21 Jun 2009

Mini Reviews 21/06/2009

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.

Writers: Ed Brubaker & Various
Art: Butch Guice & Various
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: Without all the ridiculous, overheated hoopla surrounding the release of this issue it might’ve elicited a small measure of surprise. As it stands, this is still a great read but the way Marvel hyped it up has left a slight sour taste in the mouth. Shifting the release date to Monday? For this?! Basically they wanted to big up the Reborn miniseries as there’s nothing more than a tease for the return of a certain character in #600. The irony is, after all this media manipulation, the news hasn’t made anywhere near the mainstream impact as the death of Steve Rogers a couple of years ago. But then, that shouldn’t be a surprise – killing of an icon is a big deal; bringing a comic book character back from the dead happens every other week. The reason Cap’s assassination worked so well is that no one was expecting it, Marvel kept it under their hats under the last minute, and it was a genuine shock. This, on the other hand, was exactly what most people predicted it would be. Pushing all that to one side, and taking into account the fact that all the marketing stuff will be forgotten over time, the story is of the high quality we’ve come to expect from Brubaker on this title. The focus on different characters, using different artists, works well, with David Aja’s prison-set Crossbones section being particularly effective. The back-up stories are perfectly fine and the 1940s reprint is wonderfully ludicrous, so all in all this is good value for money. Just don’t go in looking for something universe-changing – you’re going to have to wait a little while longer for that. 8/10

Matt T: This book feels like how Marvel probably envisioned it: a catch up and introduction for those new to Cap or returning since Bucky took over. Not much significant happens, and there's a whole heap of back stories, lifts and reprints to bulk things out. Of course most of us know that somehow Steve Rogers will be returning, and the manner in which Brubaker has gotten round that pesky old ailment death is ingenious. Quite why it all has to happen now may be obvious from a marketing point of view, but story-wise it all seems rather convenient. Characters suddenly remembering facts from the past and discovering others have simply been waiting for them to burst through the door and say 'ah ha!' doesn't exactly ring true to me to say the least. I'm glad classic Cap is returning, but the speed in which Marvel are doing it seems like far more of a callous marketing decision rather than one of decent storytelling. Annoying. 7/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ryan Bodenheim
Image $3.50

Matt C: When the last issue of this hit the shelves my son was newly born and couldn’t do anything except eat, shit and sleep. Now he’s an unstoppable whirlwind, careering round my flat like there’s no tomorrow, so it’s fair to say that a heck of a lot has happened since I read #2 of Red Mass For Mars. And that’s the problem. The amount of comics I read, it’s sometimes difficult to recall what happened in the regular titles on a monthly basis let alone what happened in a comic where the last issue came out ten months ago. Therefore it’s hard to give this a fair review – I remember enough of the plot to know what’s going on, but all the nuances have been lost since last September. There’s blatantly a great deal of intelligence at work here (as with all of Hickman’s stuff) but I feel I need to read the whole thing together to do it justice. Which I will do of course when the next issue is released… hopefully before we reach 2010! 6/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Wow, Tony’s been on the ‘Most Wanted’ list for what seems like an age now but this title still remains a decent read with the three protagonists – Maria Hill, Pepper Potts in her Rescue mode, and the Iron Man himself – still on the run and still uncertain of their futures. Fraction is doing a great job of writing a book where there is a definite plan but there is no guarantee whatsoever that the good guys can see it through successfully and win this battle against all the odds. The continuous downgrading of Stark’s armour is a great plot mechanism and I have no idea where it will end up, which keeps me wanting to pick this up every month. Even Larroca, whose previous artwork on Uncanny X-Men did little to impress, has surpassed himself on Invincible with the consistent brilliance that he brings to the readers. Speaking to other followers of this book it appears to be forever on the precipice of being dropped but thankfully for me it’s sat comfortably in the bar while others are dancing on the brink. 7/10

Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Cary Nord
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The real draw for me picking this up was Cary Nord’s art – anyone who sampled his work on Conan will know he’s pretty adept at rendering big, muscley, sword-wielding chaps in battle. Bar a couple of moments, he doesn’t disappoint, his depiction of the Frost Giants in particular being pretty damn awesome. Shame the story’s a bit crap then, with Odin dispatching the Warriors Three to investigate whether the Thunder God is responsible for a spate of murders. It’s not all bad – Milligan handles Odin fairly well – but the reveal at the end is silly and the whole thing seems a bit unnecessary and not a patch on Fraction’s series of one-shots (except the last one) from last year. 5/10

Writer: Paul Dini
Art: Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs
DC $3.99

Matt C: The title Streets Of Gotham conjures up in my mind something along the lines of Gotham Central, a street-level look at the crime-ridden streets of the fictional city rather than another title from the perspective of the Caped Crusader. So what does the debut issue of this new series turn out to be? Another title from the perspective of the Caped Crusader! Oh joy! To be fair, it’s an okay read, and I did really like – for the most part – what Dini and Nguyen were doing on Detective, but coming so soon after the excellent Batman & Robin from Morrison & Quietly this seems kind of superfluous. The Manhunter back-up’s not a bad introduction to a character I’ve not been acquainted with before, but the package as a whole doesn’t scream “Must Buy!”, and with so many other books on the market at the moment I’m not sure I’ll be back for a second helping. 6/10

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

Stewart R: Chris Powell continues his nightmarish trip to the null zone this issue while Talon and the newly freed Razor continue to manipulate the course of the War of Kings to their own ends. While certainly not a compulsory addition to the WOK event this title is proving to be an interesting read as Abnett and Lanning add some breadth to the Raptor’s story while also introducing Darkhawk to new readers of the Marvel SBU (c’mon people, Space-Based Universe). The aim here seems to be to expand on just what the Darkhawk armour - and its human ‘pilot’ - are capable of while also bringing a new threat/race to the space-fairing party. Chris Powell’s characterisation seems to be on the money as he comes to terms with the potential that he holds within and applies his abilities to free himself. The end of this issue certainly ties back into the events at the end of WOK #4 but I’m sure that DnA will allow for a sufficient overlap in both titles to prevent this becoming a must-read. Alves is proven on pencils in this realm and delivers as usual. He even manages to match the end sequence with Pelletier’s WOK effort nicely and I’m sure he’s an artist that Marvel will want to be keeping hold of. 7/10

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

Stewart R: What an issue to hit the halfway point of this mini! Keene’s mission to rid the world of his foes has had repercussions for his family before and now with another member in danger the gloves are off and the blood flows. This is brutal and gory stuff but doesn’t feel unnecessary to me – Kirkman is highlighting what a lifetime of crime-fighting, and seeing the offenders get a chance to repeat their carnage, could do to a hero. This of course also applies to what villains with no scruples will be willing to do to see their evil schemes through. Destroyer has been after Scar since this series started and Kirkman even does a good job of making their meeting here a cliché-free encounter with posturing kept to a minimum and the aforementioned brutality raises the tension nicely. This is of course helped fantastically by Cory Walker who is producing some great work and ensuring that this series remains on my pull-list until the end. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you like your heroics gritty, bloody and questionable then this is a must-read title. 8/10

Matt C: This issue’s a bit one-note and lacking in soul, which is a bit of a disappointment since one of the best things about the mini so far has been the humanity of characters. The Destroyer confronts his nemesis and the results are suitably blood-splattered – what’s interesting about this is how the tone is totally transformed by having Walker on art duties. Imagine the same script illustrated by someone like Michael Lark or Tommy Lee Edwards and you’d have a different proposition completely. Much as I like what Walker is doing here I wonder if his exaggerated style reduces the impact of some of the more violent sequences, rendering them slightly comical. Or maybe that’s a stroke of genius on Kirkman’s part. Either way, as this issue has reached a place where you’d have imagined the story concluding I’m definitely curious to see what the writer’s got up his sleeve for the remaining two issues. 6/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Mark Brooks
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: The first issue of this comic was an odd mix of being overly gritty and dark while trying to come across as a superhero book. It had it's strong points, but the new team seem to almost have some forced issues, such as the racist who's training a robot to be likewise, or the nympho witch. The second instalment brings the original Young Avengers into play, and reminds me why their book was so damn good. The dynamic of the characters, the interplay and the balance of the team, is all ripe for a new series, making this bunch of wannabes a space-filler for the time being. They might have potential as arch-foes for the future, but right now they’re just not interesting enough. 6/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips
Marvel/Icon $3.50

Matt C: Take a pinch of Criminal and a smattering of Sleeper and you’ll get an idea of whereabouts Incognito sits genre-wise, and while it doesn’t scale the same heights of brilliance as those two series it’s clear that when Brubaker and Phillips get together, magic happens. There are few writers working in the medium today who can match Brubaker for getting right into the core of damaged, dangerous men who are out of their depth, and there are few artists who can place these men in such deliciously lurid and gritty cityscapes. I’m very much looking to the return of Criminal but this is an enjoyably hardboiled excursion for the creators in the meantime. 8/10

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Art: Ariel Olivetti
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: If there's one gripe about Cable in it's current state it's that there's no real need for X-Force to be here, but for some reason I have to still buy their comic to know what the hell is going on. I quite like the central story involving the return of Stryfe, along with Bishop once again trying to murder Hope, the 'mutant messiah, but failing miserably. The way the tension is ramping up makes me a little irritated that I have to sit through Apocalypse's return as well as a character from NYX randomly making a cameo. Here's to hoping they get to the meat of the story instead of trying to distract me with pointless side dishes. 7/10

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Art: Gianluca Gugliotta, Lanning & Justice
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Why do I get the feeling that the Spider-Man Braintrust came up with this brilliant underworld character and now that ideas have changed and new characters have a greater emphasis on them in the Marvel Universe, that he’s not going to get the great Spider-villain role that he deserves? It’s not that this Dark Reign tie-in is a bad read – Van Lente offers us a look at just how deep the Hood’s claws have a hold in New York’s underworld and the effect it is having on Mr Negative and the other criminal elements – it’s just not that great. Having Spider-Man turn up seems like the right thing to have happen considering the setting and those involved, but I just wonder if leaving the webslinger on the periphery would have made this a more intriguing prospect as the criminal bosses battle it out, rather than throwing him into the midst of it all. Someone is going to have to delve further into Martin Li’s past at some stage but I don’t think it’ll be here and at $3.99 I’m not really sure I’m convinced enough by the first instalment of this mini to warrant parting with more money for the rest of it. 4/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $1.00

Matt C: A good decade or so before Morrison and Millar introduced us to the Skrull Kill Krew, Byrne was playing with a very similar idea – instead of Skrull beef it’s Skrull milk that turns people wacky! This annual shows us what the FF were up to while Doc Doom took over their title in #258, and it sees the foursome descending on a remote town where the population have all obtained monstrous shape-shifting abilities from drinking the white stuff. It’s not quite milk though, as Reed states in these immortal lines of dialogue: “Although the Skrulls would imitated most bovine functions I doubt they would have been actually lactating. The milk equivalent they produced would have carried the genetic matrix of a fully developed Skrull, and would have attacked and modified any non-Skrull cell tissue it encountered.” Genius. It’s utterly ludicrous but Byrne pulls it off with ease – a thoroughly entertaining all-in-one tale, and you wonder how the hell he managed to get this out (writing and art chores) while still taking care of the monthly title. 8/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Doom’s plan to wipe out the FF gets underway here as Terrax/Tyros attacks Ben, with Johhny swiftly joining the fray, and Victor himself confronts Sue. Reed’s out of the picture currently - “over at Avenger’s mansion” - but as the scale of the conflict increases he’s bound to get in on the action soon – there’s enough mayhem going on that it even grabs the attention of a certain silver-skinned ex-herald of Galactus. The art’s stupendous as always, and some great sound-effects make an appearance in this issue - Byrne even transforms a two-page panel into the word “wham” as the Thing is punched through a supermarket! 8/10

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