31 Dec 2010

Mini Reviews - Best of 2010

It's that time of year again when we highlight our ten favourite books that we've reviewed here over the last 12 months. Perhaps 2010 hasn't been a vintage year but there was still plenty of fantastic books coming which proved that the industry was alive, well and thriving. You don't agree? Then maybe you're not looking in the right places and maybe the selection below will lead you to what could become your new favourite comic.

As with the 2008 and 2009 lists, they'll only be one mention per title (to prevent Matt C clogging his ten picks with Scalped!)...

Matt C's Top 10 Of 2010

Greg Rucka's collaboration with J.H. Williams III on Detective Comics was sorely missed in 2010 after being heaped with praise throughout 2009 for it’s gripping and visually inventive look at the adventures of Batwoman. Rucka quit DC suggesting that would be the end of that as far as this take on Kate Kane was concerned. Then Williams announced he would be picking up the torch by himself, and we all secretly hoped he could fill that Batwoman-shaped hole in our lives. We may have only had issue #0 released this year but based on what we saw inside the pages, this is guaranteed to become a firm favourite series for many in 2011.

BATWOMAN #0 (review originally published 28/11/2010)
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 the script, along with 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 Kate 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 artwork, well, his artwork 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

Sometimes Garth Ennis comes across as a bit lazy, banging out books that lack the wit and insight regular readers know he’s more than capable of. At first glance, an Ennis zombie series sounded like an excuse to provide cheap shocks and plenty of gore, but while it certainly didn’t refrain from showing blood and guts aplenty there was real a depth and honesty to this tale as it explored the breakdown of human morality when survival becomes the paramount objective in life. One of the best things the writer has ever done, and when you consider his bibliography, that’s high praise indeed.

CROSSED #9 (review originally published 07/03/2010)
Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Jacen Burrows
Avatar $4.99

Matt C: He didn’t drop the ball, thank God! Ennis reaches the final issue of his sickeningly brilliant miniseries and manages to avoid predictability by delivering a surprisingly moving denouement. There’s an underlying message, that may initially seem incongruous when you consider the grisly content, but Ennis makes it work – basically, he’s reminding us that no matter how often we may succumb to base instincts, there’s a resilient spirit that sets humanity apart from the savages. Even in the face of annihilation, we can still stand tall to face whatever may confront of us. This is one of Ennis’ finest works of comic fiction, but obviously he needs to share the credit with Burrows whose emotive and, let’s be honest, frequently repellent visuals have taken the Crossed experience to the next level. A spin-off series by David Lapham has recently been announced, but as far as I’m concerned (and unless I hear otherwise) Ennis has said all that needs to be said in this universe, and anything beyond this near-perfect ending would be an afterthought. 9/10

This beautiful, moving, brilliantly illustrated book was, for me, the best miniseries released during 2010. I'm betting that when the collected edition arrives, if you were to put it in the hands of someone who doesn't normally read comics they would be completely sucked in. I think Daytripper cemented Moon and Ba in a lot of people’s minds as two remarkable talents on the scene, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind me saying that they'll have their work cut out for them to top this.

DAYTRIPPER #10 (review originally published 12/09/2010)
Wrters: Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
Art: Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: I suspect there’ll be many theories and interpretations regarding this final issue of Daytripper (there’s no explanatory twist, so it is left open to interpretation to a certain extent), but one thing I’m sure everyone will agree on is that Daytripper has been a moving, inspiring and utterly brilliant series, an undeniable highlight amongst Vertigo’s exemplary roster during 2010. Moon and Ba’s meditation on how a man’s life can be defined – their achievements? those other lives they’ve touched? – was written with a perceptive insight into the human condition that came as a totally unexpected surprise from two creators primarily known as artists. Their scripts have been consistently mature, intimate and truthful, and they’ve matched the quality of their wordsmithery with some astonishing illustrations that displayed a richness and warmth that proved to be utterly captivating. As I said, there’ll be plenty of different interpretations, (I haven’t personally settled on my own, so I’ll avoid spoiler-filled analysis here) but by its very nature Daytripper will require repeated visits and, when this year reaches its close, I think it’ll be clear that few other works in the medium during the last 12 months have matched its emotional impact. 9/10

Hickman’s run on FF started off well but had some folk complaining it was a bit choppy, slow moving and lacking in any direction. Those criticisms were dispelled the further along we went and the pieces of a large puzzle began to fall into place, revealing something rather good indeed. A couple of artists have passed through since the beginning of the run, but now, with Steve Epting onboard, Hickman is poised to take this series to the next level. I couldn’t imagine not being along for the ride.

