4 Jul 2010

Mini Reviews 04/07/2010

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.

Writers: Various
Art: Various
DC $4.99

Matt C: Even though I’m not going to rave about this issue, it's is the type of thing I expected from the recent Superman and Batman milestones, i.e. an accessible look at who the character is in the 21st century. It’s just a shame this particular character has never really appealed to me outside of team books and the occasional solo story. I’ve tried, I really have, but I’ve never been that engaged by her mythology and I have to say that even Straczynski’s ‘reboot’ (which sees here deposited in parallel dimension with no recollection of her former life) didn’t have me eager to read further. I’ll credit DC for rolling out the big guns to contribute (Perez, Johns, Simone, Simonson, Lynda Carter!) but while it’s perfectly readable, and while a lot of the art was very pleasing on the eye, nothing sprung out as essential, for me at least. I hope one day I’ll pick up a Wonder Woman book and have my head blown off by its brilliance, but that day was not today. 6/10

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Art: Jason Pearson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The manic history lessons continue this week as Deadpool’s recap of just how he became the Weapon X program’s most mouthy and bizarre screw-up tramples onwards. Swierczynski brings a brilliant double-view to proceedings, so for every panel of Deadpool’s warped retelling we’re also given the far more likely and cowardly vision of his origin as the renewable Merc With a Mouth. Jason Pearson captures this dichotomy in excellent fashion with Wade appearing to be a Steve Rogers, blue-eyed boy one moment and a whiny, psychotic pant-wetter the next. It’s all brought to the page with a tremendous amount of fun, offers a decent back-story to a character who Marvel have put on full display to the comic reading public in the past year, and it’s shaping up to be a very entertaining miniseries indeed. 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Raulo Caceres
Avatar Press $3.99

James R: Any chance we can get Warren Ellis installed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square? The man is virtually a national treasure. This month he's been tweeting his consistently hilarious thoughts on the World Cup, and now he brings us issue #2 of Captain Swing, in which he proves yet again that he's smarter than any other writer in the field at the moment. Here we find out the true identity of Spring Heeled Jack/Captain Swing... he's Jonathan Rheinhardt! Eagle-eyed readers will immediately know that Jonathan Rheinhardt is also the real name of another of Ellis’ creations, Doktor Sleepless. As always with his writing, part of the fun is guessing how the various strands are going to come together (as with Ignition City) but here there's all kinds of cleverness afoot. It appears that this is another multiverse telling of the Doktor Sleepless tale. Again, its protagonist is a character of urban myth who has made it his mission to pit himself against the controlling forces of the state, and promise untold freedom to those who follow him. Add a generous helping of Steampunk for good measure, along with the dense artwork of Raulo Caceres, and this adds up to an essential read for me. 9/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Bloody big comic this, so well done to Marvel, Fraction and Di Giandomenico for bringing us such a hefty tome. Focusing purely on Tony Stark’s greatest nemesis (aside from his drinking and narcissism of course) the Mandarin, we are given a deep insight into just how much of a despot the ten-ringed foe of Iron Man is. Fraction’s concept of the Mandarin kidnapping a famed director to bring his life-story to the screen is brilliant and the development of Jun Shan’s plight, along with his fellow workers, really turns up the emotional tension. Di Giandomenico’s style fits so darn well by bringing a sense of doomed weariness to Jun and a crazed, egotism to the Mandarin. It may seem like I have nothing but praise for this comic but there are a couple of problems with it. Firstly, I tend to like my Annuals to actually involve the character or team whose name is emblazoned upon the cover and for them to be the focal point. This doesn’t have that, and it really should have been an actual Mandarin title, let’s be honest! Secondly, I’m not too keen on the retro-fitting of the Mandarin’s personality that Fraction has attempted here. The last time we saw this character, in Iron Man: Director of Shield, he was a less pompous and a far more devious and malevolent force. Fraction has depicted him with a sense of a ‘toys out of the pram’ delusional personality and I preferred the grittier way the character had previously been heading. That said, this is a decent enough one-shot taken at face value and worthy of the hefty price-tag. 7/10

Writer: Jonathan Ross
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Image $2.99

