24 May 2009

Mini Reviews 24/05/2009

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.
This week also sees the continuation of Matt C's Byrne FF project.


DARK REIGN: FANTASTIC FOUR #3
Writer: Jonathan Hickma
Art: Sean Chen & Lorenzo Ruggiero
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Still an awful lot of fun but this issue loses a point due to it not really pushing the plot forward a great deal, often feeling like it's repeating the same tricks we saw last month. That aside, this is easily the most impressive handling of Marvel’s First Family since Mark Waid was on the book earlier on in the decade, leading me to think that Hickman’s upcoming run on the main title stands a good chance of producing some classic FF tales. I particularly liked the way he has Reed come to the conclusion here that while The Illuminati were a great idea in practice, the reality always leads to disaster no matter what the variables. In your face, Bendis! 7/10

James R: These days, any geek worth his salt is au fait with Twitter – not to be the social hub and life & soul of the party of course, but it does give you some great insights into what’s going on in comics. Last week was the ‘Marvel Summit’ when Marvel’s writers and editors got together to plan the future of the books in their care. At that meeting, Joe Quesada sent the following ‘tweet’ on Twitter: “Hickman is the most visionary creator in comics since Alan Moore”. For those of us who have been banging the Hickman drum for the last 18 months this won’t come as a big surprise. As good as Alan Moore? Not yet for me, but by the Great Googly Moogly, the man can write a good comic! In this third part of his curtain raiser to his proper run on Fantastic Four, he shows not only an excellent sense of understanding the FF family, but also what makes the title great – the application of big science and big ideas (check out how John Byrne did the same on his run in Matt C’s FF reviews). A special shout out to Sean Chen’s pencils which are brilliant at the epic stuff (I loved the first splash page) as well as the small-scale interaction between characters. Don’t be surprised if we’re using the words ‘Hickman’s’ ‘classic’ and ‘run’ in the same sentence in another 18 months. 8/10


SKRULL KILL KREW #2
Writer: Adam Felber
Art: Mark Robinson, Rob DiSalvo & Mike Getty
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Well this is interesting: Riot’s back! Yep she’s back and there’s absolutely no explanation whatsoever as to how or why. Maybe it doesn’t matter, just as there’s apparently no explanation necessary as to why 3D Man seems to be out of favour with the Krew?! This book is evidently not going to be about providing answers as even more questions arise from this issue, including the mysterious appearance of a big Marvel player into the fold and the changing powers of certain members of the team. This could lead to a fantastic surprise twist in the next few issues or could just be as blatantly obvious as it seems. Either way, it doesn’t hit as hard as the initial instalment though it’s not a disappointment by any stretch. One last question however seems to be why two artists have been employed here and seem to be working in relay? It’s not that noticeable but to bookend the ‘main’ artist in this issue seems a little peculiar. 6/10

Matt T: I'm hoping the mystery of how the Krew are seemingly cheating death is fully explained at some point, because right now it's a little annoying having them all return to the status quo without much in the way of effort. Wolverine's appearance is wonderfully silly, and the Cow-Skrull & Cow rumpy pumpy producing the current crop of shape shifters is ridiculous enough to work here, but there still needs to be a degree of respect for the history of the book in order for it all to work. Here's to hoping the future holds some resolution to the apparent miracle resurrections. 7/10


CAPTAIN AMERICA #50
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Luke Ross & Rick Magyar
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: It's a filler issue of Captain America, but unlike the Sharon Carter issue it doesn't do much to fill in the gaps with Bucky's life pre-Cap. There's a few pleasant flash-backs showing birthdays past, as well as something of a brief origin to his recruitment into the original Invaders, but otherwise not a whole lot of his character is made any more interesting. Hopefully #600 won't automatically spell the end for Bucky's Cap, as there's plenty more potential stories in the offing, but in the same sense he seems to have lost some of his edge since donning the red, white and blue uniform. 6/10

