28 Mar 2010

Mini Reviews 28/03/2010

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.

This week also sees the next instalment of Matt C's Buscema Avengers Project.

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Steve McNiven
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Matt C: With Kick-Ass movie fever now upon us the eyes of comics fans now turn to Mark Millar’s second creator-owned project from Marvel’s Icon imprint to see if he’s come up with another potential zeitgeist-capturing hit. On the evidence of this first issue, my thinking is that he hasn’t. We’ve seen evil variations on superhero icons before (from the Crime Syndicate Of America onwards), with Millar himself contributing several in the past, and Mark Waid is currently doing some great work with his ‘evil Superman’, The Plutionian, in Irredeemable. So an ‘evil Batman’ is just what we need now, right? Well, while Kick-Ass felt fresh and relatively original, Nemesis looks – due to the fact that this kind of thing has been done countless times before – kind of stale. There’s also a nasty streak to the writing that I found a bit distasteful – Millar doing cheap shocks just because he can and not because it adds anything to the narattive. McNiven’s work is fine, but as I’m used to seeing Dexter Vines adding his powerful inks to McNiven’s pencils, the art here seems weak by comparison. Kick-Ass grabbed me from the off; Nemesis hasn’t. Whether I return for issue #2 is undecided at present. 5/10

Tom P: You have to hand it to Millar, he knows how to promote his comics: fake billboard adverts, movie deal offers and a bucket full of hype. I think what Millar has been doing with Kick-Ass is great, it’s all working out for him a treat, and he's really shown how comic book creators can take full advantage of their creations. Nemesis however is no Kick-Ass, and despite being a big fan of both Millar and McNiven this was nowhere near as good as I hoped it would be. It’s not bad at all, it’s just okay - average Wanted-level stuff. The art is nice but isn't quite up to McNiven's past work, and I'm not sure if that’s due to him doing his own inking. I did like the stuff with Chief Morrow, Millar writes him with good mix of cocky and intelligent, but overall it reads like a Michael Bay movie, and more Bad Boys than The Rock. I will stick with it until the end, but I’m hoping this A-list team can turn things up a notch. 6/10

James R: After viewing Kick-Ass with some of the Paradox gang last night, we discussed that we should all give Nemesis a one-word review: 'Alright'. And you know what? That's what it is! As a first issue, Millar's much-trumpeted (what else would we expect from jim?!) new series does a fine job of introducing the main players, and gives you a huge bit of widescreen chaos, but at the moment it's tough to call if this is going to be the new Kick-Ass (Yes!) or the new Old Man Logan (Boo!). Best of all, it's $2.99, demonstrating that someone, somewhere at Marvel HQ has still got a lick of sense. In terms of a gripe, I would have preferred another page of story rather than Millar's self-congratulatory essay, dressed up as a 'Thank you'. However, it does make me want to pick up #2, so I guess we can put this one down in the 'Win' column... for now! 7/10

Stewart R: The fact that Millar heavily references Kick-Ass and Wanted in his afterword demonstrates that he's not shy of patting himself on the back from time to time. There's no doubt that he's a big 'concept' writer but for all of the plaudits and kudos that he seems happy to pull over himself like some self-obsessed child building a fort out of chairs and duvets, occasionally his final product has the potential to fall in upon itself. From this first issue it's easy to see that this grand concept could be a stroke of genius or could descend into a mess of overblown bravado. The idea of the nefarious ultra cop-killer setting his sights on pastures new is pretty exciting but there are a few holes in the logic that you have to glaze over to get the most out of this. With small flaws in the writing, there are also a few wrinkles in McNiven's art work as he inks the lot himself which gives the whole thing a scratchy feel where I'd have expected slightly heavier, cleaner inking to bring a darker atmosphere to proceedings. Despite the niggles there's an almost televisual sense brought across with a real feeling of intensity in the first few pages that, if sustained, could propel this to must-read status. 7/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rebecca Buchman & Keith Champagne
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Okay, Blackest Night readers, I suggest that you pick this up even if you've only been buying the main event title up until now. Johns packs so much into this issue of GL and it fills in some of the historical blanks of all of the emotional spectra, hinting at the exciting possibilities to come for future Lantern-based stories, be they green, red or any of the other colours. I get the feeling that this additional information is going to add an extra layer of depth as we witness the end of the Blackest Night and herald in the Brightest Day next week. Of course, this issue isn't without it's little hiccups and, dare I say it, an outright burp when it comes to the last nine pages of artwork. I've no idea what the frack has gone on but it looks like either a last minute re-write/re-draw took place or they gave whoever was responsible for inking those pages a pen with a nib the diameter of a golf ball. A shame really as it takes the shine off of an otherwise fine issue. 7/10

