13 Sept 2009

Mini Reviews 13/09/2009

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: Steve Epting
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Proving that the first issue was no fluke, Brubaker once again turns in a thundering instalment of his (so far, entirely successful) attempt to bring cohesion to the genesis of the Marvel Universe. Bru injects the same kind of intelligence and excitement that have made Captain America such a resounding critical success over the past few years, and Epting seems to be particularly inspired by the story the writer is concocting, prompting him to produce some career-best artwork. The evocation of the various 1940s locales utilized is frequently breathtaking, whether it’s a gun battle in the snowy countryside of war torn Europe, or the eruption of masked vigilantes appearing on the streets of NYC. I held out hope for an Invaders series from Brubaker ever since he employed the characters in flashbacks throughout his run on CA, but with The Marvels Project it looks like he had an even better idea tucked up his sleeve. 9/10

Matt T: This comic makes me all the more annoyed that The Twelve is in Limbo. The Marvels Project is an excellent read, and has obvious parallels with Watchmen, making it a potential classic if the pace continues. I'm intrigued to see what Brubaker can add to the well-trodden path of WWII Marvel characters, especially as the likes of Cap have yet to make an appearance. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Francis Manapul & Clayton Henry
DC $3.99

Matt C: Bringing Luthor and Braniac into the mix is a smart move as Superboy needs some tough characters to go up against to prove his worth, and as part of his DNA flows through one of them things are bound to get a little more interesting. Johns is generally succeeding in making me care about a character I’ve never held much interest in previously; Connor’s conversation with Wonder Girl really rang true thanks to some emotive writing and engaging art (shades of Tim Sale in there, which is no bad thing). I’ve never been that fussed with the Legion of Superheroes but while I’m a way off from considering myself a fan, the second instalment of the backup was a lot more involving than the first, and I’m quite intrigued by the direction Johns is taking the story. 7/10

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

Stewart R: To quote a blue and furry X-Man “Oh my stars and garters!” - what a special comic this is! The Utopia storyline has been a pure triumph of cross-title writing involving a feast of characters, some terrific visual work from a handful of artists, and some truly amazing plotting from Mr Matt Fraction. This man knows where these characters are heading and how he intends to get them there, and he’s managed to address an awful lot that had gone astray with the X-world over the past few years. He’s returned Cyclops to the audience and made the stuffy, brooding Scott Summers into the tactical genius that the X-Men need. The fight scenes here display that strategic edge perfectly with the remnants of Osborn’s X-Men and Avengers throwing everything against the resolute mutants as Norman’s grip slips that little bit more from the (dark) reigns. The two-artist tag-team works wonders as Deodato and Dodson sometimes find themselves working on the same page to brilliant effect even if a very minor criticism is Deodato’s struggle with the smaller panels in places. Fraction manages to leave a thread or two left dangling tantalisingly to show that there’s more great stuff to come. 9/10

Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross & Chris Chuckery
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: After the last two issues which have been solid, but not quite up to the stellar standard of the first, Unwritten returns with an incredible instalment this month. Mike Carey uses the life story of Rudyard Kipling to finally give us some tangible clues as to what Tom Taylor’s adversaries are up to and what their powers may be. This issue really showcases the series’ strengths – Carey’s obvious intelligence and research twinned with a concept that should appeal to all comics fans: the power of stories to shape the world. A special mention to the art of Peter Gross and the colours of Chris Chuckery, which has gone up a notch this month. Chuckery’s colouring is beautifully washed-out and really conveys a sense of age and history. This comic was a pleasure to read from first page to last, and has confirmed my passion for the series. Let’s hope Carey & Gross get given the opportunity to explore this story and concept to its full potential. 9/10

Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art: Reilly Brown & Nelson DeCastro
Marvel £2.99

Stewart R: This remains one of the most amusing mainstream comics that Marvel publishes and the current two-issues-a-month format is helping to keep the split focus – one issue for Herc, one for Amadeus – moving along nicely. The dynamic between Herc and his adolescent father (a great play with the mythology there) is terrific fun as he masquerades as the Norse god of Thunder on a quest to stop Queen Alflyse from conquering Midgard. Of course the 'Incredible' Hercules can never seem to keep his incredible libido from causing a problem or two and as always it results in some hilarious repercussions. The final twist should see some heavy hits next time out. 8/10