FANTASTIC FOUR #579 (review originally published 20/05/2010)
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Wow. This is exactly the kind of issue of Fantastic Four I hoped Hickman would deliver when he joined as writer, but up to this point there hasn’t been a tremendous synergy between plot and character. Basically, there have been a lot of great ideas and a real understanding of the group dynamic, but a lack of an obvious overall story arc. It’s beginning to coalesce now though, and there’s a definite sense that Hickman has always had his eye on the bigger picture and has simply been carefully assembling all the pieces. Here he portrays Reed Richards as a man who passionately believes in the future of the human race, and can’t abide any of his peers who look for ways mankind can survive going forward rather than how they can flourish. The opening sequence where Reed lays this philosophy out to his colleagues at the Singularity Conference is a brilliant piece of writing, and the way it sets up the events that follow is expertly handled. Edwards art works well here, aping the style of regular artist Dale Eaglesham to guarantee some visual continuity. Everything seems to click into place effortlessly, and I hope we get to see things to continue in the same fashion over the coming months. 9/10

It may have stalled with a bit of a non-ending (more of a ‘To be continued…’ really) but that aside this mini was easily a match for the first 12-part series of The Killer. A fascinating look into the mind of a stone-cold assassin, this was a treat for any comics fan who wished they paid more attention in their French classes at school. Here’s hoping Archaia continue to employ translators to bring more Euro-brilliance to us in 2011!

THE KILLER: MODUS VIVENDI #3 (review originally published 27/06/2010)
Writer: Matz
Art: Luc Jacamon
Archaia $3.95

Matt C: A detour into Cuba that doesn’t really push the plot forward too far, but gives the unnamed protagonist a chance to meditate and philosophise on a variety of different matters, from political hypocrisy to basic human morality. That may sound strange in a comic about a professional assassin, but he looks at the world around him as a detached outsider, commentating on how things really are but with no intention of ever getting directly involved. He’s like a shark, always moving, self-preservation a paramount, and if he wants to remark on how fucked up the world is, that’s his prerogative. He’s under no illusion that he could change things, even if he wanted to. So, in a nutshell, this is totally not your average crime comic – with Matz’s smart script and Jacamon’s super-slick visuals The Killer deserves the attention of anyone interested in comics that focus on people who operate on the wrong side of the law. 9/10

I probably sound like a broken record every time a new issue of Scalped is released, but all the superlatives I throw at it are entirely justified. It's far from being a bestseller by any stretch of the imagination, but I think anybody who picks the book up month in, month out, would have no qualms describing it as one of the best series of the modern age. Because that's exactly what it is.

SCALPED #42 (review originally published 31/10/2010)
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

Me raving about a book from Brian Michael Bendis? What is this, 2003?! Even though I've been down on the vast majority of his output for the last few years, I couldn't deny the power of this seeringly brilliant first issue of Scarlet. This was the Bendis of Alias and Daredevil, or going further back, the Bendis of early Powers and Jinx. A writer on fire, in other words. So there's that, and you also get some career best work from Alex Maleev. An all-round win.

SCARLET #1 (review originally published 11/07/2010)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Alex Maleev
Marvel/Icon $3.95

Matt C: I’m probably the premiere Bendis-basher out of all my Paradox Group colleagues, but that’s not because I think the man is devoid of talent; far from it. I just remember the time before he became the leading creative force at Marvel: his early work on Powers, the groundbreaking Alias, his phenomenal run on Daredevil. His strengths lie in street-level tales, heavily focused on character, but these days he spends the majority of his time penning adventures for Marvel’s big guns, meaning his limitations as a writer are readily apparent on a monthly basis. He just can’t do top-level superhero books. He may come up with some great high concepts, but he squanders their potential, layering inane dialogue over pointless fisticuffs to minimal effect (okay, so I kind of liked Siege, but it was big dumb fun, and you had to take it us such – look at it too closely and it just fell apart). So anyway, Scarlet appears on the horizon, and I don’t pay it much attention; part of me wants greatness but the other part of me fears that Bendis just can’t cut it anymore unless he’s appealing to the lowest common denominator. So, when it finally arrived last week I approached it with a sense of trepidation backed with a dash of hope, hope that this creator-owned collaboration with his old Daredevil cohort might turn out to be something special. And guess what? The first issue of Scarlet is absolutely fantastic. There, I said it. Easily Bendis’ most impressive work in several years, this feels fresh and original, with its fourth-wall-breaking protagonist channelling her sense of injustice into something powerful and potentially world-changing. The dialogue seems natural, not forced, and Scarlet herself is a thoroughly engaging character. Maleev’s art is exceptional, infusing the proceedings with a gritty realism that’s emphasised by a subdued colour palette (with the exception of the striking reds, whether it’s Scarlet’s hair or a splash of blood). Reading something like Avengers, you forget that Bendis was once the most highly revered writers in the business; Scarlet proves he’s still got what it takes. 9/10

