16 Jan 2011

Mini Reviews 16/01/2011

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 lastest instalment of Matt C's Secret Wars Project.

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Tonci Zonjic
Image $2.99

Matt C: Having the hero (or anti-hero) of a story partner up with a ghostly sidekick is a fairly well-worn idea in fiction, but it's still offbeat enough that there's plenty of leeway for a few new tricks to be applied. Case in point: Who Is Jake Ellis? This debut issue is all about set-up, but it's an arresting read, cleverly constructed, and by placing itself on the wrong side of the law there's a definite edge added to the proceedings. The titular question doesn’t get answered here, and I wouldn’t expect anything to be revealed until at least halfway through this five-part mini, but there’s enough intriguing titbits to compel you to return for the next issue. Zonijc’s firm linework helps the story glide along, and his noirish colour palette sets just the right tone. A great debut, and potentially another winner for Image. 8/10

James R: Who is Jake Ellis? Allow me to tell you who he is - he's very closely related to Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)! Any readers beyond Great Britain, please let me explain: Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) was a ‘60s TV show about two detectives, one of whom is killed on a case. Rather than departing to the great beyond, Hopkirk hung around to assist his partner on cases and warn him of danger. As I read the first issue of this mini from Edmondson & Zonjic, all I could think of was that show. The comic follows an incredibly similar premise - the ghostly figure of Jake Ellis advises the mysterious Jon (is he a hitman? CIA agent?) things like when to make a run for it and who is about to betray him. Edmondson delivers a compelling read - the redux opening is particularly cool, but will he find a new angle on this story? - and Zonjic’s art is fittingly European in style (and for me, reminiscent of Javier Pulido's work on Human Target). I'm always a sucker for a short, punchy miniseries, but I'll hold off on a stronger opinion until the story unfolds next issue. An interesting read nonetheless. 7/10

Matt T: It's been a while since I've reviewed a comic (mainly due to the postal system in 'that London', as well my own laziness) but by golly this title has inspired me to get back in the saddle and start spewing forth! First issues are rarely particularly inspiring, as you have to hope the tone is preserved and plot threads are explored while ignoring any weaknesses that pop up. Who Is Jake Ellis? didn't give me any reason to think the second issue will be a gamble, as the writing and art were of a superbly high level. Telling the story of what is essentially a secret agent with an invisible/imaginary friend this opener mixes in action, intrigue and more than a hint of mystery, with an impressively noirish feel. The art is kept simplistic, but still combines dialogue with explosions perfectly well. There are also more than a few suggestions of what the future may hold so I'm definitely in for issue #2. 9/10

Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Fernando Pasarin, Cam Smith & Randy Mayor
DC $2.99

Stewart R: There’s always a problem to be overcome with stories that involve detailed premonitions of future events and that’s to keep the journey to those revealed moments as interesting and captivating as possible. Thankfully, Mr Tomasi is a talented and prepared writer who excels at bringing readers comics filled with well-planned plots and interaction with emotional depth, so even though we can see the destination, the way in which we get there remains a delicious mystery. This time around he explores the cracks of mistrust beginning to show amongst some of the closest Green Lanterns while possibly revealing small parts of the path that will lead us the inevitable 'War of the Green Lanterns'. I love the reactions from Arisia and Kilowog in response to Guy’s confession, and Pasarin really captures the anger and disappointment in the Lanterns’ faces. I’ve already a sneaky suspicion about where Tomasi is taking this and part of the fun is going to be in finding out whether I’m right. 8/10

Writer:Mark Waid
Art: Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel, Scott Hanna & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I read an interview with Mark Waid recently where he said he felt the script for this issue was the best he'd ever written. I have to say that I don't agree with that claim - Waid's written many fine comics in his time, and I wouldn't even place this issue anywhere near the top ten. Which is not to say it's in any way bad, it just doesn't spring out and scream "Classic!". The series continues to deal with and expand on Cap's reawakening in the modern world, and now he's accepted it's not all a dream, he decides he needs to find a way back to his own time. He hears Reed Richards has access to a time machine but Iron Man tries to persuade him of the potentially catastrophic consequences if he were to return to a past where he shouldn't exist. Waid effectively captures Cap's reactions to the modern world (expect for a bad Radiohead gag) where the technological and societal advances since the 1940s seem to him like they've come straight from the pages of a science fiction novel. So far Man Out Of Time has been a decent series with some good insights into the iconic character, but it doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know and compared to what Brubaker is currently doing with Cap (in various guises) it does seem a more quaint than gripping. 7/10

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Art: Pere Perez & Guy Major
DC $2.99

