19 Jul 2009

Mini Reviews 19/07/2009

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.


BLACKEST NIGHT #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert
DC $3.99

Matt C: These days, with ‘event fatigue’ becoming more and more of a reality following a litany of disappointments, it’s a real surprise to find a debut issue of a major, Universe-altering miniseries from one of the Big Two that actually delivers on its promise, but that’s precisely what Blackest Night does. With Geoff Johns in charge this feels a lot more weighty than the usual high concept, soulless money-spinners we’ve seen of late; this is a brilliantly paced and frequently shocking issue that succeeds beyond the undeniably enticing ‘undead superheroes’ idea thanks to Johns’ deft handling of some of DC’s most recognizable icons along with some striking blockbuster visuals courtesy of Reis. The aforementioned shocks, although liable to get the backs up of some sections of the fanbase, seem necessary and logical within the context of the story rather than simply thrown in for the hell of it. All in all, this is a hugely promising start and another sign (along with the Bat-books and Wednesday Comics) that DC are starting to reclaim ground lost to their main rivals over the last couple of years. 9/10

Matt T: If nothing else, the artwork in this book is just about perfect for wall mounting. Ivan Reis doesn't waste a splash page, packing them with information and clever little touches. The storytelling is pretty impressive too, managing to bring me up to date with current happenings in the Lantern universe and moving the main plot along at a reasonable pace. The chief idea behind Blackest Night is a sound one, meaning the amount of exposition Geoff Johns has to get through is kept to a minimum. The busiest man at DC can craft a superb epic without forgetting the personalities within, making me extremely optimistic that this will be a far more rousing crossover than the last couple of years - regardless of the publisher - have provided. 9/10

Stewart R: And so it begins: DC show Marvel how to look after a big multi-title, multi-character event with their big hitters. I’m relatively new to the DC party but John’s writing here takes me around the various locales at a decent pace, never lingering too long but giving enough of an explanation to allow the bigger picture to form. Hal Jordan’s narration at the start is particularly poignant, touching as it does on the spirit required to be a Green Lantern while dealing with the inevitable loss involved as the battles mount and the costs are counted. And there is certainly going to be some loss felt if this bloodletting continues in the rest of this run. Reis is called in to deliver some terrific work with some brutal pages and I’m a little surprised to not see ‘Mature Readers’ stamped somewhere on the gloriously dark cover. This is a thumper of a first issue and I eagerly await the second to steer me through this black night… 8/10

James R: After a very long bout of foreplay, DC gets down to it at last – Blackest Night begins! Following last week’s excellent prologue in Green Lantern I was really keen to see how this would play out. All told – not bad! I recently went back and had a look at Final Crisis, and the first issue of that miniseries is almost identical in terms of pace and characterisation. Geoff Johns doesn’t do anything startlingly original, but he is a storyteller who understands how DC’s iconic characters tick, and can set up a number of storylines, and keep the dynamism running. I also refute the idea it’s DC’s take on Marvel Zombies – whereas that was all knockabout fun in a parallel dimension, this is the main DCU, and Geoff Johns seems to be exploring the role of death and what it really means to these heroes who seem to be beyond mortality. It’s made me want to wear my Black Lantern ring in public! 8/10


X-FACTOR #46
Writer: Peter David
Art: Marco Santucci
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: The craft this book is being written with is something truly impressive, and the plot seems to twist and turn each month. As the future-mystery Jaime is trying to unravel comes crashing into the modern time, the rest of the group have to deal with the consequences in the present. There's far more to it than that, with highlights including a decrepit future version of Doom and Darwin managing to fight off the possessed Monet. Somehow Peter David manages to put all of these elements into a coherent story, and I'm enjoying every minute of it at the moment. 9/10


THE KILLER #9
Writer: Matz
Art: Luc Jacamon
Archaia $3.95

Matt C: There’s no doubting that the delays this book has experienced have lessened the story’s impact – when you’re dealing with double-crosses, betrayals, and general criminal behaviour, it’s no good when you find you’re having a hard time remembering who some of the characters are. That being said, this sophisticated and intelligent series is still enormously rewarding for a variety of reasons, whether it’s the convincing insight into the mind of an assassin or the evocative colour schemes employed to bolster the artwork. Overall The Killer has been an outstanding series, and one that will reward repeat readings (when you don’t have to wait almost a year for the next chapter!). 7/10


