11 Apr 2010

Mini Reviews 11/04/2010

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: Jonathan Ross
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Image $2.99

Matt C: Jonathan Ross is one of the most recognisable faces is in the UK thanks to hours of (often controversial) TV and radio shows over the last two-and-a-half decades. He also owns what is, by all accounts, the premier comic book collection in the country, packed with issues that would make even the most hardened fanboy weep with envy. So, he’s certainly got the clout to get his own comic made, but those credentials don’t exactly mean he’s guaranteed any real talent as writer. Reading comics is one thing; writing them is something else entirely. I wasn’t convinced Ross had the chops to make the transition from fan to creator, but I was willing to give Turf a spin, and that turns out to have been a really smart move on my part. Turf is a hugely impressive debut that, as unlikely as it sounds, may possibly mark the entrance of a major new talent on the scene. It’s a dense, absorbing first chapter of a story that mixes Prohibition era gangsters with vampires and aliens but does so in a thoroughly intelligent and convincing fashion. Part of it’s success is down to Ross’ script, but obviously it wouldn’t get anywhere without an artist to bring it to life, and Edwards excels here, capturing the look and feel of late 1920s New York beautifully. From the fashions of the time to the jazzy nightlife of the speakeasies, Edwards draws you into the world, making the sudden forays into sci-fi and horror seem natural and believable. It has to be said to that I can’t remember the last regular-sized comic that required such a significant amount of time to read. This isn’t a five-minute wonder, you’re potentially going to spend up to half an hour with this book. And all for $2.99. Ignore all preconceptions you have about Ross and get in on Turf asap. 8/10

Stewart R: Well done, Mr Ross! I'll admit that I did have my doubts on whether Jonathan Ross would cut it as a writer but this was a terrific first read. He takes several genres and blends them neatly in an entertaining tale of Prohibition era gangland violence, vampiric aspirations and interstellar criminality. Even putting those phrases in that last sentence doesn't quite sell what a difficult job he would have had to bring them together into a cohesive and well thought out story. His great success comes in providing us with several detailed and rounded characters, bursting with personality the lot, and Edwards has ensured that those characters are fantastically rendered on the page. This is the first time I believe I've seen this artist's work and on the weight of this single issue alone I will certainly be keeping an eye out for issue #2 of this series and any other works that he contributes to. A great start indeed! 9/10

Matt T: So, one of the most famous geeks in UK media finally gets a crack at writing his own book. Like I expect most geeks were, I was sceptical at first, but after all the man is married to Jane Goldman. He clearly has a decent story in mind, and even paces it well, but he overwrites so much the experience is exhausting. Every panel needs an explanation, when for the most part it's clear what's occurring. If he backed off a little, or had tighter editorial control, Turf could've been a far smoother read, but instead it took twice as long to hack through the endless description and contrived dialogue. The art is decent enough, although curiously looks a bit rushed, but overall this gangster/prohibition/vampire/alien mishmash isn't one I'm planning to pick up again, simply because it doesn't give the reader room to breathe. 4/10

James R: I realise that a lot of reviews will focus on writer Jonathan Ross' celeb status here in the UK, so I'm going to do the exact opposite and judge this one entirely on it's own merits - and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised! When I read the original pitch, I thought it looked like a title that featured everything including the kitchen sink - Gangsters! Vampires! Aliens! I was worried that it’d be a mess, but kudos to Ross - not only has he delivered a title that sets up this world really well, but he provides outstanding value for money - $2.99 for a whole lot of plot! Beyond the obvious fun Ross is having here, there are also hints that this is a story about human ambition too, and this extra depth made me like it all the more. On top of this, Edwards' art job is his usual excellent standard (his work last year on 1985 last year, and now this, show that he’s at the top of his game at the moment) and to cap it all off the story isn't interrupted by a damn ad every three pages (or that Colgate MaxFresh monstrosity!) Ross said he could have taken the project to Marvel, but decided to go with Image because their love for comics matched his own. Wise choice, and a smart first issue - I'm definitely coming back for more. 8/10

