18 Jul 2010

Mini Reviews 18/07/2010

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: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke
IDW $2.00

Matt C: Cooke’s plan from the beginning was to adapt four of Donald Westlake’s (aka Richard Stark’s) Parker books into the graphic novel format, but in his preface here he explains how he felt the second Parker book, The Man With The Getaway Face, wasn’t one he was particularly keen on tackling. It did, however, contain a key component that affected future Parker books, so rather than ignoring it completely he decided to compress it into a short story and use it as a preface for his next adaptation, The Outfit. So, while it’s due to appear in Cooke’s version of The Outfit, it works as standalone story and the folks at IDW agreed to release it as a taster for what’s to come. For only two dollars! When you pick it up you’ll realise that not only is it incredible value for money it’s also one of the best looking comic you’ll see all year (natch). Cooke once again nails the hardboiled, jazzy, late ‘50s/early ‘60s vibe just as he did with last year’s The Hunter (which was only pipped to the post by Asterios Polyp as the best piece of comics storytelling to hit the shelves during 2009). As it’s more compact it does lack the nuance of The Hunter, but since the idea’s to whet peoples’ appetites for the main event (The Outfit is released in October) it does the job and then some, confirming once again that Cooke is one of the most unique and vital talents working in the medium today. 9/10

Tom P: "It's our hope this oversized, underpriced bitch-slap will pull you into the violent world of Parker" explains Darwyn Cooke in his introduction to this beautiful 8"x12" comic. This is a prelude to Cooke's next Parker book The Outfit and is a full story that takes us from his first book in the series The Hunter and sets us up for the next book in October. He does points out this will be included in the next book but I strongly recommend you pick this up for two reasons. The first, if you haven't read The Hunter yet, this is the kind of thing you will have missed. The second, it’s just a gorgeous comic that makes a stunning display of his 1960s cigarette-brown artwork. His page layouts are both classic and inventive; he truly is a master of modern comic books. It’s like watching Mad Men, it just sucks you into the period. He even manages to make an advert for his book on the iPhone and Ipad look gorgeous! I’m buying another copy just to frame it, it’s that good looking! The writing is also wonderfully adapted and gripping; a few lines had me chuckling away to myself. This is $2.00 very well spent and I look forward to Parker’s return this October. 10/10

Writers: Zeb Wells, Mike Carey, Craig Kyle, Chris Yost & Matt Fraction
Art: Ibraim Roberson, Esad Ribic, Greg Land and Jay Leisten & Terry and Rachel Dodson
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: All five writers should be very, very proud of their efforts on the Second Coming event as each and every one of them has managed to keep their individual styles prominent AND make sure that the story has remained cohesive and compelling. This finale provides four smaller chapters for each of the creative teams to handle and they sign off this event in both sombre and joyous moods. Wells’ piece focuses on the immediate fall-out on Utopia as the medical teams tend to the wounded, while Carey and Kyle & Yost’s stories all focus on the mental scars that have been left through Cyclops and Wolverine’s actions over the past couple of years. Fraction, current superb author of Uncanny, then drops in the intriguing bombshell that will lead us straight into the upcoming ‘Five Lights’ arc. The writing is poignant and measured as expected with only a few annoying hurdles - the introduction of the new X-Force roster is an unnecessary poster moment for Greg Land, and Scott and Emma’s relationship is once again brushed aside when perhaps it should fall a little more in focus - but they’re easily overlooked when all of the talent involved keep things this tight. 8/10

Writer: J. Michael Stracztnski
ArtL Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer
DC $2.99

Tom P: Must admit, I didn't pick up the Superman #700. In a month with quite a few $4.99 annuals and milestone issues I couldn't justify it and from the sounds of it I didn't miss much. So I also missed the prologue of incoming writer Straczynski’s forthcoming arc that Matt C felt was overly forced and sentimental. This certainly is a very sentimental comic and quite slushy and preachy too. That said I did enjoy reading it and it’s fun to see Superman use his powers in some different, mundane ways even if he breaks his no fly rule and has a few geographical blips. Its not perfect but it is fresh and different to any Superman comics that I've read before. It’s certainly isn't as good as Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's recent efforts but I’m going to give this a few issues to see what JMS can bring to this iconic character. The only thing I have left to say is Cassaday's cover makes me long for him to illustrate a few issues of something soon. 7/10

