9 Jan 2011

Mini Reviews 09/01/2011

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 first instalment of Matt C's Secret Wars Project.

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Miguel Sepulveda & Rain Beredo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: To be honest, as a fan of Marvel’s Cosmic line, the events that transpired in The Thanos Imperative still linger in the mind a couple of months on proving to me that it was an event that ultimately worked. Now, thankfully, Abnett and Lanning are telling us in no uncertain times that the likes of the Shi’ar, Kree, inhabitants of Knowhere and the Negative Zone still have stories to be told and that we will be lucky enough to see some of them. Serving as ode to Imperative and precursor to the Annihilators series this one-shot looks lovingly back at the tenure of the Guardians of the Galaxy and what dangers Peter Quill aka Star-Lord foresaw. It also looks towards a slightly brighter future where the heavy-hitters of the cosmos now realise that they will need to come together in order to prevent those times of great peril that seem to plague the stability of the galaxy on a regular basis. DnA bring everyone’s favourite telepathic Russian space dog, Cosmo, back to assemble this team of ‘big guns’, which allows Sepulveda the opportunity to provide us with some supremely fun eye-candy - Cosmo’s ride with the Silver Surfer is a noteworthy, chuckle-inducing highpoint! I had fears that we were on the verge of losing possibly the most interesting corner of Marvel’s Universe but after a superb interlude like this - which I will add is a fine jumping on point! - I couldn’t be more confident for the near future. 9/10

Writer: Adam Beechen
Art: Ryan Benjamin, John Stanisci & David Baron
DC $2.99

Stewart R: So DC start the New Year with a new series and thank goodness a #1 issue that’s priced at $2.99! We do of course only get 20 pages instead of the regular 22 but Beechen, Benjamin and Co do a very good job in the reduced space that they have to work in. Beechen kicks things off with a villain origin story that, like many of Batman Beyond’s criminal beginnings, harks back to the days of old DC comics and also allows him to bring Terry’s family and girlfriend into the picture having been absent for the entirety of the previous miniseries. Including these characters and showing us Bruce’s lonely later days alongside Benjamin’s complimentary pencils really does capture that fresh futuristic feel of Neo Gotham that I loved in the animated series. I’m not thoroughly convinced by the inclusion of the Justice League at the beginning of this ongoing as I get more of a ‘Teen Titan’ vibe from them than ‘JLA’ and neither am I keen on Beechen having the whole team included in the conversation with Officer Myrick as it does feel a little forced. That aside, this is a promising start to the new adventures of Batman Beyond. 7/10

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

Stewart R: The cover suggests a dark start to 2011’s Sweet Tooth reading and the material inside is definitely a whirlwind of tense storytelling. Lemire jumps back and forth between the various interactions and violent confrontations to really make events fly by at a breathtaking pace and cause the reader - well, this one at least - to page-turn at a furious speed. Once again the eyes come into play with Lemire’s artwork and they’re used to portray fear, sadness and shock with exact skill. To go into specifics on what transpires would surely spoil this issue for potential readers so all I’ll say that this is a heartstring-puller and no mistake. I do have a couple of niggles with Lemire’s portrayal of a brutal and painful entanglement for one character as either the sense of time passing is slightly off or he’s not quite able to find that balance of mortal danger and animal threat that is required, but even that is not enough to peel the sheen off of a damn fine comic. 8/10

James R: With this issue, Sweet Tooth cements its position as my favourite ongoing title. There are a lot of great comics out at the moment, and some superb miniseries, but for me nothing comes close to the consistent brilliance of Lemire's post-apocalyptic tale. This issue sees the climax of the 'Animal Armies' arc, and it's a tour de force - last month's revelation about Jepard's son provides the impetus for a plot that seamlessly blends high drama with an emotional punch rarely seen in comics. One of the many fine things about this title is its unpredictability. After a year, it's has already wrong-footed me on several occasions, and for this jaded old comics fanboy there's something wonderful about the about being swept along with the odyssey of Gus and Jeppard. A special nod to colourist Jose Villarrubia, whose palette has seemed to improve with each issue. If you're not reading this already, then I can only implore you to do so. Next issue kicks off Book 4: 'Endangered Species'. Be there! 9/10