Tom P: This is the first ever comic book written by life long king of geeks Jonathan Ross, and my God did he write a heck of a lot for it! In a recent discussion with the Paradox guys, one of our troop commented on how comics used to fill every page with story and dialogue rather than splash pages. This is not a problem in Turf. Its heavy and takes a while to read. Its real value for money and I enjoyed it a great deal. Tommy Lee Edwards art is great as ever and fits the Prohibition setting like a glove. Gangsters, vampires and aliens are an odd fit but it works very well. I’m not sure how the E.T.'s relate to the tale at this point, but I’m looking forward to finding out. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: God, I'm glad I've been reading Cable for the last year. I think without it there'd be a reasonable amount of confusion about the character of Hope, although not necessarily the relatively repetitive chase that occupied her and Cable. The pair being back in the present throws up a whole host of issues, not least the existence of X-Force and the various unsavoury acts Cyclops has been getting them to do in the name of preservation. As the entire Marvel U is having a refit shortly I'm guessing the X-Men aren't going to be separate from that, so the conflicts that are bound to arise should create an interesting shift in the mutant dynamic. For the meantime the return of Bastion (does he ever die? I lost count of the amount of times he's been a head on a table) and his human cronies looks set to be the catalyst for something larger occurring, although the fact that the story is going to jump around between titles has the potential to colossally piss me off. The Dodsons' art is a touch too cartoony in places, but the action is handled well and Hope looks more like a young woman than a traditional ‘fully developed’ comic book babe. 7/10

Stewart R: So it looks like I haven't quite finished with the wallet-bashing yet then! After choosing to opt out of Second Coming last week I blatantly overlooked the fact that Uncanny was going to be involved and so have now decided to jump in for the whole 15-part event (I'm still going to say bum-off to the Second Coming: Revelations chapters!). My initial concern with events such as this is the 'too many cooks' syndrome that can occur with multiple writers but Fraction follows up Kyle and Yost's premiere with aplomb. Cyclops' weariness and struggle to keep his controversial decision-making from fracturing his team is well realised and the relationship between Cable and his charge is rather touching. The only unfortunate misstep is the Dodson's art, although I don't mean that from a quality perspective as it is up to their usual high standard. My gripe is that where we had the brooding work of David Finch last time out we now have the rounded, fuller style of the Dodson's and it doesn't feel quite right. I like a little consistency in my events and art styles that don't compliment each other well won't help with that. 7/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Andy Clarke & Scott Hanna
DC $2.99

Matt T: Every once in a while I get a twinge that Morrison has something batshit (no pun intended) waiting just around the corner to leap out and ruin the decent work he's been doing on Batman And Robin. Granted, the last arc was a touch shite, but overall the writing and art has been pretty solid. In this particular issue Robin's homicidal tendencies - via his new spine courtesy of his double-dealing mum - become far less controllable and Oberon Sexton is challenged directly as to his identity. As this is the bears the legend 'Return of Bruce Wayne' and features Sexton on the cover, it wouldn't take a genius to put two and two together. I hope the obvious conclusion is not the case though, as Sexton is an interesting enough character to not be an alter-ego. A decent issue, and I'm hoping it's building towards a far better twist than the one that's been telegraphed on the cover. 8/10

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Dustin Weaver
Marvel $3.99

Tom P: Hickman! I love this guy, his output from Marvel has been nothing less the brilliant. I felt this would be something special and it looks like my instincts were correct. The way it takes you through the history of S.H.I.E.L.D is fantastic fun from ancient Egypt with a brief glimpse of Apocalypse, to Celestials in China, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Galileo vs Galactus. It has an almost Planetary-like vibe with it’s super-powered secret history. Weaver’s illustrations are quite wonderful and Christina Strains colours bring them real depth and warmth. I also can’t wait to see how Reed Richards’ and Tony Stark's fathers will come into play and if it will link into Hickman's FF and Secret Warriors work. This has it all; top stuff. 9/10

