25 Jul 2010

Mini Reviews 25/07/2010

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: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $3.99

James R: Alan Moore! Yes! Woooh! Well, that's me happy. Last year (or it may be 2008 - the years all meld into one now I'm an old geek) Alan Moore declared that he'd stopped writing comics forever, and was now concentrating on his excellent magazine Dodgem Logic along with other writing projects. Well rejoice, as it seems he may have been fibbing a bit! This week sees the release of the first issue of Neonomicon, the direct sequel to his Cthulu-flavoured miniseries The Courtyard. The story picks up the mysterious threads left dangling like so many elder tentacles, and with his trademark skill, Moore serves up a superb first chapter. There is a real sense of unease and menace that permeates throughout this book, and this is accentuated by Jacen Burrows trademark pencils which blend the very real and the unnatural to great effect. It's clear that this story is building to the unleashing of a Lovercraftian fiend, but watching Moore at work is always a joy. This reads like Hellboy without, er, Hellboy and the BPRD, but it had me hooked from the first three pages. Let's hope Moore holds off the retirement for a few more years yet. 8/10

Matt C: Avatar have been publishing some great work from Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis recently, so if they’ve managed to squeeze something new out of Alan Moore, AND coupled him with Avatar’s star artist, Jacen Burrows, surely it’s worth a look? This is a sequel to Moore’s The Courtyard but having not read that myself I thankfully didn’t feel lost or ill-equipped reading Neonomicon. The strangest thing about the book is it doesn’t particularly feel like an Alan Moore comic. You usually think of him as a writer who will toy with genre conventions and push the boundaries of reader expectations. Here though he seems to play things relatively straight. This is no bad thing, of course, and it’s only the first issue, so there’s still plenty of time to mess with our heads. I’m not overly partial to Lovecraftian themes but I’m intrigued enough to keep going (and I guess Burrows’ usual high standard of art plays into that quite a bit). In no way is this ever going to spoken of in the same breath as the likes of Watchmen, V For Vendetta or League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but Moore is a complete master of the medium, so even a lesser work is guaranteed to provide something to get your teeth into. 7/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kev Walker
Marvel $2.99

Tom P: Its funny to think that of all the Marvel books linked into the Heroic Age Thunderbolts is the one that I'm enjoying the most. It's more entertaining, action-packed and engaging than any Avengers title that has come my way recently. Every issue since Parker and Walker have launched this new team has been an absolute blast from start to finish. We start where the last issue ended with Ghost being attacked by an axe-wielding Asgardian troll. Soon after the team are dispatched again to investigate the disappearance of a squad of S.H.I.E.L.D agents and a United Nations team that went missing looking for a vein of Terrigen Crystals. Crossbones is one of the highlights for me this issue, the banter between the team is terrific fun to read and Walker continues to produce some of the best artwork around. Its good to be bad! 9/10

Stewart R: By far the best thing I have read this week, Thunderbolts #146 is clear indication that Jeff Parker is on top of his game, shaping this team into a dynamic group, despite their many differences, and in the process he is making sure that this comic is Marvel’s most promising title on the shelves. Every single character sounds and reacts to situations differently which allows for some terrific banter and baiting and also gives Parker and artist Walker room to work with the group’s power-sets. Cage comes across as the weary parent constantly trying to keep the kids in line (and occasionally threatening to turn the car around and send everyone to bed without supper!) yet it’s his ability to lead by example that’s having the greatest influence on the rest of the team. The level of peril invested into this storyline so far is also a triumph as there is a constant feeling that anyone heading out on an away-mission could really be coming back in a body bag. If you’ve been left a little nonplussed by the Heroic Age so far this is hands down the best place to be looking for an alternative viewpoint. Spellbinding. 9/10

Writer: Jonthan Hickman
Art: Ryan Bodenheim
Image $3.50

Matt C: It’s difficult to give this a fair review, but since Image or the creators or whoever put me in the position where I’m reading the last instalment of a four-part miniseries 20 months (!) after #3 came out, I have to take that into consideration. Which is basically my way of justifying the low mark you see at the end of this review. It’s final confrontation time, but I struggled to remember what happened previously, which prevented me from becoming properly involved in the unfurling events. I’ve read a heck of a lot of comics in the last 20 months, and maybe I should have read the three preceding issues before cracking this open, but then maybe I shouldn’t have to wait so goddamn long for a piece of serialized fiction to arrive! The art’s really nice, and Hickman’s washed-out colouring is tremendously effective, but there was nothing there to pull me back in to the story and make me feel like no time has passed. I reckon it’ll read well in the collected format, but then that has me wondering why I bought the floppies in the first place. 5/10

James R: Red Mass For... Mars? Hmm... rings a bell. I kind of remember reading something like that in, well, it had to be 2008! Yes, now I remember! Written by Jonathan Hickman, Red Mass For Mars was part of a very cool trifecta of comics from Hickman at Image that included the excellent Transhuman and the mighty Pax Romana. Mars is a Superman avatar who has forsaken humanity, but is called back when Earth faces an extinction level event at the hands on an Alien invasion. The first three issues of this were superb, with Hickman showing his trademark depth of thought and philosophical reflection, and so I was hugely disappointed when the final chapter seemed vanish into the comics ether. Well, better late than never I guess! For what it's worth, the issue is missing the intellectual sophistication of the earlier issues, with Hickman & Bodeheim serving up the huge pan-galactic slugfest that you'd expect, and on it's own as an issue it's unsatisfying, but as a whole, this series has been excellent. Rather than buy this, I highly recommend you pick up the trade -as a collected package it'll read brilliantly. 7/10

