5 Dec 2010

Mini Reviews 05/12/2010

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: Fred Van Lente
Art: Jefté Palo & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Okay, so once again we get a cover that displays a fight that never actually happens inside, but fortunately it doesn’t stop this from being a very good ending to what has been a great series. Tony and Mercedes’ battle for survival against the hordes of M.I.L.F (Minions’ International Liberation Front for those of you out there who may not know -I suspect there are many of you!) brings this rather heartbreaking story to a close with Van Lente doing a terrific job of using Tony’s condition to keep the emotion-fuelled tension bubbling away right up to the final pages. When it comes to those moments where Taskmaster’s photographic reflexes kick in, Palo continues with the use of overlays to highlight just whose skill set Tony is utilising and as this chapter reaches its crescendo it becomes more and more effective. Admittedly, the appearance of the Secret Avengers is completely throwaway and their characterisation is a little clumsy but since they play such a limited role here that’s a forgiveable blip in an otherwise damn fine comic read. Not sure if we’ve been left with enough for an ongoing series to spin into shops, but should that ever happen you can definitely count on me picking it up. 8/10

Matt C: Now that it’s all wrapped up, I think it’s fair to say that this Taskmaster miniseries has been one of the unexpected highlights of 2010. Taking a character that’s always seemed like a second-rate villain with barely any definable personality or motivation and adding layers of intriguing complexity and backstory is no mean feat, but it’s one that Van Lente has pulled off here. I understand that other writer’s have worked to give Taskmaster a bit more depth in recent years but Van Lente really seems to have solidified that new identity. That he’s done so with such humour is a bonus, but it’s probably the overriding factor that pushes this book from ‘pretty good ‘to something you could recommend to others with a clear conscience. Yeah, there’s a bad guy organisation that goes by the acronym of MILF here, and while that may be a vaguely amusing idea without any context, Van Lente portrays said organisation with such a knowing, po-faced ludicrousness it guarantees hilarity. Palo’s visuals are the icing on the cake, and the way he overlays panels on panels to show the various fighting styles Taskmaster employs is an extremely successful technique. An absolute blast from beginning to end, sealed with a streak of pathos that ensures it’s a keeper. 8/10

James R: After the Hellzapoppin' madness of 'The Town That Was Hitler!' I had to read this title first this week to see if Van Lente could possibly top that last issue. I wouldn't say he tops it, but he certainly delivers a surprisingly emotional finale to the miniseries. As well as the forces of the (terrifically named) MILF, the Secret Avengers are also hot on the trail of Taskmaster, who in turn is putting together the broken shards of his memory. A special mention this month to the art team of
Jefté Palo and Jean-Francois Beaulieu - they've been terrific throughout, but here they convey action, chaos and touching emotion with equal expertise, and I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for their next projects. As for Taskmaster, this has been the most surprising treat of the year, and Van Lente has shown he can bring wit and invention to any superhero title - if Marvel have any sense, they'll give him a longer run on one of their main books. Undoubtedly, this is a miniseries worth remembering. 8/10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Peter Krause
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I’ve got to give Mark Waid a whole heap of credit for what he’s done with Irredeemable. I was initially dubious that the concept (essentially, Superman goes bad) was strong enough to support an ongoing series, but not only has Waid ably proved he could make it work, he’s managed to do it in an utterly enthralling manner. Think you know where the story is heading? Then watch as Waid pulls the rug from under you, thundering off in a completely different direction. We’re now at a point where the Earth seems to be free from the Plutonian’s rampage, but there are hints that certain members of the Paradigm want to capitalize on the situation, creating a new reason for the public to be fearful, while the Plutonian himself is beginning to look like someone wracked with regret, wishing he could take back the ‘mistake’ that set the ball rolling. All this and aliens too. Twenty issues in and Irredeemable shows no signs of slowing down. 8/10