James R: Now this was a total treat this week. Firstly, I'm a big fan of Jonathan Hickman - his Pax Romana miniseries showed that he was a writer who was great with big ideas and putting a new twist on well-established sci-fi concepts. As a result, it's not surprising that the first issue of this series hits the ground running. Hickman introduces us to the 'Invisible College' on steroids, and gives us a whirlwind ride through the history of civilization, giving us some trademark metaphysics ("Science and magic. How do you define one without the other?") and Galactus into the bargain. Secondly it looks beautiful - Dustin Weaver's pencils convey the epic and the technological wizardry with equal aplomb. This is exactly the sort of title that got me back into comics when I went to University - clever, knowing and epic in scale. Only one issue down, but I get the feeling this is as strong candidate for book of the year for me. 9/10

Matt C: It’s a brilliant conceit – S.H.I.E.L.D. (or The Shield) have been in existence millennia before Nick Fury first donned his eye-patch – and it’s exactly the kind of conceptually epic idea that I hoped Hickman might bring to the table when he first hooked up with Marvel. It’s a good first issue, but not a great one unfortunately; it feels lacking somewhere, reading more like the prologue before the real story kicks in. There’s more than enough to keep me around though, and even though secret histories of the world aren’t exactly an unheard of quantity in comics, I believe Hickman is ambitious enough to handle the scope of the project with assurance. He’s got a great artist with him as co-pilot on the journey – Weaver tweaks his style to portray different time periods, and gives us some great double-page splashes, from Imhotep battling the Brood in 2620BC to Galileo preparing to confront Galactus in 1582AD. It’s not a stone classic out of the gate but shows all the signs that it will become one very quickly. 7/10

Matt T: As this book has already gone into a second printing, I'm guessing it's pretty bloody popular. And for good reason, as the premise is not only a cracking one, but plays to writer Jonathan Hickman's strengths in creating slightly eschewed accounts of historical events. In this particular case it's the emergence of S.H.I.E.L.D far earlier than comics have ever alluded to, featuring members such as Imothep and Leonardo Da Vinci. As an introductory issue and with plenty of characters to work in the pacing is a little lumpy, jumping around like a wild rabbit before finally settling toward the end. I think Hickman has restrained his more artistic leanings for the sake of editorial control, but the work of Dustin Weaver is such that I don't particularly miss it. I'm going to keeping getting this title as the work of Hickman and the premise is interesting enough, and it shows how, unlike Turf, an assured writer doesn't need to overwrite everything. 9/10

Stewart R: Hmmmm, maybe I'm a little on the tired side so I'm not fully grasping what's supposed to be going on here or perhaps Hickman is selling me some mystery in this first issue which will be explained over the course of time. I certainly get that there are little fanboy nods to the history of the Marvel Universe - the two agents with recognisable surnames, Imhotep's rather bulky, grey/blue skinned ally - and I love Hickman's retrofitting and elevation of some of the world's great scientific minds to heroic status, but I'm slightly on the confused side as to who and what Leonid is and where he's come from. It feels like I've been dropped in mid-story and should have some knowledge of what is supposed to have happened before. My confusion aside I did enjoy the 'feel' of the book with the various different eras differentiated nicely by Dustin Weaver's line and ink work and especially colourist Christina Strain's varied palettes. Hickman has delivered with Secret Warriors so I'll stick with this to see where he's taking us. 7/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank & Jon Sibal
DC $3.99

Matt C: When it wasn’t getting bogged down with day-glo carnage and overpopulation, Blackest Night contained snatches of Johns’ superb knack of brilliant characterization, making heroes and villians that have existed for decades feel fresh, new and interesting. Here he does it on every page. The only negative thing I can really say about this book is that it concludes next month. That’s a damn shame because it just feels like these guys are on a roll now, like they’re just getting started. This is Johns at his very best, and Frank and Sibal are blatantly no slouches either – this is one hell of a great-looking book. I’m fairly intrigued at the notion of J. Michael Straczynski taking the reigns of the Man Of Steel in a couple of months, but if I’m honest I’d far prefer to see this crew in charge fulltime. 8/10

Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Art: Tan Eng Huat
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: So, Deadpool is the new Wolverine then? Turning up in Moon Knight isn't hugely unexpected, as the pair of them are borderline psychopaths with a tendency to talk to themselves, or figments of their imaginations, while beating up random characters. The one problem with Deadpool turning up in this particular issue is that the gritty tone doesn't particularly suit his zany banter, so the character comes off as a cold bastard with the occasional odd comment between gunshots. It's still a cracking read, but this will doubtless be another throwaway arc to try and boost numbers on whichever Deadpool title is being pushed at the moment. 7/10

Writer: Carey Malloy
Art: Scott Godlewski
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: A group of crack FBI cryptologists spend most of their time trying to decipher codes used by drug trafficking cartels. When one of their own appears to commit suicide their natural inclination is to read between the lines and they notice something isn’t quite what it seems. It’s a decent set up, the characters – while conforming to stereotypes – form an interesting dynamic, and the there’s an effective sense of panel composition in the art department. It’s definitely an engrossing read, but you can’t escape the feeling that it’d work a lot better as a really slick, fast-paced TV series. 6/10

Writer: John Arcudi
Art: Eric Canete
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This title had slipped under my radar until Andy H at Paradox placed it in front of me on my weekly visit. Almost unforgivable really considering how much of a fan of Eric Canete's work I claim to be! While I quit the main New Avengers title some months back it wasn't because of the line-up of the team and Arcudi drops a neat little Avengers scrap with villainous punching-bag The Hippo into the mix first thing to remind us just what these underground heroes are doing and what part titular powerhouse Luke Cage plays in the team. Not satisfied with that, Arcudi then provides a studied nod to Cage's history as a hero and just how he's grown and changed over the years. While some heroes seem to have stayed on a fairly steady path over the decades that they've been written, Power Man has been through such a rollercoaster ride and I like that this is being addressed here. Canete's artwork is of his usual high quality and this is another fine example of how to mix up and play with a multitude of viewing angles. I'm a little concerned at the limited length of this series but a pretty decent start at least! 7/10

Writer: Alexander Grecian
Art: Riley Rossmo
Image $3.50

Matt C: This incarnation of Proof effectively finishes with #28 before it’s ‘Season 2’ relaunch somewhere down the line. It’s not been difficult to notice that the book’s been falling behind in the schedules, and the reasons are whatever they are I guess (Rossmo working on Cowboy Ninja Viking may be contributing factor), but it would be a real shame if proof were to go AWOL for a great length of time. It’s full of rich, believable characters that are vividly rendered in Rossmo’s unique style and it’s generally a complete pleasure to be invited into the world they inhabit. The more Grecian adds to the mythology of this world, the more involving it becomes, and I really think the series is one of Image’s best-kept secrets at the moment. I’ll saviour it while it lasts, and hope for a speedy return. 8/10

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Art: Arthur Adams
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: I'll admit it, I wasn't sure Jeph Loeb was right for this book. Or, in fact, any comic after the complete hash of Ultimates 3 he made. Ultimate X seems to be spinning the Ultimate Universe in the right direction, taking it away from the traditional Marvel U and opening up a world of possibilities. The character work in this particular issue is superb, profiling the latest member of the burgeoning teen team of mutants in spectacular fashion. It's not really anything other than your bog standard 'girl with something to hide has old life infiltrate her new one', but bugger me if ol' Jeph doesn't keep me hooked till the very end. 8/10

