2 May 2010

Mini Reviews 02/05/2010

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.

After a volcanic delay, we look at two weeks worth of books as well as including the next instalment of Matt C's Buscema Avengers Project.

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Well, isn't this a canny piece of writing! Not only do we get a neat (though not connected in any way) parallel to the new Iron Man 2 movie and a pertinent 'big' character discussion which promises good things for the upcoming Avengers title, but Fraction also manages to side-step any Siege spoilers in the process of bringing us this bumper introduction to Tony Stark's new life and direction. It's brilliantly handled and Fraction thankfully holds off on the armoured antics to bring us another focused look at who and what Tony Stark is: a flawed and well meaning genius and hero. This could have easily fallen into the trap of just being about that new suit but by using it as a teaser instead of the main point of interest the comic is far better for it. The only real question to be asked is whether these new competitors/foes will offer anything as a real threat considering the past couple of years Tony has been through and survived. With Fraction and Larroca at the wheel I'd say this is a journey most of us will be willing to go on to find out. 8/10

Matt C: Great to have this book back again, and with the Captain America title starting to flounder there’s now a strong case to be made for Invincible Iron Man being the best Marvel superhero comic on the stands. Tony’s got has memory back (up to a certain, pre-Civil War, point in time) and now has to start rebuilding what’s left of Stark Industries into something approaching its former glory, only this time without the weapons manufacturing. This leaves the door wide open for the late Justin Hammer’s wife and daughter to convince the US government to invest in their war-mongering technology. There’s a lot of talk in this issue and not much action, but Fraction’s ideas are smart and his dialogue believable ensuring you’re completely sucked into the story. Larroca’s art is generally excellent (a couple of dodgy facial renderings though) and there are some nice cameos from Thor and Reed Richards. On top of all that, this is a $3.99 book that gives you the extra pages for your extra buck. If only Marvel took this approach more regularly. 8/10

James R: In recent years, there has been a notable (and unfortunate) trend where a comics-based movie is released to much fanfare, but the parent publishing company has no great title to back up any interest from the general public. This week sees the cinematic release of Iron Man 2, so what can Marvel provide for the curious first-time reader? Quite simply, the answer is: a brilliant read! Fraction has been on form writing this book of late, and this issue provides a continuation of the quality and a great jumping-on point for new readers. Tony Stark has finished rebooting himself, and is seeking to make amends for his mistakes by relaunching Stark Industries as something far more visionary, while the female side of Justin Hammer's family seek to use Tony's maverick tendencies to launch an all-new suit of armour. Fraction does a superb job of setting up the players in this arc, and he also throws in a couple of other Marvel stalwarts for good measure. If there's one criticism, I'd say Larocca's pencil work has been better, and here Stark bears a striking resemblance to Sawyer from Lost! However, this is still superhero comics done right - and should make for an essential new arc. 8/10

Tom P: I read this before I went to see Iron Man 2 the other night. Sure, I was full of hype and excitement like an overgrown child but it hit the spot nicely as the Invincible Iron Man team continue to create a solid and brilliant run. We've seen Tony go from director of S.H.I.E.L.D to an outlaw on the run. After being comatose in a vegetative state now he's back, fully restored to factory settings, but having not backed up his hard-drive like brain since he underwent the Extremis processes he's forgotten everything he's done since. I like the fact he won't use it as an excuse for his actions or apologise - he's moving forward. I also loved the new armour and that it's not "the" Iron Man any more, he "is" Iron Man. It's part of him like never before. The new Hammer Industries plot is also interesting, the auction scene in particular is very clever. Long may it continue! 8/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen, Keith Champagne & Mark Irwin
DC $3.99

Stewart R: A bumper issue acts as the fond farewell to the Tomasi and Gleason partnership on this terrific title and also a fond farewell to the Blackest Night event. Event aftermaths tend to be a strange thing with many writers unsure of how to keep a large cast of characters on track once the mission is over. Tomasi is not one of those writers and what he provides here is a much needed ensemble piece that deals with the loves and losses that have found their way to the heart of the Corps of the Green Light of Oa. One moment Tomasi is dealing with the over-riding principles and directives of the Corps as an organisation, the next he's looking at the complications of benevolent sacrifices and friendships between alien races, all the while weaving Kyle's compassion and Guy's bravado throughout the story. It works tremendously well, justifies the extra dollar pricing and gives much hope for the future of this book even if it does now get passed into the hands of another. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Carlos Pacheco & Dexter Vines
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I couple of years ago I decided to quit the Ultimate Universe, and I stuck to that decision until Millar stated he was returning to pen Ultimate Avengers. A possibility of something new in the same vein as The Ultimates? I couldn’t resist. Now this run is over, I know for sure I should have resisted. It may contain an impressive amount of high-octane action, but there’s a nihilistic streak running through it that makes it wholly unlikeable. Even Captain America is portrayed as a bit of a charmless bastard, so if you can’t root for him who can you root for? (This isn’t Scalped for God’s sake – this is a superhero book!) There’s a neat twist at the end involving Nick Fury, but that’s the only the thing that piqued my interest and it certainly wasn’t enough to make me want to stick around for more. The saving grace is the art: the combo of Pacheco and Vines ensures there are some beautiful images on display, both energetic and dynamic. It’s not enough though. 4/10

Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Matthew Southworth
On Press $3.99

Tom P: This comic is all about the love and the craft; Rucka may left DC and Batwoman behind but if it's to produce this kind of quality book I’m all for it. He puts his central character Dex through a lot of pain but she still keeps going. She's intelligent, tenacious and I find her fascinating to read about. The artwork is consistently impressive, the page layouts are inventive and dynamic and the expressions on the faces of the characters only enhance Rucka's script. Renzi's colours also deserve a round of applause, the use of strong bright hues to show a strike to the head through to the dark nightglow of Dex's apartment and the lush greens of the forest. My favourite page this issue has to be the panoramic shot of Mount Tabour - it's gorgeous stuff. 9/10

Matt C: It’s never a particularly good position to be in when you have to wait several months for the next instalment of a storyline, and the delay unsurprisingly hurts Stumptown. The original colourist seems to have exited the picture and the art suffers because of it, lacking the noirish feel that really bolstered the appeal of the first two issues. The script’s still tight, the character’s appealing and I hope Rucka’s exit from DC means he can get this title back on track and into our hands a lot quicker because it would be a grand shame if its blatant potential gets squandered. 6/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Miguel Sepulveda
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: And so another chapter of Thunderbolts comes to an end and thankfully Jeff Parker has managed to bring us a decent Siege tie-in in the process. The scrap between the T-Bolts and the Mighty Avengers continues following Scourge's brutal attack on US Agent, but rather than being a straightforward Team vs Team encounter Parker uses this as the point to shake things up and bring those allegiance quibbles to a head. There are no great surprises here but what I did get was that nice warm feeling that the right outcome had been reached once the dust settled. Parker also manages to once and for all ensure that Mr X gets consigned to the redundant character scrap heap, his once annoying-to-read (and write I should imagine) powerset truly being shown for the pile of pants that it is. Sepulveda's art style is still not really my thing but he does a decent enough job of providing us with an action packed finale. I just really wish that Marvel had gone with someone else for the upcoming Thanos Imperative. 7/10

Writer: Duncan Rouleau
Art: Duncan Rouleau
Image $3.50

Stewart R: A delay of a month or two can often get a readership grumbling about creator focus and artist issues. A delay of almost a year when the writer is the artist AND we've only been given two issues before this can sometimes lose you that readership altogether. Luckily the third chapter of Rouleau's Great Unknown didn't leave me struggling to remember what had happened all those many moons ago. The artwork is as stylish as it was in the previous instalments and Mr Rouleau is in his element when mixing things up and breaking from convention. It can seem erratic and confusing at first glance but only a slight change of perspective and a second studied look is needed and that light bulb of understanding flickers into life. The group that Zac Feld finds himself working with on his journey of discovery and revelation are a crazy bunch of great thinkers and it's these strange characterisations that this writer excels at. There are also some strong ideas about just how deep we already are in this world of information and just how much of our lives are on show for anyone to see. As long as Rouleau manages to see this through in the next couple of months this could still be a contender for miniseries of the year. 8/10

