Number Ones: Batman, Captain Britain, Fantastic Four

by Bill

They’re brand spankin’ new series and number one first issues! But are they any good? Worth spending money to buy and time to read?

Included in this round:

How good are these? Decent? Maybe even genius (er...I mean genious)? Read and find out...

Batman #676 (DC Comics) – by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel

Captain Britain and MI13 #1 (Marvel Comics) – by Paul Cornell
and Leonard Kirk

Secret Invasion Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel Comics) – by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Barry Kitson

Batman #676 (DC Comics) – by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel

Not a number one, but it is the first part of DC Comics’ months-long campaign promoting Batman R.I.P. so worth the look to whether Part One delivers on the hype.

In general, yes. The issue is jammed with quiet character moments, subtle intrigues to likely serve in subsequent acts, and a few not at all subtle scenes establishing more immediate menace.

Part One also delivers substance for a complaint: readers having not read recent events in Batman will be lost at two points in this.

#1- who is the woman? She was introduced in a scene with no name mention. But as she knows Bruce Wayne is Batman and is in a deep kiss with him, presumably she’s a major character. It would have been nice to have had a name to work with.

As bit of a digression…sequential storytelling tends to penalize the uninitiated. For routine stories a brief recap might serve to remind and give some high-level orientation, and that minimally should suffice. For a major new story to launch and seemingly not care about new participants lacks vision and editorial responsibility. Readers have complained time and again DC Comics’ failures in making their stories accessible to new readers; sadly Batman R.I.P. part one continues this unfortunate trend.

#2- scene setting in the final sequence. Regular Batman readers *may* recognize the setting as Arkham, unfortunately this never confirmed. This is another example of DC penalizing the uninitiated. More egregious is the perspective of the scene: it starts with a omni-present perspective as if walking into the unconfirmed Arkham Asylum, but shifts to another persepctive without explanation to how the introductory could really exist. As conveyed, the opening sequence creates a false tension. Visually it is glorious, Daniel does some exceptional work with each page. Storywise it culminates in something of a cheat.

On the very positive, the Joker as presented is terrifying. Visually he is menacing and truly villainous. His dialogue and demeanor establishes he’s the Crown-Prince of insane. This Joker is unlike any Joker seen before, and worth the cost of this comic to see.

Aside from this terrifying portrayal of the Joker, the double page spread of the Black Glove and Danse Macabre (whomever these characters are – are they new? Recurring?) is a visual treat. Finally, the interaction between Robin and Alfred is brilliantly done. The conversation and tenor is pitch perfect for both characters. Well done.

“Well done” is nothing unusual for Grant Morrison. He sweats ideas. Every blink of his eye generates an idea. The man is a creative force. It is obvious even to one not having read Batman for a few years that Morrison is tapping into something primal with the character’s myth. Any criticism of a reader becoming lost among the story is more attributed to final touch editing than to failure of the story. With the forces in play, this Batman title demands full-time creative support to ensure the little details are not lost among the major. Hopefully subsequent issues will have the DC team bringing their A-game just as Morrison and Daniel and the creative team clearly have done.

As masterful as the storytelling is Tony Daniel’s artistry. Simply: he’s done fantastic work. Hopefully he will be able to maintain the regular schedule for the arc, since he’s really established the visual cue of the characters, notably the villains. Another hand may get the characters drawn well, but not necessarily portrayed correctly. Batman R.I.P. could be the storyline that catapults Daniel to the “next level” of acclaim in much the same manner as Perez (Judas Contract), Giffen (Great Darkness Saga), Quesada (Azrael), Adams (Longshot) among others handling key story-arcs. Nevertheless, it is one thing to write how terrifying the Joker or imposing the Danse Macabre is to be and quite another to deliver that to the page. For anyone who thought that Brian Bolland or Frank Miller portrayed the quintessential Joker, the final four pages of Batman #676 raises the bar.

This is a solid start even with the lack of information provided to new readers. It would have been astonishing if every reader coming aboard had an equal opportunity to understand the environment the story was working around.

