31 May 2009

Mini Reviews 31/05/2009

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.

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kyle Hotz
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The 1950s and ‘60s was the era of the superhero, the late ‘70s through to the turn of the century saw the rise of the anti-hero and now Marvel seem to be telling us that ‘everybody loves a villain’. Honestly, there’s almost as many titles dedicated to individuals with dastardly or questionable motives in Marvel’s canon today as there are following the good fight being fought. This five-part miniseries is going to try to prove that The Hood turning up almost as much as Norman Osborn through the Marvel Universe at present is a justifiable thing. I personally am starting to believe it. Parker Robbins is not your normal aspiring crime boss. Thanks to a rather questionable deal he’s got Dormammu (yes, that one) bestowing a crazy assortment of mystical powers on him and ensuring that crime in New York City is being crafted with an organised hand (no, not the ninjas). If that wasn’t enough, the reveals about his home life mean that there is more to his story than making money for money’s sake. Writer Jeff Parker captures a man trapped between the heights of his power and the lows of his needs and desires well, but I just wonder how the nature and depth of his powers will be dealt with over the coming issues. 7/10

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

James R: Ignition City continues to be an essential read. This month, Mary Raven gets closer to solving the mystery of her father’s death, but best of all, we meet Ignition City’s lawman, Marshall Pomeroy, who is a blend of the Rocketeer and the King of The Rocket Men (and quite frankly, any rocket-pack based hi-jinx in a comic is an automatic thumbs-up for me!). Ellis has a fantastic knack of being able to convey a huge amount of information in just a few panels and, using no dialogue at all, he tells us a wealth of info about the universe of Ignition City. Gianluca Pagliarani’s art is at it’s best so far, and given the ongoing blight of delays in the comics industry the speed with which the issues have come out has been reassuring, and I can only hope that, like Anna Mercury, this is a world that Warren Ellis chooses to re-visit soon. 8/10

NOVA #25
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Kevin Sharpe, Jeffry Huet & Nelson Pereira
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Well, I predicted in my review for #24 that this instalment would be something special and I wasn’t far off the mark. Richard Rider, newly imbued with the power of Quasar’s Quantum Bands, finally tackles the Worldmind/Ego the Living Planet combo with the future of the Nova Force at stake. This is a succinct and well delivered finale to a long story arc that has been running since the Annihilation Wave first forced Worldmind and Nova into a union, and the various plot pieces and threads have been pulled together to leave me feeling like suitable conclusions have been reached here, while promising story ideas have also sprouted from this issue. The artwork is of a pretty decent standard from Sharpe and co but there seems to be a variety of different characterisation styles employed so that Nova’s build changes from panel to panel and it doesn’t seem consistent. It doesn’t take anything from the excellent writing though and so I bestow a happy 8/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: The emphasis is on character this issue, and anyone familiar with Ennis’ work will know the writer – when really invested in the material – can bring individuals to life on the printed page. As their numbers diminish the group try to find bright spots in an otherwise bleak situation. No zombie action this time but Burrows compliments the introspective tone of the script by capturing the melancholy but resilient nature of much of the cast through subtle changes in expressions. Skilfully told, with moments of genuine emotion, this is most definitely a cut above your standard zombie fare. 8/10

James R: This issue of Crossed shows why Garth Ennis continues to carry such weight in the industry. Last month I complained that it was getting too formulaic and flat and, right on cue, #5 is a marked improvement. Ennis takes a pause from the horror of his apocalypse to show his more philosophical side – and argues that the end of mankind may not be such a bad thing after all. There is also the creeping horror that the worse may yet be to come. This instalment feels like a conceptual twin to the first – that stayed in the mind due to the shocking horror, whereas this stays in the mind as it provides food for thought. Along with Ignition City, this makes for a great week for Avatar, which is quickly becoming the home of quality creators and innovative comics. 8/10

Writers: Taki Soma & Michael Avon Oeming
Art: Taki Soma & Michael Avon Oeming
Dark Horse $2.99

