17 May 2009

Mini Reviews 17/05/2009

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.

A bumper post-Bristol edition this week which also sees, as always, the continuation of Matt C's Byrne FF project.

Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross
DC/Vertigo $1.00

James R: Occasionally, you hear or read a pitch for a comic that you think, ‘Now this is going to be dynamite!’ (a quick example would be the mini-series Talent from Boom! Studios), but as is often the case, there is a palpable sense of disappointment as you flick through the pages and realise that the creative team hasn’t pushed the idea far enough, or has played it far too safe. It is therefore my huge pleasure to introduce you to The Unwritten, the new series from Vertigo. I won’t go through the whole synopsis as I’m sure that you’ve chanced upon it on a million other comics websites, (including being flagged up by ourselves in a prior Ten Forward post) or seen the preview pages in various Vertigo titles - all I will say is that this is the greatest first issue I have read for years; not only does Mike Carey match my expectations for the title, he exceeds them, and by the end of this issue there is a great mystery established, and a sinister plot revealed. It does what a #1 should do, and that’s make me desperate to get my hands on the next instalment.

Putting on my pretentious hat, it’s also a hugely satisfying book intellectually. If you enjoy the literary allusions in League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen you’ll also be pleased with what’s on offer here, with nods to both George Orwell and Borges. Having heard Mike Carey speak about this project, I know there’s much more to come in this vein, and I’m desperate to see where he takes it. A special mention too for the artwork of Peter Gross, who juggles the everyday world of Tom Taylor with Internet pages, TV reports and movie clips, giving a different feel to each. It’s also been impressive to compare the ashcan edition given away at the Bristol Comics Expo with the final version – it shows just how much of a great job the colourist does, so a tip of the hat to Chris Chuckry. The last time I enjoyed a debut issue this much was Y: The Last Man, and I’m confident that The Unwritten can fill those giant shoes with ease. And by the way, it’s $1. A dollar! Why would you not pick this up? 10/10

Matt C: This isn’t something that would normally appeal to me as it plays with a genre I don’t really care for (magic) and riffs on a franchise I only have marginal interest in (Harry Potter). If I’m honest, even though I appreciate Mike Carey is an intelligent and culturally savvy writer, not everything I’ve read of his has really clicked with me, so the real reason this became a must-buy was the price tag. Forty pages for a buck (about 70p in our English money)? You’ve really got to give it a shot for that price. And damn, was it a great buy! The premise is intriguing, but not quite a showstopper (and, let’s face it, not that original), but what Carey does with it is quite ingenious. There’s the humanity he brings to his characters, the astute take on celebrity culture, the metatextual elements he plays with, all presented to the reader with a dash of sly wit. Gross’s is art is deceptively simple in places, with its economical linework, but the range of emotions he brings out of the cast is impressive. Listen, obviously no comic is ever going to appeal to everyone, but fans are always on the lookout for something new, always looking for the next book that will knock their socks off. You may think The Unwritten is an astounding example of what the genre is capable of, you may think it’s pile of crap, but at this price you’d be a fool not to pick it up and make up your own mind. For my part, this is the best debut from Vertigo since Scalped. 9/10

