14 Nov 2010

Mini Reviews 14/11/2010

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.


BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #6
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Lee Garbet, Pere Perez, Allejandro Sicat, Walden Wong & Guy Major
DC $3.99

James R: Phew, now that was an epic journey. In principle, this marks the end of Bruce Wayne's tumble through the temporal, but this issue is way more than that - it's the culmination of Grant Morrison's Final Crisis and, to a certain degree, his Seven Soldiers project. The man certainly knows how to play the long game! If your not a fan of Morrison, there's nothing here that will change your mind, but for me this is a fine showcase of what he does best - displaying a great understanding of what makes the DC characters tick, and getting it across in a smart and succinct way. Moreover, he adds a boatload of brilliant ideas - he expands on the notion that Kirby's New Gods are ideas manifested, and as such, can never be killed. Who better to tangle with the idea of darkness that is Darkseid than the man who is the fictional manifestation of righteous struggle? As Bruce Wayne himself says: "Surviving is what I do." The issue neatly mixes these metaphysical aspects with some good old-fashion fisticuffs as the Techno-Future Batman (yes, I know that sounds nuts!) goes up against the JLA. It feels like an epic read, and the artistic team of Garbett and Perez do a fine job of making their collaborative aspect appear seamless. At the end, I immediately wanted to read the issue again, before deciding that I’d prefer to read the run in it's entirety! Batman is back (and only a little late!). Mission accomplished. 8/10

Matt C: These days comics fans generally understand that most miniseries/story arcs in the superhero genre are designed and plotted to fit the trade paperback format -it’s become an increasingly important and lucrative area of the business and provides the stories with a longevity they simply wouldn’t have had 20 odd years ago. While there’s always going to be the need to adhere to a continuity when dealing with characters that have histories stretching back several decades, you also expect – particularly when dealing with a limited series – that there will be a certain ‘standalone’ quality to the tale, so that anyone picking up the trade version won’t feel lost within the first few pages. You can probably tell where I’m going with this, so I’ll just cut to the chase: what the fuck?!? Sure, Morrison can’t help littering some great ideas within the pages – I don’t question that he’s a good ideas man - but trying to makes sense of how they fit together is another matter. Yet again, I felt like huge chunks of the narrative were omitted, resulting in a fractured, often incomprehensible approach to relaying a sequence of events to an audience. I’m sure I’ll get told it’ll all make sense if you’ve read every Batman comic Morrison has written in the last few years, but I shouldn’t have to go through 50 or so issues (or whatever it is) of various other titles to understand what’s going on in a series that, to a certain extent, should be able to stand on its own to feet. Garbett’s work here is very strong, but as with #5 it’s a shame he couldn’t pencil the entire thing. Oh yeah, and did I mention that Bruce Wayne has already returned in just about every other related book thanks to another scheduling cock-up on the part of one of the Big Two? You probably noticed that already though, right? From my perspective what this series has done, more than anything else, is confirm that I’m through as far as Morrison and the DC Universe are concerned. I’ll still check out stuff like Joe The Barbarian, but I won’t be picking up another Batman book with his name in the writing credits. 3/10


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #648
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Once upon a time did you pick up regular issues of Amazing Spider-Man? Were you disappointed by Peter revealing his identity to the world in Civil War? Did you feel that the 'Brand New Day' was a Brand New pain in the ass? Well, I tell you what, Dan Slott appears to have worked a small piece of magic and taken us back to a time when Peter uses science to defeat villains, where the number of people who know who Spider-Man is under the mask could be written on the miniaturised forehead of any one of the many Ant-Men out there, and where the threat of someone decked out in goblin-based garb was a weekly problem. This is a Spider-Man comic back to its very best with writer and artists working in delightful unity to bring us the hero we remember. Slott is showing pure love for the characters here giving nice little nods to the past while ensuring that we’re also looking towards the future. Humberto Ramos’ style has developed since his last regular stint on a Webhead title and he’s perfectly suited to capture the exploits of Parker and Co in the crazy town that is New York. I didn’t mind 'Brand New Day', it wasn’t brilliant but neither did I think it stunk up the place, but I have to say I’m absolutely loving this new direction.... Big Time! 9/10


HALCYON #1
Writers: Marc Guggenheim & Tara Butters
Art: Ryan Bodenheim & Mark Englert
Image $2.99

