26 Dec 2010

Mini Reviews 26/12/2010

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 final instalment of Matt C's Buscema Avengers Project.

Writer: Matz
Art: Luc Jacamon
Archaia $3.95

Matt C: From the creative team behind The Killer? Sold!! While it’s the same guys behind the steering wheel for this series, Cyclops looks like it'll be a world away in terms of tone and delivery from the existential, violent The Killer. But that's fine, it's great to see creators flexing their artistic muscles and venturing into different genre territory, and on the evidence of this first issue they have another winner on their hands. Set in the not-to-distant future, Cyclops imagines a world where UN Peacekeeping operations are contracted out to private security firms, and any skirmishes in theatres of conflict across the globe are broadcast to an eager worldwide audience thanks to microcameras fitted into soldiers' helmets. There are elements here that seem familiar from other works of science fiction across various mediums, but it's a testament to the skills of Matz and Jacamon that Cyclops feels fresh and exciting. Matz' script is smart and contains enough plausibility to prevent eye-rolling, while Jacamon’s art, while lacking the polished slickness seen in The Killer, still possesses a thoroughly appealing and infinitely stylish European flavour. A very promising debut, and if you missed out on The Killer then this a good opportunity to not only check out what these guys are capabale of, but also support Archaia's continuing endeavour to bring Euro comics to the English-speaking market. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Brett Booth & Andrew Dalhouse
DC $3.99

Stewart R: Right, I’m going to have to wheel out a little ‘Bah! Humbug!’ here I’m afraid. Geoff Johns makes a fair point that if DC were going to do a Christmas Special then the avatar of Avarice himself is going to be your money-maker and taking the alien-not-knowing-about-Christmas route is inevitably how your going to play it. Unfortunately, in this day and age where we have such stories wheeled out for commercial purposes again and again, year after year, in all forms of media, this comic can’t help but come across as just a little hackneyed. We get tried-and-tested messages about greed, Christmas spirit and the traditional moment of heart-string-plucking realisation but there really is nothing new here. Brett Booth’s art is not to my particular taste either as there’s a striking resemblance to the work of Whilce Portacio which you may remember I’m no fan of. There are some nice touches including Christmas Cookie recipes and puzzles which indicate either a wry nod to Festive Specials from our childhoods or a genuine aim at a younger audience. In any case, young or old, naughty or nice, there’s no reason why we should be paying $3.99 for this. An opportunity missed. 3/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Paul Mounts
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Earlier in Hickman's run on FF some critics (myself NOT included) suggested there wasn't a hell of a lot going on and what was going on was taking a hell of a lot of time to happen. There's no chance of anyone being able to apply that to this issue though; in fact, it's almost the opposite that's the case: there's too much going on! Sue is undersea trying to prevent Namor and his buddies from massacring the Old Atlanteans; Reed is off to Nu-World with Galactus and the Silver Surfer, with the Big G wanting to know why the inhabitants murdered a future version of himself; while Ben and Johnny are trying to protect the Future Foundation and prevent the portal to the Negative Zone being breeched in the Baxter Building. So not exactly a quiet issue then, and it possibly does require some breathing space here and there. But, as we get closer to the apparent permanent death of one of the team, Hickman continues to bring a high level of intelligence to the book and coupling this with Epting's eloquent visuals means Fantastic Four remains one of Marvel's most essential mainstream titles at the moment. 7/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Mateus Santolouco & Dave McCaig
DC/Vertigo $3.99

Stewart R: Now I really am beginning to understand why this series received so many nominations and awards from various sites this year. Snyder delivers yet another strong effort on the writing side as he flicks between the perspectives of three different characters delving into their fears, hopes and plans for revenge through deft narration. Coming back to the story of American Vampire Pearl and her lover Henry is well timed, bringing as it does a feeling of sadness as the pair continue to strive for happiness despite seeing little but doom and despair in their future. Snyder broadens things by showing us what has happened to Hattie Hargrove, Pearl’s former friend and now sworn enemy, since their last encounter, and these scenes once again help to show that this book is looking at the conflict amongst the various Vampire species. The change of artistic duties sees Mateus Santolouco step up to the plate and he really does a good job indeed, his style showing similarities to regular artist Rafael Albuquerque but also including neat flourishes that set him apart. If you haven’t picked this up so far this is as good a point as any to dive in and I recommend that you do so. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Lenil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz, Jeff Huet, Sunny Gho & Javier Tartaglia
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Stewart R: Quite possibly the best issue of this series so far sees Simon flying from pillar to post preventing a whole plethora of disasters from occurring as he gets to grips with his newfound powers. While I do criticise Millar on occasion for his ability to throw far too many ideas at a concept, his writing finds a perfect level of restraint for once here and it’s evident that he’s thought about just how a superhero unveiling might come about in a ‘real world’ situation. While the grand superheroics are entertaining enough, Millar then comes up with a perfectly timed cliffhanger to throw everything into an eager confusion that really does have me counting the days to issue #4. The scripting this issue allows Yu to really go for it with high-speed action and scenes on a grand scale, and he does a lovely job of capturing the various antics. Whether Millar told him that this should be a ‘boobs and bums’ issue is certainly open for debate but the amount of illustrated female flesh is just a touch unnecessary. Can’t believe I just said that... 9/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Illustrated by: Yanick Paquette, Michel Lacombe & Nathan Fairbairn
DC Comics $3.99

