26 Apr 2009

Mini Reviews 26/04/2009

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.

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Art: Andy Kubert & Scott Williams
DC $3.99

Matt C: There’s been an unnecessary wait for this second part of Gaiman’s Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader? and I would grumble about it if the end product wasn’t something that I think will be looked at as one of the definitive Batman tales in year’s to come. I realise that’s a quite a bold statement but Gaiman has delivered an enormously potent examination on the Dark Knight and his iconic status in popular culture and how, no matter how many iterations of the character have existed or will exist, one truth will always apply: Batman doesn’t ever give in or give up. It’s this truth that explains his consistent popularity and longevity, and why he will continue to connect with audiences long after we’ve all become wormfood (a fact reinforced by the inspired conclusion). Of course, Gaiman presents this in a far more eloquent manner than I could ever hope to manage, and Kubert’s pencils – carrying his own distinctive style while incorporating plenty of nods to the past - bring the writer’s ideas to vivid life. The more I think about this, the better it gets; I don’t want to be too impulsive and label this “a classic” without giving myself enough time to dwell on its layers and meaning, but I think there’s a good chance that it thoroughly deserves that accolade. 9/10

James R: Last week I declared that DC weren’t making the most of the Batman mythos in the main books; this week Neil Gaiman gives a masterclass in how to deliver the goods. It is late, but this is a great Batman tale all told. Incredibly, this seems to take place both in and outside of continuity, making the insightful point that the world will always need a Batman – the embodiment of the human spirit that will never surrender. Andy Kubert produces some of the best art of his career, fantastically echoing Brian Bolland and Dick Sprang (with some able support from Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair). I’ve read some comments elsewhere claiming that this is one of the all-time classic Batman tales – I’m not sure I’d go that far but it certainly reminded me why I love Batman, and it was definitely worth the wait. If you haven’t read the Bat titles in a while, this (and the Batman companion issue) deserves your time and money! 9/10

THOR #601
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Marco Djurdjevic & Danny Miki
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: What’s this? An issue of Thor that gets below 8/10 from me?! Well, while it’s still good, it’s not quite up to the same standard we've been used to thus far. For a start, having Doom admit he looked the word ‘winkles’ up on Wikipedia is a bit dumb (and unintentionally hilarious for UK readers considering the word’s ‘other’ meaning in Brit slang) and a lot of the issue seemed like padding – entertaining padding, but padding all the same. After seeing Djurdevic’s stunning pencil work on the title before I’m guessing Danny Miki’s inks don’t make the perfect match because, while still very strong, the art isn’t quite as effective as it could be. 7/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: John Romita Jr & Tom Palmer
Marvel/Icon $2.99

James R: Six issues in and I really don’t know what to make of Kick-Ass. Beyond John Romita Jr’s top-draw art, I’ve been ambivalent about the story. I just feel that ‘superheroes in the real world’ has been done better – even by Millar himself (I thought 1985 was fantastic) and well, it feels a bit formulaic really. This month we get a character back-story, and a betrayal. If you read comics, this will be hugely familiar to you. From ‘Millarworld Wave 2’, this title feels sluggish compared to both Wolverine: Old Man Logan and 1985. I’d be interested to see if any of our savvy readership (yep, that includes you!) think this is going to make a good film – unless they add an awful lot, it doesn’t exactly scream ‘blockbuster material’ to me. Leave a comment if you agree or know better! 6/10

Matt C: If you’ve been keeping your eye on this blog for a while now you’ll know I blow hot and cold with Millar - some of his work is mind-blowingly brilliant, among the very best stuff on the stands today, while some of his work stinks to high heaven. He even manages to ricochet from one extreme to another within the space of a single issue! Kick-Ass has generally been one of his better efforts recently (if you ignore the scheduling!) but there’s always been niggles during each instalment that prevented it from becoming the classic it already is in Millar’s head. This issue, on the other hand, hit all its marks without putting a foot wrong as we get the 'Secret Origin of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl'; it has its nods to Leon (aka The Professional) but takes them to a deliciously politically incorrect extreme, all wrapped up with a wicked sense of humour that generates plenty of hilarity as the title character continues to blunder from one dicey situation to another. On top of that is Romita Jr’s outstanding artwork: you can almost sense the unadulterated relish he’s having pencilling this book. Let’s just hope the rest of the series makes it out before the movie debuts! 9/10

