11 Jul 2010

Mini Reviews 11/07/2010

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.

Writer: Allan Heinberg
Art: Jim Cheung & Mark Morales
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: So, now that this comic has finally landed in my lap, what do I think about it? Well it’s ‘good’ that’s for sure. Heinberg drops in plenty of Young Avengers action in the early pages to remind everyone just who will be going on this so-called crusade, and he also adds some proper Avengers to neatly link things to the Scarlett Witch. She had that bad couple of months a few years back, you guys remember that, right? From there these teenage upstarts spend the rest of the issue debating and arguing the best course of action in light of Wiccan’s potential to emulate the Scarlett Witch and possibly bring about a fate worse than M-Day. It does get a tad slow towards the end but then this is a team with no clear, accomplished leader. They tend to make it through on sheer heart alone and this actually works as a demonstration of their inner-conflict and friendship. Jim Cheung is a true master and every single page is a lavish present to the eyes. Aided impeccably by inker Morales and colourist Justin Ponsor, there is no doubt that this will be one of the prettiest series to come out in the next 18 months. It’s a good start and I can glimpse something fantastic on the near horizon. 8/10

Matt C: It’s been a long time since Heinberg and Cheung finished their initial run on Young Avengers, but it proved such a success that fanboys have been clamouring for them to return to the characters ever since. So, even though it’s lumbered with one of the worst titles in recent history (The Children’s Crusade? Seriously? Has Enid Blyton been involved?) expectations were pretty high, and I count myself amongst the legions that have been eagerly anticipating the return of this team. It’s a shame then that this first issue lacks any substantial impact or strong hook. Speed and Wiccan may or may not be the Scarlett Witch’s long lost twin sons; Wiccan has demonstrated awesome power that he could potentially lose control of, and following the whole House Of M malarkey the ‘adult’ Avengers are keen to avoid a repeat of that scenario. Cue a lot of dithering back and forth as Wiccan rejects the Avengers invitation for them to keep an eye on him, then finds himself in exactly that situation, before his teammates ‘rescue’ him. It’s okay, but it’s not very propulsive, and even the lush, shiny art of Cheung can’t disguise the fact that there’s too much meandering going on. The character work is good, and I’ll certainly be back for issue #2, but if I was a first-timer with these characters I’d probably think one issue was more than enough. Hopefully though, the only way is up. 6/10

James R: Heinberg's Young Avengers was one of the most pleasant surprises of recent years. What initially seemed like a cheap-shot Marvel version of Teen Titans turned out to be a smart, brilliantly plotted and beautifully illustrated book. (Interestingly enough, its end seemed to coincide with Marvel's downturn in quality and its investment in a seemingly endless amount of events & crossovers.) But it's back! The old team - creative and fictional - return for this nine-issue limited series. This first instalment is a strangely disjointed read. It feels like it should be a straight continuation from the last issue, but it seems oddly out of continuity (Marvel even make a disclaimer that “loyal readers will be able to overlook these seeming inconsistencies”). Heinberg has definitely earned plenty of leeway given his work here before, but I feel that now the 'getting-to-know-you' stuff is done, the title needs to go up a gear next month. One thing that certainly doesn't need to improve are Jim Cheung's pencils, which continue to be outstanding. Great to have this back, but not quite the solid-gold smash that the Young Avengers #1 was. 7/10

Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I love Hit Monkey, I really do. Since his first appearance in, ummm, well, Hit Monkey #1 (Marvel didn’t think this through too well!) earlier this year, through to his three-issue guest role in Deadpool, I’ve been looking forward to any other occasion where the menacing Macaque might turn up. The furry little bundle of fury is now given a three-part series which leads straight on from his origins in the wintry mountains of Japan. Way has come up with a clever little plot twist that allows some form of communication from Hit Monkey and also provides an explanation for his development into a skilled and proficient assassin and what his motivations are. Admittedly it will be hard for some to swallow but when talking about a gun-wielding monkey you have to let quite a few things go if you’re going to enjoy this premise. Talajic brings a gritty, sullen atmosphere to proceedings and, dare I say it, a level of realism that prevents this spinning off into goofball territory. The end twist is a little bit annoying but I’ll certainly see where it leads. 8/10