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy & Jay David Ramos
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I picked this up purely based on the creative talent involved and I have to say that I haven’t been blown away by this debut issue. DnA kick things off with some frantic team-up action as Falcon and Black Widow attempt to intercept a drug shipment and we can instantly see how these Hero For Hire jobs are going to be conducted. We get a few more missions for our money, each superhero’s effort contributing to the bigger game plan that’s in effect. The twist at the end certainly adds an interesting angle to things but I just wasn’t able to connect with the story for some reason. I get the feeling that fans of previous HFH stories may well get more out of this than newbies as there seems to be some knowing nods here and there to how things were handled in the past, and it does have that slightly ‘fanboy’ feel even with a Charlie’s Angels mention thrown in for good measure. I’m also not wowed by the artwork even though it is a competent display. Brad Walker’s Moon Knight looks far too plastic and lightweight and overall this just doesn’t have that impact that his work on Guardians Of The Galaxy did. I won’t write this off after just one issue as the talent onboard are capable of far better but I do already have doubts on how long my interest will last. 6/10

Writers: Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl, Mark Smylie & David Petersen
Art: Craig Rousseau, Karl Kerschl, Mark Smylie & David Petersen
Archaia $3.50

Matt C: This series has basically provided an opportunity for other creators to play in David Petersen’s sandbox, and while on the whole there have been more hits than misses, it’s been a pleasing diversion rather than an essential chapter in the Mouse Guard mythos. Karl Kerschl’s chapter in this issue is the clear winner thanks to some insanely gorgeous artwork, but even so it’s still Petersen’s linking scenes that really capture the essence of this world of medieval rodents (no surprise there, of course). What Legends Of The Guard has shown is how much untapped storytelling possibilities remain in Petersen’s concept, which suggests that the Mouse Guard brand could run and run. 7/10

Writer: David Petersen
Art: David Petersen
Archaia $3.50

Matt C: And here we are with the second Mouse Guard book up for review, which also arrived this week thanks to Archaia’s perplexing release schedule. It sees David Petersen back in full control, and even though it’s essentially the beginning of a six-issue flashback story (set several years before the previous Mouse Guard minis) it’s immediately obvious - thanks to the close proximity of Legends Of The Guard - that no one could ever take over the reigns from this writer. The world Petersen’s created feels fully-formed and ‘lived in’; he seems so completely absorbed in the history of this fantasy realm that it gives his writing a potency you can’t imagine anyone replicating. It does help that his illustrations are wonderfully intricate and evocative, bringing the characters and settings to glorious life in all their rustic beauty. This first issue doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the Mouse Guard universe, so if this is a title you’ve been mulling over getting into for while, now’s your chance to jump in and enjoy. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque, Mateus Santolouco & Dave McCaig
DC Vertigo $3.99

Stewart R: This is by far the most enjoyable issue of American Vampire to date with Scott Snyder wrapping up the ‘Devil In The Sand’ arc in violent style as Chief McCogan learns a little more about his family and Skinner Sweet opts to get his hands dirty. The initial flashback to McCogan’s childhood really helps to set the scene with Santolouco’s brief contribution on art duties for that history lesson being quite eye-catching. From there we’re treated to an emotional meeting between father and son that really helps to show that this world of Vampires is far more complex than the usual fangs and bloodletting fare, before a rather swift and lethal fight that allows Albuquerque to deliver his best artwork of the series so far. It’s plain to see now that Snyder is really building for the long term with American Vampire and here’s hoping that the next arc delivers to the same level of high quality. 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Garrie Gastonny, Rhoald Marcellius & Digikore Studios
Avatar $3.99

James R: No one does apocalyptic tales like Warren Ellis. Maybe living in the heart of darkness that is Southend allows his normal dark worldview to be coloured pitch black, but in both Scars and Freakangels he’s shown that our end is inevitably one brought about by hubris. To that list, we can now add Supergod; in this final issue, he confirms what was implied from the first pages of the debut - that any efforts to construct a god or a superman would end up in the annihilation of the human race because, ultimately, we're powered by dark devices and hampered by myopia. Garrie Gastonny goes to town illustrating the final stand-off between the superbeings of the various regions and continents, and the whole package is great misanthropic fun. As always, I look forward to Ellis ending the world again very soon. 8/10

Matt C: Ah, Mr Ellis, one day I do hope that one of the books you put out conforms to a universally recognized schedule rather than simply appearing in a seemingly random fashion. It’s just lucky that when an issue does finally appear in our hands it’s generally worth the wait. Supergod, Ellis’ tale of man-made gods wreaking havoc across the globe, reaches a suitably destructive conclusion as various engineered deities fight to the death with no regard to the regular mortals who inhabit their battlegrounds. As before, the story’s told from one man’s perspective, so it provides a more cerebral and slightly detached narrative, but the sheer intelligence behind the ideas makes up for the lack of any real emotional connection to the events. That and some truly disturbing images conjured up by Gastonny. Great stuff, Mr Ellis – now this is done, how about getting back to Doktor Sleepless? 8/10

