20 Sep 2009

Mini Reviews 20/09/2009

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.


BRAVE AND THE BOLD #27
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Jesus Saiz
DC $2.99

Matt C: Straczynski’s first issue of Brave And The Bold is also the first time he’s handled one of DC’s big guns (Batman) since signing his contact with the publisher, and I’m sad to say it’s a major disappointment. I’ve generally been a big fan of his comic book work from Rising Stars right through to Thor, but this is one title I won’t be pursuing. It’s not that it is badly written by any means, but several elements just feel off. The Joker is portrayed more as a slightly unhinged crime boss rather than the homicidal lunatic we all know and love, while the Dark Knight himself spouts dull clichés before launching into a heavy-handed sentimentalising at the close of the issue. The art from Saiz is very nice but considering DC’s star is in ascendance again with a recent spate of quality titles I think my money will be better spent elsewhere. 5/10


ULTIMATE ARMOUR WARS #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Steve Kurth & Jeff Huet
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: I’m unashamedly a huge fan of Warren Ellis, and would be happy to read his re-interpretation of the phone book, so the thought of him writing Iron Man in any form made me do my geeky dance of joy. (Trust me, you don’t want to see it). As usual, Ellis shows his flair in writing Stark as ‘Pilot of the Future’, and while the events of the flaccid Ultimatum serve as the backdrop to this comic, they’re soon dispensed with as Stark comes up against the Ghost – a mystery agent who has co-opted the Stark-tech and wants to get his hands on more of Tony’s prized possessions. Illustrated in a no-nonsense Hitch-lite way by Steve Kirth, it looks nice enough, though as Stark descend into his underground lair you can’t help but wish this was drawn by John Cassaday (who really would have got the scope and scale across better). A fun read, but very much an introductory chapter, and at $3.99, a little on the thin side (but that’s Marvel these days rather than the creators.) If you like the line “This person just generated a hypersphere and hid my property in the fifth dimension” then this series should be right up your interactive 4-D meta-crystal HUD. 7/10


UNTHINKABLE #5
Writer: Mark Sable
Art: Julian Totino Tedesco
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: This fantastic series from the mind of Mark Sable comes to its mind-boggling conclusion this month and caps off what has been one of the most enjoyable political thriller comics that I’ve had the fortune to read. The various motives of the Wolfpack are revealed to Alan Ripley as it becomes clear that the bigger plots and events may have been put into action simply as a distraction to the real goal. Sable may well have been able to stretch this story over a longer period but it’s my opinion that the strength of this title has been his focus and intent to get everything covered in five issues. Tedesco as a comic book artist is also a true revelation and the thing that will stick in my mind for years to come is his single page handling of September 11th 2001 in this very issue, and I know that I’ve not seen such a stark and impressive image anywhere else this year. It may be too late for some of you to hunt around for this in comic book form but I sincerely recommend the title to those who might pick it up as a TPB. A true joy to read. 9/10


BLACKEST NIGHT #3
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert
DC $3.99

James R: Three issues in, and Geoff Johns really starts to hit his stride. I was really impressed with the first two issues, but for sheer quality and quantity, this takes some beating. The Indigo tribe finally turn up on Earth to lend a hand to the bewildered and bedraggled survivors of the Black Lanterns’ attack, and one of the protagonists meets a particularly horrific end. I can understand the criticism that the pages featuring Indigo-1’s soliloquy do come across as a bit of a plot explanation device - “This is what’s going on and here’s why it’s happening – everyone got it?!” - but I still think it’s forgivable in a comic that’s packed with character development, and some downright horrific moments brilliantly illustrated by Ivan Reis. I was one of the few defenders of Final Crisis last summer, and whereas that was a different kind of ‘Event’ with a different scope, this is a comics blockbuster of a unique stripe and shows that DC really has its house in order at the moment. It easily passed my James ‘instant re-read’ test and certainly was the most memorable thing I read in this hectic week of releases. 8/10

Matt C: With the story anchored by Hal & Barry once again everything comes sharply into focus as Johns delivers his best script yet for anything Blackest Night related. Things seem to be escalating rapidly almost to the point where our heroes look like they haven’t got a hope in hell….. until the Indigo tribe make their debut with a combination of butt-kicking and much-needed exposition. The pace continues to be relentless but Johns' knack of ensuring his characters never get lost amidst the mayhem adds weight and depth to the proceedings, so when he whips out the more horrific elements of the plot their impact hits really hard. Outstanding. 9/10

