26 Jul 2009

Mini Reviews 26/07/2009

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: Various
Art: Various
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Just picking up this issue and feeling the weight in my hands brings a little smile to my face. This is one hefty piece of reading material to celebrate this milestone – mercifully advert free to boot! - and Marvel have pulled out two of the Spider Braintrust greats to lead the procession. The main story, written by Slott and pencilled magnificently by Romita Jr, brings one of Spidey’s oldest foes back into the fray with a neat character twist, showing some needed progression to save it from treading over too much old ground, and it ties nicely to the current events in Peter Parker’s world. While it’s not perfect it is a fun romp with several guest stars making worthy, occasionally comical, appearances and the ending gives us a clear indication of where ol' webhead’s world is heading in the next arc. The additional mini-stories vary in quality in both writing and artwork with Stan Lee’s amusing psychiatrist piece being the standout and Kelly’s Madame Web short hinting at bigger plots to come. I’d happily pay $4.99 for the main story alone and so the extras are nice bonuses. 9/10

Matt C: A $4.99 price-tag may put some people off, but this is actually pretty good value for money. For a start, it doesn’t feature any reprint material (or adverts!), but the primary reason is that it provides a good, solid read with plenty of enjoyment and the occasional great moment. Dan Slot’s Doc Ock tale, which takes up the bulk of the issue, is unsurprisingly the best of the bunch. He gets the tone just right, with a substantial dose of humour, and the banter between Torch and Spidey is delightfully funny. I’ve not been hugely impressed with ASM of late, and this story reminds me how much of the success of post Brand New Day Spidey was down to Slott. The back-up shorts are all readable, with the touching look at Ben Parker’s relationship with Peter from Mark Waid being the standout. Artwise there’s some tasty stuff from the Romita Jr/Janson combo, and Marcos Martin’s animated style livens up Stan Lee’s otherwise bonkers piece no end. 7/10

Writer: Jeff Katz & James Kuhoric
Art: Jason Craig
DC/Wildstorm $3.99

Matt T: After the first issue put me so far into the United States Of Meh I couldn't be bothered to review it, I wasn't holding out much hope for the second. It's the same again to an extent, almost dispensing with much in the way of an interesting build-up and getting straight into the slaughter. Although I don't buy horror comics for the dialogue it's still worth having some decent character development instead of another group of bland machete-fodder, and Ash seems to be little more than a bystander at the moment, which is a real waste. The fact that Freddy is back and a lot less burnt than usual might provide an interesting twist, but otherwise this is predictably gory in the worst possible way. 5/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Wesley Craig & Nathan Fairbairn
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: After the crazy-assed three-team throw down last month I was somewhat surprised this issue by the quick change of location and the change of artist too. That said, once I’d gotten a few pages in this revealed itself to be a great time-hopping read as the Guardians finally get to see first hand just what Starhawk has been warning about since her capture and come to realise that the War of Kings could lead to the end of all things. This is big writing by Abnett and Lanning as they offer a glimpse into a Badoon-ruled future and even bring the mysterious Celestials into the fray in a surprising twist. I have to say I’m not totally convinced that Craig’s artwork is suited for a long term run on this title but with Nathan Fairbairn’s colouring eliminating the need for an inker it’s a nice change. 8/10

Writer: Jay Faerber
Art: Jon Sommariva
Image $3.50

Matt C: After a lengthy delay this issue snuck out without any fanfare, almost slipping under the radar, but it’s a welcome return for this hugely likeable miniseries. Having said that, this is probably the weakest part of the story so far, not because the quality of the writing or art has dropped – far from it – but primarily because it’s a ‘guest-starring’ issue with Dynamo 5 making an appearance. As is the way of these things, the main characters have to step back a little bit to allow their guests room to do their thing, and I guess the long amount of time between issues has me wanting to focus on Dan Johnson and his alter-ego Gemini rather than anyone else. Still fun though and hopefully the conclusion will round things off in style. 7/10