A bunch of toys wandering through a magical land in search of their master? Yeah, you can see how I might have a hard time convincing my colleagues that they really need to read this book. But I will persevere, as this magical series is infused with the kind of darkness that all good fantasies stories and, yes, fairy tales, need to achieve longevity.

STUFF OF LEGEND VOLUME II: THE JUNGLE, PART I (review originally published 18/07/2010)
Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III
Th3rd World Studios $4.25

Matt C: The second volume of this wonderful series kicks off where the first left off, with the band of toys searching the Boogeyman’s realm for their kidnapped owner. The sepia-toned art is still a joy to behold, encapsulating the spirit of the writers’ dark fairy tale in each beautifully rendered panel. Although essentially an all-ages title, it retains an adult sensibility and doesn’t flinch from the mores disturbing aspects of the toys’ quest, and really that’s something of a feature of many of the classic children’s stories that remain popular to this day. I described it before as Tim Burton doing Toy Story, and while that only really scratches the surface, it’s a good indication of what’s in store. The Stuff Of Legend is a comic to treasure. 9/10

Although the premise may sound familiar, Sweet Tooth is quite unlike anything else currently being published, and it's one of several jewels in Vertigo's crown that have helped them return to the exalted position they've not been near for a few years. Lemire is a one of those creators that a lot of us are now prepared to follow wherever he goes. You'd be hard pressed to count on one hand any other titles that currently possess the same emotional resonance as Sweet Tooth.

SWEET TOOTH #12 (review originally published 08/08/2010)
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: While Dr Singh enlightens us on just how the world turned into the post apocalyptic nightmare that serves as the backdrop for this exemplary series, Lemire continues to rub our faces into the appalling treatment Gus receives at the hands of his captors. I can shake my fist at Lemire for being such a cruel bastard but it’s a testament to his skills as both writer and artist that I find myself so emotionally enveloped by the story. And I think it’s the key thing here, the fact that he writes and draws this book himself, as he shows he can pluck at the heartstrings with visuals alone. Singh’s reminisces are stripped along the bottom but the main bulk of the issue focuses on Gus and the whole thing plays out without a speech bubble in sight. Extraordinary work really. Sweet Tooth is easily one of the most affecting – and best - books on the market. 9/10

Mike Carey’s highly intelligent take on the Harry Potter phenomenon is a thoroughly engrossing series packed with wit, intrigue and genuine shocks in amongst all its metafictional elements. I’m sure I’m not alone though in carrying particular affection for those one-off issues that take us on brief excursions away from the regular cast and look elsewhere for stories blending into the real world. This issue was arguably the best of the series so far, and would probably even work if read without any knowledge of Tommy Taylor and co. Just a few short steps away from genius.

UNWRITTEN #12 (review originally published 18/04/2010)
Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross & Kurt Huggins
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: As with the Kipling excursion in #5, we take another break from Tommy Taylor’s adventures as a fictional character in the ‘real’ world, and focus here on a ‘real’ character trapped inside a fictional world. And it’s utterly brilliant. Mr Bun is a talking rabbit attired in a smart waistcoat and caveat. At least that’s what his furry friends see. In actuality his name’s Pauly Bruckner, but following some sort of altercation with Wilson Taylor he’s found himself stuck in a quaint fairytale world where excitement comes from the prospect of a nice cup of tea. Cue endless profanity as Bun/Bruckner attempts to escape back to a place where ‘cute’ companions don’t surround him. This is my favourite issue of The Unwritten so far, with Carey clearly having a ball writing such a foul-mouthed contradiction, and Gross altering his style to ape the kind of Beatrix Potter characterizations that form the basis of the fictional setting of Willowbank. It’s times like this when you get a sense of the scope of ideas Carey is playing with. A real treat. 9/10

