11 Oct 2009

Mini Reviews 11/10/2009

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: Warren Ellis
Art: John Cassaday
DC/Wildstorm $3.99

James R: Farewells can be difficult sometimes. In the world of comics, final issues can either be bitter affairs, or horribly rushed (if they’ve fallen victim to a cancellation). Sometimes, they’re strangely underwhelming too – as if the writer doesn’t quite know how to end the tale, and as a result, just abandons it like a joyrider ditching a stolen car. And that’s how the last issue of Planetary feels… No, sorry – I’m joking! It’s bloody incredible, of course! I’ve often used my reviews here to talk of my geeky admiration of Warren Ellis, and this issue is a perfect example of why I love his writing. The general thrust of the plot is about Quantum Physics. Quantum Physics fer Chrissakes! And yet Ellis ties into this a heart-warming and dramatic conclusion to this erudite and illuminating series. By the final page, all the loose ends have been neatly tied up (even referring to the Planetary/JLA prestige one-shot from a few years back) and the romantic suggestion that the Planetary Organisation still have many more strange adventures ahead of them. Sadly, we won’t get to see them, but it’s been a joy to get lost in this universe. Not only has Ellis’ writing been superb, but John Cassaday’s art has been outstanding, and he continues to excel; here he shows his talent at both the epic scenes and emotions of Elijah, Jakita and the Drummer, and for good measure gives us an awesome wraparound cover. Perfection is a rare thing to find in this life, but Planetary as a series comes mighty close, and this issue is a beautiful coda to 10 years of brilliant comics. 10/10

Matt C: There was a part of me that thought we’d never get to see this final issue but, after a rather ridiculous delay, Planetary #27 has hit the shelves at last. As I’ve not looked at the preceding issues since the first read through I’ll be damned if I can remember the finer details of the plot, but the characters and premise are so strong it didn’t take me long to get back in the swing of things. With phrases like “quantum foam” and “supermassive frame-dragging” being bandied about you know that Ellis is in his absolute element here; a master, fully in control of his craft. That goes for Cassaday too, who brings the same level of precision to scenes with people chatting in a room as he does to splash page of a time machine being constructed. Now it’s all in the can I’m going to have to dig out the whole lot and read through it all again; I’ve got a feeling my final judgement will be that Planetary has been the pinnacle of Ellis’s extraordinarily impressive career so far. 8/10

Writers: Robert Kirkman & Todd McFarlane
Art: Greg Capullo, Ryan Ottley & Todd McFarlane
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The first thing I will say about this comic is that there isn’t a great deal of new ideas here. The second thing that I will say about this comic is that the ideas that are not new are used very, very well indeed. For $2.99 (thank you Image, for being sensible) you get an unenthused and disenchanted holy man, Daniel, believing that the image of his murdered one-man-army brother, Kurt, is simply a figment of his subconscious giving him a hard time. But as the previous actions of his brother start to threaten the woman that they both loved things may not be as they seem. McFarlane of course came up with the iconic creation of Venom in the late ‘80s, and then Spawn in the ‘90s, and what we might have here is a culmination of those two ideas. There’s also a ‘team-up’ premise displayed at the end which has been seen with Nova and Worldmind, as well as DC’s Firestorm, but I’m optimistic with the talent involved that this is going to be an interesting title to follow regardless of any clichés or repetition. The artistic team of Capullo and Ottley is definitely the right choice for what I’m expecting to be a rather gruesome action comic. 8/10

Writer: Andy Diggle
Art: Robert De La Torre
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: It’s loyalty to the character that made me check this issue out, even though I’m not exactly keen on the new status quo or of the belief that Diggle’s got the chops to do the character justice (Sidenote: saw Diggle at the Bristol Expo a few years back – a Vertigo panel – where he basically turned his nose up at the whole superhero genre, as though it was beneath him. It’s an attitude that always pisses me off, and makes me especially wary when a creator who’s spouted such nonsense starts writing superhero books). I can’t say I’m impressed, and after picking up Daredevil for so many years, it’s time to take a break. The art’s suitably moody, but Diggle has taken the sulking to the extreme and it just grates. You just want to slap some of these characters around the face and tell them to pull themselves together. Brubaker often came close to this but had enough skill to keep the general vibe from toppling headlong into utter doom and gloom. Anyway, there’s nothing here that I feel I really need to see, so this will be my last issue for the foreseeable future. 4/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Oscar Jimenez
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: The original Chronicles Of Wormwood miniseries was a total blast, with Ennis’ intriguing musings on religion set against such sights as a sex-obsessed talking rabbit and a man with a penis for a nose. There was a one-shot, The Last Enemy, that wasn’t much to write home about but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for seeing these characters again. Perhaps it should have, because as first impressions go, The Last Battle wasn’t that great. Maybe it’s because Jacen Burrows stamped his mark on the characters so well the first time round that nobody, Oscar Jimenez included, can really bring the same mix cheekiness and realism that made the original series such fun? Or maybe, Ennis had gone as far as he could with these characters and is now just milking it? Or maybe I just need to let this series warm up and see where it goes – Ennis deserves the benefit of the doubt at the very least. 6/10

