17 Jan 2010

Mini Reviews 17/01/2010

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 includes the next issue in Matt C's Byrne FF project.

Writer: Joe Kelly
Art: Max Fiumara & Javier Pulido

Stewart R: I never expect ASM to be great. Week in week out it’s a game of comic roulette and I wait to see if I’ll end up winning three times in a month while expecting to be underwhelmed by the whole experience. The truth is I’m really enjoying The Gauntlet at the moment and this is by far the best issue of the lot. I knew from previews of the cover that the Rhino would be back but this is not what I was expecting at all. Joe Kelly has been top of the Braintrust in this reviewer’s opinion and he seems to know how to balance Peter’s everyday troubles with an overriding plot. Here he brings back Aleksi Sytsevich into the fold in a wonderful character piece as we find out what old One Horn has been up to since the Registration Act came into force. The main Rage Of The Rhino story focuses on the ‘now’ while backup The Walk – also written by Kelly – looks at his life over the past few years. Both stories are brilliantly told and excellently drawn by Fiumara and Pulido respectively and while I expect things could turn on its head next issue this was my favourite read this week by far. 9/10

Writer: Phil Hester
Art: Brian Churilla
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I think this is where I jump off. Four issues in, I can't see this having any real longevity, or at least nothing that would reel me in for more. I find the 'flashbacks' quite engaging and they're written with a certain panache, but the contemporary scenes are already showing signs of staleness, with the titular character looking like he’ll be battering an enormous monster every month while spouting some slightly cringeworthy dialogue. Perhaps this might appeal to fans of Hellboy (there's a certain visual similarity there, and it seems to be edging closer to a BPRD-type scenario) but as I don't really count myself in their number I couldn't say for sure. The art’s nice, and perhaps some fine-tuning may have made the concept more appealing, but at the end of the day there's too much other material on the shelves vying for my attention. 6/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Ha ha, just how many Doctors are there in the Marvel Universe? We’ll certainly be able to count a few once we get to the end of this arc that’s for sure. This time out we’re given a small bit of mystical intervention by Stephen Strange who’s brought in to guide Tony back to the world of the fully living, and it shows that Fraction has thought long and hard about just what constitutes the many facets of Iron Man’s being. Admittedly things have slowed down by a considerable margin since the cat and mouse antics of Most Wanted and I wonder if that’s to allow Siege to unfold and prevent us getting Stark back in to the thick of it too soon. At any rate this is still a decent enough issue with a suitable amount of quandary thrown at the ragtag bunch of friends all trying to ensure Tony’s safety. 7/10

James R: Three issues into Stark: Disassembled, and this really feels like the midway point of the arc. What happens? Well, not an awful lot until the last three pages, when Dr. Strange turns up to basically kick Stark's arse out of his coma. I've got a huge amount of respect for Fraction as a writer , but if you are going to have an issue of inertia, it's a good idea to fill it with character development, and here we don't get that. The tone here is reminiscent of Tony Soprano's coma in The Sopranos, and whereas that gave us an insight into the man and his motivations, in Iron Man, we're not really finding a lot out about this Tony. Maria Hill & Pepper Potts just remind us of what they did in the last arc, but we do get a good cameo with the Ghost. In many other comics, you'd think this was a quality issue, but given the high standard of this run so far, it feels a little pedestrian. I've no doubt this will reach a satisfying conclusion, but this month, it's Stark: Disinterested. 6/10

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Art: Lee Garbett & Trevor Scott
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Some might say that it’s a little too soon in the run of this comic to be bringing the Dynamic Duo in so prominently, but I think it’s a great way of showing that Stephanie Brown is ready to don the cape and cowl and pursue a crime-fighting career. Miller knows that he has the perfect opportunity to show the parallels between the latest incarnations of Robin and Batgirl and their original counterparts but at the same time highlight their various differences. The ‘good cop, worse cop’ bit here is prime example of how things have changed and with the villains popping out of the woodwork thick and fast in this issue I’m guessing we’re going to see just how badass this teenage twosome can be when Batman finds himself in a spot of bother. 7/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It's the voiceover that continues to hamper the potential of this book. It's certainly failed to live up to the excellent debut issue and has sort of plateaued out as 'quite good'. Simply put, seeing everything from the point of view of The Angel is rendering what should be an exhilarating look at the birth of the Marvel Universe rather ho-hum. He's just not that charismatic a character to draw us into the unfolding events unfortunately. Adding a few more voices to the mix would have opened things up dramatically - I know we don't exactly need Steve Rogers' thoughts on his transformation into Cap again, but a bit more dialogue, or at least a peek into the minds of other players in the storyline would make maybe make this book feel as important as it thinks it is. Brubaker's no scripting slouch, but I really believe he's come at this at this from completely the wrong angle. Epting's art however, is fantastic, the Skull sequence being particularly striking and creepy. Bru still has a chance to turn things around, but the way its going it looks like The Marvels Project will turn out to be a noble failure rather than a contemporary comic book classic. 6/10

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

Stewart R: I’m not entirely sure what these creative brothers are trying to do with this series but it’s spellbinding all the same. I could look at this issue as a tenuous continuation of the surprising climax of the last one but I may be guessing at a story that might not be there and I think half of the fun is going to be finding out just where we’re being led. The main theme seems to be the unpredictability of life and the constant desire of people to think about the path not taken; this time out Bras is travelling in his early 20s and meets an attractive young woman who could throw his plans to the wind. The dialogue is punchy and there’s some interesting analysis on the questions we use to get to know people. The artwork suits the scene perfectly and as with most creator-owned works you can tell that there’s a certain level of love that has been put into this comic. If you’ve the spare cash and are looking for something a little different this is definitely worth picking up. 7/10

