28 Feb 2010

Mini Reviews 28/02/2010

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.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Raulo Caceres
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: Even though I wish Ellis would get around to carrying on with those series he’s left hanging (Fell, Desolation Jones, Doktor Sleepless etc) rather than continuously churning out new books, I can’t help but find myself drawn to pretty much every title he puts out due to the strength of the core concepts he has the enviable knack of generating on a regular basis. Captain Swing is another doozy, with Ellis mixing the birth of the British police force with a dash of steampunk in the form of the mythical Victorian era ‘creature’ known as Spring Heeled Jack. Ellis often plays successfully with the accepted storytelling conventions of the medium, here interspersing regular comic panels with single-page bursts of prose exposition. Caceres’ art captures the atmosphere of the era well, conveying the combination of historical fact and total fantasy with aplomb. A promising opening shot. 8/10

James R: A new Ellis series is always a cause for celebration with me, and Captain Swing is enough to break out my Bathtub Gin and shout, “Sainted cancerous testes!” It’s what we've come to expect from Warren Ellis: a tale seeped in history (like Crecy and Frankenstein's Womb), a narrative with technology and the future at it's core (like... well, everything Ellis writes!) and some frankly Olympic-level swearing. The tale is set in a Victorian London beset by Spring-Heeled Jack, but a Jack who seems to have some rather non-Victorian weaponry and means of transport at his disposal. So is this a secret history? An alternate history? Ellis keeps his cards close to his chest on this one, but those of us who slavishly read everything he puts out will know that the answer will be as clever as a room full of particle physicists wearing some weird cybernetic brain enhancers. Reassuringly good, but am I the only one who thinks Captain Swing looks a lot like Scottish comedy maverick Jerry Sadowitz? 8/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Rafa Sandoval
Marvel 3.99

Tom P: This comic hits the ground running, from a great opening page with Spider-Man discussing why he doesn’t want an action figure of himself to make money as it defeats the point of his “selfless acts”, to Nick Fury getting attacked thus revealing himself to the world again and breaking his black ops cover. Fury rolls through flames, guns blazing, while his personal force-shield takes the damage. This all looks fantastic by the way, I can’t praise Sandoval enough: his pencil work is fun and energetic. The Fantastic Four also make a tragic discovery, Ben Grimm’s skin continues to fracture and break, and we start to see a bit more of this new Enemy. Not as strong as the first issue and I hope to see a bit more of the motivation behind these attacks in the next two parts. However, all said and done, I can’t wait to read more. 7/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Joe Prado
DC $3.99

James R: ...And it started so well. Damn. Blackest Night finally comes entirely off the rails in this month. After last week's slugfest in Green Lantern, I was hoping this issue would get back to the core of the tale – the concept of life and death in the DCU. And it does, but now, I wish it hadn't. Now, I accept this isn't our Earth, or our Universe, and different rules apply but please – this is beyond nuts! We learn that all life in the Universe started on Earth! What?! And the entity who “bestowed the light that triggered life itself" has been hidden on Earth! Huh?! So, of all the super-powered beings on Earth, and all the geniuses, no one had ever figured this out? Or sensed it? Bonkers. Naturally, it looks lovely, and Johns has some great touches, but for me this is the issue where the suspension of disbelief collapsed (and bearing in mind I was willing to go along with the Spectre getting his eyelids ripped off, that's saying something!) 5/10

Stewart R: This an interesting issue to be sure - it's got some good points but unfortunately some disappointing ones as well. Johns finally brings all of the various Corps to the Black Lantern party on Earth and the madness ensues as the forces of light attempt to stop Nekron from bringing death to the whole universe. With one issue to go it's obviously time for Johns to start playing with the higher concepts at work and it's here where the disappointment begins to creep in. Making Earth yet again the point of origin for the beginnings of life is quite a tired idea now and I think it smacks of a little laziness. Admittedly he offers an explanation from the Guardians about their previous actions, which ties into the Green Lantern history of limiting human accessibility to the Corps, but I've come to expect a bit more invention from such a great writer. The other thing I've noticed is the complete disappearance of peril that oozed from the earlier issues where hearts were being ripped out all over the shop. Now the 'end of everything' scenario is playing out it feels like the initial drive of emotion and danger that made this series unmissable has almost had its own heart ripped out. It's still good for an event comic but just not as good as it could have been. 6/10

