29 Nov 2009

Mini Reviews 29/11/2009

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.


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #20
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A large chunk of this issue features just Tony Stark’s talking head but Fraction injects such a high level of intelligence and emotion into Stark’s monologue that it becomes absolutely riveting. There were occasions in the past where I was unsure about the route this title was taking, but it’s been slowly and quietly working its way under my skin to the point where I’m pretty much convinced that this is one of the best titles Marvel are currently publishing. On this trajectory it’ll be giving Captain America a run for its money very soon. This is probably the only book where the whole Dark Reign thing works for me, and I think Fraction nails Osborn the way Ellis did in Thunderbolts i.e. far more successfully than most other writers seem to be managing (yeah, you know I’m thinking Bendis). Larrcoa isn’t handed much action to work with this month but he’s still able to keep the drama alive in each and every panel. The only low point is the 'Iron Man Saga' back-up – considering Marvel have been giving this sort of thing away for free recently it feels a bit cheeky to see them jacking up the price by a dollar for its inclusion, but as it’s such a thrilling read overall I can let that slide on this occasion. 9/10

Stewart R: Ok, let’s start with the negative here and I must cry an almighty ‘bullshit’ at Marvel for having the nerve to slap the hideousness of a $3.99 price tag on this comic. The ‘Invincible Iron Man Saga’ piece that takes up the last 15 pages here (including adverts for other Marvel titles!!!) is completely unnecessary for regular readers of this title and I would really have liked see it released either separately or have two versions of this issue, one containing it at the higher price and the other lower and without. Aside from that gripe we’re still in terrific Tony Stark territory as Fraction and Larroca take a detailed look at his plan for a post-Osborn world which he may or may not be around to witness. Larroca should really take much of the praise here as the sequences inside Tony’s psyche alongside those of his recorded message to his Avenger colleagues are brilliantly contrasted. It takes a lot to produce six pages of repeating panels of the same character and make every single one unique and captivating. Jump on to this title, jump on now dammit! 9/10


BLACKEST NIGHT #5
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert
DC $3.99

Stewart R: The further I get into this event the more I realise that I’m looking forward to the associated titles more and more and this main title just a little less. I believe my feelings for this may be based upon weight; this title has to deal with the main thrust of the story along with a huge universe of characters, alive and dead, and under the weight of these things I find that it can lack a little ‘heart’ as it deals with the big picture. Ivan Reis’ artwork is definitely of a decent quality but is a step away from Mahnke and Gleason’s work on Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps respectively as they bring a cohesive feel to the Lantern ‘Universe’ with their complimentary styles. The continuous jumping to and from locales is also getting confusing as it becomes difficult to remember on some occasions just who specific Black Lanterns are. It still puts the Marvel events of the past year to shame but I’m expecting better over the remaining course. 6/10

Matt C: It’s becoming a bit of a rollercoaster, this main Blackest Night series. One issue can be electrifyingly brilliant, the next good but flawed. This one falls into the latter category. Nekron, so far, is a largely one-dimensional character, and this entire event really needs a shot of charismatic villainy at this point. Bringing Superman and Wonder Woman into the mix – two members of DC’s iconic ‘trilogy’ – but then relegating them to secondary status, with a barely a handful of words between them, seems like a misstep; they’re contribution needed bolstering considering who they are and what happens at the end of this issue. It’s still an exciting page-turner with several “Holy crap!” moments peppered throughout, and the art is largely stunning, but Green Lantern #48 provided a better, more cohesive read this week. 7/10

Matt T: There's been few crossovers, in my memory at least, that have remained so consistent and surprising at the same time. Johns has an impressive ability to weave dozens of characters into a coherent plot without making you feel short-changed, giving each their time to shine. The collaboration of the Lanterns feels like a 'backs against the wall' situation, and the interplay between the likes of Larfleeze and Atrocitus shows some superb writing. Add to this Reis' ability to turn a potentially garish muddle of various colours battling against one another into a spectacular series of eye-catching panels, with the odd worthwhile splash page and I no longer have any concerns as to whether the quality can be maintained; instead I don't want this amazing event to end! 9/10


CRIMINAL: THE SINNERS #2
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips
Marvel/Icon $3.50

Stewart R: Well isn’t this just a healthy ‘meat and two veg’ meal of a detective noir comic! There’s no over the top ‘wow’ moments, no unnecessary overblown violence or profanity, no huge rooftop action sequences; there’s just good, plain, down to earth story development, character interaction and the occasional hint of plot threads to come. Brubaker is apparently in his element as he unwinds Tracy Lawless’ journey through the seedy alleyways and seedier bars as he tries to uncover the motive behind the attacks on Hyde’s operations. The dialogue is deliciously punchy and Phillips’ panels so cinematic that I could easily see this making the transition to television at some stage. Of course I wouldn’t want that to detract from these guys continuing to make great comics! 8/10


JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRY FOR JUSTICE #5
Writer: James Robinson
Art: Mauro Cascioli
DC $3.99

Matt T: The free reign given to James Robinson to ignore current events in the DC Universe is clearly paying dividends, as the twists and turns are wonderfully reminiscent of his amazing run on Starman. The range of characters shows an impressive handle on the variety of personalities in the current DCU, and the storyline is going in an unexpected direction to say the least, and with Cascioli's artwork becoming more competent dealing with the action sequences this is becoming a favourite mini of mine. 8/10


INCREDIBLE HERCULES #138
Writers: Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Jeff Parker
Art: Rodney Buchemi & Gabriel Hardman
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Despite its presence in Marvel’s catalogue as something of an ‘event’ I’m feeling a little underwhelmed by the Assault On New Olympus premise and delivery. Compared to some of the big stories that have graced the mighty pages of a $2.99 Herc book in the past year or so – see the Secret Invasion tie-in and the Love & War storylines – this is feeling a little haphazard and a little plodding. The inclusion of the Mighty Avengers will work for some who pick up that title but I’m certainly not fussed by their involvement here and they’re simply being used as a means to deliver a huge fight in the issues to come. There is hope in the fact that Amadeus Cho is being developed as a character in huge Titan-like strides by the writers, and there are some clever twists and plays on Greek Mythology. That said I’m not too keen on the artwork by Buchemi but with the number of titles that Marvel are pumping out week on week it’s no surprise that the quality is going to drop here and there. The backup is the usual accomplished bitesize Agents of Atlas fare and once again it saddens my heart a little to see them shuffled to the last six pages which we’re essentially charged a dollar for. 6/10


GREEN LANTERN #48
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy & Tom Nguyen
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Now this is more like it! Johns has brought all of the leaders of the Lantern Corps together and makes a terrific read out of their first meeting with each other as the potential saviours of the universe. The writer seems more at home here with the varying personalities and specific character traits imbued within each Lantern than perhaps he does in the main event title where the lines are a little more blurred as he deals with the far reaching DC canon. While all of the protagonists here may be clearly defined, the confrontations and uneasy alliance is never predictable and there are some terrific scenes as they try to put aside their many differences and concentrate on the battle ahead. Mahnke’s work is exceptional once again even though he has a little less action to deal with this time around. This issue is simply unmissable if you’re following Blackest Night. 8/10


CHEW #6
Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $2.99

Stewart R: With the well-received first arc out of the way I was interested to see how Messrs Layman and Guillory would continue into the next run of this great comic and whether anything would change. From the evidence on show here it seems that we’re witnessing a very pleasing case of ‘if it ain’t broke…’. Tony is reunited with his former partner, John Colby, who’s gone through a necessary Steve Austin style makeover since his violent meeting with a butcher’s cleaver back in the first issue. The friendly, yet somewhat uneasy partnership between Chu and Colby is quite refreshing as we can see too many buddy-buddy cop partnerships in comics today and the tone of their relationship suits the dark humour of the comic. With the partnership now fully re-established I think we can expect the chaotic exploits and occurrences to pop up in a big way next issue! Huzzah! 8/10


THOR GIANT-SIZE FINALE #1
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Marko Djurdjevic, Danny Miki & Allen Martinez
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Disappointment was unavoidable really considering the circumstances (Straczynski bailing because he wanted no part of the upcoming Siege crossover) but I kind of hoped it wouldn’t fall as flat as this. Calling it a ‘finale’ is a bit misleading since it doesn’t really bring the story to a conclusion of any sort, and if you take a look at the cover you imagine Straczynski had something more long term in mind for the secondary characters he’s been playing with. It’s a shame Olivier Coipel doesn’t get to complete his collaboration with the writer, but Djurdevic’s no slouch in the art department and his style continues to improve as it evolves. The preview of Kieron Gillen’s take on the title character shows promise, but while Straczynski’s final script has many powerful moments you can’t help feeling let down that an outstanding reinvention of one of Marvel’s major icons has been pushed aside to make way for another Bendis-driven sales juggernaut. 6/10


SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN #3
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank & Jon Sibal
DC $3.99

