28 Nov 2010

Mini Reviews 28/11/2010

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.

Writers: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Art: J.H. Williams III, Amy Reeder, Richard Friend & Dave Stewart
DC $2.99

Matt C: There's no question that J.H. Williams is one of the most creative and inventive comic artists working today, but when this title was first announced I'm sure I wasn't alone in wondering whether he had the chops to cut it as a writer too. His Batwoman-centric run on Detective Comics with Greg Rucka was an electrifying modern classic, but when Rucka quit DC it looked like we were going to be left with a lot of hanging plot threads and no closure. Thankfully there's no reboot being employed here - Williams has Kate Kane still waging her own personal war against the Religion of Crime, and as well as essentially continuing where we left off it is immediately apparent that the level of storytelling is of the same extremely high standard. Simply put, this is one of the best single issues of 2010. Williams isn't sailing this boat solo though; he's wisely brought in several people to assist. Onboard are W. Hayden Blackman (best known for his Star Wars novels) to help with script, and Amy Reeder, who will share art duties on the series. Reeder's style is less dense, with it's smooth, seductive lines, but it compliments Williams own illustrations well, especially here where the work's split between the two (Williams gets the Batwoman–in-fight-mode part of the story, Reeder focuses on Kate out of costume). On top of this, the redoubtable Dave Stewart utilizes a flashy palette where reds and blacks really spring off the page. While it's basically a teaser for the forthcoming series, all told from Batman's POV as he tries to ascertain whether Kathy and Batwoman are one and the same, it gets right to the core of her character without the need for her to utter a single word - it's all conveyed through her own actions and Bruce's assessment of what makes her tick. Williams easily proves he's exactly the right man for the job of telling Batwoman's continuing adventures, and his art work, well, his art is phenomenal. Nobody composes and structures a page like this guy does. If this is any indication of what we can expect from the ongoing series, I think we (already!) may be looking at one of the contenders for best comic of 2011. 10/10

James R: This is turning into another good time to be a Bat-fan. When DC took Bruce Wayne off the playing field for a while, it re-invigorated the Bat-books, the most noticeable examples being Batman And Robin and the simply sublime Detective Comics run from Greg Rucka & J.H.Williams. I was a huge fan of Promethea so the artistic genius of Williams didn't surprise me, but his sheer creative verve did. Every month, his panel layout and stylistic choices elevated the title to the level of art. With this issue #0, it's not quite ‘as you were' as there's no Rucka on writing duties, but with the greatest respect, you wouldn't notice - Williams & Blackman do a fantastic job of getting new readers up to speed, and giving us continuing fanboys Bruce Wayne's view on the double life of Kate Kane. If there is a complaint, it's that I’d have liked more story pages rather than the preview pages at the back (a touch irksome to pay for six pages of Detective Comics when it was on my pull list this week, but still...) A beautiful comic in every sense of the word, and I'm now excited about the future of the title. Corking stuff! 9/10