Writer: Duane Swiercynski
Art: Gabriel Guzman
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Well, Cable is ticking along nicely, but hopefully there will be some actual resolution to the time-travel chase soon. Bishop is either the worst tracker in the world, or Cable is more slippery than a greased up eel. Either way, one of them needs to stop dodging the bullets, which may happen sooner rather than later if the appearance of the Brood is anything to go by. And as much as Gabriel Guzman's art is decent enough, there's no real pop to it at the moment, so either a new hand is needed or a more inspired turn. 7/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: Jeff Lemire, two issues in, has only shown us a forested area and the remains of a gas station, but somehow he has managed to paint such a bleak and empty world that every page draws you into Gus’s naïve journey beyond the bounds of his knowledge. Introducing hard-faced Jepperd counters Gus both in personality and image and will surely make for a spellbinding partnership. Lemire is making sure that he doesn’t give too much away and raises teasing questions when necessary to keep the reader hooked. The apocalypse has been done many times before but I can’t help get the feeling that this is turning into something special. 8/10

Matt C: It’s certainly not a unique partnership in fiction – the jaded badass and the sweet-natured innocent – but Lemire has placed his unlikely twosome in such a curiously compelling futurescape, and has brought such an affecting level of honesty and realism to the characters, that it’s hard not to be sucked in. Stewart R mentioned in his review of the first issue that Lemire’s art is all about the eyes, and I can’t help but agree with him there; just as in the real world, we are drawn to the eyes of an illustrated character before anything else, and Lemire has completely taken this on board. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and if that’s the case then the writer/artist has provided us with a proper glimpse of what makes Gus and Jepperd tick in a very short space of time. To me, that bodes well for the future of this book. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips
Marvel/Icon $3.50

Matt C: After the entertaining diversion that was Incognito we’re now back to the real business of thieves, murderers and duplicitous dames. Longtime readers will recognise Tracy Lawless, the protagonist of this tale, but I’m hoping he’ll be new to a lot of folk – yep, my fingers are crossed that the success of Incognito has inspired more people to pick this book up and be amazed by its quality, and that the resulting sales increase will insure Criminal’s longevity. I’ve said it so many times before I fear I’m sounding like a broken record, but this is one of the very best books on stands right now, not only in terms of the quality of the storytelling, but also for the additional articles and features, making it absolutely worth your money in these cash-strapped times. 9/10

Stewart R: After the terrific run on Incognito, and with the constant plaudits from my PCG comrades, I was certainly not worried that picking this up would be a mistake or an underwhelming experience. While obviously a different kettle of fish compared to Incognito’s super-powered darkness, The Sinners is a magnificent detective/noir comic with writer and artist working in complete harmony. Having never read any of the previous stories featuring Tracy Lawless I did wonder how much backstory was going to be provided and whether it would interfere with delivering a dazzling first issue for the faithful readership. I get the feeling now however that Brubaker, the master storyteller that he is, has managed to pull off an inspired introduction to not only this Criminal story but possibly also the world that it inhabits. Sean Phillips seems to have adjusted his style slightly to deliver the real world setting and his use of shading and black ink to provide the oppressive mood is terrific, not least when coupled with Val Staples’ reserved and inspired palette work. A great team effort, so get onboard now. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Tony Harris
Image $2.99

