8 Nov 2009

Mini Reviews 08/11/2009

While we may not always have the time to review all the comics we get every week, we do try and 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: Greg Rucka
Art: Matthew Southworth
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: Perhaps one day we’ll get a Dakota North series from Greg Rucka, but if that day never comes then I think Stumptown will fill that void very nicely. This is a superb debut issue that plays to all Rucka’s strengths as a writer: compelling plotting, authentic dialogue, fascinating characters and the ability to create the irrepressible urge in the reader to find out what happens next. Private Investigator Dexedrine C. Parios (Dex for short!) is another in a long line of brilliantly conceived female characters from Rucka; he really has positioned himself as the comics guy who can write women better than just about all of his (male) contemporaries. Matthew Southworth acquits himself to the art duties admirably – reminiscent of the likes of Michael Lark and Michael Gaydos, his gritty style is perfectly suited to unfolding storyline. There are a couple of quibbles: Dex’s implied sexual preference does seem like Rucka playing the same card one time too many, and her mentally challenged (is that PC enough?) brother does come across as something of a cliché. Neither of these is enough to overshadow the plentiful positive aspects though – this is pure noir, straight from the tap, and fans of Criminal are guaranteed to love what Ed Brubaker’s former Gotham Central partner-in-crime Rucka is doing here. 8/10

Stewart R: A quick search of the internet tells me that this is a project that Rucka has been working on for a good couple of years and this first issue certainly shows that the wait was worth it. Rucka already has my attention with some captivating work on Detective Comics and this could land itself squarely on my pull-list on a regular basis. Dex is a brilliant lead character: a down-and-out private-eye with a dependant younger brother and a gambling problem in more ways than one, and Rucka’s dialogue work ensures that she’s instantly likeable. It’s brilliantly entertaining as she’s bundled from one uncomfortable situation to the next, each time meeting people who know far more about what’s going on than she does. The neat use of plot chronology, aided fantastically by the perfect delivery of Southworth’s artwork, had me guessing for a while there, turning each page in anticipation of what was going to happen next. Stumptown is going to get good reviews from a lot of people out there and I recommend picking it up! 9/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Bryan Hitch & Butch Guice
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: So, here we are. Yet another baby step in the long road to Steve Rogers donning the wings once more. There's a fairly hefty twist, although anyone who knows their classic Cap will see it coming a mile off, and the fact that there's far more plot development than most of the other issues combined means this has been one of my favourite issues thus far. In fact - and I can't quite believe I'm going to say this about Reborn - this could easily sit within the main book. Hitch's art is still a bit scratchy in places but certainly not his worst, and the Red Skull is looking his most menacing once more. I just hope there's not an annual waiting somewhere around the corner for the actual conclusion, and that #5 will sew it all up. Finger's crossed people. 7/10

Matt C: I don’t think anyone would argue that this miniseries has delivered on its promise since it’s spent an inordinate amount of time showing us things we’ve seen before, but I still find it hard to resist any comic that has Doctor Doom, the Red Skull and Arnim Zola in a hi-tech lab engaging in dastardly deeds involving the likes of time travel and brain-swapping! The art from Hitch and Guice is generally excellent, although there are occasions where we get shown characters in bizarre (and anatomically impossible) poses. The real question is whether Brubaker can wrap all this up in a satisfying manner in the final issue next month – it’s a shame Reborn hasn’t matched the brilliance of some of his work on the regular Captain America series but I’d like to think he's comfortable enough now with these characters that he can pull something special out of the hat. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: This comic is not about cramming the pages full of happenings and goings-on, it’s about getting the most that you can out of characterisation and a few brief but important plot events. This time around we get to follow Gus on his first steps of discovery into a world that he was kept safe from his whole life. The dream sequence is rather stark and spooky but then that suits the feel of the book, and it may or may not point at something to come further down the line. Lemire also brings some vulnerability to Jeppard’s cold, ruthless façade, which I think is well timed and makes this partnership a little more multi-dimensional. I really do get the feeling that all hell could break loose at any minute with Sweet Tooth and that’s half the fun. Go on, it’s not too late to pick up the back issues and see what you’ve been missing out on! 8/10

Writers: Mike Carey, Alex Ross & Jim Krueger
Art: Patrick Berkenkotter
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: After not really anticipating anything particularly spectacular I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good this mini has been. There are obvious similarities with Bucky’s reintroduction to the Marvel Universe as the Winter Soldier, but the intelligence Carey brings to the script ensures there’s enough to differentiate this tale of Tom Raymond and Jim Hammond (aka Toro and the original Human Torch). I really think Carey’s the key ingredient here, taking the story he developed with Alex Ross and Jim Krueger and then delivering something that avoids the pomposity that often blights the other two creator’s work. That and some striking, emotionally charged work form artist Patrick Berhenkotter, who’s someone I think I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future. 8/10