Stewart R: This is a prime example of how #0 issues should be handled. Williams III takes one of the big occurrences in the DC Universe and uses it to his advantage in reminding recent readers of Detective Comics - and educating a new readership hopefully in the process - about Kate Kane’s life as the dark avenger in black and red. The writing is superb and the decision to split the storytelling process on every page to show Kate’s civilian life transposed against her crime-fighting duties as Batwoman is a masterstroke. The double team of Williams III and Reeder on art chores works very well, even seeing Williams III at one stage emulate and merge Reeder’s style with his own with brilliantly effective results. There will have been concerns surrounding the writing chops of someone predominantly known for being an artist, especially after Greg Rucka set the bar so high for the character in the recent past, but on this proof I don’t think anyone need worry. I don’t even feel like grumbling over the price as the quality is so darn high, but maybe with a product this effective DC should have stuck its neck out on a $1 issue and reaped the rewards later? 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: X-books in general are not happy affairs and there’s rarely a smile being broken before some dark cloud appears on the horizon to see that smile disappear in an instant. Uncanny X-Force seems like it may be going for a big line in brooding despair clouds, as there’s a terrific sense of foreboding and sorrow that seeps out of every page and panel of this book. Now, that wouldn’t normally sell a comic to you, but when a writer like Rick Remender weaves the tale, it sucks you in and keeps you there through every torturous moment. This team of five - well maybe four, as Deadpool is Deadpool after all - seem to realise the odds stacked against them as they try to prevent the resurgence of Apocalypse and fight the demons lurking within the team itself. It’s rare to find a book where everyone on the hero roster knows that they could snuff it at any moment and even rarer for the reader to believe that it could happen, but this is what we’re getting here. Opeña and White’s visuals really help to make this comic stand out from previous X-Force books and I have to say folks I am well and truly hooked. 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Chad Hardin & Blond
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: The second Stan Lee generated title from Boom!, but even with Mark Waid onboard as writer this turns out to be even more hackneyed than Soldier Zero. For some reason it reminded me of that period in the ‘90s when smaller publishers and imprints where popping up everywhere offering generally unoriginal spins on the superhero paradigm. There’s nothing specifically bad about this debut issue – it’s put together with an obvious understanding of the genre – but it does nothing to mark itself out as special and nor does it imply that signing up for the ride will lead us somewhere we haven’t been before. It doesn’t help that the main character comes across as a not especially appealing individual – he’s seems to be arrogant, irritating, and not really someone you’d want to spend a great deal of time with. All this really does is suggest that, while Stan may have practically reinvented the wheel way back when (alongside Kirby and Ditko, natch), that period of creative brilliance is long since behind him. Stan Lee will be rightly remembered for the likes of Fantastic Four, Thor, Spider-Man and the X-Men. The Traveller won’t even register as a footnote. 5/10

Writers: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
Art: Butch Guice, Bette Breitweiser, Filipe Andrade & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Script wise, Captain America is now back on track as Bucky prepares to stand trail for his crimes when he was better known as the Winter Soldier. A smart mix of politics and superhero action is exactly what this title should be all about, and after treading water for a few months Brubaker has turned things around. The problem that still exists is the lack of any consistency in the art department. Daniel Acuna started off this arc but hasn't managed to make it to the second issue. This is not to say Butch Guice's work here is below par - in fact, it's excellent - but I do yearn for a bit of visual continuity with this book. I'd accept different art teams for different story arcs, but it doesn't particularly help matters when there's what seems like a constant personnel change from issue to issue. I'd be more than happy to have Guice on full time - his realistic style suits the tone perfectly - but while his name's regularly in the credits it’s often accompanied by various other pencillers and inkers, which, for me at least, dilutes the overall visual impact. This is an ongoing problem though, and taken on its own terms this issue hits the mark repeatedly in the main feature and the Nomad back-up almost matches it with an unexpectedly brutal episode. The only thing holding Captain America back from the top of the pile right now is the revolving-door approach to the art teams; they get that sorted, and they're there. 8/10

Writers: Daryl Gregory & Kurt Busiek
Art: Scott Godlewski & Stephen Downer
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: This series continues to impress by not following a predictable path and coming at an over-used character from an unexpected angle. Sure, it utilizes plenty of vampire conventions in its narrative, but up to this point they've not been employed in a clichéd fashion - there's a freshness to the telling that makes it such an absorbing read. Godlewski’s art manages to effectively juxtapose the drabness of Evan Barrington-Cabot’s existence with the intelligent malevolence of Dracula's, and his rendering of the Lord of the Vampires exudes unbridled power. This issue wraps up the first arc nicely and while there are a couple of elements being introduced that make me wonder if the series is on the brink of becoming more formulaic, I still hold out hope that the creative team can keep things on the right track. Whatever the future holds, Dracula: Company Of Monsters has proven that there is still life in the vampire genre yet, so to speak. 8/10

