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Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #3 [Review]

Quick Rating: Below Average
Story Title: Book Three: Why Ask Why?

The stage is set for things to come as the new Azrael battles Nightwing.

azraeldeathsdarkknight003Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue, we get the battle between Nightwing and this new Azrael. We also get some further look into the “politics” and “origins” of the sect of the Order behind this new Azrael. Following the battle, we have a bunch of jammed-together scenes that don’t feel all that organic, but put stuff into place for the coming-soon ongoing Azrael series.

The art remains stylistic–not horrible, but not particularly thrilling. It definitely sets this book off from the other Bat-books, and sets a certain tone that I can’t quite put to words.

Story-wise, I’m not impressed. If this were in itself the third issue of an already-ongoing series, I might feel differently about it. As-is, I feel slightly hoodwinked, jumping on for a 3-issue mini that I thought would tie closely to Battle for the Cowl. What I got is something that is loosely tied to that story and an ending that doesn’t affect that story and simply tells me to follow more of this story in a new Azrael book.

This does definitely establish that there is a new Azrael and he’s not being abandoned after this brief story; if you’re interested in the concept, this isn’t a bad series…just look at this as a “pilot” and the rest of the series will pick up soon.

If you’ve not already picked up the first couple issues, this is not worth getting, and at this point, you may as well wait for a collected volume.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 2/5
Overall: 2/5

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Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #2 [Review]

Quick Rating: Decent but not wonderful
Story Title: Book Two: Give and Take

The new Azrael’s costume is in demand…

azraeldeathsdarkknight002Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

After so looking forward to this book…and generally being a fan of Nicieza‘s work, this issue leaves me quite disappointed. Especially for the fact that I had to practically re-read the thing to try to tell what exactly is going on–whatever larger plot, I’m apparently not picking up on it all that much.

The new Azrael’s costume is an old suit of armor, apparently cursed…and very much in demand, whether or not the man in the suit likes it…and the story seems to move around that and how the person wearing the suit is affected.

This issue’s art in and of itself is not bad–it’s nothing spectacular, but at the same time it is far from dissatisfying. No specific complaints on this aspect of the book.

Story-wise, I can’t help but wonder if I’m having trouble following things because of not being steeped in Azrael’s story. I know the original character from the Knightfall stuff, and read a couple other issues here or there–the Gotham Earthquake, stuff during No Man’s Land, as well as the final issue. Other than playing with some small toys placed in the larger Batman sandbox, this feels quite irrelevant to the Battle for the Cowl, and at a mere 3 issues–of which I’ve now read 2–I don’t know how the ending’s going to be at all satisfying…this almost needs to be 4 or more issues.

I dislike blatantly decompressed stories–those stretched several issues beyond what they need to be. This issue seems almost the opposite–I feel like we’re at best just starting to get an idea of what’s going on, and already the next issue is supposed to be the ending of the story.

I don’t particularly recommend this issue in itself. If you can snag it with the first issue and the third issue when that comes out, I imagine it might make for a decent one-sitting read. And perhaps the next/final issue will shed more light on things and make character more distinctive and memorable.

As-is, though, this issue–even with its cliffhanger–doesn’t even excite me enough to have me looking forward to that next issue.

Unless you’re coming to the Battle for the Cowl with a completist mentality, I think it’s safe to say you could avoid this book without really missing out on anything.

Ratings:

Story: 2/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 2/5

Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Not bad
Story Title: Simple Sacrifices

A new Azrael is chosen and sent forth as Gotham struggles for lack of a Batman.

azraeldeathsdarkknight001Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Frazer Irving
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Janelle Siegel
Editor: Mike Marts
Cover: Guillem March
Publisher: DC Comics

It’s been awhile, but this is one book I was interested in for the character, regardless of writer or artist. It actually reminded me of my earliest days in following comics, back before I really noticed specific writers or artists and simply read and enjoyed comics for the specific characters.

We open on a new Azrael beheading a criminal (in a scene that I couldn’t help but think to myself “In the end, there can be only one…”). We then move behind the scenes to a faction of the Order of St. Dumas that is apparently not the same as that which set Jean-Paul Valley into things back in Sword of Azrael and beyond. These folks realize they need another Azrael, and so recruit someone who fits their present “requirements” for the role. We see this character into action as the new Azrael, and into a somewhat counter-intuitive cliffhanger.