Matt C: If last month’s cliffhanger wasn’t nail-biting enough, the second page of this new issue features the kind of intense moment that would also make a great cliffhanger, but before you think Lemire has shot his bolt, there’s worse to come. Yes, worse. There are very few titles on the market that contain the same sort of emotive power that Sweet Tooth possesses and halfway through this issue was a rare moment indeed as I literally gasped “No!” when something unexpected and quite upsetting was revealed partway through an incredibly nerve-wracking sequence. I was left reeling after that, and it goes to show how well Lemire has succeeded in getting me invested in these characters to cause me to experience that kind of reaction. Some astonishing work, even if you do feel like you’ve been pulled through the wringer at the end of it. 9/10

Writer: Kody Chamberlain
Art: Kody Chamberlain
Image $2.99

Matt C: Although it may not hide its influences, there’s a raw undercurrent of energy flowing through it that, along with the taut script, ensures Sweets carves out its own distinctive identity. It was almost inevitable, the way the plot was twisting, that things would start getting personal for the protagonist, the damaged, edgy Curt Delatte, and coupling the events of last issue with a revelation in this one brings one heck of an emotional charge to the proceedings. Chamberlain’s vivid, sizzling artwork matches the script’s intensity, and the cartoonesque sequences focusing on the ‘birth’ of a serial killer are jarring and necessarily unsettling. Sweets is a thoroughly compelling journey into the underbelly of New Orleans but you do get the impression that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Kody Chamberlain is really capable of. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Pier Gallo & Jamie Grant & John J. Hill
DC $2.99

Matt C: Third issue in and this is looking more and more like a keeper. Bar the odd exceptions here and there teen books have never really been my thing since, well, since I was a teen. I mean, I love Superman but never connected with Smallville – that’s not the part of Clark’s life I really want to focus on for any length of time. So why is this series, a blend of supeheroics and high school drama, working for me? I guess it’s primary down to Jeff Lemire, a writer who didn’t really register with me until Sweet Tooth debuted, but once it did appear he registered in a really big way. He has a knack of getting you to care about the characters he’s working with in a very short space of time, he’s got a great ear for dialogue and an ability to inject warmth and humour into situations one minute, then bring in some palpable danger the next. Pier Gallo assists Lemire in no small measure by bringing his assured, expressive style into play to draw out the emotion of each scene. In a relatively quick and hype-free fashion, this is slowly becoming one of my favourite DC titles. 8/10

Writer: Allan Heinberg
Art: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Right, first things first: HOW GOOD is that cover??? That’s Jim Cheung at his best right there ladies and gentlemen, and to be honest he doesn’t put a foot wrong for the entire 22 pages of the interior either. I think in the past year only Olivier Coipel and Dustin Weaver have used splash pages as effectively and as regularly to their best effect, but Cheung’s always have such a clean and awe-inspiring effect on me. Heinberg also steps up his game this time around showing the slightly calmer side to Doctor Doom’s nature while also demonstrating that he is not a man to be trifled with. The unfortunate fact that this now sits outside of regular Marvel continuity jars a little as we’re some seven months on from issue #1 and there’s Steve Rogers in his Cap garb once again making the whole thing feel oddly removed, which is a shame when this does have potential to be an important story dealing with events post House Of M, Civil War and Siege. In any case, this is possibly the strongest issue so far and that cool cliffhanger has me checking how many days there are until we get the next instalment. 8/10

Writer: Ben McCool
Art: Ben Templesmith
Image $3.99

James R: For every Sweet Tooth that reminds me how much I love being a comics fan, there must be an equal and opposite reaction - so this means there has to be a Choker. I've got a huge amount of time for Ben McCool (and his new Image series, Memoir, looks like it could be superb) and I loved Ben Templesmith's work on Fell, but here, what started out as a great miniseries has quickly descended into tedium. Halfway through reading this I realised that I had no interest or involvement in any of the characters. However, I'm afflicted by the curse that dogs all comics geeks - I'm duty-bound to get the final issue ‘next month’! Bah, accursed need for completeness! As for the story itself, Johnny Jackson continues to learn the truth about ManPlus (not a suspicious jazz mag, it turns out!) somebody gets their head ripped off, and someone else explodes. If that kind of thing is your bag, you might get a kick out of this, but to me it doesn't read as edgy or compelling; it's just plodding. 4 /10

Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Peter Krause, Diego Barreto, Andrew Dalhouse & Nolan Woodard
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: The Plutonian is now a prisoner on an alien world, forced into hard labour in deep, dangerous mines. Not that he's aware of any of this as he's retreated into his subconscious, living out a fantasy existence where the people of Earth have forgiven him for his earlier transgressions. Meanwhile, back home, Survivor is letting the 'defeat' of the Plutionian go to his head, appointing himself as the world's new protector, making rather rash and foolish decisions, and not enjoying it when Quibit questions his motivation. Basically this series has gone in a direction I'd never have guessed, which is the first huge tick in the 'Win!' category, but also, as the cast of main characters has contracted (there has been a few fatalities along the way), those that remain have become stronger thanks to the increased focus. Quibit, who initially appeared the coldest and most aloof member of the Paradigm, is slowly morphing into the hero of the piece, but since it's impossible to figure out where Waid is going to go next with this series, who knows if that will last? 8/10

S.H.I.E.L.D. #5
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Dustin Weaver & Christina Strain
Marvel $2.99

James R: Whereas I've struggled to get on board with Hickman's run on Fantastic Four I've actively looked forward to S.H.I.E.L.D each bi-month. Running at a crazy right angle to the Marvel Universe, this title continues to throw big ideas our way. This time out we see Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark propelled into the far future, while Da Vinci and Newton tussle for the soul of the Shield organisation. Reading that last sentence back reminds me how bonkers this title is, and that's a large part of the fun for me. In Fantastic Four, Hickman seems a little too restrained, but here he continues to build his own world at a frenetic pace. My only worry is that amidst the visual pyrotechnics and the terrific panel layouts the overall story is going to get lost, and we'll end up with a tale that's not greater than the sum of it's parts. I'm keeping the faith though, if only to see which genius Hickman ropes in next - Einstein as the first Frog Man? Steven Hawking as M.O.D.O.K? I wouldn't put it past him! 7/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Mike Zeck, John Beatty & Christie Scheele
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: "I am from beyond. Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours. Nothing you dream of is impossible for me to accomplish". This is how you do it. Secret Wars, along with DC's Crisis On Infinite Worlds, often gets blamed for helping kickstart the trend that continues to this day at the Big Two where everything is geared towards huge, multi-character crossovers and events. For me, that argument holds about as much weight as the one where Star Wars and Jaws are given a bad rap for starting the summer blockbuster cycle. That's like saying The Beatles are crap purely because they were, and continue to be, so influential. They may have created a successful formula, unintentionally or otherwise, but that doesn't - and shouldn't - diminish their power. And Secret Wars retains its power because its exciting, epic and doesn't follow an easy, predictable route (as its precursor, Contest Of Champions, did). The framework for a succession of punch-ups between the goodies and baddies is put into place immediately but there are enough disruptive elements to ensure that things don't go to plan. The chief disruptive element, and the character who probably gets more panel time than any other this issue, is none other than Victor Von Doom. You could potentially argue that this series is Doom's story with a large supporting cast, but that's something I may come back to later on. Most of the other characters featured get at least a line of dialogue, but even in those instances its clear that Shooter has a good grasp of their individual identities and their relationships with each other (for a good example, see how he handles the repartee between the Thing and the Torch). Bar a rather clunky (but probably necessary) couple of panels where all the characters are introduced, this is an expertly paced and brilliantly effective debut issue. Mike Zeck, an artist who's never really gotten his due in my opinion, turns in some great interior work as well as one hell of an iconic cover. The way he captures facial expressions, particularly those of sheer awe (even on Iron Man!), is quite distinctive. All in all it's an energising spandex bonanza that hits all its marks, thundering along with a mix of ambition and invention, embracing the inherent preposterousness of the superhero medium with the kind of love you just can't fake. 10/10

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