Matt C: Nowhere near as dense as the debut, with the amount of dialogue trimmed right back (although there’s still plenty of it), Turf remains an engrossing hybrid of gangsters, horror and sci-fi. Inevitably it feels like things move along with more urgency as the Lois Lane-esque reporter Susie Randall finds herself in deeper than she imagined when a gang meeting turns into a fang-toothed bloodbath. Edwards dynamic art generally augments the narrative’s momentum but there are occasional instances where it looks like certain panels are too small to give him space to properly let rip. If you still haven’t picked this up because you harbour reservations due to Ross’s TV work, set them aside right now: Turf is the real deal, a comic that demands your attention and then rewards you for it. 8/10

Stewart R: So, as promised, two months later we get the second issue of Turf and it really is something of an action whirlwind this time where the debut was a delicious piece of dialogue-heavy exposition. Eddie Falco’s day was pretty rough up until this point, having lost an ear and his closest friend, but with plenty of vampires flying about as well as a crashed alien ship in New York, his day was only due to get worse. Ross does a fabulous job of keeping all of the many plot points in focus, dealing with the vampire hierarchy, reporter Susie Randall’s determination to bring the mob domination to the public eye, and the crashed alien vessel, all in the space of 26 beautifully rendered pages from the pencil and pen of Edwards. The warehouse ambush is a swift, brutal set-piece of teeth and Tommy guns; the only criticism of his art is when it comes to the alien craft and its occupants where it all seems to get a little muddy. Admittedly a lot of things have to be just taken for granted - Eddie’s rather unfazed reaction to the otherworldly foes and allies is somewhat strange considering the era this is set in - but there is no doubting that this is comic entertainment of the highest degree. 9/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Pete Woods
DC $3.99

Matt C: Last week’s Superman #700 was generally a disappointment but it did include one thing that piqued my interest: a preview of Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics. I’d heard the man himself pitch the story at the Bristol Comic Expo recently, but although he did a good job selling it, it didn’t quite win me over. As far as I saw it, DC had roped in Straczynski to write the adventures of the Man of Steel and probably agreed to let him have sole ‘ownership’ (within reason) of the character for a specified length of time (the writer has been outspoken of his dislike of crossovers before, famously ditching Thor when Siege loomed on the horizon). That left Action without it’s usual star so I guessed DC looked around for some other related character and picked on Luthor. That’s a very cynical viewpoint, and I’m happy that it seems like I’ll being proven wrong. Straczynski’s first chapter of his ‘Grounded’ storyline looked rather rocky whereas this looks like it’s on far firmer ground. Even at this early stage it’s apparent that Cornell gets Luthor, and how Superman’s most persistent foe is always so hellbent on obtaining more and more power (this time in the shape of a Black Lantern ring). This kind of mentality would consume lesser folk, but Luthor’s utterly fearsome intellect just about keeps him out of the realms of madness. Pete Woods has been working with a Metropolitan cast for a while now, so knows his stuff and turns in some fine art. Defying my expectations, Cornell’s run on Action is looking immensely promising. 8/10

James R: I thought that one of DC's best editorial moves of late was the re-invigoration of the Bat-titles. They gave Batman to Grant Morrison, and were brave enough to take the character out of Detective Comics entirely, to make way for Rucka & Williams' excellent run with Batwoman. Well, if it ain't broke... Seems that DC have decided to repeat the pattern with Superman, who is now being written by J. Michael Straczynski, and is now out of Action Comics for the time being. His place has been taken by Lex Luthor, who is now on a quest to harness some of the pure power he experienced during Blackest Night. Whilst at the Bristol Comics Expo, the affable and canny Paul Cornell did a great job of selling this book at the DC panel, but even I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun this was. Lex is a character with great potential, and from this first chapter it's clear Cornell has got a great grasp on him. It makes for a compelling read, and I think we're going to be in for a treat for the next 10 issues. Get on board early with this one, because as we all know, sometimes being bad is way more fun! 8/10