Stewart R: With nuclear-posturing back in the political public eye at present this book comes at an interesting time. A war between the super-powered individuals of the planet threatens the lives of millions around the globe, while Gil and Evelyn suffer more personal injuries as their relationship comes to an unhappy hiatus. With the planet left in ruins and devoid of its Champions, Evelyn finds herself charged with the task of delivering peace, smiting evil and finding her ex-boyfriend in a world tearing itself apart. It’s an interesting premise but I’m not completely sold on this first instalment. Events jump all over the place, chronologically and by geography, and the pacing seems forced in order to set up for next five issues where I’m assuming things might calm down and explanations will be delivered. The artwork from both creators is not without merit but is just a little too bold and simple for my tastes and the story suffers slightly because of that. There is a however a lovely use of watercolours to emphasise a flashback towards the end of the book and I’ll reserve judgement on whether to continue with the series until next issue at least. 5/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Billy Tan
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: “Is this a Brian Michael Bendis book? This book? Is it a Brian Michael Bendis one? It is a Bendis book. This book is by Bendis.” And there, in a nutshell, is ol' BMB's dialogue rhythm. The only reason I bring attention to it is because he uses it far too many times in this issue, to the point where even Spider-Woman sounds exactly the same as Spider-Man, Luke Cage or even Cap. Why he feels the need to wedge his own form of banter into every damn book escapes me, as the general plot is reasonably entertaining if a bit linear. The Eye of Agamotto is off to find the new Sorcerer Supreme, and both the Avengers and the Hood are in hot pursuit. Of course things go tits up pretty swiftly, and a giant demon thingy needs killing. A middle of the road book in anyone else's hands becomes and annoying middle of the road book thanks to the writer. Ho hum. 4/10

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker and Victor Olazaba
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Ok, I’ll say it now: if you want to get the most out of the War of Kings storyline I highly recommend that you pick this title up alongside the main miniseries (go on, take a trip to your local – hopefully independent – comic shop and ask for the back issues). You won’t be disappointed for shelling out the extra money and this title adds a great deal to the overall picture. With various members of the Guardians helping out the Starjammers against the Shi’ar, it’s left to Peter Quill (aka Starlord) and his team to appeal to Black Bolt’s Inhuman/Kree alliance to end the conflict before the universe literally falls apart. The fact that that particular meeting doesn’t go according to plan would easily entertain for an entire issue but if you add a super-powered slugfest between Vulcan and Adam Warlock to the mix then you get a terrifically fast paced read with unpredictable twists and some magnificent artwork. Brad Walker is excelling himself on Guardians, providing some great fight and action sequences and the man seems to pick the right angle for every layout. This is one of the best titles out there at the moment and still for only $2.99! Bargain! 9/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Steve McNiven & Dexter Vines
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I’m getting bored of this now, and I was kind of relieved that this was the final issue of Old Man Logan – only it’s not! We’ve still got a Giant-Sized Special to wrap everything up on the horizon! This instalment did have a climactic feel to it though, as the main villain is revealed and then dispatched relatively quickly, making me wonder if the Special will come across as nothing more than a pointless (cash-in) epilogue. Millar is clever enough to throw in loads of “whoa, cool!” what-if moments, but there’s very little in the way of substance to back it up. The saving grace is McNiven’s stunning, visceral art, the best stuff ever seen from the guy so far. Overall it’s moderately entertaining but lacks any lasting brilliance. 5/10

Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Kevin O’Neill
Top Shelf/Knockabout $7.95

Matt C: I still haven’t got around to reading The Black Dossier, partly due to its unavailability in the UK, but mostly because of sheer laziness in sourcing it from somewhere other than Paradox. I will pick it up eventually, but in the meantime it’s onto the latest instalment, “1910” which drops us in with that year’s incarnation of the League. While Moore’s writing is often peerless, and O’Neill’s art expert at evoking both the pomp and the poverty of the era, it does immediately strike me as being a lot more inaccessible than the previous volumes. There’s no strongly apparent central plotline this time, with the team blundering around misinterpreting a prophecy, so what were left with essentially is the details and the characterizations that propel and sustain the narrative. I guess what I’m try to say is this is really for fans only – newbies are probably best served going back to the beginning rather than sampling this particular book as they may be left lost, confused and wondering what all the fuss is about. Those of us already familiar with the world Moore has created for ‘his’ characters to inhabit can witness a master storyteller at work as he sets up what is possibly the most ambitious chapter in the League’s history yet. 8/10

