19 Apr 2009

Mini Reviews 19/04/2009

While we may not always have the time to review all the comics we get every week, we do try and provide a snapshot of the latest releases, mixing the good with the not so good.

Matt C's Byrne FF project continues this week.

100 BULLETS #100
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso
DC/Vertigo $4.99

James R: And so the curtain finally comes down on one of Vertigo’s core titles. Like Sandman and Preacher before it, 100 Bullets embodied the Vertigo spirit of telling adult-orientated tales with sophistication. This was the first book I read this week, and I think it’s a tribute to Azzarello and Risso’s talent that, years after picking up my first issue of this comic, I was still fascinated to see how it would all pay off. All told, it was a largely bittersweet experience. Firstly, the good – Risso’s art was first-rate again, helped by Patricia Mulvihill’s excellent colours. The story itself was also fittingly apocalyptic, bringing to mind Sam Peckinpah at his best. But the bad? Well, bearing in mind the time we’ve spent with some of these characters, a few of them were offed in a slightly dismissive way, and the survivors seemed oddly arbitrary. You can argue that life is like that, but still, there were a couple of moments where I thought, ‘Couldn’t Brian have thought of something cooler than that?’, and one of the Minutemen is spooked by a gunshot – really? Having being told that these are the baddest men to walk the earth for the last nine years, I felt that one of them being surprised by gunfire was entirely out of character.

All told though, I want to use this review to applaud the series as a whole – for some story arcs it was my favourite ongoing comic series with dynamite prose and art really showcasing why comics are unique (and fantastic) as an art form. Cheers gentlemen, it was a great heist. Issue – 7/10 Series - 9/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I had high expectations for this debut issue, too high probably because I came away feeling disappointed. There’s nothing really wrong with it per se, but I was anticipating something a little less predictable and formulaic. As well as impressing me elsewhere (Scalped being the prime example) Aaron caught off guard last year when he turned in the Kill Mystique arc on the main Wolverine title alongside Garney. It remains the best Wolverine tale I’ve read for many years and I immediately wanted both creators working on the character fulltime. Aaron’s recent Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries was only moderately entertaining but I was still excited by the announcement that this series was in the pipeline (which looks like becoming the core Wolvie title as the other book is being renamed – ridiculously – Dark Wolverine). This issue probably lands somewhere in between the aforementioned two stories. The script is suitably gritty and the art has a hard-as-nails feel energy to – it’s just a shame the plot rakes over stuff that we’ve seen so many times before. Of course I’ll give Aaron the benefit of the doubt, and I’m sure he’s got some surprises up his sleeve, but while this was good read it lacked the memorability and punch for me to want to try and convince lapsed Wolverine fans that this is a series they need to pick up. 7/10

Writer: Tony Daniel
Artist: Tony Daniel
DC $3.99

James R: Two issues in, and I’m still perplexed by this. Not in any conventional sense – Tony Daniel is doing a fine job in setting the world of Gotham up for the new Batman & Robin, and the whole issue held my attention from the first panel to the last, but yet I feel that Batman always deserves a bit more. I don’t think I’m making a ridiculous statement when I say that almost every comics professional working in the mainstream has a Batman tale they’d love to tell, and I think that DC should be a bit more ambitious with their prime property. When you consider the huge roster of characters and motivations, I just have the sneaking suspicion that the whole Bat-universe could be outstanding as opposed to just good. A fun read but, let’s face it, far from essential. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Alex Maleev
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: And so the Master Chief dives into action while reluctant hero Ruwan... nope, sorry, I barely care now. This as a regular month-by-month mini would have been a passable read but to wait some nine months for this finale is a joke, especially as, issue after frustrating issue, the frown lines have appeared on my brow with increased intensity. As an alien invasion story on its own, without the weight and pressure of the Halo title and the guns-blazing necessity of the Master Chief, this could have been a decent read. Shoehorning the action in has severely limited the scope and growth of the characters and made it redundant. In a Halo game this story would actually have been acceptable but to end in a clichéd tale of sacrifice with the Master Chief being used as a simple plot tool to get the job done offers nothing to the Halo Universe and deprives me of $3.99. The presence of adverts serves to annoy further considering the wait for the limited material and then hiding the inflated pricetag on the back of the book winds me up even more. Perhaps the nine months may have gotten to me....? Good frackin’ riddance. 1/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Luke Ross
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Very few comics can pull off a character backup story and still maintain my interest, but Cap just about manages it. Sharon Carter is given the spotlight, explaining her absence from the post-Red Skull storylines. There are a fair few plotlines cleared up, and hopefully the conclusion will result in Agent 13 getting back in the mix, but overall this was a well-written slow burner and a pleasant break from the norm. 7/10