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

Matt C: As Book Two of this superb series comes to a close, we finally get to see what set Jepperd on the path that led him to Gus, and as you may expect, it’s not particularly pleasant. With scenes of heartbreaking cruelty and extreme violence, Lemire has you riveted from the first page, and having spent a fair amount of time with these characters it’s impossible not to feel affected by the unfolding events. His art may not be as clean and polished as some, but there’s an emotional truth in every panel, and that takes considerable skill to pull off. Moving, often disturbing, but unquestionably essential. 9/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Alex Maleev
Marvel/Icon $3.95

Matt C: I’m probably the premiere Bendis-basher out of all my Paradox Group colleagues, but that’s not because I think the man is devoid of talent; far from it. I just remember the time before he became the leading creative force at Marvel: his early work on Powers, the groundbreaking Alias, his phenomenal run on Daredevil. His strengths lie in street-level tales, heavily focused on character, but these days he spends the majority of his time penning adventures for Marvel’s big guns, meaning his limitations as a writer are readily apparent on a monthly basis. He just can’t do top-level superhero books. He may come up with some great high concepts, but he squanders their potential, layering inane dialogue over pointless fisticuffs to minimal effect (okay, so I kind of liked Siege, but it was big dumb fun, and you had to take it us such – look at it too closely and it just fell apart). So anyway, Scarlet appears on the horizon, and I don’t pay it much attention; part of me wants greatness but the other part of me fears that Bendis just can’t cut it anymore unless he’s appealing to the lowest common denominator. So, when it finally arrived last week I approached it with a sense of trepidation backed with a dash of hope, hope that this creator-owned collaboration with his old Daredevil cohort might turn out to be something special. And guess what? The first issue of Scarlet is absolutely fantastic. There, I said it. Easily Bendis’ most impressive work in several years, this feels fresh and original, with its fourth-wall-breaking protagonist channelling her sense of injustice into something powerful and potentially world-changing. The dialogue seems natural, not forced, and Scarlet herself is a thoroughly engaging character. Maleev’s art is exceptional, infusing the proceedings with a gritty realism that’s emphasised by a subdued colour palette (with the exception of the striking reds, whether it’s Scarlet’s hair or a splash of blood). Reading something like Avengers, you forget that Bendis was once the most highly revered writers in the business; Scarlet proves he’s still got what it takes. 9/10

Writers: Paolo Parente & Christopher Morrison
Artist: Davide Fabbri
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Oh dear. The promise with this miniseries was really high - the mid-Twentieth Century being dominated by continuing conflict from World War Two and the development of giant battle suits - but this has instead spun into a bizarre homage to films like Kelly’s Heroes and M.A.S.H. as the focus falls on a thieving run into enemy territory for, of all things, a stash of top grade champagne. The battle sequences following Soviet Koshka Rudinova’s unit into the Axis heartland are completely removed from the comedic scenes of swindling and bucking authority set back at the camp and this disassociation makes for something of a jilting and unappealing read. The art-style is also a little too light for my liking with a slightly washed-out watercolour feel to each page which I don’t think suits the setting particularly well. With all this going against it I’m actually not even bothered about picking up the final instalment when it arrives. 3/10

Writers: Conor McCreery & Anthony Del Col
Art: Andy Belanger
IDW $3.99

Matt C: It's a great concept: Shakespeare's fictional characters all coexist in an alternate reality where the Bard himself is known only as a mysterious wizard, and certain individuals long to see his downfall. It positions Shakespeare as a godlike being of this reality, potentially pulling the strings of some of his most famous creations - from Richard III, to Hamlet, to Macbeth - as they cross each others paths, form relationships, and concoct plans. It seems to have riled up some Shakespeare 'scholars', which in itself is entirely ludicrous, because even if it was the creators' intention (which it's not) there's no way a comic book is ever going to come remotely close to tarnishing the works of the arguably the most well-known writer the world has ever seen. Some people just need to get over themselves. Anyway, as I said, it's a great concept, and has the potential to result in a fantastic story. It's just not quite there... yet. Richard III has convinced Hamlet to go on a quest to kill the elusive Shakespeare by promising to resurrect Hamlet’s dead father through alchemical means. This issue, the gregarious Falstaff pulls Hamlet from his mission hinting that he may have been duped by Richard (who is now colluding with Lady Macbeth). It’s not as strong as the previous two instalments, and seems to meander a bit when it requires a brisker pace. While Hamlet is perhaps too easily manipulated on occasion he makes for a good protagonist, and McCreery and Del Col ensure he’s likeable enough to hold the reader's attention. Belanger utilizes his talents to produce some decent medieval visuals and there are some nifty pages where panels are “dropped” onto larger images to good effect. The story’s building well, and greatness does seem a very real possibility. So, while it’s not quite there yet, it’s close enough to make me come back for more. 7/10