James R: I've always imagined that writing Superman must be somewhat of a poisoned chalice. On one hand - awesome! The original superhero, the standard by which all others are judged. An icon known the world over. But on the other hand, well, how many fantastic Superman stories can you actively recall? Until All-Star Superman, the character had been treading water. What is left to say after all? He's been deconstructed using various tropes by generations of writers (Alan Moore's Supreme and Mark Waid's Irredeemable spring immediately to mind) and so writing something different for the Man of Steel is going to be a challenge. Bearing that in mind, Straczynski deserves kudos for trying something new. With the ‘Grounded’ story arc, Superman is wandering coast-to-coast in order to reconnect with the people of Earth. How does the opening chapter read? All told, a brave first attempt. Some parts of the tale are fantastic - Superman talking to the girl considering suicide worked really well, and showed that Straczynski has a terrific grasp on his character. Other parts, such as Superman driving out the drug dealers, came across as a little naive. If the aim of his ramble is to reconnect with humanity, declaring "push the problem somewhere else, let them deal with it" doesn't come across as a humane solution. I was still compelled by this from the first page to the last, and in tandem with Action Comics it means that for the first time in ages, Superman's world is worth your time and money. 8/10

Stewart R: Here’s where I jump aboard the Superman boat as Straczynski takes the Man of Steel on a down-to-earth journey of discovery in ‘Grounded’. Straczynski was the man responsible for introducing me to Marvel’s Thor (well, along with James R) with his emotional writing style and character-driven plots, and I think we’re in for more of the same here. The great thing is that you don’t have to have read War Of The Supermen to pick this up and get stuck in; the premise is simply Superman crossing the US by foot and on the way trying to rediscover why it is that he is a superhero and just what the world needs him to do. That’s it in a nutshell. Yet it’s a nutshell crammed full of story as Supes deals with everything from automotive mechanical problems to drug dens, medical conditions to the deepest concerns of the heart and it’s all brilliant. Straczynski’s words are wonderfully supported by Barrows pencils which capture delightful little poses and nuances of a superhero questioning himself and encouraging others to do the same. A terrific comic book read. 9/10

Matt C: The prelude to Straczynski’s ‘Grounded’ arc in #700 didn’t inspire much confidence but thankfully the first chapter does, for the most part, avoiding the mawkish tendencies that seeped into the teaser. There is still the kind of sentiment you’d expect from Straczynski’s writing, but it doesn’t feel forced here and flows naturally from the situations Kal El encounters as he begins his walk across America. What this issue does so well is remind you that more than just the all-powerful strange visitor from another world that the rest of the superhero community look up to, the key to his enduring popularity is that he’s a figure that exists to inspire the common man to strive for a better world (insert your Christ allegory here). Folks may criticise Superman for being a clean-cut goody-two-shoes, but that’s exactly what he should be – the archetypal hero (and I’m talking Superman here, not Clark Kent). The key is finding the right balance, making sure there’s a certain level of believability, and on this evidence Straczynski seems to have the right take on the character. It helps that Barrows turns in some solid, emotive art that looks, well, grounded, and if the creators can keep on this track then the next year should be very interesting indeed. 8/10

Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III
Th3rd World Studios $4.25