Matt C: I can see a lot of people loving this issue as it’s basically non-stop, wall-to-wall action all the way through, but for me it’s easily the weakest part of the series so far and highlights one aspect of Johns’ style of storytelling that I find a real turn off. Essentially the writer is throwing in everything including the kitchen sink (and a lot more besides) in here, and the end result is an overcrowded, cluttered, noisy read that, for a tale that relies on the ‘emotional spectrum’, had absolutely zero emotional resonance for me. I mentioned in previous reviews of Blackest Night that when you get into tale of this magnitude you really need a character, or handful of characters, to hold on to, to help you navigate through the narrative. It really should have been Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, and while it looked like it would play out that way early on, too many other characters have tried to nab a piece of the limelight since then. The art amps up the intensity with each passing page, but unfortunately I found myself caring less and less as I got further through the book. Sinestro’s role in the finale shows promise, but I can’t say I’m excited to see how this ‘event’ plays out anymore. 5/10

Writer: Christos N.Gage
Art: Jorge Molina & Victor Olazaba
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Siege has impressed in its own right and The Initiative, under Gage's terrific direction, is the perfect accompaniment to Marvel's triumphant return to comic events. Gage takes the main points from the latest issue of Siege and sets the likes of Taskmaster, Constrictor and Diamondback in the thick of the action to show their unique perspectives. It's a well thought out move and even though it fudges a few of the situations from the main title to brings these guys in, it does add an extra level of emotion to proceedings as these perennial also-rans begin to see the bigger picture. The breakdown of Diamondback's feelings for Constrictor is also very well judged indeed, though I can't help but feel it'll all end in tears. I can take or leave the Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. attack by the Avengers Resistance element of this title but that is still poised to explode nicely in the next few issues. Jorge Molina returns on pencils and he's proving to be one of Marvel's underrated gems. 7/10

Writer: Ben McCool
Art: Ben Templesmith
Image $3.99

James R: A couple of years ago at the Bristol Comics Expo, I and some of the other members of the Paradox Group happened to be meet a guy during dinner who, for want of a better word, was a character. He held court as he regaled us with tales that would make a Sailor blush and a Marine faint. At one point, I lent across to one of the group and said, “Who is this guy?” The answer was Ben McCool. After such a night, I obviously took a great interest in McCool's career – could he write comics that were as unhinged as he was? Well, yeah, he can! Choker is a 6-part miniseries that has got some corking ingredients: it's a hard-boiled detective tale fused with a dystopian future, and a smidgen of serial-killer grime. The tale focuses on PI Johnny Jackson, drummed out of the Police for not wanting to take performance-enhancing drugs, but given a chance to return by his boss Milton Ellis – all he has to do is track down a particularly egregious murderer. As well as being a compelling read, it looks fantastic due to Ben Templesmith's distinctive pencils. His work does make me pine for more issues of Fell, but in the absence of Warren Ellis' genius, McCool's brand of psychosis will suit me just fine. 9/10