THOR #611
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Rich Elson
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: This was scheduled to be Matt Fraction’s first issue of Thor but for reasons I’ve not ascertained his debut has been pushed back a couple of months, allowing Keiron Gillen to extend his short stint on the title. And while I wasn’t initially sold on Gillen's approach to the Norse gods, he won me over quite quickly to the point where I kind of wish he was allotted more time to develop the storylines he’s been working on. Here we see ancient Asgardian flesheaters enter into a pact with Mephisto to cause mayhem in the afterlife. Valhalla should involve endless feasting and glorious battle, not having you brain munched, so it’s obvious Thor and friends won’t stand by and allow the situation to get worse. Elson has really impressed me too, his visuals imbued with an elegance befitting of the warriors of the (former) Golden Realm. I’m still excited by Fraction’s imminent arrival, but I’m not in such a hurry thanks to the current high standard of the book. 8/10

Writer: Adam Beechen
Art: Ryan Benjamin and John Stanisci
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Wow, the Batman Beyond futuristic suit has a nose after all! Haha, just something I noticed on my second read-through. That is probably the only thing that really sets this apart from the truly great animated series on which this comic is based. Beechen does a great job to keep Terry McGinnis as the wise-cracking foil to Bruce’s grizzled mentor and brings in familiar characters like Spellbinder and Amanda Waller to keep the correct sense of continuity. The plot should also help regular DC readers who may not have seen the cartoon find some familiarity as former Batman foes from Wayne’s day start being gruesomely murdered by a recently escaped fiend. As I mentioned, the Bat-suit and McGinnis do get a proper nose this time out and that’s about as far as an aesthetic difference to the series as Benjamin’s art goes as he really brings the neo-Gotham feel that I remember to the printed page. A good first issue which gives me high hopes for this miniseries. 7/10

Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Jeff Nentrup & Sara Biddle
Radical Comics $1.00

Stewart R: Since I’ve been writing for this site I’ve come to realise that $1.00 books are a terrific idea. Radical, being a publisher on the up, offer us one this week so of course I picked it up. The first thing I noticed about After Dark was the luscious artistic style which reminded me somewhat of Clayton Crain’s work on Marvel’s X-Force, all dark shadows and moody, paint-like effects. Radical do pretty books, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, as can be the case with some preludes, it seems that Milligan and Co wanted to fill this introduction to a darkened sci-fi world with question after question and give us very little in the way of answers. There’s the briefest allusion to a world once light now swamped in darkness after several generations but it goes no deeper than that. Omar and Brood are blatantly going to be the antagonistic duo that this title’s focus rests on but it’s not entirely made clear why. But then maybe I’m expecting too much for my dollar when, in all honesty, these questions and the lack of answers have piqued my interest enough to pick up the full-priced first issue when it arrives. I’ll have to add that the backup preview for Hotwire: Deepcut by Steve Pugh actually piqued my interest more than the main title... 6/10

Matt C: No, it wasn't the name of (alleged!) tax-dodger Wesley Snipes that grabbed my attention here (credited as ‘co-creator’ along with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua – an ‘idea on napkin’ scenario perhaps?), rather it was the one dollar price tag that caught my eye (and a vague recollection of the premise from Radical's FCBD preview book). It's still a relatively low risk way to discover new books, so if publishers continue to put out books for that price I'll continue to buy them (within reason, of course!). Milligan’s a fine writer when the mood takes him but unfortunately he doesn’t turn what Snipes and Fuqua handed him into anything particularly great. It’s highly formulaic post-apocalyptic sci-fi, and the only thing that really makes it stand out from the pack is the striking, if murky, imagery. Worth a punt for that alone, but there’s nothing distinctive enough for me to make a note in my diary for the release of the series proper. 5/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Mike Deodato & Will Conrad
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Not quite as strong as the debut, but still a very fine team book, and easily my pick of Marvel's Avengers relaunch. Plonking the covert group on Mars provides a sense of mystery and danger as they venture into unknown territory. Brubaker seems to have a better handle on some characters more than others. Steve Rogers and Black Widow obviously, and both Beast and War Machine come across quite well. A bit of work is required on Valkyrie and Moon Knight (Nova has barely been in it yet, so I'll leave him out of the equation) but it's early days, so I'm cutting him slack. And besides, he knows how to write Rogers, and it's great seeing the former Captain America back in charge of a team of Avengers, a role that clearly belongs to him. Deodato continues to impress, and he's one artist that seems to understand how to stage a thrilling action sequence. He also does a bang-up job of conveying the enormity and desolation of the Martian landscape. The whole thing fizzles with excitement and if it remains on this course then it’ll probably be a keeper. 7/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Fiona Staples
DC/Vertigo Comics $2.99

