10 Oct 2010

Mini Reviews 10/10/2010

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: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Wow! Ok, I was a big fan of Kyle and Yost’s X-Force but if Remender and Opeña produce comics of this quality month after month then we really might have something special on our hands with Uncanny X-Force. Remender’s first success is to utilise his focused cast to tell the best possible story and rely on the fact that the majority of people who pick up this book already know a reasonable amount about Wolverine, Psylocke and Archangel. To do that he allows the reader to piggyback off Fantomex’s internal monologue, thankfully reducing the chances of this seeming to be a ‘Wolverine and X-Force’ comic and in the process showing us a little of this mysterious mutant’s abilities. Remender also succeeds in keeping Deadpool crazy enough to be entertaining yet prevents him from spoiling the show. Being an arc based upon the resurgence of Apocalypse there’s also some great expansion on Betsy and Warren’s relationship as they try to keep the Archangel persona from becoming dominant. Opeña’s artwork suits this team and setting incredibly well and his portrayal of the tombs are greatly enhanced by Dean White’s striking use of colour. Admittedly the 6-page recent history of X-Force in the back will grate in a $3.99 book but it’s about the only negative point I can find! 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Carlos Pacheco & Dexter Vines
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! I've walked away from the Marvel's Ultimate Universe a couple of times now but something always seems to pop up and draw me towards it again. Ultimate Thor is a case in point: Hickman is one of the best of the emerging crop of new superhero writers, Pacheco is an excellent (and relatively underrated) artist, Thor is a firm favourite of mine, and the Ultimate version of the Thunder God offers a neat variation on the established mythos. It opens with Thor residing as a 'guest' in a European government facility awaiting the arrival of psychiatrist Donald Blake (oh yes!) and, interestingly, we are never given an opportunity to see Blake's face, Pacheco always framing the panels so it's not in view. It then flits between three other time periods: the first is Germany in 1939, with Baron Zemo and Henrich Himmler colluding on a plan to invade Asgard at the Fuhrer's behest; we then go further back (much further!) and visit a trio of youthful friends (Thor, Loki, Balder) in the midst of battling the Frost Giants; finally, we see an introductory glimpse of Ragnarok in progress. Obviously all four different threads will tie together, but each one is distinctive and compelling in its own right to guarantee the quality remains consistent. I'm not sure where this ties in to the continuity of the Ultimate Universe (last time I looked, there was no doubt that Thor was the Norse God he claimed to be) but the tale appears to be self-contained enough for that not to matter. In other words, even if - like me - you're not following what goes on elsewhere in this universe, if you're keen on the creators/characters then this is definitely worth a punt. 8/10

Tom P: Sad to say that Fraction & Ferry’s Thor #615 left me cold when I got around to reading it a few weeks back. Something just wasn't clicking for me. This, however, is a very promising start. Hickman and Pacheco start to weave together Ultimate Thor and prove that they can work well with both the Ultimate Universe and the character himself. I love all the European Super Solider stuff, clearly establishing links to Millar’s The Ultimates, and I liked the use of Donald Blake as mental health expert. The fact that Pacheco never shows his face adds real mystery to the character and I look forward to what he has to contribute to this tale. Throw in Nazi Frost Giants, Baron Zemo, the coming of Ragnarok and the forging of Mjolnir, and you have a very entertaining read. 8/10

Writer by: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $3.99

James R: Last time out this series gained a huge amount of online interest due to it's possibly metaphysical overtones - was this Lovecraft-inspired tale about a story becoming self-aware and the boundaries of comics? Well, yes, sort of. No doubt it's a smart read - you wouldn't expect anything less from Alan Moore - but given Moore's own views on the series (to paraphrase, he wrote it quickly and to commission) I don't think it's his final meditation on comics. As a horror comic though, it is strangely effective. This time, the Feds go undercover in Salem to find out just why the world of H. P. Lovecraft is bleeding through to the nefarious underground of America. Rather than out-and-out shocking (as with Crossed) this is a more unsettling horror - I felt particularly sordid after reading this and, well, between you and me, that's no bad thing! Maybe not everyone’s cup of calamari, but essential for us Alan Moore fans. 7/10

