28 Jun 2009

Mini Reviews 28/06/2009

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: Greg Rucka
Art: J.H. Williams III & Cully Hamner
DC $3.99

Matt C: I’ve always preferred Greg Rucka’s more grounded, street-level superhero storytelling, so even though it features a different lead character I was eager to see him return to the title that really cemented his reputation as one of DC’s top writers almost a decade ago. The other draw was the unique, boundary-pushing artwork from J.H. Williams III who’s previously melted minds with his stunning, style-shredding illustrations in Alan Moore’s Promethea. I had pretty high expectations then, but this book caught me off guard by far exceeding them. Spinning out of events last seen in 52 and Rucka’s mini Crime Bible: Books Of Blood (yeah, it's a little late!) this new arc sees Batwoman continuing her quest to root out the acolytes of the Crime Bible in Gotham. The script is taut and realistic with Rucka steadfastly avoiding any sensationalist aspects of Kate Kane’s sexuality, and the art is glorious, Williams' panel layouts and stylistic changes to reflect the tone are always surprising and vital – that double-page scissor-kick splash will knock your socks off! This is a perfect example of words and images colliding to produce something unique, something that couldn’t be replicated in any other medium. Truly sublime. The back-up Question tale is fine - formulaic, but good to see Rucka getting his teeth into a character he’s made his own once more. Out of all the ‘new’ Bat-books – and yes, I’m including Batman And Robin – this is the pick of the bunch so far. 9/10

James R: Wow. In the aftermath of DC’s 52, a miniseries came out that seemed to evade the radar of many comic readers – Crime Bible: Books Of Blood. The series, written by Greg Rucka, followed Rene Montoya in her new role as the Question around the world on the trail of a criminal cult. Along the way she crossed paths with Gotham’s new Batwoman, and all told, it was a classy event. However, for me the problem was that it had no real satisfactory conclusion; such a good tale deserved to be developed more. Well, more fool I, it would seem, as this week Greg Rucka picks up where he left off in the pages of Detective. And what a way to pick up! In the lead tale, we’re re-introduced to Batwoman and her quest to track down the new leader of the Crime Covens. In these pages we also get a brilliant glimpse into her working world: where Batman operates from a vast cave, this 21st century Batwoman operates from a small room – given that as technology advances, things get smaller & smaller, it makes great logical sense and immediately shows that this isn’t just going to be Batman with lipstick, it’s going to be a character that lives and breathes independently of the Dynamic Duo. No review of this would be complete without a huge bow of respect to J.H. Williams, who it seems, gets better with each passing year. As a huge Alan Moore fan, I adored his work on Promethea, and loved his short run on Batman with Grant Morrison, but this is another step up in quality – the art, page layouts and colour scheme are truly beautiful (and have caused two non-comic readers who have been in the vicinity of the book to stop and say to me: “What’s that? It looks amazing!”)

As a final dollop of fudge sauce on top of the ice cream, Rucka also gives us The Question as a back-up. Whereas I found last weeks Manhunter in Streets Of Gotham a little “Meh”, this works well – the similarities and background between the Question and Batwoman make for a neat symmetry, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Rucka will have the two overlapping before long. First Batman And Robin, then Streets Of Gotham and now this… DC are knocking it out the park at the moment. Respect to Dan DiDio and a special tip o’ the hat to Batman group editor Mike Marts for helping to compile such a great roster. Like I said, wow. 9/10

Writer: Brian Reed
Art: Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I have to say if the original artist, Barry Kitson, had remained on this title I probably wouldn’t have thought about picking it up, especially not with Marvel’s $3.99 price tag. However, bringing one of my favourite artists, Chris Bachalo, onboard at pretty short notice sealed this into my pull-list for the week and I’m really quite impressed. This version of Venom has been getting more gruesome as time wears on, devouring anyone unfortunate to not be missed and ‘snacking’ on those who would be. Gargan is despised by nearly everyone in the Dark Avengers and Osborn only tolerates him due to his obvious talents, but it becomes clear here just how despicable a character he is. Reed shows just what masquerading as Spider-Man
(who he still holds bitter resentment towards) and an Avenger has allowed Venom to get away with while also highlighting the cracks that are slowly beginning to show in Osborn’s administration. It’s good to see that Norman is becoming overstretched and not able to keep an eye on everyone and when you have dangerous characters like a hungry symbiote going off the reservation unchecked then there’s going to be carnage. And when it comes to symbiote-related mayhem then Bachalo really is the man for the job. The man’s panel and layout work is immense and no one quite uses a close-up to the same effect. The simplified black and white panels employed to show Venom’s point of view are a particularly neat trick and that’s one truly fantastic front cover. I can’t wait to see what else this mini has in store. 9/10

Writer: Roger Langridge
Art: Roger Langridge
Boom! Studios $2.99

Matt C: Colour me surprised because I never anticipated enjoying this mini as much as I did. With most comic book adaptations/translations you get a watered-down version of the source material that generally seems pointless and forgettable (i.e. a cash-in). The Muppet Show on the other hand has been a thoroughly successful exercise in bringing a concept from another medium into comics, by being not only an extension of what we’re already familiar with but also by surprising us with genuine wit and ingenuity. Basically, it’s bloody funny and a textbook example of how this kind of thing should be done. Turns out Langridge is a UK-based creator, so that’s another reason why I sincerely hope this title – currently unavailable in the UK - reaches our shores in one form or another very soon. 8/10

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

Matt T: I've been reading this book in virtual secrecy, mostly because I wasn't too positive about it to start off with. The fact that it's so ridiculously out of continuity now doesn't matter a whole lot, as throwing the cosmic cube into the mix gives the writer the perfect deus ex machina to turn everything back to normal. Fortunately that isn't the case here, as the heroes flung from future into past and back again finally defeat the Red Skull, turning the world of the 1940s back to relative normality, turning the future similarly back to the status quo. Unlike most limited series there is some actual repercussions to do with one of the Invaders, but whether or not another writer will pick up on it remains to be seen. My original gripe of it being a six-issue series stretched to twelve still stands, but there were some bright spots amongst all the exposition. 7/10

THOR #602
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Mark Djurdjevic, Danny Miki & Mark Morales
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A bit of a bittersweet reading experience now that Straczynski’s confirmed he’s leaving this book, because you get the feeling he’s got plenty more God of Thunder tales to tell and that this storyline, whose wheels have been turning since the very first issue, may be concluded prematurely. This has probably been Straczynski’s strongest work since he joined the publisher at the turn of the decade, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him return one of Marvel’s most iconic characters back to prominence with the kind of sales and critical acclaim the Odinson hasn’t seen in a long while. No word on who will take over creative control of this title (although Fraction would seem an obvious fit) but they’ll have a hell of job matching the epic grandeur of what’s come before. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Marc Silvestri
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Well, it had to happen eventually. After shifting the X-Men over to San Francisco for all of five minutes with a new start in mind it seems that the creative powers that be have now rolled over and succumbed to the pressure of Dark Reign. Yep, it’s that time folks – time for a heap of Uncanny readers to politely inform their friendly comic book stores that they’ll be cancelling their subscription and hiding in a quiet little hole until Dark Reign is over and the X-Men can get back on with their lives. I’m probably being a little harsh on this book when it’s actually a decent enough read – the anti-mutant protest is nothing new but Fraction delivers a decent amount of chaos intermixed with news reports and visits to other areas of the Marvel Universe as events spiral out of control – but seeing Norman Osborn’s mug in yet another title is really pushing the level of saturation to the edge of what this reviewer can take.

I’m sure things will get a far deeper look in Uncanny X-Men over the coming months but it’s just the speed at which events happen in this opening Utopia chapter that has me concerned that small things like, you know, Scott and Emma’s relationship - just a 'small' plot point there - may get overlooked or not given the care and attention that it actually deserves. Certainly Emma’s actions here need to be explained, and rather quickly, lest the build-up from months of tension in Uncanny be carelessly thrown away. Silvestri is put to good use here showing a San Francisco on the brink of meltdown yet he suffers a similar problem to Mr Greg Land in that there isn’t a great deal of variety to his female characterisation. This isn’t a bad start to this arc but I just hope that I’m not resentful of the Dark Reign flood by the time that it reaches its peak. I can already feel my ambivalence growing… 6/10

Writer: Andy Diggle
Art: Miguel Sepulveda
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Let's get this out the way: Thunderbolts isn't as good as it used to be. By a long shot. And the Deadpool crossover made it much worse, essentially making most of the characters look like tits. One thing saving it at the moment is the potential for the odd twist or two, as long as they stop randomly adding second-string villains and mercenaries to the roster. Ghost is an enigma wrapped in a whiffy tech-suit, and Black Widow is proving to be more than she seems. It's not perfect, but things are looking up at the very least. 7/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A comic about a bunch of badass fellows, saying badass things to each other whilst behaving in a badass manner. I’m still not sure it quite scrapes through to being worth $3.99 a pop, but this was a lot more successful than last issue with both Aaron and Garney showing that can pull some killer moments out of the hat. I’ve yet to be convinced on whether this will stay on the pull-list beyond the first arc but this month I’m swaying more towards keeping up with the series, particularly after that twisted final panel. 7/10

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

Stewart R: And so the Messiah War comes to an end. And that’s about it. Seriously. I’m really quite disappointed. Setting a story up over seven issues, across two titles, and selling it as a mini-event… to then actually have very little happen of any great consequence has left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. I suppose the biggest problem was having to follow both the Cable and X-Force comics and ensure that this events didn’t do too much damage to the continuity of either title when they go their separate ways again. As seen in the recent Thunderbolts/Deadpool crossover there are entertaining moments to be found in a dual-title effort but if the story ends up being essentially throwaway because the writers are unable or unwilling to bring in real danger or lasting change then you have to ask what the point was. There was an opportunity here to get brutal, mix things up and leave a lasting impression, but all we’ve been given is a pretty generic filler story until the next big X-event. Even Crain’s work has lost some of its sheen over the course of this arc. It’s almost as if his artwork was afflicted by the same temporal sickness that gradually affected the protagonists. An opportunity missed. 3/10

Matt T: Why the hell did X-Force turn up in Cable? And why did Marvel make me buy their book as well to make sense of the whole crossover? There was little point in them being there and it had no impact whatsoever on the storyline as a whole. Instead, a confusing battle with Stryfe along with Apocalypse being resurrected are seemingly the only real significant elements in what has largely been a distraction from the Messiah War tale, which I can only presume was to fill some space until a more significant crossover with the main X-team occurs. I'd hope so anyway, otherwise me spending an extra $2.99 a month was largely pointless. 5/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Yanick Paquette & Karl Story
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: Praise the Lord that the most interesting element of this book, the 'X-Club', make a return, as it makes for a far more conflicted group than the standard X-Men. Doc Nemesis' past turns out to be of interest to the group, prompting a trip back in time that, unsurprisingly, doesn't go entirely to plan. In fact a ye olde Sentinel threatens to make pancakes out of the science team and only Angel - who should surely be in the future at the moment (??) - and Psylocke can help them out. I'm hoping the team spins off into it's own book, as switching back to the main X-Men doesn't fill me with hope. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Philip Tan, Eddy Barrows, Jonathan Glapion & Ruy Jose
DC $2.99

Matt C: For me, this whole Agent Orange arc has been the weakest of Johns’ entire run on GL so far. Too much being flung into the mix making you feel like you’re being bombarded with information, and wading through it all is confusing enough to cause a headache. I just didn’t feel any emotional engagement with any of the characters (crucial in a large-scale story like this) so it was really just a case of simply observing one high-octane battle after another (waitaminute…. this is sounding like a review of Transformers 2!). It could be that Johns is pouring all his energies into Blackest Night at the moment, and the epilogue here suggests that might well be the case, but I hope this title doesn’t feel like an afterthought when that event kicks into gear. 5/10

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

Stewart R: This title slips into full Dark Reign mode (almost fed up with writing that phrase, make it stop!) as Norman Osborn reshuffles the Initiative and attempts to remove those members that could become problematic if left unchecked. Gage does a great job of dealing with the many plot threads that could get confusing if not handled correctly, and considering the number of the Cabal and Dark Avengers turning up here, keeping it all running along smoothly can't have been an easy task. I also think that he’s done a great job with Osborn, making use of his manipulation skills brilliantly and ensuring that we know at this particular moment that he really is in control of things. There’s also an interesting turn of events involving the New Warriors, which shows that while they may have lost their own title they aren’t going away anytime soon. According to Ramos himself this is his last issue on this title and he offers a worthy effort to say goodbye with – no one else does Osborn’s hair quite like old Humberto! A decent read overall and some interesting times ahead for the Initiative. 7/10

Writer: Peter David
Art: Marco Santucci, Valentine De Landro, Pat Davidson, Craig Yeung & Patrick Piazzalunga
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Things are finally starting to make sense, and my feelings about X-Factor being one of the best team books out there are looking more like a fact than an opinion. The Madrox-in-the-future storyline (my least favourite) has begun to hit its stride thanks to an appearance by a decrepit and delusional Doc Doom. A damn good read with the usual twist ending, although not quite in the 'oh shit' tone of previous issues. 9/10

Writer: John Arcudi
Art: Javier Saltares
Dark Horse $3.50

Stewart R: Is this a case of flogging a dead (Dark) horse? Ok, poor pun but then this isn’t a particularly great first issue. The premise has a private security firm operating in an unnamed corner of East Africa, attempting to safely escort Western financial bigwigs around and protecting them from insurgent attacks… and failing at it. There’s plenty of macho conflict between Thorpe’s privateer and Major Briggs’s military flag-waver but it’s all been done before and doesn’t warm the reader to any of the human protagonists. It’s clear that Arcudi wants us to follow Thorpe through this story but it’s relatively character-lite. The Predators themselves are conspicuous by their absence, only appearing a couple of brief times, and in a book emblazoned with Predator as its title I would have hoped that the savage alien hunters would have been a bit more front and centre. Early, I know, but I suggest that you probably steer clear of this title and instead “Get to the chopper!” 3/10

Writer: Joe Kelly
Art: Paulo Siqueria, Marco Checchetto & Santos
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: The American Son arc has been an enjoyable Spidey-read so far and Joe Kelly has taken us to the very heart of Dark Reign and into Dark Avengers Tower. The Marvel Universe is swamped with Norman Osborn at the moment but this is the one title where it makes sense to have him prominent and planning contrasting futures for Harry and Peter. Last issue’s explosive ending is explained away in an instant but I have no trouble forgiving that considering how Norman then uses the technology and personnel at his disposal to try to get the situation back under control. There are more shocks and twists to be found within the pages and it seems to be heading to an all-action conclusion (hopefully) next time around. 7/10

Writer: Paul Dini
Art: Guillem March
DC $2.99

James R: Of course, every silver lining has a grey cloud! The Batman: Reborn titles have been great, but I’m yet to be knocked out by Gotham City Sirens. Paul Dini is clearly a quality writer, (and I really enjoyed Streets Of Gotham last week) but this ‘Bad Girls’ book featuring Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn is lacking in, well, Bat-magic. The main reason is due to the art. With the greatest of respect to Guillem March, this title about three beautiful women is as ugly as a fight in a taxi rank on a wet November night. Then there’s the plot itself which seems to be lacking in any real drive - given how great Catwoman has been over the last few years (and more of that from me very soon, by the way!) this just feels like a three-dimensional character being made two-dimensional. It has its moments, but it’ll need to have an extreme makeover in the next few issues to keep up with the other Reborn titles. 5/10

Matt C: Paul Dini has a knack for writing great female comic book characters, as evidenced during his run on Batman: The Animated Series, especially the creation of the wonderful Harley Quinn. Although Streets Of Gotham didn’t quite make the grade for me last week I was intrigued by this title, not only because of Dini’s credentials but also because it featured Catwoman back in a regular book after her excellent solo series got the chop. Sadly Gotham City Sirens really didn’t do anything for me. Getting these three characters in the same place to form a ‘team’ was way too contrived, convenient and – unless I’ve missed something on the shelves recently – implausible. The art’s fine but the story felt too lightweight and inconsequential and – considering the focus of this book – it’s Edward Nigma who gets far and away the best scene. A nice idea, but based on this debut issue I can’t see this being a long-running title. 5/10

NOVA #26
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Andrea Divito
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: It saddens me to say this, but this title is no longer as consistently brilliant as it once was. When it first arrived on the scene it was pretty much on fire month in, month out, but nowadays for every great issue, a sub-par one is hard on its heels. Maybe it’s because DnA are too stretched right now with multiple titles on the go, or maybe I just preferred it when it was only Nova and Worldmind without a larger cast of characters getting in on the action. I’m nowhere near dropping Nova as there’s still plenty to enjoy - and every few months there’s a real belter of an issue - but it’s got a long way to go before it reaches the same position it used to hold in my affections. 6/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kyle Hotz
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Parker Robbins’ past comes back to haunt him and forces a decision to further embrace the entity that could consume him. It’s an absorbing story of a man who knows that he’s in way over his head and yet, due to the unique circumstances that he finds himself in, those that could threaten his very existence are none the wiser. Robbins’ fears on letting ‘the genie out of the bottle’ so to speak, echoes Doctor Strange’s recent misgivings over his own misuse of power and leads The Hood to seek answers on just what Dormammu could have planned for him. Jeff Parker sets the balance between The Hood’s criminal career and family life nicely, showing that his ambitions for the criminal underworld are actually helping him to be a better person in his own time but highlighting that it could all fall down at any moment. Hotz’s artwork is unspectacular but manages to portray a man fighting with the literal demon within. 7/10

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

Stewart R: …simmer for 20 minutes and then crank up the action to level "Arrrrgggghhhh"! Yep, Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos are back and laughing in the face of death once more as they attempt a daring raid on a H.A.M.M.E.R facility for the tools that they’ll need to take the fight to Hydra. Of course things never go that simply and the forces of Hydra may have their own plans to carry out… Last issue was all about Hickman and this time it’s Caselli who gets to bring his A-game to the party. He’s really made this title his own with a level of consistency to be truly proud of, and when he’s allowed to cut loose with the action there’s no doubting that he was the right artist to bring to this title. Fury looks every bit the battle-hardened leader that he should be and the menacing characterisation of the Hydra agents is top notch. Highlights have to be the Hydra splash and Dum Dum doing what he does best, but just how frickin’ creepy are the Hive’s minions? Get your freaky octopus cyclops away from me! 8/10

James R: Apparently, there’s an evil empire at work. Through discreet means, this nefarious group plans on pushing the good industrious people of the world to the margins of visibility, depriving them of life and exposure… Yes, that’s right – this week Marvel Comics expressed their intent to take over the comics world by releasing – get this – 39 different titles! Urgh. Anyway, amongst this tsunami of titles, there stands Secret Warriors. Whereas this title hasn’t quite hit the heights I was hoping for (I guess I’ll have to wait for Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four to see his high-concept ideas at work) this is still a lot of fun. It reminds me of the kind of Marvel comic I’d see during my youth in the late ‘80s – one almighty scrap! Maybe this is Bendis’ influence on the title (I dropped the Avengers books due to the horrible predictability of the scrap/yap/scrap stories) but Caselli draws action really well, and hell – it’s Nick Fury in the mix! Next issue should give us the culmination of this arc - and a good hint as to where it’s going - but this stands out as one of Marvel’s stronger titles at the moment. 7/10

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

Matt T: So, it turns out Brother Voodoo is the new Sorcerer Supreme. Personally I would have preferred Doctor Doom, but you can't have it all. Otherwise this is a bloody big fight with plenty of cracking o' the wise, making it a standard Bendis book of the moment. Both Dormammu and The Hood deserved better than a page or two of fighting until Doc Strange's successor made his long-awaited arrival. At least Hawkeye is making a few waves, otherwise this would be the dullest storyline imaginable out of a very interesting set of characters. 6/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: So where the heck is Reed? As Tyros continues to bring the ruckus to NYC with the rest of the FF trying to fend him off, their leader is nowhere to be seen. This is no good for Doom as his plan was supposed to end with Richards witnessing his team’s ultimate defeat, so foolishly Victor decides to enter the fray just as the Silver Surfer arrives on the scene. Part of me wishes Byrne had fleshed this storyline out a little more as the scale of it could’ve warranted an extra issue (maybe), but you can’t fault him for what he actually delivers: cameos aplenty, explosive destruction and the apparent end of one of Marveldom’s greatest villains. It’s also nice to see Byrne continuing to bolster Sue’s position in the team, taking her far away from token female member and turning her into someone fully capable of leading a team in her own right. 8/10


Unknown said...

Looks like Detective comics is yet another Batman title I'll have to pick up. Bugger. At least a couple of the Marvel books finished this month so I can let my wallet recover!

Stewart R said...

Of course in the Sinister Spider-Man review that's not the cover I'm referring to peeps as that belongs to Mr Kitson. ;-)