James R: First things first - I'm still annoyed at the mad idea that Earth is the cradle of all life in the Universe. It remains a crazy and un-scientific idea (and yes, I know this is comics, but to me, it's crazy!) Right, now that's off my chest, I have to say that this month's GL is blockbuster BIG. Rather than Geoff Johns, the highest praise here has to go to the art team. From Sinestro unleashing and embracing the White Lantern power, to Xanshi, the Black Lantern planet, looming large in the Earth's sky (and causing a huge tidal wave)... Phew! It all goes off in this issue, and Mankhe, Alamy and the rest make it look fantastic. I'm still undecided on Blackest Night as a whole, and I'm certainly going hold off final judgement 'til it's all done and dusted, but this week it was certainly a case of 'Superhero comics done right' again. 7/10

Writer: Christos N.Gage
Art: Jorge Molina & Andrew Hennessy
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Just as the Siege title faltered a little last week, this title wobbles a little under the weight of too many plot strings. Whereas the last issue focused mainly on the events taking place over the skies of Broxton, Oklahoma, and really worked well as a result, this issue begins with the events taking place at Camp H.A.M.M.E.R where the Avengers Resistance are attempting to battle through The Hood's bunch of Initiative villains. I'll admit that this is a part of the story that did need to be addressed at some point but at times it has felt like I'd been reading two separate comics as the main plot threads seemed to diverge some time ago. The Resistance element is far less interesting than the Constrictor/Diamondback romance and Taskmaster's grasp for glory, and since Trauma left we've only been waiting to see what Penance, formerly Speedball of the New Warriors, was going to do. The Tigra and Night Thrasher storylines with The Hood are swept under the carpet far too soon and it does look like Gage is just closing things down on this title as swiftly as he can with next months finale shutting the lid for good. A shame that it's come to this but it has been a good run overall. 6/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Garrie Gastonny & Nursalimsyah
Avatar $3.99

Stewart R: This is one of those series where I'm pretty sure I've read every page and understood it and yet there are still some elements and concepts from both writer and artist that make me think that maybe I've overlooked something, and that there's actually something else afoot. Ellis' pacing and knack of letting you fill in the blanks when he doesn't need to force feed the story to you helps with this feeling of uncertainty, as does his use of re-collective narrative as Dr Reddin's ability to recount the devastating events begins to lessen. The beings of awesome power that Eliis has created are marvellously varied, as are the differences in the cultures that spawned them, and as they all head towards their eventual battle-royale the tension is certainly growing. Seeing as how this is Ellis that we're talking about, I'm sure there are more theological and scientific twists and turns to come in this story. I'll certainly be picking it all up to find out. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Whilce Portacio
Marvel $3.99

Tom P: I haven't purchased an Uncanny comic in years, Astonishing is the only X-Men book I buy, mostly because I cant afford to read any others! As much I would love to, it’s just too expensive. So why pick this issue up? The main reasons were a) it features the return of Miss Pryde (being a big fan of Astonishing where she went sailing off into the stars inside a giant interstellar bullet, I wanted to read about her return), and b) I just had to have the variant cover by Mark Brooks! It's just stunning, with her riding a giant silver bullet through the clouds, it reminded me of the artwork from the Watchmen movie of Miss Jupiter on the side of a WWII bomber. What can I say? I'm a geek and I was weak and now I have this gorgeous cover! I enjoyed the issue and having not read Uncanny in a while I didn't feel lost at all. I doubt I will pick up X-Men: Second Coming next week, but if money was no object I'm sure I would. The cover gets top marks and the comic gets 7/10

Stewart R: Kitty's back and no doubt thousands of X-fans around the globe are cheering for the return of everyone's favourite phasing mutant. Of course, it's Mr Fraction who they have to thank for this and seeing as how it's him holding the reigns of this story, Miss Pryde's return is a far from simple affair. Fraction has been using all of the tools and characters at his disposal to ensure that the mutants' time on Utopia has been a studied period of rebuilding and resetting. Bringing Magneto back into the fold has been well timed, not least because Charles Xavier is no longer a driving force for the X-titles, and a sense of wisened experience was still required to temper Scott Summer's leadership. Now on the path for retribution, Magnus' efforts to bring Kitty back are well realised and bring a terrific sense of hustle and bustle as everyone prepares for her inevitable arrival. Fraction gets an extra helping of kudos for keeping the X-Club working as a concept with Box and Dr Nemesis being the particular successes. Portacio's artwork reminds me of Jim Lee's style every now and then but it is a little inconsistent in places, with bone structures in faces apparently being very malleable from time to time. The backup story is reasonable but I could have done without it for the extra dollar. 7/10