James R: Second verse, same as the first! I thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison's Batman world tour, and it's very much as you were in issue #2 which sees Batman and Catwoman take on Lord Death Man in a wild chase through Tokyo. Opinions on Morrison and his storytelling style are always polarised, but I think that in this chapter at least, his high-octane 1,000-ideas-a-page style fits the crazy neon world of Tokyo and Japanese culture like a glove. I'm still not entirely sold on the idea of there being a team of Batmen around the world, but after a discussion with Stewart R, it wouldn't surprise me if Morrison is planning to sucker punch the readership with it... In the meantime, it remains a welcome addition to the Bat-books and I hope Paquette can keep up to speed with his excellent pencils and avoid the curse of many a Morrison illustrator - either going insane or falling into a time vortex that makes every book ridiculously late (yes, I'm looking at you, Joe The Barbarian! Gah!) 8/10

Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows & Juanmar
Avatar $3.99

James R: Let me start this with a declaration: I love Alan Moore. It was the great bearded one's work that got my back into comics while I was at university, and when he's on his game, I honestly believe he is deserving of the 'Best Comics Writer In The World' title. Now here comes the 'But'... Over the last few years, I've grown concerned, as he's made a series of increasingly nuts pronouncements about the world of comics as well as his own work. Even though he claims to have retired from comics, LOEG keeps coming out once an ice age (and huzzah for that!) and we also have this, Moore's horror tale inspired by and infused with the work of H. P. Lovecraft. After a genuinely creepy first issue that seemed to play with the limits of comics, (check out this video if you haven't done so already!) and a second issue that was terrifying in a very different way, this third issue is just... strange! We're treated to some rough human/elder god rumpy-pumpy, and then the blossoming of a relationship between the two. I think of myself as a very open-minded person, but still, it's an idiosyncratic choice Moore has made here. This may all pay off spectacularly, but the series has suddenly gone from outstanding to, well, I'm not sure what yet! Compelling genius or bonkers plotting? Ask me again next month! 7/10

Matt C: While it doesn't quite reach the nightmarish depths the last issue dragged us to, this instalment of Alan Moore's Neonomicon is another
thoroughly disturbing but utterly compulsive read - you almost dread turning each page for fear that Moore will push the boundaries of how much unpleasantness you can personally stomach. This is horror at its purest because it forces you to imagine swapping places with the protagonist as she is subjected to all manner of physical and psychological tortures. Although the writer uses several shock and gore techniques, he does so sparingly and doesn't rely on them; they're there to emphasis the terror, ensuring the general unnerving feeling you get from this book lingers long after you’ve put it down. Burrows continues to show he's a master at portraying horrifying imagery on the printed page, and the strength of his artwork here is essential in conveying a scenario that sees Lovecraftian concepts seeping into the real world. Moore seems to be playing with the idea that the fourth wall be paper thin at certain points here, which shows that, even at this late stage in his career, he's still manipulating the medium in ways few others can. 8/10

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & Todd McFarlane
Image $2.99

Stewart R: As we reach the end of the second arc of Haunt, Kirkman takes time to show us just how Daniel and Kurt have grown together since their first uneasy partnership just over a year ago. There’s action aplenty as Haunt and a strike team make a surprise drop on Hurg’s organization and it’s nice to see the good guys come out on top for once having had their asses handed to them on many occasions since this series began. That’s not to say that everything is wrapped up neatly with a pleasant little bow on top as Kirkman is certainly a writer who plans for the future. There are neat little side plots involving Kurt’s former lovers finding a common ground over their grief and regrets, and also Daniel’s new start with a new love… well, let’s just say that the cynic in me doesn’t see that staying a happy picture for too long! All the while the strange ‘Haunt-like’ presence following Kurt and Daniel seems to hint at trouble ahead. I haven’t seen much mention of this series around the web this past year but it’s certainly one of the best books Image are putting out there presently. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca, Frank D’Armata, Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: At our recent Paradox ‘Oscars’ (which may one day hold the same cachet as the Eisners… in an alternate universe!) Matt Fraction won Best Writer and Invincible Iron Man nabbed Best Ongoing Title, so you could take that as an indication that we’re rather fond of this book round these parts. Very early on it may have taken a few missteps, but for a good long time it’s had an unstoppable momentum that keeps it feeling fresh, relevant and exciting. So maybe the idea of a superhero creating a free, sustainable energy source and bringing it into the public domain will seem familiar to those of use who read Wildcats 3.0, but it’s entirely forgiveable that Fraction utilizes it here because it feels like a natural progression from what Tony’s gone through in recent months. Fraction reminds me a lot of Warren Ellis, another writer who relishes dealing with scenarios where technology’s pushed to the bleeding edge and beyond, and there’s an intelligence inherent in the writing that makes all but the most far-fetched concepts appear entirely believable (taken in context, of course). Larocca is the perfect choice to deliver this kind of thing to the page as he’s an expert at mixing sleek future-tech with a grounded realism, and with D’Armata polishing everything off, the art’s consistently impressive. The back-up feature is a nice adjunct to the main story, emphasizing Tony’s current mindset: the only way he can truly connect to other individuals in the modern world is through technology. This title is currently exactly where it should be: ahead of the game. 8/10