Matt C: Should I have bothered picking this up? I mean, it’s been over a year since the last issue, and to be honest I wasn’t that enamoured with that, and I can only really recall the panel showing the fellow with the ludicrously over-sized cock. This new instalment was kind of hard to take seriously with its super-powered Al Qaeda warrior creating merry hell for US troops, and I assume that wasn’t the intended effect. Harris’ work here is disjointed: it may look fine in individual panels, but not all of those panels flow together successfully, often resulting in confusion. Obviously Millar’s attempting to pass comment on conflict in the Middle East but I found this book so unengaging that any points he was trying to make flew right over my head. Question is, now I’ve reached halfway point to I stick around for the conclusion? Or bail out while I’ve still got the chance? 3/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jefte Palo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: After the bizarrely understated search for the new Sorcerer Supreme – c’mon Marvel that deserved a bigger run than a paltry 3-4 issues in New Avengers – I was interested to see what the bigwigs at the House of Ideas had in store for Doc Strange and his successor. I’ve not come across much of Rick Remender’s work before but he seems to have clear plans for where he’s taking Doctor Voodoo. The dealings with Dormammu at the beginning may be swift but I think it’s a great move showing (a) just what sort of mystical combatant Brother Voodoo can be when he needs to fight tough, and (b) that we’re not going to be treading down too many well worn paths with this title. Another cameo from a ruthlessly villainous face (or masked face at least!) is another good choice, not least because that character would certainly fancy his chances of obtaining the Eye of Agamotto in a moment like that. Jefte Palo’s style – something of an Eric Canete and Skottie Young blend - is a perfect fit for the otherworldly occurrences and characters, and his panel work is terrifically varied. My only observation at this point is that he doesn’t appear to like drawing human eyes as everyone has a ‘squinty’ quality to them. But that’s just a needlessly picky comment on a truly outstanding first issue. 9/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Phillip Tan & Jonathan Glapion
DC $2.99

Matt T: Mr Morrison seems determined to put the caped crusaders through the mill for their fledgling tenure as the new Dark Knight and Boy Wonder, to the point where the real deal would probably have trouble coping. Damian really has come out as the standout character in this book, being a typically arrogant and cocky teenager while occasionally kicking ass, although mostly steaming in without much care for his well-being or what Bats tells him. Long may it continue, and hopefully long may Morrison stay out of his 'weird shit' draw. 9/10

Stewart R: Ah-ha! Everything about that one panel with the Pink Flamingo’s jet in the midst of last issue is fully explained here in brutal detail and my initial concerns of last issue have faded away. I found this to be an excellent Batman And Robin read and having the Dynamic Duo go up against evenly matched foes in the form of Red Hood and Scarlett so early in their partnership is certainly ramping up the tension. The two of them are still trying to find their feet with each other, which has them somewhat on the back foot when confronted by calculating and deadly opponents. The relationship between Sasha and Jason Todd is also developing nicely from the mentor/student role to something more rounded and Morrison is delivering some brilliant work. Philip Tan’s art also steps up a notch and seems less confused this time around and the ‘Next in Batman and Robin’ tease is a great little idea. 9/10

Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Art: Jerome Opeña & Paul Nounts
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Yep. I was right: we’re in good hands here people. The meeting between Moon Knight and the Sentry is brilliantly realised by writer and artist as the Sentry flies from pillar to post to prevent accident after accident in the course of telling Moon Knight just how difficult a job he has in front of him. Then it’s down to business as Jake Lockley starts building up his crime-fighting credentials while constantly battling back his darker nature in the form of a miniature Khonshu, constantly chirping away in his ear to ‘kill, kill, kill!’. Hurwitz makes sure that for every Moon Knight set-piece we get some decent Jake Lockley introspection, and it really does feel like I’m getting a lot of comic for my money. Once again the slight cliffhanger at the end could be a worry under other circumstances but I’m confident that the writer has things under control. 8/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: At this point the characters feel a lot less like zombie fodder and a lot more like people we’ve come to care about, which pretty much means Ennis has us in the palm of his hand and he can do whatever he likes. Basically, no one’s safe here, a fact that the writer highlights to horrifying effect this issue. With help from Burrows, who provides some expressive visual characterization along with the expected repulsive imagery, Ennis has had the all the ammunition to deliver what – so far – has been 2009’s most startling miniseries. 9/10

