24 Oct 2010

Mini Reviews 24/10/2010

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: Paul Cornell
Art: Javier Pina
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: This new collaboration with Boom! sees the umpteenth attempt by Stan Lee to make a significant splash on the comics scene again, but let's be honest, no one's really been terribly excited by any new projects from Stan The Man in the last few decades. Having said that, you can never, ever dismiss this guy - the comics scene as we know it wouldn't exist if it wasn't for him. (And before anyone says it, yeah Kirby, yeah Ditko, but these fellas wouldn't have had the same success without Lee at their side. So there!) With that preamble out of the way, onto Soldier Zero, the first of a series of books from Boom! with Lee's name emblazoned on the cover (although exactly how much input he actually has beyond the high concepts is unclear). This one sees a human chap become conjoined with a powerful alien entity, which is far from the most original idea in the world, the twist here being that the chap in question is confined to a wheelchair before his metamorphosis (which isn't exactly anything new either!). Fortunately, Cornell breathes fresh life into the hackneyed concept thanks to some strong characterization and a believable look at how someone deals with recent disability (although there are a couple of occasions when he lays it on a little too thickly). Pina's art does it's job well, snapping back and forth from sci-fi action to human drama with relative ease. All told, it's an enjoyable read, but at this juncture there's nothing that suggests it's likely to carve out a distinctive niche for itself. If you're looking for the magic touch that brought us Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor and more, look elsewhere. However, if you're in the market for something 'new' in the superhero genre, you could do worse than Soldier Zero. 6/10

Stewart R: So Stan’s at it again, rummaging through that brain of his for more tales of heroism, courage and the battle in the face of adversity. In all honesty it’s hard to tell how much of this debut is down to him and how much of a hand Paul Cornell has put in but I would imagine that the latter’s effort probably outweighs that of the former. Either way this is still an encouraging start as paralysed Afghanistan veteran Stewart Trautmann struggles to deal with the perception of him that friends and strangers have now that he’s wheelchair-bound. I did roll my eyes somewhat during the early pages as it all seemed a little formulaic in typical Lee fashion with themes and plot points smacking you in the face with little subtlety to be seen. However as it progresses the character development starts to seep in - “Ahhh, Mr Cornell’s work I presume?” - and I like the straight talking interaction between Stewart and potential love interest Lily when it comes to the subject of his condition. Throw in the clichéd, but nevertheless acceptable, alter-ego origin with some serviceable artwork from Pina and all told it’s not a bad start. 7/10

Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art: Sebastian Fiumara & Michel Lacombe
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A bit of a last minute purchase, this. Much as I love Thor and the way Marvel have co-opted Norse mythology to create something rich and unique, the current deluge of related titles arriving in preparation for next year's movie doesn't really tickle my collector gene. I mean, how many Thor books could one man need (or read) in a single month?! Saying that, it was a relatively quiet week (well, okay, maybe not!) and I really do think Thor and his brethren are ripe for continued exploration, and, well, Fiumara's cover was a definite eye-catcher, capturing the gleeful malevolence of the God of Mischief perfectly. So it found its may onto this week's pile, and I'm happy to say it was a worthwhile addition. An exiled Loki is hiding out in the only spot on Midgard the all-seeing eye of Odin can't reach but unsurprisingly he's eventually discovered and visited by his estranged half-brother, Thor. What we then get is an interpretation of the forging of Mjolinir, purposefully not clicking with the more familiar origin, the suggestion being that these individuals are so ancient, and have found their stories retold on countless occasions throughout the ages, that truth and myth start to get blurred over time. It can also be taken as comment on how we're all guilty of revising our own personal histories as we go, embellishing to suit our needs, which leads to the question of whether there's ever any real truth or just somebody's interpretation of the truth (particularly releavant when dealing with a trickster god). It's a smart script with some deliciously slick imagery from Fiumara, but beyond the idea's Aguirre-Sacasa plays with there's not a great deal going on in the story and I'm not certain which direction it's heading in. I'm more than willing to find out though. 7/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Dale Eaglesham
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This fast-paced, entertaining mini may not have possessed the depth of Brubaker's early work on Captain America but it brought back fond memories of it with its tale of espionage and intrigue mixed up with Steve Rogers past. If I'm honest, I got much more of a kick out of it than recent issues of Captain America. I guess that's because - as much as a like Bucky - Rogers is just that much more of a commanding character and that no one else, no matter how good they are, comes close. The series has featured Eaglesham's best work for Marvel since he made the jump for DC, with a retro muscularity that pushes all the right action/adventure buttons. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but a lot of fun all the same, and with a twist that may just be picked up on in future issues of Secret Avengers. 7/10