Tom P: Wikipedia has this to say of Adams and his art: 'Due to the labor-intensive nature of his detailed art (Adams has mentioned in interviews that, especially for cover art, he sometimes would take days to get a piece just right), Adams found it difficult to meet the short deadlines often found in the comics industry'. Ultimate X is a bi-monthly comic and as far as I’m concerned Adams can spend as long as he wants drawing it! It’s all so beautiful to look at. The gorgeous detail on every page is extremely impressive, from the expressions on the characters faces to the background work. Peter Steigerwalds's inks are also bright and dynamic; I want to frame every single page. Loeb is also continuing to impress me and I stand by what I said about his writing in the first issue – it’s a great return to form, and I strongly urge you to check this out. 10/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Ok, I've got nothing new to add this month - Sweet Tooth continues to be a compelling, heartbreaking and essential read, and has now edged ahead of The Unwritten as my favourite current Vertigo title. But what I wanted to use my review for was to give special praise to Jeff Lemire - it's gone quietly unnoticed but this series is never late! And he's writing and drawing it on his own. It's an incredible work rate, and he also has a gift for pacing and understanding what makes for a great read. Every month Sweet Tooth has revealed a little more about either the protagonists and the post-apocalyptic world, whilst keeping us guessing at the end of each issue. A joy to read, and reassuringly punctual - a rare combination in modern comics! 8/10

Stewart R: I've recently been reading through Y: The Last Man and I have to say that the further we go with Sweet Tooth the more I'm finding a comparative feel between both books. I think it's the decision by Lemire to set a very broad and open landscape for his story but with an intensely focused look at just one or two characters within that world. The feeling of desperation is also comparable but the outlook for all involved in Lemire's work is certainly bleaker and that makes for a riveting read. Introducing Dr Singh at this point should ensure that the backstory to the great disease that set the world to ruin gets filled in fairly quickly but the slight twist at the end of this issue has me thinking that as great as this is and has been so far, we might be dealing with a writer who has extra levels of excellence to display. 8/10

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Art: Paco Medina & Juan Vlasco
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: What a great idea! Explain just how Cable actually rescued the newborn Mutant Messiah from the hordes of Purifiers and Mr Sinister's team of psychotic killers and bring everyone's favourite mercenary and pal of Cable into the mix to! And what a terrible shame that this comic misses an opportunity to push for a feeling of palpable tension with occasional goofball antics, instead going for a selection of comedy scenarios where Deadpool saves Cable's butt in slapstick fashion again and again. This essentially ends the Cable comic in its current form and while I only bought it for a few issues at the beginning I'm sure there are probably some fans of the title who’ll feel short changed by being given what amounts to a Deadpool feat. Cable issue. To sell the titular hero as almost incapable of looking after himself in this situation seems a little bizarre, not least because of all of the other equally dangerous situations Cable found himself in following the events depicted here. Paco Medina's art is superb as always and fits the comedic slant well but that's the only real reprieve from what was something of a disappointment. 5/10

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

Matt C: The internal politics for the Avengers over the last few issues are replaced by external, nay, intergalactic politics as we get a closer look at the mess the Skrull Empire finds itself in following the destruction of the Throneworld by Galactus in FF #257. Every Skrull and their mother is now declaring themselves Emperor or Empress, and into this chaos waltzes Nebula and her band of mercenaries, her motives unclear at this point. The Avengers themselves are now spacebound, searching for the missing Captain Marvel – when they actually locate her, she’s hooked up with the Skrulls, normally sworn enemies of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but now willing to form an alliance to tackle a greater foe: Nebula. Stern offers a great overview of an empire in turmoil and Buscema (with the able assistance of Palmer, natch) produces some delicious cosmic visuals. This is epic ‘old school’ superhero storytelling, where the stakes are at their highest, and it’s an arena where the Avengers fit right in. 8/10


Anonymous said...

Well, you all seem very happy with Turf and SHIELD. I took a look at both comics in Paradox on Saturday and decided to pass in each case. Turf looked overwritten. Badly so. Massive word balloons the size of German Zeppelins crowded out the art to the extent that some panels had tiny slivers of art wedged in the centre of a panel, flanked on either side by dialogue. I have respect for the way Jonathan Ross has been using his fame to popularise comics, but I'll lay off buying his comics until he calms down on the word count.