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Art: Jefte Palo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: After a highly enjoyable debut just a month ago my natural scepticism was leading me to think that the second instalment of this limited series was likely to be a little more underwhelming, but Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo have managed to maintain a good level of comic entertainment. Thanks to the mnemonic memory plot point that Van Lente set up last time out Taskmaster and Mercedes’ speedy trip to Central America seems relatively plausible as he visits the skull-adorned militia of El Don De Los Muertos in the next attempt at piecing his forgotten history together. There’s a terrific sense of dark fun to be found as Taskmaster’s links to the drug cartel are unveiled alongside The Don of the Dead’s rather strange musical persuasion. Van Lente has cleverly edged Taskmaster’s character away from the unlikable mercenary with the self-preservation ability that Christos Gage was crafting in Avengers: The Initiative to a more lonely and complex protagonist that you actually start to root for. I’d been trying to think who Jefte Palo’s art style reminded me of until it clicked and I realised that his use of angles and panel layout shares a delicious similarity to Transformers UK artist of yore Geoff Senior, which will always be a plus point in this reviewers eyes. 8/10

Tom P: Stewart R sold me this title when he showed it to me last month and with that #3 cover on the horizon I had to get in on the action. The premise is that he's absorbed so many things that his muscle memory ability has started to override his memories. Consequently he's on a mission with a seemingly innocent waitress he saved form death to rediscover his past, work out why he has a price on his head, all the while being hunted down by multiple teams of antagonists. I’m pleased to report it’s a lot of fun and more than lives up to the recommendation. I may have purchased this for a gimmick and a bit of a chuckle but it's more than that and I highly recommend you try it too! 8/10

James R: Well, paint me blue and call me Bernard, this series has been the unexpected hit of the year in the Paradox Group! From the previews, there was little to really grab the attention (though Action Philosophers writer Van Lente always deserves a look) since a miniseries starring a Marvel b-lister is hardly the thing to get the geek pulse a-flutter. However, its excellence is one of the reasons I love comics - they continue to pleasantly surprise me. This is like taking a swig of 7-Up and finding that it's actually champagne. Two issues in and it's a blast - full-throttle action fused with comedy and intrigue as Taskmaster dashes around the globe desperately trying to recall just who he is while staying ahead of a whole swarm of assassins. Palo’s art and colourist Jean-Francois Beaulieu's muted tones fit the book perfectly, and in terms of tone and fun it's the closest thing I've read to Warren Ellis' much-missed Nextwave: Agents of Hate. I know my fellow reviewers will mention it, but I feel honour bound to also alert you good people: next issue - a village of Hitlers! All kinds of awesome. 9/10

Matt C: My man Stewart R turned me on to this last month - although I think the preview of issue #3 (a village full of Hitlers!) sealed the deal - and I'm glad I signed up. There's a price on Taskmaster's head, but since all his memories have been overwritten by the skills he constantly absorbs and learns from others, he's not exactly sure why. Pursued by various groups intent on claiming the bounty, and with waitress Mercedes pulled into the fray, he's relying purely on muscle memory to lead him through his investigations. This second instalment doesn't possess the same level of madcap inventiveness as the first, put there's still plenty of fun to be had, and the art style keeps it semi-grounded in 'reality' (a more obvious, cartoonish style may have diluted the impact). So, all good, but let's be honest: it's next issue and Hitler Town we're all waiting for! 7/10

