23 Aug 2009

Mini Reviews 23/08/2009

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.


SWORDSMITH ASSASSIN #1
Writers: Andrew Cosby & Michael Alan Nelson
Art: Ayhan Hayrula
Boom! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: I do like a good tale of samurai in Feudal Japan but have never been inclined to pick up any comics in this genre. Having spotted this in the solicitations a few months back I noted that it was to be a samurai tale with a difference. The story focuses upon the swordmaker rather than the wielder and it is this premise that has me sold. The first instalment naturally centres on the tragic reason behind Toshiro Ono’s one-man quest to rid the world of weapons made by his hands, but manages to steer clear of cliché or ridiculous situations. Nelson highlights well that Ono’s skills lie not with the sword but with the hammer, creation not destruction, and so the draw here is to see how he intends to complete his quest against potential opponents who could seek to - and have the skills to - do him harm. Hayrula’s style is perfectly suited to a title like this, capturing the era nicely without having to rely on huge vistas of 18th Century Nippon too much. In fact it’s his decision to keep the panel-focus so close and personal that compliments the intimate, tragic tale of Ono so well and proves that once again Boom! Studios are bringing great creator-driven titles to the table and making them work. 8/10

Matt C: Chock full of so many samurai clichés that it’s just about fit to burst, this debut issue works mostly because not only are they the kind of damn fine clichés you don’t mind seeing again, but also because they’re handled with a certain panache and the atmospherics are mostly spot on. Whether this can extend beyond the first issue and avoid the trap of becoming a little too familiar remains to be seen, but generally this is a decent opening that has me looking forward to what comes next. 7/10


BATGIRL #1
Writer: Bryan Q Miller
Art: Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Having enjoyed the Batwoman-infused Detective Comics and the new Batman & Robin title these past few months, my eye was drawn to the solicitations where another Bat-series raised its head. Knowing next to nothing about the new Batgirl and only a little of Barbara Gordon’s history I was going into this blind. Regardless of that I enjoyed this debut issue a great deal. Though the story of a teenage hero hiding her crime-fighting antics from a parent is nothing new, Miller’s apt pacing allows for many of the gaps in my knowledge to be filled quite quickly and succinctly, while giving the reader an introduction to an interesting female lead. Stephanie and Barbara’s inner turmoils are neatly translated in their separate narrations and I hope that this soul-searching and character growth continues. It certainly won’t be hindered by Garbett’s artwork which is impressive to say the least. A great start. 8/10

James R: I’m approaching this title with some trepidation, which might strike you as odd given my love of the Batman universe and my vociferous praise of the majority of the Reborn titles. The reasons for this is that I was a fan & convert to the Pluckett & Scott run on the series a few years back. That incarnation of Batgirl was a grand example of a kinetic action comic (you could read it much faster than it would take a kettle to boil!) and a cool character – Cassandra Cain, who Batman employed as a living weapon on Gotham’s street crime. DC have held their cards really close to their corporate chest over the identity of the new Batgirl (It was great to see DC’s Bob Wayne & Dan DiDio almost collapse when series artist Lee Garbett nearly let the cat out the bag at this year’s Bristol Con) but it has to be said, it’s a bit of a damp squib. Stephanie Brown. I can only respond with a shrug! For what it’s worth, it’s a tidy read; the aforementioned Mr. Garbett does a good job with the art, and writer Bryan Q. Miller moves the story along at an impressive pace. Whereas Batman & Robin and Detective have a 'wow' factor, this has an ‘Ok’ factor. There’s enough going on here to warrant picking up issues #2 and #3, but Stephanie Brown will need to find some interesting facets to her personality soon. 6/10


MIGHTY AVENGERS #28
Writer: Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Art: Khoi Pham & Danny Miki
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: This is an odd book for the team involved, as there seems to be a mish-mash of characters that are well written (USAgent, Stature and Hank Pym are superb) and those that make no sense their being there (Hercules and Amadeus Cho who are handled far better in Incredible Hercules) resulting in a sometimes decent read which often strays into confusion. By involving so many other Avengers teams there isn't exactly a huge amount of potential for the Mighties to establish their own identity, so I'm probably going to drop the book after this arc. 4/10