Matt T: Honestly, you wait months for next instalment of Gemini and are then given a filler-issue of tat. For the first three there was plenty of tension and intrigue, but now we have, for some reason, an ill-advised crossover with Dynamo 5 which does zero to move the plot along. In predictable fashion the good guys meet, fight and then realise they're all on the same size. Well whoop-de-frickin-do. Jay Faerber is normally reliable in turning out classic superheroics with a modern twist, but this is a real letdown. I'll get #5 to complete the run, but it seems Mr Faerber is having a bad patch that I hope he gets himself out of sooner rather than later. 3/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen & Rodney Ramos
DC $2.99

James R: So this was the second issue of Green Lantern that I’ve bought – having never been a massive fan of the character, I had resisted it since it’s relaunch despite the hearty commendations of the Paradox Group. However, with the advent of Blackest Night, I thought I’d take the plunge. The last issue featuring the origin of Black Hand was exceptional, and I’m pleased to say that the standard remains high in here. You can feel the love Johns has for his two main protagonists - Green Lantern & Flash - and he packs a huge amount of action into his 21 pages. Recently, Geoff Johns said of GL’s artist Doug Mahnke; “He should draw every comic, ever” and whereas I wouldn’t place him alongside say, J. H. Williams or Darwyn Cooke, it’s clear that he’s an artist of rare talent, handling both action and emotion with equal skill. So far, everything in Blackest Night has been great, and I’m keeping everything crossed that DC keep up this standard for the rest of the summer. 9/10

Stewart R: So here we go, rings at the ready people! After the initial shocks of the first issue of Blackest Night, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen find themselves up against a reanimated friend with unfriendly intentions. Johns lets rip with an action issue here as the heroic duo try to figure out just who they’re going up against and how to survive. Mahnke, having demonstrated apt handling of a character and emotion-based issue last time around, excels himself with the super-powered shenanigans called for here. Johns also expands on events happening with the Guardians on Oa and delves further into Scar’s role in the rise of the Black Lanterns. There’s plenty going on with this large-scale event but Johns seems to be demonstrating that he’s more than capable of steering this story through multiple titles. 8/10

Writer: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art: Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: This book always works best when it steers clear from any major events or tie-ins that takeover the Marvel Universe. I guess you could say that about a lot of titles but I think the reason Incredible Hercules has been such a creative (if not commercial) success for the most part is that it does something resolutely different from the norm. To my mind at least, there’s nothing else like it on the stands. This issue was a highlight of the series so far, dealing with the often-complicated relationships between parents and their offspring (whether they be God or mortals). Stegman’s art is effective at conveying the emotions of the characters, there’s a great sense of humour apparent in the script and the various plot strands continue to intrigue. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns & Peter J Tomasi
Art: Eddy Barrows, Gene Ha & Tom Manmdrake
DC $3.99

Stewart R: I was wondering in my review for the last issue just how essential this miniseries was going to be considering the price-tag and the number of associated Blackest Night titles DC is putting out. I’m not wondering anymore as there are three well-crafted tales here which demonstrate superbly the varying emotional driving forces behind the different Lanterns. The Red Lantern tale focusing on Bleez’s tragic turn to the ‘red-side’ is heartfelt and doesn’t walk into the edgier territory that would almost make it cliché in today’s grittier comics market, and Barrow’s first page alone captures just what the Red Lanterns are about. The Star Sapphire story – John’s second offering this issue – brings a much needed history lesson for those readers only recently onboard with this Lantern lark and acts as a nice contrast to the preceding hate-filled instalment. The third slice of this Lantern Cake is terrific, showing that power and greed can even silence gods in the DC Universe if the desire is there. I now have no qualms about picking up the third issue next week whatsoever. 8/10

Matt T: I'm highly impressed with not only the way the back stories in Tales Of The Corps establish the various characters and how they came to be Lanterns, but also the fact that they enhance my enjoyment of the main story rather than being a necessity toward understanding it. The final story is a bit patchy artwise which is a shame, as it's probably my favourite of the three detailing the capture of a 'God of hunger' by Agent Orange. Only one issue left, by which point I should be completely au fait with the behind-the-scenes action in Blackest Night. 7/10