Matt C: Heavily influenced by Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, the third issue of this miniseries skips ahead a few years to bring Clark right up to his arrival in Metropolis. I was a bit iffy about last month’s Legion-starring instalment but this is right on the money again as we’re introduced to various characters we know and love for the first time: Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and especially Lois Lane, whose personality is so overwhelming it’s no surprise Clark eventually falls head over heels for her, as any red-blooded male would have a hard time resisting her spirited charms. Johns provides Frank with plenty of opportunities for ‘wow’ moments, and he delivers each an every time. This series stands a good chance of being the definitive take on Superman’s origin for the 21st century, at least until the next group of hotshot creators decide to do it all over again a few years from now. 8/10


POWERS #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Mike Avon Oeming
Marvel/Icon $3.95

Stewart R: Well Powers is back… but I missed it the first (and second) time round so am part of the experiment to see if this really is a jumping on point. There’s a brief ‘Previously in Powers’ recap on the inside cover and we’re thrust straight into the action as Christian Walker and Enki Sunrise (the Internal Affairs agent who investigated Walker previously) deal with further super-power related crimes. Having next to no knowledge of what has come previously I must say that the story is easy to follow and certainly interesting, bringing up the past events only when required to keep some continuity but managing not sideswipe new readers with too much referencing to backstory. This is Bendis as I’ve not seen him before, shying away from panels and panels of ‘chatter’ between characters and almost trying to use a ‘less is more’ approach. He’s obviously helped by Avon Oeming’s very simplistic and bold style which really comes into it’s own during the modest lovemaking scene here. I’m not sure what the fans will think but this new reader is certainly intrigued enough to read more. 7/10

Matt T: The relaunch of Powers starts much like the previous issues, in that a superhero-tinged crime requires investigating by former (and perhaps still current) hero Walker and his new partner, Sunrise. It's fair to say they don't get on, and a homicide that brings up Walker's sketchy past doesn't exactly help proceedings. I'm interested for the time being, but I'm starting to wonder if Powers has run it's course if Bendis doesn't drop something new into the standard police-procedural-with-superheroics approach in this run. Especially if it proves to be as unreliable as the last. 7/10


ULTIMATE AVENGERS #4
Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Carlos Pacheco & Dexter Vines
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Yeah, I’m definitely done with this but I’m still going to have to see it out to the end of this arc for the sake of closure. There are just no likeable characters here; even Ultimate Steve Rogers is a grade-A prick, a poor and uninspiring relation to his regular Marvel Universe counterpart. You can almost imagine Millar writing this with his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek, aiming for style over substance on every page, and it just irks me something rotten. Pacheco’s visuals are as excellent as ever, but they can’t quite carry me along through the substandard story. The brilliance of the first two volumes of The Ultimates is a distant memory. 5/10


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #20
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker & Victor Olazaba
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: While I have reservations when it comes to DnA’s work with Nova beyond the War Of Kings saga it’s obvious that the GOTG title is perfectly placed for all things Fault-related as the bizarre and unknown threaten the galaxy as a whole. I cannot speak highly enough of this issue which deals with so many of the recent plot lines and the heartbreak that each and every member is suffering after the recent losses to the team. It is the fact that the writers were so very ruthless, yet in the same hand so very caring towards the characters and the way that their story progresses that makes this such a highlight on my pull-list. Brad Walker’s artwork is truly exceptional and really helps to deliver the emotion to the page while convincing me that it is his pencils that should bring the cosmic weirdness to the readers for many issues to come. C’mon, just look at the size of Groot’s cocktail glass and how very creepy the situation with Massdriver is! 9/10


DETECTIVE COMICS #859
Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: J.H. Williams III & Cully Hamner
DC $3.99

Matt C: It seems redundant to keep repeating how incredible Williams’ artwork is because it should now really be the consensus opinion, but I’m going to say it again anyway because he blatantly deserves all the praise he gets. Rucka’s scripting is easily a match for the visuals: smart, adult and brave, this is sophisticated superhero storytelling at its finest. Kathy Kane’s ‘origin’ is fascinating and compelling, avoiding cliché to arrive at something completely different from the norm. The Question backup can’t hope to compete against the supreme quality of the lead feature, but it’s a nice addition to what is probably the finest non-Vertigo book DC is putting out right now. 9/10


UNCANNY X-MEN #517
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Greg Land & Jay Leisten
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: I certainly don't hate Matt Fraction's current run on Uncanny, which seems to have taken a huge amount of influence from the blockbuster pacing of The Ultimates, but there isn't a whole amount of substance to it. People show up, kick ass and reel off pithy dialogue without any real emotional investment, even if the likes of Namor and Emma Frost look and sound like they should. Although the new direction of the X-men interests me, I'm not sure Fraction has a complete handle on the team dynamic. 7/10

