9 May 2010

Mini Reviews 09/05/2010

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.

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

Writer: Geoff Johns & Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Various
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Firstly, I'd like to say thank you to DC for pricing this sensibly at the $2.99 and not forcing another four-dollar title into our lives. Secondly, I'd like to thank them for giving us a jam-packed 30 pages of Brightest Day magic which, despite jumping from pillar to post much in the same way as #0, feels like sizeable puzzle pieces in a very intriguing comic jigsaw. The Aquaman section is rather disturbing with the freshly returned hero's powerset being a major point of concern and coupled with the rather blood thirsty Manta Ray piece I'd say there are unhappy times ahead there for Arthur Curry. Some stories get too little attention - Firestorm and J'onn J'onzz's parts could have been left out and just given more page space next issue - and of all the plot threads I'm still not particularly interested in Hawkman and Hawkgirl's exploits. These of course are criticisms that are likely to disappear when I get used to this being a twice-monthly series where everything gets fleshed out at the right moment, so I'll take my foot off the negative pedal for now. The art by everyone involved is top notch and the varying styles actually compliment each other very well. I just hope that the quality remains consistent over the course. 8/10

Matt C: Brightest Day #0 didn’t do such a great job of convincing me I need to pick up this series, but there was something there that made me think I should give it another shot. The first issue of this 26-part, year-long ‘event’ has its moments but there was nothing within its admittedly generous (for $2.99!) 30 pages that had me thinking it would be a good idea to stick with it. There’s some tasty art (that goes without saying considering the talent involved) and Johns and Tomasi turn in relatively impressive, character-focused script, but with its juggling of so many characters (many I have minimal interest in) I get the feeling halfway through the series I’ll be interested in a couple of plot threads but the rest will have lost me. I foolishly stuck with Countdown until the bitter end, but while there’s no evidence Brightest Day will ending scraping the bottom of the creative barrel the way that did, I haven’t got the inclination to find out. 6/10

Matt T: The plot thickens! Or, at least, gets more complicated. It's pleasing to see the characters returning from being Black Lanterns aren't entirely as they were before, with Aquaman in particular facing some unique issues with his powers. Boston Brand continues to be launched around with abandon by his white power ring, while the white power battery simply sits there, annoying the other Lanterns. The issues with Firestorm are the most intriguing to me, as the two characters bonded into one generally dislike and distrust each other but seem unable to separate. At the moment the pacing and interchange between plots is working well, so hopefully Johns and Tomasi will stay with the title long enough to make it a success. 8/10

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

James R: Wow. I know I start off every review of Grant Morrison's work by defending him against his critics, but this month I feel I just need to let the quality of the work speak for itself. Morrison starts to pull the plot strands together from his last four years writing Batman, showing a sublime mastery of characterisation and then dropping a killer final-page twist. With the exception of the Philip Tan/Red Hood arc, this book has been a consistent gold standard for DC. My early worries that it would struggle without the genius of Frank Quietly have proved unfounded, as Andy Clarke puts in another stellar turn here. What pleases me the most as a reader is how well Morrison has developed Dick Grayson and Damian. Back in 2006 I would have laughed you out the room if you told me I'd like either of the characters, but with every issue Dick becomes a brilliant Batman in his own right (in a very similar way that Ed Brubaker made Bucky into Cap.) As for Damian, I'm actually starting to believe he could be the worthy Dark Knight we saw in Batman #666. All this, and we still have to see how Morrison brings back Bruce Wayne! Spectacular stuff. 9/10

Tom P: Another great issue here, I couldn't wait to read this and it didn't disappoint as Robin uncontrollably attacks his mentor and we edge closer to the return of Bruce Wayne. Its great to see Damian confront his mother and make his own choices. He's grown on me more every issue, turning from a spoilt brat to a worthy member of the Bat family. This comic also makes me want to dust off Morrison's run on Batman and see the hints and clues I may have missed regarding Mr Sexton. It’s a hell of a twist that just blew me away and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. Fantastic. 9/10