Matt C: I figured out quite quickly how this issue was going to end (I read an article recently about death/immortality and alternate universes which could potentially apply to this scenario) but that didn't diminish the impact of what Ba and Moon are achieving here. Taking us all the way back to when their protagonist was a somewhat carefree 21-year old might suggest that the writer/artists are going for a flashback approach bookended by contemporary chapters, but once you reach the conclusion it becomes clear that they have something altogether different planned. Ideally, the format of the first two issues won't be used too many more times as I think an inkling of where we're headed will be required sooner rather than later. Setting aside the big picture for the moment, the expressive, lively art and believable, often poetic dialogue really make this an absorbing read. These characters feel like interesting, rounded individuals, and you want to know more about their thoughts, feelings and emotions. So far it's a very good series, but - depending how Moon and Ba shape the overall arc - this could wind up being a whole lot more. 8/10

Writer: Tony Bedard
Art by: Fiorentino, Roberson, Marz & Del Negro
DC Comics $2.99

James R: Ok, the good news first: Adam Hughes doing a Catwoman cover – hurrah! I was a huge fan of the ‘Volume 3' of Catwoman, kicked off by Ed Brubaker, and continued in fine style by Will Pfeifer, and I was pleased to hear that the book would be back for a one-off 'resurrection' special as part of Blackest Night. Well, they needn't have bothered really – this was more an issue of Gotham City Sirens, but without the nous of Paul Dini. Bedard was a strange choice to helm the issue, and whereas he doesn't do anything wrong per se, his story does look like a photocopy of a Catwoman tale, albeit one where the toner is starting to run out. Black Mask rises from the grave and goes first after Selina, but, finding her a tough nut to crack, goes for her traumatised sister
instead . You can probably guess how this ends, and in a nutshell, this is a tie-in that you'll read once and never pick up again. In the midst of a superb event in the form of Blackest Night I'm sad to have to say that this can only be described as 'inessential' and for a tie-in book, that's unforgivable! 5/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Kevin Walker
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Dammit. I’m hooked. Despite the $3.99 price tag and limited run of this title it is now showing itself to be a great little cosmic read as the depleted Starjammers – only Ch’od and Raza are onboard presently – and the Imperial Guard continue their perilous survey mission of the Fault. Ch’od and Mentor’s constant posturing and taunting of each other is well realised and entertaining but is also showing that there’s a respect growing amongst these two groups as they struggle to fight off threats of a decidedly nasty flavour. Abnett and Lanning have excelled at offering variety in character to ensemble comic casts for a good few years and they have brought a level of bickering, competition and comradery to the Imperial Guard that I had never seen before. It’s all topped off by Walker’s art, which to begin with I wasn’t sure was the best fit, but he’s really delivering a high standard of bonkers galactic tension. Possibly too late to jump on now with two issues left but maybe worth picking up in collected form later on. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Francis Manapul
DC $3.99

Matt C: After the nonsense of the last two months I was prepared to give Geoff Johns the benefit of the doubt based on the quality of the first three issues and, well, because he’s Geoff Johns. I really should have looked more into this though, as it seems this is both his and Manapul’s last issue before they jump on to the new Flash series. So, how do we sum things up here? How about this: title relaunch, talked up all over the place as something to get excited about, that manages to serve up an enticing launchpad for the reintroduction of Connor Kent, only for Superboy Prime to swipe the limelight, followed by the creators moving on to pastures new, leaving plot threads a plenty and a feeling that you’ve wasted time and money getting invested in the storyline! As Johnny Rotten once said, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” 4/10

Writer: Howard Chaykin
Art: Stephen Thompson
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: As the opening arc concludes it’s clear that it’s followed the basic template of the original movie to deliver its thrills and spills, which is probably the right approach to go for but it does throw up several problems, for me at least. First, although Die Hard was a genre-defining action classic, none of the sequels came near its high octane brilliance, meaning there was something more than just a great pitch at play the first time around. Secondly, if we’re rewinding back to the ‘70s and are to assume the rest of the series will repeat the ‘winning’ formula, then logic says by 1988 John McLane would be some sort of nationwide hero rather than just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kudos to Chaykin and Thompson for capturing the feel of the period so well (there’s some nice cynicism at work here) but I thought we might see McClane doing something a little less predictable in his ‘early years’ incarnation. 6/10

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

James R: This series isn't even into double figures yet, and it's already shaping up to be one of the most remarkable Vertigo titles for many years. Tom Taylor fights to escape from the French Jail with the help of his new journalist sidekick Savoy and the mysterious Annie. This time Carey amps up the action, and it sits beautifully with the metaphysical aspects that have become the hallmarks of this title. Most pleasing of all, there was a finale that I never saw coming. As an old and dog-eared comics fan, it's always great to be surprised, and all credit to the skills of Mike Carey for pulling it off. Even better, the next story arc looks incredible, with Carey's meditation on the power of story and myth taking in Goebbels' mastery of propaganda. Phew! As a man who can't stand anything to do with the Potter franchise, I'm constantly amazed at how Carey & Gross are using the same tropes to create a unique and memorable read. It's a cliché, but The Unwritten really is unmissable. 9/10

Writer: John Byrne
Art: John Byrne & Al Gordon
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: As with the previous issue, this doesn’t score highly in the originality stakes as Reed is once again presumed dead and Annihilus plans for destruction are thwarted relatively quickly. But, while these are things Byrne has dealt with before, he tweaks them here and there to give them a certain amount of freshness, and at this point writing these characters was second nature to him, so their actions and dialogue are convincing enough. Al Gordon’s work is okay, but even Byrne was a better inker of his own work, unfortunately. Again this may be hindsight talking, but there is a feeling that the Byrne’s best work on the FF was already behind him at this stage. 7/10

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