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Well this is good fun! A completely bizarre, nutty, fantasy fun indeed! The world that James Stokoe has created just gets stranger and stranger and by golly it's sucked me in well and truly. This second issue sees One-Eye and Pointyface forced to head to 'The Norman', an Orckind Gangboss, to pay their usual tribute and I'll admit that I had the stereotypical Orc boss, all girth, fangs and club fists set in my head before Stokoe reveals just who The Norman is. What we get is a complete surprise and highlights that Stokoe is rewriting traditional fantasy concepts in his own way. The fact that he's working as writer and artist on this comic helps to ensure that we're being shown his true vision, and it's a bright, exuberant world of violent, back-stabbing wonder. If you've a spare $2.99 floating around and you're tired of superheroes and crime fiction then this may well be worth sneaking a peek at! 8/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Wellington Alves & Nelson Pereira
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Now this is more like it! We actually get a scrap here that's interesting, very well thought out and delivered well by Wellington Alves on pencils. Jeff Parker finally allows the Thunderbolts to take the fight to the Mighty Avengers in what turns out to be a terrifically successful match-up. Cho's little bout with Mister X is well realised, as is US Agent's showdown with total nut-job Scourge, and all the while Parker ensures that Ant-Man and Palladin's motives are unclear; are they trying to be good guys without getting killed by their team-mates or are they up to something else? It has the frenetic sense of battle that I think was missing from the last issue of Siege and goodness knows this title itself has needed to be kicked it into high gear for some time. In Jeff Parker we trust! 8/10

Writer: Fred Perry
Art: Fred Perry
Antarctic Press $3.99

Matt C: I’m bit of a sucker for bonkers concepts where real-life historical figures are thrust into far-fetched sci-fi scenarios, so the idea of a time-travelling Abraham Lincoln appealed to my sensibilities. Unfortunately this one-shot reads like you’re being dropped in the middle of an ongoing storyline, and while Void Stalin (yes, he’s an evil, magical version of Josef Stalin!) is on hand to provide exposition there’s not a whole lot to latch on to. There are some nice ideas utilized, and the art has a certain amount of brio, but knowing this is it as far as the adventures of Time Lincoln go, it just feels like a squandered opportunity all told. 6/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The first issue of The Marvels Project really seemed to position it as future classic, but it never quite matched that opening burst, and the penultimate episode seems to confirm that it’ll be merely thought of as “pretty good” rather than a “masterpiece”. The problem is that it reads more like a history lesson than an emotionally involving tale of the birthing of the Marvel Universe as we know it. The Angel’s voiceover continues to keep the reader at a distance, so while the way Brubaker has structured the narrative from various disparate storylines from Marvel's continuity is certainly impressive, the telling is too dry to truly connect. Epting’s art is something else though, really bringing the 1940s setting to life, and it quite possibly the best work of his career. A worthy exercise, but not quite what it could have been. 7/10

Tom P: What a fantastic read this was! I love a good Cap and Bucky tale set in the ‘old days’ and this gives you that and a lot more! Brubaker and Epting are the perfect team for this and it makes me want Epting back on the Cap's ongoing series as soon as possible. We see them here during their first mission, fighting some Nazi agents who have landed on the coast of America. Its not just Cap that gets to have all the fun, as elsewhere John Steele storms a Nazi castle to uncover some of the Red Skull’s plans. We also get to see the Invaders starting to slowly take shape. I can’t wait to read the conclusion of this epic attempt to weave the origin of the Marvel Universe together. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Davide Furno
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: One of the reason’s Scalped gets mentioned in the same breathe as some of HBO’s greatest dramas (and why many of us wish HBO would hurry up and make a Scalped TV show!) is that as well as giving its time over to the so-called ‘main’ characters, it can just easily divert its focus onto the ‘minor’ characters. This issue is a case in point: Red Crow’s right-hand man, Shunka, has mostly remained in the background throughout the series. When he’s in a scene your attention is usually elsewhere, since that’s where the real drama’s taking place. He’s had his moments in the spotlight but it’s only now that Aaron has decided to devote an entire issue (with more to follow) over to him. And guess what? It’s another incredible piece of writing with regular guest artist Furno delivering visuals to match the deadly tone. I’m repeating myself, I know, but Scalped is still in a class of its own. 9/10

