16 May 2010

Mini Reviews 16/05/2010

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: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Sprouse & Karl Story
DC $3.99

James R: When the preview art for this appeared there were more than a few people who were incredulous - Pirate Batman? Batman with a big bat on his head? Madness! Etc. However, I for one was all about giving Grant Morrison his way as a) his work on Batman And Robin has almost been sublime of late, and b) c'mon, it's a story about a bloke who dresses up as a bat to dispense vigilante justice - if you're willing to accept that, go the whole nine yards! Having devoured this issue, I pleased that I stood up for it. Morrison neatly explains how Bruce is going to be all these different Batmen, and shows how the concept of the man who will do anything to fight a bully and the unjust is woven into the very fabric of the DC Universe and popular culture. He also gives us a peak at the early years of the DC's immortal Vandal Savage (hinted at in Final Crisis) and shows that a gang of Bat-pals are on his trail as he lurches through time. I'm a huge fan of Tom Strong and so I was really pleased to see the art team of Sprouse & Story let loose on some of the big names of the DCU... I would dearly love to see them on a high-profile book on a more regular basis. Nothing cheesy here, just a blast from first page to last. 8/10

Matt C: While several of my Paradox reviewing colleagues were frothing at the mouth in anticipation of this miniseries, I was far less enthused by the prospect. Firstly, Grant Morrison can sometimes produce gold, but I often find that he’s more likely to produce fool’s gold than the real deal. Secondly, those covers didn’t exactly fill me with excitement. Caveman Batman? Pirate Batman? Seriously?! Is this the DC of the 21st Century or the 1950s? But…. I’m just too much of a fan of the Dark Knight to not check out the first issue, and I’m surprised to say I’m giving it a cautious thumbs up. The major plus point is Chris Sprouse and Karl Story’s art – I don’t recall seeing much of Sprouse’s work since Tom Strong concluded, but I’m immediately reminded how exciting his bold linework and strong sense of composition are, and how well Story reinforces these qualities out with his inking. Morrision’s story is way better than I expected; well paced and structured, his attempt at simulating primate-speak irritates at first but soon clicks into place, drawing you into Bruce Wayne’s prehistoric excursion. It’s an intriguing opening shot, but I’ve been burnt by Morrison enough times before to get too excited. 7/10

Tom P: Bruce Wayne is back, baby, returning with all the flair I would expect from Morrison, a writer who has gone above and beyond the call of duty on the magnificent Batman and Robin. A bit like Captain America: Reborn, we find Bruce lost in the past, but this is an infinitely more interesting story. I really love the way we see his crash landing from the point of view of the cavemen who find him. It makes the story more interesting and intriguing as a result, along with the way his dialogue is hard to read and understand. Chris Sprouse makes this comic pop, and his Tom Strong sneak peak is a welcome bonus - I love his Caveman Batman and if it comes out as an action figure I'm buying it straight away and placing it next to my Red Son Batman! 9/10

Stewart R: Having had little experience of Batman in comic form - I've tended to stick to animation and video games when it comes to the exploits of Bruce Wayne so far - I've pretty much no idea of how the Dark Knight has ended up in a stone age nightmare where he's forced to fight for his life once more. The thing is I don't really need to. Morrison keeps the dialogue brief and succinct including a neat touch where he essentially places the reader in the position of a native whenever Bruce speaks. By keeping things simple Morrison has allowed the artists to tell the majority of the story with Sprouse’s trusty pencils and Story's moody inking taking us through brutal tribal battles, a trippy dream sequence and a decent caped scrap with a certain familiar face. I've a feeling that we could be waiting until the fifth or sixth issue to find out just why Bruce's return to the 21st Century is such a potentially dangerous thing, but at this moment I'm locked into picking this title up to find out. 8/10

Matt T: The brisk pace of this first issue makes me think DC want Wayne back in standard continuity pretty rapidly, but the fact that it’s a six-parter and Morrison still has Batman And Robin on his job sheet means it might not be quite as rapid as I expect. Still, this keeps enough DCU references in the mix for me to nod and smile at (an impromptu Robin turning up as well as another couple of time travellers to add some mystery) and the art is cracking from Sprouse, being impressively detailed and altering the look of Wayne/Batman just enough to maintain the feel of the character, even if he is just a man wearing a bloody great animal hide. It’s not the gimmicky Elseworlds-style title I thought it would be, just dropping Batman into various time periods and seeing what he does, as Morrison is weaving in some sense of urgency and an eye on the larger continuity as well without ruining the breakneck pacing. 8/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales
Marvel $3.99