Stewart R's Top 10 Of 2010

Amazing Spider-Man was thrown at us three times a month for nearly the entire year and I threw five 9/10 and two prestigious 10/10 ratings back at the title that had split its fanbase since the beginning of the Brand New Day. While #625 was a triumphant and heartbreaking tale of the Rhino, the combination of Zeb Wells, Chris Bachalo and Emma Rios just nosed the ‘Shed’ storyline ahead of anything else and this final chapter showed that sometimes things and characters in comics do evolve and that things really will never be the same again.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #633 (review originally published 20/06/2010)
Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Chris Bachalo, Emma Rios, Tim Townsend et al
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: This has been hands down the most engrossing Spider-Man story I have read in... hmmm... a couple of months actually, as the Joe Kelly/Max Fiumara ‘Rhino’ arc was immense as well! In fact, Amazing Spider-Man is proving to be an unmissable read of late. The ‘Shed’ storyline is wrapped up in brilliant fashion by Wells and Bachalo as Peter struggles to find a way through to the Lizard in order to bring a halt to his rampage through the minds of hundreds of New Yorkers. Wells carries the mammal brain/lizard brain plot strand through to the end and then gives it an interesting shift that should ensure that his cold-blooded foe will never be the same again. It’s a brave move indeed but, with the returning gallery of villains ‘The Gauntlet’ has thrown at us, it’s become clear that Marvel have decided that evolution is required if things are to remain fresh in ASM. Bachalo, Townsend and colourist Antonio Fabela keep things simple, explosive and sumptuous - the use of black and white space that these artists employ is a delight. Honestly, if you haven’t picked up ASM in a while you should... harf... switch off puny mammal brain. Be strong. Read arc of Wells’ and Bachalo! Harf! 10/10

Before we wandered into the Brightest Day we still had to deal with the end of the Blackest Night in early 2010 and Peter J.Tomasi and Patrick Gleason delivered the most powerful story from the whole event as the Green Lantern Corps tried desperately to restrain their close friend Guy Gardner who had found himself at the mercy of a Red Lantern Ring of Rage. In this issue Mogo turned up and really added an extra dimension to an important battle.

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #45 (review originally published 21/02/2010)
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen
DC $2.99

Stewart R: MOGO!! After his great introduction to the Blackest Night event last issue, Mogo is proving to be one of the most promising and interesting characters in this title and Tomasi is doing a terrific job of showing us some of the planetoid’s unique abilities while not giving us too much to spoil the appetite. These abilities are really needed as the remnants of the GL Corps try to save Guy Gardner from the rage that is flowing through him and the red ring that threatens to kill any one of them at a moments notice. It is my belief that Tomasi and Gleason are one of the strongest writer/artist partnerships working in comics today and this issue is yet again evidence that I'm probably right. Every ounce of emotion and tense excitement that Gleason wants to invoke in his audience is translated so dramatically by Gleason's pencils, with delightful help from inkers Buchman, Champagne and Nguyen. That cover alone demonstrates the abilities of an artistic team using dynamic layout, focused colours and superb use of dark space. Keep it coming guys, I'm loving it! 9/10

2010 led us onto the Thanos Imperative event in the far reaches of outer space but before that Abnett and Lanning brought us one of the best examples of the misfit Guardians of the Galaxy team doing what they do/did best... flying by the seat of their pants in the face of great danger and overwhelming odds.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #22 (review originally published 31/01/2010)
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker & Andrew Hennessy
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Wowsers, what a treat this is! Abnett and Lanning have already proven that they do the whole ‘cosmic’ thing to a very high standard but when they give us something this good it makes me wonder how this title doesn’t do better in the sales rankings. This time out the Guardians are jetting off on a daring-do rescue of Moondragon who has been captured by the wacko followers of the Universal Church of Truth. We’ve all seen rescue missions before but DnA use the various talents of this team so well that you can never be sure just what harebrained - but certainly well realised - plan they will come up with. These writers take former one-dimensional powerhouses like Drax and eek out every possible amount of character they can find and then come up with some more of their own. And, when you’ve got someone with the skills of Brad Walker on pencils… well, what can I say? The man is a truly exceptional talent. There’s a terrific feeling of scale and his character design for the Luminals and UCT followers really give a galactic feel to proceedings. Top, top stuff. 9/10

We seem to have had a good year for creator-owned comics and James Stokoe’s Orc Stain was a stand out for me with the guy writing and illustrating one of the most colourful fantasy stories to have graced comic book shelves for many a year. Absolutely bonkers but in the best possible way!

