22 Aug 2010

Mini Reviews 22/08/2010

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: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Tony Harris
DC/Wildstorm $4.99

Matt C: It's a few years ago now, but its impossible to forget the jaw-dropping impact of the first issue of Ex Machina, unquestionably one of the finest debuts of any series in the last decade. It continued along as a gripping read for a long while, but somewhere along the way - maybe during the last 20 odd issues? - it lost me. Perhaps it was the delays that saw this 'monthly' title appear on a less frequent basis, perhaps it was Vaughan taking a step back from the business of writing comics (at one point he was highly prolific, but recently Ex Machina has been his sole ongoing project). Or - and I think this is the reason I'm more inclined to go with - perhaps it's because the focus has shifted away from the political side of Mayor Mitchell Hundred's everyday dealings and settled more on his mysterious powers and their origins. That may sound strange coming from someone who laps up superheroics on a regular basis, but the book worked best for me when it concentrated on Hundred navigating the political minefield his new job presented him with. It didn't always hit the mark - particularly when Vaughan’s own political views swamped the more even-handed approach he normally took - but it was regularly thought provoking and usually intelligently handled. The 'super powers' aspect didn't really gel with everything else as the story progressed and eventually led up to this unsatisfactory concluding issue. There's one particular character revelation that jarred and felt utterly contrived, and the twist at the end came across as nothing more than a cheap gag. There's still some smart writing - Vaughan has a great ear for dialogue - and Harris' distinctive artwork ensures the entire series retained a consistent, pumped up visual appeal, but Ex Machina lost its spark long before now. In stark contrast to Vaughan's excellent Y: The Last Man, this series wound up being a disappointment. Unfortunately it's not the kind of disappointment I can get riled up about because my interest dropped off a while ago and I only continued picking it up out of a need for closure rather than anything else. 5/10

James R: When it comes to the final issue of a series, the temptation is not just to review the issue, but the run as a whole. It's difficult as this issue mirrors what I thought of the entire series: moments of genius and originality mixed in with frustration at ideas half-developed. The adventures of Mitchell Hundred come to a close with an epic double-sized issue that ties up the arc, and then gives us a glimpse of the Great Machine’s future. As with the series (and as you'd expect from Vaughan) there are sublime moments, from the opening statement that "Happy endings are bullshit - there are only happy pauses." to the dark & ambiguous final pages. Inbetween there are some frankly bizarre twists, from the surprise reveal of a supporting character's sexual orientation (I have no problem with him being gay, but when there has been no suggestion of this in 49 previous issues and it turns out to be the character's coda, my eyebrows did raise a tad!) to the redevelopment of the semi-Ground Zero, which seemed awkward to me. Vaughan's other creator-owned series Y: The Last Man, ended with one of the best last issues ever, but sadly he can't repeat the trick here. A salute to Vaughan and Harris for seeing this through, and making it a stand-out series that mixed politics with super-heroics, but this is a title that shouldn't seek re-election. 6/10

Writer: Kody Chamberlain
Art: Kody Chamberlain
Image $2.99

Matt C: Cover of the week, no contest – the detectives working a case, walking towards a building, ignorant of the horrors they’re about to uncover. Perfect. Inside we find more astutely written cop drama, as our protagonist with the requisite emotional baggage digs deeper into the investigation of a possible serial killer. Chamberlain’s writing and art isn’t concerned with flash or pizazz (the brief visual deviations fit naturally); there’s plenty of substance to back up the style, and he produces the kind of well-crafted storytelling that gets right under the skin. He’s not breaking any new ground here, but then the crime genre isn’t in need of a revamp because it’s sustained itself for years on the endless, vicarious fascination folk have with tales of bad men doing bad deeds. Chamberlain understands he doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel and instead focuses on character and story, and it pays off, brilliantly. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kev Walker
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: A slight look of concern crossed my face when I saw the Avengers Academy involvement with this issue’s cover but thankfully Marvel have played the smart card and rather than mashing the two titles together for a *shudder* crossover the AA link is tenuous and that comic only needs to be read if you’d like an alternate view of the events that transpire aboard the Raft. Parker is truly excelling himself with this team, really socking home the uneasy team dynamic and how these characters can work in unison when the chips are down. Then, with neat touches of scripting, he really shows us where each member’s individual motivations lie and how they’re developing. The work that he and Kev Walker put into the Raft lockdown is tremendous with US Agent’s involvement being the true standout. This could have easily turned into Luke Cage and The Thunderbolts, but what we actually have is a comic that every single one of you should at least be sampling. Simply Marvel-ous! 9/10

Matt C: Well, sometimes you just have to pay attention to what’s being said. The only time I’ve ever picked up this book was during Warren Ellis' electrifying stint (where he – unintentionally - laid the groundwork for Dark Reign and Siege, no matter what Bendis likes to think). That was obviously down to the writer rather than the book itself, and once he was gone, so was I. But I’ve not turned a blind eye to what my colleagues have been saying these last couple of months regarding Jeff Parker’s revamp of the team. Their constant enthusing rubbed off so I picked up all the post-Siege issues, and you know what? Stew and Tom were right. This is damn fine comics. As much as I'm getting a kick out of Secret Avengers I have to agree that this is the best team book to spin out of the Heroic Age. Parker’s proven himself as a writer who’s adept and handling a multi-character cast on the various Agents Of Atlas titles, and it feels like he’s really hitting his stride here. He’s pulled together a fascinating selection of misfits fronted by ex-Hero For Hire, Luke Cage, and it’s a joy to see another writer get to utilize Cage in such fine style after a long period of time when he appeared to be off limits to anyone bar Bendis (two digs at Bendis in one review! I’m on a roll!). This particular issue features a thrilling sequence where the Thunderbolts quell a prison break at the Raft, written with wit and intensity by Parker, and illustrated with gleeful vigour by Walker. Everything you’ve previously read about this book has been bang on the money and I’m pleased to join in the chorus of praise; Thunderbolts well and truly gets the Paradox Comics Group’s Seal of Approval. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Rebekah Isaccs
DC/Wilstorm $2.99

