18 Oct 2009

Mini Reviews 18/10/2009

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.


THE ANCHOR #1
Writer: Phil Hester
Art: Brian Churilla
Boom! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: I previewed this a few months ago and I have to say that I’m a little surprised by this first issue compared to interviews and features I read back when I wrote my previous piece. What we’ve got here is an interesting scene-setter as the titular Anchor battles the demonic hordes of hell with his soul, while his body is in Iceland (in the mortal plain) being pummelled by a gigantic monster sent to test his faith. I like the simple approach taken by Phil Hester in establishing just what the Anchor is going up against rather than getting weighed down in the history of how he has gotten to this point. Introducing a female Icelandic emergency aid worker (first time I think one has appeared in a comic as a major character!) as a possible companion on the Anchor’s journey is an interesting move. I’ll certainly be looking at how and if Hester develops her character next issue or whether she simply acts as a plot tool to explain the world that the Anchor now finds himself in. The art from Brian Churilla is of a clean, simple and cartoon-like style – it reminds me of ‘90s cartoon Mighty Max somewhat - which fits the story nicely and I’ll add an extra note for Matthew Wilson’s colour work which is typical of BOOM!s’ muted palettes but compliments Churilla’s lines perfectly. A promising start indeed. 7/10

Matt C: Something of a different proposition to the norm, and that not only goes for the premise but also the location (Iceland!). The blurb describes the protagonist as “God’s own legbreaker”, the one man standing between Heaven and Hell, but to be honest that wasn’t abundantly clear from this debut issue, nor was it clear exactly what he was doing on Earth, fighting a giant monster, while simultaneously fighting demons in the Underworld. But…! But, there’s still something quite appealing about the off-the-wall approach to some familiar genre tropes, and the art, with it’s shades of Mike Mignola and Brian Hurtt, has an impressive energy to it. Early days, and it’s not a dead cert, but definitely worth keeping an eye on. 7/10


WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #1
Writers: J.M. DeMatteis, Tom DeFalco & Sean McKeever
Art: Val Semeiks, Dan Green, Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema and Stephanie Buscema
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Marvel seem to like to really push their audiences to the limit of their patience and their wallets: not two years on from Brand New Day and the thrice monthly promise of ‘focus’ with Amazing Spider-Man,
now we’re handed another Spidey title to apparently broaden and deepen the webhead’s world. This of course is pure nonsense. Stephen Wacker even writes in the back of this first issue that Web will be used to tell those stories "that flat-out didn’t fit in Amazing". If they don’t fit then do we really need to read them considering how much we’re already shelling out for Spider-Man titles every month? This first issue of Web screams a definitive ‘NO’ I’m afraid. The first story adds a small amount of history to Kaine’s recent re-appearance in ASM but begs the question, "won’t this also be explained in ASM anyway??" It’s a mediocre read as Kaine goes deep into his psyche to establish just who and what he is. The willingness of the Spidey ‘Brain Trust' to tread back over the horrid grounds of the Clone Saga already has me pondering a Spider-Man hiatus on my pull list. The second story here is the ongoing exploits of the Spectacular Spider-Girl and is essentially Part 5 of an already started arc. The single page introduction and catch-up does little to help the reader (a) understand who everyone is and what their motives are, and (b) really give a rat’s ass about finding out what happens next issue. By the time I’d gotten to the third story here I was already feeling jaded and the Frog-Man (a character that I actually like) appearance is let down by the tone of the piece by both writer and artist – it’s just too cutesy. I’m left saying simply that the stories "that flat-out didn’t fit in Amazing" don’t rightly fit anywhere. 2/10


THE UNWRITTEN #6
Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: As the scope of this series widens (see last issue’s Kipling-centric offering, which I didn’t get around to reviewing but I can say now it was pretty frickin’ amazing!), and as Carey and Gross really begin to find their feet it’s becoming increasingly apparent that The Unwritten is turning into something very special indeed. At its core, it’s about stories and the power of the written word, something that has been tackled several times in comics in the past, but the creator’s faux-multimedia approach here feels fresh, inventive and surprisingly effective. It’s looking more and more like Vertigo are on a roll again. 8/10