Matt T: Wow, I didn't see that coming. I thought the final twist wasn’t going to be as obvious as had been signposted since the appearance of Oberon Sexton, and Morrison didn't let me down. The rest of the book had some interesting resolutions relating to Damian and the secrets behind Wayne Manor, so I'm interested to see where the ‘Search for Bruce Wayne’ will end up. The tension is certainly being amped up every issue without discarding any subplots, so it appears that my worries about Morrison going temporarily batshit are entirely unfounded. For Now. A cracking read, and Andy Clarke's art is consistently decent if not quite up to the Quitely grade. 9/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Diego Barreto
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt T: Ho hum. The pace in Irredeemable has become so slow as to virtually stop moving, pouring over unnecessary flashbacks and barely inching the story along at all. If the Plutonian is going to be stopped it seems to be playing second fiddle to some minor characters being all angsty and torturing themselves. Surely trying to stop the super-powered mentalist would be a better use of time?? I may rapidly get bored of this title if the pace doesn't pick up soon, as there are plenty of subplots being thrown around with little in the way of resolution this far. 5/10

Stewart R: Wow, we are really being shown just what a nasty **** the Plutonian was when he finally lost the plot and started his swathe of destruction across the planet. We're taken back to the day that the supremely powerful hero vented his spleen upon Sky City, killing millions and gripping the world in terror, but rather than the simple nuclear-type event that I had pictured, Waid paints us a far more sickening picture, and we see how the Plutonian took his time dishing out his form of punishment upon heroes, mortal men and children alike. As he's shown previously, Waid is not afraid to push our moralistic and ethical buttons, and in doing so he guarantees that this is a read you won't want to put down. Weaving this flashback issue into the moral torment that Bette Noir is facing in the present storyline keeps things moving along nicely rather than feeling like a standalone issue not a few weeks after the Irredeemable Special was released. Diego Barreto's artwork is a perfect match for regular artist Peter Krausse and we therefore escape from any dramatic jumps in feel or continuity. 8/10

Writer: Chris Roberson
Art: Michael Allred
Vertigo $1.00

Stewart R: It's a dollar folks. Only a dollar. Hope you all picked up a copy for that price because Vertigo have rarely let us down in the past few years with ventures like this! Gwen is a professional gravedigger who unfortunately suffers from a slight case of being a brain-chomping zombie as well. That would be strange enough but Gwen lives in a town inhabited by others afflicted with vaguely familiar and monstrous conditions. Writer Roberson allows us to just assume that the presence of zombies, werewolves, ghosts and vampires are a relatively normal occurrence for this world he's created and the more interesting stuff comes from Gwen's ability to revisit the memories of those dead souls upon whom she's feasting. It must be said that this idea is already being used to produce gold over at Image in Layman and Guillory's excellent Chew and we'll have to see how Roberson makes the idea stand apart from Image's success story. Allred's art style has a pop art feel to it which for some reason makes the whole thing remind me of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show. There's definitely a 'cleanness' to everything which may possibly prevent things from getting as dark and dangerous as other comics of this ilk. Still, for a dollar this is once again a promising start for another Vertigo title. 7/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Adam Kubert, Mark Morales & Dexter Vines
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Normally I’d steer clear of any book entitled Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolveine as it just smacks of Marvel going overboard in an effort to milk two of their most popular characters, but the lure of Jason Aaron proved to be too great. His superhero work has been hit & miss with me, but Scalped continues to astound, so I have to give him one issue at the very least to persuade me. And you know what? This is actually pretty damn good. The key to it’s success, I think, is that it does something entirely unexpected with these two characters: you anticipate an old school style team-up with them linking up to bring down a bad guy, but you certainly don’t imagine you’ll be seeing them rocking loincloths in prehistoric times while they await an Extinction Level Event. Aaron’s writing is surprising and funny, and Kubert – a couple of wonky panels aside – delivers some delicious imagery. Not sure this can truly survive as a series (that is the intention, right?) but it just about justifies its $3.99 price tag for now. 8/10

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Sheldon Mitchell, Joe Weems V & Rick Basaldua
Image/Top Cow $2.99

