13 Dec 2009

Mini Reviews 13/12/2009

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.

Bumper stack this week to make up for the lack of reviews last week and, as always, Matt C's Byrne FF project continues.

Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Darwyn Cooke
DC $3.99

Matt C: I pick this title up I intermittently, and while I can acknowledge it’s a quality read it hasn’t quite managed to find its way onto my pull list on a regular basis. I guess I’m more attuned to continuing storylines with the occasional one-off rather than the other way round. If Gray and Palmiotti reel in their pal Darwyn Cooke for a stint on the pencils and pens though, well that’s another story entirely. When that happens, Jonah Hex shoots straight to the top of my ‘must have’ list. At this stage, I shouldn’t have to explain my love for Cooke’s work again; suffice to say I consider him to be one of all-time greats, and think pretty much everything he touches turns into gold. This isn’t quite as strong as his previous contribution to the book – the details seem a bit looser than usual – but it’s still a fantastic read, full of pathos, humour and inventive gunplay. Basically, if you like Cooke’s work (and why wouldn’t you?) you need to pick this up. 8/10

THOR #604
Writer: Keiron Gillen
Art: Billy Tan & Batt
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Straczynski was always going to be a hard act to follow and while Gillen does seem to be pouring his heart and soul into the characters of this book, on the evidence of his first issue he hasn’t really clicked with them yet. The Asgardians behave in a somewhat clichéd manner, pontificating with no real emotional clout and some of the dialogue is incredibly clumsy. Tan’s art has its moments, but too often – particularly in the Doom sequences – the angles and composition just seem wrong. I’ll stick with it for this arc out of loyalty to the character, but I’m not expecting anything memorable. 5/10

Writer: Dan Jurgens
Art: Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund
DC $3.99

Matt T: In my humble opinion Booster Gold, much like Captain America, is at its best when not inflicted with too much of the rest of the DC Universe. It may seem like a strange sentiment for a book so entrenched in time travelling through some classic storylines in vain attempts by the title character to improve the often horrific incidents of times past, but Booster mostly does this in isolation and rarely makes a difference to the major events. That new black border around the top of the front page does infer that Blackest Night will be launching black rings willy nilly toward this title, when in actuality the only significant guest-star is Blue Beetle. Although Booster has repeatedly attempted to preserve the Blue and Gold connection in the past, on this occasion there’s no real desire to improve the status quo, simply retain it by smacking down the zombified Ted Kord. Although I thought this particular plot had been done to death there is some sense of finality in what should hopefully be the last appearance of this particular Beetle for a while, meaning the previous storyline can be picked up. This has been something of a filler arc, but not one I'm too mad about shelling my $3.99 out for if we can now move onto pastures new. Not the greatest story, but I'll forgive Jurgens a slip due to the big event needing to be addressed. 6/10

Writer: Christos N. Gage
Art: Jorge Molina, Victor Olazaba and Andrew Hennessy
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: On paper this book really shouldn’t have made it to 30 issues but it continues to go from strength to strength with interesting plot developments, character growth and an artistic team that compliment each other incredibly well indeed. All hell breaks out this issue as Trauma is possessed by the essence of his ‘father’, supernatural menace Nightmare, and Penance is finally forced to face some of his demons as his former New Warriors teammates turn up to rescue Night Thrasher. Gage ties it all together in a tale of redemption and self-discovery with the only possible misstep being Taskmaster’s strange cackling moment towards the beginning where he comes off briefly as a poor Skeletor clone! There’s huge promise here from every angle and the Diamondback and Constrictor romance is certainly intriguing. 8/10

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

Matt T: After two issues of being slightly confused, we get something of an 'explanation' issue, with a few brief sections of exposition, but to be honest I'm far less bothered about the wheres, whys and hows and more concerned about the characters. Rather than being your usual tortured soul, Daniel Kilgore is a pent up ball of anger with a priest’s collar who appears to have little or no control over where his life is going. He's not quite the complete bastard he seemed in the first few issues of Haunt, in which he and his dead brother combined to become a cross between Spawn, Spider-Man and a fire extinguisher to find his brother's killer, but Kirkman isn't spilling everything in one fell swoop either. The action is decent, if a bit clichéd for the supernatural anti-hero genre, but the dialogue and plot development are expertly handled. 8/10