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There is no let up, no let up whatsoever in quality, as Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos bring us more Big Time Spider-Man and I really did feel myself get sucked into yet another terrific $3.99 read. Slott once again ties the past to the present and provides us with a future of possibility by performing some creative housekeeping in the Hobgoblin world and the level of unpredictability that it brings is just great fun. Peter’s realisation that his scientific mind has been attuned and focused on fighting villainous foes for most of his adult life is another nice touch that I’m sure will affect his conflicts and day job in issues to come. Slott also acknowledges the wider Marvel Universe and Spider-Man rogues gallery in single page instalments that add interesting little angles to the wider Spidey picture. I do question a little why Peter would think that keeping his costume and gear in a high-security, hi-tech laboratory which is going to be under surveillance 24/7 is a good idea, but it’s a single wobbly tooth in a huge smile of awesomeness. Great story, great character work, great art; there really isn’t any reason for you not to be picking this up if you like Spider-Man at all. 9/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Jock, David Baron & Francesco Francavilla
DC $3.99

James R: I'll start this review off with a tip o' the hat towards editor Mike Marts - after the Bat-books had been in the able care of Bob Shreck for a long time, Marts has come in and made some excellent editorial choices for the Gotham universe by selecting the right creative teams for each title. Batwoman is a fine example, but so is this - American Vampire author Scott Snyder takes the reigns of Detective and immediately sets out his stall. His focus is going to be on both Dick Grayson and Gotham itself. In a recent DC Nation piece, he noted that Gotham reflects the dark side of a character's personality; "What if Gotham is a black funhouse mirror to whoever wears the cowl?" It's a great idea, and it shows the Vertigo sophistication and sensibility being applied to the DC Universe. Speaking of Vertigo, I was always a fan of Jock's art from The Losers, and it seems that he's a perfect fit for Gotham - with David Baron's moody colour pallet, the book looks terrific to. Add into this is a back-up story that's actually good (at last!) - Snyder writes it too, tying it into the main feature - and you've got a solid win on your hands. As our contributor and Paradox gang member Tom P so aptly put it to me: "DC is getting a lot of our Bat-cash!" 8/10

Matt C: There are several things that Grant Morrison has done with the Batman mythos over the last few years that I've liked (the introduction of Damian Wayne; Dick Grayson donning the iconic cape and cowl) but generally, no matter how many times I've given them a shot, I've come away from Morrison's Bat-books with a mix of emotions ranging from frustration, to confusion, to downright anger. It's reached the point where I've made the decision to avoid any Batman titles with Morrison's name in the writing credits, but I love the character too much to walk away completely, so this title had to be sampled at the very least to see if it fulfilled my need for Caped Crusader fix. Synder’s run on Detective is off to a good start, that's for sure. Although tied to all this Batman Incorporated malarkey (it's a concept that just doesn't work for me) it looks like it'll retain enough independence to be able to forge its own identity. Synder isn't attempting anything on the same scale that Morrision's been putting the Dark Knight through recently; he's pulled things back and we see Dick using his detective skills to solve a mystery rather get involved in an unnecessarily complex and pretentious plotline. The back-up feature, also written by Snyder, shows promise too, with Jim Gordon seeing various signs that suggest a past case is coming back to haunt him. The art from Jock (for the main feature) and Francavilla (for the back up) is very different, but both styles suit the tone of the book, revelling in the portrayal of the shadowy back allies and dubious figures of the underworld setting. I used to get a Bat-book religiously just about every week for a long, long time, so reading this has reminded me how there's been a Batman-shaped hole in my life of late, and how this may be the beginning of a run to help fill it. 8/10

Writers: David Hine & David Palham
Art: Elia Bonetti, Ong Chew Peng & Dennis Calero
Radical Comics $1.00