Writer: Tony Bedard
Art: Tyler Kirkham & BATT
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Well, a big old example of positives and negatives with this month’s GLC offering. I’ll start on the high note and that would be Tyler Kirkham and BATT’s artwork which feels raw and powerful in a '90s kind of way and suits the action and settings perfectly. Briefly visiting Planet Korugar, current home of the Sinestro Corps, is also a nice touch by Bedard as these agents of fear have been somewhat conspicuous by their absence since the dawning of the Brightest Day. My biggest problem however is that Bedard seems to have completely wiped Kyle Rayner of any and all personality which results in dropping ‘dude' and ‘buddy' here there and everywhere in an attempt to make up for it. With Tomasi having poached Guy Gardner for the Emerald Warriors title Bedard has been left with stiff-backed John Stewart and emotional Rayner to play with, but if this is how he’s planning to portray such an important character for the foreseeable future I may have to start adding up the art team’s style with the writer’s lack of substance and see if it equals a regular $2.99 donation. 5/10

Writer: Jonathan Ross
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Image $2.99

James R: Ah, the plot explanation issue, how the devil are you?! Three issues in and Jonathan Ross decides to take the opportunity to fill in the blanks for us - we find out who that alien fella is, as well as getting the backgrounds of the vampires, Eddie Falco and the nefarious Pete O'Leary. As with the previous issues of Turf, the creative team of Ross and Edwards certainly give you value for money - the pages are dense and dialogue-heavy, and Edwards' pencils are superb. However, I can't quite escape the feeling that Ross has gone too overboard here - there's enough good ideas for three separate comics, all fighting for attention, and it means that not one element stands out, or has time to breathe. I still enjoyed it as a read, and it's definitely got my attention (and my cash!) for the remaining two instalments. 7/10

Stewart R: A very worthy third chapter from Ross and Edwards sees things take a slightly more reserved turn as we get some back-story development, involved character interaction and the odd slice of cliché here and there. Now the appearance of cliché in a comic that’s trying to merge three different genres into one cohesive story could sound like a bad thing but it’s a necessary evil in order for Ross to get the most out of this story in the quickest time possible without having to try to rework our knowledge of vampires, aliens and gangsters. By relying on common knowledge and recognition of these genre types, Ross is actually allowing the three to come together almost seamlessly, forming it all into a really engrossing period piece. Admittedly some of the dialogue is a little forced in places but once again I’m taking that to be due to the constraint on time in order to get this story to its conclusion. Edwards has two of the three genres nailed with his human and vampire work oozing visual charisma but I still think he hasn’t quite got Squeed and the alien tech quite right yet. 8/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Frazer Irving
DC $2.99

James R: So, we're nearly there - this is Grant Morrison's penultimate issue on the title before branching out to start Batman Inc. Rather fittingly, it feels like the whole run in microcosm: it's full of good ideas and invention, but you really miss it when Frank Quitely isn't drawing it. As a couple of us said last month, for all his obvious talents, Frazer Irving's pencils are just bewildering sometimes. This is a real shame, as this time Morrison goes all-out, piling in the ideas from Batman: RIP, Return Of Bruce Wayne and this title too. It's breathless stuff, but I can't escape the feeling that it would have been more effective drawn by (whisper it) someone like Tony Daniel, who despite his shortcomings, well, he made the end of RIP clear enough! Here's hoping Yanick Paquette is up to the task on Morrison's next chapter in his epic Bat-novel. 8/10