CAPTAIN AMERICA #601
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Gene Colan
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: It may be sacrilege to say it, but this is probably my least favourite issue of Cap in recent memory. The art is superb in places, but the painted style isn't really to my taste, nor is the relatively meaningless story. As we take a trip to the past to see Cap and Bucky in action against a horde of vampires I'm reminded of the hokier tales from the Golden Age and, even if there's pathos and angst involved, the story in general is quite weak. This perhaps should have been a one-off rather than part of the main run, as it seems like another delaying tactic by Marvel to drag out the return of Steve Rogers. 6/10

James R: The website Jump The Shark talks about the moment that TV shows went from great to unwatchable. One of the things they love to highlight are the words ‘A very special episode of…’ – when a show takes on a special theme which invariably would be hackneyed, clich├ęd and embarrassing. Incredibly, the same can be applied, it seems, to comics. This ‘Very special issue’ of Captain America is a shocker. A hackneyed plot involving a WW2 flashback and Vampires(!) alongside art from Gene Colan which, with all due respect to a master of the medium, looks oddly ill-suited to a war comic. Is this really the comic that has been setting the standard for the rest of the industry over the last couple of years? Poor. 3/10


BLACKEST NIGHT: TALES OF THE CORPS #1
Writers: Geoff Johns & Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Jerry Ordway, Chris Samnee & Rags Morales
DC $3.99

Stewart R: To coincide with the launch of the main title DC is starting this three-part, weekly book to expand on the different spectra of Lanterns and offer a broader view at the battle in hand. Johns’ first offering centres on the Blue Lantern Saint Walker as we’re walked through his heartfelt origin leading on to a Yellow Lantern tale involving the second Mongul in his childhood days. The last story – and Johns’ second here – finally offers a short piece introducing the mysterious Indigo Tribe. While there’s nothing essential here as far as I can see, each short story is well written and the artwork by all involved is strong. The most interesting tale of all is that of the Indigo Tribe but it just confirms that there are more mysteries surrounding them that will only become clearer in the main title. The only sticking point would be the price-tag considering how many DC titles are going to be wrapped up in this crossover event. 7/10


INCOGNITO #5
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips
Marvel/Icon $.3.50

James R: Ah, thank God! I’ve found the real Ed Brubaker! After this week’s Captain America I feared he’d been replaced by a Skrull. I’m pleased to report Incognito is as good as usual. This month’s issue sees Zack on the run, and rubbing up against his twin brother’s ex. We also get to find out how and why there are super-powered people in this world, and it was great to see Ed Brubaker using Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton template to explain it. In between that we get sex, violence, double agents and a neat twist that sets up the final issue. A special nod to the colours of Val Staples whose work makes this comic an amazing mix of pulp primary colours and dark hues. As much as I’m excited about the return of Criminal, I’m already missing this exceptional comic. 9/10


POE #1
Writer: J. Baron Mitchell
Art: Dean Kotz
Boom! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: Until today I knew little about Edgar Allan Poe other than he was an American writer and his famous poem, The Raven, was riffed in a Simpsons episode. A quick history lesson later - courtesy of Wikipedia - and I thought I was ready for this book. To be honest it’s not necessary to know much of Poe’s background before picking this supernatural detective story up but it helps identify all of the nice touches that Mitchell has included and one particular ‘historical inaccuracy’ may actually be an important plot twist in waiting but time will tell. In any respect this reviewer has deduced that Mitchell’s detective yarn is a success with some delightfully over-the-top use of logical reasoning and a good dose of suspense. Kotz’s artwork doesn’t get lost in itself trying to portray 19th century Baltimore in too much detail but instead concentrates on the emotion of the protagonists and the modest palette adds to the period feel. Doubting whether to pick this up? Nevermore! 7/10

Matt C: In this highly fictionalised tale of the famous author, we see Edgar Allen Poe booted out of an asylum -where’s he’s being treated for all-consuming grief following the premature death of his wife - and hooking up with his police constable brother to solve a spate of grisly murders in 19th century Baltimore. It’s a bit of silly idea, positing Poe as some sort of psychic amateur detective, but it’s told with such verve and at such a relentless pace it’s very hard not to get carried away with the premise. Kotz’s art has a European flavour to it, which works well for the story, and Mitchell is blatantly enjoying crafting a nifty whodunit. Nothing groundbreaking but potentially a mini that will turn out to be a lot of fun. 7/10