Stewart R: I know little about the works of Shakespeare it must be said, but now, three issues in, this is turning into an entertaining read despite my ignorance of the Bard’s work. Strangely, Hamlet is fairly unspectacular as the protagonist and acts more as a foil to the rich cast that either aim to help him or deliver death to his door. The portly Falstaff steals the show this time around as he offers his somewhat questionable services to Hamlet and an alternative view to the lies that Richard III has been spinning. McCreery and Del Col give worthy nods to the Merry Wives of Windsor and weave a further twist from Macbeth into the subplot involving the Black Guard that’s been ticking along in the background during the previous two issues. The sense of peril that Hamlet is under is portrayed very well indeed by Andy Belanger whose artwork is really capturing the dangerous and shadowy world that these literary creations find themselves in. This comic is certainly worth picking up if you’re looking for something a little different. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon
Marvel/Icon $3.99

Stewart R: This isn’t exactly a new comic but more of a reprint-with-additional-content type affair, but a bloody good one it is too! Casanova is a shady character specialising in stealth, subterfuge and dealings of a dodgy nature, while his twin sister is the exact opposite, choosing to follow a life of morals and justice as a super-agent for E.M.P.I.R.E., the world police. Fraction takes this decent enough plot as a starting point and then throws a decent heapful of psychic battling and parallel universe theory to really make things interesting. He portrays Casanova as a terrific scoundrel who rides his luck as often as he breathes out and Ba’s art helps to bring across all the wry smiles and ice cool stares that a man like that always has in his repertoire. The back-up story does bring something new and I really like the way that it takes a relatively low key moment from the main story and adds an extra element to flesh out this comic book world. It may be four years old but I have to say it’s beaten almost everything else I’ve read this week. 9/10

X-MEN #1
Writer: Victor Gischler
Artists: Paco Medina & Juan Vlasco
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Vampires, ugh! Another X-Men title, really? $3.99, you’re kidding me?? Yep, plenty of problems on the face of it before I even turned the cover, but I’ll tell you this much, once I did I actually kind of enjoyed this first issue. The X-Men have encountered Dracula in the past so it’s not a hideous stretch to bring this storyline to the mutants' new West Coast home. Gischler moves things along pretty quickly, establishing the new threat and putting seeds of smaller plots lines into place. He seems to know how the various X-Men should come across and sound so I’ve no complaints about his characterisation yet. Paco Medina has dealt with everyone’s favourite mutants in the pages of Deadpool in the recent past and he keeps up his usual sterling standard here. It does scream of jumping on the vampire bandwagon brought about by the success of Twit-lite, sorry, Twilight, but with less pouting, standing around and posturing this might have promise. The biggest niggle of all is that the extra dollar buys nothing but adverts for further X-titles and that same bloody Shadowland preview which I’m already sick of. Problems for sure, but nothing terminal yet. 7/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Frazer Irving
DC $2.99

James R: Wow. At the start of this run, many people had questions about the title's viability. Some had not enjoyed the Batman: RIP arc, and after Morrision's ‘marmite’ Final Crisis it seemed that this series could go either way. A year in, and it's a pleasure to say that this book has continued to improve, and Grant Morrison in his pomp has very few equals. This issue sees the pieces that he's set up over the last two years begin to fall into place with breathtaking effect. Once again, Damian stands out as the real star of this book - his threats to the Joker show that his borderline psychotic temper is being tempered into a force worthy of taking over from his father. The whole issue shoots by at breakneck speed, and Frazer Irving's art (which can sometimes be an uncomfortable fit in superhero comics) looks lush here. Comics don't get much better than this, and it's great to see Morrison keeping up this gold standard. 9/10

