24 Jan 2010

Mini Reviews 24/01/2010

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: Grant Morrison
Art: Sean Murphy
DC/Vertigo $1.00

Matt C: I’m always wary of anything new by Grant Morrison these days, as more often than not I find myself turned off by his brand of storytelling. Thankfully, Joe The Barbarian looks like it might be one of the rare occasions where I find myself on the same page as the writer. An appealing tale of childhood fantasies seeping into reality, even though it initially seems like everything is being laid out in a simple manner for the reader, its clear – thanks to some disparity between certain dialogue and visuals – that there’s something more going on under the surface. Whether this would be quite as potent a first issue without the expressive artwork from Sean Murphy is another matter. It’s fairly easy to get lost in the details of his illustrations and they add so much weight to the writing that it appears that Morrison has picked the ideal collaborator to tell his tale. For obvious reasons I was remind of The Stuff Of Legend, but – this being Morrison – it’s coming at the idea of toys coming to life from an entirely different direction. Yet another winner from Vertigo? It’s looking that way so far. 8/10

Stewart R: Another $1.00 debut from Vertigo and you really shouldn’t be missing these opportunities where they’re concerned as they’ve put out some terrific work in the past year. The first Joe The Barbarian issue is certainly interesting, with some deliciously simple work from Sean Murphy on pencils and some emotion-led scene-setting by Morrison, who shows us just how sad and lonely Joe appears to be. I have to say that I’m still now, after two cover to cover reads, not sure whether we’re going to be visiting a ‘daydream’ world of Joe’s creation or whether there’s something more at hand, but most eight-issue series won’t give the game away this early. It’s certainly polished and offers enough questions to make picking up the next issue to find out what is going on a priority. 7/10

James R: If you're reading this, then you're a comics fan. If you're one of them, then chances are you have a vibrant and colourful imagination, and as a kid you had no trouble thinking of new and exciting realms for adventure to take place in. If I'm right, then you're going to like Joe The Barbarian – a young disaffected boy finds that his fantasy world has become real, and his home is now a dangerous kingdom that has to be travelled with his toys. I've always liked Grant Morrison, and feel that when he's on form no one writes comics like him, and this already feels like the work of the Morrison who brought us We3 – controlled and focused. The highlight of the book has to be Sean Murphy's art though – he infuses his panels with realism, and his colours (along with Dave Stewart) give this comic a wonderfully moody feel. Vertigo continue their policy of charging $1.00 for the first issue, an offer you'd be mad not to take up. With this, The Unwritten, Northlanders, Scalped and Sweet Tooth, Vertigo have got a very good claim to be the best imprint in comics at the moment. Long may it continue! 8/10

Tom P: Morrison, great price, had to get this comic book. It’s a tale of how a boy sees his daydream fantasy world start to come to life and it’s superb. Not heavy on the dialogue, quite a slow start, but this gives Murphy’s artwork a real chance to show off, and its beautiful stuff. There’s a great scene where Joe's on a bus and he’s having a hard time at school - the art makes the bus feel very small, dark and daunting. It’s a very relatable childhood scene. I also liked the walk through the house in this issue - when he gets to his bedroom you just think "now that’s a cool room". I’m 25 and I want stay in there. Highly recommended. If you have a spare dollar give it a go. 8/10

Writer: AJ Lieberman
Art: Riley Rossmo
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Have we really only had two issues before this? Well, that’s testament to how much action and story you can cram into the first two installments of a title, especially when you don’t have any unwanted adverts interrupting your reading pleasure! With a host of various ‘triplets’ – schizophrenics with three personalities working at once – to introduce, and more reveals on Duncan’s previous life as an assassin to come, this is showing terrific promise indeed. The interplay between some of the bizarre personalities on show is great and ensures that there’s an underlying humour which keeps the premise from tumbling into absurdity. The art is, yes, scrappy at times but the almost ‘storyboard-like’ style that Rossmo is employing is giving this comic a feel all of its own. I’m not sure this is going to get the hype that Chew did for Image last year but it deserves to start getting mentions. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
Art: Luke Ross, Butch Guice, David Baldeon & N. Bowling
Marvel $3.99

James R: I'm proud to say that along with Matt C, I was one of the early champions of Brubaker's run on Cap, and I was really disappointed when the book lost it's way last year; there were too many meandering issues, and it was obvious that the title had been co-opted into the Reborn miniseries... which I was also unimpressed with. So, this issue was a welcome return, like waking from a fevered dream, as it seems Brubaker has got his mojo back on this title. The ‘50s Cap is building a revolutionary army in an attempt to win back his America, and Bucky & the Falcon have to track him down and shut him up. There were only a couple of beats that made no sense – why does Bucky need a flesh covering on his robo-arm? Was the Black Widow complaining about the appendage being too cold to do spoons with?! And why get into the Cap outfit to fly the Quinjet if you're just going to get changed when you land? Minor quibbles, but hey, I'm an old comics fan now, part of the fun is looking for petty inconsistencies! But this feels like Captain America again – the nightmare is over! 7/10

