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Friday, February 1, 2013

Comics thoughts for the week of 1/30/13

Going forward, with Ron and Shane doing more in-depth reviews in this area, I've decided to alter the way I give my comics' reviews for the current week. Rather than spotlighting a number of issues, I'll be picking one book as the "spotlight book of the week" whether for good reasons or ill, and will then follow it up with my standard one-sentence reviews for the rest of the week's pull. As always, spoiler alerts are go!

This week's spotlight issue:

Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill
w- Len Wein, a- Steve Rude

All of Before Watchmen has been about Dollar Bill! (rim-shot!)

The Before Watchmen line has been one of DC's most controversial, but also quite a mixed bag. The line had a good deal of promise based on the number of talented creators involved: Cooke, Conner, Straczynski, Hughes, Azzarello, JG Jones, Jae Lee, Bermejo; but somehow much of the promise went unfulfilled. Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke and Silk Spectre by Cooke and Amanda Conner were uniformly excellent and the highlights of my comic reading week. Brian Azzarello's teamups with Lee Bermejo and JG Jones on Rorschach and The Comedian respectively have been very mood evoking and possibly the most outlandish of the titles, but not always the most successful, yet they still have elements that make the project feel worthwhile. Unfortunately, the work put in by JMS and Len Wein have been more of the variety that comics buyers feared when the event was first announced. The Nite Owl and Ozymandias titles have been utterly pointless, either through awful storytelling (the former) or just needlessly expanding on elements that were already obvious in Watchmen itself (the latter). Dr. Manhattan has little bits to recommend here and there in its attempt to tell at least a somewhat new spin on the established material, but issue 4 is shaping up to probably restore all status quo, leading one to wonder why such a story was being told in the first place.

Before Watchmen was successful enough that DC decided to add two more books to the line in Moloch (written by JMS) and this week's Dollar Bill. Moloch was unfortunately a poorly written book that displayed little panache or held much in the way for a reason to exist other than to make money. I didn't expect alot out of the Dollar Bill book, especially as it was written by Wein, the writer that elicited the least amount of excitement from me. Strangely while reading it, there was something there that somewhat surprised me: inventiveness! Again, much like Moloch or Ozymandias, this wasn't a book that outright needed to be written but since DC opted to go this route, Wein and Rude pull out all the stops and deliver what might be the most thematically interesting looking book outside of Minutemen or Silk Spectre. Rude's art is gorgeous here, and his character designs are quite novel. He takes the fairly hacky premise of Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe and turns the idea of the corporate banker into its own living political cartoon. Rude goes the route of a sort of hyper-reality that is somewhat fitting considering the downward trajectory of the environment of the stronger Before Watchmen books. Rude's work here stands well alongside Cooke's idealistic, golden-age style Minutemen, which then gives way to the acid-trip Archie style of Silk Spectre, leading to the darker edged Vietnam era fable of The Comedian, and the "love letter to Taxi Driver" Rorschach. It actually works quite beautifully considering the 1985 dystopian New York it all leads to in Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen.

Wein's scripting isn't exactly shabby either, he writes the tale in a first narrative perspective as told by Dollar Bill, seemingly taking place after his death and leading to that fateful day when his cape gets stuck in the revolving door. It's not an overly inventive piece of writing, but there are some moments that make you sit back, including the depths to which Bill goes to achieve further fame post becoming the banking "super-hero". I like the fact that at no point does Wein ever try to portray Bill as a real hero. When he faces his first set of robbers when on stakeout with the Minutemen, he's able to get the job done, but he also wets his pants in the process. It's fitting that at the point when he confidence begins to grow in his own abilities, that's the moment when he's struck down. Dollar Bill can't actually be a hero, his job is to get stuck in the revolving door and die, and Wein portrays it pretty well, particularly at his funeral when Mothman asks "Six months from now, who will even remember Dollar Bill?". Wein unfortunately chokes the ending a bit, by having kids dress up as Dollar Bill creating some sort of sense of false hero worship that certainly does not exist later on in the chronology, but maybe that's the greater tragedy and the overall point: Captain Metropolis is the one to point out the children playing "Dollar Bill and robbers", but he's also the hero who tries to put together the Crimebusters in the 60's, in a time when things like that no longer mattered as plainly spelled out by The Comedian. Wein may very well have created some of the most subtle foreshadowing when I had no idea he had it in him, or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. It's a shame this will probably be collected with his other work in the series, Ozymandias and the Crimson Corsair, as I'd much rather see it placed with its thematic kindred Minutemen and Silk Spectre.

I give this issue a B

One-sentence reviews:

Justice League Dark #16 - A decent issue, I found the Infernal Core to be a pretty eye-rolling media tie-in, but the Tim Hunter plot is interesting and Constantine's dialogue was fun. B-

Avengers #4 - Adam Kubert is a step-down on the art side, but I'm starting to get a better idea of what Hickman is going for; I'm hopeful for further spotlight issues even if Hyperion is a snooze. B-

Aquaman #16 - This was a fun issue, and I'm shocked to say, this is the one crossover Johns is really moving the plot forward in each successive part; though the twist would mean more to me if I regularly read Aquaman. B

Batman Incorporated #7 - Definitely the best book featuring Damian right now, who has turned into the most compelling character DC has, action is ramping up well here and really improves upon last month. A-

Hawkeye #7 - Another fun issue in what is probably Marvel's best series right now, hideous art in the Kate's segment unfortunately, but the plotting made up for it. A

Ozymandias #5 - As elaborated above, just pointless utter tedium, I wish a more interesting tale of Adrian could have been told somewhat similarly to Azzarello's work in the line. D+

Nowhere Men #3 - What could World Corp be up to? This is a book that gets better with each issue, and starting to rival Manhattan Projects as my favorite science comic. A and my Pick of the Week.

One-sentence reviews
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