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe
Image $2.99

Stewart R: We must be heading towards a point where a trade of the first arc will become available and I will certainly be making a recommendation for you all to at least have a flick through the pages as Stokoe has created a world unlike any other. The fifth issue of Orc Stain finds One-Eye in quite the predicament as the nefarious forces of the Orc Tzar have managed to capture the plucky purple-skinned fellow and drag him off to a mountain stronghold housing repulsive beasts and a prison for other ocularly-challenged orcs. With One-Eye unconscious for much of the issue Stokoe utilises nymph ‘poisonthrower’ (similar to an alchemist-cum-magician) Bowie to lead proceedings as she tracks down the orcs that invaded and burnt her home and stole One Eye from her. The banter between Bowie and her headdress-cum-guardian Zazu is good fun as they discuss their mutual hatred for the orcs, and before long One-Eye is lucid and attempting yet another unlikely escape which always brings a smile to my face. The art is a colourful delight as always and a huge amount of kudos must go to Image for electing to leave this comic unspoiled by adverts in a $2.99, 32-page bundle of fun. It’s value at its very best. 9/10

S.H.I.E.L.D. #4
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Dustin Weaver
Marvel $2.99

Tom P: Hickman and Weaver continue to show us Marvel’s secret history this week and its jaw-dropping stuff as Weaver ensures that every page is a good-looking one - the images of Da Vinci by the sun are the real high point of this book; you can almost feel the heat and it’s an awesome spectacle. My biggest problem with this book is I’m still feeling a little lost. Don't get me wrong, I applaud the high concepts and long-term plotting but reading month to month is proving to be tricky. A comic like this requires a great deal of attention and I feel once read in one sitting or as a trade I would get vastly more out of it. So that’s why I'm sticking with S.H.I.E.L.D.; Hickman’s playing the long game and I trust him enough to stay with it and lap up the visual splendour. I may be a bit lost but I can still enjoy the view. 7/10

Matt C: The scope and ambition of this title are two of its major selling points, but, perversely, their also two reasons why people may be pushed away from reading it. In bite-sized, bi-monthly chunks, it’s difficult to get an idea of the big picture (and this is most certainly a story about the big picture!). What you’re left with is a succession of very cool moments, beautifully rendered by Weaver, that somehow don’t always seem tethered to an overall narrative. The more I become familiar with Hickman’s work, the more apparent it is that he likes to keep his cards close to his chest and not give the game away too quickly. It might be a sometimes frustrating method for the reader to appreciate straight away, but I’m still of the mind that perseverance will pay off, so I’m sticking with this. 7/10

James R: Hickman is currently a divisive figure amongst the Paradox Comics Group. A writer of undoubted talent, we're currently split as to whether his two big Marvel projects are genius or hot air. Whereas I've run out of patience on FF, I'm still enjoying the bonkers time-trippery of S.H.I.E.L.D. After last months frankly bizarre and over-long focus on Isaac Newton, this month Hickman finally lays his cards on the table. As Leonid says: "Just stop being so cryptic and tell me what's going on." To be fair to Hickman, he does as we learn that the Shield organization have been covering for a Celestial in utero while Newton schemes to get his inhuman-lovin' paws on the Five-Fold Understanding. Phew. Bonkers, but enjoyably so - there's a nice subtext here about legacy and heraldry, and what it means to take on the responsibilities of the past and your ancestors. I have no idea where Hickman is going with this, but I'm certainly on board for the duration. 8/10

Stewart R: With his Isaac Newton focused issue now out of the way, Hickman has been free to carry on with the main points of his intriguing story and expand a little upon just how and why Nostradamus and Leonardo Da Vinci have arrived at this particular juncture. The man is playing with some brilliantly big concepts from the Marvel Universe and with the main current danger to Earth now (possibly?) revealed and the tensions within the secretive organisation now clear to see, the next few issues could be terribly exciting. Dustin Weaver and colourist Christina Strain’s efforts here are delightful and I’ve not seen an art team handle the transition from light to dark and back again so effectively in a long time. Seriously, the white on the double-page spread actually feels like it’s burning my eyes it’s that good, and with a creative team working to this level of cohesion things are looking promising indeed. The rather enjoyable ‘problem’ with Hickman’s writing is that it’s very difficult to predict where he’s taking his plots, so while it seems that we’re now far wiser about the events unfolding before us there’s always the large possibility that he may be misdirecting us in the hope of delivering a bigger and more shocking ‘truth’ somewhere down the road. The only current fear I have is that he may ‘over-write’ his main idea but I’ve hope that he steers clear of doing that. 8/10