Matt T: Even when Carey goes on his bizarre flights of fancy, The Unwritten is still a cracking comic, and the material extraneous to the central plot is always worth reading. The story is moving along nicely, and there's even some explanation behind the odd going's on to sink your teeth into. Of course it's all still a bizarre mystery of the life of a Harry Potter facsimile and the fictional characters bleeding into reality, but at least there some blanks being filled in this expertly crafted tale of how stories affect our lives. 8/10


UNCANNY X-MEN #516
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Greg Land and Jay Leisten
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Spending an issue with everyone discussing how unbelievably awesome Cyclops is while Magneto makes yet another contrived reappearance in spite of being dead/depowered/stuck in space, smacks of a slightly lazy rehash of so many old X-Men stories it's almost dull to write about it. Fraction does manage to conjure up a degree of craft and depth from what would normally be a by-the-numbers affair, so I can't really begrudge him passing over old ground. Land does his best to temper his more annoying habits, like making every scene seem posed to the point of being static, although the ladies do suffer from 'one face syndrome'. By no means essential, but at least a bit of fun. 7/10

Stewart R: Magneto featuring on the cover of any X-book normally means either a good old fashioned mutant dust-up or plenty of conversation and analysis of the mutant condition and the future. This time around Fraction goes for the latter and in doing so succeeds in solidifying the world the X-Men now find themselves in. The back and forth between the returning Master of Magnetism and Professor Xavier is certainly nothing new, but justified now that Cyclops is the leader, and the piece acts out almost like a strange angel/devil-on-the-shoulder situation. The Lobe’s machinations with Scalphunter and the pack of Predator X’s are still to be explained (I’ve a few predictions of what’s going on here but will hold my tongue for the moment) but should ensure that the mutant powers are let loose with abandon next issue. Land manages to keep his pencils reserved for once with only brief glimpses of his delight for ‘the female form’ – Psylocke’s bum makes two appearances while her face is strangely absent, and what’s with that pose of Verre’s on page 21?? – and the test will be to see whether he can keep that up when his action credentials are called to the fore next time out. 7/10


GREEN LANTERN CORPS #41
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I do enjoy this book - I really do! -as it keeps the focus squarely on the plight of the Green Lanterns and the stellar bunch of characters that Tomasi has at his writing disposal. From Soranik and Iolande’s attempts to rescue the injured Corps members (or should that be ‘Corpse’ members?? Oh dear…) from the pursuing hordes of Black Lanterns, to Kilowog’s confrontation with his former mentor, the tension and desperation fills each and every page thanks to Tomasi’s tight writing and neat dialogue added together with Gleason’s dynamic and action-oriented artwork. I’m guessing that this title will boil down to a Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner story eventually but the path of destruction we’ve been weaving our way down has been really enjoyable to date. One other thing: I must point out is that the lettering on the onomatopoeia are really exceptional in this title, go on just read through again and have a look! 8/10


THE MARVELS PROJECT #3
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The wheels are spinning but nothing’s really moving forward. It’s still undoubtedly a quality piece of work but this issue’s narration-heavy approach with it’s singular perspective takes something away from the unfolding drama. It makes you feel a little distant from the action rather than in the thick of it. Still, the sight of Namor and the original Torch engaging in their first mid-air dustup over Coney Island takes some beating (particularly when rendered by Epting) and the teasing hint that one of Marvel’s major icons will shortly be making an appearance is enough to keep this at the top of the pile. 8/10


HOUSE OF MYSTERY: HALLOWEEN ANNUAL
Writer: Various
Art: Various
DC/Vertigo $4.99

Matt T: An annual is rarely a worthwhile purchase unless you're a big fan of the ongoing series, as the story therein seems to be either completely superfluous or a flight of fancy for the writer, bored with their existing lot. In this case a pretty shameless shill for all the other books Vertigo is selling is a more accurate description. Granted, there's an underlying tale from the house, but I don't need all the backups for books that would barely pique my interest anyway. There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part poor, shameless and not worth the money. 4/10


BLACKEST NIGHT: BATMAN #3
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Aroian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes
DC $2.99