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

Stewart R: While this Messiah War mini-event isn’t working spread across the two titles, this issue highlights that there are still some good points to note. Kyle and Yost are handling the narrative style perfectly, here delving into Stryfe’s thoughts on the events unfolding before his eyes and ensuring that X-Force actually make something of a meaningful appearance in their own title. In the last Cable issue it seemed that Bishop was suffering from a case of incompetence while trying to kill Hope but here the threat that he poses to her safety is accurately depicted. I’m still not quite sure of the Archangel/Apocalypse spin to this whole story and their appearances here seem to say to me that we could have done with a one-shot issue to deal with their interaction before bringing them back to the fray for the last couple of issues. Crain hands in his usual broody pencils and proves once again that he was the right choice for this mini – it’s just a shame that he’s not doing the whole thing. 7/10

Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art: Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: The best issue of this title for a while as Hercules and Amadeus Cho venture into Hades to rescue Zeus. Recently the book had started to crumple under the weight of its own convoluted plot but things are a heck of a lot more clearer this month, and Pak & Van Lente’s interpretation of the hereafter as a casino where the deceased gamble for resurrection is ingenious (“Each afterlife is just an interface – you know, like a web browser?”). The trademark brand of humour is back in full force and, along with an array of familiar faces, there’s a juicy cliffhanger that promises a lot for the next instalment. 8/10

Writer: Tim Beedle
Art: Armand Villavert, Jr
Boom! Studios $2.99

Matt C: This doesn’t hold a candle to Boom!’s main Muppet Show title – where that book has an infectious quality, with the laughs coming through quick and easily, this mini feels forced in comparison. It’s also far too longwinded for a medium that requires more visual pizazz, and the cumulative effect is that it’s a dull read. Art is decent enough but I can’t see this appealing to anyone over the age of 12. 3/10

Writer: Jim Krueger & Alex Ross
Art: Steve Sadowski
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Although the continuity is so ridiculously out of whack that any semblance of this book being considered normal Marvel U has completely disappeared, it is a fun read. The Red Skull has the Cosmic Cube thanks to some time travel-related jiggery-pokery, meaning the Avengers from this time have to dress up as long forgotten heroes of WW2. The combined team of the Invaders, Avengers and Nick Fury's Howlin' Commandos are closing in on the Skull's stronghold, with a group of super-Nazi's and Thor (!!!!!) now standing in their way. Needless to say all will be well at the end, but it's been a good read, if a little drawn out up till now. Had the story been condensed into six issues, which wouldn't have been too hard, the end product would've been far more concise, rather than meandering. 6/10

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Art : Nguyen, March, ChrisCross, McKelvie, Konat & McKenna.
DC Comics $2.99

James R: This kind of one-shot is something DC have got good at over the last few years – the set-up for a series of books or crossover disguised as a single issue. Some find them annoying as they feel it’s little more than a glorified advertisement, but I personally enjoyed this attempt. It held together much better as a narrative, and was a quick and concise guide to who is doing what in Gotham. It was also cool to see Phonogram’s Jamie McKelvie providing the art for the Leslie Thompkins pages. All told, this could be a good year for the Bat-books, with a great team on Detective and Batman & Robin looking first-rate… and all this without Bruce Wayne. 7/10