NORTH 40 #5
Writer: Aaron Williams
Art: Fiona Staples
DC/Wildstorm $2.99

Stewart R: I really like this comic, I really do, but with one issue left I am very worried that all we’ve been given in an entertaining five issues will be undone in the final instalment due to pacing. Williams has crafted a decent supernatural indie-horror story and clearly identified who the lead players should be, but we’ve been given no time to really get inside the heads of any of them, such has been the frequency of the emergencies and pulse-racing situations which have placed an emphasis on action rather than deep characterisation. There are some terrific protagonists here and the blatant potential that, given a ten-issue arc, we would get the best out of them and the creative team. Fiona Staples is something of a revelation and her work has become cleaner and more impressive with each instalment. All I can hope is that the breathtakingly bizarre world that this creative team have concocted doesn’t suffer over a hurried and time-strapped finale. 7/10

Writer: Chris Yost
Art: Harvey Tolibao & Paul Neary
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Now, this is how I remember my experience of the X-Men to be during the late ‘90s: all dynamic angles, vibrant colours and - pardon the crudity - hot mutant ninja booty! I know that Psylocke is a favourite among many readers for being on the cutting edge of heroism and morality, but the fact that she’s portrayed as something of a bad-ass mutant hottie cannot hurt that one bit. I personally like her because she’s British (yep, keep telling yourself that Stew) and because she still manages to retain an air of the mysterious about her after years of being in these books. Chris Yost is the perfect choice to deal with Betsy’s return to the living – he’s worked marvels with the X-Force title and clearly seems to understand what a Psylocke book should be about. There are ninjas, wrecked funerals and a little Wolverine thrown into the mix, and Mr Tolibao ensures that these elements are delivered to the highest quality – this is a seriously pretty book to look at. My only reservation will be if the artwork falls into a bit of a ‘Greg Land trap’ of generic female characterisation, but I’ll be willing to shell out the money to find out. 9/10

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

Stewart R: We’re given a little more flesh to these ghostly bones this time out but Kirkman really isn’t going to show us too many of his cards at this point. Daniel and Kurt’s ‘bonding’ is the focus of this particular issue as they try to get a better feel for their Haunt persona and the abilities they have. Daniel hates the burden that has been put upon him and Kurt struggles with the frustration of not being in control. It is treading over previously used ideas - it is clichéd - and I suspect it’ll stay that way for a while, but I have to say that it is very enjoyable and handled well by all involved. The Cleaner has a funny introduction and I hope we’ll get to learn more of his history with Kurt, while Cobra (seriously?) will obviously bring about some needed nemesis action down the line. If Kirkman manages to throw us a couple of twists next time out this could be deemed a title worth sticking with. 7/10

Matt T: Did you like the first issue? If the answer is yes, the second will be right up your alley. More goriness, bloody battles and general angst. If you didn't like the entire lack of explanation about how the two brothers, one of which is a ghost, can combine to form a ghostly superhero, then expect more of the same. As frustrating as it is the action rattles along at a breakneck pace so the unanswered questions aren't too annoying, but I do expect issue #3 to at least fill in some of the floating plot holes. 7/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jefte Palo and Gabriel Hardman
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Well isn’t this just a great mystic ride. Remender blatantly realises that this book has to be a true ‘rites of passage’ for Brother Voodoo as he comes to terms with the responsibilities of his new title and the powers that come with it. He’s thrown the new Sorcerer Supreme into a delightfully sinister realm complete with giant cycloptic toads and malevolent forces which seek to gain a foothold in the ‘real world’. Remender has also done well to prevent Voodoo from going off half-cocked all powers blazing, which manages to keep this title rooted in character, especially when using a well placed flashback to explore the childhood of Jericho and Daniel. Jefte Palo’s terrific pencils and Hardman’s subtle inking style guarantee that the bizarre locale is realised perfectly on paper and Marvel have certainly picked a winner on that front. Gah, another title added to the pull list! 8/10

NOVA #31
Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art: Andrea Divito
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Hah, a week on and my grumblings/concerns on the latest Nova Corps developments are even addressed by the Corpsmen themselves! Fraktur’s rage and frustration portrayed in this issue probably encapsulates some of the feelings of the readership but I’m steadily getting onboard with the premise. The whole drill sergeant routine has been done a hundred times before but I suspect that DnA will be using this as an opportunity to expand the range of powers and abilities that Nova and co have in the long run. Bringing Darkhawk into the equation allows the limelight to fall back onto Richard Rider somewhat after the writers appeared to let him cruise for an issue or two while other developments progressed. While I believe that Matt C may have said a recent farewell to this comic I’m sticking with it for now. 7/10

Writers: Peter J Tomasi & Keith Champagne
Art: Chris Samnee
DC $2.99

Matt T: This book is still a cracking read, even if the pace is slowing once more. It seems like months ago Alpha One's deception was revealed, and although we've now been given his origins it's not exactly surprising when it comes to comic folklore or the character. What is surprising is where Tomasi and Champagne take the ending, which I really didn't envisage, and how the whole thing will conclude. The book has been far too cerebral to end in a huge throwdown, even though it seems to be heading that way, so I'm looking forward to how it all turns out. And Samnee's simple, but powerful artwork is really becoming a highlight for me. 9/10

Writers: Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Jeff Parker
Art: Rodney Buchemi & Gabriel Hardman
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Another mid-sized crossover event is not what my wallet particularly needs at the moment considering the damage about to be dealt by Necrosha and the slew of X-titles I will probably have to pick up, not to mention the upcoming World War Hulks event. That said I love the Incredible Hercules title and have really enjoyed everything that Jeff Parker has been doing with the Agents of Atlas; to bring it all to a head and move forward sooner than later probably makes some sense. This first issue is a part Herc, part Amadeus Cho comic with some Spider-Man action thrown in for good measure. In fact the Prince of Power vs Webhead showdown is nothing more than a humorous way of bringing Hebe and the New Avengers into the equation. The destruction brought against small corners of New York is probably a little over the top, not least because it’s two heroes slugging it out, but it does serve to cover the history of Hebe and Herc’s marriage in one fell swoop. The Agents of Atlas backup follows straight on from the Godmarked teaser at the back of X-Men vs AOA #2, and is great for all six pages that we get, but it’s a shame that the team are essentially demoted to backup or cameo material in the first place. 6/10

Matt C: This is one of those cases where you do wonder if this story really needed to sit outside the regular title (Incredible Hercules) but you find yourself having to pick it up anyway to avoid missing out on pertinent information in an ongoing plot. If you’ve been enjoying Incredible Hercules you won’t find anything out of the ordinary here as it contains all the elements that make that series great: action, humour along with a nice mix of Ancient Greek myths and contemporary superheroics. There are plenty of great one-liners on offer but while the art’s okay, I do wish we’d get some visual consistency for this cast of characters at some point. And, just when I decided to knock Agents Of Atlas on the head I find it’s going to be a back-up feature in Incredible Hercules for the next few months at least! Not that I mind too much as the pages here a far superior to the rather pointless X-Men Vs Agents Of Atlas two-parter that ended this week. 7/10

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Art: Dalibor Talajic
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Pricing this at $2.99 was a sensible move by Marvel as the inevitable saturation of Deadpool titles begins, and is even acknowledged by the Merc with a Mouth himself during proceedings here. This is terrifically funny stuff from Van Lente who seems to have a similar feel for the character as Daniel Way does on the main title. We’re given some interesting back and forth between DP’s fractured psyches and, thanks to the inclusions of a certain cerebral villain and a mystical nemesis of the Prince of Power, some nicely realised introspection for both ‘heroes’. The artwork is suitably kooky from Talajic but wouldn’t get me clambering to pick up titles simply for his contribution. As this seems to be a series of one-shots I may have to sample read each one first before handing over the cash. 6/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne & Jerry Ordway
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: Reed uses his vast intellect to concoct a plan that utilizes the combined powers of the FF to get them safely home after ‘fake Doom’ Kristoff blows up the Baxter Building in outer space. Byrne writes Reed's dialogue so convincingly you could almost believe the fantastical re-entry into Earth’s orbit and eventual safe landing would be entirely possible in the real world. Watching She-Hulk holding a child in her hands who’s screaming, “I am Victor Von Doom! I am Doom! I am!” is the highlight of the issue, although the new Hate-Monger’s fairly shocking appearance in the last few pages takes a close second. 8/10


Tom P said...

The Agents of Atlas thing has pissed me off a treat, it was a great comic and now it's a back up? Poor show Marvel. No way will I buy into ASSAULT ON NEW OLYMPUS. That's €3.99 better spent.

Matt Clark said...

You might want to give Incredible Hercules a try - it's very good indeed.

Andy H said...

Don't panic on the whole 'I hope they can wrap the Cap storyline up in the next issue'. Like a lot of Marvel mini series of late, Cap Reborn has been extended and will now be a 6-parter. Makes you wonder how long they have known this, one of the many questions on the mighty Marvel way of running things!


Stewart R said...

So that will probably mean that the main Cap title slips back a month but should give the creators of that some time to get a good few issues in the can? Hmmm might be wishful thinking there.

Ian said...

"hot mutant ninja booty" - that's what I call a review!!

Unknown said...

another bloody issue of cap??? what a frickin surprise. Call me cynical, but had Marvel actually planned this well enough we wouldn't be staring down the barrel of yet another mini that barely warranted three issues, let alone six. Bah. Rubbish.

Matt Clark said...

Reborn should have just slotted into the regular Cap title. The whole 'Death of Captain America' storyline didn't need it's own minseries and that was a sales bonanza.