Stewart R: Since Oberon Sexton was revealed to be the Joker in disguise a few issues back - which was a real high point in Morrison’s run on this title - things have, for me, been a little confused, and at times, thanks to Irving’s artwork, bewildering. Thankfully things become a little clearer on all levels this week as the ‘Batman and Robin: Must Die’ story starts out on the road towards its inevitable climax. Irving’s work for the most part fits the drama unfolding as Robin attempts a rescue of Dick, though I have to say there’s something about his style that doesn’t quite feel right for me, but that’s just a personal preference rather than a knock against his level of quality. Morrison is being careful to keep this tense story from falling into full Return of Bruce Wayne territory but is dropping in a few bits and pieces here and there to keep that particular plot thread in plain sight. Since November seems to be Bruce Wayne month at DC the grand finale to this particular chapter could be unmissable. 7/10

Matt C: As soon as this arc’s finished, I’m out of here. Yeah, I know it’s Grant Morrison’s last issue next month – what I really mean is that I’m leaving his corner of the Bat-Universe behind. The first three issues of this book were pretty special, but now I wonder if it was largely down to Frank Quitely’s beautiful art because, while there have been points where I’ve approved of things Morrison has done (most notably with Damian Wayne), at this stage of the game I’m reading this book and spending a lot of time trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It’s a problem I repeatedly have with Morrison’s work – there’s always a nagging feeling that he’s leaving bits out of the narrative because he deems them inessential, but the result is it leaves the reader scratching their head. Frazer Irving’s art doesn’t help things. Something like (the still AWOL) Gutsville suits his gothic style perfectly, and while you would think it would transfer well to Batman’s milieu, it doesn’t. There some nice touches – Joker’s demented, grinning face in particular – but there are too many instances of iffy anatomical perspective, too many action scenes that feel strangely static. Basically, this isn’t really what I’m after when I pick up a Batman title; there are some clever ideas being utilized but the execution doesn’t work for me. Batman remains an eternal favourite of mine, but while Morrison remains at the wheel I’m going to have to steer clear. 4/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: John Romira Jr & Tom Palmer
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Matt C: Much as enjoyed the first series of Kick-Ass it was Matthew Vaughan’s movie adaptation that really lived up to its title (and it’s a film that gets better with repeat viewings). Millar’s sequel (which may or may not make its way to the big screen at some point in the future) seems to absorb some of the deviations the movie made from the original source so it’s not too confounding for anyone picking this up fresh, having not read the first mini. It may be hard to separate both comic and film versions in your mind at certain points early on but it soon finds its groove, taking the story of Kick-Ass and Hit Girl to the next stage in a fairly organic fashion. As a comic initially pitched as a look at how superheroes could exist in the real world, it’s now plunged headfast into a fantastical world as different to our own as the Marvel Universe is, so it’s now abundantly clear – if it wasn’t a long time ago – that the pitch was just another manifestation of Millar’s trademark hyperbole. But it doesn’t matter: Kick-Ass is just a hell of a lot more fun (and funny) than anything the writer’s turned his hand to in a long while. Some of the humour feels forced (especially when Millar tries to shoehorn in contemporary cultural references) but it hits the mark more often than it doesn’t. Romita Jr’s art is a damn sight better here than it has been in any of the other gigs he’s had recently (I’m looking directly at you, Avengers) and I’d put that down to him caring a lot more about characters he has joint ownership of along with the fact that it’s the redoubtable (can I say legendary too?) Tom Palmer providing the inks (or ‘finishes’ and ‘ink washes’ as it says in the credits). It’s a fine looking book, reaffirming Romita Jr’s standing as one of the best in the business, and while it’s not a completely assured beginning, I now have far more confidence in this series than I did when I saw the 8-page snippet in CLiNT. 7/10