Stewart R: This issue has truly sealed this comic onto my pull list for the next couple of months. With Daniel held captive and interrogated by his brother’s former employers, Kirkman shies away from the possibly confusing motives of the secret organisation and instead focuses upon the reaction of Daniel to it all as he’s questioned and occasionally on the receiving end of a thumping. There’s some nice ‘conduit’ interplay between Daniel, Kurt and Beth (a former colleague of Kurt’s) with some real emotion woven into the story and when the time comes for the Haunt persona to whip out the visceral action, Kirkman and the artists know how to keep it swift and effective. There’s promise of more double-dealings and plot twists galore and Image are on to a winner it would seem. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Paul Pelletier
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’m planning on leaving the World War Hulks event alone if at all possible as Marvel’s insistence of playing everything as an ‘event’ these days is starting to grow tiresome. That said, the creative talent involved and a decent premise for this one-shot had me interested enough to pick it up. Just as the heroes had their Illuminati, the villains have the Intelligencia who have been working together for years to collect a wealth of secret knowledge which they could all eventually use to their own nefarious ends. Those who have been reading comics for a couple of decades will recognise the cerebrally enhanced individuals involved but I enjoyed the history lesson on how they were chosen by the Leader. Parker, having proven that team-up interplay is something of a speciality of his, deals with their interaction well. It is all a little throwaway however, simply interweaving a pretty plausible story through the course of several years of established Marvel history, and while Pelletier’s artwork is pretty decent it just doesn’t even compare to his work on War Of Kings. Reasonable but certainly not essential. 6/10

Writers: Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon
Art: Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: An interesting issue for many reasons. Firstly, I’m intrigued to know why Vertigo have not continued with their policy of dropping the price of the debut issue to $1.00 here; perhaps they’re hoping that the Eisner-winning creative team will guarantee reasonable sales. Nevertheless, this first glimpse at the life of Brazilian writer Brás de Oliva Domingos is a strange one as he goes about his job of penning obituaries of the famous while contemplating just where his own life is heading. It appears that Bá and Moon are using this debut as a vessel to display the themes that will run through the heart of the series as it spans all ten issues – love, life, family and death. The art style from the talented brothers is typical Vertigo with some skilled nods to the city in which the story is set. It’s brave stuff in a competitive market as this initial instalment raises question after question and ends in a rather surprising turn of events. The proof that this tactic has worked? Well, I will be picking up issue #2 to find out just what comes next, so I guess it must have. 7/10

Matt C: Brazillian brothers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon have been making names for themselves with their artistic skills, and flicking through the pages here it’s not hard to see why. Drawing’s one thing though; could their talents stretch to writing too? Well, if this debut is any indication there’s a heck of a lot more to them than just pretty pictures. Focusing on an obituary writer for a newspaper in their home country, Daytripper has many astute observations on life, death, love and family, and succeeds because it gets straight under the skin of the main character immediately, providing us with a instant understanding of what makes him tick. It works brilliantly as a slice-of-life tale, but the ending opens up new, potentially exciting possibilities. Another winner from Vertigo? Looking good so far. 8/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Marvel have to be veeeeeeeery careful in this humble reviewers opinion when it comes to throwing $4.99 titles into the arena, especially when it involves Dark Reign and Mr Bendis. The number of misfires has really outweighed the number of successes, but luckily for the House of Ideas, and more importantly the readership, this title falls into the second category. Bendis and Bachalo have worked well before on the new Sorcerer Supreme arc of New Avengers and Bachalo as an artist seems to know just how to get the best from BMB’s strange style of pacing, using speech-heavy segments and then pages of frenetic action. Here he’s the perfect choice to show Noh-Varr’s contemplation of his next move as he’s left stranded on a planet that he can’t quite call home and pursued by those who deceived him. The Sentry confrontation is delightful with the smoky colour scheme by Antonio Fabela (with some help from Bachalo as well it would seem) really enhancing the action. The new Captain Marvel suit looks pretty cool in a retro, space adventurer kind of way and the cliffhanger ending (although a severe case of mis-scheduling) is a really promising tease. 8/10

NORTH 40 #6
Writer: Aaron Williams
Art: Fiona Staples
DC/Wildstorm $2.99

Stewart R: It seems that my fears about the pacing may not have been realised as while the end of the arc is rather brief, in the scope of what I believe Williams is trying to do it’s succinct and full of tension. The explanation regarding the ‘other world’ gets a little too wordy for my liking compared to any other issue in the run, but is blatantly necessary if this series is (hopefully) going to continue as an ongoing. The finale is certainly well conceived as various characters play their super-powered part and Staples once again delivers some excellent action along with the occasional flying brains. I’m praying that this does continue as an ongoing as I’ve found – and I’m saying this as someone who’s no lover of the horror comic genre in general – that I’ve been sucked into the world that Williams and Staples have created and, gosh-darnit, I want more! 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Although the period setting and detail are extremely evocative and wonderfully realised (in no small part due to Epting’s incredibly convincing art) the reliance on voiceover isn’t doing this miniseries any favours. Possibly it’s the fact that it’s the Golden Age Angel doing the talking, as he doesn’t come across as a particularly charismatic individual. I can’t fault Brubaker’s knack of weaving the various narrative strands into a compelling whole, but it does feel like we’re always waiting for something major to happen. Perhaps next issue? 7/10