Matt C: The second volume of this wonderful series kicks off where the first left off, with the band of toys searching the Boogeyman’s realm for their kidnapped owner. The sepia-toned art is still a joy to behold, encapsulating the spirit of the writers’ dark fairy tale in each beautifully rendered panel. Although essentially an all-ages title, it retains an adult sensibility and doesn’t flinch from the mores disturbing aspects of the toys’ quest, and really that’s something of a feature of many of the classic children’s stories that remain popular to this day. I described it before as Tim Burton doing Toy Story, and while that only really scratches the surface, it’s a good indication of what’s in store. The Stuff Of Legend is a comic to treasure. 9/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Miguel Sepulveda
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Due to the current postponement of Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy it seems an age since we were last bombing through the outer reaches of the cosmos with the Human Rocket and co. Thankfully a single, healthy fix of mind-boggling cosmic-spectacle has been delivered this week with the second chapter of The Thanos Imperative. You know that when Galactus and a gang of his fellow ‘cosmic abstracts’ turn up at a fight that things are hanging in the balance, and with four more instalments to come the likelihood is that things are going to get even bigger and bad-ass as the united forces of ‘our’ galaxy try to push back the hordes pouring forth from the Fault. Abnett and Lanning provide us with glimpses of the huge-scale conflict at the Fault itself and then zip us straight behind enemy lines where Star Lord and the Guardians are trying to deliver Death’s avatar, Thanos himself, to the heart of the Life universe and hopefully bringing an end to the invasion. The banter between Quill and Thanos is good fun but for the most part this issue is about action and Sepulveda - who really has gone up in my estimation - renders it lovingly. This corner of Marvel’s universe continues to prove it’s the best when it comes to consistent comic events. 8/10

Writer: Kody Chamberlain
Art: Kody Chamberlain
Image $2.99

Matt C: Kody Chamberlain’s been on the periphery of the industry for a while, waiting for that moment when the spotlight shines directly on him. Sweets is that moment. The artist shows his talents extend to writing as well in this atmospheric crime thriller set in a New Orleans about to be hit by Katrina. A possible serial killer on the loose and a cop wrapped in alcoholic grief following the death of his daughter, who needs to prove he’s still got the chops before he’s booted out the door. Classic elements, handled with aplomb, creating a teasing look at the underbelly of the famous city before we no doubt dive straight in over the course of the next four issues. Chamberlain’s scratchy art brings to mind the likes of Jock and Bill Sienkiewicz and his emphasis on browns, yellows and greens in his colour palate evokes a feeling that things are hotting up towards boiling point. There’s a pleasing amount of great crime books on the stands these days; Sweets is another to add to the list. 8/10

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

Matt C: This is way better than it has any right to be. Aaron and Kubert have taken a title that initially screams “cash-in” and turned into something really rather special. They've utilized the rather hackneyed concept of time-displaced heroes and run with it, putting the emphasis on having a great deal of fun. Spidey has been the focal point so far, with Logan more of a secondary player, and that’s ensured there’s been a sense of irreverence present (Parker will always confront terrifying predicaments with his own particular brand of humour). Aaron’s script is clever and funny, and it’s blatantly apparent he understands both characters. Kubert’s art is something to shout about too, full of intricate detail and bursting with energy, impressively embellished by the venerable Morales. The price and bi-monthly schedule may put some off, but this is probably Aaron’s best superhero work since ‘Get Mystique’. 8/10

Writer: Jordan Goldberg
Art: Long Vo, Joe Ng & Crystal Reid
Warner Bros Free

Stewart R: Christopher Nolan’s Inception hit cinemas this weekend if you didn’t know already (I’m sure you did considering the awesome advertising campaign!) and this webcomic spins the story that led up to the events portrayed in the film. The mysterious Cobol Job, alluded to by DiCaprio’s Cobb in the movie, is depicted here in all its glory. You can either read this before watching the film or afterwards, as it shouldn’t remove any of the spectacle from the viewing experience and does tie in many of the characters seen within the first 15 minutes. The artists do a sturdy job of capturing Leo and company’s look without being photorealistic and there’s a slick storyboard feel to the artwork. The comic itself works in a similar way to the iPad comic apps where it leads you from panel to panel and this helps with the cinematic feel. I saw the film first and then read this and it’s a neat - and free! - addition to the world of Inception. 7/10

Writer: Joe Kelly & J.M. Dematteis
Art: Michael Lark, Marco Checchetto, Stefano Gaudiano, Matt Southworth & Max Fiumara
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Hmmmm, so after months of the ‘Gauntlet’ storyline through to the return of Kraven the Hunter, Joe Kelly finally brings the 'Grim Hunt' to an end... and I have to say I’m slightly disappointed. The Gauntlet was supposed to wear Peter Parker down to breaking point, with the return of Kraven then testing him in ways he’s never been tested before. Unfortunately Kelly seems far more interested in focusing on the internal turmoil of Kraven and his family of hunters than our actual protagonist. There’s loads of bickering between Sergei and Sasha which never seems to end and because Kelly opts to use Madame Web’s internal monologue instead of Peter’s the events involving the black-suited Spider-Man felt strangely detached. Riding along through the turmoil of this character’s life is what has made it a great read over countless decades and it seems that choosing a slightly different method of delivery has taken the bite out of a potentially good finale. The artwork is decent from a multitude of different artists but it’s not enough to prevent this from being mediocre I’m afraid. 6/10