Matt T: Siege wasn’t really going in the direction to throw any huge surprises into the mix, but at least it kept some of the bigger battles for the end and had some pleasant twists along the way. The Sentry had started to become something of a deus ex machina in the Marvel U, turning up and smashing crap to atoms when all hope seemed lost, so it’s no big surprise that he’s become the ‘big bad’ of Siege. Heroes being heroic, villains getting their arses kicked, and no huge jumps in logic establish this firmly as one of my favourite big events of recent years from Marvel, and even if it’s all been essentially righting the wrongs of the likes of Secret Invasion and Civil War it’s been a decent read throughout. 8/10

James R: I was definitely not on board when issue #1 of Siege hit the racks. For a while, I found that the Marvel Universe was getting increasingly daft. With the exception of Captain America & Iron Man, I found that the effervescent House of Ideas seemed to be surprisingly flat. Then my fellow Paradox Group members convinced me to take a look, and - hey! - they were right. I enjoyed parts 1 & 2 and thought, that maybe, just maybe, Marvel were back on track. The last issue of Siege suggests that I should reserve judgement for just a while longer. On one hand it looks absolutely gorgeous - Coipel & Morales make for an exceptional art team, and they deliver some cracking 'widescreen' moments. The problem, however, lies with the plotting. After sticking resolutely with the Sentry since the start of his run on New Avengers, Bendis has never seemed to know quite how to deal with him as a character, and this is shown in grand style here. Moreover, too much stuff happens with a click of the fingers (literally, in Loki's case!) and the ending felt horribly rushed. An event 7 years in the making? Whatever. 7 minutes in the plotting, more like. I'll be back for Avengers, but this event, like so many of Marvel’s recent endeavours, has left me underwhelmed. 5/10

Matt C: The second issue of this four-parter was rollicking dollop of blockbuster superheroics, but the other three haven’t managed hit it out of the park the way that #2 unexpectedly did. It’s still been pretty good though, and coming from me, someone who’s been railing on Bendis’ superhero writing for several years, that’s high praise. Yeah, it’s big, loud, lacking in any real substance, and various character motivations are highly questionable, but it’s been propelled along with such momentum (from the king of decompression himself!) that you don’t have the time to focus on the flaws. Even the writer’s trademark ‘Bendis-speak’ (where all characters talk in exactly the same way) is kept to the minimum, and there is a definite individuality manifesting itself amongst the cast members. Having said that, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the series half as much as I did if it wasn’t for Coipel’s extraordinary art. Epic, muscular imagery that drives home the sheer scale of the events unfolding as well as adding dramatic weight to the rather slender script. It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a far more satisfying read than either Secret Invasion, Civil War or House Of M. 7/10

Stewart R: There’s a part of me that read through this issue the first time, sighed and asked myself ‘Is that it??’ Then there was another part of me that said ‘Wait a minute, go on, read it again!’ such had been the promise shown by the earlier instalments. After three read-throughs I still can’t quite bring myself to love this. It’s pretty good in places but there are flaws and gaps and things glazed over which are blatantly ready to be fleshed out in the myriad of other titles released in the next few weeks. I suppose that’s where the bones get stuck in my throat; too much of Bendis’ finale is pushing me off to other titles to get the full widescreen picture of how this event finally ends, and it’s all due to the restriction of the four-issue run enforced here. It smells quite badly of ‘reset button’ territory where the ‘Heroic Age’ simply cannot be delayed and to heck with finishing Dark Reign in the measured way that it deserved. Coipel’s artwork, which was spotless in the first two issues, seems just a tad rushed in odd places and there are certain layout niggles – the last ‘hammer blow scene’ seems a little understated to me considering what had come before – that tarnish what had been a promising concept. 6/10

