23 Jan 2011

Mini Reviews 23/01/2011

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: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca, Frank D’Armata, Kano, Nathan Fox, Javier Rodriguez, Carmine Di Giandomenico & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R
: At a time when many comic readers are mildly rejoicing at DC’s move to the $2.99 price point, albeit at the expense of two pages of story, it’s also good to see that when Marvel bring out their monumental $4.99 issues they really do feel like value for money right there between your hands. Certainly this title is where I look for quality and consistency for my dollar/pound each month as Matt Fraction’s efforts normally always have me closing the last page feeling like I’ve gone through something of a reading workout. This anniversary issue takes a fortune-tellers look into a possible future laying ahead for Tony Stark and his family as the legacy of his greatest work and his greatest foe have come to spell near-doom for all of humanity. Fraction does a lovely job of linking the present with the future events that we see by tying it all under one simple premise: what if you designed the deadliest weapon of mass destruction ever known and then managed to forget about it? To that end we get some Salvador Larroca work where he deals with Tony trying to prevent his idea and design from spreading to unwanted hands in the modern day, while the rest of the art crew deal with the far-flung and desolate future from Tony’s perspective as well as the surviving members of his family. The art is a little jarring when it jumps from location to location, such is the difference in styles on show, but it doesn’t manage to spoil the thrust of Fraction’s story. It’s quite the tease showing us a potential and believable Iron Man future that we’d never expect to see due to the nature of the industry and extremely prolonged chronology that is inherent to these bigger characters and properties. That said, I shouldn’t think that Matt Fraction has gone down this path at this time without good and purposeful reason. Yet another perfect jumping on point for the uninitiated and a recommended read. 8/10

Matt C: A milestone event, or another excuse to renumber a title and generate sales? Whichever it is, it's a pretty good read, although perhaps not up to the same standard as previous issues. Fraction splits the story between present and future: in the here and now, Tony teams up with Spider-Man to track down some dangerous tech he came up with before he rebooted his mind; in a potential future, Tony and his descents are experiencing the results of the aforementioned tech falling into some ten-ringed hands. I guess because it feels like a slight excursion away from what's been happening in Tony's life of late rather than something that moves things forward (as well as playing with the idea that the future is an unwritten book) it doesn't carry the same weight as the stories we've seen recently. It's certainly a worthwhile addition to the collection with Fraction delivering another tight, intelligent script, but while the art is generally of a high standard, having three different artists deal with the future-set scenes (as opposed to solely Larroca on the present day sequences), while understandable considering the three separate plot strands, is occasionally jarring, particularly Fox’s panel's which are sometimes a touch confusing. It's still arguably Marvel's most consistent superhero title, so even a slight dip in quality is nothing to worry over. 7/10

James R: Hefty! Marvel celebrate 500 issues of Iron Man with this giant-sized spectacular, which sees Tony Stark calling on Peter Parker for some help and inevitably a team-up against a Starktech weapon that's fallen into - surprise, surprise - the wrong hands. Meanwhile, the Tony Stark of the future and his children make a desperate last stand against the Mandarin. On one hand, I loved the ambition of this issue - shuttling between the two times worked really well, and the hints about what Tony may have to face in the next few years of this title were handled with customary gusto by Fraction. However, the dystopic future section seemed a little muddled and confused - I re-read it twice, and I was still perplexed at the actions of Tony's son, and as to how his daughter Ginny Stark survived. Perhaps I'm getting old and stupid (well, ok, yes, I am old & stupid!) but given the epic blockbuster feel of this issue, I would have liked a little more clarity. Still, it's pleasing to see the Iron Man title in such rude health, here's to another 500 issues (or another thirteen relaunches!) 7/10

Writer: Ben McCool
Art: Nikki Cook Image $3.50

Matt C: McCool's other Image title, Choker, has seen its release schedule slow to a crawl since the first couple of issues, but the dark humour and invention displayed in his scripts have meant that, along with the obvious pleasures of Ben Templesmith’s art, it's been worth keeping track of and marked the writer as someone watch. With that in mind, Memoir made its way onto my stack this week with its promise of an intriguing variation on the old mysterious-event-in-a-small-town chestnut. It's a typical set up, but perhaps a bit too typical, with the expected outsider (in this case, a journalist) arriving to unearth exactly what happened to the residents of Lowesville, a place that barely registered before the entire community lost their collective memory. Unfortunately the hook just wasn’t there for me to have me chomping at the bit to see what happens next – the parameters of the mystery are too loosely defined to make this a truly engaging read. Cook’s art magnifies the weirdness of the townsfolk to good effect, turning them into a population of grotesqueries, but the whole thing comes across like one of those TV sci-fi pilots we've seen in recent years that try and generate the same level of edge-of-you-seat interest that Lost garnered (and generally fail). Possibly it could flourish, but I don't think I'll be around to find out. 5/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Alex Maleev
Marvel/Icon $3/95

Stewart R: Interesting! While I thought the final events of the last issue would certainly see Scarlet’s situation escalate I didn’t expect Bendis’ look at what happens next to be so emotional and intimate. Scarlet’s actions have big societal implications, and Bendis’ highlights this throughout this issue, but he doesn’t throw Scarlet into the middle of it all, instead he has her watching from the sidelines and contemplating everything she’s set in motion including her own personal fallout in her family life. We also get to meet another character who breaks the fourth wall to get across her feelings on her job and position as an investigating officer in the ‘Scarlet’ case and that should definitely be an intriguing plotline to follow through future episodes. Maleev’s photo-realistic art style once again ticks the ‘win’ box although just a couple of facial expressions seem to be out of place or a little on the extreme side. Shaping up to be a book of real substance this one. 8/10

