30 May 2010

Mini Reviews 30/05/2010

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.

A bumper, post-Bristol Comic Expo set of reviews this week, and we also catch up on Matt C's ongoing Buscema Avengers Project.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: John Romita Jr & Klaus Janson
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: It’s no secret that I have numerous problems with Bendis’ mainstream superhero work, so you may wonder what I’m doing picking this up latest reboot of Avengers. Well, I did find myself enjoying the visceral propulsion of Siege in a ‘guilty pleasure’ kind of way, and I also have to credit the man with pushing this team to the forefront of the Marvel Universe, topping the sales charts in a way only the X-Men books used to manage. That and it’s the Avengers! Anyone reading my Buscema Avengers Project should be able to gather that I’m a longterm fan of the team, so a relaunch is bound to grab my attention. I was really quite prepared to give it a fair shot, but having read it I think I’m just going to have to accept that me and Bendis don’t see eye to eye when it comes to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. As you might expect coming from the writer, there’s a hell of a lot of chatter. Too much chatter, quite frankly. Bar Thor wielding Mjolnir in fine style, it’s all talk and little action; in other words, Bendis up to his old tricks again. There’s a few nice ideas being played with, but the delivery just doesn’t work for me. Romita Jr’s art might have saved it, but I’m not the only one around these parts who’s noticed his work looking a little rushed and sloppy on occasion (and that’s a really lame cover!). It’s not like it’s nose-dived into mediocrity, but if you look at his art from five, ten, even twenty years ago (or last year if you flip through Kick Ass) surely you’ll agree he’s capable of much more? There’ll be legions of fans lapping this up – and good luck to them – but I won’t be joining them this time out. 5/10

Stewart R: The Free Comic Book Day offering made me cautious and I'm afraid to say that issue #1 of this latest Avengers relaunch has proven to be the patchy effort that I thought it would be. A healthy dose of Bendis doing his 'talking heads' thing and offering little in the way of varying characterization sucks the enjoyment from the very page leaving JR Jr to try to carry the spectacle with his art, which unfortunately doesn't push my 'WOW' button. Why do the heroes have to go on this mission now? Surely if they know the actual point at which things go wrong then they can get to it whenever they want to? There's simply no pressing reason given why they have to act this very instant. This could have been great but it seems that the leading title in Marvel's Heroic Age is likely to be a grower or a dud. Oh, and why is Hawkeye smiling when asking Kang his question? He looks like a simpleton! 4/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Frazer Irving
DC Comics $3.99

Tom P: Morrison's second issue in this miniseries is another fine example of his brilliant run on the Bat books. Just when you think you know where he’s taking you he shows you something completely unexpected. The writer’s take on Bruce has always been a that of a strategist, somebody with a solution for every problem. Reading the last few pages I got the feeling that somehow Bruce has a plan as he jumps through time unaware that he's a weapon. The other highlights for me were his detective skills overriding the superstitions of the ‘New World’ Gotham, along with the women who finds him, Annie, who both saves and unintentionally dooms Bruce. "A tiny spark unnoticed in all the cosmic geometry." All this topped off with some brilliant artwork from Irving. Gripping. 9/10

James R: You there! Comics writer! Do you need a puritan in your script? Then look no further than Frazer Irving; Klarion, Gutsville - he does the silver-buckled chapeau like nobody else! The search for Bruce Wayne continues with Morrison throwing a whole lot of goodness our way - the super-friends on Bruce's temporal trail go to the end of the Universe to track him down, and we find out that he is actually Darkseid's final weapon against humanity. Meanwhile, in the 17th century, Batman has a case of witchcraft to deal with, and a mean Witchfinder to go up against. A blast from beginning to end, it's The Crucible meets 2001 - how can you resist such a combo? Essential stuff, and a tale that only can work in comics. 9/10

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

Stewart R: I have to say that I am enjoying the crap out of this story from Zeb Wells. He has truly managed to evolve the Lizard as a character and has really pushed an emotional button with me in his handling of the tragic events that have unfolded for Curt Connors. There's a terrific sense of confusion as Spider-Man has to react against his altered foe and the explanation behind just how and why the Lizard has gone through this metamorphosis is lovely piece of comic writing. The mix of Bachalo and Rios artwork turns up again and the bookended way in which it's delivered works okay. The only gripe is that I'm not too keen on Rios' portrayal of The Lizard in her section of the book, but when a story is this darn good I think I'll probably forgive everything! 9/10