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #599
Writer: Joe Kelly
Art: Stephen Segovia, Marco Checchetto, Paulo Siqueira & Amilton Santos
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Ok, let’s get the bad out of the way… there was evidently some delay with this title as the Annual was out last week and the number of artists adding their two cents here indicates that someone may have dropped the ball. Therefore we already know that our hero comes out the tail end of this arc relatively unscathed. But of course this arc was called American Son and in that respect we actually need to know what happens to Harry after his father’s maniacal plans have been outlined. On that account Kelly has given us a decent ride and even leaves us guessing at points just where things are going to lead. This action finale keeps up the tension, delivering a bone crunching father and son scrap that signs off with everything poised interestingly for the start of the Webhead’s 7th Century. 7/10


UNTHINKABLE #3
Writer: Mark Sable
Art: Julian Totino Tedesco
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: Let me wheel out a little phrase that I haven’t uttered in a while… Gee-whiz this is a good title! Sable marks the halfway point of Unthinkable by upping the stakes and presenting the Think Tank with the worst scenarios that they dreamed (im)possible. The more I read of this story the more I can see it working as a television miniseries with big ideas and a delicious amount of tension and action. Sable is ensuring that Alan Ripley is growing as a character as the situation gets progressively worse and there’s still a heap of mystery behind who is manipulating these events. That alone should ensure that the readership sticks with this title until the end but Tedesco’s artwork might seal the deal. While some of his inkwork gets a little scratchier as we move forward, that almost adds to the frenetic feel of the story. Fans of conspiracy theory stories should be seriously thinking of picking this up. 8/10


WEDNESDAY COMICS #2
Writers: Various
Art: Various
DC $3.99

Matt C: I think its pretty safe to say now, with the second issue of this series being just as impressive as the first, that we’re guaranteed a weekly treat in our comics piles for the next few months. Again, it’s the artwork that makes Wednesday Comics such a visually immersive experience. Highlights this week: Bullock’s gorgeous retro-style for Deadman, Paul Pope’s delightfully idiosyncratic take on Adam Strange, and Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook’s interpretation of Kirby’s Kamandi, with Sook’s clear, crisp linework recalling the detailed glory of vintage Hal Foster. 8/10


DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? #1
Writer: Philip K Dick
Art: Tony Parker
Boom! $3.99

Matt C: Geek confession time: while I’ve seen Blade Runner numerous times I’ve never actually read anything by Philip K Dick. Yeah, I know he’s highly revered as one of the greatest SF writers of all time, but somehow I’ve never found a copy of one of his books in my hands. With that in mind, I was quite intrigued to see how this ‘adaptation’ of Dick’s most famous (?) book turned out and although I found the content fascinating I can’t actually see myself picking up another issue. The idea of taking Dick’s prose verbatim and putting in a comic book is a unusual one, but I’m not sure how well it works or, at least, I’m not sure this is the format I want to read the story in. And yes, I do want to read the story now, as I found this opening chapter very compelling, but I think my preference would be to read it in its original presentation rather than with added artwork – let my mind conjure up the imagery required. Perhaps current fans of the book will get something out of this telling, but while I won’t be back for #2 I will say I’m grateful that this series came around to inspire me to pick up Dick’s novel. That’s probably not exactly what the creative team behind this venture want to hear but when I have the option to go down to Borders or click on Amazon and get a copy straight away, or wait 24 months for the tale to be told in this format, well, it’s not a decision I’m going to struggle with exactly. Extreme kudos to Boom! though for attempting something like this, and I hope it’s successful (the excellent Warren Ellis essay is worth checking out if nothing else), but I’m sorry to say I can’t sign on for the duration. 7/10


CREEPY #1
Writers: Various
Art: Various
Dark Horse $4.99

Matt T: As the owner of a couple of Creepy compilations I was understandably concerned when this first issue of this relaunch came out. Would it maintain the quick-fire oddness of the classic books, or be a dull mish-mash of horror and sci-fi? Well, for the most part this is superbly in keeping with the classic Creepy books, with a definite air of EC throughout. The first story sets the tone superbly, and only towards the end do they get more predictable and weak. Getting some colour in the art would certainly have aided a couple of the tales, but overall there's some honest-to-goodness spookiness therein. Good stuff. 8/10