Matt C: DV8: Gods And Monsters is like a Stealth Bomber zipping across the landscape of superherodom, dodging all the clich├ęs that spring up in its path and delivering a payload that feels fresh and unique. This wouldn’t work with a team like the Teen Titans, but DV8 are relatively unknown quantity, so Wood can take risks with the characters and push them to extremes without worrying over whether he’s tarnishing a publisher’s major cash cow. At this point in the series it’s clear that the team are falling into two factions and the build up to a final confrontation starts here. It’s still not been made clear why they were deposited on the planet, but my guess is it was some kind of social experiment (especially when you consider the whole thing is framed by Gem’s interrogation in a carrier). Isaacs bold, expressive art style constantly impresses – she gets to the emotional core of the characters and situations in a such way that you couldn’t imagine anyone else illustrating this series. Credit to Carrie Strachan’s colours too, as she senses the shift in tone and atmosphere of the script and responds accordingly. An infectious miniseries that goes from strength to strength. 9/10

Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Mike Deodato
Marvel $3.99

James R: In a short space of time this series has established itself as my number one guilty pleasure. I shouldn't like it - I don't normally like team books, and cosmic stuff in comics often leaves me cold - but if anyone can win me round, it's Ed Brubaker. This issue sees Steve Rodgers take on the Nova force in order to stop the Serpent Crown unleashing a force that will destroy the Universe. Sounds preposterous, but as you'd expect from the man who turned bringing Bucky Barnes back from the dead into one of the best comic tales of the decade, it reads brilliantly. He balances the team elements perfectly, and Deodato is a superb artist when it comes to drawing action. I'm also impressed that the first arc is done in four issues as opposed to a decompressed six or seven. The next arc features Nick Fury (or does it?) and so if you're one of the people who have been underwhelmed by Bendis' take on the Avengers, I heartily recommend you get on board with this - a blast from first page to last. 8/10

CHEW #13
Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $2.99

Matt C: This issue proudly displays the legend ‘Best New Series’, a deserved Eisner Award win for this deliciously off-the-wall comic. It seems like once the narrative parameters of the chicken-free world were firmly set in place, Layman now allows his imagination run wild, with any bonkers idea he thinks will work getting its chance to strut its stuff. This month’s example: Fricken. Read it and you’ll know what I mean. This kind of thing could easily fall flat on its face, but Layman’s writing is genuinely inventive and funny, and the comedy is given extra oomph by Guillory’s exaggerated, mischievous illustrations. Layman reckons his aim is to get to issue #60 – if he can keep Chew as fresh as it has been up to this point then it’s going to be a hell of an enjoyably quirky ride. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Whilce Portacio
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Well, this is a little strange and I’m not sure I like where it’s heading. With the arrival of Hope we knew things were going to get uncomfortable for Emma Frost with Scott’s attention would be drawn elsewhere, but Fraction seems to have stomped on the gas pedal for some reason propelling Emma into some weird, accelerated change where she’s moody, pouting and dropping a ‘Darling’ moniker on anyone coming across her path. She had grown into something of a compassionate female lead for the X-Men but that appears to be on the way out in double time and it makes for quite a jarring read. Worse still is that such a development is hindered completely by Portacio’s bizarre inability to draw two characters actually looking at each other. I don’t mean to be nasty but almost every single facial expression in this comic makes the character look like a freak-show and the strange facial morphing ability is really, REALLY off-putting. The brief scene with Scott and Logan is, however, well realised, but it’s a lone light of quality in a darkness of mediocrity and crap. I’m still eager to see where this ‘Five Lights’ storyline takes us but this issue is a serious fly in the ointment. 4/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt
Oni Press $3.99

Matt C: Bunn and Hurtt successfully applied a supernatural element to the gangster genre in the two Damned minis from Oni and they seem to be repeating the same trick here with the Western genre for The Sixth Gun. If I’m honest, it’s not quite on a par with Damned, but that could be down to my preference for hoodlums over cowboys. That said, it’s still tremendous fun with a diabolical Civil War general returning (well, almost) from the dead to get his hands on his sixth supernaturally charged pistol, while our protagonist, Drake Sinclair, pursues it for his own, as yet unknown, reasons. If there’s a flaw, it’s that Sinclair’s personality hasn’t fully manifested itself – he seems too elusive to latch onto considering he’s the central character to all intents and purposes. Hurtt’s artwork is fantastic, occupying the middleground between realism and a more catoonesque approach, and he captures scenes of spooky malevolence with style. Both creators seem ideally suited to each other – they understand each other’s instincts – and The Sixth Gun is developing into something rather special. 7/10

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

Matt C: Neptune erupts from the depths to snatch Namor in front of his startled Atlantean followers, and then whisks him away to Hades where Pluto has plans for the regal mutant half-breed. The legendary Sub-Mariner isn't one to be subdued easily and he's soon on his way to rescue the other captive Avengers. The pace doesn’t let up for a second as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes battle against the minions of Pluto. Thor could probably clean up here normally, but the curse Hela put on him has him at a severe disadvantage, his brittle bones being kept in place by his new armour. Non-stop action, the excitement levels not dropping… this is exactly what you want when you pick up a book with 'Avengers' in the title. 9/10

1 comment:

Tom P said...

Great to see you jump aboard the Thunderbolts bandwagon Matt! Its good to know you enjoyed my recommendation, Picked up DV8 #1 a few weeks back after your glowing reviews and was very impressed. Will be buying the other 4 issues as soon as I can!