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Nelson Blake II
Image/Top Cow $2.99

Matt T: Of all the Pilot Season books this year, Murderer felt like the thinnest concept. A psychic who murders people to prevent the voices in his head from getting too loud isn't a particularly new idea, and reminds me hugely of the Bruce Willis movie Unbreakable, but at least the title character is an interesting mix of angst and killer instinct, recognising the fact that he's a touch unhinged and just about managing to direct his homicidal tendencies towards those who 'deserve' it. At the very least I’d be intrigued enough to grab hold of issue #2, if there is one. 7/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Scott Kolins
DC $2.99

Matt C: Another of those inessential offshoots from the main Blackest Night storyline but it’s a pretty good one that won’t leave you feeling ripped off if you pick it up. With Flash: Rebirth not really living up to expectations I was wondering whether the approaching ongoing series would be much cop; this issue suggests once Johns gets going with this character he may just prove to be unstoppable after all. It’s not exactly full of surprises, but Johns really gets Barry Allen, making him the fully-rounded, relatable character he needs to be. The only drawback for me is Kolins art; I suppose his scratchy, volatile style suits the story, but it’s never quite gelled for me. It’s not bad, but I would’ve perhaps preferred an artist with a more solid, substantial approach. 7/10

Writer: Michael Alan Nelson
Art: Francesco Biagini
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Okay, so I’m not exactly sure where Nelson is going with this one, but he gets top marks for penning an intriguing first issue, throwing a whole heap of seemingly disparate ingredients into the pot: sadomasochistic sex games, dopey pop stars, Greek mythology, a hint of the supernatural, a really, really big dog and a down-on-his-luck protagonist. The art has a definite edge to it and Biagini certainly has a way with facial expressions; the dialogue is snappy and wry, keeping a level of black humour running throughout. No idea what’s going to happen next, but that kind of unpredictability is rather refreshing. Here’s hoping it continues. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Michael Lark
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: Ugh. Perhaps I'm getting cynical in my old(ish) age, but another Marvel event doesn't fill me with anticipation, especially one that recycles the same old characters in a slightly different fashion. Judging by the complete hash Bendis has made of the last couple of major storylines, I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to invest in the 20-odd books necessary to make sense of it all, and this one-shot doesn't fill me with confidence. Osborn has been made to look like an arse by so many of the 'big guns' in the Marvel U, it makes you wonder why the president (who has
suddenly grown a pair after a year of ol' ruffle head doing as he pleases) didn't fire him earlier. The original Avengers getting back together looks to be the only possible upside of this, as the rest seems like a complete rehash of Civil War. 3/10

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

Matt C: Sweet Tooth continues to be a delight to read, managing to keep the balance between sweet-natured innocence and brutal, bloody violence just right. As Sweet Tooth and Mr Jepperd continue their journey through the post-apocalyptic countryside, we slowly begin to piece together what kind of world they’re living in, as well as learning snippets of info that go some way to explaining what kind of man Jepperd really is. Superb work from Lemire, his art capturing the emotions that words can’t always do justice to. 8/10

Writer: Daniel Way
Art: Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I haven’t been too enthralled with Deadpool’s X-Men exploits of late but the X-Force Annual and now this instalment of the main title have changed that. This issue in particular shows that Way knows this character inside and out: how to position him for the best comedy affect and who to pit him with or against to make his unpredictability that little bit more exciting and fun. Here it’s the calculating, clean tactical mind of Cyclops, the dark, underhanded and manipulative Norman Osborn and the bite-sized, window framed view of the media, and it all coalesces into a terrific ride. With Spider-Man appearing next issue I’m expecting the giggles, gurgles and guffaws to come thick and fast. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Mike Mayhew
Marvel $4.99

