7 Jun 2009

Mini Reviews 07/06/2009

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: Grant Morrison
Art: Frank Quietly
DC $2.99

James R: Many years ago, Matt C and I were on the way to the Bristol Comics Convention. During the long drive down, we inevitably compared our weekly purchases. He showed me New X-Men #114, which was the first issue by the team of Grant Morrison & Frank Quietly. Despite the fact that I’d just never really got on with the X-Men, I was knocked out – ‘This is what monthly comics should be like’, I thought. It was deftly written and beautifully drawn. I sought out my own copy, and then I was on board for the rest of Morrison’s run.

Flash forward to today, and it’s déjà vu all over again. Batman And Robin is everything I was hoping for. We get served up the new Dynamic Duo, who have a refreshingly different, well, dynamic. Dick Grayson is presented as a Batman who isn’t quite sure if he’s doing the right thing, and even less sure about the new Robin, Damien, who is the polar opposite – arrogant, cocksure, and impatient. I’m also impressed with Grant Morrison’s choice of villain – at the start of his run on Batman he was quick to drop in both the Joker and Man-Bat. This time, we get to see more of a new villain (only briefly glimpsed in Batman #666, but more on that in a second!), the frankly creepy Professor Pyg. Frank Quietly predictably brings his A-game to this issue, and whereas it’s sad that he won’t be on board for the whole run, it’s good to see that DC have a capable roster of artists lined up to pick up the slack while Quitely’s off.

Finally, I like the last page, with the four-panel ‘trailer’ for what’s to come over the next year. I think the canniest move of this series will be it’s limited life span – we know Bruce Wayne will be back but, in the meantime, I think we’re in for an awesome ride. (And if you get the chance, go back and re-read Batman #666. Given what we now know about Batman, Robin and Jason Todd too, well, I think this series might end with another Batman RIPing…) While reviewing Battle For The Cowl, I said that Batman deserved better. This will do nicely. 9/10

Matt C: Well, I can’t deny that that was a good debut issue. It’s no secret that I don’t always get on with Grant Morrison’s work – he can bang out great concepts and ideas, but his stories have a tendency to travel up their own backsides rather than reach fitting conclusions. That’s obviously a danger here, and I remember being impressed by his first issue of Batman a couple of years ago only to become increasingly despairing of its direction to the point where I dropped it. Something similar could be on the horizon here, but in the meantime I’ve been hooked in. Quietley’s art is as impressive as always - although certain character’s anatomy and expressions can be occasionally disconcerting - while Morrison turns in a script that’s straightforward and engaging without any unnecessary weirdness. Dick Grayson has understandable unease about taking over the mantle of the Dark Knight but rises to the challenge admirably while Damian’s Robin has hints of likeability where before when I encountered him he was flat out annoying. I remain wary about where this series is headed, but it’s definitely started off on the right foot. 8/10

Matt T: Which Grant Morrison will we be getting for this new run of Batman? The brilliantly abstract and innovative creator of The Invisibles, or the man who screwed around with the New X-Men while disappearing up his own arse? Thankfully Batman And Robin, for #1 at least, is intelligent and refreshing, combining something new with that familiar feeling of being a great spandex book in the making. The art was cracking throughout, with excellent detail and a superb use of sound effects within the frame ('Boom Boom' being spelled out in the explosion on the first page, for example). The interplay between the two title characters brings out the best of Dick Grayson, as having Tim Drake immediately fall into line would've been a waste, and Damian provides a real combative air to the book. As much as it pains me to say so, the pairing remind me of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker in the third Star Wars prequel, with the apparently more talented apprentice very willing to show up his self-doubting master. As a buy-on-a-whim I'm glad I picked this up, and I can only hope that Morrison and Quietly keep both the quality and deadlines regular. 9/10

Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $2.99

Stewart R: This stood out for me a few months back when I plucked it out for a Previews choice, and my anticipation has finally been met head-on with the sweet smell of success. This is a great first issue from Layman and Guillory: their protagonist is Tony Chu, a vice cop with cibopathic abilities – he sees the past history of everything he eats – and here he finds himself staking out a speakeasy with a twist. Chicken has been banned as a food stuff since an outbreak of bird flu caused the deaths of millions of avian digesting Americans. Throw in a jerkwad partner, a mysterious FDA agent and a pinch of serial killer, stir, cook over 25-26 pages, and you have a delightfully slick filling with a beautifully artistic crust. Guillory throws literally everything at the page: a huge splash here, a neat repetition of panels there, close-ups and even a little thermo-imaging should the need arise. This promises to be a truly gritty detective story with a few laughs thrown in for good measure and I'm really looking forward to the second instalment. 9/10