Matt T: There's an underlying theme and point to The Unwritten which has the potential to ruin any dramatic edge and turn it into a theoretical and philosophical study. The core of the story tells the story of a man who has been touring the convention circuit as the basis for his father's world-famous book series, Tommy Taylor. Towards the end it’s revealed that everything is not what it seems, making young Tommy's existence more of a mystery. As a first issue it sets the scene well, and opens the various mysteries that create the crux, but I'm hoping The Unwritten doesn't get weighed down by it's own high concept ideas and end up becoming a mess. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: The World’s Most Wanted wagon rolls on through the clouds of Dark Reign and this issue covers all three fugitives - Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and Maria Hill - as they try to outwit Norman Osborn and various other parties with despicable intentions. Stark and Hill’s adventures are exciting and handled with a much needed urgency - Tony’s constant analysis of his surroundings and situations as his faculties begin to fail him is bolstered by Larroca’s almost cinematic panels which ooze speed and danger, while Hill’s escape from the Controller delves a little further into the former head of SHEILD’s past and is set against a delicious palette of dark reds and oranges. The big drag on the issue is the Potts storyline which doesn’t seem to have Osborn making the smartest of decisions considering his aims and intentions, and the fact that he has Stark’s right hand in custody AND she’s tooled-up in active Stark-tech! Fraction may explain the Osborn choices made here next issue but I’m thinking a ball was dropped on this occasion, albeit only one the size of a marble. 6/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Gabriel Hardman & Clayton Henry
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I really want to get behind this book because I enjoy the characters involved, and I know that’s largely down to Parker’s reinterpretation of them for the 21st century…. but the plotting was kind of confusing here meaning I found it difficult to get fully engaged with the story. There are moments that made me smile but unless the title acquires more cohesiveness then I can see myself parting ways with it in the not too distant future. Which would be a shame. 5/10

Writer: Daniel Way
Art: Paco Medina & Juan Vlasco
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Daniel Way and Paco Medina just don’t stop the goodies coming! They came out of the Magnum Opus crossover clear winners over Diggle and Co at the Thunderbolts title and now they’ve delivered another belly-achingly funny issue. With Deadpool still sore towards Norman Osborn’s part in Secret Invasion and vice versa, the battle between Head of H.A.M.M.E.R and Merc With The Mouth continues unabated as the new Hawkeye is sent to put an end to our anti-hero once and for all. While there’s less psychological craziness here – luckily we can take comfort in the fact that the ‘voices’ aren’t gone for good – the great lines and fun banter still shine through and the initial throwdown between Deadpool and Hawkeye/Bullseye is superbly handled by artist and writer. If you haven’t gotten onboard with this title yet I highly recommend that you take a look. 8/10

Matt T: If Deadpool's only task in Dark Reign is to piss off Norman Osborn, then count me in! While everyone else has seemingly either stopped caring or given up trying to knock the Goblin off his perch, Wade Wilson is doing a sterling job of making him look like a right tit. It's the usual removable fourth-wall stuff from Daniel Way, but he at least throws some decent enemies the way of the Merc With A Mouth which in this case is Bullseye/’Hawkeye’. Paco Medina certainly keeps the more cartoonish tendencies to his art under check until the situation calls for it, so let's hope the duo can keep Wade Wilson in check for a little while to come. 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Peter Krause
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt T: The mystery of the first issue was why the world's greatest hero suddenly became a walking, flying apocalypse. Issue 2 doesn't solidly confirm anything, but the reasoning is far clearer as his human friends suddenly turn when shown the Plutoian's true identity. Unsurprisingly this pisses him off a fair amount, as does his girlfriend's distrust. Although this may not be the sole reason for him destroying the majority of the planet it would be damn near good enough for me. Still, the future looks bleak, but entertaining, and impressively put together by Mr. Waid. 8/10

Matt C: Really strong work from Waid here as this issue we see a different interpretation of the classic Lois & Clark relationship. It’s a neat twist, and probably more believable than way things played out in the DC Universe, which just goes to show that, while we’ve seen tales of superheroes-going-bad before, rarely have they been presented to us by someone who implicitly understands the genre as well as Waid does. 8/10

Writer: Jesse Alexander
Art: John Paul Leon
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It’s difficult to see how this will appeal in the one-shot format to anyone not familiar with the ‘60s title of the same name, but fortunately I have a special place in my heart for the WWII set adventures of Fury and the gang, so this was right up my street! It’s very much an exercise in nostalgia, pretty much checking off all the things you’d expect to see in a Howling Commandos comic (sexy foreign agent, Hitler, Percy Pinkerton’s umbrella being used in battle, and so on). It even manages to fit only Baron Zemo but Baron Von Strucker too – now that’s just greedy! On paper, John Paul Leon’s realism-skewed art shouldn’t work with the far-fetched, Boy’s Own tone of the story but, er, on paper it really does hit the spot! Apparently this is meant to lead into the Loeb/Sale Captain America: White (and there’s a rumour flying around that that mini’s been cancelled), but it's a very tenuous link. Inessential, but a lot of fun. 7/10