Writer: Joe Quesada
Art: Paolo Rivera, Joe Quesada, Danny Miki & Richard Isanove
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’ve been something of a supporter of the 'Brand New Day' storyline, agreeing that the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane was limiting the ability of the writers to develop Peter as a lead character, but I’m not so sure we really need to go back and see what the deal with Mephisto led to on the couple’s Wedding Day. Quesada and Co take the original events of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, reprinted in part here, and then adjust the story to show just what prevented one of the happiest moments in comic history. Quesada’s work with Peter and MJ ‘now’ is well realised and adds a sense of regret to proceedings but when things get to the reprinted and reworked material it’s just not a great fit. The wedding was written in 1987 and trying to bend the story for the purposes of this event just seems really clunky. I’d have preferred that they had one artist recreate things according to the new timeline rather than try and use the reprinted material. Paolo Rivera’s classic art style shows that they certainly tried to make things work and feel natural but it unfortunately falls short... and costs us an extra dollar in the process. 5/10

Writer: Larry Hama
Art: Augustin Padilla
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: Finally! After years of rather mediocre efforts from a handful of creators and publishers it really does feel like the G.I. Joe story could be back on track. Some of my favourite stories from Joe lore have been about this team of skilled heroes being up against incalculable odds and showing why they are the best at what they do and Hama has elected to explore this survival instinct in the biggest way possible. Yes, the US Government turning to COBRA for assistance in policing the population is something of a stretch but if we don’t analyse that point too much then this first issue of the new era is a solid series of action pieces as the various Joe members try to make it to a rendezvous so that they can regroup and take the fight to their slippery foes. The art of Padilla is a perfect match here and he takes things to a brutal level in a muted, measured way that the G.I. Joe series has been known for. A really neat cliffhanger ending has me definitely invested in issue #157. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Rebekah Isaacs
DC/Wildstorm $2.99

Matt C: I can’t imagine this book is selling like hot cakes (neither the characters or creators are exactly A-listers) and that’s a shame because it means a lot of folks are missing out one of the most fascinating and intelligent superhero books currently being published. Essentially it sees Wood apply themes from William Golding’s literary classic Lord Of The Flies to the superhero genre. A team of teenage heroes are deposited on a primitive planet and each of them cope with the situation in a different way as they adapt to their new environment. The key to it all is that there’s no moral authority to guide them, so while some attempt to establish some semblance of order others respond to their baser instincts with often devastating results. Wood is an expert in believable characterization and Isaacs renders his script in truly beautiful fashion. The deeper we get into this series, the more it looks like it’ll be one of the highlights of 2010. 8/10

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

Tom P: Its not a good sign when you go to pick up your comics and feel unsure about purchasing a certain title. I want to love this comic; I want to rave about it and for it to fill me with excitement about the upcoming Avengers movie. But The Ultimates this is not. Its just okay and as much as I love Romita Jr I’m fed up of reading about the constant parade of villains showing up to blow a hole in Avengers Tower and then disappearing again. I’m not Bendis-bashing as I enjoy many of his comics (especially Ultimate Spider-Man) but something just isn't clicking. I just have too many other things I want to read instead and its just not scratching that itch for me. I said I was going to give this six issues but when I’m this uncertain about a title it has to go now. I hope, like Thunderbolts, it can win me back, but for now I'm saying goodbye to Avengers. A shame. 4/10

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

Stewart R: A decent second issue here as Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis try to establish just who has escaped on a murderous rampage through the Batman rogues gallery. Beechen covers all of the bases making sure that for the uninitiated - myself included - a substantial amount of back story about Hush is mixed in with the unveiling of a new Catwoman and Bruce and Terry’s continuous bickering on the best way to handle things. The art team really do themselves proud with a flashback to Batman’s last encounter with the psychotic Hush before his supposed demise, flooding everything with darkened shadows and layer upon layer of atmospheric blues. I will admit that Benjamin occasionally seems to struggle with the wrinkled visage of the elderly Wayne, giving him a bizarre pucker in some panels, but aside from that his work continues to capture the feel of the animated series. Two issues in and our protagonists are still not clear just who it is they are really up against and hopefully Beechen is sat on some tasty reveals to really spice things up. 7/10

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

Matt C: Didn’t I just review #12 last week? The surprise release of #13 this week kind of makes my decision of whether or not to drop this book or not a lot easier seeing as how it appears from Guggenheim’s text piece at the back that this is the last issue of Resurrection for the time being (Guggenheim & Greenwood are off to work on a co-owned series, Stringers). There are several surprises and shocks here, but they often feel like they’ve been too long in coming as the momentum of the narrative has slowed since the relaunch. I still love the premise but Guggenheim will have to pull something really special out of the hat to make me come back for Volume 3, whenever that sees the light of day. 6/10

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

Matt C: Another classic cover as we reach the finale of the Masters Of Evil arc and the Avengers set about doing what they do best: avenging! Some absolutely superb artwork from Messers Buscema and Palmer during the various battles (Thor vs Goliath, Cap vs the Wrecker, the climactic Cap vs Zemo) ensures the excitement levels are right off the scale the whole way through. Stern has a brilliant grasp of the dynamics of this team: the relationships between the characters feel truthful and real so when their lives are in jeopardy you’re drawn right into the fray. An all-round excellent example of the often-overlooked creative brilliance at the House of Ideas during the ‘80s. 9/10

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