I’m not terribly impressed with the art…it’s not to say it’s bad or anything, but there’s something to the style that just comes off kinda strange to me, and Nightwing in particular looked rather “off” in proportion/shape as depicted in here. Otherwise, the style definitely sets this book apart giving it its own look/feel, which does contribute a bit to the story as it helps show that this is definitely not an Azrael we’ve already seen.

The story itself also isn’t all that impressive to me, especially as something that’s only gonna run for three issues. I don’t see how there’ll be room to really see enough to get to know the character(s) in this book prior to the conclusion of the third issue, and that takes me outta things a bit. (At the same time, if this were an ongoing book or had several more issues, I think I’d be pretty much satisfied as far as first issues go). Nicieza builds on elements introduced in Morrison‘s run on Batman, which is cool–showing that this fits in existing continuity and isn’t being showhorned in.

Since we’re only one issue in here and have only one issue of Battle for the Cowl out so far, I’m not sure exactly where this series is going to fit–how tightly this will play into the main story. At the same time, there’s plenty of potential as we get introduced to this character who could be just the latest to hang onto the role before passing it along.

If you’re a fan of the Azrael concept and don’t mind reading a character that is NOT Jean-Paul Valley, or you’re just following the entirety of the Battle for the Cowl “event,” this’ll certainly be worth your while.

Ratings:

Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing [Review]

Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing

Writer: Jonathan Vankin
Pencils: Marco Castiello
Inks: Vincenzo Acunzo
Art (Issue #2): Renato Arlem
Colors: Barb Ciardo
Letters: Sal Cipriano, (Issue #3) Dave Sharpe
Cover: Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Ulises Arreola
Editors: Rex Ogle and Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics

I haven’t finished Brightest Day yet, but I know that the big hubbub over the final issue was the return of Swamp Thing and John Constantine–after a lengthy absence–to the mainstream DCU. And waiting for the collected volumes of Brightest Day, I opted to pass on this series. But this weekend, I found myself looking for something “extra” to pick up, and the comic shop I was at had all three issues, so I decided that rather than spend only $3.99 for a one-shot, at “only” $2.99/issue, I’d snag this entire 3-issue mini.

John Constantine finds himself the butt of his pal Chaz’s jokes for having bought a newspaper–though this particular newspaper had literally called out to him, the Swamp Thing’s attempt to make contact with him through the plant fibers in the paper. The trouble apparently caused by the Swamp Thing draws Constantine into a quest for his old acquaintance. After all, John saw the Swamp Thing through a couple other major events, so only fitting to be part of whatever this latest go-round is. Constantine makes contact with Batman to enlist the detective’s aid. When this doesn’t go as planned, he finds himself in Metropolis seeking the Man of Steel’s brand of assistance. Upon realizing what may actually be going on, John finds himself on a path that neither Superman nor Batman can condone as he seeks to set things right in a way that only he–John Constantine–can do.

It’s been ages since I’ve read any Hellblazer stuff–at least a year and a half, maybe 2+ years–so this was a welcome reading experience. Vankin has a good feel for the character, I felt like I was reading Hellblazer…except this is set within the DCU, with John interacting once more with a world that includes Superman, Batman, and other super-powered people, unlike the world the character’s Vertigo counterpart inhabits. This version of Constantine is younger, though still quite recognizeable as the character he is. There’s plenty of reference to the past to establish the character’s roots, to remind those familiar with the characters past of what they are. And if one is unfamiliar, it serves to establish that this character has a past in the DCU, though he’s not cropped up in a DCU book in quite a few years.

Though the series’ title emphasizes the Swamp Thing, this feels fully like a DCU-based John Constantine/Hellblazer story, and does so far more than I’d anticipated, expecting there to be a lot more focus on Swamp Thing (especially with Swamp Thing being one of the “New 52” in DC’s relaunch in September). Of course, I’ve long been more a fan of Constantine than Swamp Thing, so this focus didn’t bother me and I think my enjoyment of this series was higher than it would have been if it actually did focus more on Swamp Thing).

