31 Oct 2010

Mini Reviews 31/10/2010

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: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips
Marvel/Icon $3.50

James R: This is quite effortlessly my book of the week. Firstly, it's the next instalment in the life of Zack Overkill, the antihero of the first series of Incognito. Overkill lives in a world which I can't get enough of - it's the world of the ‘20s and ‘30s pulps brought up to date, and it's a killer hybrid of Brubaker's 'Bad Guy' books - Criminal and horribly under-read Sleeper. This time around, we're finding more out about Zack's origins, featuring the suitably pulpy mysterious figure of Lazarus, the Returned Man. Meanwhile, Overkill gets a new assignment - to hunt down a SOS agent gone rogue. In every department, this book excels - Brubaker's plotting (with some brilliant flashbacks & side-steps) and trademark hardboiled dialogue are superb, and Sean Phillips continues to be outstanding. A special mention to Val Staples too, whose colours give both Criminal and Incognito an unmistakable and perfect look. Phew, just buy it already! 9/10

Stewart R: Hooray!! Zack Overkill’s back!! Let the anti-hero.... um, heroics commence! Brubaker and Phillips debut a new arc that drops us straight back into their dark vision of a world where the bad guys can end up working for the good guys and still have to do their own laundry. Zack may be using his skills and powers to fight the good fight now but he’s seeing little reward for it and it’s great to watch him struggle to lead a boring, average life with the ‘normals’ while in the same stroke being ostracised by the powered good guys he’s forced to work beside. The new story ties once again into Zack’s past, which should ensure that things remain complicated in the most enjoyable and interesting way possible and give Brubaker even more scope for expanding upon this rich, atmospheric world. Phillips is the artist for this story, these characters, and he once again excels at capturing every little emotion and nuance in Zack’s frustrating and life-altering situation. Early days but if this debut and the pedigree of the creators is anything to go by we’ve got another potential series of the year contender. 8/10

Matt C: Third page in and there’s a flashback panel of Zack Overkill taking down a group of costumed bad guys. Their names? Dark Leopold and the Nuclear Nazis! That’s one of the reasons I love this book: the acknowledged debt to pulp traditions, filtered through a superhero prism and then delivered with a thoroughly modern, adult sensibility that revels in the idea that people afflicted with superpowers would generally be a bunch of misanthropic fuck ups. As with many of Brubaker’s stories in this vein (Criminal, Sleeper), it’s all about seeing our hero (or anti-hero? or complete bastard?) finding himself in situations that get worse by the minute, but being utterly incapable of extricating himself from them. You know from the off that Zack’s going to find himself getting deeper and deeper into the shit, but a lot of the fun comes from watching how it all unfolds. Brubaker knows this stuff inside out, and with Phillips and colourist Val Staples in tow you can be confident, based on past experience, that this will easily be a ride worth both your time and money. So, if you not doing so already, get onboard now. 8/10

Writer: Kurt Busiek & Daryl Gregory
Art: Damian Couceiro
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I’m enjoying this way more than I anticipated, but then Busiek’s non-superhero stuff is usually quite meaty so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised (even if he’s only responsible for the story and doesn’t actually script the thing). I like the idea of the world’s most famous vampire being resurrected by a struggling multinational company to assist in corporate warfare – it helps it avoid many of the clich├ęs prevalent in the current vampire boom (although this isn’t to say it ignores accepted vampire lore). Dracula himself is portrayed as fearsomely intelligent individual, disgusted with this new world he's awoken to, but acutely aware that he needs to bide his time before he can turn his current predicament to his advantage. Couceiro’s art has a nice way with expression but I’ve got a feeling he’s still waiting to really let rip. An unusual riff on the vampire mythos that’s worth keeping tabs on. 7/10