Matt C: A not unwelcome return for this classic anthology title coinciding with Dark Horse’s lovingly produced reprints of the original books from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The five new tales are a bit hit and miss (the Nazi deathcamp story doesn’t quite work), but the more adult tone gives it an effective contemporary feel and some of the ‘shocks’ are rather inventive. It’s possibly quite telling though that the standout short is the reprinted story at the end, illustrated with spooky efficiency by Alex Toth. Not bad at all, but I’m undecided whether I’m going to pursue this series while some of those lovely hardcover reprints are still out there, still waiting to find a home on my bookshelf! 7/10


UNKNOWN #3
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Mink Oosterveer
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Well, that’s the way you keep your audience on their toes. After last issue’s juicy cliffhanger, Waid keeps us waiting on its outcome as he adds a wholly unexpected but very welcome new layer to the storyline at the beginning of this instalment. In fact, it’s almost turning into something akin to a Dan Brown novel, only smarter, more compulsive, genuinely exciting and with interesting lead characters. Glad to see this isn’t a one-off and that a second series is due later in the year. 8/10


DEADPOOL #12
Writer: Daniel Way
Art: Paco Medina
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Part of me is glad to see this arc of Deadpool end, as Marvel can stop trying to wedge him into the main universe. The character isn't one that sits well against mainstream villains, doing far better against one-offs or those further down the pecking order. Just as the Thunderbolts seemed weak for a crossover, Hawkeye/Bullseye ends up in the same camp, being made a tit out of by a nutcase with a loose grip on reality. Stick DP in his own little world (or at least more so than he is already) and only occasionally have him create merry hell against the humourless lot than run the Marvel U. 8/10

Stewart R: Pure comedy gold. Way and Medina forever! This title has it all, hilarious dream sequences, bazookas, monster trucks, guns, guts and giggles aplenty. Sadly this little Deadpool vs Bulls(Hawk)eye comes to an end but as proven time and time again through this run the creative talent know how to finish on a high. What could have been a difficult ending to envisage has been dealt with in an intelligent fashion and should also ensure the minimum of crossover potential for the coming few issues, which will be nice. It’s a terrific title and I highly recommend putting it in your pull-lists. 9/10


THE LAST RESORT #1
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art: Gionarlo Caracuzzo
IDW $3.99

Matt T: Zombies and boobies are normally enough to grab my interest in any comic, and The Last Resort has both on the first page! Result! But seriously, the concept sold me far better than the fist issue did, as a huge cast is each given a few pages to show how they're just bog standard horror-movie fodder, leaving only the first few to introduce any kind of tension and interest. I'm staying on till the second issue, but when you give so much room to characters that aren't interesting in the first place you're asking for trouble. 7/10

Stewart R: Lost meets Dawn Of The Dead. That pitch isn’t going to sell this title to everyone but I would wait a second before dismissing this out of hand. This first issue starts and ends with a bang and what sits in between is master class on how to introduce a whole cast in one sitting. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been subjected to a hundred different television pilots from American television that it allows this quick-fire formula to work so well here, but in any case the writers have shown some skill at weaving the character work together. Caracuzzo’s watercolour style adds an extra dimension to proceedings and he captures the variety necessary in the cast well. The big test of course will be to see how he deals with it when we’re nipple-deep in the undead. 8/10

Matt C: This book hadn’t really registered on my radar – there’s only so much zombie-related mayhem a man can take – but slap some Darwyn Cooke artwork on the cover and you’ve got my attention. It’s actually a pretty good read, set-up and paced like a disaster movie (albeit a more sexed up version) with a nice streak of black humour running through the middle, and some mischievous and moody art from Caracuzzo. Palmitotti and Gray are relatively unsung as writers (compared to the big guns) but they’ve been delivering some solid, entertaining work in a variety of genres over the last few years, and The Last Resort sees them producing a tale that may well stick out from the undead pack. 7/10


INCREDIBLES: FAMILY MATTERS #4
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Marcio Takara
Boom! Studios $2.99

Matt C: The Incredibles has been the most successful and satisfying of Boom!’s Pixar line so far, which is not really surprising when you consider the genre involved, but while Waid’s take on the characters is suitably light-hearted it’s also a bit lightweight, not really taking any major risks and opting for playing it safe. Takara’s art is lovely though - bright and playful, cleverly capturing the dynamics of the Parr family. Pleasant and diverting but not essential. 6/10