Matt C: It became patently apparent at the conclusion that I really didn’t need to pick up this three-issue mini, and that I’m probably making the right decision avoiding the other Blackest Night books that don’t tie-in directly into the main event. There’s no subtlety on display here as Dick Grayson and Tim Drake are confronted by their deceased parents in the form of Black Lanterns, and the whole thing just comes across as overheated and emotionally false. There are a couple of moments when genuine feeling sneaks through, and the art is very nice in a sub-Kubert kind of way, but I can’t help thinking Geoff Johns could’ve tackled this much better in a couple of pages in the core title. 4/10


INCREDIBLE HERCULES #136
Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art: Reilly Brown & Nelson DeCastro
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: The two-issues-a-month formula is still going strong and working very well indeed. This time we’re back with Herc and his childish father, Zeus, as they try to prevent the Dark Elf Hordes from invading the kingdoms of the world. There is a terrifically funny and entertaining punch-up between Hercules (masquerading as Thor) and Thor (masquerading as Hercules) as the Prince of Power’s initial duping of the Elvish Queen Alflyse is maintained for as long as possible. Pak and Van Lente really seem to appreciate that Herc is a true hero who can cross some moral and comedy boundaries in order to be the best that he can be. They also appear to be acutely aware that Thor and Herc have punched each other about the place before and they needed to come up with something fresh this time around. Here they display that knowledge perfectly with an outstanding and gut-bustingly funny fight which employs a manner of playground tactics to get the guffaws a-bellowing from your lungs while dissecting just what makes Herc the legend that he is. Reilly Brown’s talent as an artist really ups the comedic edge and the range of facial expressions that he can produce is particularly noteworthy. Great work from everyone involved. 9/10

Matt C: Thor and Herc have been involved in plenty of rucks over the years (usually instigated by the Prince of Power) but I don’t believe there’s ever been another occasion where they’ve been dressed in each other’s clobber, nor do I remember a time when they’ve managed to sneak in a bit of nipple twisting in between throwing punches. Yeah, you read that right: nipple twisting! In Pak and Van Lente’s hands the comedy in this series never feels forced; the laughs flows easily from the increasingly bizarre situations Herc finds himself in, and the relationship between him and the newly ‘reborn’ Zeus is proving to be a winner. Brown and DeCastro capture the light-hearted tone perfectly – any chance these guys can stick around for a while? – and it’s mostly down to their input that the nipple-twisting panel will have me chuckling for a good while to come. 8/10


BOOSTER GOLD #25
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Art: Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund
DC $3.99

Matt T: Something of a 'downtime' issue, but things rarely make a full stop in the world of Booster Gold. Instead the life of our favourite time-travelling shyster is in turmoil behind the scenes, with Black Beetle preparing a hefty hit of pain against him from afar and Rex Hunter virtually powerless to stop him. It may not be as explosive as Johns' run on the book, but Dan Jurgens is weaving together numerous points and keeping the flow to an acceptable level, although I get the feeling the pacing will need to pick up soon or the Black Beetle story will be in risk of dragging. Meanwhile, the Blue Beetle backup had some crossover with the main story, spoiling a certain amount of the mystery behind the character and teasing a crossover. 7/10


SCALPED #32
Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: The anticipated fireworks that were hinted at the end of last issue don’t quite explode this month – it’s more of case of the pieces being moved into place before everything really kicks off. Then again, Aaron is a master at misdirection in Scalped, so he may readying us to expect one thing only to deliver something completely unexpected when the time arrives. Predictable? This book is anything but, which is one of the many reasons why it stands head and shoulders above the plethora of monthly titles clogging up the racks. 8/10


DEADPOOL #900
Writers: Various
Art: Various
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Pick this book up in your local comic shop. I’m actually talking in a literal sense here! Go on, feel the weight. Doesn’t that bring a small smile to your face that you have a comic book that thick to read through and all for a reasonable $4.99? And what a terrific cover, so simple and so understated. Now, I’m not saying that the smile will disappear or be wiped straight from your face but when you get just over halfway through this comic and find that the remaining 40-or-so pages is a rather disappointing Deadpool Team-Up reprint from 1998, you might then turn to that glorious front cover and squint a little at the price-tag. The all-new material is good Deadpool fun with Fred Van Lente’s Silent But Deadly story involving mimes with telekinetic powers, and Charlie Huston’s fourth wall busting One Down being the stand-outs. Even the appearance of Rob Liefeld on artistic duties can’t really dampen things as Joe Kelly’s Pinky Swear is a typical madcap ‘Pool read where a school yard bet from yesteryear has to be honoured in the usual madcap way. The premise of #900 was good and it far outshines what Web Of Spider-Man was perhaps trying to do this week in similar vein, but you, like me, may feel that there are 40 pages at the back of this book that could have been put to better use. 6/10