Matt T: There's a point when black humour crosses the line and becomes a fair bit disturbing, which is evident in this issue of Kick-Ass. The origins of Hit Girl and Big Daddy aren't particularly surprising, and the verging-on-child-abuse treatment of the 11-year old vigilante is particularly difficult to deal with at times. Still, I'm not going to go all Daily Mail on a book which is designed to be shocking and fairly gory, and once more is superbly written by Millar. Romita Jr is on fine form again, and while the plot looks to be getting far more comic-booky with the twists and turns I'm still on board for the conclusion. 7/10

Writer: Christos N Gage
Art: Humberto Ramos
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: A few issues ago I couldn’t see how this title could carry on in a post-S.H.I.E.L.D Marvel Universe, but I’m slowly seeing that Gage has a plan and it might well keep this on my pull-list. Devastating Stamford for the second time doesn’t sound like an original idea but I get what Gage is trying to do in almost taking everything full circle: Stamford gets devastated by superheroes, Tony Stark becomes head honcho, the Initiative is born; Tony Stark is knocked from his perch, The Initiative falls apart, causing Stamford to feel the pain once more. It’s necessary and delivered quickly without too much agonizing on the plot repetition. The Shadow Initiative is even more interesting and the twists delivered here amongst the behind-enemy-lines story have ensured that I'll see this arc through at least. I reckon that Ramos was going through a purple patch a couple of issues ago as his art here is now back to his usual high quality. 7/10

Writer: Adam Felber
Art: Mark Robinson
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: It constantly annoys me that ongoing titles that show a real drop in quality over prolonged periods are often allowed to survive long beyond their best, where books like SKK are limited to a few issues. Let's get things straight though, there's nothing really sensible or gritty about this comic, as the infected-burgers-from-cows origin shows, but it's damn good fun. The first few pages reminded me plenty of the opening sequence to Blade, which is no bad thing, and the wit and action continued throughout. A good giggle, hopefully consistently so for the next five issues. 8/10

Stewart R: If you’re worried about not getting enough ‘greens’ this week then may I recommend this title: there’s enough green goo, guts and blood here to sate the hungriest of comic appetites! One of the successes of Secret Invasion gets its own five-part mini-series and shows us that the Skrulls are still around, still in numbers, and still need wiping from the face of the planet Earth. Felber ensures that the readership don't have to know the entire history of Skrulls visiting Earth before by folding it into his story, and he provides a great comic by doing so. Ryder is a troubled soul and this mini will certainly delve into his fears and personal issues. Robinson’s art is reminiscent of Paco Medina and Humberto Ramos’ work and Marvel will do well to keep hold of his services. If you haven’t had enough of Skrulls I can certainly recommend picking this up. 9/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Juan Jose Ryp
Avatar Press $3.99

James R: The paper fumes from No Hero still make me feel light-headed! But it’s Warren Ellis, and I like to think it’s all part of a nefarious scheme on his part. In all fairness, this issue sees the series hitting its stride. Young Josh finally gets to prove his worth as hero, but nothing is quite on the level in the world of the Front Line. It was great to see Ellis giving us a quick fix of trademarked widescreen action in amongst the Machiavellian scheming and the plot to destroy Carrick Masterson; Ryp delivers his best art so far this issue, and this all adds up to a heady superhero hit. Ellis is in a rich vein of form at the moment, and I urge you to get on board and douse yourself in FX (maybe that’s what the pages smell of…) 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Mike McKone & Andy Lanning
Marvel £2.99

Matt C: An amusing if an unexceptional issue from Waid & co as Spidey crams in as many heroic deeds as he can, from thwarting armed attacks to rescuing kittens, specifically to wind up new Mayor J. Jonah Jameson. I’d hoped for something with a little more wallop from Waid, but I suppose it ambles along quite nicely, although McKone’s pencil work is slightly innocuous in places. Surprisingly, the highlight of the whole issue for me was nothing to do with the plot at all but was instead found in the letters pages where some intelligently reasoned correspondence between a reader and both Steve Wacker and Marc Guggenheim on the Flash-Thompson-in-Iraq issue offers plenty of food thought. Personally I side more with the reader’s views but kudos for Marvel for printing his letter and answering it in a considered manner. 6/10

Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Art: Tony Harris
DC/Wildstorm: $2.99

James R: Ex Machina is a great example of the comic fan’s condition: the title that you loved at the outset, and even though it’s not as good as it was, you just can’t quit reading it! Brian K Vaughn is an outstanding talent, and I’m always going to pick up anything with his name on, but over the last 10-15 issues, I’ve sensed that Ex Machina had lost its drive; the story was becoming a bit too predictable and formulaic. But, like all of us, I just couldn’t say goodbye to it. Knowing that Vaughn always has an endgame helped keep me on board, and wouldn’t you know it? In this issue, the title comes good again. Mitchell Hundred tells everyone he won’t be standing for re-election, and decides that if he’s really going to make a difference, he’s got to act now. Add to that, his enemies are also starting to gather against him, and to top it all off, New York is beset by a particularly nasty plague.