SHIELD is a classic example of the sort of sloppy revisionism that I don't like. The scale of the conceit undermines the history of the Marvel universe. If this 'secret history' had occurred, it would have been anything but secret. Galactus turning up in 1582 would have been noticed. Hickman has come up with a large scale idea without worrying about how this would affect the social fabric and history of the world to date. Bearing in mind he wrote Pax Romana, I would have thought he'd be the first person to understand that.

- Rob N

Matt T said...

I completely agree with you on the Turf front Rob. Overwritten, with a decent story trying to creep through somewhere. I didn't hate it, but it annoyed me that Ross felt the need to explain everything.

I thought SHIELD was a great concept, and as everything is retconnable (?) anyway it didn't bother me too much that there were quite a few misstpes on the continuity front. I'm treating it more like a 1602-style alternate reality at the mo, until Fury turns up to talk expressionalism with Da Vinci.

Matt Clark said...

What the heck is "expressionalism" when it's at home?!

We're in a strange place now, following several years of 'decompressed storytelling', if a comic that takes over 10 minutes to read is being described as "overwritten".

Turf #1 - I'll grant that some of the word balloons aren't placed in the best places to enhance the panel composition in some cases, and it did look like Ross was being a bit too verbose.... but then I read the thing. This isn't 'overwriting', it's dense plotting, and the dialogue rarely feels unnecessary. Matt T was the lone voice of descent amongst our reviews (for reasons I'm not sure I understand) but as for Rob N, I would ask him to reconsider because I think this would be right up his street. At $2.99 it's surely worth a punt?

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 - on the face of it, it appears ludicrous that Galactus appeared in the 16th Century and nobody seems to know about it, but Hickman hasn't laid all his cards on the table yet, so it's way too early to dismiss the concept I think. It's also a damn sight better than the woeful New Avengers: The Initiative which meddled with recent Marvel history to with a detrimental effect.

I would be interested to hear what he continuity missteps (mistypes!) Matt T is referring too though...

Matt T said...

Ok, I misspelled it, I meant Expressionism ☺

I disagree on the Turf front. As far as I'm concerned it's a visual medium, and the images should portray what words would in a text-only format. The fact that the action and back story is so exhaustively explained is to the determent of the plot in my opinion, as it doesn't really let the tale tell itself. I prefer things to unfold naturally, rather than be forced down my throat by numerous bubbles. If the second issue is more restrained I'll pick it up, but otherwise I don't think I can dedicate that much time to something so gratuitous in over-explaining itself.

As far as SHIELD is concerned I'll have to take a look back through the issue, but the Brood turning up early on is another forgotten piece of Marvel U history alongside Galactus' arrival.

Matt Clark said...

Matt T: As far as SHIELD is concerned I'll have to take a look back through the issue, but the Brood turning up early on is another forgotten piece of Marvel U history alongside Galactus' arrival.

It wouldn't be much of a secret history if we all knew about it already though...

Anonymous said...

I did (only half jokingly) add to Andy after turning down both titles, that I may well be back in six months time asking him, “do you have any copies of issues one to five still in stock?” as I do have a reputation for turning up at Paradox on a Saturday afternoon, slightly the worse for wear from a heavy might the night before, being shown some new 'hot' title by Andy, flicking through it for 60 seconds, and then saying, “thanks, but no thanks,” only to come back for it half a year later. Famous examples in the past include the original runs of: The Authority, Powers, Fables, and Scalped. So do bear that in mind when I post comments about new books! ;)

- Rob N

Joe T said...

Thoroughly enjoyed Shield and Batman & Robin this week and the latest issue of Wolverine Weapon X-even if it was a total rip off of The Terminator. Shield could of been better, but I guess it was just setting the scene. Still phenomenal though.