Writer: Glen Brunswick
Art: Dan McDaid
Image $4.99

Matt C: In a way it’s a shame this series has reached it’s end, but if I’m honest I probably would have been dropping it anyway. That would have been partly a financial decision rather than a criticism of the quality of storytelling from the creators; this has been a fine comic, but it didn’t really go in the direction I thought it might do at the start, and that was what I really wanted to see. What we got was a more focused look at Barock and Co’s adventures in outer space, but the initial appeal for me was the incongruity of the regular gal falling for the galactic god. That aspect took a bit of a back seat, and it seems Brunswick felt it wiser to keep McDaid happy by giving him stuff to blow up in space instead of zeroing in on a bizarre romance. That’s fair enough, but my interest did wane as a result. Both guys have made their mark though, and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for what they do next. 6/10

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

Stewart R: I have fears that this is not going to work as a series. There's just far too much going on and currently, while we can all guess that it's interconnected somehow, it makes for a far too jumpy and interrupted read. The Firestorm and Martian Manhunter stories are interesting enough but then the Hawkman and Hawkgirl section just doesn't appeal to me at all. Aquaman, while adorning the cover in a tantalising tease, actually appears in only one, inconsequential panel, which annoys me and makes me think that this is probably going to work far better when it's collected and read at length. The art is certainly consistent and pleasant on the eye, and the level of menace that Johns and Tomasi are bringing with returning foes is a refreshing touch, but considering that the page count drops from next issue I may have to think about leaving DC's new event alone for now. 6/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Mike Deodato
Mavel $3.99

Stewart R: Seems like the Avengers title that I'll be picking up on a regular basis will be this instead of the main Bendis Avengers book thanks to a great first effort from Brubaker and Deodato. On paper this seems like something of a confused team but Brubaker just drops us into things mid-mission and we can pretty much sit back and enjoy Deodato's work as the roster goes about their business. The premise of Steve Rogers having a team that take proactive measures to prevent threats rather than deal with the aftermath should allow this to stand on it's own and hopefully not cross over into other stories and titles too much. There's been far too much cross-pollination over the past couple of years and I'd like this book to steer clear of that if possible. Deodato's art is definitely
clean but he does have some occasional iffy moments with certain poses and angles - nothing too distracting though. Promising stuff. 7/10

Matt C: I wasn’t sure this would work. For a start, it initially looked like all the players were randomly pulled out of hat rather than having a justifiable reason for being involved, and in all honesty I’d much rather see Steve Rogers back in the Cap costume than running around in this new getup. Still, Brubaker’s produced some outstanding work for Marvel over the last few years, so I had to give him credit that he knew what he was doing here. Right on cue comes a verbal exchange between Steve and Sharon Carter where the former Captain America likens this new team to the Invaders, and that’s the moment where it all made perfect sense. Yeah, they don’t seem like a cast of characters that instantly fit together, but Brubaker makes it work, giving each an entirely plausible reason why they’re on the team. Fresh off Dark Avengers (and Thunderbolts before that) Deodato is showing he has a brilliant knack of capturing the mood of teams that don’t really fit in with the standard model, and his action choreography is spot on. I don’t normally use the following term, as it can be a bit lazy, but it seems that it’s the perfect one to apply here: Secret Avengers is an exceedingly cool book, and I’m thoroughly excited to see where it’s heading. 8/10

James R: After last week's flabby Avengers from Bendis, I was delighted with this for two reasons: 1) It's clear that Brubaker has got his superhero mojo back after a dodgy last few months on Captain America; and 2) Ant Man! Yeah! (The cool one who is a bit of a git, not Hank Pym!) In the issue itself Brubaker throws us straight into the action, and then flashes back to show us Steve Rogers putting his team together. The only person that doesn't seem to be a logical fit is Nova, but I trust Brubaker enough to stand back and see how this plays out. I've enjoyed Deodato's art since his work on Thunderbolts and he produces the goods here, giving us a comic that's epic in scope and heavy on action. I can't say I'm thrilled by Marvel's 'flood-the-market' Avengers relaunches, but out of the plethora of books carrying the Avengers masthead, this is the one that has won the battle for my geek dollar/pound! 7/10

