7 Mar 2010

Mini Reviews 07/03/2010

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: Garth Ennis
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $4.99

Matt C: He didn’t drop the ball, thank God! Ennis reaches the final issue of his sickeningly brilliant miniseries and manages to avoid predictability by delivering a surprisingly moving denouement. There’s an underlying message, that may initially seem incongruous when you consider the grisly content, but Ennis makes it work – basically, he’s reminding us that no matter how often we may succumb to base instincts, there’s a resilient spirit that sets humanity apart from the savages. Even in the face of annihilation, we can still stand tall to face whatever may confront of us. This is one of Ennis’ finest works of comic fiction, but obviously he needs to share the credit with Burrows whose emotive and, let’s be honest, frequently repellent visuals have taken the Crossed experience to the next level. A spin-off series by David Lapham has recently been announced, but as far as I’m concerned (and unless I hear otherwise) Ennis has said all that needs to be said in this universe, and anything beyond this near-perfect ending would be an afterthought. 9/10

James R: I've never quite known where I stand with Garth Ennis - on one hand I think he has a unique voice in comics, clearly not afraid to shock and push the boundaries of the medium, while on the other I think that he can be a little too impressed with his own cleverness or his commentary, be it on superheroes or on God. When Crossed started I approached it with some trepidation; from his interviews ahead of the first issue, Ennis made it very clear that this series was nihilistic with a capital 'N', and the first issue had one of the most disturbing sequences I've ever laid my seedy comic reading eyes on. I was hooked on the basic premise of the series, but my worry was that we were in for nine issues of increasing gross-outs for horror's sake. Well, colour me ochre and call me Sandra - I was very, very wrong. As it has rolled along, Ennis' series has become less about the grotesque victims of the Crossed, and more an examination of humanity. Like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Ennis asks us to consider if we are human when we have to do anything to survive. I was expecting the ending to be hopelessly bleak, but kudos to Ennis, he leaves the series balanced perfectly. This was the first comic I grabbed out of my pile this week, and I'm still pondering it now. Hats off to Jacen Burrows' art - as the months have gone on his non-fussy style has perfectly illustrated the brute nastiness of the Crossed world, but also the passing of time with a skilful hand. I can't say that I'm thrilled at the prospect of the spin-off 'Other tales from Crossed' comic, as I feel Ennis has done such a complete job here. If you missed this, I can only implore you to get the trade - it is a perfect example of how comics remain an essential medium that can do things that TV and movies simply can't. Essential. 9/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I believe the words that sprung from my mouth this week after reading Invincible Iron Man were "Fraction you clever son of a bitch". Everything in this issue works well and has a real sense of urgency behind it. Tony's confrontation with all of his fears, losses and disappointments is well realised by both writer and artist and really shows the level of blood on Stark's hands before now. Stephen Strange's clash with Ghost is neatly delivered in a succinct couple of pages and Pepper's gambit is also a masterstroke. Now when I look at it ,the final piece of the 'Stark: Disassembled' puzzle is kinda obvious but what fun Fraction is going to have with this moving forward. That Eisner Award they keep mentioning on the cover is as deserved as ever. 9/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Rags Morales
DC $3.99

Matt C: I have an enduring fascination with the Golden Age of comic books along with the period when pulp magazines were in their prime, and it’s one of my numerous ongoing projects to delve deeper into the material produced in that era. First Wave doesn’t exactly fit into the parameters of the aforementioned project but it does see Azzarello bring some of the Golden Age icons back in front of a modern day audience, which kind of ticks a few boxes by fanning the flames of my interest a little further. It helps, of course, that the end product is a stylish, intelligent and well-constructed introduction to an alternate universe inhabited by Doc Savage, the Spirit, and the Bat-Man (as he’s called here). Azzarello focuses on Savage and the Spirit in this debut issue, and while there are a handful of other characters thrown into the mix they’re written with enough individuality to avoid confusion. Morales art is fantastic: it’s sophisticated and impactful, although I do think his uncoloured illustrations we saw in recent previews were possibly superior. This is one of those ‘pet project’ kind of deals that could easily topple into self-indulgence, but Azzarello has a firm grasp of his narrative, and I’m now thoroughly excited to see how this miniseries pans out. 8/10