The story itself felt pretty basic, and even a bit choppy, almost as if it should have been stretched to at least another issue. Given its timing at the very end of this version of the DCU, though, there seems to have been a need to compress it into only three issues. The first two issues had a nice build, reintroducing us to Constantine, as well as putting him back on the map for Batman and Superman. The third issue held a good bit of promise to it, but after 2 1/2 issues’ build, the end seemed to be anticlimactic, almost negating the purpose of having this series to begin with. This could change depending on the status quo in the new Swamp Thing ongoing, but that would almost make this series seem a prologue and worthy of an altered title.

The art was a sort of mixed experience going through the three issues. Offhand, I’m not familiar with the art team(s) behind this series. The style was not unattractive, and seemed to fit the characters involved. Batman and Superman, if only for the amount of Vertigo Hellblazer that I’ve read seemed a bit out of place by existing, though the artists had a good blend that allowed them to visually work with Constantine and Swamp Thing (or vice-versa). Though the second issue had a different artist, the style’s similar enough to the first and third that I honestly didn’t even notice until pulling the credits to write this review.

As I have not yet finished reading Brightest Day, this doesn’t honestly seem or feel connected to that, except that it would sort of explain an apparent resurrection that lies at the core of this story (even as it reminds me a bit of The Spectre’s character shortly after Green Lantern: Rebirth). If this ties to the new Swamp Thing series as I think it might, I’d hope to see this collected either as a Swamp Thing vol. 1 or 0, or somehow simply not as just a Brightest Day companion volume. If you’re a fan of Hellblazer, this series presents a chance to see a younger Constantine interacting with the DC Universe he came from, and get away from the intricate mythology that’s built up over the last 200+ issues of Hellblazer. If you’re interested in Swamp Thing, this wouldn’t seem a horrible story, but Swamp Thing seems a bit player at best, though you’ll find plenty with Constantine, a character with some key ties to Swamp Thing’s past.

Recommended.

Story: 7/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 7.5/10

Booster Gold #14 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: Stars in Your Eyes, Part 2

Booster and a questionable ally seek the point in time at which to stop the Starro infestation before the whole of Time can be infected…a feat that may have a large cost to accomplish.

boostergold014Writer: Rick Remender
Penciller: Pat Olliffe
Inker: Jerry Ordway
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover: Chris Batista and Mick Gray
Publisher: DC Comics

This issue begins with a Booster Gold trapped in a sea of malevolent starfish intent upon taking control of the hero. Showing some smarts some don’t credit him with, Booster quickly escapes, but finds that his challenge might just be insurmountable–Starro has (through Rip Hunter) gained access to the Timestream itself and is taking over, eradicating from existence anything and anyone who might be able to stop him. Finding an unexpected ally, striking a (figurative) deal with a lesser of the two evils, and utilizing access to the Timestream, Booster fights back, risking not only his life but the whole of free-thinking reality to try to save Rip Hunter and set time right.

While certainly not my favorite Booster story, this issue certainly wades in deep with the sort of adventure the "All-New" (as opposed to "Pre-Infinite Crisis") Booster Gold is meant for. The story has some decent moments, characters are believable (even if I didn’t know before who a certain villain was prior), and shows that while maintaining an ongoing story it is very possible to have stories done in less than six chapters. This is a solid story, and well worthwhile for Booster Gold fans (or fans of Starro).

The art is of strong quality. I have no real complaint with it, as characters are all unrecognizable and distinct, there’s a good amount of detail (especially if you look closely at points), and the story comes across nothing but enhanced by the visuals. A panel on the last page in particular–while perhaps not entirely true to that character–almost made me laugh as my mind fills in the blanks from what we’re shown.

