panel looks like a cel from a big budget animated feature, and the vibrant colors make every page-turn a visceral experience. It's fitting that a Flash book should feature such crisp, high-energy artwork, and if All Flash can consistently bring this kind of quality to the table, consider me sold.

Unfortunately, Kerschl only illustrates about half of this book - specifically, the story's framing device which follows Wally West as he drags that Inertia around the circumference of the earth by his lapels. Do bodysuits have lapels?

The rest of the art feels crushingly boring when compared with the visual narcotic of Kerschl's pages. The main story deals with answering questions no one was asking from The Lightning Saga and the last issue of The Flash. Sure, it's fun to see the Rouges experience buyers-remorse after offing Bart, but it's already been covered in Countdown. I would have loved to see more of the Wally and Inertia scene, and not just because of the superior illustration; between Wally's rage and Inertia's almost stupefying fear, it's the most tense scene in any recent DC book. Plus the art is good. Keep that in mind.

Breathtakingly Awesome Art - Breathtakingly Medicore Art + Open Season On Rouges = B+

World War Hulk #2: Whakoom Whakoom Bbkbkkkbkoom!

Will someone tell me why the Hulk isn't angrier? I mean, the whole point of this story is that he's stronger than he's ever been because he's angrier than he's ever been, no? So why is he so calm about everything? First he announces his Intent to Smash in issue one, gives everyone 24 hours to leave, and now in this ish he has a heart to heart with his cousin, engages in intelligent debate with Sue Richards, and nearly cries when he sees Rick Jones. Yeah, Hulk's smashing, but he's being awfully civil about it. I suppose he's just bottling up all his rage deep inside, but that so... UnHulklike.

That conceit aside, the book is a fun read, if only to see your favorite heroes get smashed like you've never seen them get smashed before. Romita's art is great, his rendition of the Hulk makes you believe that this one green giant could wipe out everything. The bits of story that are there are well done, but the issue as a whole feels like an outline that will get filled in by the individual tie-in issues. There are a lot of characters here, and you can tell they're all going through their own dramas, but this particular book doesn't go into them too much. Which makes the whole thing feel a bit shallow, because there isn't any character that you are really given a chance to relate to.

Awesome Smashups - Shallow Characterization + Romita's Imposing Art = B-

The Programme #1: Good, I think?

Beginning a new comic book series presents some problems that aren't present in most other entertainment mediums. The writer is only given twenty-four pages to introduce their mythology, premise, characters and conflict to a reader who won't be able to read the next part of the story for another month. Movies can start off slow, books can be hard to get into, but the audience will usually stick around long enough to catch the hook. With comics, those first twenty-four pages are life or death, because if an impression isn't made, the readers will not be back.

This also presents an interesting problem for the reader, because it can sometimes be very hard to distinguish between a good book and a bad book based on twenty pages. Which brings me to The Programme. The book is completely impenetrable. It shuffles back and forth through time without warning or explanation, brings up mysterious plot points without explaining what the heck is going on, and throws a handful of underdeveloped characters at you. But! I want to understand the importance of the different time periods, I want to explore the mysteries, I want to know these characters. In other words, the book's got promise. I've been burned by many a "Promise Book" before, but I do believe I'll be back for the next twenty-four on this one.

Oh, sorry there's no plot synopsis, I just don't know what the shit's going on. Soviets, Nazis, test tube babies, mysterious guy glowing green... Who knows?

Tough But Rewarding Artwork - Tough Storytelling + Promise of Good Things to Come = B

Shazam! Monster Society of Evil #4: Simply Wonderful

Jeff Smith's take on Captain Marvel (more Billy Batson, really) draws to a close and it ends every bit as strongly as it began. The characters are still great, the art and design still show a wonderful playfulness and imagination. My only gripe could be that the conflict was wrapped up a little to easily, but that's hardly what the book was really about so I'm not taking that too seriously. It's good ole simple storytelling at it's best. If you haven't read any other issues don't try to start now, wait for the inevitable trade.

Wonderful Imagination + New Take On Billy Batson + Just Plain Fun = A

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