Tom P: Any story that starts with a giant robot running through an uncharted jungle is going to entertain me and this does just that. In this issue we see this little adventure in South America and meet Doc Savage and The Spirit. I like the way Azzarello is setting up this world of pulp and noir - add Morales classic pencil work and it all looks great. It reminds me of The Marvels Project in its setting and concept and that is no bad thing, my friends. It's stuffed full of story and feels like real value for money, setting up mysteries to be solved and nefarious villains to be defeated. I can't wait to meet First Wave Batman again; if you missed his one shot with Doc Savage don't worry, it wont stop your enjoyment of this book. I strongly recommend you give this a go and I look forward to seeing where Azzarello takes us. 8/10


Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
Veritgo $2.99

Stewart R: While last year seemed to be all about Chew in terms of hype and attention from various media outlets, 2010 will be about Sweet Tooth and Jeff Lemire's perfectly weighted post-apocalyptic vision. As Gus' situation grows increasingly dangerous, Jeppard's descent into spiralling depression hits quickly as we discover just why he has betrayed the young boy's trust. Lemire's use of varying chronology throughout this issue is spot on and gives us lucky readers the much needed back-story behind this hardened traveller's grave fa├žade. The thing I noticed the most with here was Lemire's ability to instantly expand the breadth and scope of this world that he has created without it overwhelming the story or reader; suddenly we're submerged in a world of bizarre scientific experimentation and grim trading towns and it sits very well with what has come before. Honestly folks, you need to at least give this comic a try. 9/10

James R: There have been a few articles knocking about recently as to why the post-apocalyptic world is front-and-centre of popular culture at the moment. Minds smarter than mine seem to think that at times of uncertainty, people start to speculate on 'the end of it all.' Possibly so, but as a child of the '80s who grew up with The Terminator and the Mad Max movies, my thinking is that dammit, it always serves as the most stark and challenging backdrop for a writer. A great creator doesn't just give you a compelling plot - man on a journey, stranger comes to town - they make you believe that this is what it would be like if, as TS Eliot said, 'The centre cannot hold'. After seven issues we can definitely put Jeff Lemire in this category - he has created a bleak world, but it's one that you feel compelled to return to each month. In this issue, we continue to learn more of Jeppard's back story and the peril Sweet Tooth is now up to his antlers in. Like all the best comics, it warranted an immediate re-read, and I genuinely can't wait to see where this goes - it's growing with every issue. 8/10

Writers: Various
Art: Various
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: I admire the idea here but can't help but feel that the execution could have probably been handled better by Marvel. For your $4.99 you get a variety of mini-stories all written and drawn by the female comic talent out there in the industry today. Unfortunately it is the variety itself that lets this down quite badly. The initial Nightcrawler story is a rather strange action piece set to song and offers no explanation or motive for what is taking place. The Venus story offers up a light and airy slice of retro-comic comedy but is a little too saccharine for my tastes, and the Punisher, - one of the most testosterone-fuelled characters in Marvel's canon - gets a 4-page piece to dispatch a child 'groomer' in the darkest chapter of the issue. The true highlight is 'Clockwork Nightmare' featuring Franklin and Valeria Richards which has a terrific dark fairytale feel but when wedged in amongst the rest of the mediocre material it can't prevent me from 'ho-humming' at this book. It's almost as if Marvel are trying out a Wednesday Comics style approach with this title but the ideas and stories at play are so vastly different in size, tone and quality that it made for a rather disappointing and detached read. But then am I really the target audience for this endeavour? Possibly not... 4/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Carlos Pacheco
Marvel 3.99

Tom P: I will start this review by saying I enjoyed reading this. To make a comparison, if this was food it would be a Big Mac. It’s not ground breaking but I know what I’m going to get, and it will satisfy me for that moment. It won’t be a classic but it also won’t leave a bitter after-taste. Millar’s Ulimates was a fantastic mix of brains and brawn and it's fair to say that Millar’s Ultimate Avengers is just brawn. Its not a bad book at all, its just that, after reading Kick-Ass last weekend and Red Son the weekend before, it seems this is Millar on autopilot. Take one Wanted-style uber-villain, sprinkle with some conflicted heroes, a bit of action and a healthy measure of cocky dialogue and 'Bang!'... script done. Like I said, it's OK, but I cant help but wish it was awesome. I’m still going to stick with it and cant wait for the next arc as I love Leinil Yu's artwork. Hopefully this will go from burger to steak. 6/10

Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I can guarantee that there have been some serious belly-laughs this week at that particular cliffhanger!! And let us not forget the brief montage of cases that Applebee has set aside for Chu to deal with, or Sweet's little speech about why she's not going to help Tony with his current problem. Issue after issue these guys are hitting it out of the park and providing one of the best black comedy titles on the market today. All the while they're building little side plots here and there and keeping events that happened previously close to mind. It's a terrific juggling act that they are pulling off and there's no sign that there'll be any ball dropping any time soon. 8/10

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Art: Frank Cho
Marvel 3.99

Tom P: I did state I would never buy a Loeb written 'Ultimate' comic again… but Ultimate X proved that I don’t hold a grudge, I am not a man of my word, and that Loeb can still deliver a solid story! The new team is introduced and fight a bunch of hopeless cannon fodder, Thor is forced to get down and dirty with a horny evil goddess to get back to Earth (poor bugger, but hey I’m sure it’s for the best?) and Loki returns to unleash… um, mischief. Its quite a standard comic book overall and its not in the same league as Ultimate X but it doesn’t suck and that is something to be pleased about. The 6-page fold out cover by Frank Cho is also quite impressive - it just keeps going and looks great. It could all go to hell but I’m going to give it a chance. 5/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Steve Lieber
Image $3.50

Stewart R: Final issue and we really do get to see the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak! Parker manages to ramp the tension up a notch and while we are certainly given a more than serviceable ending, it doesn't necessarily bring the twists and explosions that I was expecting. What we do get though is terrific dialogue showing that this man really seems to know how actual conversations work with suitable pauses and interruptions in Wesley and Seth's interactions. Lieber finishes the run well using his angles and layouts in a varied and effective manner to wring the best out of the plot and caving action. Another mention should go to colourist Ron Chan who has flicked between the grey-scale and colour palettes terrifically throughout. This comic will certainly be worth picking up in a collected edition if you've missed out and fancy something a little different. 8/10

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

Matt C: This frantic mini finally reaches its conclusion with heaps of blood and carnage, and while a lot of the mythical aspects employed in the plot have been left vague, it actually works better that way, keeping a bit of mystery hanging in the air. The title character has an extremely likeable streak of self-deprecation and pairing him with a hound from Hell to tackle their mutual enemies works really well. Biagini applies plenty of energy to his visuals and is particularly adept at rendering large-scale destruction (a useful skill during the mid-section of this issue!). It’s nothing particularly new, but if you’re looking for a brisk, exciting blending of the crime and fantasy genres, you could do a lot worse than this. 7/10

Writers: Chris Gorak and Pierluigi Cothran
Art: Damian Couceiro
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Stewart R: Part #4 brings this miniseries to a close and I can say that everyone involved in this title has put in a worthy effort even if the final product didn't manage to quite deliver on the very promising start. The various revelations surrounding Nola's tragic situation and family past started pouring out here and don't stop until the very end here. As a result I'm afraid that the whole thing feels like it's gasping for space to breathe. Characters who have fairly large roles in the plot turn up for the briefest of time and then either fade straight back out of focus again or more likely end up in the morgue. If this had been given a six-issue run it may have given Gorak and Cothran the time to expand on the necessary history of Nola's father's murder and given these characters' interactions with Nola a bit more gravity. All that said, the artwork has been pretty decent and the New Orleans backdrop both pre and post Katrina has played a neat little symmetry with the destruction and recovery of the protagonist's life. 6/10

Writer: Mark Waid and Tom Peyer
Art: Paul Azaceta
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: This has everything that a Spider-Man issue needs: web-swinging, comical villains, hardened villains, flashbacks, J Jonah Jameson shouting (a lot!) and some decent artwork from Paul Azaceta. I wasn't sure about his style when he first started worked on the recent Electro story but have really warmed to it since that first issue. There's a terrific retro-quality to his line work and when he needs to bring in the shadows in, his inking is terrific. The new Vulture is also an interesting character who isn't your usual villainous type but more an unfortunate (well relatively speaking, 'mob clean-up' guy still suggests dubious morals!) who's been subjected to a hideous procedure and is seeking revenge. 'The Gauntlet' hasn't been the event I was expecting and the drawn-out nature of it is actually providing some of the strongest Spider-Man writing I think I've seen in some years. 8/10

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