Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Buffy Season Nine #1 review, Green Lantern #1 review, Suicide Squad #1 review, Batman and Robin #1 review, Dollhouse Epitaphs #3 review

Comic Book Wednesday
Issue #18

What up.

The shipment of Legion Lost #1 was delayed until next week. We're already full to the brim with awesome comics here this week, though. We're bookended with Whedony books, kicking things off with the first issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine #1 and wrapping the post up with the third installment of Dollhouse: Epitaphs. The meat of this Joss sandwich is three DCnU/New 52 titles. We've got Green Lantern #1, Batman and Robin #1, and Suicide Squad #1.

Let's get to it!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine #1
Freefall - Part One
Written by Joss Whedon
Pencils by Georges Jeanty
Dark Horse Comics

The big question I asked myself before reading this book was "What do I want from Season Nine?"

See, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel mean more to me than any other stories. The universe is fun, the writing is smart, and the characters are important to me as people. I have written extensively about the shows and the comics. My first writing credit was for IDW's Angel comic (buy that here if you love me, comics, or the American way). I clearly can't get enough of the series, because no only am I writing this Buffy review, I'm also currently working on four Whedony essays that will be published in a book that I can't quite talk about yet. I love everything about these character and the universe. I loved a good chunk of Buffy: Season Eight, but the series lost its way in a major way in the final few arcs. I was thrilled to see that Joss seemed to acknowledge that the comic had gotten away from what was best about the TV show, and he said that he would scale back on the ploddingly large, epic, plot-driven fantasy and return this to being more My So Called Life with monsters. And that's really all I wanted. I wanted to once again believe these characters as human beings. I wanted to read the comic, be reminded of how awesome the show was, look forward to the next installment, and put it down without feeling frustrated.

And it seems that Joss is well on his way toward giving me that. I was very dubious about the preview that we saw, but everything here is better in context. I can hear the actor's voices in my head while reading the dialogue, especially with Buffy and Spike. It's funny, it sets up character arcs, it sets up what seems to be the seasonal arc (Buffy dealing with the fallout from destroying the seed in Season Eight), and it delivers a funny twist that is mighty, mighty strange. We're back to mundane problems taking on monstrous form, which was what gave us some of the best stories in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I think that Joss has gotten the series back on track in a big way in time for this season.

The structure is great. A lot is going on, so it's a packed story, but it didn't have the same feel as Action Comics #1, which I felt was so busy that it was just hard to care. This issue is non-linear, showing Now Buffy Who Is Also Hungover Buffy and Past Buffy Who Is Also Party Hardy Buffy, while also introducing Buffy's roommates; giving Spike, Willow, Dawn, and Xander plenty of page time; setting up a demon who has escaped because of the destruction of the seed; setting up the strange, funny demon at the end who... well, you'll see; reintroducing Simone and her vendetta; and giving us some good conversation time with the Scoobs. And Joss uses that to poke fun at himself:

WILLOW: Buffy, it's not about blame.
BUFFY: Well, it feels pretty blame-y!
WILLOW: Or you're being projecting-y!
SPIKE: I'm also gonna add "y" to the end of my sentence-y.

(And again later, SPIKE: You both make valid points-y.)

What's fun is that, now more than ever, Spike feels like one of the gang. I hope his character arc gets some darkness, too, but it's nice to see that he isn't the same character who Buffy left in the Hellmouth. He evolved on Angel, both the TV show and the comic, and it's nice to see that his character development is left in tact. Overall, it was a surprisingly good issue that managed to not get overshadowed by the excellent Angel & Faith #1.

Green Lantern #1
Sinestro - Part One
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Doug Mahnke
DC Comics

So far, this is the least new of the New 52. I'd read that this would pick right up from Geoff Johns' last Green Lantern arc, which explains the in medias res feel. I love Johns' Lantern, but I've been following it in trade, and I'm even behind in those. It's easy to catch up, though, as Johns seems to have made an effort to make this story as new reader friendly as possible... even though it's really just another piece in the puzzle of his Green Lantern epic. Hal Jordan has had his ring taken away from him and the ring chose Sinestro, Hal's former mentor and current arch-nemesis. It's a good hook, and the execution is a hell of a lot better than Johns' Justice League #1.