Stewart R: It’s good. Pretty darn good, but it’s just not hitting the heady Blackest Night heights that the various Green Lantern titles have reached over the past few weeks. With a concept this big it was inevitable that at some point there was going to be an instance where the gravity of the situation got lost by the heroes and here it’s where Hal and Barry have a big old heart to heart about each other’s foibles. Seriously? You’re talking about what each of you have been going through these past years rather than coming up with a decent plan of action? Another small concern I have is just how convenient the Indigo Lanterns appear to be, delivering answers left, right and centre in their first full involvement. Aside from these pretty minor points there is plenty of delicious Black Lantern nastiness this time around, especially when it comes time for the Firestorms to face off. Once again it is one of those situations where Johns hits that fine line between making it riveting while at the same stroke making it difficult to read further when realising the emotional pain to come. Looking back it may seem that I’ve been more negative towards this issue but I’ve read it through twice and it’s still a blast despite the niggles. 7/10

Matt T: Probably the weakest issue for me so far. Although there was plenty going on, very little of it was of huge consequence to the main story unless you have a particularly invested interest in the new Firestorm. The appearance of the Indigo tribe does move the plot on somewhat. As much as the Black Lanterns are horrifying, we need a few of the other colours of the spectrum to get involved before the war becomes too one dimensional. 6/10


DARK AVENGERS #9
Writer: Brain Michael Bendis
Art: Mike Deodato
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: This is easily the best issue of Dark Avengers I've bought since its inception. Unfortunately it's mainly because it barely features Norman's team at all. Instead Ares hunts down the man responsible for his son skipping school, Nick Fury. It seems that, as Ares is appearing in a frightening amount of books at the moment, few of them seem to be able to get anything resembling a consistent character for the God of War. Bendis manages to infuse Ares with an amount of emotional depth, whereas others paint him as a Hulk-lite who simply wants to break things. Perhaps the fact that Phobos is involved is an excuse for the added depth, but it's still a problem with the majority of the Dark Avengers as most of them are card-carrying psychos that suddenly need to be rounded characters rather than purely an arch foe for a hero. 8/10

Stewart R: I’ll say it right here and right now: the cross-title shenanigans that are plaguing much of the Marvel universe at present need to stop! This is blatantly a story that should have been featured in the pages of Secret Warriors yet it appears under the Dark Avengers banner. Anyone who gets SW and not DA should pick this up as it is a decent read and gives some much needed validation to Phobos’ place on Fury’s team. The question is should those readers really have to shell out an extra $3.99 for it? Bendis actually manages to keep his usual ‘chatty’ character work down to an effective minimum and brings us a vulnerable side of Ares that is usually swept away elsewhere in a sea of violence and godlike testosterone. We’re looking good for a high score here from this reviewer until the weirdness with Norman Osborn and the Sentry is taken into consideration. I have absolutely no idea what is going on with Osborn’s workshop scenes and because I don’t pick up this tile regularly I’m a little confused by Lindy’s actions against Sentry. I think I’ll sum it up as ‘bafflingly reasonable’! 6/10


BATGIRL #2
Writer: Brian Q. Miller
Art: Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott with Sandra Hope
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I now know why I’m enjoying this so much. There are striking similarities here to the Batman Beyond (Batman Of The Future in the UK) animated series with the young, capable yet naïve youngster putting on the guise of the tired, weary predecessor who then acts as mentor and partner. It’s no bad thing at all as Miller makes sure that he’s tackling this from both sides – Stephanie refusing to listen to reason, Barbara struggling to admit that jealousy is probably leading her heart in the matter – and it’s an enjoyable crime-fighting bundle of fun. Garbett’s got a good grip on the mix of kinetic, thug-beating action and angst riddled school-life that currently runs through Batgirl’s life and his last page gives us a nice little teaser of the ‘scary’ things to come. 8/10


CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN #3
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Bryan Hitch & Butch Guice
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: On one hand I do feel as though this mini hasn’t truly delivered on its promise so far, dragging its feet somewhat with it’s recapping of Cap’s history rather than sprinting headlong into new, exciting territory. On the other hand, when compared to Marvel ‘event’ books of recent years (Secret Invasion, Civil War, House Of M) there’s far more intelligence and feeling within these pages, as well as an astute and convincing grip on a large cast of characters. There seems to be a lot more going on in this issue too, especially with a certain villain returning to the mix, but while part of me thinks we should have got to this point a bit earlier, the rest of me can’t deny that it is a really entertaining page-turner. 8/10

Matt T: Much like Dark Avengers, Captain America: Reborn is better off without the title character. While the historical references will probably appeal to new readers, us ageing geeks will spin past the likes of Namor accidentally launching a popsicle Cap into the ocean. The reappearance of the Red Skull helps move the story along nicely, and having something slightly more interesting for Bucky to do other than beating up random henchmen is a relief. 8/10