Matt C: This sequel-of-sorts to the classic ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ started off promising great things – enough to get me picking up ASM again – but it ended up being merely an okay read rather than something that will linger long in the memory. It’s far from terrible – everyone involved turns in some fine work – but I guess if you reverse a suicide then the stakes don’t seem that high. Okay, it’s comics, and no one ever really stays dead (and Kraven’s a great character!) but, taking into account the past few months of stories have apparently lead up to this point (I haven’t read them, but I believe that’s the case), it felt like this arc should have been something far more monumental than the rather predictable rehash of J.M DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s original story. It’s fine, but not enough to get me picking up the title on a regular basis again. 6/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Tony Daniel
DC $2.99

Tom P: This story fills us in on what happened after Bruce and Doctor Hurt went crashing into the sea at the end of Batman R.I.P and bridges the gap between that and Final Crisis, uncovering a few secrets as we head towards the return of our Dark Knight. "Surviving is easy" is the very first line we hear and that’s what Morrison's Bruce Wayne is: the ultimate survivor. That’s his greatest skill, to such a degree he thinks people like Superman forget he's just a man. The curse of Doctor Hurt is also a compelling hook as we start to scratch away at the man who claims to be Thomas Wayne and all in all it adds another gripping chapter to an epic story. 9/10

James R: Before I even picked his book up this week, I could tell that it would be a 'love it or hate it' read. Marvel editor Tom Breevort (always ready to put the boot into anything DC does) sneered "If you'd been told the story properly in the first place, you wouldn't have to write a missing chapter" and I'd seen a few previews complain that nothing much happens. (I'd point out that nothing much has happened in, say, Fantastic Four for the past 8 months, but that's for another review!) So, what is the deal with Batman this month? Well, Grant Morrison is telling a two-part tale that fills in exactly what happened to Bruce Wayne between the end of Batman: R.I.P and Final Crisis. To be fair, I can see the argument from those who claim there's a lack of story here. However, as a self-confessed lover of Grant Morrison's work, I'd be happy with an issue where Batman reads through a Chinese takeaway menu, (and broods on the eternal dilemma between Spring Rolls and Prawn Toast.) Morrison has a brilliant grasp on DC's 'Big Two' (excuse the pun) and this issue is a blast for Batman fans seeing just how he copes with the seemingly endless trauma he endures. To the casual comics reader, I'd say you can probably give this a miss, but if you're loving Morrison's other Bat-projects, this is a fun fill-in before the next step on Bruce Wayne's temporal journey home. 7/10

Writers: Craig Kyle and Chris Yost
Art: Gabriele Dell’Otto
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: It really is a shame that these two writers are coming to the end of their X-Force run as it has been a wonder of brutal, brooding character development. They’re pretty much signing off with this Sex And Violence miniseries and once again they’re showing that they have a keen grasp on what makes these shadier good-guys tick. Domino and Logan are the two members of X-Force with the most complicated pasts, sharing common foes and experiences as well as a delicious slice of sexual tension. The writers decide to really spice things up by throwing them into a story involving both the Assassins Guild and The Hand, highlighting Domino’s cocky and occasionally naive personality along with Wolverine’s unswerving desire to help fix other team-mates problems when he can see they’re in over their heads. And when speaking of heads, a huge amount of praise has to go to artist Dell’Otto’s work on this comic as it is truly beautiful to look at with a style that seems to mix photo-realism with a painted wash and a muted palette of blacks, greys whites and reds. This is such a great X-read and I can only recommend picking it up. 9/10