It's cool to see Sinestro operating as a Lantern again, but the fun twist is that he doesn't want to be reinstated. He doesn't want redemption, as he feels the Guardians of the Green Lanterns are misguided and that he, Sinestro, knows what is best for the universe. He wants to be free from the ring, especially after seeing how a member of the Sinestro Corps responds to seeing him in the iconic green suit. The most interesting part of the issue is Hal's very human drama. He's trying to save people, but the dude is no Batman. He's got rent issues, girl problems, and a severe what the hell do I do now? complex. Folks who were worried about Hal being the only Green Lantern to not have a series in the New 52 need not worry, because the on-going title is as much about him as it is Sinestro, no matter who is on the cover.

This was one of the stronger New 52 issues so far. I'd caution new readers to read up a bit on these characters before picking this book up, but fans of the on-going can just jump right back into this Green Lantern series.

Suicide Squad #1
Kicked in the Teeth
Written by Adam Glass
Pencils by Federico Dallocchio
DC Comics

This is a hard one to review. It was well written, the team of characters is mostly good, and the structure was fun. I'm not really sure how to judge it, though, because it feels like a #0 issue. Like a prologue. We see the Suicide Squad operating as a team in a quick flashback, but the majority of the issue is the Squad being tortured, questioned, and asked about the Squad. It ends with them embarking on a mission, and the plot set-up is promising, so I will certainly pick up that issue. I even understand why this issue was done the way it was. Without spoiling, the set-up shows how dark this book is going to be and how expendable each of the members really are.

The interactions between the members of the Squad are interesting, though the only characters I find myself caring about in this are Harley Quinn and El Diablo, though I suspect that might be the point. I don't believe that one has to relate to or like characters in order to enjoy a book, so I'm not worried about that. It's just that, while entertaining, this issue gave very little indication of what the series as a whole will be like. Perhaps #2 will feel more like the beginning of the actual story.

Batman and Robin #1
Born to Kill
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Pencils by Patrick Gleason
DC Comics

Even better than the enjoyable Detective Comics #1, this father/son story spends as much time on Batman's personal issues as it does action. On the anniversary of his parents' deaths, Bruce takes his son, Damian (the current Robin), to the place where they died. Bruce commemorates the anniversary of their death for the last time, saying that he will, instead, pay tribute to their wedding anniversary, deciding to celebrate their lives instead of constantly wallowing in their deaths. Damian is insufferably rude through all of this, which would be annoying if Batman didn't agree. They make for an interesting team, and writer Peter J. Tomasi keeps the emotion of these heroes at the front of the story. While he uses the opening and closing scenes to set up a new villain who wants to take down Batman Incorporated, the comic is really about how Bruce and Damian (Batman and Robin, father and son) are such fundamentally different people trying to function as a family unit. And who can't relate to that?

This is easily one of the best New 52 titles so far. Don't think twice - pick it up!

Dollhouse: Epitaphs #3
Story by Andrew Chambliss, Jed Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen
Script by Andrew Chambliss
Pencils by Cliff Richards
Dark Horse Comics

I'm clearly a big fan of Joss Whedon's creations. Whedonites have been lucky enough to see all of Joss's shows make the transfer from television to comics, some with debatably varying success. I love Firefly and Serenity, and even enjoyed a few of the comics, but I think that the actors are as necessary as the writing in making that story something special. The comics haven't soared as high as the quality of the show or the movie, while both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have flourished as comics. I've found that Dollhouse is in-between. The post-apocalyptic atmosphere is very much suited to comics, but while the first few issues were enjoyable, I haven't felt the same amount of tension as I felt on the TV show. The art becomes a bigger issue with every installment. It's sad because I've defended Cliff Richards' art many times in the past, but let's face it... it's impossible to tell Alpha apart from Zone and Male Ivy (except for the lab coat). Alpha and Zone even wear almost identical outfits. There are some nice quiet scenes here, and another Alpha/Smeagol scene that was interesting, but I've found that, more than any other series I've read, the art is absolutely killing the intrigue that the first few issues built. I want Dollhouse to live up to its incredible premise as a comic. I'm glad Echo will be appearing in #4, and I don't think that there needs to be any changes to the writing team. The scripts have been solid. The art just needs to rise to the challenge in order to make this worthy of the Dollhouse name.

NEXT WEEK: Biggest week in... well, ever. We've got Batman #1, DC Universe Presents #1, Legion Lost #1, Legion of Superheroes #1, Nightwing #1, Spider Island Cloak and Dagger #2, Supergirl #1, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, Wonder Woman #1, Blue Beetle #1, Catwoman #1, Birds of Prey #1. This will undoubtedly be split into two or three posts. I am not a machine, you greedy, lovely bastards.

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