Stewart R: The schedule for Top Cow's Pilot Season extravaganza seems to have been sucked into a vortex and is only now trying to claw it's way back into the real world. Wildly overdue, Kirkman's Stealth still manages to be quite an impressive one-shot (possibly ongoing; time will tell) that crams a fair amount in to a $3 comic. Rather than being a superhero book, this is more about one man's battle to deal with every troublesome and tragic problem that his life can throw at him at once and it's a subtle, crafted piece of writing. The weariness and anger in Todd is captured with competent style by Sheldon Mitchell whose work here is incredibly reminiscent of Ryan Ottley's work on the Haunt title. I actually had to go back to the credits page at one point to make sure Ottley wasn't involved in the layouts! That said, there seems to be a rather strange gap or jump in events close to the end where it's difficult to know whether we're witnessing one scene with poor continuity observed or two separate scenes. It detracts slightly from the punch that the comic was promising but this idea still has plenty of potential as a miniseries should it win the Pilot Season vote. 7/10

Matt T: Of all the Pilot Season books so far, Stealth seems to have the most depth to it, and distances itself from the usual 'masked-vigilante-kills-for-some-reason' themes that have preceded it. Instead of having a tortured soul murdering left, right and centre, Stealth is based around an Alzheimer's sufferer and his son, with the twist being that the elderly father is a super-powered hero. Unfortunately his mind has begun making his alter ego untenable, and is causing his offspring all sorts of issues. The fact that Stealth doesn't immediately involve passing the torch from father to son, which would undoubtedly occur in a full series, but instead focuses on the difficulties faced by both characters, is hugely to it's benefit, and elevates the book above the usual beatings and brooding. 8/10

Writer: Matz
Art: Luc Jacamon
Archaia $3.95

Matt C: A welcome return for this excellent series which sees the titular assassin come out of retirement, not for the clichéd ‘one last job’ but because after four years out of the game he’s grown bored with his regular life and wants to spice things up again with the thrill of the hunt. As before, it’s the unnamed killer’s internal philosophising on various aspects of existence that provides one of the two essential ingredients that go into making this such a magnetic read. The tropes used are hardly original, but Matz utilizes them to craft something that feels different at the very least. The other essential ingredient is Jacamon’s slick, vibrant art, which helps give the book its neo-noir sensibility. While rewarding returning readers, this first instalment of the new six-part mini also makes a great ‘jumping-on’ point, and fans of the genre shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to engage with this electrifying piece of crime fiction. 8/10

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Having delivered a neat issue featuring plenty of double-crossing last time out, Stokoe now lets us tuck into a rather cool chase piece in which One-Eye tries to avoid Pointyface and the Orc gang he's enlisted to help exact a painful revenge on our antihero. The initial confrontation and subsequent race across Skrubtown are punctuated by tiny moments of bizarre fun, from a weird monocular beastie that crawls into an Orc's mouth to speak to explosive 'shells' which are actually poor, small, clam-like creatures that chatter in their own dialect while hurtling through the air to a fiery doom. It's all part of this crazy world that Stokoe has created and it's brilliant fun. As an artist, he manages to capture terrifically simple moments in tiny panels and then wallop you around the head with panels of huge scale. We're three issues in and I'm loving every page of this title. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Terry Dodson
Marvel $2.99

Matt T: Second Coming being split across various titles is still annoying me somewhat, especially as there's only one plot strand at the moment. The death of a major character has seemingly turned everyone against Cyclops and made Hope something of a target for all the accumulated angst of the team. As a result this issue is light on action, moving the plot along to a point where the team once again becomes fractured and given separate tasks to complete. I, for one, would like the X-Club back to front and centre as they seem to have been relegated firmly to the background recently, and the mix of pacifist scientists and Nazi-hunting nutcases is one of the more interesting team dynamics in the X-Universe. Fraction is handling the juggling of a massive amount of characters pretty well, but Cyclops is becoming far too much of a dick for my liking. A return to his eye-blasting roots would do him well instead of just sitting around barking orders at all and sundry. 7/10