I’m sure you could find issues better than this within this series and others. But honestly? You could do so much worse than this issue. If you can find the previous issue to go with this, I recommend snaggin’ both for a good, simple two-issue read.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Booster Gold #13 [Review]

Quick Rating: Not Bad
Story Title: Stars in Your Eyes, Part I

Booster & Michelle vs. Starro-Rip in a battle with huge consequences.

boostergold013Written by: Rick Remender
Pencils: Pat Olliffe
Inks: Jerry Ordway
Colors by: Hi-Fi
Letters by: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover by: Chris Batista & Mick Gray
Publisher: DC Comics

We open this issue with an image of Superman being punched to the ground, as Booster and his sister move in to save a life Superman (would have been) unable to save. Booster explains why they can’t just save everybody, and the two return to Rip’s lab, only to find Hunter with a starfish…er…Starro Spore hugging his face. The possessed Rip heads into the timestream, and it quickly becomes apparent that Starro has taken over Everything. Booster and Michelle head into the timestream themselves, set on preventing Starro’s takeover. The two find out how the Starro Spore came into contact with Rip, as well as just what it means to face a world that Starro has conquered…and Starro reveals something rather personal to Booster.

This feels like a pretty "standard" sort of issue for this title. The story fits the characters: we have an opening that showcases Booster & Michelle in action doing their time-travel set-things-right-one-life-at-a-time thing. We’re then introduced to the beginning of the primary story, and thrown into the action. This is what Booster’s supposed to be doing, at least as the premise of this title as set up over a year ago, so no problems there. On the whole, this feels like an issue of Booster Gold, the Greatest Hero You’ve Never Heard Of.

The art’s good, as well–no real complaint there. It’s not quite a match for Jurgens‘ art…but it’s darned close, and having had a few weeks since reading my last issue and not thinking about it going in, the difference was not particularly noticeable–which I feel is a good thing. Visually, this book certainly holds its own in terms of definite quality. I also have to give it credit for consistency, as I did not once think to myself anything or anyone looked funny or out of the ordinary.

On the whole, though, this feels like a so-so issue. It’s good, don’t get me wrong–but it’s not quite up to what I’ve come to expect of this title. There weren’t any scenes that made me smile, or wax nostalgic, or any of those things that have made so many of the other issues such great reads. Though I’m familiar with the existence of Starro, the character is not a character I’m all that familiar with in particular. Nor am I at all interested in the character. Having such a character as the villain of the piece lessens my emotional investment in the story–as does knowing that this is only a two or three part story, and then I believe Jurgens returns to do both story and art…which leaves me very confident not much of consequence will happen in this story (except perhaps Booster figuring out what was revealed to the readers at the close of Johns‘ tenure on the book).

I certainly will not recommend against this issue…but it’s not an example of what’s made me so enjoy the previous issues thus far.

Ratings:

Story: 2.5/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 3/5

Booster Gold #12 [Review]

Quick Rating: Very Good
Story Title: Vicious Cycle

Booster & Michelle continue to “fix” time…

boostergold012Written by: Chuck Dixon
Pencil Art by: Dan Jurgens
Finished Art by: Norm Rapmund
Colors by: Hi-Fi
Letters by: Sal Cipriano
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover by: Jurgens & Rapmund
Publisher: DC Comics

This second chapter picks up with Booster and his sister in the Batcave, at the mercy of Alfred–Batman’s butler…who intends the heroes stay put until his master returns, and holds a shotgun to back up his words. With a little help from Skeets, the two manage to abscond with some necessary (and perhaps not-so-necessary) resources, and continue their mission. Of course, though simple enough conceptually, their plan’s execution is a bit wanting, resulting in some further complications.

Dixon‘s writing portrays the characters quite well, and seems a perfect fit for a brief excursion into the Bat-corner of the DCU for this tale. Everyone seems to be in-character, and we’re provided with a number of cool “moments” and some fun nods to longtime fans (I assume plenty of people can identify with Booster in some of his comments about The Car, for one).

Jurgens & Rapmund continue to keep me impressed on the visuals. I really can’t find anything about the art that doesn’t work for me. From the opening page to the closing cameo panels…everyone looks spot-on, and that leaves me to simply enjoy the pretty art with a fun story.

All in all, another good issue of this series. While perhaps “just” a fill-in story between major creative lineups, the issue doesn’t feel like filler–it continues the basic premise of the series, and even sets things up for potential stories down the road a bit should anyone choose to follow up on certain points.

As the 2nd chapter of a 2-part story, this isn’t the best single issue to jump in on…but if you can find #11, the story makes a nice, fun point to jump on-board, and get a done-in-two story without needing to jump in for 6-some issues.

Recommended.

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 4.5/5
Overall: 4/5

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