With the end in sight, Vaughn does a great job of putting his pieces in place, and Tony Harris does his usual sterling work on pencils (the final page especially has a visceral punch that Crossed aspires to). A compelling read all round, and I’m now really psyched to see what happens next. See, sometimes the comic fan’s condition pays dividends! 8/10

Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art: Dietrich Smith & Terry Pallot
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Oh dear. I’ll start with the art this time as it was the first thing to catch my eye and I don’t mean that in a good way. Smith’s style is far too simple for my tastes and looks very hurried in places. Considering the artistic talent that has graced this book in the past couple of years this issue is something of a let down. The story suffers due to the art and also under the sheer weight of characters here. Having this bizarre three-way throwdown between Herc & Co, the Dark Avengers and the Olympus Group should be a titanic struggle but it’s untidy and isn’t particularly ‘incredible’ as far as Hercules goes. The fact that he can chuck Sentry around so easily seems to indicate a little carelessness on behalf of the writers. The only saving grace is the Cho/Delphyne storyline but even that won’t stop me from labelling this issue as naff. 3/10

Writer: Richard Starkings
Art: Marian Churchland
Image $3.50

Matt C: Where Elephantmen was once a powerful and intoxicating blend of an imagined future where man decided to play God, recently I’ve begun to wonder if it’s lost its direction. The last few issues have trundled along with varying levels of enjoyment, but any forward thrust seems to have been forgotten. I know there have been huge delays, and I know they weren’t Starkings’ fault, but I do feel he needs to accelerate things a little more because my attention is beginning to wander. This issue contains what would be a life-changing decision for any young girl, but it’s all handled in a rather inoffensive manner and doesn’t allow for an emotional connection to the characters. Churchland’s light, washed-out art is nice but doesn’t seem quite suited to the content. 5/10

Writers: Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost
Art: Clayton Crain
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: And so the Messiah War rolls on with the black-ops type bloodbath we’ve come to expect with this title. It’s brutal and visceral action from the creative talent but it’s not at the high standard that we’ve been presented with before. It may be to do with the large cast of characters and the necessity to focus on the Cable and Stryfe past/present/future storyline, which detracts from the team and makes them seem like bit players in a far bigger game. Crain’s artwork looks a little rushed and there are some panels where it’s hard to tell if facial features have been left out on purpose or by accident. That said there are some awesome full page renders including one of Stryfe entering the fray which is simply jawdropping. With three issues of the Messiah War left things are looking promising. 6/10

DYNAMO 5 #21
Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Mahmud A Asrar, Yildiray Cinar & Ron Riley
Image $3.50

Matt T: There's a definite problem with fledgling books like Dynamo 5 falling into the trap of reproducing storylines from longer running comics, and in this issue it's worryingly obvious. The 'superhero date' and 'super-drug' plots get trotted out, and not in a way that's new or fresh, making me think that the lull D5 has hit recently might be a touch longer term than I initially thought. For once the art looks a little shaky too. 5/10

Writer: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker & Victor Olazaba
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Page 17. That’s almost all that I need to say. Page 17 of this issue is the best page that I have read this week. Nine simple panels, two great characters and a clear indication that Abnett and Lanning know that adding a touch of humour to the mix in an ongoing title can really work wonders. Thanks to the various books embroiled in the War of Kings it’s become clear that there are no clear-cut ‘right and wrong’ sides to this conflict and the Guardians angle as protectors of the nature and fabric of space itself is really interesting. The fleshed out Guardians roster could possibly indicate that there will be casualties during the war, but hopefully not too numerous. Walker delivers some delightful pencilwork and can mix his layout style to suit the situation with skill. This issue is a triumph and not just because Groot finally gets a debriefing log at long, long last! 10/10

Matt C: Oh yeah, this is more like it! My faith in this series was sorely tested over the last couple of issues – Drax and Phyla’s search for Moondragon proved to be a comparatively tedious read and I did fear that this dip in quality would continue possibly to the point where I parted ways with the book. Fortunately Guardians snaps back into form this month as it connects with the War Of Kings event – the humour and energy of earlier issues are front and centre once more and with the help of Walker’s cosmically-infused panels the whole thing zips along at a frenetic rate of knots. 8/10