Writers: M. Zacjary Sherman & Matt Cirulnick
Art: Mack Chater & Martin Montiel
Radical Publishing $1.00

Matt C: A dollar price-tag is a wise move from Radical for this nifty updating of the Wyatt Earp legend – I probably would have passed it over it they weren’t offering it at a such an attractive price. With more Vertigo dollar #1’s due later in the year too, I hope other publishers cotton on to the fact that it’s a great way to get new readers hooked onto something they wouldn’t normally pick up. Anyway, the story: set in the not-too-distant future (Blade Runner visuals? Check!) it creates an alternate history that provides a plausible reason why gun-totin’, bank robbin’ cowboys might rise to prominence again. The lush art bestows the book with a neo-noir sensibility, which works well with the script, but while it’s a generally impressive package there’s a lack of a definite hook to get me excited for issue #1, due in a few months time. We’ll see if I’m swayed when that hits the stands, but in the meantime, for a dollar, it’s a thoroughly worthwhile purchase. 6/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: You marvellous tease, Mr Fraction. Many a writer would have already had Tony zooming all over the place demonstrating his latest suit's abilities, but Fraction resists and plays the sensible card, having Stark deal with the more pressing task of getting his life back on track and getting his energy venture off of the ground. The scene with Maria Hill is terrific as Tony once again presses home his belief that his previous decisions were made with the greater good in mind and it adds a further layer of complication to their already bizarre friendship. The Spymaster appearance should mean that we're unlikely to get the 'all guns blazing' scenario any time soon and it’ll keep this as possibly Marvel's most consistent title in their current schedule. Larroca, of course, plays a big part in that, as does colourist D'Armata, and they both bring excellent work to the page for the umpteenth time. 8/10

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

James R: I haven't got too much to add to my previous gushing praise for this title. Grant Morrison keeps up the pace of Joe's increasingly desperate voyage through the kingdom/his home, and Sean Murphy's art is astounding - he surely deserves a whole cabinet of awards for his pencils and his subtle, yet clever, adjustment of style to portray the two different worlds. The main thing I wanted to applaud here is that with three issues left, I genuinely have no idea how Morrison is going to tie all this up. Given that we're fans of a medium which tends to recycle ideas over and over, this comic stands out as being beautiful to look at, smart to read, and - so far - refreshingly unpredictable. 9/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kev Walker
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Okay, I'm really not keen on what Kev Walker's done with Songbird's hair. That's it. That's the only complaint that I have about this great comic. The reset button has been pushed once again and now Luke Cage leads a new roster of Thunderbolts with the intention of cleaning up a lot of the mess left over from Norman Osborn's leadership. This is only the recruitment issue but it reads so well as Cage is given a truly varied bunch of criminals, supervillains and bizarre creatures to oversee. Parker is arguably the best 'team' writer that Marvel have at their disposal - possibly contested by Abnett and Lanning on Guardians Of The Galaxy - and he's brought his A-game to this with neat little explanations for each member's inclusion. Kev Walker, if remaining as the regular artist on this title, shows some very promising talent and a different feel to his recent work on the Imperial Guard miniseries. A great start. 8/10

Writer: Paul Dini
Art: Stephane Roux & Karl Story
DC $2.99

James R: With Palmiotti, Gray & Conner finishing their run on Power Girl I've been on the lookout for another equally fun and lovingly crafted comic to fill the void. With almost supernatural timing, here comes Zatanna! She's one of the DC characters who, like Deadman, I file under 'Untapped Potential'. Despite not being a lover of magic and the supernatural in comics, Zatanna seems to be a character that I always have a passing interest in: Grant Morrison wrote a brilliant miniseries for his Seven Soldiers project, and she's always had a number of cool cameo appearances in more high profile books. It always appeared that she just needed to find a writer who could successfully combine the magical elements with a great narrative and a good grip on her character (she's one of the few DCU characters who has to perform heroics in the shadow of their father's greatness.) After reading issue #1, I feel Paul Dini is certainly the right man for the task - in 22 pages he does a fantastic job of introducing the uninitiated to Zatanna's world and establishing a creepy and horrific tone to the title, whilst never forgetting the lighter moments that make Zatanna such a likeable character. Add into this tidy (yet unspectacular) art from Stephane Roux and you have a great first issue. To put in a more magical way: "Tsil llup ym no!" 8/10