Stewart R: One of the big successes for the Batman Universe in the past couple of years has been the playful rivalry that has sprung up between Stephanie Brown and Damian Wayne, which adds an extra level of unpredictability to any encounter that brings them within close proximity of each other. Bryan Q. Miller certainly realises that they both have traits that the other lacks to some degree; for Stephanie, it’s that belief in her abilities and worth as a crime-fighter; for Damian, it’s having missed the regular childhood and upbringing that prevents him from being able to interact with people. This issue is a great example of this almost sibling-like relationship in action as the bickering pair team-up to take down a group of kidnappers. Miller seems to be having fun with his character work, putting in some nice nods to cherished films here and there, and ensuring that this is the Bat-title where it seems right to have the heroes involved in and producing the comedy. The plot is certainly second fiddle to the character work but it still allows Pere Perez to capture some cool action alongside various facial expressions, and he’s a worthy successor to Lee Garbett on this book. 7/10

Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross, Vince Locke & Chris Chuckry
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Thank God for The Unwritten this week - I only had two comics on my pull list! I almost had to hand in my Geek Badge in shame! Mike Carey and Peter Gross' Vertigo title continues to produce the goods. This month, Tom finds himself trapped within the pages of Moby Dick whilst Lizzie and Richie come under the sinister influence of the Puppet Mistress (in what is one of the creepiest sequences of the series to date). The book seems to oscillate from the outstanding (the amazing ‘Beatrix Potter' issue, or the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ issue) to the standard. This issue is definitely in the former category. To begin with, the Moby Dick pages look fantastic - the finishes applied to Gross' artwork by Vince Lock give the images a terrific antique feel - and I was fascinated by the idea that Tom is trapped within an established narrative that can't be changed; if you're inside a story, can you alter how it ends? As mentioned, the introduction of the Puppet Mistress has made the 'real world' story far creepier than it is when Pullman is involved, and it does what all good monthly comics should do - make you want to read the next issue straight away. 8/10

Matt T: I'm more than a little impressed that this book has gone on so long without a) disappearing up it's own arse, and b) keeping the mystery behind it so fresh. Part of that is Savoy, the cynical journo who, in spite of being slowly turned into a vampire, is wonderfully dismissive of his friend being stuck inside a work of fiction, as well as the fact that Carey has left the narrative with enough wiggle room to throw in a couple of twists while maintaining the inner logic. I'm happy to stay on course for the conclusion, as there's a fair few threads to be resolved and each issue spins off in an unexpected, but still satisfying, direction. 8/10

Matt C: Tommy Taylor is now trapped inside Moby Dick, and by that I mean the novel itself not the actual whale! The basic pitch of a Harry Potter-esque character existing in the 'real world' and the mystery behind his connection to his fictional counterpart doesn't even scratch the surface of just how smart, complex and ingenious this series actually is. The notion of stories on the printed page actually existing in another reality, and the inherent power of the written word, could be overwhelming for a less confident writer, but Carey has proven that he implicitly understands his subject (and that he's very well read!); he knows exactly what kind of world he's created and how to mould it correctly. The way he flicks from rather archaic, literary prose to a more contemporary, often profane lexicon is masterfully achieved. Gross's dexterous art style bends from the straightforward 'real world' to more elaborate 'fictional worlds' with ease, and his work goes a long way to make the central concept convincing. It's easy to be bowled over by the architecture of this series, but it's the warmth, humour and intelligence that makes it so successful. 8/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Fabio Moon & Cris Peter
Marvel/Icon $3.99

Stewart R: ‘When Is Casanova Quinn?’ A good question there and something suitably bonkers that fits this book and this comic world created by Fraction, Ba and Moon down to the psychedelically-coloured ground. Fraction moves things on a couple of years from the end of the Luxuria arc with Cas having chosen to stay in one reality with the friends he’d made whilst acting as a double (or was it triple??) agent and remaining E.M.P.I.R.E.’s top superspy. As the question suggests, this is going to turn into a time-hopping bundle of fun, but Fraction spends this first issue introducing some new characters while expanding the roles of others and casually keeping the titular character’s involvement to an effective minimum. He also maintains that amusing level of techno-babble that purposefully aims to baffle you and adds to the sense of mystery about this entire universe; it’s one of the first comics I’ve actually liked because I've not a clue about what’s going on half of the time! Fabio Moon, illustrator of the Daytripper series, steps into the pencil and inking shoes of his brother and manages to capture the brilliantly bizarre science fiction feel that his brother depicted during the first arc while keeping his own unique style visible amongst the wacky haze of mirth and six-armed beauties. It won’t be for everyone but it’s certainly worth picking up to see if it’s your thing. 8/10

Matt C: I’ll be eternally grateful to Marvel for republishing this series (in colour!) having foolishly passed it by when it was originally released by Image. I did pick up a single issue partway through an arc, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on so I left it that. To be honest, there are points here where I still can’t figure out what the hell is going on, but then I’ve come to realise that’s part of the beauty of this gloriously unhinged series. The beginning of a new storyline sees Casanova disappearing on an undercover mission, leading to the question: “When is Casonova Quinn?”, resulting in the usual bonkers dose of mindbening, alternate-reality/time-travelling/espionage hijinx. Fraction’s script is as hilariously inventive and madcap as ever and, taking over from is brother Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon produces panels packed with wonderfully exaggerated characterisations, fantastic sci-fi designs, and just an all round sense of unadulterated fun. More please. 8/10