Writer: Joe Kelly
Art: Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: I was a staunch supporter of the rebooted Spider-Man title during its first year, regularly defending it against (not always unwarranted) criticism from my colleagues. I agree One More Day was a huge blunder on Marvel’s part but couldn’t deny that many of the tales told since were immensely enjoyable. However, if the past few issues are anything to go by, this almost-weekly title seems to be running out of steam. I’m not confident about the direction it seems to be taking with the various members of the cast and none of the new ideas thrown in seem particularly strong. I had hoped Kelly might bring some new energy back into the book as he’s been responsible for most of the better stories recently, but the feeling of dissatisfaction remains. Even returning the ubiquitous Norman Osborn to the title he originated from doesn’t add anything to the character that we’re not seeing in countless other titles at the moment. Sure, it’s readable, but then I could apply that adjective to a lot of books that I don’t pick up. I’ll stick around until #600 but unless things improve that could be it for me for the time being. 6/10

Writers: Garth Ennis & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Mihailo Vukelic
Image $2.99

Matt C: This has been a solid crime series with the expected dollop of ultraviolence courtesy of Ennis but the final issue features a twist that is too implausible – even in the context of the story – and it just about derails everything that has come before. Without getting into spoiler territory, I didn’t buy the reveal of a character’s dark secret and the ensuing fallout. A shame really as, up to that point, the book didn’t really pull any punches, but the conclusion was a straight up disappointment. 4/10

Writer: Damon Lindelof
Art: Lenil Francis Yu
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: There are times when, as a comic fan, I want to go back in time and slap the powers that be at Marvel for commissioning this tosh then myself for buying it. Don't get me wrong, UWvsH started well, but the delays and shitty, watered down non-conclusion made it so much more pointless waiting for it. Instead of the two title characters being involved in a beat-down, the whole thing ends in a whimper, where everybody turns out to be friends and all is well. What a load of shite. Even bringing She-Hulk in seemed like a contrived way of raising interest in what was a pretty poor miniseries. 2/10

Writer: David Petersen
Art: David Petersen
Archia $3.50

Matt C: The problems experienced by Archia and the resulting delays to their output, along with the continuing difficulty in differentiating between the cast of characters, may have prevented this from being the perfect comic book experience but damn if the lusciously rendered artwork and the enveloping storytelling don’t make up for it! Petersen has created a fully formed world that leaps off the page with vibrancy and his panel composition is something you can easily lose yourself within. I have a feeling this would work better as a collected volume due to the absence of proper ‘cliffhangers’, so I heartily recommend seeking this, and its predecessor, out immediately. 8/10

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

Stewart R: While the Thunderbolts title seems to be treading a very thin line with it’s roster of C and D-listers from the Marvel Universe The Initiative is all the better for it at this moment in time. Here, with the likes of Taskmaster, Bengal and Constrictor up to their necks in Hydra’s hot water, it actually proves to be an exciting read with survival the priority and completing the mission to obtain the S.P.I.N. tech a secondary thought. The unpredictable nature of Typhoid Mary adds in a nice ‘wildcard’ to the mixture, Taskmaster is coming to the fore as a team leader and Gage even handles Norman Osborn with aplomb, showing that he doesn’t necessarily know about everything that’s going on in the world post-SHIELD but has the ability to turn every eventuality to his benefit. Ramos seems to have found his footing with the ‘pencil-shaded’ style he’s been going for recently and he manages to maintain the tension admirably. I can’t say I see where this title can go from here but what we’ve had until now has been a pretty decent comic book. 8/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Not exactly the explosive confrontation with Annihilus we’d been expecting, with much of the action taking place in Avengers #233, but it’s still engaging, although it’s the characterization that provides more pleasure than the action this time around. The highlight of the issue features a brief but telling appearance by Galactus as new herald Nova informs him that she’s located a suitable planet for devouring: the Skrull Throneworld! 7/10


Stewart R said...

Hmmmm, a delightful feast of reviews here this week! Now if only someone had reviewed Avengers: The Initiative...

Matt Clark said...

Mysterious indeed. First a review wasn't there and now one has 'miraculously' appeared! I wonder how that happened! ;)

Stewart R said...

Crikey, that kind of thing only ever seems to happen in comic books! ;)