Matt T: Finishing up the storyline of Hawkeye (the first one) diving headlong into H.A.M.M.E.R central to try and bump off ol' ruffle head, this New Avengers Annual has plenty more surprises therein. Not only does Mike Mayhew, an artist I'm not 100% familiar with, outdo himself on a number of occasions, but the last page is a cracker. As ever with these specials there's a continuity jump, and Marvel throw out something to whet the appetite that you just wouldn't expect. Still, I'm a bit annoyed about paying $4.99 for the privilege, especially if we're once again given the a pointless backup in the shape of the Siege preview. The main story itself isn't too terrible, if a touch formulaic, but at least it wasn't too Bendis-esque for the most part. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Not the outstanding quality of last issue but this title - my personal vote for ongoing title of the year - is rarely less than great. Fraction utilises the second issue of Stark Disassembled to highlight all of the different elements that make up the physical form of Tony Stark, from repulsor technology, through Extremis and its effects, all the way to his very own personal boot drive. Where Stan Lee created this character to be the ‘man within the machine’, Fraction is showing that some 46 years later the changing world has turned that upside down and now the machine truly lives within the man. Pepper’s continuing issues with her place in the world of Iron Man promise more highly charged scenes to come, and with Ghost added to the mix it’s far from easy to predict where we could be heading with all of this. The only misstep is another timing issue from Marvel –it also affected the Dark Avengers Annual – but Fraction simply had to use what he has been given there. 8/10

Matt C: There’s no denying Fraction is on a roll now, and with each passing issue the case for calling Invincible Iron Man the best superhero book Marvel are publishing gets stronger. Packed to the gills with enough drama and action to make similar titles pale in comparison, the only thing I can fault it for is for revealing that a character who’s been missing from the Marvel Universe for the last couple of years is alive and well and back in action. Apparently the Dark Avengers Annual did something similar last week, so this is really a case of very bad scheduling rather than an error that can be laid at Fraction's feet. 8/10

Writers: Geoff Johns & Sterling Gates
Art: Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Francis Manapul
DC $3.99

Matt C: Dreadful. When comics cross over into the ‘real’ world, it rarely works, and on the odd occasion when it does it’s usually down to some inventive, unexpected twist. Watching Superboy Prime battling with Black Lantern Lex Luthor (the Earth 3 version) while the likes of Dan Didio and Eddie Berganza run for cover isn’t amusing, ironic or clever. It’s just fucking stupid. This series was showing real promise but this little excursion is almost enough to make me turn my back on it completely. The backup feature starring Connor Kent – which should still be the main feature – wasn’t that great either. I hope things return to normal next month because this was a God-awful waste of my money and almost enough to want me to disqualify Johns from winning the Paradox ‘Oscar’ for Best Writer. 2/10

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Art: Lee Garbett, Sandra Hope and Oliver Nome
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I’m enjoying how Miller seems to be taking this title down a ‘boys vs girls’ route as Barbara and Stephanie come face to face with the current Batman and Robin with tension so thick in the air that a trusty Batarang might have trouble cutting it. Throughout the history of caped crusaders and their protégés there have been conflicts of interest and confrontations regarding the decision to bring more recruits into a dark and dangerous world. The interesting thing here is that it’s the original two recruits who are questioning whether the other has the right to be doing what they are doing. To balance this emotional and strained argument Miller dives upon the opportunity to pit Stephanie and Damian against each other in a battle of juvenile baiting and berating and it’s comedy gold, thankfully pushing Batgirl’s opportunities for romance – doomed from the start as every reader can see – to the background. Garbett’s art is doing this title all sorts of justice and that panel of Damian stood menacingly by the dark tree in the snow is proof of that. 8/10

Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt T: I've stopped trying to predict where The Unwritten will go next, instead enjoying each issue as it comes along regardless of the form it takes. With the minor character of the prison warden of the institution where Tommy Taylor is incarcerated taking centre stage, the book once again takes a twist I didn't see coming but thoroughly enjoyed regardless. It seems that the warden's daughter has something of an obsession with the books of Tommy Taylor, the fictitious alter ego of the man in her father's charge. As ever, things are woven together by the end, but not before Carey has added yet another layer to proceedings. Whether or not the conclusion will be coherent or substantial enough to please everybody is still to be established, but I can guarantee we'll be talking about it for months when it comes about. 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Paul Azaceta
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I was going to leave The Gauntlet storyline alone, I really was. I just picked up the first issue of the Power To The People arc to see what Waid was going to do with Electro and go no further, but an amazing Spidey-read has ensued and now I’m having second thoughts. Max Dillon’s erratic attempts to save himself from his degenerative condition and also try to be seen as something of a hero to the denizens of New York are well thought out – he previously lost all of his villainous earnings in the market collapse! Hahaha! As his powers increase exponentially his plans begin to unravel quicker than you can say ‘Webhead’. And speaking of old red, blue and clueless, Waid really does a good number on Peter ensuring that he doesn’t really know what Electro’s motives are, or those of Dexter Bennett, or why the Mad Thinker is involved, and it’s good to see. Too many writers put Peter or Spider-Man in a situation to find out precisely why events are occurring rather than just attempt to limit the damage. The final battle in #614 is a prime example and really does show the level of damage that would occur in the simplest of super-powered showdowns. Azaceta’s style is showing similarities to that of Sean Phillips’ work on Incognito and suits the story of a classic Spider-Man fight with a classic villain in a modern world setting very well indeed. Of course my change of mind for The Gauntlet run could change again at any moment but if the rest of the instalments show the quality of this first slew of issues then we could have something special ahead of us. 8/10