James R: Last month, I didn’t review Captain America, as I didn’t just want to write “It’s all right – just fills you in on Sharon Carter before the next Big Thing starts in a couple of issues.” Well, I’ve got to say this month… it’s all right. Just fills you in on Bucky before the next Big Thing starts next month. This would normally be a quality month in anybody else’s title, but given Brubaker’s extraordinary output on this book and in comics per se this feels like a jog rather than a sprint. You have to pick this up if you consider yourself a connoisseur of hero comics, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll be getting double-barrelled Brubaker next month… 7/10


UNCANNY X-MEN #510
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Greg Land and Jay Leisten
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: It's difficult to tell what Matt Fraction is trying to achieve with his run on X-Men, as the old-school plot of the team uniting against a common foe, despite in-fighting, seems to have been lost along the way. Instead the story appears to pander to Greg Land's ability to draw the same pretty ladies over and over again, often not wearing very much. Relegating the 'Science Team' to barely a cameo was a real misstep too; they're about the only thing interesting about Uncanny at the moment. 4/10

Stewart R: This title sweeps from heady highs to questionable lows with such regularity that I don’t know whether I love it or loathe it half the time. This issue seems to take that quandary and put me through a critical rollercoaster every other page. Fraction appears to be trying to make this the X-Men team book that we deserve with plenty of regular characters, gripping storylines and the occasional mutant-powered dust up and it’s getting close to realising its potential. I’m enjoying the Madelyne Pryor’s Sisterhood plot and an attack on the new house that Cyclops built was on the cards after the move to San Francisco. The huge glaring problem here is Greg Land’s artwork and his translation of Fraction’s vision to the page. The man can certainly pencil mutant maidens that will stir something in the loins of many a reader but he seems unable to ply the simplest of changes to facial characterisation meaning that all female characters end up following the same supermodel mould of full-lipped monotony. Emma’s fight with Lady Mastermind actually looks like she’s beating herself up in some panels! The Stepford Cuckoos aside there should be differentiation between characters Mr Land!!

I also take issue with the Wolverine fight that we’re led to believe occurs here, as the posed clash lacks intensity and is left mostly to the imagination of the reader. The fact that his opponent doesn’t end up as a pile of sliced meat on the floor when Logan is in claws-out mode the entire time has me asking questions on how he actually goes about fighting. There is promise in this book but I think I’ve been saying that for quite some time and there are only so many chances that I can keep giving it to come good. 5/10


BATMAN: BATTLE FOR THE COWL #3
Writer: Tony Daniel
Art: Tony Daniel
DC Comics $3.99

James R: Hmm. Now, if my shockingly bad memory serves me, the gist of my review for Battle for the Cowl last time out was “Not bad, but Batman deserves better”. Guess what? It’s the same again with Part 3. First, let’s deal with the positives: DC are to be commended for getting this series out on time, and limiting this to a 3-part mini (yeah, I know there have been a couple of spin-offs, but for the most part, this has been a more wallet-friendly series), and there are points where Tony Daniel produces the goods – the Black Mask pages, and the final two pages are great - but yet this still felt a pedestrian read. The new Batman? Yeah, it’s who you thought it would be. And Robin? Same again. At points, Daniel’s dialogue is eye-raising, and a couple of pages looked like they were drawn in a race against the clock. I think this is thrown into stark relief when you take a look at Frank Quietly’s art for the new Batman & Robin series. Now we all know Bruce will be back, and this series has done a solid job in putting the pieces in place for the next 12 months in Gotham… but that’s all. Worth a look, but this won’t trouble any ‘Best of ‘09’ lists. 6/10


WOLVERINE: WEAPON X #2
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This book is turning into a major disappointment for me. After waxing euphoric about Aaron and Garney’s Get Mystique story in the main Wolverine book last year my hopes for this new title were pretty damn high to say the least. I’m therefore a bit gutted to find that so far this story is proving to be a bit run-of-the mill; there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with it per se, it just continues to feel like we’ve seen it all before. And there certainly doesn’t seem to be enough substance to it to justify the $3.99 price tag. On the plus side, Garney’s art is pleasingly hardnosed throughout and based on Aaron’s work elsewhere I’m willing to see this arc through, hoping it gets a bit meatier. At the moment though, I’m not convinced. 6/10