Writer: James Kuhoric
Art: Jason Shawn Alexander
Dynamite Entertainment $3.99

Matt C: The bleak, gothic artistry of Jason Shawn Alexander regularly impressed during this four-issue miniseries, but unfortunately the story it hung itself around was too slight to be truly involving. The horror/Western stylings were initially intriguing but the characters turned out to be a bit too two-dimensional, making it difficult to feel an attachment to any of them. Visually rewarding but lacking in enough substance for it to linger in the memory long. 4/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi & Keith Champagne
Art: Chris Samnee
DC $2.99

Matt T: Well, this has certainly gone up a notch. What began as a softly-softly approach has started to pick up the pace, with Alpha dropping the lonely, over-bearing superhero façade and showing himself to be more of a megalomaniacal nutbar. His number 2 is starting to suspect plenty, but the real question is, what can he do about it? I'm enjoying the more direct approach now as I did see The Mighty taking far too long to get to point, but thankfully the storytelling hasn't been sacrificed for the sake of dramatic impact. Good stuff all round. 9/10

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

Matt C: The joy of this series is that it keeps you on your toes at every turn. You know who the characters are based on, and you know Waid is going for the worst-case-scenario angle, but every time it looks like he’s taking the story one way he makes a pleasingly unexpected move and heads in another direction. Basically, there’s no point second-guessing him here. This issue it’s the turn of the supervillains in the Plutonian’s world to make an appearance, banding together under the assumption that the former superhero will be willing to form an alliance. The only thing that worries me is whether Waid can wrap this all up in a satisfying manner over the next couple of issues because currently there’s potential for it to stick around a while longer. EDIT: Just found out this is an ongoing series! Ignore that last sentence then! 7/10

Writer: Mark Rahner
Art: Dan Dougherty
Moonstone $5.99

Matt T: Anyone who reads this blog even vaguely regularly probably knows I have something of a soft spot for zombie comics. So much so that Andy H simply wafts one in my general direction, raises an eyebrow and opens the till. For the most part they're complete tat, but Rotten isn't a half bad attempt at adding a slightly new spin. The Old West setting makes for an intriguing backdrop, although the pace is a little too slow at the start for my tastes. Once it gets going though there's little letting up, and there's at least one sting in the tail to lead into the second issue. Not perfect, but a tantalising introduction that I may well revisit. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Mike Deodato & Rain Beredo
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: There’s not a word for the opposite of Gestalt. Y’know, when something is more than the sum of its parts? That’s the Gestalt Effect. This month’s Dark Avengers is the exact opposite, and there’s not a word to describe it. The components are: a nice juxtaposition of Norman Osborn responding to Hawkeye’s comments on TV, with dynamics of the Dark Avengers; nice art; some good lines (“I slapped you. If I hit you, you’d be broken.”); some clever use of Marvel history to make the Dark Avengers a bit more believable; a great set-up for the next issue. As a result, I should be telling you that this issue is therefore great, but it feels pedestrian and flat – it is less than the sum of its parts! With the exception of the genius of Ed Brubaker, I’m finding the Marvel Universe a particularly uninspired at the moment. And I hate sounding like a miserable git, but $3.99 for this? I say thee nay! 6/10

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

Stewart R: Something of a lull here compared to last issue’s magnificence but a lull for Abnett and Lanning still means that the quality is kept higher than other events manage. Vulcan’s tactical deficiencies are coming to the fore as the Shi’ar find themselves stretched to breaking point in the face of rebellion from within. Lilandra’s back to being the ‘people’s leader’ while the Raptors (see the War Of Kings: Ascension tie-in for more) begin to manipulate events to their own mysterious motives. The most interesting thing is the developing relationship of Crystal and Ronan as they ponder both the future of their races and their marriage together, and DnA ensure that it doesn’t fall into the clichéd romance that it could easily succumb to under less restrained and knowledgeable hands. Of course as restrained as they are in that respect they still manage to cut loose with some Shi’ar Death Commando action which is only too welcome. The last page of this particular issue also indicates that all bets are off on how this whole conflict is going to end. Top stuff. 8/10