BATGIRL #3
Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Art: Lee Garbett, Trevor Scott & Sandra Hope
DC $2.99

Stewart R: The quality of the first two instalments isn’t quite maintained in Batgirl #3 as Miller tries to wrap things up in a rather clich├ęd ‘facing your fears’ and ‘the power within’ type way. It’s by no means handled badly and it allows the artists involved to deliver some decent action, but little bits of dialogue seem clunky and forced in simply to help Batgirl’s introspection. I’m not quite sure why the Scarecrow would almost get into a conversation with Stephanie mid-fight about facing who she really is and that’s what slightly distracts from what Miller seems to be trying to do. That said, this three-part arc has certainly got me interested in Batgirl as a character and bringing Barbara Gordon in as a mentor and partner has helped with that. I’ll stick with it for the next arc to see how things pan out and whether I can get used to that new Batgirl costume. 6/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #276
Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne & Jerry Ordway
Marvel $0.60

Matt C: Romance is in the air again as the Torch gets thoroughly loved up with Mia Farrow – oops, I mean Alicia Masters! – and there are sparks flying between Jen & Wyatt, but the real focus of this issue is on Reed, Sue and Franklin. The games up as far as their newly concocted secret-identities are concerned as a nosey neighbour has called in a big time exorcist to take care of things, believing the Richards’ to be witches. Reed’s a bit out of his depth when it comes to the mysterious supernatural forces, especially when an “impossible” accident befalls him, and Sue’s not really equipped to deal with it either. But then, neither is the exorcist herself, unleashing energies she can’t control, which allows the welcome appearance of a certain Ruler of the Underworld at the end, which in turn attracts the attention of a familiar Sorcerer Supreme. Ordway’s inks look like they need a bit of time to gel with Byrne’s pencils, but other than that this is an all-round excellent read. 9/10

8 comments:

Stewart R said...

Anyone any idea why Buchemi's name appears on the cover of Incredible Hercules this week?

Matt C said...

A typical Marvel editorial blunder?

What I really want to know this week is why Matt T continues to buy annuals when he quite clearly despises them!! :)

Stewart R said...

Matt T is the eternal horror-based optimist! When the zombie apocalypse comes, and it will, Matt will be there being chirpy and telling everyone that 'we can get through this, if we just stick together' in an Oscar worthy performance. At least that's what his annual buying tells me! :)

Matt T said...

It's either that or Andy's impressive salesman skills. My hatred of annuals may be well documented, but like the cheerful addict I am I keep letting Marvel, DC et al take my money away for some complete tosh. And if there was a zombie apocalypse I'd be joining the ranks of Sargent Nott's Zombie Fighters as I'm quite handy with a badminton racket!!! :)

Anonymous said...

As Matt T suggests, I'm the man to have in your group come the (inevitable) zombie apocalypse. Not only do I display a determined ruthlessness in the face of global catastrophe, possess a keen grasp of strategy and tactics, but I also know the location of a thick stone walled house (with small windows) in the countryside near Glastonbury that has a hidden room full of shotguns. That's the remote countryside for you... ;)

Rob N

Matt C said...

Isn't Glastonbury (the festival at least) kind of like a zombie apocalypse anyway? Mindless hordes roaming the countryside...

Matt T said...

Matt's right. When would we know if the apocalypse is over, or if the festival is on? Maybe if we had a stock of wellington boots and veggie burgers to sell we could tell the flesh-eating monsters from crusty bearded men desperate to catch a glimpse of Bowie on the main stage....

Anonymous said...

Not quite - the Glastonbury festival is actually a 'Battle of the Somme' re-enactment society annual outing, where punters get to experience conditions in the trenches of Flanders first hand.

Minus the artillery bombardments and ruthless machine gun fire, but everything else is the same. ;)

Some military historians suggest WW1 veterans in the trenches actually had an easier time of it as they didn't have to put up with Coldplay in the evenings... ;)

- Rob N