James R: This issue is a perfect example of why I like Northlanders so much. With each arc, the action shifts to a different place and period in the Norse world. Every month Brian Wood fashions a comic where no one is safe, and the sense of peril for the characters is far more genuine than in any other book on the shelves. After the epic 'Plague Widow' arc, this month he brings us a ‘done-in-one’ tale about a seafarer who decides that traversing the mysterious Western sea is his last chance at fame & glory. The only thing that really ties the Northlanders tales together is a sense of misanthropy - humanity is portrayed as a nasty gang who will often do anything to survive and seize power. That's also the case here, and Brian Wood expertly weaves this together with a very real sense of wonder as the crew experience lands never before seen by Viking eyes. As sharp and as brutal as a swipe from a Viking axe, but a whole lot more enjoyable. 8/10

Writer: Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston
Art: Mark Robinson & Jason P. Martin
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: This second issue almost works as another debut as Card and Johnston start it off some seventeen years after the events shown in #1. With the world of mages and templars already established, this allows them to introduce us to teenage fire mage Gleam, who lives a secretive life with her adoptive family of blacksmiths and traders. The writers spend a decent amount of time simply detailing Gleam’s ability to forge weapons of impeccable strength and sharpness and in the process bring a terrific family dynamic to the audience. Being set in a world where users of magic are persecuted there is of course plenty of tragedy along the way and the writers really do pluck at the heartstrings at certain moments. Robinson’s art style, as I mentioned previously, is perfect for this type of material and he really impresses me here with a broad range of facial expressions alongside smatterings of his morphing, fluid action style. This could be a winner guys. 9/10

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

Matt C: With Baron Zemo’s new Masters of Evil firmly ensconced in the Avengers Mansion, the next task on their list is to take the Avengers themselves off the playing field. They accomplish this relatively swiftly and without much fuss. Even Hercules, one of the strongest guys in the Marvel Universe, doesn’t stand a chance: drugged and bursting with arrogance, he blunders straight into the biggest beating of his life, and by the end there’s even a question mark hanging over whether the Lion of Olympus will survive. With Wasp the only active Avenger left standing, things don’t look too rosy for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and thanks to the combined input of creators at the top of their game, this is a tense, gripping read all the way through. 9/10


Stewart R said...

Bah, as if last week wasn't a big enough drain on my wallet it looks like I might have to pick up the Captain Swing comics! Kinda wished I hadn't spent the money on Wonder Woman #600 now...

Matt Clark said...

Captain Swing then....

James spots that Captain Swing's real name is Jonathan Rheinhardt; Doktor Sleepless's real name is John Reinhardt. But there's more.... The Policeman's name is Constable Charlie Gravel. Could he be an ancestor of Combat Magician Sergeant Major William Gravel?! Either Ellis has run out of character names, they're in-jokes, or he's doing something else altogether different and ingenious with his Avatar books. Hopefully (bearing in mind the somewhat erratic scheduling of his books) we won't have to wait around for years to find out!

Justin Giampaoli said...

Nice catches, both. I only spotted the Gravel connection, not the Doktor Sleepless one. Could this be some meta-commentary on the ongoing "war" between science and magic?

Matt Clark said...

If Ellis is weaving a larger narrative into his Avatar books, I may have to retract my recent criticism of him!!

Anonymous said...

Just got round to reading the Iron Man annual. I thought it was great, and perhaps importantly it demonstrates what has been lacking from the recent DC anniversary issues - it tells a single story of high quality, instead of overlapping lots of 4/5 page stories intercut with pin ups. Matt Fraction is far and away my favourite superhero writer at the moment. He manages to capture the essence of the characters he writes, but from a fresh perspective each time. Hopefully we'll see him on Thor before long.

- Rob N