Matt C: I’ve never been particularly drawn to this character; she works as a team player but I’ve not really found myself eager to see her go solo. I decided to give this book a shot based on Paul Dini’s name alone; I know he’s got a lot of love for Zatanna, and he can be a really great writer in the right circumstances (which is my way of letting him off the hook – slightly – for Countdown!). It’s a pretty good debut, all told: Dini makes his cast believable and Roux & Story do a grand job of infusing the tale with visual energy, but….. it didn’t work for me. I’m generally not a fan of magic-based stories, so I’ll chalk my reaction up to that. It’s not a bad book, and I’m sure it’ll please Zatanna fans no end, but this is a series I won’t be pursuing. 6/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Wow. This is exactly the kind of issue of Fantastic Four I hoped Hickman would deliver when he joined as writer, but up to this point there hasn’t been a tremendous synergy between plot and character. Basically, there have been a lot of great ideas and a real understanding of the group dynamic, but a lack of an obvious overall story arc. It’s beginning to coalesce now though, and there’s a definite sense that Hickman has always had his eye on the bigger picture and has simply been carefully assembling all the pieces. Here he portrays Reed Richards as a man who passionately believes in the future of the human race, and can’t abide any of his peers who look for ways mankind can survive going forward rather than how they can flourish. The opening sequence where Reed lays this philosophy out to his colleagues at the Singularity Conference is a brilliant piece of writing, and the way it sets up the events that follow is expertly handled. Edwards art works well here, aping the style of regular artist Dale Eaglesham to guarantee some visual continuity. Everything seems to click into place effortlessly, and I hope we get to see things to continue in the same fashion over the coming months. 9/10

James R: Okay, my belief is starting to waiver a little. I love Hickman as a writer, and thought he was a perfect choice for Fantastic Four, but after some frankly odd issues with some insane editorial choices, I was starting to wonder just where all this was going. This month, we start to get an answer, with Reed Richards deciding that he's going to build the future with the children of the disparate states he's discovered in the past few issues. It's a cool concept, but for me, there's just something missing from this title at the moment. I'm all for an ideas-driven comic, but it helps if it's married up with compelling content. Two pages of Franklin doing karate doesn't quite cut it for me. I really hope this is culminating in a jaw-dropping pay off, but at the moment the FF are, well, a bit undeserving of the name. 6/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: Another month, another superb issue of Scalped. Here we’re taken back to the 1970s where we meet a man named Wade who has unexpected links to certain characters we’ve become very familiar with since the series began. The opening sequence, set in the midst of the Vietnam War, recalls Jason Aaron’s incredible breakthrough mini, The Other Side, capturing the harsh realities of hopeless conflict in just a few short, intense pages. It’s another absorbing introduction to an individual not fully acquainted with the law, and both Aaron and Guera continue to bring their A-game to the title. Once you realize where Wade sits in the grand scheme of things you can’t help but take your hat off to these guys. Vertigo have a phenomenal line up of books at the moment, and Scalped is at the very top of the pile. 9/10

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: What a $4 bundle of cosmic chaos and delight this is. DnA bring all of the interstellar threads together to give this one-shot introduction to the upcoming event that sees Thanos, the Avatar of Death himself, the target of the malevolent forces that linger just the other side of The Fault. Because we have a brilliant level of consistency with the SBU titles in Marvel's canon, everything just feels right, from the Guardian's heated debate over what to do with the Mad Titan, to Nova's pursuit of the Fault-side Quasar. Brad Walker's artwork is lavish and coats the whole story with a truly epic sense of scale and tension. The back-up reprint of an old Thanos/Drax story could really have been left out but that's the only criticism of a terrific read. Now I just have to worry whether Sepulveda's pencils are going to cut the mustard on the main event title... 9/10