Matt C: New characters rarely seem to stick these days, the popularity of the major icons from the Big Two being just too strong to allow much room for any original creations to make a substantial impact (a handful of exceptions, aside). What we see more often now is a trend towards producing variations on familiar archetypes, whether it’s an all powerful √úbermensch, a violent vigilante, a speedster, and so on, the hook being a significant twist that puts these individuals into situations we're never likely to see their more recognisable counterparts in. Halcyon (previously titled Utopia in advance previews) plays with the idea that crime is reducing exponentially at such a rate that it is unlikely to exist in the near future, thus rendering the role of the superhero fighting evil essentially redundant. This debut is largely devoted to introducing us to the various characters involved (with a good deal of time given over to the main villain, Oculus) so we don't get into the meat and bones of the plot just yet. Because of this, it's a little too early to say whether the concept has legs, or whether it's something that could have been dealt with in an arc of, say, JLA, rather than requiring exploration in an ongoing series. There are plenty of clever touches in the script to warrant giving the second issue a look, but what will make that a definite purchase is the art of Bodenheim. Powerful and dynamic, it's even more impressive than it was in Red Mass For Mars (this could be down to Englert’s colours, which really bring the images to life). A promising start, but from past experience with some of these creators (and I admit I'm basing this statement more on rumour and supposition than anything else) I do worry whether it might be afflicted by delays that could potentially derail it. Hopefully not; we'll see. 7/10

James R: This was a very quiet week for me in terms of my pull list, so I thought I'd take a gamble on two new titles. This was one of them, and I'm hugely pleased that I did. Guggenheim and Butters present us with a world policed by superheroes who may seem vaguely familiar - there's a Superman type, a Batman, a Flash... you get the idea. Rather than a tale of fisticuffs and conflict, we see the opposite is afoot; the world they live in is suddenly becoming a utopia. Crime and war are all dwindling to naught, and well, that just can't be right, can it? Clearly there's something nefarious afoot (which will no doubt have something to do with Halcyon's Dr. Doom-esque villain, Oculus). As to what, that'll be for the next issues to reveal. It's a great premise, and it comes across as the greatest JLA story that you've never read. I was impressed with Ryan Bodenheim's pencil work on Red Mass For Mars, and so it's good to see him get to grips with another superhero title. A pleasant surprise all round - roll on episode #2! 7/10


ANT-MAN & WASP #1
Writer: Tim Seeley
Art: Tim Seeley, Victor Olazaba & Val Staples
Marvel $3.99

James R: ...and this was the other gamble for me this week. Whereas Halcyon was a solid win, this... wasn't. I decided to take a look as I adored Robert Kirkman run on Irredeemable Ant-Man (and if you haven't read that, I implore you to track it down). The appealing part of Kirkman’s book was that the protagonist Eric O'Grady was refreshingly human - by the end of the arc, he wasn't a redeemed character, he'd just come to realise how flawed he was. I love that he's continued to pop up in the Marvel Universe (especially in my guilty pleasure, Secret Avengers) and so my hope was that this 3-issue mini would be a continuation of Kirkman's misanthropic and unpredictable hero. There are some of the same beats here, and the same returning characters, but this comic has the feel of a kid dressed up in his father's clothes trying to do an impression of his dad. Seeley lacks Kirkman's verve and characterisation skills, and the story itself - Ant-Man and Hank Pym have to save an artificial afterlife(?!) - is frankly odd. A missed opportunity all round - here's hoping someone does Eric O'Grady justice (or injustice!) sooner rather than later. 3/10



THANOS IMPERATIVE #6
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Miguel Sepulveda & Jay David Ramos
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This has been a terrifically enthralling event series and I would go so far as to say the biggest in terms of scale and scope that Abnett and Lanning have brought to the table during their tenure as Guardians of the Marvel Cosmos in all its glory. This finale is a smouldering pot of tension as the Cancerverse version of Mar-Vell proceeds with his sacrificial ritual involving Thanos. These writers are masters of crafting small, intimate stories that take place in the unending vastness of space and huge galactically significant events and I really did get the feeling that the whole fate of a universe was in the hands of the few brave souls fighting against overwhelming odds. They’re also pretty darn good at throwing surprises at us so, while the ending here seems to be a permanent deal, I really couldn’t say whether there’s a solemn sincerity in the closing sentiments or a wry smile and nudge in the ribs to say that ‘NEVER’ rarely means much in the world of comics. If you missed the monthly instalments I cannot recommend this highly enough when it turns up in trade. A space-based treat. 9/10