Stewart R: We’re back to that same immediacy we saw when Stark was on the run in the ‘Disassembled’ arc as Salvador Larroca gets to bring us a thrilling chase sequence interjected with all of the political game playing that we’ve come to expect when Fraction’s working at the top of his game. Yes, there was a part of me screaming out for a good old fashioned fist-fight between Iron Man and Detroit Steel but what we get is far better and displays succinctly why Fraction has been the right man for the job of top Tony Stark writer all this time - sometimes the chase is far better than the prize at the end. To get around this and keep us glued page after page Fraction is showing us that the life of Tony Stark is one big race with small rewards dotted along the trail and, you know what, when you drive a repulsor-powered car quite often you’ll get a handful of rewards within the space of 22 pages! The back up story is another look at an aspect of Tony’s current life but unlike the previous Pepper story from last issue this one seems to be a reflection of Stark’s former playboy lifestyle which we haven’t seen him have time to exhibit since forming Stark Resilient, and it doesn’t quite feel right to suggest that this is how he’s living his life these days. 7/10

James R: I've got to give Fraction his due this month - after declaring to all and sundry that I thought this title was a little flat after the 'Disassembled' arc, he's pulled a fine finale out the bag here. Rather than go for a traditional slam-bang, villains-dispatched-with-various-kinds-of-whoop-ass conclusion, the writer chooses to broker an uneasy peace between Iron Man and Detroit Steel that looks like it'll make for some excellent storylines down the road. In many ways, the whole issue is like an extended trailer for what's to come as we see the return of some old foes and an inevitably nefarious plot taking shape. If that seems a little slight, Marvel make up for it by giving us another excellent Jamie McKelvie illustrated short in the back of the book. Following last month's Pepper Potts tale, here we get a day in the life of Tony Stark, and with very little dialogue, Fraction and McKelvie tell me more about Tony than the past ten issues of the regular feature has. Normally 'extras' are anything but, however along with the ones appearing in Osborn, these are a rare treat. 8/10

Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III, Jon Conkling & Michael DeVito
Th3rd World Studios $4.25

Matt C: This wonderful series continues with our band of heroes once again held captive, this time by the colony animals who’d survived the war against the Boogeyman’s human forces. We get a bit of a history lesson in this issue, and learn how The Dark went from being a peaceful refuge for those toys cast out by the boy to an oppressive society ruled by the tyrannical Boogeyman. The further along we get with these characters, the more emotionally invested we become in their plight, and when you find yourself caring about such an odd mix of individuals you quickly realise just how successful the writers have been at bringing this world to life. Of course they’re aided substantially by Wilson’s beautiful, sepia soaked art, which carries such an emotive charge that it becomes nigh on impossible not to get swept up with the unfolding events. The Stuff Of Legend continues to go from strength to strength, a deliciously dark and delightful series that deserves a space in the collection of anyone looking outside the spandex ghetto. 9/10

Writers: Walter Simonson & Ralph Macchio
Art: John Buscema, Tom Palmer & Walt Simonson
Marvel $1.75

Matt C: A far more heroic and impassioned issue brings Walt Simonson's short but memorable run on the title to a close, but perhaps more importantly, it also sees the end of John Buscema's four-year tenure as penciller of Avengers. As far as I can tell, he did some work on one issue several years later, but for all intents and purposes this saw him done with Earth's Mightiest Heroes. I don't think anybody would claim this is one of the high points of the last 40-odd issues, but Buscema never really seemed capable of turning in sloppy work, and with Tom Palmer on hand to embellish the great man's layouts, it still looks spanking. After tearing the team apart, Simonson builds a new one here, ready to hand over to the next creative team, and what better choice to lead them than the archetypal Avenger himself, Steve Rogers (here in his guise as The Captain). The other big gun is the God of Thunder, but to pad out the team Simonson drafts in Reed and Sue Richards and the rather ludicrously attired and one-dimensional Gilgamesh, aka the Forgotten One. As this is yet another tie-in with Inferno there's plenty of Avenger vs demon action on display, but it's handled in a much more rousing fashion than we saw in the previous two instalments. It ends with what some may call clich├ęd, but I call classic, scene with all the members of this new group Avengers pledging their allegiance to defending the Earth from any and all threats. As it's an oversized issue we also get a list of each and every member of the Avengers since their inception (and the issues they appeared in), along with a back-up feature pencilled by Simonson (a treat for fans of his run on Thor) where Loki reminisces (and admonishes himself) over how he was inadvertently instrumental in the formation of the Avengers. Rounds of the package nicely. 8/10

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