Stewart R: Matt Fraction really does know how a team of X-Men should work and how their abilities can be used to compliment each other. This is nothing but a glorious display of mutant powers and Cyclops’ excellent tactical mind; since that’s all an X-audience needs once in a while I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I’ve criticised Greg Land an awful lot in the past – for portraying all women as deliciously sexy strangely enough – but even he adds an extra element to the feast of visceral carnage. While Rogue’s super-powerhouse display is the standout for me it’s also the little touches like Wolverine and Warpath’s ‘mopping up’ of one of the Predator Xs that make this a great read. 8/10


FANTASTIC FOUR #282
Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne
Mavrel $0.65

Matt C: Reed is fretting over the Beyonder’s recent appearance on Earth, but Sue isn’t having any of it - having just had her soul raped by the Psycho-Man and his lackey, the Hate Monger, Sue wants revenge and she wants it now. Great character writing from Byrne really connects to the emotional core of the FF, particularly Susan Richards. A neat opening where Franklin meets a certain team of super-powered kids hints at things to come in the future, but it’s the drama of whether to stay and keep an eye out for the Beyonder or head to the Microverse to confront the Psycho-Man that ensures this issue is an unquestionable success. That, and some stellar art from Byrne & Ordway who are no bringing out the best in each other’s talents, and a perfect example of this is the magnificent final page splash. 9/10

10 comments:

Matt T said...

Quite surprised at the split in opinion on Blackest Night. I've enjoyed this latest issue the most, even though I'm not getting the other books, where as it's vice versa for Stu and Matt C. Normally I'm all for the satellite titles for big events, but I don't feel left out with BN, so I'm not bothering :)

Matt C said...

I would have said Green Lantern #48 would have added to your enjoyment of the Blackest Night #5, but seeing as how you enjoyed it more than me and Stewart maybe I'm wrong on that one!

Justin said...

Glad to see others enjoying the awesome work Fraction is doing on Iron Man. Definitely the best thing Marvel is doing at the moment IMHO. Though, I do have to question the extra $1 for the filler. I get that they're gearing up for Iron Man 2 in theatres, but it's not as if some unaware bloke is going to stumble into this issue of Iron Man randomly and then be prompted to find out all that backstory, it's just... odd thinking.

Also wish Fraction would bring this level of writing to Uncanny, that title has just been slipping and slipping... it's almost off the pull list!

Matt C said...

It annoys me that Marvel have been doing these 'Saga' things as freebies (New Mutants, Wolverine, War Of Kings) and then charge us (against our will!) for the Iron Man one! Not that I've read any of them anyway.

I gave up on Uncanny recently after it being the one constant in my pull list for many, many years. It's not like Fraction's run is the worst or anything, I think I needed a clean break from the X-Men.... have I grown out of them??

Justin said...

Perhaps, if you're anything like me, you like them for reasons of nostalgia, not because of the inherent quality of any current book. I mean, has any X-Men book been really grand (aside from Astonishing for me) in the last 10 years? 20 even? I want to like them, they're good in my memory, but when I objectively look at them today, taking the emotion out of it, they just don't pass muster.

...Says the guy who's been *threatening* to pull Uncanny from his pull list for like 3 months now, but hasn't actually done it!

Matt C said...

I think it was nostalgia that kept me going with Uncanny for as long as I did. I was threatening to drop it for several years before I actually plucked up the courage to say "No more!".

I can see myself picking it up sometime in the future though. I'll just say we're on a 'break'.

Stewart R said...

I've got to say that the main X-Books generally (not including rebooted X-Force here)for me have gone off the boil a little bit post-Messiah Complex.

The change of X-Men to Legacy hasn't done that book any favours and the constant change of direction for Uncanny makes it difficult to get stuck in for long as it'll all be pulled out from under you before the next arc is finished. There also seems to be too much of a reliance on old villains and retelling origins and past histories of characters.

I think my favourite time recently for both books was when Rogue her her 'misfits' team with Cannonball, Cable, Iceman, Omega Sentinal and Lady Mastermind. It was really edgey and unpredictable, things that the books seemed to have lost of late.

Andrew Wahl said...

I totally agree with the review on Ultimate Avengers #4 citing the series' problem with no likable characters. I haven't read this one yet, but felt like I needed a shower after #3. What a bunch of unpleasant "heroes."

Andrew
ComicsBronzeAge.com

Andrew Wahl said...

Matt:

Quick note to say I'm glad you're still rolling with your Byrne FF Project. I'm making a point of not reading your reviews until I've written my own (I'm up to FF #256), but really enjoy comparing notes once mine is finished.

You're nearing the end. Have you figured out which series you're going to tackle next?

Cheers,
Andrew
ComicsBronzeAge.com

Matt C said...

I think I've chosen what'll come after Fantastic Four, but I'm keeping it under my hat for now!