Writesr: Evan Dorkin & Mike Mignola
Art: Jill Thompson
Dark Horse $3.50

Tom P: I've read loads of Hellboy books but until today I had never read a Beasts Of Burden comic. After going through this one-shot you can rest assured I will be pestering Andy H at Paradox for the hardcover collection quite swiftly. I loved this comic. The story starts quite normally (for Hellboy at least) with him slaying a vampire for some small village folk. A scruffy grey dog appears and Hellboy follows him into some woods where he comes face to face with a small gang of talking dogs and cats. They explain that they protect Burden Hill from the paranormal and could use his help. So off we go on a little quest to stop the baddies and save the day! Its all done with such charm, wit and humour that I could not help but be completely absorbed by this beautifully drawn and written one-shot/team-up. Pugs is the mutt that stole the show for me with lines like "Lookit this! You ever seen anything so beautiful?! He's a skull-crackin' machine!" Just as he warms to Hellboy, I warmed to him. The last shot of Pugs sat sadly alone made me feel quite emotional (I am a big dog lover so it doesn't take much!). The quality of this work is undeniable and it’s safe to say the Beasts have a new fan. Superb. 10/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Mike Deodato
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’m beginning to love this book. There’s no messing about in Secret Avengers – it thunders along with a restless energy, barely giving you a chance to catch your breath, and even during the scenes where there are no fists flying you get a sense of the clocking ticking in the background. Rogers is the obvious constant in the team, and I’m guessing Black Widow and Beast are mainstays too, but what makes this deep cover variant of the Avengers so appealing is that the roster appears to be flexible, meaning we’re likely to see a lot of new faces come and go over the next few months. Brubaker injects some of the Kung Fu magic he helped bring to the first few arcs of Immortal Iron Fist and Deodato continues to cement his status as a great manipulator of an action scene during some thrillingly executed panels. Forget what Bendis is doing; this is where it’s at with the Avengers as far as I’m concerned. 8/10

James R: I wouldn't expect Brubaker to produce two comics in a single week as good as Incognito, but still Secret Avengers continues to be a total blast. After the exceptional LMD Fury one-shot, we're back into a longer arc this month. The team were first introduced in a trans-world romp, and now Brubaker keeps us on our toes by delving into ‘70s Marvel with a story featuring Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu! (I have a soft spot for Shang-Chi as I got a cheap omnibus of his adventures when I was a callow youth!) Don't expect a comic that's going to redefine the medium, but do anticipate a fast and pacy read that is so much more entertaining than any other Avengers title Marvel is currently trying to push on you! 7/10

Stewart R: Mike Deodato draws the lower half of muscley characters bodies as if they were He-Man action figures from the 1980s! I’ve just realised that, but it’s the only bizarre criticism I can find about his artwork this issue as he once again gives us another sumptuous comic to look at. Be it slicing and dicing ninja attacks or simply Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers sharing some downtime, every panel is well thought out and captures the impetus and tension at just the right moment. Brubaker is thankfully keeping the Secret Avengers away from other events and happenings in the Marvel Universe and allowing this team to tackle those threats for which they were formed: secret ones!! This time it happens to be Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu and his not-so-deceased villainous father, and it’s a great excuse for some mystical martial arts action and a nice dose of infiltration on foreign soil. I do have to question why just two members of the team and one Kung Fu master are doing the leg-work presently but I’m sure we’ll get a full roster appearance before too long when the resurrection ceremonies inevitably begin and the ninja hordes really start to amass. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guera
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: There’s no question in my mind that Scalped is an exceptional comic, and I consider it to be the finest book currently being published right now, but there is the odd occasion when it even manages to outclass itself, essentially leaving every other title on the shelves in the dust. This issue is one of those occasions. It all comes down to the phenomenal character work, here focusing on the way fantasises of a better life are often crushed by the grim realisation of what it takes to survive in a harsh world day by day. The key scene revolves around a conversation between Carol and Dashiell, neither of them saying to the other what they really mean, but, thanks to the uniqueness of the comic book medium, the reader is let in on exactly what’s going on in their respective heads. It’s a heartbreaking sequence, and you really want to jump into the pages and bang their heads together, get them to sort things out and go and find that better life. This being Scalped, there’s never anything even remotely approaching a fairytale ending to be found for its lead characters, but thankfully there’s the odd glimmer of hope that pops up here and there. It may be a book populated with self-loathing, often repellent individuals, but there’s an undercurrent of genuine humanity that still lingers between the panels. It may not always be readily apparent, but it is there, and it prevents Scalped from simply being an exercise in wallowing in other people’s misery and pushes it into the company of the various venerated classics of the medium. 10/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Declan Shalvey
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: This issue of Thunderbolts is by no means terrible and it does go a little way towards expanding the team identity, getting several of them actually thinking about what it means to be a hero (even if their motives aren’t based on moral grounds quite yet) and also develops upon Crossbone’s exposure to the Terrigen mists. Unfortunately there are a couple of things that hold it back from being great. Salvey’s art, which was never likely to measure up to Kev Walker’s during this brief tenure, is a little too simplistic in places and then suddenly effective in others; one minute he seems to have real trouble capturing the hulking Man-Thing with the level of strength and intimidation that the creature possesses and the next he’s impressing me with an accomplished panel of a Juggernaut charge. It’s just all too inconsistent. Then there’s this Shadowland crossover which hasn’t been a crossover really at all. This is a T’bolts comic that just happens to involve a huge scrap with some Underhand (oh jeez) ninjas that are loosely affiliated with the occurrences in Hell’s Kitchen, and to top it off it doesn’t even include Luke Cage - the reason this is all happening in the first place - until the final panel. Anyone picking up this to be a Shadowland completist would likely be disappointed had they not also picked up any of the initial three issues in the run to understand what the team development was all about. Thankfully I’ve stocked up a huge amount of enthusiasm for Parker’s future on this title and so I can overlook the iffy position it appears that the publisher put him in by stamping ‘Shadowland’ on the cover. 5/10