Writer: Peter David
Art: Valentine DeLandro
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: The future stuff in X-Factor still has yet to grip me, mainly because it seems like a callous way to get Maddrox and Layla together and the latter legal for any rumpy-pumpy. As ever the future is Summers-centric, and there's something of a mystery afoot, but the present day stuff looks more interesting to me. The seemingly straightforward protection of a civilian is becoming far more engaging as a few threads converge. Good stuff, and bound to throw up some unexpected twists. 7/10

Writer: Arvid Nelson
Art: Will Conrad
Dark Horse $2.99

Matt C: A bit of a damp squib of an ending to an otherwise invigorating series with too much mealtime political discussion interspersing the action, hampering momentum, and leading up to a rather uninspiring denouement. Conrad’s art has been a joy to behold during the miniseries, capturing the look of a society in decline. José Villarrubia’s slightly garish colour palette worked wonders too, nicely differentiating it from the similarly-themed Conan title. Overall, worthy of attention, but for me it felt like it lacked a suitable crescendo to make it truly memorable (but then I don’t know if this an original tale or an adaptation of one of Howard’s, so I can’t say where the blame for this should ultimately fall). 5/10

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

Stewart R: Chris Powell’s struggle to control the power imbued within his Darkhawk persona has landed him in serious trouble as the surviving members of the Fraternity of Raptors begin their manipulation of events within the War Of Kings and leave Chris trapped in Null Space. At this stage this appears to be a smaller piece of the overall WOK puzzle but I’m enjoying the history lesson behind the Razor’s fall from power as well as Powell’s recollection of how he discovered the armour in the first place. There are plenty of other plot starters here which hopefully will get looked at after this cosmic event has run its course and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing whether the Raptors actions affect anything in the main title. Alves does an acceptable job on pencils here, Catastrophus being a high point, but I’m not sure about the simplicity of the null space panels. 7/10

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Cory Walker
Marvel/MAX $3.99

Stewart R: Keene Marlowe continues to tidy up the villainous loose-ends of his world but he’s fighting his health and bigger and harder battles each step of the way. The bitterness and no-nonsense attitude of Keene, necessary for his particular brand of heroism, is captivating as he brutally tries to leave the world a safer place once he’s gone. Kirkman shows us that a superhero is on the job 24 hours a day and we catch a glimpse of the frustration that the Destroyer and his family are burdened with for the choices he has made. Walker’s art is really growing on me and some of his character design is top notch. The promise of seeing the infamous Scar next issue has this locked into my pull-list. 8/10

Writers: Jason Aaron & Daniel Way
Art: Adam Kubert & Tommy Lee Edwards
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Waitaminute, aren’t we missing an issue here?! If you haven’t heard already #72 – featuring the conclusion of Old Man Logan – has run into the usual delays that come with pretty much anything Mark Millar writes, so Marvel have taken the bizarre decision of releasing #73 before #72! That aside, I rather enjoyed this, especially Aaron’s wry take on Logan’s hectic schedule (how many teams is he on these days?) - reassuringly rendered by Kubert - which has old flame Yukio suggesting there’s more behind his lifestyle than simple boredom. Way’s biker-gang mystery rolls out cliché after cliché but despite that it was appealing, in no small part due to Edwards distinctive, tense style. 7/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Minck Oosterveer
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Mark Waid’s a busy man at the moment. While he’s currently putting Spider-Man through his paces over at Marvel, he’s still taking his role as EiC of Boom! seriously, going for the hands-on approach rather than sitting back and letting everyone else come up with the ideas. After Potter’s Field, The Incredibles and Irredeemable (I’m probably missing something!) he now adds another title to the list: The Unknown. It features Cat Allingham, the world’s smartest and most famous detective, who’s been told by doctors she’s only got six months to live – rather than choose to wind things down she throws herself headfirst into her work, determined to crack as many ‘unsolvable’ cases as she can before the Grim Reaper comes a’ callin’. It’s a nifty, if unoriginal, premise and Oosterveer adds a nice veil of creepiness to Allingham’s disease-afflicted worldview. What really surprised me was how much this felt like a Warren Ellis book - sure, you can tell Waid’s thumbprints are all over it, but get to the final page and I think you’ll agree, that’s exactly the kind of thing Ellis would come up with. Sounds intriguing? It is, so check this out. 7/10

