19 Sept 2010

Mini Reviews 19/09/2010

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: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross & Ryan Kelly
DC/Vertigo $3.99

James R: At a friend's birthday recently, talk turned to 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books (or for our UK readers, the Fighting Fantasy series). We waxed lyrical as we reminisced over the titles that pretty much acted as our generation's Gameboys. Each paragraph would give the reader a choice of responses, and whichever one you took then lead you to a page with your consequential action on it (but you know this, right?!). Well, that afternoon we were clearly tapping into the collective unconscious, as this week sees a unique issue of The Unwritten that brings these quantum-esque anthologies back to the spotlight. Mike Carey presents the backstory of Lizzie Hexam as a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' novel, and in a word, it's outstanding. Flipping the comic to read horizontally allows Peter Gross to cram in double the amount of story pages, and indulging in the game itself is a perfect dose of retro fun. Better still, Carey uses the indeterminacy of the tale as part of the narrative - without spoiling the issue, Tom's reasoning behind his speech to Lizzie is all about how truth is largely made up of what we accept. With a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book we have to accept the narrative our choices have given us. I've heard some people say that the comic isn't 'easy to read' like this, but seriously? If carefully turning a few pages back and forth is too much of a chore for you, well, I guess you should sit things out until they develop the technology where content is streamed straight into your brains! Every now and then I worry that the series is becoming too pedestrian (there were certainly points in the last arc that felt inert to me) but as with the Kipling issue and the Beatrix Potter-esque instalment, Carey and Gross continue to produce something remarkable that you want to force on other link-minded people. A triumphant experiment in every way. 10/10

Matt C: The most ambitious issue of the series yet. It’s a bold move to attempt a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style story in the middle of an ongoing story arc, but when you consider how The Unwritten is largely concerned with the power of fiction over the real world it seems like an inspired but logical move. With the pages arranged in the landscape format and then divided in two (56 ‘pages’ in total), it begins brilliantly as the reader is given choices to move to a different page to take the story of Lizzie Hexam’s origin forward. It’s a pity that halfway through Carey essentially gives up on the ‘choose where to go next’ approach, and follows a more ordered structure – at this point the constant back-and-forth page-turning becomes a largely redundant exercise. Gross tackles the reduced panel size with real vigour, as though the challenge has prompted him to up his already impressive game. The art is tremendous and Kelly’s inking contribution adds a new layer to the visual style Gross has been perfecting for the last sixteen instalments, resulting in a very good looking book indeed. This issue readily demonstrates that, whilst the creative team may not always hit the mark dead on, their penchant for taking risks and thinking big is paying huge dividends for their readership. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Declan Shalvey
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Crossovers and events! The bane of many a comic writer’s life I would imagine, especially if you’re trying to get on and develop a story and a group dynamic in the early stages of a run. No sooner than four issues into the new line-up’s tenure and Parker finds himself having to deliver a couple of Shadowland instalments because Luke Cage is pretty good friends with the old ‘Man Without Fear’. Of course, this being Jeff Parker means that he uses the situation to show us how the Thunderbolts handle their tedious and restrained downtime while at the Raft and how they react and behave when Luke Cage is not there to exert his parental control over them all. There are some neat mess hall shenanigans which highlight that these characters are definitely from the nastier side of the tracks and then when the inevitable attack of Hand ninjas rolls into view there’s a great sense of anticipation on how Parker will shake things up this time. Declan Shalvey is not a name I’ve heard of before but his style shows some similarity to that of Gabriel Hardman and Giancarlo Caracuzzo and while it’s not the eye-catching awesomeness of Kev Walker it still fits this book pretty well. If your title has to get dragged into a crossover then this is a prime example of how to make it work for you. 8/10