Writer: Fabien Vehlmann
Art: Sean Phillips
Boom! Studios $3.99

Tom P: The premise of this comic is that after reading a letter from a Professor in a psychiatric hospital Colonel Thompson decides to try to put together a team of seven psychopaths to assassinate Hitler. Its a fun idea but the main draw for me was Phillips’ artwork which as always looks great; its interesting to see his work coloured by Hubert instead of his regular colourist on Criminal and Incognito, Val Staples. It looks bright and bold and is a good match. Overall I enjoyed this issue; it's a mad concept full of crazy characters, and even Colonel Thompson seems a tad nuts to consider trying out this plan. There's something just holding it back from being truly gripping but I have a lot of faith in Phillips. Lets see if he can pull it off. 7/10

Matt C: I do love it when various American publishers save me the trouble of having to learn a foreign language by translating European comics for the English-speaking market. There’s some fantastic material out there from various creators most of us have never heard of, although there are several instances where writers and artists we are familiar with turn their skills to something outside of the US mainstream. Here we see Sean Phillips do just that, and if you’ve been a fan of his like I have over the last few years (surely you’re reading Criminal by now?) then you’ll want to check this out. The story involves a secret wartime project to get together a team of seven nutjobs and send them over to Germany to assassinate Hitler. With such a bonkers premise it’s understandable that you can sense Vehlmann’s tongue in his cheek on occasion, but he mostly plays it straight, only ‘winking’ at the reader every now and then. It is, of course, enormously silly, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Things are only in set-up stage at the moment, but surely it won’t be long before the team are let loose unexpecting Nazis? Bring it on! 7/10

Writer: Tony Bedard
Art: Adrian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes
DC $2.99

Stewart R: So we've got a new creative team onboard and my first impression is that we might be in safe hands. Bedard picks up where Tomasi left off, leading us through the rebuilding of Oa and the Corps itself, and setting up some interesting little plot points that should prove entertaining over the coming months. The Alpha Lanterns are freaky at the best of times but their actions here offer promise of further power struggles to come. Ganthet and Guy Gardner's deal with Atrocitus is simply revisited for the sake of those readers who may not have picked up Brightest Day #0, so there's nothing terribly new there, but the following scene with Ganthet conveying his position to the rest of the Guardians and then taking on his new role is terrifically cinematic. Syaf's style is similar to Patrick Gleason's so I'm certainly pleased that the 'feel' of the Green Lantern Corps comic has remained the same for the most part. 7/10

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

Matt C: Another grab-your-attention cover (it manages to make pink look good on an Avengers book!) indicates that there’s greatness within these pages. A huge amount of the first half of the issue is taken up by exposition, as Kang recounts his life story from his origin continuing up to his current situation, but it’s fantastic moustache-twirling-villain exposition, the kind that you can only really find in comics. The second half is where the action kicks in, and where Buscema and Palmer get to flex their artistic muscles, which they do in fine style. It’s tremendous fun, refreshing the reader’s memory of Kang’s mythology while adding to and expanding on it in the new, exciting ways. 8/10


nyrdyv said...

It is disappointing to hear the reboot of the Avengers was not to your liking. I have high hopes for it also, as I do not like the changes that have been wrought in the MU over recent years.


Steven G. Willis

Matt Clark said...

We may not have been enthused by Avengers #1, but I'm sure it'll top the sales charts and become a so-called "fan favourite". I'll be sticking with Secret Avengers for now.

Dan McDaid said...

Thanks for your thoughts on Jersey Gods. I have to set the record straight though, and say that I would have been just as happy drawing an oddball Earth romance as I would drawing skyships and Kirby crackle - we just decided to go in a different direction is all.


Dan McDaid

Matt Clark said...

Hi Dan

The Kirby-infused visuals were a pleasure to behold, don't get me wrong on that count. I was just more drawn to the incongruous romance; the space god soap opera approach.

Thanks for taking time to look at our reviews though - we're looking forward to seeing what you do next.