Writer: Ralph Macchio
Art: John Buscema & Tom Palmer
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: A perfectly serviceable issue of the Avengers; while not up to the same standard as Stern’s run, it still provides enough entertainment to pass muster. The Super-Adaptoid’s plan is finally revealed: he’s after that object that’s driven many a villain to distraction, the Cosmic Cube! It’s an action heavy instalment, and while characterization takes a backseat, what little there is of it – as before – seems too two-dimensional to really convince. The Buscema/Palmer combo is still a force to be reckoned with, but no one’s going to claim they deliver their best work here. Fun while it lasts but otherwise forgettable. 7/10


Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware that Alan Moore is on record as having written Neonomicon quickly and to commission, but if so perhaps he should do so more often, as writing ala 'pulp' obviously works wonders for him. Issue one was a decent read but I was bowled over by issue two. Extremely disturbing, with great pacing and some genuine “No, don't go down the cellar, you fools!” moments in it, enhanced by the fact that you think the main characters are in control of the situation until...

To be honest, I've always loved the concept of H P Loecraft horror, but been let down by the actual writing and execution. Lovecraft came up with a brilliant idea, but he wasn't really a good enough writer to exploit the possibilities (which is why nearly all his stories are so interchangeable in terms of plots and characters). Alan Moore on the other hand has approached the Lovecraft mythos in the same way he did the traditional superhero formulas of the sixties and seventies, when he wrote Marvelman. He not only understands the core principles of Lovecraft horror, but he has a true grasp of what makes a horror story scary.

I'd probably go as far as to say this is probably the best individual issue of a horror comic that I've ever read.

- Rob N

Matt Clark said...

Didn't get around to reading Neonomicon until last night (new baby on the scene, time is a precious commodity) so wasn't able to review it, but - Holy Cow! - that was an uncomfortable read, taking the term 'For Mature Readers' to the next level with its depraved Lovecraftian orgy. For me, the series' secret weapon - as with many an Avatar book - is Jacen Burrows. Obviously comic book illustration, but with enough realism applied to make the scenes shown here utterly unnerving.

Best horror comic ever, Rob? So that will be 6/10 then? ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm in a good mood, Matt, so let's push the boat out and award it a '7'. ;)

- Rob N

Anonymous said...

Agree by the way re: Jacen Burrows. On the surface his art is quite simplistic and cartoony, but he has a unique take on extreme horror that really works.

I thought the whole thing with the contact lenses worked really well to add to the utter horror of the situation in the cellar. A simple narrative device, but very effective. Especially the final panel when you just get a blurred glimpse of...

A superb issue. But then, that's Alan Moore for you. This is how the Lovecraft mythos should always have been portrayed.

- Rob N

Connolly said...

Got my haul this week earlier (and oh yes, first comment on this blog). Uncanny X-force was definitely the highlight of my week, fantastic artwork, great writing and a terrible joke I could use on people later (Deadpool's opening joke about the coins).

Shield is still progressing but finally I feel some kind of real story coming in.

Avengers Academy is another book that is slowly progressing but getting somewhere finally, I'm enjoying the intro to each character per issue but hey. The pop-culture references and name drops feel unnessecary however (Looking at you the name drop to 4chan) make me smile.

Matt Clark said...

Cheers for chiming in Connolly! I'm wondering if I need to overcome my current aversion to X-books after all the praise for Uncanny X-Force. Think I'll wait until people have assessed the next couple of issues before I make a decision as to whether or not I should get involved.