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

Stewart R: The hands-down success of this arc of Deadpool has been any panel where Hit Monkey is simply staring ahead. Honestly, open up a copy of this comic and turn to a page where the Japanese Macaque is simply standing there in his suit and tie, grim expression plastered across his face, and try not to smile. No smile? Have a look at his black, leather assassin gloves... all four of them! He even wears gloves on his feet!!! C'mon, that's funny!! If this wasn't a Deadpool book it might not get the grin-factor so much, but Way and Barberi have done a great job of making this arc actually work as a comedy piece and a brief look at why Wade Wilson is always likely to fail at his attempts to become a superhero. I'm not quite convinced that Way has got his portrayal of Spider-Man quite right here but that's the only misstep in the issue. 8/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Adam Geen
Image $3.50

Stewart R: We've an interesting idea here - a homicide cop is presented with the vexing possibility that the murders he's investigating are being committed by victims of previous murders he's investigated. Yep, that's a reason to be vexed alright, and in Isaac Harrison we've one very weary and troubled cop who really could do without the dead walking the Earth in his precinct. While Adam Geen's moody artwork ensures that Isaac is all exhausted face-rubs and tired slouching, it's Nick Spencer's narrative monologue on the concepts of truth and lies running throughout the issue that really helps to bring through the sense of futility that our protagonist is experiencing. While the characterisation is spot on the money I will say that I hope the story gets a little more depth added to it next time out as, despite the good concept, it is a little plot-lite at this stage. 7/10

THOR #608
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Billy Tan, Batt & Rich Elson
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: After an uneven start, Gillen has taken to the realm of the Asgardians pretty well, and while his tenure on the title is no match for Straczynski’s, there’s definite promise there on the page. In some ways it’s a shame his will be such a short run, especially one burdened with the weight of a crossover, but on the other hand I can’t hide my excitement at Fraction’s imminent arrival on the book. Tan’s art has also become gradually more impressive with each passing issue, but I have to say the pages by Rich Elson were the ones that made my head turn. A solid issue then, and that’s even taking into account the utilization of that appalling ‘Clone Thor’ character, Ragnarok. 7/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Leandro Fernandez
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: The Paradox group showed me the error of my ways in missing out on the earlier issues of Northlanders, and so now I feel it's my duty to pass this favour on - you should have more Viking action in your life! The beauty of this series is that having the nebulous and epic history of the Norse people as a reference, each arc leaps around in both time and location. As a result, no character is safe, and the comic is rich with danger and the fragility of life. The only true continuing character is the misanthropic atmosphere that Brian Wood fills each issue with. In this arc, 'The Plague Widow', a Viking community beset by a plague have slowly descended into violence and mistrust. It's not a happy read, but by thunder, it is compulsive and unflinching! Comics seem to be the prime medium for tales of the apocalypse - Crossed and Sweet Tooth being excellent recent examples - and you can add Northlanders to this list. It's not in a dark and vague future, but a dark and very real past, and it will tell you the same tale: when the chips are down, humanity dissolves like snow in spring. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Stefano Caselli
Marvel $2.99

Tom P: I’m a big fan of Secret Warriors, its consistently brilliant and after 14 issues it’s showing no sign of slowing up. Its packed with espionage, action, drama, and fascinating back stories, plus plenty of twists and turns. Hickman fills the pages with well-written characters and long, satisfying plots. He makes Hydra and the mysterious Russian group known as Leviathan as interesting to read about as the Secret Warriors themselves. Here they’re all setting off on a new mission and are unhappy about the Druid being cut lose by Fury. I fully recommend this book and with Caselli's gorgeous art to look at, you’re really onto a winner. Things are definitely starting to heat up now! 8/10

Writer: Roger Stern
Art: John Buscema & Tom Palmer
Marvel $0.65

Matt C: When you’re in the Savage Land, chances are you’ll bump into Marvel's Tarzan clone, Ka-Zar, at some point, which is exactly what the Avengers do here as they continue follow the path of devastation created by Terminus. You also expect a bit of dinosaur action, but that’s sadly lacking in this issue. We do get to see various ancient cultures wiped out in moments though, and over on the other side of the galaxy Captain Marvel gets introduced to blue-skinned space bitch, Nebula. It’s close to greatness, with Buscema and Palmer rendering some fab carnage, but just misses the mark, especially when it ends so abruptly. 7/10

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