CHEW #15
Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I haven’t reviewed an issue of Chew for a little while now and that’s not because it’s been lacking for quality, oh no, but just purely for the fact that it’s such a consistently solid read that I was fearful of repeating my love for it to the point of redundancy. Now, you may think that because I’ve said that things must have taken a downward turn, but they really haven’t; this is still a brilliant character-led comic, full of fun, dark humour and the odd supernatural or science fiction twist. The pre-release blurb wasn’t wrong when it mentioned this being a turning point issue with a neat, if somewhat signposted twist that will alter things for many an issue to come as promised, as well as a mysterious occurrence that I look forward to learning more about in the next issue. The introduction of Tony’s extended family is a grin-fest and the triple gatefold cover is a cool little treat especially considering that this is a $2.99 comic. Seriously, why aren't you picking this up? You know who you are... 8/10


ULTIMATE THOR #2
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Carlos Pacheco, Dexter Vines & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I'll happily hold up my hands and say I was completely wrong to make the decision to dismiss the entire Ultimate line because this mini is rather excellent and one of the high points of Hickman's career at Marvel thus far. A structure that takes in three concurrent storylines running across three different timelines could easily wind up as a confusing mess, but Hickman's confidence in his narrative means that while each separate thread remains distinct they also compliment each other, hinting at how they'll tie together eventually. Any new art from Pacheco is always welcome; he's been around for a few years now but he always manages to pull some exciting, kinetic visuals out of the hat, and this book is no exception. If you need convincing that this is a title worth picking up then maybe simply saying it features Nazis and Frost Giants colluding to invade Adgard in 1939 will do the trick. If you’re familiar with the Paradox Group's possibly unhealthy fascination with comic book Nazis it should go some way to help you understand why I think Ultimate Thor is such a winner! 9/10


AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #3
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Art: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There’s much to love about this issue: the art by Cheung, Morales and Ponsor occasionally defies superlatives while Heinberg’s characterisation of Magneto being a man who has come to realise the limits of his powers and those adversaries he must be wary, possibly even fearful of, is refreshing. The various Avenger members coming to blows over how best to pursue the Scarlett Witch and ‘deal’ with her also highlights just what wounds M-Day afflicted upon Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Those positives aside, this story is still suffering from too many characters standing around for too long, arguing too much about a course of action that they don’t even end up taking because Wiccan will eventually run off AGAIN regardless what that team decision was. Despite this being essentially a Young Avengers title, many of the teenage heroes are simply scenery with Stature, Hawkeye and Vision being barely noticeable and I’d personally like to see them brought into the story a little more. There is of course huge potential here simply down to the heavyweight heroes and villains involved and Cheung’s ability to capture them on the page, but a third of the way through I’d like to be seeing that potential realised now. 6/10


AVENGERS #294
Writer: Walt Simonson
Art: John Buscema, Tom Palmer & Paul Becton
Marvel $1.00

Matt C: The devious plotting of Doctor Druid finally reaches a head as he manipulates himself into the position of Avengers Chairman. Of course, he's not entirely in command of his own faculties as Nebula (last seen in #260 claiming to be Thanos' granddaughter) is basically pulling his strings, while simultaneously passing herself off as a Kang, having infiltrated the Council Of Cross-Time Kangs(!). Meanwhile, the latest recruit to the Council, the Kang from the 616 timeline, has cottoned onto the fact that Nebula isn't being entirely truthful with her colleagues, but he’s yet to reveal exactly what he plans to do with this information. With Captain Marvel out of action, the Black Knight afflicted with a crippling blood curse, only Thor and She-Hulk are fighting fit, but they have no idea that their new chairman is likely to lead them headlong into danger. Superb art from Buscema and Palmer shows that they don't need wall to wall action to generate some riveting, beautifully composed imagery. 8/10

3 comments:

Justin said...

It's refreshing to see some critical feedback that is more balanced concerning Grant Morrison's output. It bugs me when people call him "THE GOD OF ALL COMICS" because he clearly, like any creator, has his good and bad moments.

I really like Batman in concept, Dick Grayson is my absolute *favorite* character in the mainstream DCU, but I just can't stomach some of Morrison's writing. At times it feels like it's being obtuse just for the sake of itself. It's nice to know your continuity and make obscure references, but first and foremost you have to tell an engaging story, ideally that's self-contained. I gave up on The Return of Bruce Wayne a couple issues back. Likewise with Batman & Robin.

Matt C said...

I've never been onboard the Morrison bandwagon. Most overrated comic writer of all time. Which is not to say he's not capable of greatness (I love We3) but everything he touches most certainly does NOT turn to gold.

Justin said...

Ditto my thoughts.

I *LOVE* All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, partially because they are crisply contained as mini-series and tell a story from point A to point B within their walls... not the case with most of the Batman stuff.