Matt C: Of the two Bens involved in this book’s creation, Templesmith’s the real star while McCool’s something of an unknown quantity (bar him entertaining me and several others with some scandalous tales over curry at the Bristol Comics Expo a few years back!). We know Templesmith’s visuals will be a real treat, but has McCool got the writing chops to ensure Choker is an engaging read? On the this evidence, the answer is ”oh, yes!” McCool appears to be drinking from the same profane well as Warren Ellis, so we get a lot of juicy dialogue set against the backdrop of a ‘hell on Earth’ dystopian setting. It’s the kind of premise that Brit writers seem to excel at, and with the exquisite, utterly distinctive artistry of Templesmith to aid him, McCool looks like he might be onto a winner. The final scene was a tad confusing to these eyes, but that aside this was a strong, attention-grabbing debut. 7/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Miguel Sepulveda
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I'm really starting to feel sorry for some of the Thunderbolts members. It’s slowly beginning to dawn on them that they're being hung out to dry somewhat as Osborn has more urgent matters to attend to than the internal conflicts of this ragtag bunch of psychos and individuals of a questionable moral nature. Parker, a true master of group and team comic writing, ensures that the tension simmers nicely as Scourge tries to keep the potentially lethal mission on track and all of the T-Bolts in line. I'm guessing the mission that Osborn has sent his black ops team on could play a big part in the latter stages of Siege, but Parker's inclusion of the Mighty Avengers here makes me think that it might not be as clear-cut as I first thought. Sepulveda's art is serviceable but I'm no great fan and occasionally his style seems a little too simplistic. It'll be interesting to see where this team are taken post-Siege, if anywhere, but for now it's a reasonable contributor to the bigger picture. 6/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ethan Van Sciver & Scott Hanna
DC $2.99

Matt C: Now it’s all done and dusted it’s clear this ‘relaunch’ of Barry Allen into the DC Universe hasn’t really matched up to expectations by a long shot. Where Johns and Sciver’s Green Lantern: Rebirth was a total success, this mini has been marred by poor pacing (pun semi-intended!) and a generally confusing approach to the obviously complicated Flash mythos. There’s a sense that Johns’ is preaching to the converted here and doesn’t really go out of his way to cater for newbies. The quieter, human moments shine through but I did feel on a regular basis that the story was running ahead of me and I had no chance of catching up (pun totally intended!). All told, it’s not been terrible, but it had the chance to be something so much more. I approach the new Flash series now as something to try, but with no expectation of it settling into my pull-list for the long term. 6/10

Writer: Daniel Way
Art: Carlo Barberi and Sandu Florea
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: This is still not reaching the laugh-out-loud limits that I was hoping for, but Deadpool and Spidey's first meeting with Hit-Monkey is certainly a grin-fest as the two masked super-bods attempt to survive the gun-slinging encounter. Way has some decent fun with Deadpool's completely irrational fear of the macaque assassin as well as Spider-Man's suggestion of a possible get-out for the Merc with a Mouth. There's also some great work here from Carlo Barberi who delivers the usual Deadpool antics as well as some decent characterisation for the newly introduced primate with a vendetta. While it doesn’t hit the heights of previous issues it's still worth checking out if you're up for a chuckle. 7/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Cameron Stewart
D.C 2.99

Tom P: I love this comic. This is one of those times when I get to an a single issue in a run, and that issue completely blows me away. It’s the last part of Stewart’s story with Morrison and it’s been fun, gripping and original. Plus, every one said the right thing this time - phew! Its extremely well written, from the mad Batman clones crazy broken dialogue to Dick's crush on Batwoman (and who can blame him, but he’s definitely not her type!) I also loved his description of the cloned Dark Knight’s fighting style: “Like a good song in the hands of a really bad singer”. The conversation between Squire and Knight about new equipment also made me smile: “We can barely cover the unleaded for the bikes.” I know that feeling. Damian’s great in this, the ways he fights his father's clone is inventive and full of disdain and humour. New age of crime meet the new age of the crimefighter - it’s Morrison at his best and I will miss Stewart’s dynamic high-level work. With this and Detective Comics I think it’s an exciting time to be a Batman fan. Did I mention I love this? 10/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Stefano Caselli
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: This title is still gearing up for Nick Fury's big push at Hydra and the newly unveiled Leviathan organisation, so the emphasis from Hickman falls on the reader getting to learn more about the pasts of Baron Von Strucker and The Kraken, as well as Daisy's contemplation on whether all of her team can survive the upcoming life and death battles. I'm sure Hickman is enjoying himself with these plotlines, selling us the odd feint here and there, dropping occasional hints of what may or may not come further up the road, and keeping his audience guessing at every turn. He's also done a grand job with adding flesh to the bones of Hydra and showing that they're not a one-dimensional organization and even have their own internal politics that are threatening to tear them apart. Caselli still pumps out the pages of expected quality even in these times of limited action, and the cover from Jim Cheung is yet further evidence that we need him working on his own book sometime soon. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Danijel Zezalj
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: Something quite unexpected this issue: hope. Month in, month out, we’re used to Aaron supplying us with heavy doses bleakness and brutality in the Prairie Rose reservation, but here it’s as if he’s decided to remind us that he’s focusing on one particularly violent and repellent aspect of the town, and that it’s not all doom and gloom. An old couple, living on the outskirts of the reservation, cut off from the seedy goings on of Red Crow et al, amply display that feelings of love, pride, connection and hope still exist and are cherished by those people who haven’t chosen a path of self-destruction. Tonally, it’s a hell of a lot different than what we’re used to in this book, and while guest artist Zezelj’s work goes some way to differentiating the focus, stylistically it’s not that far removed from series regular Guera’s art to cause any jarring. Something of an emotional sucker punch all told, and further proof that Scalped remains in a class of its own. 9/10