Stewart R: Mark Millar seems to be investing a lot of his time in Hollywood these days and as everyone knows making a sequel to any initial success, film or otherwise, is one of the hardest things to do. I really was carrying a level of scepticism when Kick-Ass 2: Balls To The Wall was announced, figuring it would just be a case of cashing in on a sure thing, but I have to say that I’m suitably impressed with this first issue. Millar moves on a few months from the events of the first arc but keeps things fairly grounded with Kick-Ass and Hit Girl still in the picture but focusing on how their alter-ego, everyday lives have been affected. There’s a level of escalation that Millar has hinted at which could prove interesting down the line and I do like the fact that he has offered us teasers of what’s to come while intimating that the journey to that point is going to be where the entertainment lies. Romita Jr turns in a decent effort matching his work on the first run and I expect he’ll keep that consistency throughout this promising sequel. The first Kick-Ass series was great fun and created an interesting comic book world - at this first glance it seems that we might be in store for more of the same. 7/10

James R: I've always stopped myself from using the following term in reviewing comics as I think it's a little lazy, but man, Kick-Ass 2 deserves it: meh. Put simply, it's 'Kick Ass forms a super-team'. It makes logical sense following on from the finale of the first series (which saw Dave's triumph being that he'd influenced culture to the degree that other people were now dressing up as him) but given that the primary concerns of a first issue should be to hook you in and leave you wanting more, (something Millar has been great at in the past) this title fails to do either. Even Millar's flash-forward trick made me think that the rest of the run is going to be pedestrian. If you were a huge fan of the first series, you'll undoubtedly find more to enjoy here, but as a sequel, it feels unnecessary, and well, a little meh. 6/10

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

Matt C: The penultimate issue, and all the praise I’ve heaped on this miniseries so far still applies. It remains an utterly arresting study of how dangerous super-powered teenagers would really be, particularly when dropped into a primitive society without any moral authority to reign them in if they stepped out of line. It’s like a social experiment on a global scale using superheroes still blighted by adolescent insecurities as the guinea pigs. I particularly like Gem’s supposition that the DV8 team are essentially creating a new mythology with all of them cast in the roles of gods – if we look back at Greek or Norse myths they’re populated with deities afflicted with very human foibles, like jealousy, selfishness and deviousness, the only thing setting them apart from the natives being the power they wielded. Wood may be the ideas man responsible for this book, but as always it a collaborative effort in comics, and Rebekah Isaacs has really made her mark here. Her bold, clean linework, the way she can draw emotion out of a scene, her adeptness at portraying large scale, sweeping action scenes… I wasn’t familiar with her work before this series so for me she’s definitely one of the brightest new stars on the scene this year. The sad thing is, just as these two creators are opening up new possibilities for the Wildstorm Universe, DC decides to pull the plug on the imprint. All we can do is enjoy these last gasps of brilliance while they last. 8/10

Writer: Walt Simonson
Art: John Buscema & Tom Palmer
Marvel $1.00

Matt C: This is more like it! Walt Simonson comes onboard as writer and there's a significant jump in quality. The stakes seem higher, the characterization seems more astutely observed, and it just generally feels like an important book again. It's no surprise really: Simonson had just come off his acclaimed run on Thor where he proved on a consistent basis that he was not just a distinctive artist but also a shit hot storyteller. The art team of Buscema and Palmer remain in place, leaving Simonson to concentrate on his words, but both penciller and inker seem invigorated following the writer's arrival, turning in some incredible work that is as explosive as it is exciting. With Namor watching his spouse mutate into a monster, the Avengers scrabbling to figure out what's going on (with Doc Druid still making snide comments about Captain Marvel's leadership), and with Kang reappearing in the book, there's a level of intensity in place that's exhilarating. This is Avengers back to its very best. 9/10

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