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

Matt C: I’ve been a champion of this run of Captain America since the very beginning and I’ve recently been finding myself defending it even as I've started to think that things aren't quite right. This issue confirms something’s gone awry. The ‘50s Cap is unhinged but his disgust at the modern world has some powerful truths in amongst the madness, and normally you’d expect Brubaker to pull these to the fore. Instead we get a succession of fight scenes that lack any real drama, and just seem incredibly lazy, especially when compared with what’s come before. The art’s a bit perplexing too. Ross and Guice have been onboard for the whole arc but here it looks like they got some completely different, less talented artists to illustrate the issue. It’s like everyone got together after an afternoon in the pub to hammer this out. The Nomad back-up is better than the main story this time around, and I was never that taken with it in the first place. This was my favourite book on the stands for such a long time that it’s really disheartening to see it in such a sorry state. 4/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Stefano Caselli
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I may be missing something here but most, if not all, of the characters involved in Nick Fury's team of caterpillars seem to have forgotten Phobos' premonition of what will happen to each and every one of them. Certainly Yo Yo and Jerry have walked through their respective predictions and come out the other side. Phobos himself seems keener to discuss the issue of Sebastian's removal from the team rather than rely on his apparent powers to tell him that things'll probably work out. That little point of contention aside this is still good fun as each of the various factions appear to be out-manoeuvred by the others only to end up in a position of power again. Hickman seems to love the constant flux that would exist in secretive wars and offensives like this and Stefano Caselli's occasionally brooding and always emotive artwork ensures that the tension is always bubbling away. 7/10

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

Matt C: A couple of people I’ve spoken to have found it hard to find a way into Scalped due to the ugliness of many of the characters and most of the events portrayed. I can understand that, it’s not an easy read, but it’s worth persevering with because when it finally clicks, there’s no turning back. Featuring complex individuals that live in a world of violence, living by a set of rules that don’t apply to normal folk, and rules that they are prepared to break whenever it suits them, Scalped is brutal but utterly compelling. This issue is a perfect example of what makes it such an essential read: Red Crow’s right-hand man, Shunka, is a man ready to do bad things following the suspicious death of a guy he spent the night with. His motivation doesn’t appear to be vengeance though, it’s something deeper than that, and when he finally lets loose, it’s not at all pleasant. Frequently repellent but always absorbing, Scalped is a masterpiece of contemporary comic book fiction. 10/10

Writer: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker & Andrew Hennessy
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Oh poop! If ever you don't want someone to come back from the dead it'd be Thanos, especially when he actually likes being dead! Lanning and Abnett (yeah, let's give Lanning a little top-billing love for once, dear readers) know that some characters are just doomed to threaten the galaxy time and time again even if they prefer not to, and in Thanos they've brought back a level of unpredictability to an already enthralling universe. The events here thankfully reunite the surviving Guardians as they attempt to restrain the Mad Titan in his confused, waking rampage. There are almost a dozen heroes to deal with here and the writers know how to wring the best out of what they have at their disposal. At any point where you think one of the Guardians might be on the brink of a death-by-Mad-Titan moment it actually claws at your heart a little and that makes for an excellent read. Artist Brad Walker excels once more and while he will bring us Thanos Imperative: Ignition later this month I'm actually gutted that he hasn't been given duties on the main series. Sort it out Marvel and give him this book full time... PLEASE?? 9/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Rebekah Isaacs
DC/Wildstorm $2.99

Matt C: I lost interest with the Wildstorm Universe when they booted Joe Casey off Wildcats 3.0. He was doing some groundbreaking, genre-altering things with established characters but apparently the top brass felt his work was too risky and roped in Grant Morrison to take over (and what a great success that was!). I’ve not really been familiar with DV8 before, but putting Brian Wood in charge of a relaunch with the suggestion that Wildstorm might be trying something different again certainly got my attention. Having now read the first issue of this eight-part miniseries I’m currently undecided whether to continue. It’s well written certainly, and the art is quite captivating, but I’m having a little difficulty getting a bead on these characters and the situation they find themselves in. I’m curious, but whether that curiosity is strong enough to bring me back, I’m not sure. Saying that, I was a bit dismissive of Northlanders #1 and I’ve since gone on to become a huge fan of the in trade form, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge when it comes to Wood’s work. 7/10

Writers: Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Paul Tobin
Art: Ariel Olivetti, Reilly Brown, Jason Paz & Terry Pallot
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Hercules is one of my favourite characters from Marvel’s huge stable of superheroes. He’s not the smartest tool in the box but his love of women, beer and giving people the ‘gift’ of battle makes him a thoroughly endearing creation. Incredible Hercules has been, for the most part, a lot of fun, but it has had the tendency to get a little convoluted at times. The lead up to this two-part mini (and from what I can gather, the last issues of Incredible Hercules) didn’t really grab me, but I stuck with it. Unfortunately, while Fall Of An Avenger has it’s moments, I think this is the point where I drop out of this ongoing storyline. Amadeus Cho works well as a sidekick but I’m not convinced I need a book where he has the starring role. The Atlas back-up is rather sweet and I hope Marvel give this team more of chance to find their feet when their new book comes out. 6/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Sean Murphy
DC/Vertigo Comics $2.99