Matt C: After the full-on excitement and action of the last three issues the focus shifts and the tempo slows down as we catch up with Sharon Carter, still reeling from the knowledge that she was responsible for Steve Rogers’ death. But, this being a Brubaker book, there’s a heck of a lot packed into the story and plenty to ponder, including what could be the first clear indication of the rumoured imminent return of an old friend. 8/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: These writers have to be Marvel's greatest triumph of the past five years. I didn't pick up the Darkhawk two-parter so came in here 'cold' so to speak yet within half of this issue I already know what's going on and I haven't been force-fed the information. Christopher Powell is far removed from Abnett and Lanning's other SBU (Space Based Universe) star, Richard Rider; where Nova has been steered and guided into being the hero the universe needs, Darkhawk has struggled under the weight of his unfamiliar powers and his own self-esteem issues. The master/trainee premise here is delivered with a small amount of tongue-in-cheek humour thanks mostly to the way that Powell's anger comes across and, due to a twist at the end, it remains fairly cliché free. Wellington Alves is the perfect choice here as his style suits gore-riddled space battles and he can deliver visual angst as displayed when Powell contemplates his actions to this point. Bring on the next three issues. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips
Marvel/Icon $3.50

James R: Hands down, this is my favourite comic being published at the moment. After rhapsodising over it for the last two issues, this month’s instalment keeps the genius quotient topped up nicely. This time, Brubaker and Philips smash up the conceit that they built up last issue, only to leave Zack Overkill in even more of a jam. Throw into this even more cool characters from Incognito’s neo-pulp universe, along with the best art of Sean Phillips’ career, and you’ve got a flawless piece of entertainment. An extra tip of the hat to the backmatter in this issue – Jess Nevins continues to do a great job giving a concise guide to the world of pulp heroes, and Brubaker always recommends interesting reads. I’m running out of superlatives to use on this comic. I’d rather go without food for a day than miss out on this! 9/10

Writer: Peter David
Art: Valentine DeLandro & Marco Santucci
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: With the X-Factor crew fighting various different battles across time and space this issue is fairly fractured, with the most interesting element being Jamie's trip to the future. Peter David has really hit his stride recently, creating some truly shocking and interesting tales, although this is one of the weaker issues purely because the group is so separated. It's interesting to see how Longshot's powers are shown, which have always been a little vague, and the obvious differences between future and past art-wise. 7/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Gianluca Pagliarani & Chris Drier
Avatar Press $3.99

James R: Warren Ellis is a man who likes the final frontier. If you read his introduction to Orbiter, he spells out his love for the Space Race and how man’s future should be amongst the stars. With Ignition City he touches on some of his favourite themes and ideas – an alternative Earth where World War 2 also featured the Martians and a lot more rockets than Werner Von Braun’s V2. Ellis has been here before – with Ministry of Space and elements from The Authority - but he is superb at crafting believable worlds populated with thought-provoking ideas; here, check out Bronco, a drunk who claims he’s a hero from 500 years in the future, now stranded in “Dark Ages” Earth. Pagliarani’s art is tidy, but given the nature of the story, his ships, planes and backgrounds seem a little muted (though respect for hiding the Rebel Blockade Runner from Star Wars in the background!) Ellis is at his usual visionary best, and the fact that this is a five issue miniseries means that by the final issue, as usual, I’ll be hoping that it’s merely an ‘End of Chapter 1’ as opposed to a full stop. 8/10

Stewart R: I jumped onboard the Warren Ellis train only last year with Aetheric Mechanics and enjoyed that so much that this was likely to end up on my pull-list. Ellis appears to be able to rewrite history like no other, keeping enough of the recognisable and familiar in the worlds that he crafts yet spinning them off into wonderful 'what-if' scenarios. For Ignition City we're introduced to Planet Earth in the 1950s where spaceflight has been established for several years but the only place left operating as a spaceport is the titular locale. There are famous faces from the past century dropping in from all over and to name them here might detract from the entertainment value. Suffice to say that the earlier discovery of spaceflight would certainly have changed the futures of certain individuals from history and Ellis provides a wry and insightful slant on where those people may have ended up. Pagliarani offers a line style which can be a little too simple at times when it comes to characterisation but his scenery work is terrific and I imagine he'll give us even more in the issues to come. Good launch, let's see where the flight takes us. 8/10

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Barry Kitson, Dale Eaglesham & Jesse Delperdang
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: There remains some confusion on exactly what Spidey does and doesn’t know about Mephisto’s magic retconning of his recent history. Unless I missed something I was under the impression that Mephisto made Peter ‘forget’ all those big (and little) details that went against Joe Quesada’s ‘vision’ for the character, but here he seems to be aware of a “psychic blindspot” that’s caused everyone to forget who hides behind the Spider-Man mask. It smacks of Slott doing his best to fix some of the unanswered irritants that still linger on following the debacle of One More Day but it only seems to complicate matters further. That aside, this was an enjoyable team-up issue: Slott nails the juvenile banter between Spidey and the Torch and there are some nice sequences highlighting how relationships are always changing and evolving, even over relatively short spaces of time. I just wish they'd leave One More Day behind for good, because every time they try and go back to iron out the continuing continuity problems they seem to dig themselves further into the hole they made. Let’s just put it behind us once and for all, shall we? 7/10