Tom P: Thunderbolts was opened with caution this week. Would the fact it’s a Shadowland tie-in make it rubbish? Would Kev Walker taking a break from art duties dull my enjoyment of what has been a terrific comic he has helped Jeff Parker turn around since he started working on it? Well, the good news is it’s still a great read with the story progressing nicely. The Shadowland links come mostly towards the end of this issue which leaves plenty of time for Parker to write some fun stuff about the team having lunch at the Raft. It’s a lot of fun reading this team of misfit villains interact, argue and bond. The only gripe I have is Shalvey's artwork is not as strong as Walker’s. Don't get me wrong, it’s fine, but that’s as much as I can say about it. He must have done something right though because #148 was still a thoroughly enjoyable issue. 7/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Sean Murphy
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Most weeks this would have undoubtedly been my pick of the week, but in a heavyweight showing for Vertigo (again!) this has to accept a respect-heavy second place. The penultimate instalment of Joe The Barbarian sees Joe starting to assume the mantle of the Dying Boy and marshal his forces against the coming darkness, whilst simultaneously having to make a choice between realities - the hallucinatory kingdom or the 'real world' of his home. Inevitably, the choice is not what it seems, and I cannot wait to see how this all plays out in the final part. In fact, that's the only thing preventing me from scoring this issue higher; as with Daytripper, it wasn't until the conclusion that I could properly judge the series as a whole. Until the jigsaw is complete next time out however, I'm more than happy to geek-drool over the beautiful art of Sean Murphy. His work in this series has been outstanding, and I'm willing to overlook the mild delay (as I did with John Cassaday for Planetary) when the work is of this calibre. A feast for the eyes, and it's always brilliant to see Grant Morrison on form, expertly weaving the hyper-real with moments of real drama. 8/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Fernando Pasarin & Cam Smith
DC $3.99

Stewart R: Last issue was all about Guy Gardner, his deal with Ganthet and Atocitus and his request for a little business trip away to the Unknown Sectors. It was a bold, entertaining issue and raised my excitement for what this series would hold. With the trip now planned this second issue basically involves Gardner and Tomasi ‘packing for the trip ahead’ as everything is gathered that will be needed over the coming instalments. This involves small looks into the current mentalities of Kilowog and Arisia as they come to terms with the loss that the pair of them have realized through the past year. While it stalls the story somewhat these pieces are brilliantly written and really do raise the tension when the three Lanterns join up and work through the first awkward moments of their journey. Pasarin doesn’t get to plaster the page with action and ring-based power battles but instead uses his terrific skill to plaster emotion over the faces of all involved and this guy really can draw. It has to be said that the cover doesn’t really represent what takes place within the pages, but with Tomasi working on this form you can believe that the covers won’t be what this series is judged upon. 9/10

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

Matt C: We're reaching the home strait now in Wood and Isaacs hugely impressive miniseries, and the violence is escalating. Wood continues to explore various fascinating ideas through the prism of the superhero genre, particularly how our behaviour and morality is defined by the environment we operate in. I'm not usually too keen on teen books, but this title is far more appealing because the concept is more effective when applied to an age group that’s more emotionally malleable and liable to turn their backs on accepted moral frameworks very swiftly. Wood has positioned himself as one of the smartest writers in the business, but while its the intelligence behind his script that fires the synapses it's Isaacs clean, confident linework, with its assured command of movement, that ensures there's plenty for the eyes to absorb. The violence, when it erupts, is brutal, but contains a certain kind of elegance when rendered by Isaacs' pen. Some of the panels are gorgeous, and credit for that must also go to Carrie Strachan for her bold, glossy colour scheme. All in all, DV8: Gods & Monsters has completely exceeded my initial expectations. Brilliant. 8/10