Writers: Conor McCreery & Anthony Del Col
Art: Andy Belanger
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: If you’d said to me this time last year that I would be reading a comic based upon the works of the Bard himself AND would be enjoying it, I would have probably raised a suspicious eyebrow in your direction and then shaken my head with bewilderment, thumbing in your direction behind your back and asking others in the vicinity “What are they on?”. But nevertheless, here we are and I have to say that Kill Shakespeare is quite the enjoyable work of comic fiction. McCreery and Del Col have taken this army of established characters and carefully threaded them all into one huge plot that isn’t showing a single sign of creaking under the weight. Juliet’s continued fight for the common man and campaigning for an uprising against the ghastly King Richard is the heart of the comic at this point while Hamlet’s questioning of his destiny and who he is allows him to remain the conflicted protagonist. All the while there’s an inevitability to Iago’s baiting of Othello that ups the tension by a notch or ten; I know what’s likely to come but I just don’t know when and it drives things on and keeps those pages turning. It has to be said that there are a couple of oddities: the last panels of Lady Macbeth and Richard’s conversation seem to possibly be missing a speech bubble or two and the reunion early on seems to come out of nowhere though it’s later put simply down to ‘fate’. Aside from that, this is still ticking along nicely. 7/10

Writer:Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Sara Pichelli
Marvel $3.99

Tom P: With this issue Pichelli joins the Ultimate Spider-Man team and brings an exciting new style to the book, complementing regular artist David Lafuente brilliantly, and with this kind of talent working side by side the quality of this title will no doubt remain high. In my opinion USM is the best Spider-Man book Marvel put out; having dipped in and out of Amazing Spider-Man it always fails to live up to what could be considered to be the finest book Bendis writes. Next month USM will be renumbered to #150 – which is a fantastic achievement for Bendis - and I cant wait to read more from him as well as looking forward to what Pichelli's work will bring to this title. 8/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Pete Woods
DC Comics $3.99

James R: Ok, it's confession time: I've never been a fan of Neil Gaiman's Sandman - I've read them in collected editions, and to be honest, it's just not for me. I know they're regarded as art and all, but give me Planetary or Watchmen any day of the week. That said, I was still interested to see how this issue of Paul Cornell's Lex Luthor arc was going to play out, with Sandman's Death having a tete-a-tete with Lex. For me, it was two parts great, one part disappointing. On the great front, I'm totally in awe of Pete Wood's art - until this arc began I hadn't had much exposure to his work, but I'm now going to follow him avidly. He hasn't drawn a bad panel yet, and in this issue his work on Lex's emotions are great. The other plus point here is that the story is structured according to the stages of grief - a fact alluded to in the plot by Death herself, and this illustrates what a smart writer Cornell can be. Knowing this, it's therefore frustrating that the to and fro between Death & Lex isn't, well, smarter. Given that he's a genius, and she's an eternal pantheistic figure, I was expecting a little more from Cornell. As Lex outlines why he doesn't believe in a God, he asks for Death's point of view, which she simply reveals is "Not in the way that you're thinking." Oh. I guess I expect too much from my omniscient figures these days. 6/10

Writers: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
Art: Daniel Acuna & Filipe Andrade
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: In my mind Brubaker is at his best on this title when he’s looking at the political viewpoint of what it is to be Captain America, the talisman for a nation, and what sort of man is worthy of wearing the uniform. Having already looked at Bucky’s own personal comparison to his beloved and respected predecessor, Brubaker is now taking time to flip things on their head and investigate what a nation, his peers and the very influential media have to say on the matter. The Winter Soldier is a piece of Bucky’s history that should be looked at thoroughly before Brubaker marches our hero off onto future fights and I really like the fact that he’s been doing this study over a prolonged period. This time out he uses the Avengers, and in particular Hawkeye, in an engaging fashion to highlight just what such a terrible skeleton in the closet Bucky has and what it means to have kept this secret for so long. Steve Rogers’ meeting with the President is another neat touch which highlights firstly the respect that Rogers’ has earned over the years and also the philosophical level at which Bucky’s appointment is being analysed. It’s brilliant stuff. Daniel Acuna is an artist I’ve briefly had exposure to in the past and while his style is certainly unique it sits well with the brooding atmosphere that has permeated the pages of Captain America for several years now. This is a series getting back to the heady heights. (Tell you what, even the Nomad back up is pretty good this time!) 9/10