Writer: Peter David
Art: Eric Nguyen
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Seeing this listed in Marvels solicitations brought back the nasty taste of failure from my last Halo: Uprising review but that was a little while ago and had a completely different creative team. Now Bungie are winding up their latest PR machine for the upcoming ODST game and so I’ve reluctantly picked this up as a ‘see how we go’ effort. There is nothing groundbreaking here in the concept – a specialised military force with plenty of macho bravado and clashing personalities are dropped in to investigate a Covenant incursion – but David manages to instil some emotional depth into the troopers and rather than the usual blast-a-thon that you see with videogame tie-ins I’m expecting we might have more of a mystery element with this title. Nguyen’s artwork suits the Halo world well and I can only hope that he manages to meet the deadlines better than Maleev did with the previous tie-in. 7/10

Writer: Paul Dini
Art: Guillem March
DC Comics $2.99

James R: Last month, I said that this title was the weak link in the terrific Batman: Reborn series. So how does it fair this month? Better. This time Paul Dini really shows off his strengths as a writer. Catwoman covers her back by telling Harley & Poison Ivy that no one man is Batman – it’s a series of people who have donned the cowl over the years. It’s a cool idea, (and I immediately thought ‘Now that would make for a brilliant Elseworlds tale!’) and after surviving her questioning, we get some tidy dovetailing with the events of Streets Of Gotham. I’m still perplexed as to the art though – I’m starting to think that perhaps it’s Jose Villarrubia’s colours that aren’t quite fitting this title, but to compare the outstanding cover with the interior art, well it looks like there are two Guillem Marches. My other gripe is that both Ivy and Harley are weak characters next to Selina Kyle, and my enjoyment of this issue is tempered by sadness that there isn’t a Catwoman ongoing series anymore. Still, I’ll be back for issue #3 of this. 7/10

Writer: Christos N. Gage
Art: Rafa Sandoval and Roger Bonet
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Mr Gage is showing that he was the right man to hand this title too as he shapes the post Secret Invasion Initiative as Norman Osborn sees fit, but also develops the Resistance to counter the upside-down world that the heroes now find themselves in. There are some great little parts here with Constrictor’s television speech and Hood’s no-nonsense approach to displays of authority being the highlights. Gage is also making some good choices in bringing Penance and Trauma into the mix as they are two characters that need some serious development after showing promise under other writers. Sandoval is also a fantastic choice to replace Humberto Ramos as his style is similarly clean and he handles action with ease. Things are looking promising indeed on this title - climb aboard! 8/10

Writer: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by: Amanda Conner & Paul Mounts
DC Comics $2.99

James R: A few months ago I cared about Power Girl as much as I care for, say, the music of Maroon 5 – I’m aware that they’re there, I just really couldn’t be bothered! DC’s policy of plugging new titles in the back of current series can be fairly divisive, but it’s opened my eyes to some good books this year, and got me to reconsider my position on this one. I wouldn’t call Power Girl a guilty pleasure, but it’s a comic that I enjoy way more than I could have anticipated. All credit due to the creative team of Gray, Palmiotti and Conner who have made this a fun and at times unexpected read. I’m a firm believer that there aren’t really such things as duff characters, but rather duff writers and artists that can’t create something interesting. This series is a great example of a team making diamonds from coal, and you should definitely think about picking it up next month - it’s the start of the next story arc. Who knew sexy women could be such fun?! 8/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: This issue’s cover is a lovely homage to the iconic image that graced the front of Fantastic Four #1 so its no surprise to see Mole Man mixing it up inside. This time however he’s fighting on the same side as the Thing and the Torch against a looney Walt Disney type character who has some hairbrained scheme to cause the Earth to expand! Meanwhile, Reed is whipping up some ultra-complex scientific doohickey in a matter of minutes while Sue is wondering if there aren’t some complications developing during her pregnancy. Byrne provides Mole Man with some great pompous dialogue and his visual rendition of the character is superb. 8/10

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