Matt C: I’ve kept quiet on The Return Of Bruce Wayne since the first issue, but that’s probably because after a good start I’m now finding it slightly tedious and can’t really muster the energy to comment on it. I’m sticking with it though, firstly to see if Morrison can convince me that his grand plans for the Caped Crusader over the past few years have been worth the effort, but mostly because Batman And Robin has generally been the most engaging superhero book he’s penned in several years. I’m not quite on the same page with it as some of my colleagues – there have been points where I’ve considered dropping it – but it does manages to dig its hooks into me enough to keep coming back. Morrison has a very good handle on Dick Grayson, but the real appeal – and I never thought I’d be saying this – is his development of Damian Wayne from annoying brat to a compelling supporting player with a real future in the DC Universe. One of those things that shouldn’t work but does thanks to some skilful characterization. Irving can occasionally render a panel that just seems ‘off’ but on the whole his style is quite unique, and it’s creepy enough here to set the right tone for the story (his Joker looks really unnerving). 7/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Dale Eaglesham
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Now Steve Rogers is back from the dead, leading the Secret Avengers as well as cameoing regularly in Captain America (along several other titles), does he really need a miniseries of his own? It might seem like overkill, but if you hand said mini over to the man who returned the Living Legend to prominence, then had him whacked and THEN brought him back to life, surely it's a recipe for success? Damn right it is! This is an excellent opener, bringing to mind that initial burst of issues when Brubaker took over writing the character several years ago. It has Cap (I'm sorry, I just can't call him Steve or Super Soldier!) knee deep in a mystery that ties into his past and features shadowy organisations, espionage, and a healthy dose of action. Eaglesham's clean, solid linework helps inject a serious tone into the proceedings, although his panels featuring a skinny, pre-serum Steve and buddy have the characters looking slightly deformed. That aside, it's all good, and probably the best issue of 'Captain America’ (you know what I mean) I've read in quite a while. Oh, and you get a reprint of the Kirby/Simon origin story, and even though it’s rather quaint and simple to modern eyes, it’s a precious piece of comics history all the same. 9/10

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

Matt C: One look at the cover and you know there’s absolutely no danger of opening the pages to find an optimistic tale of love and happiness. Nope, it’s the same old brand of ruthless storytelling, with Aaron providing the ferocious but magnetic characterization and Guerra adding the magnificently detailed, absorbing illustrations that are peppered with displays of frighteningly real violence. I couldn’t make a case for any new readers to ‘jump onboard’ here though; all I can say is that you need to go right back to the beginning, pick up the trades, and discover for yourself why I’m incapable of doing anything but rave about this exceptional comic book. 9/10

Writers: Craig Kyle & Chris Yost
Artist: Mike Choi
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: This event has been an exhilarating ride. I’ve been waiting for the bubble to burst and the apathy to set in but it really hasn’t been forthcoming thankfully. The penultimate chapter is of particularly high standard as Kyle and Yost conjure a way to bring X-Force home but at a devastatingly high cost, which I’m sure we’ll be feeling in these books for a while to come. These very talented writers also bring Bastion into the battle proper and it really is about time as his constant posturing and plotting was probably the only thing that was beginning to grate a little. Mike Choi is one of the best X-artists around today and he delivers breathtaking spectacle with highly-charged emotion in equal measure. It’s also about time that I lavished a little praise on colourist Sonia Oback who over and over again brings her delicious palettes to this artistic team dynamic, and here they really are something special. 9/10

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

Matt C: The Avengers at their lowest ebb. Hercules is in a coma, the Black Knight isn’t in much better shape, Captain Marvel is trapped in Blackout’s dark force, and a captive Captain America is forced by Baron Zemo to watch Mister Hyde pummel Jarvis into a pulp. Only Wasp has managed to remain on her feet, but with no other Avengers contactable and the FF out of town it looks like she’s on her own to face off against Zemo’s Masters Of Evil. Even though you know deep down everything will work out okay in the end Stern still manages to rack up the tension to the point where he has you suspending your disbelief enough to wonder whether the Avengers will come out of this in one piece. As always, Buscema and Palmer prove themselves to be masters of the action scene, their panels bursting with the kind of kinetic energy that guarantees excitement. 8/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just want to echo Matt C's comments re: Scarlet. These days I'm quite jaded when it comes to comics, and it takes a lot to really grab my attention, but I thought this was an absolutely superb first issue. If Spiderwoman had to be cancelled to make room for this on a regular basis, then I'm quite happy it was, even though I really liked the Spiderwoman comic. We recently submitted our top 10 comics for the irregular Paradox poll and I had Iron Man in my number one slot. Were I compiling that list today, Scarlet would be in the number one slot, and every other title on my list would be bumped down one place. That's how impressed I was. :)

- Rob N