Stewart R: And so yet another Warren Ellis series reaches its conclusion but once again, while I end up enjoying the ride I find myself left with a slight feeling that something was ultimately missing, stopping it short of being great. The final battles and interactions between the various deities and super-beings are certainly interesting, with an equal mix of destruction and divine creation being witnessed, but the occasional misstep with the dialogue - the mention of Australian soap Home And Away made me cringe - and a somewhat signposted ending leaves things a little flat. I like what Ellis tries to do with the motives of each of the ‘man-made gods’ but Dajjal’s course of action seems confusing: he’s supposed to be without sanity and created without human perception yet apparently succumbs to boredom, a very human emotional state. But then of course this is where Ellis’ writing tends to be most effective, stirring up disagreement and conversation about the ideas he has presented, and so to that end I guess it has worked once again. The art by Gastonny has been consistent throughout and he puts in another fine effort for the finale capturing several neat moments on differing scales, so overall I’d say that this series was an enjoyable look at some very big concepts. 7/10

Writer: Matz
Art: Colin Wilson & Chris Blythe
Dynamite Entertainment $3.99

Matt C: The final issue of this excellent mini wraps things up in predictably violent style as our two protagonists (one cop, one hitman) zero in on the people responsible for taking out both their partners. Aside from the unexpected twist that came in the middle of the series it's been a fairly formulaic ride, but it’s familiarity hasn’t hampered any entertainment value. If you try and imagine a collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Shane Black you’ll be in the right ball park, and I’m using the names of two Hollywood guys because Bullet To The Head has a very filmic feel about it (it was no surprise to find out it was optioned for a potential movie adaptation a couple of years back). Matz continues to impress as a writer with a knack of portraying characters operating on the other side of the law (see also The Killer) and Wilson translates the hardboiled tone of the script into some slick, edgy visuals that help boost the cinematic quality of the entire enterprise. There’s a whiff of style-over-substance here and there, but it doesn’t detract from the overall impact of this sharp, brutal crime tale. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: I've not reviewed Sweet Tooth for a couple of issues because I thought people would be bored of me writing 'This is great, you should be reading this!' But, as the 'Animal Armies' arc builds to a climax, Lemire has taken things up another level. From the very first issue this title has had a subtext about eyes and seeing. Lemire's cast communicate volumes through their eyes, and in the case of Abbot, (the villain of the piece) we have never seen his eyes (well, until the final page of this issue!). On top of the that, both Gus and Jeppard have meditated on the role of memory, and how it is intrinsically tied in to what we can see. This gives Sweet Tooth - and this issue in particular - an emotional depth unmatched by any other title on the racks at the moment. More? Lemire's panel and page design is brilliant, and as inventive as J. H. William's work in Batwoman. Still more? In this instalment, the main narrative pays off in terms of drama with an awesome final panel bombshell. With this issue, Lemire makes a brilliant last-minute push to make this my book of the year. What else can I tell you? It's great, you should be reading this! 10/10

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

Matt C: To the layman, utterances like “Existential possibilities stabilizing!” and “Our presence here must be generating alternate probability nodes of being in the local time flux!” must sound like complete gobbledygook, but for those of us raised on sci-fi and superheroes they make perfect sense. We intrinsically know these are the kind of things people would say if they were attempting to penetrate a time bubble. This issue sees Nebula’s plan reaching its final stages, with the “greatest weapon in the omniverse” almost in her grasp. Of course, there are Kangs who don’t want things to play out that way, and their meddling offers the Avengers their best chance of defeating Nebula. We see the team falling apart as never before, and it works much better than something like Bendis’ later ‘Disassembled’ storyline because the situation has been earned over the course of many issues, not because a writer comes in to clear the slate and ignore what’s come before. A huge chunk of the issue is set inside a Quinjet cockpit, and the art team make great use of the confined space to ramp up the tension with close-ups and a variety of different angles. Some 20-odd years on from its original publication date, it remains a powerful slab of mainstream superhero fiction. 9/10

No comments: