5 Jul 2009

Mini Reviews 05/07/2009

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: Ed Brubaker
Art: Bryan Hitch & Butch Guice
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: And so Marvel’s begins the task of returning Steve Rogers to their fictional ‘Universe’ and it’s a predictably solid effort from Brubaker, exemplified by the strong character work and intelligent plotting that have turned Captain America into arguably the best superhero book on the stands for the last few years. The explanation for Rogers still being alive is quite inventive as well as being somewhat illogical on first glance, but I guess super villains like the Red Skull never go for the easy method when taking out their enemies: why simply shoot your nemesis when you can throw in a bit of time travel and mad science into the mix? Hitch’s art – with the assistance of Butch Guice – is far stronger here than it has been in recent issues of Fantatsic Four, and while this isn’t a show-stopping first issue I think we’re guaranteed a decent miniseries at the very least. 7/10

James R: I’m sure my co-authors will have had plenty to say on this, so I’ll keep my review short: looks beautiful. I really like the ‘Cap shunted around history’ idea (which reminds me of Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5) and I think that this will build to a satisfying return for Steve Rogers. But I did think that the Red Skull’s plan has been a little too ‘bwa-haa-haaaa, evil villain!’ for my liking – given that Brubaker wrote the brilliant Grand Theft America arc which showed Red Skull being a sophisticated villain who wanted to destroy America from within, this just jarred me as out of step. But still, that’s quite a geeky moan about an otherwise quality comic. 8/10

Matt T: I'm glad the return of Steve Rogers isn't being rushed. With Brubaker's run on Cap being so well paced for a couple of years it would be a shame to wreck it all with an overly hasty comeback. It's good to see Hitch getting somewhere near to his old form too after some patchy work on FF, but I get the feeling he needs his slate cleared for a bit before we see him back to Ultimates level quality. Although we're all aware that the original Cap will be returning I'm more interested to see how it happens, and what consequences it will have, although this book does little to hint at either of those elements. 7/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Frank Quitely
DC $2.99

James R: God, I love this comic. As a man that falls into that most maligned of camps, the ‘I like Grant Morrison (but sometimes he’s off the rails)’ party, it’s great to see that this title has started like an express train. Quitely’s art (with the colours of Alex Sinclair) make this a visual treat. The first four pages set up the story and ooze atmosphere, and Morrison’s characterisation is top-draw – I loved Alfred’s exchange with Dick about Damien and what it means to become Batman. Tremendous stuff all round. 9/10

Matt C: Although I’m down on Morrison a lot of the time, I will readily admit that he’s capable of greatness - it’s just that he has a tendency to smother it all with a smug air of superiority. I’m really pleased to say that this trait hasn’t exhibited itself so far on this book – I know it’s early, but there’s a real believability to the characters that makes for an affecting read. It obviously helps that Quitely’s art is frequently stunning, and on some occasions you wonder if the artist had a look at what J.H. Williams III is doing on Detective with inventive panel structures and the like, and decided to see if he could top it. Hugely impressive – let’s hope it stays that way. 8/10

Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The first issue of John Layman’s twisted detective story blew me away both with its premise and the terrific artwork, and the second issue is another delightful comic read. Tony Chu’s assignment to the Special Crimes Division of the FDA lands him with a new a-hole boss and a mysterious partner with a first hand knowledge of Tony’s powers. While Chu is certainly playing the role of the new kid on the block, Layman ensures that he’s equipped with a balance of guile and likeable gullibility to make him really work as a lead character, and there’s enough mystery floating around Agent Savoy to make me think that the twists are going to keep coming. Guillory is a great find and his style lends itself well to this left-field type of crime plot, delivering overblown action alongside decent characterisation. Get chewing on this title guys! 8/10

Matt C: The buzz this book is receiving is thoroughly warranted and if you’ve not picked it up yet then do so, assuming you can find a copy! With Tony Chu now a full-time employee of the F.D.A. (Food & Drug Administration), using his cibopathic abilities to solve crimes, the template is laid down for how this series will proceed, and if it’s as entertaining as this issue then Chew is set to become a delightfully off-the-wall series. Layman’s script is mischievously witty and Guillory channels that wit into some wonderfully exuberant and exaggerated art. Potentially Image’s next breakout hit. 8/10

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

Matt T: Well, the Plutonian is still being an evil bastard. And the other heroes are still running scared. There's not a whole lot more back story as to why the world's greatest hero went bad, other than a couple of hints towards some kind of mass killing, but the resistance is getting pummelled. The more I read this book the more I think it's heading towards some giant twist, although getting there may well be a little too drawn out for my tastes. 6/10

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Cory Walker
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: After last month’s face-off between Destroyer and the Scar I was wondering if the series might take a small dip as we roll towards the approaching final issue. While not having the blood’n’guts punch of the previous instalment this issue focuses on the relationship between Destroyer and his son-in-law protégé, Turret, and it’s a stirring read. With time fast running out for Keene, Kirkman is showing us a man who’s fighting not only his failing body and time itself but also the guilt accrued from all of his past actions. Cory Walker’s simple line-style gives the action sequences the necessary pace but also allows the more emotional, character led scenes to shine through. With one issue to go I’m already labelling this miniseries a triumph. 8/10

Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: David Gianfelice
DC/Vertigo $1.00

James R: Last week, Paul Schrader (the acclaimed screenwriter who wrote Taxi Driver) wrote a great article in which he said that given the sheer volume of media output – TV, movies, games, books – that we ran the risk of reaching ‘narrative exhaustion’ – that we would simply exhaust every variation on a theme, and that storytelling as it’s been known for millennia would have to change into something else entirely. Well, lo and behold, this week sees Greek Street, a new Vertigo series that stands as a counter to Schrader’s theory. Of course we run out of stories, because ultimately we only retell the same dramas over and over again. In this series, Milligan goes back to the tales from ancient Greece to form the backbone of a story containing sex, murder, vengeance and prophecy. Pete Milligan can be the most infuriating of writers – either absolutely awesome (his run on Human Target was one of my favourite things this decade) or oddly mediocre. It’s tough to tell from this first issue which one is behind this series, but it starts by setting up a number of intriguing plots, and it looks very nice too. It’s not the solid gold smash The Unwritten was for me, but at a dollar, this is well worth your time, and I’ll certainly be back for more next month. 7/10

Stewart R: I’ll say it straight away: if Vertigo hadn’t slapped on the $1.00 price tag here I probably wouldn’t be considering picking up the second instalment, but there’s just something that makes me want to see if the next issue is going to answer some of the baffling questions thrown up in this introduction to Greek Street. Set in modern London there are enough demonic, familial and incestuous happening’s here to make you believe that things really cannot be what they seem but unfortunately Milligan seems perfectly intent to make us guess why it’s all occurring at this time, with only the slightest glimpse of the mythological slant this tale could take. There’s almost too much going on and Milligan doesn’t even grace some characters with a name to add to the confusion. Gianfelice’s artwork is tasty enough but without some serious explanation to the plot it’s going to be for nought. 5/10

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

Stewart R: This series goes from epic, galaxy-spanning space carnage to close, personal and intimate character-fuelled war tale with such ease as proven by this issues’ huge dose of the latter. The war is balanced on a knife-edge as both sides reel from their losses and a desperate need to finish the conflict quickly. Abnett and Lanning once again ensure that events from the other books involved in the crossover do not interfere with the main title and also that this remains the emotional centre of a fantastically realised space war. Here we get a little more insight into the Inhumans’ motivations and their devotion to what they believe must happen for their species to survive in peace. These writers should be truly commended for the scale of their vision and for handling so many character-driven strands with such inspiring care. Plaudits must also go to Pelletier and Magyar who are bringing us an emotional spectrum of the highest level. 8/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $3.99

James R: After the superb previous issue, it’s a pleasure to say that this issue maintains the same level of intellect and insight. To begin, I was worried that the ‘Horror amped up to 11’ would get dull very quickly, but it’s clear that this issue is being written with the same inventiveness that Ennis used in his acclaimed Chronicles Of Wormwood series. This time, we learn something shocking about one of the band of survivors, and it illustrates how this is a tale not only about what happens to humanity when civilization breaks down, but also passes comment on what it is to be rational and sane. A tremendous, mature read, and one I’ve thought about all weekend. I’m now hoping that the final issues give the story the superlative ending it deserves. 9/10

Matt C: When you’ve read as many comics as I have you do have a tendency to start thinking that you’ve seen it all and that there are no real surprises left out there – mostly you’re offered predictable but entertaining variations on the same theme. It’s very rare that you’re totally caught off guard, even in a comic like Crossed where ‘shocks’ are part of the package, but that’s exactly what happened in this issue. There’s a scene – and I won’t get into spoilers – where you know there’s a reveal in the pipeline, and you think you’ve got it figured out, but then Ennis pulls the rug out from under you in an incredible jaw-dropping manner. It takes a real specific kind of talent to conjure up something like that in this day and age, but Ennis proves here that while he may be one of comics’ most controversial writers - and not everything he puts out is solid gold - he’s still an absolute master of the medium and deserves his place amongst the greats. 9/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Terry & Rachel Dodson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Well, we still haven’t been given any clarification on the motivations of Emma Frost but this is a step up from the first instalment of the Utopia arc. We are treated to an introduction to the Dark X-Men, along with a few reveals to previously raised questions, and it all kicks along at a fair lick. Fraction plays Cyclops as the true tactical leader he should be and there’s promise that there could be a great display of mind games between all involved. Heck, even my personal favourite X-Man makes a much-needed appearance here, albeit brief – Iceman has been overlooked for too long now! The Dodson’s are accomplished artists and I’m happy to see them offer up a pleasant alternative to Greg Land’s monotonous style with some decent mutant characterisation. Promising stuff though I ask Marvel why it has to span two titles?? Uncanny and Dark Avengers? Why?? 7/10

Writer: James Robinson
Art: Mauro Cascioli
DC $3.99

Matt T: I have to admit I'm a real sucker for anything James Robinson. His run on Starman is a modern classic, and the man really knows how to bring the best out of his characters. The first few pages show he's got a good handle on Hal and Ollie, as an argument within the League leads to the Green Arrow and Lantern disappearing off to form their own splinter group. Other than that there's not a whole lot more to grab hold of here, with the rest of the book simply serving to introduce the characters in question and why they're in search for 'Justice'. Cascioli's art is a little too scratchy in places, although the action scenes are good enough to keep me interested long term. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Tony Stark is losing on so many levels these days - this is the only title that Iron Man is appearing in on a regular basis! - yet every issue of Invincible is proving to be a winner. Matt Fraction is steering his descent along an exciting path mirrored by Maria Hill’s ‘impossible mission’ to ensure that his sacrifice will not be in vain. The interaction between Pepper and Tony is quite touching while the part that Madame Masque plays here ramps up the tension a notch or three. I’ve gushed over Larrcoca’s efforts for a few months now and he just hasn’t dropped the quality at all. This is consistency at a high level and clear evidence of a writer and artist working in harmony. Please sir, can I have some more? 9/10

Matt C: Invincible Iron Man has suddenly picked up again after several months where it came perilously close to being dropped; this issue isn’t quite as good as last month’s near-barnstormer but there’s still plenty to admire. I think what impresses the most here is the way Fraction gets under the skin of his characters – it reminds of what Brubaker’s been doing on Captain America, fleshing out the supporting cast, although it’s not quite up to the same level (yet). Larroca’s rendering of facial expressions is occasionally a bit wonky, but the majority of the art is slick and effective. 7/10

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

Matt T: I'm preferring the direction this book is taking more than Irredeemable, purely because the pace is a little more akin to a mystery novel than a superhero comic. The true reasoning behind Alpha One's habitual murdering of his sidekick's has yet to come to light, but the occasional clue is arriving to give the current top man more reason to suspect. The art seems a little basic in places, with detail on the faces virtually non-existent, but the writing is good enough to make me overlook it. 9/10

Writer: Mike Mignola
Art: Ben Stenbeck
Dark Horse Comics $2.99

James R: I have to say that I’m a fair-weather fan of the Hellboy universe; I can’t speak highly enough of Mignola’s series of Lovecraftian tales, but some of the BPRD-related spin-off tales leave me a little cold. This debut however, is superb. A couple of months back I said that the art in Dynamite’s Sherlock Holmes didn’t evoke the feel of Victorian London – but this certainly does! Even if you haven’t read a single copy of Hellboy you’d be able to pick up this dark and involving tale. This is Mignola at his best, and Ben Stenbeck's art is exceptional. It’s only slated for five issues, but I already want more tales from the world of Sir Edward Grey… 8/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Bryne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Sue continues to impress in leadership-mode as the remaining three members of the FF try and figure out what happened to Reed with the help of The Watcher (with Byrne displaying again his brilliant knack of giving voice to cosmic characters). Turns out when Mr Fantastic’s decision to save a certain World Devourer’s life way back in #244 didn’t go down too well with the various alien races who’ve watched their home planets being consumed and left as lifeless husks… and they’re not about to let him get away with it! Byrne’s art is tremendous as always, his renditions of various characters – the Watcher, Galactus – being so close to perfection that they could easily be considered definitive. But, no matter how large the canvas Byrne is working with becomes, it’s still all about the characters – these are thrilling stories told on a grand scale with a human heart beating at their centre. 8/10

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