Matt C: One issue into ‘The Trial Of Captain America’ and it already looks like it’s shaping up to be story arc we can really sink our teeth into: Bucky’s past as the Winter Soldier has finally caught up with him and, thanks to Baron Zemo, the entire world now knows the amount of blood he has on his hands. Brubaker has re-entered an arena of moral uncertainties and strained allegiances as the question of whether Bucky should pay for crimes committed when he was under the KGB’s control is raised by all and sundry. It’s great stuff, and new arrival Acuna’s moody art (which is rather different to what we’re used to seeing on the book) turns out to be a great fit for the subject matter the script deals with. The Nomad back-up is also becoming a more compelling read with each issue, Andrade’s thrilling, jagged illustrated style undoubtedly a key component in its improvement. Captain America continues its ascent back to the top, where it belongs. 8/10

Writer: Tom Taylor
Art: Chris Scalf
Dark Horse $3.50

Tom P: Recently I’ve been watching all six Star Wars movies and the night before picked up my comics it was the turn of Attack Of The Clones. Say what you want haters, but this Star Wars fan likes the Prequel Trilogy and when I spotted this comic on the shelves it was swiftly purchased. It’s down to my strange must-buy-more-Star-Wars-stuff mood that I enjoy regularly, that and I haven't purchased a Star Wars comic in years. Happily I can report this is an excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed the tale of Jango, Boba Fett, rogue clone troopers and broken familes. Boba Fett has always been one of my favourite characters and even though he tumbled into the pit of Sarlacc years ago I'm glad we can still get the opportunity to read about his adventures in a well-written, incredibly realistic, lushly painted comic book. (Can't resist anymore, just say it… ) Try this you must, strong with the Force, it is. 9/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mirko Colak & Alessandro Vitti
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: And so we have a comic of two halves here as we live through the ‘Night’ of the Secret Warriors. It’s a comic of two halves for no other reason than the artistic switch up halfway through that really improves upon a mediocre beginning. Hickman’s scripting of the Hydra ambush is decent enough but it’s just a pity that the art by Mirko Colak seems to leave the action bereft of much tension - it may have something to do with the depth of vision and use of space that has things feeling rather disconnected, but it robs us of a chance for a terrific standoff between Fury and Baron Strucker. As soon as series regular Alessandro Vitti tags back in we’re gifted with eleven pages of exciting storytelling which starts to tie things back to Alex (aka Phobos, Son of Ares) and his premonitions for the team back in the early days when this comic was showing real promise. The showdown with Gorgon is as swift and brutal as most samurai-style sword fights should be and following the disappointing start to the read it left me feeling that we might yet get the send off and closure that the Secret Warriors deserve. 7/10

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

Matt C: Namor’s monstrously mutated wife Marrina continues to wreak havoc in the Atlantic Ocean while the Avengers bicker over the best course of action to deal with her. Or, more to the point, Doctor Druid continues to undermine Captain Marvel’s authority in what practically amounts to the first stages of a covert coup. Meanwhile, Simonson expands on Roger Stern’s Kang storyline from issues #269 & #269 in a most surprising and imaginative way. As with last issue, the dramatic increase in quality sees Buscema and Palmer rise to the challenge of matching the excellent script, producing some thrilling images of oceanic carnage. Genuinely exciting and it stands the test of time without any problem. 8/10


Andy H said...

Hats off to everyone. Some great reviews there guys. Glad you liked Beasts of Burden / Hellboy Tom. I'll warn you now, if you got emotional with this book Evan and Jill will take you on an emotional rollercoaster of a ride with their tales of the animals of Burden Hill. Absolutely brilliant. And no, I didn't get emotional. I had something in my eye *sniff*

Justin Giampaoli said...

Very well said regarding Scalped, Matt. You hit on a very good point that I neglected in my review, that exchange between Dash and Carol really could only take place in the unique medium of comics.