Writer: Duane Swiercynski
Art: Ariel Olivetti
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: A few lingering questions have cropped up since Cable went time-hoppin' with the saviour/destroyer of the mutant race: how does he stay so ridiculously buff when all he's had to eat is dirt and what's under his finger nails? Doesn't that robot arm ever run out of batteries? And, why is Bishop seemingly willing to do anything to kill a small child? Annoyingly none of those questions are answered here, although there are further hints as to why Bishop has enlisted Cable's evil clone, Stryfe, to kill said little girl. Deadpool is entertaining as always, but X-Force are apparently there to stand around and look mean. The Apocalypse subplot is a bit pointless, so I'm a bit disappointed with Swiercynski's normally sound writing, although Olivetti's art is up to the usual high standard. 6/10

Stewart R: I have expressed my concerns on splitting such an important event involving several heavy hitters from the X-universe across two titles - and therefore two creative teams - before, and I’m starting to think that I was right on this occasion. Once again X-Force are put to the background and even Cable makes a subdued appearance in his own title as the focus shifts squarely to Bishop and Stryfe as they pursue their own agendas. This issue is clearly geared to the big ‘reveal’ at the end and doesn’t go anywhere that wasn’t predictable beforehand. Even the interaction between Archangel and Apocalypse is simply a repeat of previous conversations that the two have had through various titles over the years. Olivetti’s pencils are also a point of contention for me - while accomplished at delivering facial expression his pastel/paint style just doesn’t portray the dark situation necessary for this story. Two issues to go and already I’m predicting disappointment. 4/10

Writer: Mark Sable
Art: Julian Totino Tedesco
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: In the wake of 9/11 a group of people from different vocations (microbiologist, inventor, author etc) are pulled together by a government operative to spitball ideas of potential future terrorist ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This so-called ‘Think Tank’ eventually gets canned and everyone goes their separate ways, but what happens if, eight years later, some of those ideas become real world tragedies? Either these guys did their jobs brilliantly and predicted what the future would hold, or someone's taken those ideas and turned them into reality. Sable's smart, talky, but thought provoking script propels the story along, and while he essentially has to work with character’s conversing, Tedsco lends the proceedings a sense of foreboding. A very promising debut. 8/10

Stewart R: In order to predict the terrorist events of the future a Think Tank is put together in order to establish all of the implausible, impossible, unthinkable scenarios that could confront the United States and the rest of the world in a post 9/11 society. Nothing is discounted and the possibilities are endless. This is a terrific premise alone but the comic that Mark Sable has then delivered is just as accomplished. The sibling relationship of the Ripley brothers (Steven’s an embittered military veteran who’s seen some of the worst that terrorism has to offer, Alan is his novelist brother who twists Steven’s experiences to fit the page and screen for the almighty dollar) aptly displays the paranoia and mistrust that the 21st century can succumb to. Once the World Trade Centre attack is factored in and the Ripley family suffers a loss the story picks up with the aforementioned Think Tank and it’s clear that Sable has thought long and hard on how something like this could pan out.