DARK AVENGERS #7
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Luke Ross
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’ve had big bones to pick with Marvel for constantly forcing the readership to cope with two different sets of writers and artists when they span a mini-event across two ongoing titles like this, but they’ve done the sensible thing on one count here: they’ve let Matt Fraction do the writing alone. This ensures some consistency and means that his vision is kept intact. Cyclops’ audacious staredown with Osborn is fantastic as each leader tries to put one over on the other. Fraction also goes some way to clarify just where Emma Frost sits with all of this upheaval and it’s refreshing to see that we’re not being handed another simple ‘turncoat’ story. The only concern is that the impending Trask/Sentinel involvement might detract from the mind games and political positioning. 7/10


SCALPED #30
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
DC/Vertigo

Matt C: A new story arc begins for this peerless series and, judging by the actions of Red Crow in this issue, the shit is about to hit the fan in a big, big way. Of course, I could be utterly mistaken, as one of the great things about Scalped is how Aaron continuously subverts your expectations. With so many doomed characters in such a small narrative sphere you do wonder how long they can last before final judgement reaches them all, but if Aaron can keep juggling these balls in the same fashion he has been over the last couple of years then I’ll keep buying this desolate but mesmerizing book. 9/10


BETA RAY BILL: GODHUNTER #2
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Kano
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The midway point on Bill’s path of revenge sees the worthy Korbinite go up against Galactus’ prime herald, the Silver Surfer. This should be epic sun-shattering stuff but it’s all a little lacklustre in the art department thanks to Kano’s ultra thin style and as a result I feel that the impact of what Gillen is trying to get across has been lost somewhat. That said, the single, bloody-minded nature of Bill’s mission also makes it difficult to warm to the hero's cause, not least because it’s been signposted from the beginning of what the cost might well be. To be honest there are too many other things out there this week to be spending your $3.99 on. 5/10


ZEKE DEADWOOD: ZOMBIE LAWMAN #1
Writer: T.A Boatwright & Ryan Rubio
Art: Ryan Rubio
SLG $3.95

Matt T: Ah, what a silly little comic to end my reading of the week with. With the cartoony art style, wonderfully hokey Western dialogue, and a less than conventional hero there's plenty to enjoy, and the general outlook of the book is more comedy-horror than horror-comedy. I'm hoping there's more to come from ol' Zeke, as he has plenty of potential to stink out more of the Old West with his putrid style of justice. 9/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #263
Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: One of my favourite comic book covers ever – it may feature just one character, and one word of dialogue, but it’s such an absolutely electrifying image which conveys so much excitement that even if you weren’t a particular fan of the FF at the time, seeing this on the stands would probably prove to be somewhat irresistible. It is slightly misleading though, in that the contents don’t include a non-stop onslaught of high octane mayhem, but as it features all the traits that made Byrne’s run on the book so great – big sci-fi ideas, engrossing character work, energetic and beautifully rendered art – the lack of continuous action barely registers as you’re propelled along by another brilliantly constructed storyline with a complete doozy of an ending. 9/10

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Matt C: It'll probably come as no surprise to you that I'm a big fan of Philip K Dick, as I often bang on about the 'New Wave of SF' in the sixties that he was (by default) part of. If you're tempted to check out his ground-breaking work (and you really should) then I'd especially recommend 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch', 'The Man in the High Castle' and 'A Scanner Darkly' as well as 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' Then, if you find you like PKD, try 'Bug Jack Barron' by Norman Spinrad, 'The Demolished Man' by Alfred Bester and 'Logan's Run' by William F Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (my all time favourite SF book - forget the film – the original book is an amphetamine driven page turner). - Rob N

Matt C said...

Some great recommendations there Rob, just need to figure out a way to add more hours to each day to read all this stuff in!

Anonymous said...

Well you don't actually have to read them y'know... you could just put them on your bookshelf so when people visit you, they will say, "That Matt, his taste in books is as cool as his taste in music..." - Rob N

Matt C said...

Yeah, until they ask you, "What's this book like then?"!

Anonymous said...

Just say, "it's magnificent.. but I won't spoil the plot for you, because you really should read it yourself..." ;) - Rob N