17 Aug 2008

Mini Reviews 17/8/2008

None of us have time to review all the comics we get every week as there are just too damn many of them! Instead, we try and provide a snapshot of the weeks’ releases, mixing the good with the not so good.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Lenil Francis Yu & Mark Morales
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: My reaction to this miniseries so far has been fairly ambivalent so I guess it was inevitable that there’d come a point when I’d have to make a decision on whether the good outweighed the bad. Helpfully, this issue took that decision out of my hands – your eyes have no doubt darted to the end of this review already, so you’ll probably have a good idea what’s coming!

While a certain amount of tie-ins in this huge crossover have ticked all the right boxes (more of that later), the main story in comparison seems like nothing more than a succession of flash and bangs with no substance. The whole Savage Land excursion could have been wrapped up far more quickly instead of being strung out for five issues. What it shows, more than anything, is how badly Secret Invasion lacks a sense of scope and scale – rather than portraying this as a worldwide catastrophe we’ve been spending way too much time in a country inhabited by dinosaurs, watching a bunch of superheroes slapping each other around, fretting over who might be a Skrull in disguise. The purpose behind the invasion - the Skrull’s endgame - is still too vague to make much logical sense; the religious angle is clunky and forced, especially coming from a race previously portrayed as aggressive and militaristic.

All in all, not much cop storywise - Yu’s art still doesn’t do it for me, so I’m at a loss to find anything positive to say about it. Three issues to go, and I can’t see how it can really rescue itself now. 3/10

Matt T: After the annoyance of the Avengers titles and the expected leakage over into God knows how ever many other comics, Secret Invasion finally looks like it‘s nearing some kind of conclusion. Although it‘s extremely frustrating that Bendis seems to have thrown in quite a few plot devices purely to shock - only to render them pointless a few issues later - I quite enjoyed #5. There were plenty of flaws, such as the aforementioned lazy plot devices, but overall it seems to have given the whole event a kick up the arse, which it definitely needed. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank & Jon Sibal
DC $2.99

Matt C: Johns and Frank’s creepy superpowered sci-fi tale continues to delight, and in my humble opinion Action is the best mainstream book DC are currently publishing. Johns exudes confidence writing these characters and knows exactly how to pace a story, hitting the right beats to carefully build up the tension and threat. Frank draws the perfect Man Of Steel, pretty damn close to the way I see the character when I picture him in my mind: powerful, inspiring and human. 8/10

Writer: Andrew Kreisberg
Art: Matthew JLD Rice
Arcana $2.99

Matt T: As this miniseries ended in exactly the same madcap manner as it started, I found myself wondering if I would have purchased it had the title not been so intriguing. I‘m glad I threw down my $2.99 for all four issues though, as it‘s been a real thrill ride and completely mental, throwing up plenty of explosions and fist fights alongside actually teaching me a thing or two about Alexander Graham Bell and the early American presidents. I’m hoping the artist and writer go on to bigger things, as both have plenty of potential. 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Simone Bianchi
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: I‘m all for Cyclops becoming more interesting as a character, as his relatively limited power set means his position in the team often needs to be justified. Ellis clearly has a decent handle on the darker side of Scott Summers, and as unpopular as he may be amongst many fans, I‘m preferring the new outlook. It's a still a bit too early on to judge the story itself, and at the moment it's following a similar alien invasion pattern to Whedon‘s run on the book. Hopefully it won‘t suffer the same delays, as even the best storytelling in the world wouldn‘t save it. 7/10

Matt C: I gave it another shot, but this is it for Astonishing X-Men and me. It’s Ellis on autopilot, and although even on his worst day he can rustle up a few memorable moments, there’s not enough here keep it from cruising into mediocrity. In another setting I could probably appreciate Bianchi’s art, but it’s the wrong fit for an X-Men tale. Hugely disappointing. 5/10

Writer: Brendan Hay
Art: Nate Watson
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt T: There’s a fine line between parody and cliché, and making fun of the conventions of a genre while similarly sticking to them. Scream Queen has a Scream-like feel, following the usual rules of the horror film while simultaneously giving the reader a self aware wink and a nod. Unfortunately Scream Queen isn’t that clever, and while there are some interesting moments there’s a definite sense that things are following a predictable formula and the early promise of the monster-loves-girl premise won’t elevate much beyond a pleasant distraction. 6/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Goran Parlov
Marvel/Max $2.99

Matt C: The end of an era then, as Ennis’ tenure as regular Punisher writer comes to an end. It’s been almost a decade since he took over writing the character, and in that time he’s made a few missteps here and there, but overall, particularly in the book’s current incarnation as a MAX title, he’s had an exceptional hit rate. Hindsight will let us know for sure, but it’s possible he saved the best for last: his final storyline, which mixes the usual intoxicating grimness with criticism of the American government’s military policy over the last few decades, is intelligent, intense and insightful. This is arguably the definitive interpretation of the character and I can’t foresee any writer other Ennis being able exhibit such a firm grasp and understanding of what makes Frank Castle tick. With that in mind, this will probably my final issue of Punisher – if you’re gonna go out, go out on top. 8/10