Writer: Gerry Duggan
Art: Phil Noto
Image $2.99

James R: A couple of months ago Matt C made a post about comics which had simply dropped out of the listings, and the lack of information given by publishers as to when or where we might see them again. Infinite Horizon was one name writ large; this miniseries had such a great concept (the retelling of The Odyssey in a very believable post-apocalyptic world) and it looked unique. It thoroughly deserved the plaudits that are pasted over its back cover. Well, from out of nowhere, Lo! A new issue! Worth the wait? Umm, sadly, no. It echoes the Circe part of Homer’s epic, complete with the drug, moly - Duggan spends most of the time focusing on the Captain’s inner demons, and it makes for an uninspiring read. We’re simply treading water in here, a fact made all the more annoying with the promise of the Sirens next time. I hope this is a misstep, but given that the goodwill this comic has is almost gone due to lateness, the final two issues need to be stellar… and on time. 4/10

Writers: Roy Thomas, Mark Schultz & Bill Everett
Art: Mitch Breitweiser, Al Williamson & Bill Everett
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The lead tale – by Rascally Roy Thomas, no less - is solid if predictable, and features some strong, focussed art from Breitweiser, while Mark Shultz’s subsequent short is pure Bill Everett homage. The real highlight for me was the reprint of the debut Sub-Mariner story from Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 by Everett himself (and yes, I’m ashamed to say this is the first time I’ve seen it!). It may seem simplistic to contemporary eyes, and the character was nowhere near fully-formed, but the potency and iconography is apparent and powerful enough that, 70 years later, he still stands out amongst Marvel’s pantheon of greats. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Greg Land
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Ah, Greg Land. His art is pretty to look at, but oh so samey and seemingly clinical, looking annoyingly static when supposedly active. I'd be happier if he simply did covers, as the female faces blend making them very difficult to differentiate. Still, Fraction is getting a handle on the X-Men, even if this is looking like something of an unnecessary and familiar story. I'm hoping there's something a bit cleverer going on than what's on the surface of a group of disgruntled female mutants kidnapping someone for a bit of body-swapping, so I'll stick with it for the time being. 6/10

Stewart R: Having spent a painful amount of time dealing with Colossus' hang-ups in the past couple of issues, Fraction now returns us to the Sisterhood of Mutants storyline and it's about time. There's almost too much going on in the X-world since the move to San Francisco; Uncanny appears to be the only regular title to deal with the shift, and it’s previously struggled to be a consistent read under the weight of the various plot threads. It has gotten better though and this is an entertaining X-read. Beast's quest to solve the mutant gene problem will inevitably grow to be the major plotline over the coming year or so but the return of Madelyne Pryor is a significant twist and I'm glad that Fraction has gotten back on track with it. There is one point here however that will make much of the readership spring question marks from atop their heads and we can just hope that an explanation to a surprising appearance is quickly delivered. As for the art? Greg Land does Greg Land's women, need I say more?! 7/10

Writers: Eric Peterson
Art: Ethan Nicolle
Bad Karma Productions $2.95

James R: To quote the late, great Bill Hicks; “Do you think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see another Crucifix? That’s like goin’ up to Jackie Onasis wearing a sniper rifle pendant… He’ll be coming back with an Uzi!” Guess what? Someone took Bill’s word’s and turned them into a comic… sort of. Jesus decides to go back in time and put right humanity’s wrongs, starting with Hitler! In fairness, it’s one of those ideas where the final product can never live up to the sucker-punch of the initial concept, but it certainly has its moments (wow many comics can you name where Jesus shouts: "Suck my balls Nazi bastards!"?!) This certainly won’t trouble the Eisner awards this year, but it’s one of the reasons why I love comics – sometimes, anything goes. However, I’ll be looking out to see if Peterson & Nicolle have the balls to follow this up with Mohammed: An Eye For An Eye. 5/10

Writer: Marc Guggenheim & Vince Gonzales
Art: Mel Rubi
Dynamite Entertainment $3.50

Matt T: What started out as relatively interesting if a touch confusing has become even more confusing, slipping into Marvel Zombies rip-off territory. Introducing a brand new universe of super-people is always a tricky prospect, so trying to wedge all the new characters in and get started on a story which more than whiffs of plenty of other, similar books doesn't fill me with confidence for the rest of the run. I'll keep my eye in for an issue or two more, but the secondary plot of an all-powerful being looking to mix things up needs to pushed to the forefront. 5/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: You can take Reed Richards out of the Negative Zone, but you can’t take the Negative Zone out of Reed Richards – with his scientist/explorer cap on, the lure of the NZ continually proves too great for Mister Fantastic regardless of the constant danger and risk that exists beyond the dimensional boundary. This issue sees the FF in downtime mode as they focus on their personal lives before making another journey into the unknown. Wonderful character work from Byrne fleshes out the foursome, making them distinct and recognisable individuals and proving why they continue to remain so popular to this day: Reed’s always thinking a hundred steps ahead of everyone else, Ben’s constant insecurity over his relationship with Alicia, Johnny as the self-styled ladies man who can’t see what’s going on right in front of him half the time, and Sue the soul and conscience of the group, her love for her family absolutely unquestionable. No punches are thrown this time but Byrne’s superb storytelling skills mean you barely notice the lack of “action”. 8/10

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