Tom P: I will start this review my saying that up till now Siege has been a fantastic read and while this last issue is not all bad, the opening disappointed me a great deal. My disappointment is over two things: Loki and the Void. Lets start with Loki: I've just finished reading JMS's Thor run and Loki's actions in this are so horribly out of character it spoilt the whole thing for me. In Thor #12, which is without a doubt my favourite issue in that series, we are given a great insight into the God of Mischief and his motivations, and to some respect his end game. For a character as clever and manipulative as he is, to be begging for help with some stones just makes no sense to me and made me wish we could have seen where Straczynski would have taken us... but that’s a topic for another day. The second thing is The Void. I was looking forward to this battle but Bendis has written himself into hole; how do you defeat someone this powerful? The whole battle felt too swift and to lazy to me. Ultimately this comic ends and puts everyone where they need to be but I feel extremely disappointed, and cant help feel an artist as skilled as Coipel deserves better. 4/10

Writers: Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon
Art: Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: These writers are leading us by the hand through the emotional spectrum with this title, that's for sure! Where last issue had a brighter, reminiscent quality to it, this issue has a sombre, numb feeling running throughout as they elect to send Bras on a path of worry and concern for his missing friend Jorge. Rather than keeping the focus squarely on Bras from start to finish, Ba and Moon weave his personal anguish through the city of Sao Paulo's attempts to mourn and recover following a disaster, and it works terrifically well as a study of societal grief and feelings of empathy. That's where I would say that this title is working so very well; Daytripper makes the reader think about all of the paths and possibilities that their life could have taken by showing you a snippet of the various lives of Bras de Oliva Domingos. I've also noticed that these artists don't drop smiles carelessly throughout these comics and perhaps they might be on to something; humans in general don't tend to smile by default! Go on, have a look when you're walking to your local comic shop this Wednesday or Thursday to pick up a copy of this decent comic. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Brian Hitch
Marvel $4.99

Matt T: Now that the Siege is finally over (and thank God for the ‘Read Siege #4 before reading this!’ notice on page 1 of this book!) most of the Avengers titles are wrapping up before the big 'Heroic Age' restart. Telling this concluding part of the ‘outlaw Avengers’ from the perspective of Luke Cage is one of Bendis’ cleverer ploys, using what is clearly one of his favourite characters to humanise the insanity of the various world-shattering incidents. Only a couple of villains need sweeping up and dropping off to the relevant authorities and, while a fair slice of Siege #4 is repeated here, much like in various other titles this week, it never feels like a needless rehash. There are just a lot of villains getting their comeuppance, and heroes finding a more preferable status quo, making the whole of New Avengers Finale feel something of a bloated epilogue. It’s by no means terrible, just $4.99 worth of ‘everything’s cool, wait till the new books’ rather than a significant addition to Siege. 7/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: While it may not have lived up to the promise of the first issue, The Marvels Project has been a solid, well-crafted series that’s had plenty to offer die-hard Mavelites, even though it's played things a bit safe. I’ve said it in practically every review I’ve written for the book, but the Angel’s voiceover was the key problem for me, keeping the emotional core of the events at a distance, resulting in a rather dry telling of the birth of the Marvel Universe. What I would have liked is for this to have been a lead up to a full-blown Invaders series, with Brubaker taking the same approach to the team that he did during the flashbacks in those early issues of his run on Captain America. That doesn’t appear to be the case, and although there are several plot threads left hanging, they look like they’ll be picked up in a contemporary setting rather than WWII. While the script could have used a bit more emotional colour, there are no complaints with the art. I’m convinced this is the best work of Epting’s career, and I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with that statement. His powerful, dynamic visuals draw you into the story, capturing the feel of the wartime era with real panache. Seeing him draw Cap, Namor, Bucky and the Torches in action makes an even stronger case for an Invaders series. How about it, Marvel? 8/10

James R: When this title was announced, I was hugely enthusiastic - one of my favourite writers, Ed Brubaker, teaming up with his Captain America partner Steve Epting to tell a WW2 tale? Sweet. The first issue hinted that this could be a classic, but with each issue, my initial excitement has waned. Just as Captain America has drifted from a 'Must Read' title to worryingly pedestrian, this series has seldom got out of second gear. Given the cast of characters involved, I feel I've been given little insight into Steve Rogers, into Namor, or even into our narrator, Thomas Holloway. Given the cool 'How do you create tomorrow' backcover that has graced each issue, I would have expected this question more actively addressed in the narrative, but sadly not. Rather than revitalising Marvel's illustrious past, Marvels Project has just given us a tour round some very familiar locations. I'm sure Brubaker has a thousand brilliant stories left to tell in his career, but this hasn't been his finest hour. 5/10

Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt T: This book has gone from strength to strength, with maybe a slight lull before the ‘Mr Bun’ storyline in issue #12, and #13 is no different. Heading back to the main plotline, Carey moves things along to keep an impressive level of tension, peril and mystery by utilising something as simple as a book launch. Even when the unscrupulous editor of Tommy Taylor’s latest adventure is revealed to be harbouring a secret, it doesn’t feel like a needless distraction, but a necessary element to advance the plot. The various twists and turns always keep me guessing, and the ending has me wondering what will follow when the infamous tome of Taylor is finally released. 9/10

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

Stewart R: Wow, another title that I wasn't so sure about after the first read this week but after the second tear through I'm convinced now that this is a superb piece of comic writing. The use of Emma Rios' art is a slight distraction through the first eight pages, despite being an accomplished effort, but thankfully that start simply feels like an apt prelude to what then follows as Spider-Man confronts one of his most vicious and unpredictable foes. Wells and Bachalo really wring the best out of what is a short and brutal battle of instinct, and the back and forth between the inner voices works tremendously well to propel the action on. What Wells then leads us through demonstrates just how terrible an act of vengeance the Gauntlet is shaping up to be and, with Bachalo masterfully leaving things up to our imaginations at the crucial point, this is a comic moment that will stick with me for quite a while to come. I believe this works particularly well as we're being given an inside view of the manipulation that the Kraven's are enacting and we can do nothing but look on as the terrible events unfold. Chilling, stunning and quite, quite brilliant. 9/10

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Tom Raney & Scott Hanna
Marvel $3.99

Tom P: I added this book to my weekly haul and have come to regret that choice a great deal. I didn't flick through it before buying as I didn't want to spoil Siege #4 - this was a mistake as it's a boring read to be honest. I never found the Sentry to be overly interesting but the Void stuff in Dark Avengers and the first three issues of Siege had sparked my interest. If you're a big fan of his then you might enjoy this one-shot a lot more than I did, but all I felt while reading this was that my $3.99 could have been better spent elsewhere. 2/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Francis Manapul
DC $2.99

Matt C: In the 25th Century the Rogues are employed as law enforcement officers and have come back to our time to arrest the Flash for the murder of one of their own. It’s a fun premise, and Johns uses it as a means to display various stupendous facets of the superhero’s unique powerset. I’m warming to Manupal’s art a lot more now, and his style fits the tone, blending realism with a more light-hearted, cartoonish quality. This is definitely headed in the right direction, with the balance between Barry Allen’s personal and superhero life kept just right, and if Johns can retain that balance for the duration then I may just have found the Flash book I can stick with and enjoy. 8/10

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

Stewart R: Final issues are always a strange proposition, especially when they're not forced by financial constraints or a lack of readership. The Initiative is brought to an end as the legislation that saw its very formation is repealed at the end of the Dark Reign. Despite the foreseen end point this is not as fulfilling a read as it could have been, with Gage seemingly forced to deal with too many plot points to fit comfortably within the 22-page limit. The scenes in Asgard offer no real shock or surprise, but the inclusion of The Hood there is unfortunately necessary to explain a shift in power, burning more panels that could have been used to flesh out the more deserving stories. The fact that a significant jump in story is included where you would need to pick up New Avengers: Finale to learn how events transpire to then allow Tigra to get her closure irks me somewhat and is part of my major bugbear with Siege as a whole. It was bad enough that readers were going to lose this title, but it's been made worse by an ending that doesn't do justice to the legacy that it will leave. Gage and Molina do their best with what they've been given but it's not quite enough. 6/10

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

Matt C: Three Avengers are stuck in Limbo at the mercy of Kang’s machinations whilst the other three attempt to locate their teammates as soon as possible. There are plenty of fisticuffs on display as this issue focuses more on action rather than progressing the plot forward much. That’s okay though, because when Stern manages to weave the Space Phantom (!) into the story, you have to applaud not only his adherence and respect to Avengers history and continuity but also his sheer audaciousness. The art’s stellar as usual, but perhaps it’s worth pointing out that, while I may have labelled this undertaking the Buscema Avengers Project for simplicity’s sake, Tom Palmer was just as critical to the visual prowess of this run as Buscema himself. They aren’t credited as ‘penciller’ and ‘inker’, instead it’s ‘breakdowns’ and ‘finished art’, which gives an indication of exactly how much Palmer contributed. 8/10

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