Writers: Fred Van Lente & Greg Weisman
Art: Joe Quinones & Luke Ross
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Bah, this is the problem with Amazing Spider-Man at the moment: you get a decent arc of three or four issues and then you get an extra dollar slapped on the cover and a drop of quality between the covers for a week. Morbius is one of my least favourite Spider-Man characters and the vampire-fuelled story that fills the front end of this issue is pretty poor all around. The story from Van Lente is rather pedestrian with a dollop of annoying cliché for good measure. Morbius' scientific work may come back to play a part in future stories but it wasn't really worth the twelve pages of rubbish we're given here to get that across. The second story from Weisman and Ross is decent enough as Flash Thompson has to deal with his disability and overcome the depression that he's been feeling. It's a nice character-driven piece, but to be honest it probably should have found its way into Web Of Spider-Man as it didn't seem to offer anything substantial to the rather promising ‘Gauntlet’ work we've seen so far. It would have also saved us all the extra dollar at the same time! 5/10

Writer: A J Lieberman
Art: Riley Rossmo
Image $3.50

Stewart R: The issue starts with a terrifically madcap scene where a dozen or so 'triplets' talk amongst themselves and the multiple personalities start bickering and sniping at each other. The truly bizarre choices that Lieberman has made for these triplet characters is where half of the fun of this comic lies and while the stereotypes on display could render the comic unreadable in the wrong hands, artist Rossmo and letterer Clayton Cowles make a great job of keeping things flowing nicely. The action tapers off somewhat but that's blatantly necessary here considering Image's decision to move this up from miniseries to ongoing title. What we get instead is a neat flashback and explanation of Duncan's most catastrophic mission, a little more insight into Johann Blaq's motivations, and the introduction of Duncan's new sidekick.... Gary. It all goes a little awry here, as Gary's condition isn't quite explained in clear enough detail (and neither is his sudden induction into the team) but this is a screwball comic anyway and I can live with little things like this. 8/10


Danny said...

I'm gonna get my books from last week on this weekend. So I can't really comment on any of them today(((

Stewart R said...

A double weekend for you then Danny! There goes all your spare time. What's piqued your interest from this week's reviews?

Danny said...

That's true))) In this weeks reviews I was a bit surprised seeing Blackest Night #7 not getting higher marks. I didn't read the reviews themselves 'cause I didn't want to spoil the issue for myself even more after seeing the last page on the DCU Blog. Another book I'm really looking forward to read is Ultimate Enemy #2.

Tom P said...

Ult Em is very good indeed sir!

Stewart R said...

Well for anyone out there who read my Cowboy Ninja Viking review I can now state that 'Gary' the rabbi/sumo/cyborg is actually a character who comces from an Image contest to come up with a triplet!! Thank you Mr Lieberman for the correction! So another mystery solved! Wish I'd known about that contest now...

Astronaut/Vetenarian/Game Show Host will have to wait for another time...