ORC STAIN #5 (review originally published 10/10/2010)
Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe
Image $2.99

Stewart R: We must be heading towards a point where a trade of the first arc will become available and I will certainly be making a recommendation for you all to at least have a flick through the pages as Stokoe has created a world unlike any other. The fifth issue of Orc Stain finds One-Eye in quite the predicament as the nefarious forces of the Orc Tzar have managed to capture the plucky purple-skinned fellow and drag him off to a mountain stronghold housing repulsive beasts and a prison for other ocularly-challenged orcs. With One-Eye unconscious for much of the issue Stokoe utilises nymph ‘poisonthrower’ (similar to an alchemist-cum-magician) Bowie to lead proceedings as she tracks down the orcs that invaded and burnt her home and stole One Eye from her. The banter between Bowie and her headdress-cum-guardian Zazu is good fun as they discuss their mutual hatred for the orcs, and before long One-Eye is lucid and attempting yet another unlikely escape which always brings a smile to my face. The art is a colourful delight as always and a huge amount of kudos must go to Image for electing to leave this comic unspoiled by adverts in a $2.99, 32-page bundle of fun. It’s value at its very best. 9/10

The Siege mini event would eventually splutter to a standstill but this 2nd issue really did hit an unexpected and marvellous high thanks to brisk and urgent pacing and an unmissable fight between Ares and overpowered nutjob, The Sentry. Olivier Coipel at his very best.

SIEGE #2 (review originally published 07/02/2010)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: What a difference a year really makes. This time in 2009 we were all sat around and ripping Secret Invasion to pieces for its complete misfire and inability to deliver on a great premise. Now in 2010 we’re in the midst of another Bendis event and I believe that there is likely to be nothing but praise heading this comic’s way. This is epic storytelling from writer and artist as the Dark Avengers and H.A.M.M.E.R forces attack the Asgardians with unwavering ferocity. There’s a sturdy speech from Captain America, some heroic action from Maria Hill, but the two standout highlights are THAT fight and the magnificent final four panels. I can’t remember the last time I re-read a comic so many times in two days; it’s just so tense, bold and beautiful. Halfway through this four-parter and I’m chomping at the bit to get hold of next issue! 10/10

A surprising omission from the Paradox ‘Oscars’ this year, Sweet Tooth has been consistently brilliant through Gus’ continuously fraught and dangerous education on the wider world. Lemire took the opportunity here to slow things down a notch and expand upon Gus’s own background as well as the recently introduced Dr Singh with some superb panel and page variation.

SWEET TOOTH #10 (review originally published 06/06/2010)
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire
Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: Wowsers. Mr Lemire should be applauded, really applauded. He marks the 10th issue with a brilliantly executed walk through Gus's early life as Dr Singh leads the deer-boy through a session of hypnotherapy. Lemire opts to keep the focus squarely on this interaction between Singh and Gus and this results in a terrifically compelling 22 pages of cracking dialogue, wondrous use of layout and a story that's been precisely and lovingly thought out. That splendid double-page of Singh and Gus walking across a giant, sleeping version of Gus has drawn me back to it a couple of times already this weekend, just to stare in wonder. Lemire is a creator who is perfectly happy to change the tempo of his series when necessary and each and every single issue of the ten produced so far have been fantastic reads. People, we seriously have a contender for ongoing comic of the year here. 10/10

Definitely the biggest surprise of 2010, Fred Van Lente’s brief look at Tony Masters’ history as the mercenary with photographic reflexes was funny and engrossing in equal measure and in no other comic would the title ‘The Town That Was Hitler’ have worked so well.

TASKMASTER #3 (review originally published 07/11/2010)
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Art: Jefte Palo & Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This is a truly great comic read: funny, tense, brilliantly illustrated and a bona fide page-turner. And it’s all of those things because Van Lente and Palo are working in delicious harmony to change the way that we view one of the less well-known members of the Marvel Universe. Yes, okay, so there is a village of Hitlers here, and yes, the way that it is folded into this crackpot story is a masterstroke of creative writing with Van Lente ensuring that it really is just a secondary circumstance for Taskmaster to overcome on his quest to reclaim his memories and his life. This is all about Tony Masters, his forgotten history and the detrimental affect his powers have had on his life and it really is an enthralling read that is already making a good case to be named one of the miniseries of the year. It's $3.99 of pure fun that you should invest in yourself. 9/10

The Thanos Imperative marked the end and also a celebration of the Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy titles that had been used to build up such a rich and vivid picture of Marvel’s cosmic landscape. While the series was filled with mind-blowing moments that made readers bellow “Yes!” at the sheer awesomeness of it all, none were quite as powerful as Miguel Sepulveda’s double-page offering here.