Matt C: Back on track, or at least a step in the right direction following the largely disappointing (and still incomplete!) Reborn. Bucky Cap is on the trail of ‘50s Cap, who has wound up as the leader/figurehead of a group of anti-government extremists. Brubaker does seem a bit rusty at first, bringing his ongoing saga back down a couple of levels to the more ‘realistic’ (comparatively speaking) approach of yore, but he seems to find his footing by the issue’s end. Promising. What is unnecessary is the inclusion of the Nomad backup which pushes the price up an extra dollar. The obvious character links aside, this is tonally a bad fit to be placed with the Cap story. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, it’s pitched at a younger audience than the main feature. If they’re hoping to get a possible Nomad series out of this, they picked the wrong book to pilot it in. 7/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Jean Diaz
Boom! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: Yep, loving this! Waid is taking the bigger picture and placing that in Irredeemable, allowing this title to be the ‘ground zero’ survivor piece that really helps to show the world that the Plutonian has changed forever. Max Damage’s reluctant and tired attempts at heroism are well thought out and the additional insight we’re given on how and when his powers work will obviously bring up some interesting events in future issues. The tense dynamic between Max, Jailbait and Armadale works a treat as they learn to live with their new allegiance, and while this could steer towards a clichéd path of mutual respect I actually get the feeling that Waid will keep things fresh and new in that respect. I should actually make a point of saying that I don’t even think you’d have to pick up Irredeemable to enjoy this as it works as an unknown and unseen threat story. 8/10

Matt C: I’m still to be wholly convinced that this story required its own series and couldn’t just have been dealt with by a subplot in Irredeemable, but it’s fairly enjoyable all the same. There are indications that it won’t be trapped in the shadow of its ‘parent’ book too much longer, and bearing in mind that series constantly surprises me by getting so much mileage out of what – on the surface – seems like a limited concept, I’m prepared to stick around for the time being. One bugbear is Jailbait – great character but, contrary to how old we’re supposed to think she is, Diaz draws her looking way over the ‘legal’ limit (hey, it’s their terminology, not mine!). It’s almost like there’s a reluctance to show her as literal ‘jailbait’ for fear of attracting unwarranted attention. When you consider some of the other risqué stuff you find on the shelves these days though, I don’t think they should be particularly worried. 7/10

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Marcos Martin
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Right, okay. Where I thought that last issue might lead into another Rhino-centric story it seems that we’re done with that thread for now. Instead we hop back with Dan Slott at the controls for more criminal shenanigans with The Maggia family of crime and Mr Negative’s ruthless attempts to finish them once and for all. This is where things with the Gauntlet storyline are getting a little confusing as it’s hard to tell whether the events unfolding here are part of that premise or whether this is just the time for some old dangling threads to be tidied and dealt with. I’m not overly keen on how Slott is portraying Hammerhead here, almost undoing Joe Kelly’s reinvention and sending him down the clichéd gangster/loser path again, but that may be early days. Martin’s art always brings a classic, 1960s feel to things and it suits the Mafia undertones well, and Slott does well to bring Carlie back in as she needs more page time! 6/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason
DC $2.99

Stewart R: That first page is a terrific reintroduction to how things were left last time out and shows, from a different perspective, just how imposing Mogo can be. Then you turn to page six and all of a sudden you’re confronted with more Gleason magic and it just doesn’t let up. The Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps trade is going to be well worth picking up if you’re late to this party! Tomasi almost seems to take something of a backseat and just lets Gleason deliver an unrelenting scene of carnage as the Green/Red/Sapphire Lanterns attempt to cleanse Oa of the Black Lantern menace. I think it might be fair to say that it feels like the Corps might be coming out of the other side of Blackest Night at this juncture, though the two ‘Top Secret’ issues to come may turn that opinion on its head. It’s not as emotionally powerful as last issue but this is still my favourite of the Blackest Night books out there. 7/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe
Marvel $3.99

Tom P: So we get to the conclusion of Insane In The Brain. It’s been a crazy ride and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t expect much from this arc and its surprised me. Mad as a bag of snakes, Dr Rot’s been a good villain. I don’t know if I would say he’s Logan’s Joker, but, without giving anything away, he’s certainly got a hold over him and I look forward to seeing what Aaron does with him in the future. Besides the price tag it’s been a solid run so far. 7/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Scott Kolins
DC $2.99