There’s promising character development while keeping the pacing brisk and resisting the urge to fall into a deep protracted analysis of past, real world events. Tedesco’s artwork is impeccable, delivering quick and explosive action where necessary and I’m really impressed with his great emotional characterization throughout. This is one conspiracy theory title that I will definitely be picking up the second issue of. 9/10

Writers: Jonathan Hickman & Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Stefano Caselli
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: We seem to have dropped into a ‘calm before the storm’ moment here as the Secret Warriors lick their wounds and rebuild after a brutal meeting with members of Hydra last issue. It’s hard to say whether some of the storylines are an attempt at misdirection or are leading on to some deeper, more startling reveals down the road – I for one have some predictions about where this is all going which probably need to be discussed in depth down the pub like all good conspiracy theories. Fury’s severe black and white view of the world is expanded upon thanks to Dum Dum and Gabriel Jones’ questioning of, and disagreement with, his blinkered opinion, and this is decent filler before the almighty brawl that’ll occur next issue. Thankfully there’s also some flesh added to the bones of Hydra as a leadership meeting demonstrates that not all parties are in agreement on the path that that villainous organisation is taking. 6/10

Matt C: Ares’ nipper aside, none of Fury’s team of kids have really caught my attention yet, still coming off as slightly interchangeable. I think it may take a few more issues in that respect, but Hickman’s seems to be heading in the right direction at least. Consequently the major selling point of this book continues to be Nick Fury, and Hickman patently gets the grizzled old warhorse (I keep saying Hickman because it’s pretty clear Bendis’ input is minimal here). Throwing a couple of original Howlers into the mix – Dum Dum Dugan and Gabriel Jones – means there’s no danger of this becoming a teen book (thankfully!) and I’m hoping they stick around for some time to come. Surely there’s enough Infinity Formula to keep them all going, right?! 7/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Mark Brooks
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: The tendency throughout this event is to twist the Avengers teams into 'Dark' versions, which is a bit pointless for the Young Avengers in my book. Certainly the whole point of Civil War was to force supers to register, and yet this book is about a group of bloodthirsty nutters running around killing people? It's all very far fetched, even for a comic, as one character even claims he killed a mugger after finding out he was a convicted rapist. It seems a little more than unbelievable that the group would have targeted a random group of muggers and happened to know they 'deserved' to be wasted. On the plus side the character designs are impressive enough, making them look decidedly different from the usual bright coloured spandex crowd. 5/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: We’re halfway there. Three issues down, three to go, and I have already provisionally noted this title as my Event of the Year. Things could change of course but Abnett, Lanning and Pelletier have so far surpassed themselves in the field of cosmic storytelling and I’ll say right now they have earned top marks from this reviewer once again. In this issue we find that all is not as well as it seems with the Kree-Inhuman alliance and that Vulcan may be having problems with his Imperial Guard before too long. The writers are showing that this conflict has so many different sides and interests to it, that the ending, despite edging closer, is still unpredictable at this juncture. Crystal’s discoveries regarding her family’s motives show that the Inhumans’ actions may be questionable while Gladiator is finally finding some ground to expand as a character. Having been kept as a loyal ‘slugger’ for too long he’s being portrayed as an emotional force who’s constantly pulled between his duty and his heart and he may play an even bigger role as this conflict draws to its conclusion. Add to the mix one half of the Guardians of the Galaxy along with a good measure of Starjammers and you have the ingredients for something special. 10/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ethan Van Sciver
DC $2.99

Matt C: I’ve read quite a few negative reactions to this series at various place online and while there are some valid points being made, personally I think there’s a lot more good than bad going on here. Johns does a great job of keeping folk not fully clued up on Flash lore up to speed (sorry) and his efficient characterization brings nuance and emotion to the proceedings. The final page lost me a bit and the so far the series still hasn’t managed to replicate the same level of excitement as Green Lantern: Rebirth but I’m looking forward to next issue so it’s got to be doing something right. 7/10