THE GREAT UNKNOWN #2
Writer: Duncan Rouleau
Art: Duncan Rouleau
Image $3.50

James R: Last month I was really impressed by The Great Unknown, and lo and behold, the second issue is the same high quality as the first. Roleau moves his story at a cracking pace, and never treats his readers like idiots – this is a fun read, with a cerebral twist. His panel layouts and palette choices make this look like nothing else that’s being published at the moment, and when I finished it, I went back and immediately re-read it – and that’s always the gold standard for me. This is 2009’s most surprising and rewarding read. 8/10

Stewart R: The second issue of Rouleau’s lo-fi sci-fi tale gives the audience a glimpse into Zach’s past friendships, acquaintances and relationships, and offers two reasons as to why our drop-out protagonist has never reached his potential. The one that Zach has cottoned onto is the evident plot that his ideas are being stolen and exploited before he can reap the rewards, while the reader is made aware that even if his ideas weren’t stolen his general idleness could still result in the same outcome. Despite his selfish attitude there’s something about Zach’s ‘survival techniques’ – his bussed coffee cup move is genius – that makes me warm to the character and I’m sure he’s going to be taken to even new depths in the remaining three issues. The artwork is still great from Rouleau though sometimes it’s hard to tell if his thickly inked pages are a result of creator style or possible time constraints. 7/10


AGENTS OF ATLAS #5
Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Carlo Paguilayan & Jason Paz
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: A step up in terms of accessibility compared to last issue – still not quite there to get me to sign up for the long haul (if, indeed, there is a long haul) but I liked it enough to come back again next month. Here we have a nice twist on the dependable scenario where two super-teams meet, fight, then team up, the difference here being the Atlas guys can’t team up with New Avengers as they need to continue to play the role of villains for their plan to succeed. There’s some amusing character interplay along with several surprises that prevent the fisticuffs from becoming too formulaic but part of me does wonder whether the (sort of necessary) guest stars are taking too much time away from allowing us to get to know each member of the team. I will persevere though, as there is undeniable potential for this book to develop into an offbeat gem. 7/10


THUNDERBOLTS #132
Writer: Andy Diggle
Art: Roberto De La Torre
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Now that Thunderbolts has limped out of the other side of Magnum Opus a clear loser it’s also highlighted that this new incarnation is lacking a certain punch or deadly flair. The biggest reason for this of course lies in the fact that the nastiest villain-types and former Thunderbolts are now employed as Dark Avengers, and the C-list cast brought in to act as replacements really don’t exude danger or menace. De La Torre does his usual superb job with what he’s given and to be honest it’s not a terrible issue – the mess-hall banter and inner-team paranoia is well realised and the ‘ballet’ is a chuckle inducing novelty but it’s not outstanding. Diggle has resorted to bringing in Mister X, the lethal fighter who has bested Wolverine in the past, to try to inject a deadly edge but it may not be enough to stop this title sliding into obscurity. Ghost remains the most interesting character here but that’s purely down to his mysterious personality and isolationist living-style. The promise of Songbird’s return next issue should be interesting considering that she has no beef with any of the current line-up and it could prove that this title has outstayed its welcome. 5/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #255
Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: If there’s any man who can survive having his mind sucked into the power cells of a spaceship which operates on psionic energies and then have intellectual capacity to assert his thought waves into taking over said ship, then it could only be Reed Richards! You do occasionally get the impression reading FF comics that the other three would be destroyed within instants of meeting most of their foes if Mister Fantastic wasn’t about to uses his smarts to get them out of jeopardy (although to be fair he is the one who puts them in these dangerous situations a lot of the time!). An agreeable issue although the inking does look rushed in places, lessening the impact of the otherwise stellar artwork. 7/10

2 comments:

matt said...

I read Thunderbolts this week to, but couldn't be bothered to review it due to the overwhelming feeling of 'meh'. Being so average that it doesn't even garner comment doesn't bode well for what was one of my favourite books.

Stewart R said...

It should hopefully pick up with the return of Songbird next issue but I get the feeling that Diggle has found himself trapped with a book that had its fantastically dark heart ripped out and shoved into the Dark Avengers title. I suppose with it being the Dark Reign at present the one book that previously stood out in a crowd at Marvel is now getting lost amongst the rest of the broody, menacing flock.