James R: Last week, I complained that DC's Catwoman tie-in to Blackest Night was a letdown, so it's nice to see that the Grand Nabob of the DC Universe, Geoff Johns, has steadied the ship again with this, which is acting like an extended trailer for his new Flash series. Plot-wise, it's pretty simple – we see how Barry Allen is dealing with his new Blue Lantern responsibilities, whilst at the same time, his Rogues are coming under attack from the ubiquitous Black Lanterns. John's strength though has always been in his characterisation, and it's true of this book – it is as much the Rogue's book as it is the Flash's, and it's all the stronger for it. His characters come across as three-dimensional, and the Rogues are far more 'shades of grey' villains rather than Manichean black-and-white. I was a fan of Johns & Kolins together on their initial Flash run, and the thought of the partnership re-combining for a series after Blackest Night makes me a happy geek indeed. 8/10

Matt C: I should have just stuck to the main Blackest Night mini and the Green Lantern series. Ever feel when you’re reading something like you’ve found yourself at a party where you weren’t invited? That pretty much sums up my take on this book. My knowledge of Flash lore isn’t as extensive as it is for some DC icons, and while bits and pieces translate across, most of the time its like I’m watching a bunch of characters I’m vaguely familiar with bashing each other about and it not being entirely clear what their motivations are. Kolins art isn’t really doing it for me on this mini, and Johns appears to be writing for an existing hardcore fanbase only. I’ve still got my fingers crossed for the new Flash series, but after this and Rebirth they’re not crossed so tightly. 5/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Greg Land & Jay Leisten
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: When Mr Land has limited opportunities in a comic to pout and pose those X-ladies he actually displays a masterful talent and can really apply the ‘picture speaking a thousand words’ rule. Here he manages to squeeze the tension out of silent panel after silent panel as Magneto apparently tries to atone for his past sins and struggles on that upward climb to forgiveness. Wolverine and co’s seek-and-destroy antics in the sewers of New York are also well realised and their inevitable throw down with the newest secretive powered group on the block next issue should be fun. The constant state of flux that is limiting the success of Utopia as a commune will hopefully stabilise after Dark Reign has ended but in the meantime Fraction is making things tense and, more importantly, entertaining! 8/10

Writers: Taki Soma & Michael Avon Oeming
Art: Taki Soma & Michael Avon Oeming
Dark Horse $2.99

Stewart R: I liked the idea of this series when I first saw the preview but now, having picked up all six issues in the run, I have to say that I don’t think that it lived up to its potential at all. This finale boils down to a super-powered lovers tiff where Gil and Eve try to pin blame on each other for the end of their relationship while duking it out over a decimated cityscape. This unfortunately has been where this series fell down: trying to bring too many things together at once and not really capturing any of them to any success. As a love and angst-ridden, post-apocalyptic survivor piece this might have worked but adding the superhuman ‘Champion’ element to things just seemed to confuse everything, including the artwork. The twist at the end also seems unnecessary and tacked on as a bit of clever writing which actually felt like it’s detracted from what the writers were trying to get across in the main love story. The ‘the end?’ sign-off seems to suggest these creators may have a future planned for this comic book world that they have conjured, but I will be saying no thanks to any more of it. 4/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Gabriel Hardman
Marvel $3.99

Tom P: The excellent Agents Of Atlas series that was, in my opinion, unfairly cancelled, continues onwards in a few backup strips and minis. This is no bad thing. After detecting an unusual distortion the Atlas team travels to New York to help the New Avengers out with a classic Avengers big bad and the fight takes a surprising twist. Parker’s a decent writer and delivers the goods once again, proving himself to be a great asset to Marvel. I will stick around for the rest of this mini and see where it takes me. Promising stuff 7/10

Writer: John Bryne
ArtL John Byrne & P. Craig Russell
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: Sue, Johnny, Jen and Nick Fury get caught up in a time disruption in Manhattan, finding themselves shunted back and forth between 1936 and the present day. With Reed out of the picture there’s no one who can take a shot at explaining the strange occurrence, but that’s of little consequence when Fury decides he can save millions of lives by running off to take out a certain square-moustached dictator! This issue’s a great deal of fun, and if Byrne was aware the end was nigh for his run on FF, he wasn’t showing it this time. Russell’s inks here are fine but, as with Al Gordon, he doesn’t quite manage to bring out the best from Byrne’s stellar pencil work. 8/10


Matt T said...

Ran out of time for my reviews, but in summary; Loved Incorruptible as it seems to be heading in the right direction. A few more issues and I may well prefer it to Iredeemable. Cap is starting to get annoying, if only for the lack of last issue of Reborn. And the backup story taking up so many damn pages? I didn't pay for that...

Matt Clark said...

"And the backup story taking up so many damn pages? I didn't pay for that..."

Yeah, you did. You paid an extra dollar for it (or whatever the equivalent is in pounds).

Onto the subject of Flash, I hope James isn't going to be too disappointed when he learns it's not Kolins joining Johns on the upcoming series, but Francis Manapul. Me, I think I prefer it that way.