Tom P: The last Wildstorm book I purchased was the final issue of Planetary. I haven't read any of their other stuff in a long time and never feel at all compelled to pick up an Authority book again. It’s a shame considering how I used to love that world when Ellis was writing it all about a decade ago, but it was another time. Anyway, back to the topic at hand! Matt C told me many times how good this miniseries is, so one Thursday afternoon I purchased the previous five parts and read them in one sitting. I can confirm that it is indeed awesome stuff and this issue is no different. Its great to see Brian Wood dust these characters off and it makes for a fascinating and unpredictable read. Let’s hope he gets an opportunity to write more Wildstorm titles. This is truly a breath of fresh air. 9/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Dale Eaglesham
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: You could easily argue that this is very formulaic stuff from Brubaker: a moustache-twirling villain using Rogers’ past against him, a love interest who may not be what she seems, and plenty of butt-kicking action as the former Captain America does what he does best. I’d take that argument onboard and make my own rebuttal as follows: all those aforementioned elements are exactly what make this miniseries so entertaining. Yes, it’s not moving the character into any new territory, but it plays to all his strengths, reminds us of the reasons behind his enduring appeal, and is delivered with such gusto from Brubaker that it’s impossible not to get carried along. Eaglesham assists with some of the best work I’ve seen from him yet, referencing a more classic style of comic book illustration but updating it with an intense kineticism. It won’t win any awards for originality but if you want to see Steve acting more ruthless than you may have ever seen him before, this is where you need to be. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Richard Burchielli
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Tom P: I’ve had this comic recommended to me several times, and as a new arc is always a good jumping on point I decided to finally check out Northlanders. Along with DV8 it’s another book from Brian Wood this week and it’s completely worth your cash. I was so impressed that you know I will just have to order all the trades or pick up the previous issues on eBay. He injects his gruff Nordic folk with so much character and it’s fascinating to watch these Pagan's adjust to the new Christian world they find themselves in. If you want to know more about Brian Wood and his work click on over to the excellent 13 Minutes. Justin is writing a great series of articles as part of his Brian Wood Project where he will do a much better job than me explaining why you should check out every comic with his name on it. 8/10

Writer: Roger Stern & Ralph Macchio
Art: John Buscema & Tom Palmer
Marvel $0.95

Matt C: A quick bit of research and it appears that Roger Stern was fired from Avengers at this point, so while he gets a plot credit it's now Ralph Macchio on scripting duties. I've not been able to ascertain the reasons behind Stern's dismissal but only a fool or a mad man could have given him the boot based on the quality of his stories, as they were arguably up there with the very best. Whatever the 'discussions' were behind closed doors, there's a noticeable dip in quality here. Macchio's a solid if unexceptional writer but being left to pick up the pieces, so to speak, of Stern’s future plans means the script here feels pedestrian and by-the-numbers. Fortunately the art team of Buscema and Palmer remains in place but even that isn't enough to generate anything particularly memorable. More than anything what this issue does is highlight just how great Stern's run on the title really was. 6/10


Anonymous said...

Roger Stern leaving the Avengers (according to Mark Gruenwald):

Sometime mid-April, I had Roger fly to New York for a conference to map out the next year's AVENGERS story line and coorindate them with our two component books CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR. In an afternoon long session attended by the various concerned writers and editors (two of whom are both writers and editors but not of the same title), we worked out what I thought to be an interesting, innovative direction. It seemed like all participants agreed. However, when Roger got back home and began to work out the specific details to the scenario, he reported that he couldn't come up with any way to make the scenario work without doing injustice to some of the characters involved. The bottom line was that he didn't want to proceed with the story line we all discussed.

I was not interested in doing any injustices to any characters either, but I also believed that the story line could be done without hurting any characters. I was also not interested in forcing a writer to write something he didn't want to. So, despite our five years' plus of amicable working relations, we had developed what seemed to be irreconcilable differences. Something had to give. I informed Roger that I wanted to proceed with the agreed-upon story line and thus, I would hire another writer who could get behind the scenario enough to do it justice.

- Rob N

Justin Giampaoli said...

Hey, hey, thanks for the link guys! Glad to see you enjoying DV8 and Northlanders!

You're going to want to see what I have to say about DV8 in an upcoming post!

Tom P said...

Looking forward to it Justin! Just read all the Wildstorm stuff online, I said in my review "Let’s hope he gets an opportunity to write more Wildstorm titles. This is truly a breath of fresh air." and I see Wood just tweeted "sorta very crushed about @Wildstorm . very influential to me early on, and I looked forward to doing much more for them post-DV8." Oh Dang it!

Justin Giampaoli said...

Ditto my thoughts. I was looking forward to him returning to DV8 at least, if not other Wildstorm properties. He's kinda' hinted that DV8 could turn into a "series of mini-series" title, ala Hellboy.