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

James R: I've been holding off reviewing this excellent series since issue #1, as I was unsure where the fraternal team of Moon & Ba were heading with it. Every month, we've seen elements of Bras Domingos' life, and every issue has ended in the same way - with his life coming to an end. So why review it now? Well, after reading this issue, I'm finally starting to get a feeling for the book as a whole. The concept itself is a profound one; that within our lives, we face almost infinite possibilities and choices, and consequently, we face many deaths. How and when we die will provide a snapshot of who we were and what we achieved. Here, we see Bras' life beyond his initial death in the first issue, and it's a far more bittersweet experience, as he now leaves behind a loving wife and child, his words living on through his works. In short, it's an appeal to seize the day, but it's certainly far more than that. Each issue lingers with you long after you've read it, and it's fair to say that this is a unique title that showcases how comics can achieve something other mediums cannot: an incredible combination of emotion and reflection. 8/10

Stewart R: After the rather haunting end to last issue, the brothers decide to take a slightly different approach here and rather than leading us through another period of Bras' life directly they instead focus on his influence and effect on his closest and dearest from afar. This story shows that in this modern world great distances can be made to look much smaller thanks to the variety of communication methods available to people, and how, when those methods are rendered inoperable for the smallest amount of time, the feelings of isolation and the unknown can quickly flood in. The art really captures the changes in Ana and Miguel’s emotional states and once again enforces my belief that this is a comic series for everyone. If you’ve ever loved, lost and lived you should be reading this book. 8/10

Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Art: Justin Greenwood
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: At this point it seems clear that the second volume of this series has lacked the punch of the first. There have been fine moments but generally it feels like it’s dragging its feet, dwelling on situations that don’t appear to be that important in the grand scheme of things. While I like the idea of back-up stories showing the results of the alien departure elsewhere it does eat away at the page count, meaning there’s less pages left to focus on the main story. Blair Butler’s pull-quote on the cover suggests this “does for aliens what Walking Dead does for zombie”. I kind of agree with that, the potential’s certainly there, but it’s far from reaching it at present. And the further we go, the less convinced I am that Bill Clinton works as a supporting character. I’m giving it to the end the current ‘Book’ to see if it gets its act together; I really want to continue supporting this series, but I have to truly believe in it because otherwise my money can be better spent elsewhere. 5/10

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

Matt C: Check out that cover! Thor’s joined the fray and boy, does he look pissed off! The Avengers are back, baby….. or not quite. It’s the start of the team fighting back to retake the mansion but you won’t get the fireworks that cover suggests – not yet anyway. It has to be said that Thor’s reintroduction to the book is a bit muted considering he’s been out of it for a while but I guess he makes up for that when he takes down Mister Hyde with apparent ease. Really, what’s going on here is that Stern is manoeuvring all the pieces he’s playing with into position, ready for the final confrontation. There’s a certain twinge of frustration that this isn’t balls-to-the-wall vengeance all the way through, but that aside it’s another solid chapter in a rightly revered story arc. 8/10


Matt Clark said...

James R posed the question "how many fantastic Superman stories can you actively recall?"

Here goes!

* Superman: Red Son - one of Mark Millar's finest works in comics.
* Superman: Peace On Earth - always felt these Dini/Ross oversized books did a great job of capturing the essence of DC's icons.
* Superman: Secret Identity - massively overlooked gem from Busiek/Immonen.
* Man Of Steel and beyond - John Byrne's reinvention in the '80s.
* The Death Of Superman - easy to forget the impact it had on the industry back in the '90s (for good and bad).
* Superman: Braniac - Geoff Johns and Gary Frank deliver the best Man Of Steel story in a long while.
* Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? - From Alan Moore. Need I say more?
* Action Comics #775 - Joe Kelly's brilliant response to the popularity of The Authority in the early'00s.
* Superman For All Seasons - another superb collaboration between Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the guys behind The Long Halloween et al.

Anybody got more suggestions?

Joe T said...

I always enjoyed the return of superman. emperor joker is pretty entertaining, but not the greatest. I would put Last Son & Legion Of Superheroes on there aswell. I think the early golden age superman comics were very good myself.

However 701 takes the cake as the greatest superman comic i have ever read. Easily the best comic of the week, and one of the best issues of this year. JMS has captured what Superman should be, and has got me interested in the character once again, something i am very grateful for.