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

Stewart R: It seems that I’ve been bashing Paul Cornell a little for his writing style over the past few months but I have to say that he really does do a fine job with this final issue of this arc. It seems to me that he prefers the freedom that comes with writing the villain of a piece up against a hero - or pair of heroes in this instance - who are established characters with lesser room for development and who have to tread a line of familiarity. To that end, The Absence is the star of the show and a very interesting adversary she proves to be, putting Dick and Damian into a handful of impossible positions and showing that she’s one step ahead of them at every turn. The only problem I can see is that by focusing so brilliantly on the antagonist of the piece Cornell casts the Dynamic Duo as helpless, almost bordering on incompetent. This doesn’t quite feel right following their earlier successful detective exploits, but it doesn’t manage to rip the fun out of this enjoyable read. McDaniel’s art is a good fit for this book - the panel where Dick sees right ‘through’ the Absence is great - but occasionally the angles and viewpoints are a little confusing. In fact, I think it may have confused colourist Alex Sinclair as it appears that Robin manages to free his hands at one point only to have them tied up again moments later... oh wait, that’s supposed to be Batman! (insert ‘winking’ smiley emoticon here, folks!) 8/10

Writer: Chris Roberson
Art: Khary Randolph & Micth Gerads
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: While there are a lot of elements in Starborn that seem instantly familiar from countless other sci-fi tales (“Everything you know is a lie!” etc), the comic is working so far because it’s so much damn fun! As office drone Benjamin Warner watches what he thought was his great unpublished novel come to life (leaking mnemonic implants are the cause, apparently!) the hot girl next door he grew up with pulls him out of the alien firing line while laying down exposition on the fly. I’m still putting the success of the story down to Chris Roberson and the wit and panache he brings to the table (I seriously doubt Stan The Man was heavily involved beyond the ideas stage), but huge kudos should also be directed at Khary Randolph for his funky, electric artwork. Neither Soldier Zero or The Traveller did the trick for me, but if Starborn keeps on rolling along at this kind of speed, then I’ll be sticking around. 8/10

Writer: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy & Jay David Ramos
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I wasn’t sure, having read the debut issue, that this was going to be a series that would suck me in and hold my interest. I’ve given it a second try and I’m afraid to say that it really hasn’t... Nah, just kidding! This is actually shaping up to be an intriguing story as this second iinstallment expands on Paladin’s current involvement with Misty Knight’s new heroic business while bringing in two characters I haven’t had much experience of in the past - Silver Sable and Ghost Rider - to deal with some mystical mercenary nasties. Paladin proved to be one of the brightest heroes to come out of Andy Diggle’s (and subsequently Jeff Parker’s) Thunderbolts team and it seems that DnA are going to make him an integral part of this story (which certainly appeals to this particular reader). I’ve raved about Brad Walker’s work in the past and after an uncertain first issue I’m happy to report that these 22 pages are a treat for the eyes. I’ll be back for more next month. 7/10

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

Matt C: Another brilliantly iconic cover form Zeck, and the opening splash page is one hell of a memorable image too. Things head off in a predictable manner as the villains make their first strike against the heroes, and while it’s hugely satisfying for an old fanboy to watch the first ever clashes between various characters, as before, the real thrill is certain individuals who aren’t singing from the same hymn sheet as everyone else. Yes, I’m primarily talking about Doctor Doom again, as the Latverian despot is hatching plans far more ambitious than simply rising to the Beyonder’s challenge. Elsewhere Galactus (perhaps the most incongruous member of the assembled good guys and bad guys) proves he’s above petty mortal concerns, and his actions suggest he’s about to get back to the business of eating planets. Then you have Magneto, who’s inclusion on the side of the heroes was a brave, surprising but ultimately understandable decision on Shooter’s part (his motivations for his criminal acts were for the betterment of mutantkind rather than personal gain) and it’s something that provided other creators with a lot of juicy material for years to come. Again, he has his own agenda here, one that’s not fully revealed as yet, which makes him one of the more interesting players on the board. I’ve known people who’ve avoided Secret Wars, believing it to be twelve issues packed full of hero versus villain fights, and while there is a lot of that going on, there’s a whole lot more happening that makes the story a far more interesting and thrilling proposition. 8/10


Stewart R said...

That's the Secret Wars image I always remember from growing up and loads of the Marvel UK comics advertising it along with other 'specials' - which were seasonal - like Action Force, Thundercats and Ghostbusters.

Am going to make it a little 2011 mission to get hold of all the issues of Secret Wars volume 1.

Matt Clark said...

I seem to remember them using it as the cover of the Secret Wars special which basically reprinted what amounted to the first two issues of the US comic for any latecomers (like me).