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

James R: So this is now starting to run like clockwork: another month, another excellent issue of Sweet Tooth! With every passing issue I find something else to admire about Jeff Lemire's considerable talent, this month it's his understanding and use of flashback. As we find out more about Jepperd's past we simultaneously learn about Gus' shady captors. As with previous instalments, it's a fast read, but it's incredibly involving and compelling. It's been recently announced that DC have signed Lemire up to write the Atom, and I think it's an inspired choice. Lemire has such a unique style and a fine understanding of the language of comics, I feel he'd make a relaunch of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen worth reading! Nine issues in and this book hasn't taken a wrong step. Long may it continue! 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Horacio Domingues
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Waid is wisely keeping things on a smaller scale in Incorruptible, operating with a much larger canvas for Irreedemable. It makes sense because otherwise we’d see both titles collide quite swiftly, and it would likely leave one of them with nowhere to go. This issue sees Max Damage racing against time to locate the missing Jailbait before his enemies figure out she’s unprotected, roping in a lookalike to throw everyone off the scent. Waid’s script is punchy and plausible (relatively speaking, of course) and new artist Domingues (temporary? permanent? not sure!) helps the plot flow with some well-rendered action. It may always be in the shadow Irredeemable, but it’s doing a decent job of creating it’s own compelling little corner of this universe. 7/10

Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend & Jaime Mendoza
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: The last arc that Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo worked on together in Amazing Spider-Man was way back in issues #555 to #557 in the terrific 'Sometimes It Snows In April'. That was probably the best Spidey story of 2008. Marvel reunite the pair two years on to bring us 'Shed' which on paper has all of the ingredients to be as good if not better than their last team-up. The first issue certainly suggests that things are indeed looking promising. Wells is a premiere ASM writer in my opinion and there are few who match his ability to give us such a well-rounded Peter Parker experience with plenty of Web-head quippery and internal narration alongside the angst and self-analysis. Here he even manages to expand this skill to Curt Conners, and the moments where we 'hear' the Lizard's whisperings are truly tense and creepy. From an artistic viewpoint it seems that Bachalo may be holding back a little in order to provide a more traditional comic read with plenty of standard panel formats on show, but even then this pencilling maestro still manages to throw a multitude of angles and ideas at the reader that makes for a very attractive 24 pages of comic. 9/10

Tom P: Its been a while since I last purchased Amazing Spider-Man. I find its just too expensive to keep up with all year but I'm a big fan of the character so tend to wait for a reason to pick up a few issues here and there. What drew me in this week was Bachalo's eye-poping art. He draws a great opening scene and the Black Cat looks gorgeous. The plot is also interesting and the re-emergence of the Lizard is well handled as he tries to resist his reptilian habits. Looks like I will be buying some Spider-Man books again then! 8/10

Writer: Jean-Pierre Pecau
Art: Igor Kordey
Archaia $3.95

Matt C: Now this mammoth series has hit the 20th century, the time that passes between each instalment gets shorter and shorter. Book Eight is set only a few years after Book Seven, at the tail end of WWI rather than the beginning, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Archaia don’t experience further delays getting this title out on a regular basis. Those delays have hurt the overarching narrative; because the plot is so densely packed it’s not difficult to forget what transpired last time around (although that may just be down to me getting older though!). Still, while I may find it hard to keep track of all the events from issue to issue, I can’t help but remain impressed by the sheer scope and ambition of the project. The idea of four immortal individuals pulling strings behind the scenes throughout history is still massively appealing, and there’s an obvious intelligence to the writing that keeps me hooked along with some exceptional illustrations from Kordey, who conveys the epic nature of the story with ease. 7/10

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

Matt C: A superb example of how to construct a superhero team book: start off by setting up the villain’s latest raison d'être in an extended sequence, then return to the eponymous team themselves as they go about their everyday business, before bringing the two parties together to commence their battle. Having the classic Avengers baddie Kang the Conqueror as the architect of the latest perilous situation Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are confronted with is generally a promising sign thanks to the time-travelling, alternate reality antics he brings with him. Stern offers an ingenious new twist on the character, conjuring up multiple copies of Kang, their existence due to the constant tampering of the timestream. It’s a great opening shot, and the Buscema/Palmer art guarantees it looks fantastic. 8/10


Anonymous said...

Cheers for the Nightcrawler news! I guess I'll have to make sure I'm on the bleeding edge of new releases before I read these reviews.

Matt Clark said...

I've amended the sentence in question, we do try and avoid spoilers where possible, but to be fair plenty of reviews I've seen for the book haven't shied away from revealing the details.

Matt T said...

My apologies about that, as it's been all over the net I assumed everyone would know. I shall endevour to be vaguer next time :-)