Writer: Scott Beatty
Art: Carlos Rafael
Dynamite Entertainment $0.50

Matt C: I’m all for these resurrections of classic characters into the modern age, but this updating of Buck Rogers felt kind of flat. The plotting was rather vague, and pitting Rogers against some amorphous globs wasn’t the most visually arresting idea ever (Rafael does the best he can with it though) meaning there’s not really anything here to reel me in for the ongoing series. I can’t fault Dynamite for putting this out for 25 cents though as it’s a great way to sample something you may avoid otherwise. I’ll be sticking with Buster Crabbe for my Buck Rogers fix though, or failing that, Gil Gerard (as long as he brings Erin Gray along for the ride!). 5/10

James R: I would’ve paid 30p for the Cassaday cover alone! But will this be worth picking up monthly? On this evidence, I say: No Twiki, no good! And if there’s no catsuit-clad Wilma Deering, I just don’t want to know! In all seriousness, Dynamite should be applauded for launching the series in this way, with the price and cover making it impossible to ignore. However, I’m not convinced the 12 pages told me that the forthcoming series will be an essential read. With respect to Scott Beatty, I can’t help think this would have been a lot more fun in the hands of Warren Ellis – check out Ignition City instead! 4/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Billy Tan, Chris Bachalo, Matt Banning & Tim Townsend
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: It is such a shame that Marvel are messing around with artist shuffles at this point. The combination of Tan and Bachalo has worked magnificently on these past two issues and now the powers-that-be are sending Mr Bachalo off to a *sigh* Dark Reign: Spider-Man mini-series. Here his work is superb with some excellent panel and layout work and I believe that should a Dr Strange title surface in the future he should be top of the list for pencils. The retelling of the battle with the Hood scattered between the Avenger-based banter and decision-making is polished, and bringing Madame Masque into the picture means that there are some interesting angles for Bendis to explore. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: Simply put, this is the best thing DC (including its various imprints) are publishing at the moment. I may sound like a broken record but, month in, month out, this title continues to astound. The character work is as good as you’re likely to see on the stands currently – it remind me of The Wire in a way, in that even the minor players are fleshed out into three dimensions. The black and white art pages (with the occasional splash of red!) are startlingly effective during this issue as one of the series’ mysteries is finally cleared up. Some of Aaron’s work elsewhere may not hold the same kind of appeal, but the simple fact that he’s writing Scalped makes him one of the best writers working in the industry today. 9/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: This is Byrne doing ‘widescreen comics’ way before the term was coined, although he applies it far more literally than Bryan Hitch ever did by flipping the book on its side so we’re essentially reading pages from bottom to top. It’s a neat idea and gives Byrne the opportunity to do some interesting stuff with his panel layouts, so it’s a bit of shame that the story features a number of flaws that reduce the impact of the artwork. It reminded me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with the foursome arriving on a planet and getting mixed up with the inhabitant’s problems. Here though, Reed is taken out of the action early on leaving Sue in charge, and she’s made to look like an effectual leader as she, Ben and Johnny bungle their way into the alien’s affairs. Worse is the denouement, where a horrendous crime – the kind whose consequence would ripple across the next few issues if handled correctly – is treated as a bit of a schoolboy error rather than a grand tragedy. Captian Picard certainly wouldn’t have let it slide so easily! So, a visually impressive but imperfectly plotted issue which, thankfully, was a rare occurrence during Byrne’s tenure on FF. 7/10


Matt Clark said...

RE: Kick-Ass

Well obviously I was more enthusiastic about this issue (just a tad!) than my fellow reviewers but even after reading their thoughts I'm sticking to my guns!

As to James R's comment on whether it's going to make a good film - the potential is there, absolutely. The content will prevent it crossing over to a wide audience (I'm assuming) but there's enough wit and invention on display, along with character's that actors can really sink their teeth into, which I think provides Matthew Vaughan with the right ingredients to produce an entertaining, ultra-violent, superhero comedy.

That's what I'm hoping for anyway!

Tom P said...

RE: Kick-Ass

Im a HUGE Miller fan, but have yet to Read Kick-Ass. I decided to wait for the trade or HC, Just read his and JRJR's Wolvie run again and its just so bloody great! So i cant comment on if it will make a good movie. From the sound of what I've read it will be a Kill Bill kind of thing which would rock. I love miller's work and his OTT style, and cant wait to read Kick-ass for my self. The second the HC is out I will be ordering it from Paradox.