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #605
Writers: Fred Van Lente & Brian Reed
Art: Javier Pulido, Luke Ross, Rick Magyar, Yanick Paquette & Mark Farmer
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I get the feeling that as a fan of the Brand New Day premise I should be a little worried. Where once there was the promise of new and reinvented characters and a so called ‘Brain Trust’ working closely together, there is now an ever expanding group of writers sticking their oar in and a bizarre tendency to revisit past storylines that were probably better left alone. This week I find myself handing over an extra dollar for an incredibly mixed bag with a three-chapter format. The initial chapter, concentrating on Mary Jane’s previous whereabouts, is interesting but spoiled somewhat by the unnecessary super-villain inclusion and an artist seemingly attempting a John Romita Jr impression. Chapter 2 has several worrying mentions of the name ‘Reilly’, and the final chapter has Peter bumbling around in dating pursuits and even going headlong into a signposted dead-end by trying to actually date as Spider-Man. This is obviously only one issue out of the three we’ll get this month, but with the news that Guggenheim is set to leave the Brain Trust after his next arc I’m wary that this could beckon ‘slippery slope’ time. 5/10


SWORDSMITH ASSASSIN #2
Writer: Andrew Cosby & Michael Alan Nelson
Art: Ayhan Hayrula
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Yeah, I know it’s crammed with familiar tropes of the genre but I still find it impossible to resist Swordsmith Assassin because it’s delivered with such grace and panache. This month we meet an honourable and wise old samurai who teaches our hero how to wield swords as expertly as he forges them. You may read that description and think, “How many times have we seen that before?”, but while it won’t win any prizes for originality, the tight script from Cosby & Nelson along with the quality art from Hayrula (encompassing both the epic and the intimate) make this a thoroughly compelling series. 8/10


VENGEANCE OF THE MOON KNIGHT #1
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Art: Jerome Opeña and Dan Brown
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The rebooted Moon Knight was one of the first titles I sought out when I got back into buying comics on a regular basis but it soon lost my attention as a quickly changing Marvel Universe seemed to make it difficult for the creative team to take Marc Spector’s character where they wanted him. Luckily it seems that Marvel aren’t ready to give up on this follower of Khonshu just yet and so he returns to New York City as Jake Lockley in a terrific first issue. Hurwitz has a crime fiction and MAX series background which should hopefully keep things grounded to a certain degree through the oncoming arc, and he seems keen to take this character in a more refined direction. Opeña’s artwork is suited to this type of action as we get the intense frenetic and physical type of superheroism that Moon Knight is known for. The scenes of Moon Knight riding a sliding van and the Osborn poster vandalism are truly sublime. I’d be worried about the possible Thousand Suns vs Moon god slant in the next issue if this title were in lesser hands, but I’m confident that it will be well delivered. The backup story is a reprint of Moon Knight’s origin, which is probably necessary to bring new readers up to speed, but since we’re dealing with Lockley and not Spector in the main story I think it’s the only misstep here. 8/10


BATMAN AND ROBIN #4
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion
DC $2.99

Stewart R: This is the big, big problem with starting an ongoing series so well in the first arc: no matter how hard you try to keep up the consistency with the writing a change in artist can completely alter the mood. Philip Tan is certainly an accomplished penciller and there are touches of class – the Batmobile’s appearance on the first page and the sheer fear on the Penguin’s face towards the end are immense – but I can hear a little voice in the back of my head, echoing that of a thousand other readers I’m sure, that just whispers, “Imagine what it’d be like if Mr Quitely had been doing this!” It’s obviously still Morrison pulling the strings so we get some further training/bonding between the caped crimefighters which is also mirrored in the Red Hood’s manipulation of Scarlett. There are some puzzling pieces however, like the apparent social networking aspect while dealing with Lightning Bug and I’ve no idea what the panel with Pink Flamingo’s plane is all about! Are we to believe that that’s him giving a birdcall or has he been dealt with? Hopefully everything will become clearer next issue. 6/10

James R: There’s only one thing up for debate in Batman And Robin this month – can Philip Tan fill the gargantuan shoes of Frank Quitely? Storywise it’s very much ‘as you were’ – Morrison continues his terrific development of Dick & Damien (not to be confused with Dick & Dom…but hey! There’s an idea for a crossover…) and shows us more of the Red Hood & Scarlet, whilst throwing a few intriguing new characters into the mix. However, for me Tan isn’t the right choice to continue this book’s awesome momentum. In his interviews for this title Morrison said that he was trying to encapsulate the spirit of Batman in its entirety – and that included the zany charge of the ‘60s TV show (check out Quitely’s innovate sound effects in #1-3 as an example) - and that he also wanted to make Gotham appear as an eye-popping city of the future; Morrison correctly pointed out that in such a crime-ridden city, there would have to be a reason why people wanted to live there! Tan’s artwork lacks all this, and he falls back on the very tried and tested form of ‘Dark Gotham’, and man, it’s really dark. I’m aware that some of this might be due to Pete Pantazis’ colours, or perhaps even Morrison’s script direction, but this issue certainly lacks the sparkle and innovation of Quietly. A great read, but not a visual treat. 7/10