Writer: Roger Langridge
Art: Shelli Paroline
Boom! Studios $2.99

Matt C: I’ve been a bit slack keeping tabs on Boom!’s Muppet output, and I really need to catch up on The Treasure Of Peg Leg Wilson. After seeing their hilarious performance of Bohemian Rhapsody I realised I need to reacquaint myself with Roger Langridge’s take on the iconic hand puppets as he’s proved himself as an expert at capturing the true spirit of Jim Henson’s wonderful creations. It’s a shame Langridge doesn’t stick around on art duties, but Paroline’s work proves to be uncannily similar to the writer’s in places, so there’s definite consistency there. It’s not quite the all-round winner it could have been, but it’s a promising start to what will hopefully be a laugh-filled future. 7/10

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

Matt T: Well, there was always going to be a bloody big throwdown between superhero-gone-bad Alpha One and his first lieutenant at some point, and in issue #11 the build-up pays off. I'm not a huge fan of the superhero serum as a deus ex machina to put the two central characters on the same page powers-wise, but the motivation behind its appearance has been established over the course of the last arc. The action isn't simply big hits and buildings being destroyed, but a clever, multi-layered affair with an unclear outcome for either parties. For a book with very little action thus far I'm impressed with how well paced and explosive it is, especially as it lets the consistently excellent Chris Samnee move outside the restrictions of pages of dialogue. 8/10

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

Matt C: The schedule of this series seems to be slipping (it doesn’t appear to be a monthly book any more) but the quality hasn’t taken a knock, and you could argue it gets better with each passing issue. You can’t really begrudge Aaron for concentrating on higher paid gigs, just as long as he keeps things moving here, I’ll be happy. #33 sees another almighty twist I didn’t see coming, but Aaron makes it feel natural and logical. Guera’s art is the real secret weapon here, nailing the dark and brutal undercurrent of the plot, and making the violence uncompromising and repellent. There’s nothing glamorous about the lives of these characters but somehow it’s hard to turn away as they sink deeper and deeper into their own personal hells. Outstanding, as always. 9/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne & Terry Austin
Marvel $0.65

Matt C: Back from their space adventures (with Byrne teasing that fabulous escapades occurred ‘off-page’) the FF head over to their temporary residence of Avengers Mansion where Captain America and Hercules are flummoxed by the cocoon they’ve unearthed from Jamaica Bay. Reed wastes no time getting to the bottom of things, and soon has the occupant of the cocoon bursting out in a state of shock and confusion. And so Jean Grey returns to the Marvel Universe with Byrne’s inventive tweaking of the Phoenix saga allowing her resurrection. I’m pretty sure I read that Chris Claremont wasn’t happy about the way the character was brought back, but setting aside any behind-the-scenes arguments this a solid read with some exceptional character work from Byrne, and it’s great to see his old cohort from his Uncanny X-Men days, Terry Austin, on inks. 8/10


Matt Clark said...

Re: Matt T's Murderer review.

Been a while since I saw Unbreakable but the premise doesn't sound that similar to me!?

Unknown said...

there's a sequence where the title character scans through a whole crowd of people, finding a 'worthy' victim. Reminds me of the scene in Unbreakable at the train station where Bruce Willis' character does the same thing.

Stewart R said...

I hereby give you guys 8/10 for your reviews this week, just to be consistent! Haha

Justin Giampaoli said...

I'm guessing Daytripper wasn't $1 because it's a limited series of 10and not an ongoing like the other promo priced #1's were(?).

Also, nice write up on Adventure Comics. Ha!

Tom P said...

Stewart, your ASM reviews have made me question my cutting it from el pull list. My loyalty and love of The Spider-Dude is tested, mostly because its just so dang pricey when you add it up. would that money be better spent? Torn, I am. Silly Web head. On the subject of Murderer. It sounds like Dexter with powers, and Dex works just fine without.