$2.99. B+/Brilliant (A+/Astonishing for the art)

Captain Britain and MI13 #1 (Marvel Comics) – by Paul Cornell
and Leonard Kirk

So much was against Captain Britain and MI13 – a book stemming from Marvel’s Secret Invasion major event, a character having gone through multiple incarnations and book launches, a group of relative B-list heroes loosely banding under a (British) Government mandate – among several other hurdles to overcome.

Nevertheless, Captain Britain and MI13 quickly and effectively hits stride. Captain Britain indirectly acknowledged his prior roles and dismissed them without insult with his new intention as being Britain’s Captain America. It is a return to his roots not really seen since American readers were first introduced to the character in Marvel Team-Up. It is an honest and direct approach, easy to accept while returning character credibility. The more convoluted dimensions layered onto Captain Britain in the years since Team-Up offered entertainment but never seemed to adequately build from the foundation of English-myth and national hero. In but a few pages it seemed Captain Britain was finally home.

Equally impressive is the presentation of The Black Knight. The Knight commands some of the best dialogue exchanges with a touch of humor and a dose of self-depravation. More importantly, the character retains a nod to the legacy but a step toward new reign.

Paul Cornell manages these Captain Britain, The Black Knight and several other characters with capability, respect and innovation. It’s impressive to read and ultimately sense a consideration for characters. It will be interesting to learn what is in store with some of the other characters in MI13.

The big star of the book is Leonard Kirk. Kirk pours detail and attention to each panel, with pages loaded with depth and artistry. Kirk skimped on nothing, and even panels with no “all-out” action are loaded with “all-out” activity. Jesse Delperdang had to have gone nuts with what was presented, and no doubt relished the work and contributed to even more eye-dazzling detail. Kirk and Delperdang define what it means to be graphic artists.

The last page is an effective cliffhanger, and the teaser page for issue #2 very effective to entice readers’ return. Captain Britain and MI13 had everything to lose and be a mere footnote in the Secret Invasion mega-crossover. Fortunately and most surprisingly, issue #1 is a fantastic super hero adventure book, with much to look forward to.

$2.99. B+/Brilliant

Secret Invasion Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel Comics) – by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
and Barry Kitson

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is at his best when he’s allowed to write the Fantastic Four as a family, as more human than super-human or super-hero. His previous work in MK4 presented some of the most touching, human and entertaining scenes between the Family Four of any writer of the characters. As in MK4, Secret Invasion Fantastic Four contains similarly powerful and entertaining scenes.

Ben’s stating “I’m making Coq au Vin for Franklin and Val, Flamebrain, you want some?” followed by Johnny’s “Sue. Dinner. Ben. Cooking. Must. Stop.” is wondrously layered humor based on familiarity of the characters and their own familiarity to fans. Aguiire-Sacasa holds literate command over the Fantastic Four, most specifically for Ben and Johnny, so his return to the characters is welcome and entertaining.

Where Secret Invasion Fantastic Four doesn’t work so well is the involvement of that Secret Invasion and the Skrull conflict. The book is missing half the quartet, a noticeable absence. Aguirra-Sacasa is working with what Bendis left from the primary Secret Invasion series and although he does a capable job with these remnant pieces, the story nevertheless falters a bit while trying to tie into the event.

Kitson appears in step with Aguirra-Sacasa, with their best being the same Ben-Johnny character focused scenes. Every panel with Ben is a treat (both regards the story-scene and with how Kitson draws The Thing), while those with the Skrulls less effective or compelling. There is one exception: the last page. It’s not a shock ending, and in many respects was expected at some point due with the Secret Invasion premise, but having it revealed and out there allows for the story to continue without the distracting questions of “when will…?”

Overall, Secret Invasion Fantastic Four offers fans of the mega-crossover more substance on the Sue/Reed scenes from the Bendis/Yu Secret Invasion, gives fans of Aguirra-Sacasa’s Fantastic Four a refill dose, and provides for an entertaining setup for issue #2.

$2.99. Grade: B/Brainy


Matt said...

Looking forward to the Captain Britain series. Good to hear that you liked it.

The General said...

Now that I've got my review of Captain Britain up, I'm finaly able to read yours, Bill. I tihnk I agree overall. I think I just wished it had more "oomph" to it. I mean, it's a solid base hit, but not a home run. Base hits aren't bad though.