Writer: Chris Eliopoulos
Art: Ig Guara
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: It was the appearance of Throg (part amphibian, part Norse God of Thunder) that sparked my interest in this title and I’m glad that I picked it up, as it is a delightfully fresh and entertaining first issue. Lockjaw, loyal canine of the Inhuman household, locates one of the famed and all-powerful Infinity Gems and from there sets out on a quest to bring together various powered animals from the Marvel Universe to safely locate all of the missing gems. The premise smacks of Marvel trying to head down a lighter, cuter path but there’s actually a decent amount of characterisation and banter here that should appeal to several different comic-reading audiences. Eliopoulos provides each heroic pet with the relevant amount of wit, sarcasm, morality or sadness depending on their background which I hope to see continue through the run. The fantastically monikered Ig Guara provides some solid art here that resists the urge to humanize the protagonists too much and it really works as a result. 7/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: And so the FF continue to boldly go where no superhero team has gone before, as they journey further into the Negative Zone. Reed’s insatiable curiosity is all well and good, but surely he’s must have heard that old saying about curiosity and the cat? Judging by the way this issue ends, apparently not! For the most part this plays out as you’d imagine (and in this case that’s certainly no bad thing!) but a couple of unexpected scenes, such as Reed and Sue’s aborted attempt at getting jiggy along with an appearance of a certain Jade Giantess a little while before she became a regular member of the cast, show that Byrne has the ability to keep readers on their toes. 8/10


Stewart R said...

Wow, talk about value for money! It took me as long to read this week's reviews as it would do a $3.99 issue AND this is free! :)

Anonymous said...

Quote: "but then I don’t know if this an original tale or an adaptation of one of Howard’s, so I can’t say where the blame for this should ultimately fall" Unquote

Haven't read issue 6 yet, so i can't comment on whether the ending has been changed in any way, but I can tell you that the story isn't an original it's an adaptation of Howard's story, 'The Shadow Kingdom' - one of his many Cthulhu mythos tales. The de-evolved descendants of the Serpent People crop up in later stories, such as 'Worms of the Earth' (set in Roman times) - a story which arguably influenced the great horror film, 'The Descent'.

It's been a long time since I read the Shadow Kingdom, but it's one of my favourite Howard tales, so I'm hoping your disappointment with the last issue is due to changes in the plot!

Rob N

Anonymous said...

Quote: as it plays with a genre I don’t really care for (magic) Unquote

At the risk of sounding like I'm telling you what you don't like, I'd suggest that it's not magic (per se) that you don't like (after all, you're a fan of Conan and Kull and probably enjoyed the Lord of the Rings films) but a modern genre that I refer to as contemporary fantasy - a genre that became prominent with Clive Barker's novels 'Weaveworld', 'The Great and Secret Show' and 'Imajica'. Comics such as Sandman, Lucifer, Crossing Midnight, Madame Xanadu, Hellblazer etc are all prime examples of the contemporary fantasy genre - where essentially myth and legends and magic lie hidden beneath the semblance of reality. The Unwritten certainly falls into the same camp.

I think you're okay with magic when it appears in the context of 'classic' swords & sorcery writing (I maintain you'd love the Mike Mignola drawn Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser comic book series, if you tried it), though I hope (like me) you'd hate all those modern 'high fantasy' ten part trilogies that dominate the book shelves of Borders, with their unoriginal D&D style covers.

- Rob N

Anonymous said...

Couldn't resist checking out issue six of Kull before I went to work to see whether it's original REH or not. I should have remembered that the REH portion of the story had already finished. Everything in issue six is the Dark Horse writer extending the tale beyond the original short story. Basically, the whole sub plot with the Eye of Terror stone being stolen; Ka-Nu being blamed for its theft; and Brule stealing into the Serpent cult to get it back while Kull hosts a dinner party is original material, and not by REH. I suspect it's Dark Horse setting the scene for further stories in the same vein, involving the Serpent People.

- Rob N