Matt C: This is the kind of thing I’m always willing to give a shot: a doubled-up preview of two books Radical are putting out next year at the customer-friendly price of one dollar (although with Damaged #1 listed as appearing in June 2011 you do wonder if the publisher are jumping the gun just a tad – six months is a long time in the comics biz!). Neither of the tales look like they’ll win prizes for originality – particularly Damaged, which at this stage is a little too much like a Punisher rip-off - but both are well-written, with very attractive artwork, and they share a gritty, hard-boiled vibe. Of the two, Hollow Point was the more persuasive intro, but the blurb at the beginning suggests it’s heading off into supernatural territory (which isn’t really evident from the 12 pages here), so perhaps not one for me in the long run as on the whole I prefer my crime stories without cross-genre pollination (something like Incognito is obviously excluded). Neither are slam-dunk certainties to be added to the pull list without hesitation, but both will warrant consideration when they’re finally released. 7/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Scott McDaniel, Rob Hunter & Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Okay, so the original plan to have Tomasi and Gleason follow straight on from Morrison’s run has hit a blip and we now get this three-part story from Paul Cornell instead. The writer brings a new villain into the fold in the form of the mysterious Absence and shows the Dynamic Duo’s first outing together since Bruce’s return. Straight off the bat (no pun people, no pun!) it’s clear that Cornell doesn’t infuse the partnership between Dick and Damian with the kind of antagonism that made Morrison’s work on the title quite so absorbing, instead going for the annoying shtick of having the pair conduct detective work and finish each other’s sentences as if this were the ‘60s TV show, and it just takes too much of the edge off. I do like McDaniel’s pencil work, finding as it does a nice line between the styles of Mark Bagley and Cameron Stewart, but unfortunately he adds too broad a smile or grin here and there that accentuates Cornell’s somewhat hammy dialogue. While I am focusing on the negatives I will state that I did find the Absence to be a very interesting creation and I’ll certainly be sticking around to see if the character has long term potential but I’m afraid this issue has confirmed that Paul Cornell is not a writer I’ll be following again. 5/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: A bumper issue as we finally get the big scrap with Detroit Steel that’s been brewing for many months but it’s a scrap with a difference. Rather than have Tony slug it out in a David vs Goliath spectacular, Fraction does what he does best and writes a conflict with multiple factors and distractions that causes Tony and the rest of Team Iron Man to think on the fly... literally! This gives Larroca the opportunity to mix things up with angles and viewpoints that really give the whole comic a feeling of breakneck pace. Then, when we think it’s all finished for another month, there’s a little back-up story - also written by Fraction - which hints towards another ‘Disassembled’ storyline peeking at us from a distant horizon, one that is sure to throw Tony’s life into chaos once again. Superbly consistent, incredibly readable. 8/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Pete Woods and Brad Anderson
DC $3.99

James R: So far, Cornell’s run on this book has been a little up and down for me - some moments of brilliance (the first issue and the Grodd issue) tempered by some let-downs (the Deathstroke and Death issues.) This month's instalment is a tick in the plus column as all round meanie and immortal Vandal Savage makes an appearance. Cornell has a blast showing the passing of centuries behind an indifferent Savage, and Lex has a moment of dream inspiration which brings his inevitably fiendish plan closer to fulfilment. Cornell has got a great handle on Luthor - a man strictly nonplussed in the face of an immortal, quipping: "I don't associate with 'super-villains' unless it's to lead them. They have master plans and costumes and pretensions. We have little in common." This continues to be an intriguing read for me, but I'm now starting to think that the arc's climax will mark it out as either a memorable run or just a quirky experiment. 7/10

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

Matt C: With Doctor Druid and She-Hulk under Nebula’s control, Thor and Black Knight attempt to put an end to her machinations only to find themselves in her thrall within quick succession. With the Avengers under her command, Nebula readies herself to take a souped up Quinjet to her target: a time bubble containing a renegade Celestial (oh yes!). Meanwhile, the three members of the Cross-Time Kang Korps who don't appear to have succumbed to Nebula's feminine charms and given up their secrets attempt to enter the timestream and thwart the traitor before she begins her mission. It's a fantastic blend of sci-fi and superheroics where we get to hear phrases like "There’s a red light on the left existential turbine!" being bandied around as Buscema and Palmer strut their stuff in space once more (and do so with real visual pizzazz). Simonson's script rockets along at a breathless pace, taking no prisoners as he pushes the team into one of the worst places they've ever found themselves. You know it'll all turn out alright in the end, but the trick Simonson pulls is making the reader believe for the duration that things could very well go irreversibly wrong. 8/10

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