Writer: Joss Whedon & Brian Lynch
Art: Nick Runge
IDW $3.99

Matt T: This comic has finally given up on telling every back-story possible and got cracking on with the task in hand, much to the plot’s benefit. Although the art still isn’t as good as it should be there’s been a definite improvement over recent months, as the drama of Gunn becoming a vampire and Angel going in the other direction and becoming fleshy once again hurtles towards it’s conclusion. There are moments when the feel of the TV show is apparent, but for the most part the snappy dialogue is the only real element retained. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Doug Braithwaite
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: It’s quite possible the reason this story resonated with me so much is because it features Donald Blake helping a young woman through labour, and less than 24 hours beforehand I’d just watched my wife give birth to my beautiful son, Harvey. But that only really explains part of its pull. What Fraction does - in what would otherwise be a superfluous offshoot - is deliver a tale that far outclasses the main Secret Invasion mini in every respect by providing not only solid, consistent characterization that fits tonally with what Straczynski has been doing in Thor proper, but also giving a perfectly logical reason why the Skrulls would specifically target Asgard. Even with some particularly strong competition in the shape of Punisher and Action, this is my book of the week. 8/10

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Art: Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund
DC $2.99

Matt C: Keeping Jurgens and Rapmund on artistic duty ensures consistency now the writing team of Johns and Katz have departed, and while their lightness of touch is missed, Dixon has a decent enough stab at keeping the same tone as before. It fun, if inessential, but enjoyable enough to make me stick around until Jurgens takes over the scripting of Booster’s adventures in several issues time, and then go from there. 7/10

Matt T: The departure of Geoff Johns was a real downer for this comic, which has been a cracking read over the last few. Fortunately Chuck Dixon has picked up the ball and ran with it for all he‘s worth, keeping the feel of the initial run while injecting some new drama into this Batman-centric arc. The appearance of the Killer Moth also shows Dixon has a similar talent to Johns for fleshing out some of the goofier DCU characters into something more interesting. 9/10

Writer: Matt Wagner
Art: Francesco Francavilla
Dynamite Entertainment $3.50

Matt C: I’m torn at the moment with this book, trying to decide whether to drop it or carry on. It may be slightly too worthy in its presentation but I can’t deny I’m getting a bit of a kick out of this Year One style retelling of the birth of El Zorro. Guess it’s a question of seeing how this opening arc resolves, but even if I don’t continue with it in its monthly format I can see myself being tempted by the trades. 7/10

Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Jim Muniz & Cam Smith
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: The Last Defenders mini is an odd sort of comic, as it‘s taken up until the final issue to establish the team. Even more annoying is the fact that the new line up has plenty of potential, making the previous five instalments something of a waste. I’m hoping the future for this team brings about a longer run with a less confusing main plot, as they could turn into something good. 7/10


Justin B. said...

Hi ho gentlemen. I've been dropping in regularly, just been neglecting my comments.

I have to lean towards agreement with Matt C on Secret Invasion, although maybe not quite down to a 3 level. Each issue has me caring less and less what happens, whereas Final Crisis started slow but has me more and more interested as we go. I enjoyed the Inhumans and Runaways/Young Avengers tie-ins but the Thor one fell surprisingly flat for me, especially considering it's a Fraction book. I'm sure Marvel is selling boatloads of books but with this and House of M it looks like event books might not be Bendis strength.

A few faves you didn't mention from this week: Firebreather, The Atheist (love me some Phil Hester) and Walking Dead (heartbreaking and scary, even without zombies).

Great stuff as always guys.

Matt Clark said...

The larger the canvas Bendis works with, the more out of is depth he seems. He excels at moody, character-driven pieces (which we rarely see from him these days) and hasn't acquired the knack for the blockbuster epic.

Walking Dead is one of those books i missed the boat on and never caught up with, even though I know I should have as everyone says it's awesome.

Unknown said...

I'm more positive toward Secret Invasion purely because it seems to be the only book out of the three main titles (the two Avengers comics making up the threesome) that is actually moving forward. I understand it can be tricky to keep the continuity going when you're spreading a story out across multiple comics (Civil War anyone?) but remedying this by layering backstory after backstory really makes my blood boil. Does a Skrull Captain America really need a whole issue?

Anywho, rant over. Final Crisis is as gloriously random as most of Morrison's current work is, so I just hope he doesn't go completely mental, like doing a prose issue a la Batman.

And I'll be the first to extend my forum-based congrats to Matt C for his new baby, Harvey. I'm hoping he was named after Harvey Dent. :)

Justin B. said...

Yes, congrats indeed Mr. C. Is it your first? Also, your wife must be a saint if she's letting you go out for comics while she's recuperating in the hospital! A true comics fan through and through... :)

Matt Clark said...

Thanks guys. I had to go pick up a comic (the latest Spider-Man) to commemorate the day my son was born (along with a couple of newspapers), something for him to look at when he's older. While I was there, I thought I'd take the opportunity to get my weekly stash! :)