Matt T: A gleefully sadistic and generally evil book for the most part, but Ennis also injects his characters with more than one dimension, making it entirely possible to feel bad when they're raped/beaten with a horse cock/killed in the face. The Crossed are getting more organised, determined and are slowly becoming even more of a nightmare than in the first issue. Although there hasn't been any truly horrific occurrences for a little while there's still scope for it to go all horribly, graphically wrong which, I'm slightly ashamed to say, I'm really looking forward to. 9/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz & Chris Samnee
Mavrel $3.99

Stewart R: I am so, so torn with what Jeff Parker and Carlo Pagulayan have managed to come up with here. On the one hand you have the two teams well portrayed and brilliantly illustrated by the creative team, yet on the other you have a gaping axe-wound of a plot hole staring you smack in the face. Considering that Namora and Namor are currently big players on each side it really does beg the freaking question why the Agents of Atlas couldn’t just sneakily ask the X-Men for use of Cerebra? Add to that the small fact that we’re not shown the events leading up to Venus’ kidnapping in the first place and there are two good reasons to not pay the $3.99 cover price. The thing is, I can’t dislike this comic book. It does a fantastic job of keeping in line with Matt Fraction’s view of the current X-World and doesn’t deviate far from the Agents of Atlas that I’ve come to love. If you can look past its foibles then there’s a reasonable enough team dust-up here to entertain. 6/10

NORTH 40 #4
Writer: Aaron Williams
Art: Fiona Staples
DC/Wildstorm $2.99

Stewart R: I have to say that I’m entertained by this title in a way that similarly-premised TV shows and movies have failed to entertain me before. The High School Dance setting for some undead action against mutated school kids is clichéd certainly, but no less fun for it. It also acts as a much needed character development piece for Wyatt Hinkle as he tries to bring his deputised lawman persona to the party. Williams seems to be playing this as a spook-fest first and a tongue-in-cheek comedy second and that appears to be working as the crazy goings-on never seem to be too far over the top. Staples’ reserved line and palette work helps to realise the world that Williams has imagined tremendously, and her ability to get across the fear and plight on some of the poor unfortunates’ faces is superb. It’s good guys, believe me. 7/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne & Al Gordon
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: A sleazy editor of a low rent jazz mag trys to snap some paparazzi style photos of She-Hulk with her norks out while she sunbathes atop the Baxter Building. Shulkie is understandably unhappy so first attempts to put a stop to her topless shots being published for the world to see by going down the legal route in the form of her alter-ego, Jennifer Walters. When that fails, it’s time to Hulk-out!! Ok, this is hardly in the same league as the FF’s battles with Doom or Galactus, but it is fun, if a little on the silly side. And – I’ll be honest – if I was living in the Marvel Universe you can be damn sure I would have picked up a copy of any stoke book featuring She-Hulk in her birthday suit. Hubba hubba! 7/10


Danny said...

It's weird week for me, because I didn't get any comics. This month almost all books I get are going to come at the end of it:( What are your thoughts on Image United?

Danny said...

Also, forgot to mention the Fantastic Four #570 and #571. I was a bit late to the party because I picked up the books last week, but I was glad I did. Thought both issued were awesome. The council idea - very smart, family interaction spot on and Franklin wanting Spidey at his birthday and Johnny being angry about it- very funny. I quite enjoyed the art as well. Don't know why so many people on the web complain that Eaglesham draws Reed beefed up, I think it's about time for one of the world most smartest men to get into shape :):):)

Matt Clark said...

Image United held absolutely no appeal for me at all, so I couldn't possibly comment (maybe someone else can?).

I'm enjoying Hickman's FF too, and I guess if Reed can transform his body into any shape he wants, bulking himself out shouldn't be too much of a problem!

Danny said...

Or he goes to his mega-futuristic gym that's hidden in the rift between universes :)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to second James R's comments re: Planetary 27. I very rarely like the endings to comic book runs, so this was a seriously impressive exception to the rule. I felt it was a perfect final chapter, and by closing the series so well, it actually improves the consistency of the whole body of work. After reading it, I tried to think when was the last time I'd read a conclusion to a comic book series that felt so 'right' and after much thought, I think it was in 1986. Like I said, I'm not easily impressed when it comes to endings... ;) 10/10 – yes, indeed. Rob N

Andrew Wahl said...

Gents: I get my comics by mail so your column is always a nice preview of things to come for me. Looking forward to Planetary — this one seems to be getting good buzz everywhere — and Criminal. Matt, your hopes might be well founded on this one: I'm new to the book, with Incognito serving as my gateway drug.