X-FACTOR #47
Writer: Peter David
Art: Valentine DeLandro & Pat Davidson
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Where the likes of Mighty Avengers are so utterly disparate for no apparent reason, Peter David throws his team around with abandon only to tie them all back together just as it seems like the story is falling apart. As Madrox's future starts crossing over, the present unravels as a result, and the main villain who's been dabbling with some sneaky mind control is finally revealed. And, as ever with X-Factor, it's the last person I expected. I'll keep recommending this book to anyone who'll listen, but by all means pick up a trade instead of just grabbing a few issues as this arc seems like it’s been going on for a year. Great stuff, and building up to be a real classic. 9/10


WOLVERINE: WEAPON X #4
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney
Marcel $3.99

Matt C: I’ve been umming and ahhing about this title since it began as it wasn’t really living up to my (admittedly high) expectations. It’s now been saved from potential relegation thanks to this issue’s relentlessly brilliant example of how a Wolverine comic should be. Ferocious fight scenes choreographed to perfection, inspired twists that you really don’t see coming, and deliciously dark humour mixed with the requisite badass one-liners. If the recent X-Men Origins movie was as good as this, it would more than likely be your favourite movie of the summer. Fact! I hope this wasn’t a blip, because if Aaron and Raney can keep this kind of momentum going they’ll be onto a real winner. 9/10


UNTHINKABLE #4
Writer: Mark Sable
Art: Julian Totino Tedesco
Boom! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: This series just keeps on getting better and better. This time out we’re taken on a small trip to Switzerland to dispose of the Large Hadron Collider, then off to China to confront a mass demonstration, before heading back to the US to deal with a Nuclear Hand Grenade. There are some fascinating concepts and ideas here and while we’re obviously following Ripley and Co through their perilous task of preventing each incident from happening it should be said that the ‘mastermind’ behind all of these is Mark Sable himself. It is his research and thinking that has brought this title to life with these exceptional doomsday scenarios and while I must say that it now seems like five issues may not have been a long enough run to sufficiently deal with all of the ideas, he has been ensuring that every single issue is packed full of tension and great characterisation. Tedesco’s art has completely won me over and while the story may be all about the events, it is his artwork that focuses on the individuals exceptionally well. When writer and artist work in harmony to tell a story this good then you should really take the opportunity to see what they have created. 9/10


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #603
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Art: Robert Atkins & Victor Olazaba
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I attempted to read this comic on two separate occasions before finally managing to get through all 22 pages. The reason for my previous false starts was that I just didn’t want to see what the Chameleon was going to do to Peter Parker’s life and just who was going to get hurt during his subterfuge. I wasn’t avoiding it for the writing or because it was bad, I was avoiding it because I was emotionally involved with the story and this is what I love about comics. It’s like those film or TV show that you love but aren’t sure whether you can bear to look at the screen as events - unpleasant or uncomfortable - unfold. Van Lente has delivered an interesting take on the Chameleon and his ability to get so involved in his ‘performance’ of Peter is truly creepy. The writer has also managed to get across the point that people can really see things from two different points of view as the Chameleon fails to understand just why Peter and Harry are friends. It’ll certainly be interesting to see where this goes next issue. 8/10


RED CIRCLE: THE WEB #1
Writer: J Michael Straczynski
Art: Roger Robinson
DC $2.99

Matt T: Superhero origin stories are rarely anything other than a gathering of plots you've heard a hundred times before, punctuated by the occasional twist on an old theme. In the case of The Web there's so little that's new that I really found myself wanting to discover more about the rich, short-tempered alter ego rather than the hero himself, who seems like another bland Batman proxy. I'm sure JMS can do something different with a longer run, but there wasn't enough space given to establish what, on the surface, seemed like an interesting central character. 4/10


DAYS MISSING #1
Writer: Phil Hester
Art: Frazer Irving
Archaia $0.99

Matt C: A reasonably intriguing premise: immortal being who will do his utmost to prevent any natural catastrophes from decimating the human race, or at least contain them before they do irreparable damage. This kind of reminded me of Boom!’s recent series The Foundation, but where there you had a shadowy organisation averting disasters, here it’s a really, really, really old chap. The telling is quite dry and perhaps a little too jargon heavy, while Irving doesn’t get much of an opportunity to do anything but standard ‘talking head’ shots. In addition, the cliffhanger-less conclusion doesn’t exactly whip up much interest for the next instalment. Not bad, but just not strong enough to get me to come back. 6/10

James R: Most of us will know Phil Hester from his dynamic artwork, but this week’s Days Missing shows that he’s got some writing chops too. An immortal man – the Steward – has spent his endless days stopping mankind from facing extinction through a canny manipulation of time & that old weapon, impassioned arguing. (Think of Heroes' Hiro mixed with Shatner’s Jim Kirk… actually, don’t do that! Sorry.) Despite looking like he’s just escaped from a particularly trying Whitesnake reunion tour, Hester has created an interesting new character. Frazer Irving brings his usual distinctive art to the table, and I like the fact that this five issue mini-series will be using a different artist for each issue (in the same way that Global Frequency did a few years back). The people at Archaia & Roddenberry smartly followed Vertigo’s lead and are charging less than a dollar for this, so you have nothing to lose by giving this a go. It’s certainly warranted a place on my pull list. 8/10


DAREDEVIL #500
Writer: Ed Brubaker & Various
Art: Michael Lark & Various
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: A satisfying conclusion to Brubaker’s run on the title. Although it never quite scaled the same heights as his work on Captain America - and it arguably peaked during the first arc - there’s no denying that there was seriously good work displayed within the pages of Daredevil on a regular basis. This bumper-sized issue ties up a lot of loose ends and sets things up for incoming writer Andy Diggle, but to be honest, while I enjoyed immensely the ninja-based action in the lead feature, the position it leaves Murdock at the end, and the way it leads into the preview of Diggle’s first issue, doesn’t exactly seem like the right move to me. I’m curious, but not convinced. The extras are generally good value, but after the recent all-new-content Amazing Spider-Man #600 it’s a bit of a shame to see Marvel making us pay extra for a reprint again. Still, as it’s an issue from the classic Frank Miller run (#191) you can’t really complain too loudly. 8/10


DARK REIGN: THE HOOD #4
Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kyle Hotz
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: As far as conflicted villains go, I do like the Hood and I appreciate that in other titles he has been portrayed as a merciless pawn under the increasing control of Dormammu, but Jeff Parker has shown us that not every villain is actually a bad person and sometimes it’s the situation that leads people down the wrong path. I also really enjoy the strange sense of camaraderie that Parker (both writer and character) has managed to instil in the criminal syndicate and it’s fun to see the various characters muse upon and discuss the Hood’s powers and motives. Hotz’s talents are also being put to great use as he brings us scenes of nefarious characters sharing a meal together or working – albeit under a small amount of mind control – to build a mystical laboratory. It has been an interesting Dark Reign title to date and I’ve still no idea just what the fifth and final issue will bring. 7/10


DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #13
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Ivan Rodriguez
Avatar $3.99

James R: Every time an issue of Doktor Sleepless appears the same thing happens – I forget how much I love this comic. I’ve been saying for a while that Warren Ellis is in a purple patch at the moment, and I agree with Matt C that he is one of the creative talents currently working in comics that deserves the title of ‘Genius’. This issue balances the main players and supporting cast really well, and Ellis gets across the sense that the downward spiral to this series’ conclusion has begun. He even shows some spooky prescience by making controversy over healthcare one of the Doktor’s plots. You’ll know when the apocalypse starts, Warren Ellis will inform us in an outstanding miniseries. In the meantime, enjoy the chaos he’s unleashing in all his fictional worlds. 8/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #268
Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Just because the FF are grieving following Susan’s miscarriage doesn’t mean the criminal community are going to rest on their laurels and wait it out. And that doesn’t just count for criminals themselves – even their paraphernalia can get in on the act as witnessed this issue when Doom’s mask starts attacking the Torch and She-Hulk in the Baxter Building! There’s a continuity error here as they both talk of Doom being incinerated during the battle between Silver Surfer and Terrax back in #260, but obviously they’d just encountered him during the Secret Wars series (which at this point, hadn’t concluded). I’m sure this was explained away later on and obviously they didn’t want to give away the ending of Secret Wars, but it is a tad annoying. Other than that, business as usual i.e. a top quality comic book. 8/10

3 comments:

Justin said...

Nice summary of Days Missing, Matt. An interesting premise in there some place, but executed rather blandly. And while Irving's art was the draw (for me at least), it's never allowed to do very much.

Matt C said...

Did you see the Dale Keown cover? It looks strangely similar to the first issue of Berserker Top Cow put out a little while back...

Berserker #1

Who did that? Oh yeah, it was Dale Keown! Has he run out of cover ideas??

Justin said...

Man, I didn't notice the connection, but you're totally right! I remember some of the LCS in the US gave that Berserker thing out for free.

I got the Keown cover of Days Missing because it was .99 cents, glad I didn't pay $3.99 for the nicer cover!