THE THANOS IMPERATIVE #1 (review originally published 06/06/2010)
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Miguel Sepulveda
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Oh you joyous writers, you really do do this sci-fi, grand-scale space opera so very well! Having been onboard with the SBU since DnA took over the reigns it's easy to see that all of the work they've been putting in, crafting and weaving storylines, choreographing various events and titles, has led us to this point. After the excellent Ignition introduction this keeps things moving along swiftly as the invading cancer-like lifeforms of the universe at the other side of the Fault come flooding through to threaten everything as we know it. Pretty much every character that the writers have at their disposal pops up to add to the scale that we're dealing with, and keeping the Guardians of the Galaxy as the main focus makes perfect sense. I was worried about Sepulveda but he honestly has done a grand job and upped his game incredibly well. Admittedly he has got Groot COMPLETELY wrong but aside from that his art is still very kind on the eye. The preview for issue #2 is also jaw-dropping with THAT double-page spread being the artistic highpoint of the week. 9/10

Following on from Kyle and Yost’s very successful run on X-Force, I was sceptical that Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña would be able to hit such heady heights with a team comprised of four old guard X-Men, one enigmatic new addition and the word ‘Uncanny’ slapped on the cover. Oh, how very wrong I was. Apocalyptically brilliant.

UNCANNY X-FORCE #1 (review originally published 10/10/2010)
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Wow! Ok, I was a big fan of Kyle and Yost’s
X-Force but if Remender and Opeña produce comics of this quality month after month then we really might have something special on our hands with Uncanny X-Force. Remender’s first success is to utilise his focused cast to tell the best possible story and rely on the fact that the majority of people who pick up this book already know a reasonable amount about Wolverine, Psylocke and Archangel. To do that he allows the reader to piggyback off Fantomex’s internal monologue, thankfully reducing the chances of this seeming to be a ‘Wolverine and X-Force’ comic and in the process showing us a little of this mysterious mutant’s abilities. Remender also succeeds in keeping Deadpool crazy enough to be entertaining yet prevents him from spoiling the show. Being an arc based upon the resurgence of Apocalypse there’s also some great expansion on Betsy and Warren’s relationship as they try to keep the Archangel persona from becoming dominant. Opeña’s artwork suits this team and setting incredibly well and his portrayal of the tombs are greatly enhanced by Dean White’s striking use of colour. Admittedly the 6-page recent history of X-Force in the back will grate in a $3.99 book but it’s about the only negative point I can find! 9/10

Dark, brooding, sexy and sassy; four words that just about summed up Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s time with X-Force and they signed off with possibly their best work in the Sex And Violence miniseries. Everything you could expect from a Domino and Wolverine team-up all lovingly rendered by the superb Gabriele Dell’Otto.

X-FORCE: SEX AND VIOLENCE #1 (review originally published 18/07/2010)
Writers: Craig Kyle & Chris Yost
Art: Gabriele Dell’Otto
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: It really is a shame that these two writers are coming to the end of their X-Force run as it has been a wonder of brutal, brooding character development. They’re pretty much signing off with this Sex And Violence miniseries and once again they’re showing that they have a keen grasp on what makes these shadier good-guys tick. Domino and Logan are the two members of X-Force with the most complicated pasts, sharing common foes and experiences as well as a delicious slice of sexual tension. The writers decide to really spice things up by throwing them into a story involving both the Assassins Guild and The Hand, highlighting Domino’s cocky and occasionally naive personality along with Wolverine’s unswerving desire to help fix other team-mates problems when he can see they’re in over their heads. And when speaking of heads, a huge amount of praise has to go to artist Dell’Otto’s work on this comic as it is truly beautiful to look at with a style that seems to mix photo-realism with a painted wash and a muted palette of blacks, greys whites and reds. This is such a great X-read and I can only recommend picking it up. 9/10


Matt Clark said...

What surprises me is that neither of us picked Invincible Iron Man considering we'd both rate it as one of our favourite titles being published today. I guess it was a close one. It wouldn't have looked out of place if it had made the cut, put it that way.

Stewart R said...

I gave two issues of Invincible Iron Man a score of 9/10 (#24 and #30 for those interested) but when weighed up against the individual comics from my 10 for the year they just didn't seem to stand out quite as much.

It definitely is a question of consistency for IIM though and I'd still rate it in my top 10 ongoing titles quite easily.

Andy H said...

Great job guys, as usual. Always good to re-read some of the things that were said at the time. Let's hope 2011 reveals more gems.