Matt C: Alternating each issue between Herc and Amadeus seems to be working really well, especially with the current fortnightly schedule. Unsurprisingly the humour quota is upped significantly for the Prince Of Power’s outings and his generally buffoonery is failing to impress the man-child Zeus quite spectacularly. Pak and Van Lente keep the gags coming thick and fast and Brown translates them brilliantly through the character’s expressions – even if this were dialogue-free you’d get the gist of what everyone’s saying to each other. All told, a riot. 8/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Prentis Rollins
DC $2.99

Stewart R: It’s testament to the quality of DC’s Blackest Night event that this was the first comic I read this week having picked up my order, and I couldn’t wait to see what further events were unfolding in and around Oa. We’re steadily seeing the cracks form and shatter for the Corps as past friends and foes come at them from all sides and persistent in-fighting between Alpha and Green Lanterns continues to drum home the predicament that the heroes find themselves in. Tomasi is using the Black Ring analysis ability to great effect as the victims succumb to various emotions, highlighting that things are not so nearly as fixed as we may have been led to believe. It may just be me but I’m also noticing that the scenes with Black Lanterns are being inked far more heavily as this thing progresses which really adds to the sense of darkness and foreboding that is falling over the universe. Gleason’s artwork seems to fly from simple, powerful linework to overly complex pages, but this adds to - rather than detracts from - the chaotic events unfolding. Strong stuff. 8/10

Writer: Richard Starkings
Art: Boo Cook
Image $3.50

Matt C: Like the lumbering beasts of its title, Elephantmen has been plodding along of late, lacking any real sense of urgency and giving the impression that the plot has almost come to a standstill. Basically it’s needed a huge kick up the backside to get things moving again and this issue might be the one to do it as it sees my good friend Boo Cook, known more his Elephantmen covers, finally getting a chance to strut his stuff inside the book. It’s terrific work too, as a microchip in Ebony Hide’s brain is switched on, sending him on a murderous remote-controlled rampage. Boo’s art is full of unrestrained energy, practically exploding off the page as the clash of swords drenches the panels in viscera. You can tell there’s a hunger there, so somebody better give this man an opportunity to crank this kind of mayhem in the pages of a comic book on a regular basis! 8/10

Writer: Dan Jurgens
Art: Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund
DC $3.99

Matt T: The fun seems to have been sucked out of Booster somewhat since Geoff Johns gave up the reigns, turning it into a far dourer affair. The Titans tale isn't one I'm too familiar with, unlike The Killing Joke, so the ramifications aren't as obvious to me as fans of the book, but I appreciate how massive the story was within the DC Universe. The similarities between this and a few of the other arcs is making me less positive about how Booster will come out of it, but hopefully a slightly different spin on the theme will turn up in the next issues. 6/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Carlos Pacheco & Various
Marvel $3.99

James R: The first thing that pleased me about Ultimate Avengers this month is that Marvel have dropped the frankly ridiculous triple-digit numbering – this is issue #2 as opposed to the insanely optimistic #002. It builds on the explosive opening of the debut and starts to put some meat on the bones of the story-arc; we learn about Cap’s illegitimate son (though his boots-knocking session did remind me of Nite Owl & Silk Spectre’s in Watchmen) and we get a glimpse of Tony Stark’s older brother. The reason why this comic works is one that, strangely, causes a paradox. The original Ultimate line succeeded as it lacked any continuity and had a freedom that Marvel titles usually don’t. However, with each passing issue, the writers were tied into their own continuity until they were forced to do something as lame as Ultimatum. I think the Ultimate line really would work best as a ‘What if?’ series, with each creative team given the same freedom Mark Millar has to let rip. As for this issue, it’s a blast to read and it looks beautiful – you can’t ask much more from superhero comics. 8/10

Matt T: On very few occasions has ‘Parental Advisory’ been so well deserved. A single page in this comic turns the stomach pretty rapidly, as the backstory of the Red Skull is told in all its gory glory. Unlike Jeph Loeb, Millar seems to be far more adept at adding both weight and pathos to some of the more ridiculous twists in his storytelling, rather than making it appear that each twist is purely for shock value. I'm actually looking forward to how this is going to turn out, rather than dreading how badly it’s going to get fucked up as I did with Loeb's run. 7/10

Matt C: A bit meatier this time around, although there’s still plenty of kinetic action as Cap goes AWOL (check out Pacheco’s glorious work in the final double-page splash!). I’m still not fully convinced by the Ultimate Red Skull, but while his origin story is Nazi-free, it plays well in this context. I much prefer Millar’s work here than in the regular Marvel Universe because on the Ultimate payroll he can write his own rules rather than breaking those that others have put into place, leaving someone else to pick up the pieces. Still not in the same league as the first two volumes of Ultimates, but has the potential to get there at least. 7/10

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

Matt T: Just when I thought this was settling into a formulaic repeat of the previous comic incarnation of this killer trio, Katz and Kuhoric go and throw an impressive curve ball. Granted the particular twist they throw is pretty disgusting, but it at least elevated the book beyond trying to wring the last possible dollar out of a popular franchise. With only three issues remaining I think I'll avoid the next incarnation, but at least FvsJvsA isn't petering out into a damp, blood covered disappointment. 6/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: John Romita Jr & Tom Palmer
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Matt T: For those of us that have been onboard with Kick-Ass since the start we realised there's only one way the plotline, and Mark Millar's writing, would let it end: with a big bloody fight. Millar often lets things descend into the darkest depths prior to the heroes making a triumphant return no matter how unlikely it may seem. Kick-Ass hasn't quite been the real-world superhero book Millar billed it to be, and as the end is drawing near the blockbuster pacing tendencies of the writer are becoming more obvious, especially as the comic itself is Hollywood bound. 6/10

Matt C: Now Millar and Romita Jr are (finally!) on the home straight you'd be forgiven for thinking that they’re upping the ante in readiness to go out in style….. until you remember they haven’t exactly shied away from physically abusing their characters since the very beginning! It’s so absurdly over-the-top that lesser minds will no doubt dismiss it as an “orgy of violence”. Well, let’s be honest, it is an orgy of violence, but it’s also a very canny one, showing how utterly ludicrous and dangerous dressing up in spandex and going after bad guys in the real world would be, but also how absolutely intoxicating the idea of doing such a thing is to most of us who read comic books (whether we’re prepared to admit or not). 8/10

James R: Mark Millar is very good at the sucker punch. In a lot of his comics, he’ll cleverly lull you into thinking a certain way about a character, only to pull the rug out from under you at the end of the story. (If you haven’t read Chosen, do so as soon as possible – it’s fantastic and the best example of this.) He hits us again in issue #7 as we realise that one of the main characters is not the man they have claimed to be, which puts an interesting slant on the whole story and addresses the central premise of ‘real life superheroes’. John Romita Jr’s art is, as usual, outstanding – his style is instantly recognisable and fantastically dynamic. With one chapter to go, I’m now excited to see just how Millar wraps this one up – will we get an ending worthy of Chosen or will we get the frankly offensive “Eff you” that he delivered with Wanted? Finally, it’s quite a unique 21st century experience to start reading a comics series and have a movie adaptation in the can before the final issue hits! Us comics fans, we’re made to suffer… it’s our lot in life! 7/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Paul Pelletier & Andrew Hennessy
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The great titles just keep coming this week as DnA and Mr Pelletier bombard our senses with this one-shot leading us through the mourning period at the end of the War of Kings. There’s emotional weariness and great sadness dripping from every page but amongst the bitterness and the vast vacuum of power these writers still manage to slip a sense of hope between the lines. Gladiator could almost be compared to the shogun-less samurai now as he struggles to deal with the yoke of leadership that continues to be placed around his shoulders. Crystal, ever the moral voice of the Inhumans, accepts her duties with great courage despite her troubled heart. I’m a huge fan of Paul Pelletier’s work and he delivers his same breathtaking quality throughout the pages on offer here. I don’t think there’s an artist out there currently who can convey such a vivid and vast emotional spectrum; the sorrow that he manages to capture in Crystal’s face at various points in marvellous. This is the perfect sign-off to a great event and leads us nicely into the spin-offs to come. 9/10

Writer: Alex Grecian
Art: Riley Rossmo
Image $3.50

Matt C: A bit of a cheat here: I know this book was actually released last week, but I didn’t get around to reading it before last week’s reviews were posted, and as it turned out to be the best single issue I’ve read for a little while, well, it more than deserved a mention. The Julia storyline has been pretty special, the highpoint of the series so far, but this finale was something else entirely. It doesn’t happen too often, but every once in a while a comic will come along that virtually knocks you down with its emotional force. You wouldn’t think that a tale where someone’s intestines are wound out by a medieval torture device could be so moving, but damn if this issue of Proof didn’t tug hard on the heartstrings. Grecian and Rossmo (along with colourist Dave Casey) have been producing a solid, offbeat and immensely likeable series for the past couple of years, but here we see them kick things up to another level entirely. A beautiful piece of work. 10/10

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Art: Barry Kitson, Rick Ketham & Joe Rubenstein
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: That was a nice little curve ball thrown to us by Mr Van Lente as the Chameleon’s plans for Peter Parker’s life take an unexpected twist following the partial cliffhanger ending to the last issue. The big problem that I have is the Chameleon’s belief that he helps all of his ‘faces’ with their lives despite the fact that we’re led to assume he kills each of them in a grisly acid-bath kind of way. There’s certainly a confusion of ideas there that isn’t some character tic but is possibly an oversight by the writer. Aside from that this was an enjoyable little arc that ended with some classic Spidey action against Jameson’s tech-enhanced police squad, plus further chaotic twists and turns as Peter discovers just what carnage has been inflicted upon his personal life. Flicking back to #603 it also becomes apparent just how similar Kitson’s and Robert Atkins’ styles are which adds to a nice sense of consistency. 7/10

Writer: Andy Diggle
Art: Miguel Sepulveda
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Norman Osborn, in all his incarnations across various titles at the mo, is an arse. Complete and total. In his own twisted way he managed to get one of his team to double cross him, for no reason other than determining whether or not she's trustworthy. How twisted. As the team itself is pretty dull and filled with annoying shades-of-grey characters, having a different tact than the usual 'find a superhero/villain and beat him up' is certainly to the Thunderbolts benefit. 7/10

Stewart R: Quite a mixed bag this one. There’s some neat twist-and-counter-twist story work with Osborn and Fury both involved and I’m left still not knowing just how many more are to come in the following issues. There are some glaring problems however, the first being the attempted big splash shock ending which has already been made moot with subsequent cover art from upcoming titles (I’ll let you lot do your own detective work there). The second issue for me is the supposed length of time that the Black Widow has been undercover in the Thunderbolts alongside the number of appearances that she has made in other titles offering some pretty serious involvement – see Invincible Iron Man and the Captain America for example. This appears to be the one book that’s not being kept in the relative timeline of Dark Reign and it’s making things somewhat confusing for the multi-title reader. Sepuldeva’s artwork also seems to degrade quite badly as you read through the comic, which probably explains the slight delay in release as the last five pages look particularly hurried. 5/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: It’s Reed’s 40th birthday (that’s right, I counted the candles on the cake!) and while it may not initially seem strange that it slipped his mind, when added onto all the other things that he can no longer remember there’s obviously something awry in his noggin. The earliest memory he can access? An incident that prompted him to speed up the plans for that fateful space launch that left the foursome with strange and wonderful powers: the encounter with Gormuu, warrior of Kraalo!! This is a big old homage to those pre-Marvel Age books that featured huge monsters, usually from outer space, wreaking havoc across the planet Earth. A lot of these were elevated substantially by the awesome artwork of Jack Kirby, so Byrne duly alters his style for these flashback sequences to evoke the King. A nice little sidestep, the only downside being Sue’s new haircut. I’ll let that slide though – it was the 1980s after all!! 8/10

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