Matt T: For the first time in the short run of Batman And Robin I feel like Morrison is treading over old ground. On numerous occasions in the past Batman has faced a harder edged vigilante willing to use deadly force to battle crime. Granted, Morrison adds a slightly abstract tone to proceedings and the anti-Robin is a far more interesting character than the new Red Hood, but this felt like filler to me. Introducing the Red Hood is a necessity, but the stronger parts are still the dialogue between Batman and Robin. 7/10


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #18
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: How many more times can I go on about how good a comic Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca are bringing us?! I’m of course hoping that I get another 18 issues of rip-roaring magnificence from the pair of them when it’s as good as this. There’s still enough of the Tony Stark that we know and love left in that melon of his to make this penultimate trip down sentiment lane completely worthwhile as his worst monikers come back to briefly haunt him. The use of unfortunate H.A.M.M.E.R employee Walsh adds a terrifically frustrating realism to Osborn’s regime and also helps to highlight just how much Norman is being affected by his newfound power as well. Fraction looks like he’s set to perform a proper and well thought out reboot (literally??) of Tony’s character - well that’s what this I’m assuming is on the cards – and with the care and attention he’s brought to this so far there is no need to think that this dynamic partnership couldn’t go another 50 issues without dropping the ball once. 9/10


AGENTS OF ATLAS #11
Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Dan Panosian & Gabriel Hardman
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: After I heaped praise upon this title last issue it’s worryingly clear that Marvel may be viewing it as yet another failed venture. A truly entertaining story based upon the Atlas Foundation coming under attack from its greatest threat, the armies of The Great Wall, should and could have lasted for 5-10 issues easily, there’s that much potential. The first two instalments of the arc hinted that this could be a protracted and drawn out struggle and I would have jumped aboard without hesitation. Unfortunately the House of Ideas – or possibly Parker, it’s hard to tell who - wants another frikin’ crossover so the Terror Of The Jade Claw arc is wrapped up in stupidly quick fashion with an infuriating tag-team challenge taking place between the artists every couple of pages. Hardman’s work is top quality and suits this title perfectly, Panosian’s isn’t and doesn’t. It’s a real shame that events are sped along here as the burgeoning trust between Jimmy Woo and Temugin was getting interesting. If this is how Marvel are going to treat this title and these great characters moving forward I may have to look at using my $2.99 for other purposes. 4/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #272
Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: To get a sense of how inventive an artist Byrne was back in those days look no further than the double-page spread depicting the FF (and Wyatt Wingfoot) in the midst of being transported across dimensions by a time machine. It’s such a simple visual idea but in the hands of a master it becomes something special. Elsewhere Byrne bolsters Sue’s role in the team further and provides an amusing demonstration of why She-Hulk makes a great temporary replacement for the Thing. In the unlikely event that you were to harbour any doubts, this issue would confirm just how fun adventuring into the unknown with Marvel’s First Family can be! 8/10

8 comments:

Matt C said...

I wondered what was up with that pink aeroplane in Batman & Robin too. Did I miss something??

Stewart R said...

I don't think we have. A quick Google search has led me to this which was posted in May 2008 (maybe) so it might be a little joke/dig in the recent issue. http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Batman_Erupts

Tom P said...

I'm lost on the last page of Dark Avengers? WTF is up with that door?

Tom P said...

Ha great stuff! The Pink Flamingo, a hair stylist turned petty criminal who mutated into a talking, human-flamingo, that link is nuts. Great find

Stewart R said...

No idea what's going on with the door to Osborn's workshop either Tom and because of the weird continuity flowing through Marvel's world at the moment it's hard to tell if it's something we've missed or something yet to come.

Tom P said...

Yeah it's very odd, hopefully it will all become clear! I also found this...

Flamingo, Batman #666 (July 2007)
Flamingo is a deformed man with a large beak-like nose and pink clothing. He appears as an enemy of Damian Wayne in the future.

Going to dig it out now

Stewart R said...

I look forward to seeing what you find Mr P! Maybe get a picture of him up on the interswebs for us to have a 'gander'...

Tom P said...

Bit of a blur I'm afraid, only got the phone.

http://twitpic.com/imkww

Damian:
"Dont make me waste any more time."
"That means you Flamingo."

lots of stuff in #666, Pyg hints about Grayson. I love it when thing link up, very cool.