Matt C: I was a little less excited about this mini than the Annihilation events over the past couple of years since it features the Inhumans, who haven’t held much interest for me recently, versus Vulcan, a character I’ve never been keen on. I was expecting something good, but maybe not great. Luckily I’ve been proven wrong so far as the series has been mostly awesome, and this issue cranks the intensity up a notch, crafting a relentlessly entertaining read. DnA juggle the large cast of characters with panache, wringing every bit of drama out of each page, whether it be action-based or a simple – but important – conversation. Pelletier is on fire at the moment, and there ‘s never going to be any shred of doubt ever again that the guy can do ‘cosmic’. Riveting. 9/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Cameron Stewart & Dave Stewart
DC/Vertigo Comics $3.99

James R: Occasionally, in comics arguments, I’ll decide it’s best to hold my tongue. Not because I fear hacking anybody off (I’m far too agreeable for that!) but I simply think that some people have made up their minds about a particular writer/artist /character/fruit and nothing I can do will change that. The one I never jump in on is “I hate Grant Morrison!” because to a certain degree, I can empathise – from time to time, he goes off the rails, and sometimes it seems as if comics writing is all a bit beneath him. But you know, when he really fires, he’s exceptional. Batman And Robin will rightfully be grabbing many a plaudit this week, but you should also check out Seaguy – this final issue is everything that I like about comics. It was clever, it made me think, it was beautifully illustrated (a tip of the hat to Cameron Stewart & Dave Stewart) and it paid off readership over the years (if you’ve read the first series, it carries quite a punch). A series that is all about growing up, and the realisation that all revolution only ever ends in conformity, and that the dream of a peaceful world can sometimes be a nightmare. All this and a talking tuna in a Che Guevara beret! You’ll never get anything close to that on Britain’s Got Talent! Let the plebs go back to watching Mickey Eye, issues like this restore my faith in power of comics. 9/10

Writer: Glen Brunswick
Art: Dan McDaid
Image $3.50

Matt C: Loosely riffing on Kirby’s Fourth World, this book succeeds due to it’s delightfully witty script, it’s cosmically-infused artwork and the overall incongruity of the premise (galactic gods and suburban romance). McDaid’s illustrations retain their energy with Rachelle Rosenberg’s bright, lysergic colours causing the art to leap off the page. As with most long distance romances I do question the potential for longevity here, but for now the momentum shows no signs of stopping. 8/10

Writers: Andrew Cosby & Michael Alan Nelson
Art: Francesco Biagini
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Another post-apocalyptic, dystopian-future based tale from Boom!, and while it has a certain amount of merit, the list of clichés and contrivances add up to the point where I don’t find myself particularly interested in what happens next. I guess it’s kind of boring when the bad guys in these types of stories always seem to be kitted out like they’re rejected extras from Mad Max 2. Even their possible zombiefication here doesn’t exactly strike me as original. Biagini’s art is pretty good though, particularly his use of perspective in the action scenes. It has potential to improve but I can’t say I’m inspired enough to come back next month and see. 5/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: “I… am dying…” – those three words kick off a 12-page sequence that is as close to perfection as you can get in comics. Galactus ponders his resurfacing compassion which has prompted him to look – unsuccessfully – for uninhabited planets to consume. An encounter with his ‘sister’, Death, reminds him of his importance in the cosmos and so he continues again as he has for 2 billion years…… and the first suitable planet Nova recommends to sate his hunger is the Skrull Throneworld (the consequences of which are still being seen today – see Secret Invasion). The art captures the omnipotent majesty of the World Devourer but Byrne also injects some rarely seen humanity into the character. The second half of the book can’t quite match the grandeur of the first half, as it deals mainly with the FF in house-hunting mode, but what it does show is how Byrne can flip from universe-altering events to ordinary, everyday human life seamlessly, without missing a beat. Masterful. 9/10


Matt Clark said...

RE: Irredeemable #3.

Seems I had incorrect info about this series - it's actually ongoing and not limited! Ignore my final sentence in the review then as it looks like there's plenty more Plutonian-based excitement to come!

Also, I concur with Stewart's review of Chew - a very impressive debut.

Unknown said...

Chris Samnee is the artist on The Mighty #5. Keith Champagne is the co-writer.

Matt Clark said...

Another correction corrected! Apologies to Messrs Champagne & Samnee.

Been a bit slack this week, hopefully that's the last of the inaccuracies! (Although I'm sure someone will point out if its not! Bah!)

Tom P said...

Arg! I could not get my fresh stack of comics this week and knowing Batman & Robin is waiting for me is something to look forward to indeed! Chew sounds great, must check it out.

Tom P said...

Batman and Robin #1 was exceptional, loved the new fresh vibe and thanks for the #666 tip. I agree with J.R about Dark Avengers I'm starting to think my $3.99 should be spent on something other than this.