James R: This series continues to be a great read. Now at the halfway point, Joe continues his twin journeys through his home, and Morrison spells out that Joe's uniqueness comes from being able to exist in two worlds simultaneously. But is his fantastical world all in his head? Morrison fills the issue with clues and suggestions, but you get the sense there's a really smart twist ahead. The art team of Sean Murphy and Dave Stewart not only continue to contrast the two worlds beautifully, but in this issue the fantasy kingdom looks incredible - it's a triumph of design and showcases why comics are unique as a storytelling medium. Joe The Barbarian is a terrific example of the writer and artistic team working in harmony - I acknowledge that it's Morrison, so it could yet end in a bewildering fashion, but at the moment it's definitely so far, so very good. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Leinil Francis Yu
Marvel $3.99

Tom P: I have been waiting for this collaboration for a while now and after the great 'Volcanic Ash Storm' I have it! The main bulk of this issue is spent setting up the Ultimate Punisher for this new arc and it features a whole lot of killing. 10 pages of vigilante death-dealing await you before we meet a few of Fury's Avengers, which in the Ultimate Universe is the black ops division of S.H.I.E.L.D. The highlight of all this for me is definitely Yu's artwork. I'm a big fan of his, but if Secret Invasion taught me anything it's that even he can't polish a turd. Fortunately he doesn't have to here. You can tell Millar is having fun writing this and I'm look forward to seeing how 'The First Hulk’ is set up and will come into play. Altogether I enjoyed reading this a lot and it was worth the wait but I cant help thinking the best is yet to come. 7/10

Writers: Scott Snyder & Stephen King
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Vertigo $3.99

Stewart R: Oh dear, oh no no no. Damn it. Looks like I'll be shelling out $3.99 a month for yet another title. Vertigo seem to have done it again and brought something interesting and new to the table with this tale of Vampire evolution and internal politics at the turn of the 20th Century. Scott Snyder's first half centres on poor Pearl's gruesome predicament after she's left for dead following her attack from Bloch and his 'old-school' bloodsuckers. Snyder is keeping things at a steady pace, not revealing too much but at the same time setting out the rules by which this coming Vampire War will be fought. The chemistry between Skinner Sweet and Pearl is quite a mysterious thing; it’s not fully clear why Sweet picked his new prodigy and Pearl's anger and confusion hints that she's not necessarily going to be playing by her 'teacher's' rules. The second half of the book, written by King, continues the walkthrough of Sweet's transformation into something else and this look at the past certainly helps to broaden the view of the world that these creators are bringing to us. Albuquerque's art style is perfectly suited to the stories, providing a modern sheen to the period setting, and he ensures that when things need to get a little visceral they don't go over the top. Very promising indeed. 8/10

Writer: Roger Stern
Art: John Buscema & Tom Palmer
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: As the cover states, this issue serves as an epilogue to the Secret Wars II miniseries. These days we’d get a one-shot to wrap things up but that’s not how the industry operated back in the ‘80s. It’s an okay read, and it’s nice to see Buscema draw the Surfer again (he drew Norrin Radd’s first solo series) but it’s simply a case of tying up the loose ends following the eradication of the Beyonder, and while it has the Avengers in action (along with FF) it doesn’t really feel like an Avengers book. Necessary, but not essential, the best thing about it being a great reminder of how well Buscema can draw a pissed off Hercules! 6/10


Justin Giampaoli said...

"Scalped is a masterpiece of contemporary comic book fiction." Now that's a pull quote waiting to happen!

Also, couldn't agree more re: Iron Man (the best book Marvel is putting out in my opinion) and Stumptown (certainly a stumble of an issue, despite a strong start on issues 1-2).

Curious to see whether you'll stick it out with DV8, Matt...

Matt Clark said...

Thanks for the kind words, Justin.

Saw the comments on your page following your Stumptown review, and after reading them I'm a little more optimistic about the title's future.

In two minds about DV8, will keep an eye on your reviews as you get hold of your books a day before I do. Had you read anything with them in beforehand?

Justin Giampaoli said...

Yeah, I definitely felt like giving Stumptown a brief reprieve after hearing from Matthew Southworth.

I think I read a couple issues of the Warren Ellis (and Humberto Ramos?) DV8 back in the 90's, but I don't remember anything about it, other than it was sorta' tangentially related to GEN13. As you pointed out, some of Brian Wood's more recent work is a bit of a slow build, so I'll give it a couple issues.