James R: Hmm. I really want to like this, I do! In principle, all the ingredients are there: the team behind a classic run of Daredevil delivering a grimy, urban crime tale with just a soupçon of Fight Club about it that, as a fan of Azzarello and Brubaker, I should really eat up, but four issues in and I'm really not feeling this series. This month, Scarlet's fight against corruption begins to catch on with the public, and we see how the authorities are responding to the challenge. It still looks very nice, but really, there's not much going on here. Bendis expects us to believe that hundreds of people are rallying to Scarlet's cause because they're mad as hell too, but we get very little evidence of why she's having such an effect. What makes Scarlet so different from the crazy guy who took hostages at the Discovery Channel and declared that they needed to make more programmes about controlling the birth rates? Killing a couple of people and releasing a manifesto to the media might give you a few column inches for a day or two, but does it make you a hero to the masses? If it does, well then show me how! Amidst this, Bendis continues his Mamet love-in with a few pages of law-enforcing trash talking, and well, it's just okay. I expected more from this series and it's running out of time to convince me that it's worth continuing with. 4/10

Matt C: Scarlet overcomes the danger of audience forgetfulness by burning red hot with provocative intensity, ensuring the events in each issue sear themselves onto your brain while you wait for the next one to arrive. For me, this is Bendis reclaiming his mojo, and along with his impressively structured, vivid storytelling, we get some career best work from Alex Maleev, whose art here bristles with emotion, violence and overriding sense of excitement. As things begin to snowball, and Scarlet's actions see her as the figurehead of steadily growing movement, those tasked with tracking her down find that hurdles are being put in the way by those others who don't want the truth coming out. It's compulsive stuff, and I'm eager to see how far Bendis will take this idea - there's real momentum building behind it now, so hopefully he'll take it all the way. 8/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Christian Ward
Image $3.50

James R: One of the reasons I love comics is that every now and then a series comes along which totally surprises me in terms of both story and illustration. The Infinite Vacation certainly ticks that box for me. Nick Spencer introduces us to a world where the multiverse is available to us all… for the right price. If you can afford it, you can visit the dimension where you're the King of The World, or married to the sexiest woman (or man!) who ever lived. Conversely, you could also end up in a dimension where you're a total scumbag being violated in a prison! I would have taken a look at this from the high-concept pitch alone, but I was really impressed with the themes that Spencer introduces in this first issue: Are our lives governed by fate? Are we destined to always end up in the same places whatever decisions we make? The story's protagonist, Mark, is haunted by the notion that a worryingly high proportion of his alternate selves are dying, and he's just fallen in love with a woman who is a 'Deadender' - a group of people who campaign against jumping into the lives of your parallel selves. The Hard Sci-fi Fan part of me is a little reticent about going overboard about this first issue; despite the three-page photo-panel-TV ad introduction, there's not much about how this whole idea 'works', but I hope Spencer divulges a little more in the upcoming issues. Christian Ward's art is nothing short of spectacular, reminding me of both J. H. Williams and Jonathan Hickman in places, and it's certainly the most visually striking book I've picked up this month. A winning start then, let's hope Spencer and Ward have chosen to invest in the dimension where this book comes out on time and fulfils the enormous promise of this first issue. 8/10

Matt C: I wanted to like the first issue of this new mini from Image a lot more than I actually did. The premise is a cracker: a world where you can buy your way into an infinite number of alternative realities and get the chance to live the life of a wholly different ‘you’. But, while it’s a brilliant high concept, the practicalities of making the narrative’s internal logic consistent and credible is where it becomes unstuck early on. Obviously it’s sci-fi, and as such requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but the way the reality-jumping is portrayed here raises a few too many feasibility questions that no amount of techno-babble can disguise. Certain writers (Fraction, Ellis) can pull this kind of thing off with ease and have the reader buying into the concept without any issues, but Spencer’s approach isn’t as assured and is therefore unable to cover up any plotholes that start to appear. But! But, once the human drama element kicks into full gear towards the end it starts to become far more engrossing and Ward’s blindingly psychedelic illustrations add a whole other dimension(s) to the proceedings. With the heavy exposition out of way the main story arc should get a chance to shine from here on in, and as it really is such an irresistible pitch, I’ll be back for round two at the very least. 7/10

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

Stewart R: Another conflicting issue from Millar sees Simon’s first glimpse of the cutthroat and risky world of journalism as buxom ball-buster Maddie Knox throws herself into mortal danger in order to catch the scoop of the century. It’s hard to tell whether Millar is trying to make us think that he’s having a wry poke at a superhero and Hollywood clichĂ© or if he actually thinks it’s the best way to tell the story. Regardless, he then brings things back to focus on Simon’s childhood and how he still has to deal with the bullies who continue to make his life difficult, albeit for only the briefest of moments. It’s a neat scene which once again portrays how a young teenager would probably react to a friend being attacked if he did have super strength, speed and flight. There are also decent scenes which deal with the actor who formally played Superior and how his life has fallen to pieces, along with a brief return to Simon’s parents’ concern and anguish for their missing son. The ending suggests that we could be in for a tense final two issues - I’d certainly like to predict where this is going to end up but with Millar’s writing it’s best to steer clear of any Nostradamus-type foretelling and wait for it to hit you in the face instead! 7/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Michael Zeck, John Beatty & Chrstie Steele
Mavrel $0.75

Matt C: This issue sees a bit of step down in terms of quality. A lot of soul-searching on the part of the heroes who miss their loved ones back home (in other words, a lot of moping about!), the X-Men deciding to split from the main group of heroes, Doom asserting his dominance amongst the villains, and Galactus doing his own thing that will eventually become a problem for everyone. Doom manages to create two new female supervillians, Titania and Volcana, (although it's not entirely clear exactly where he found the two ladies to begin with!) while Magneto proceeds to woo the kidnapped Wasp. In other words, there are few things going on here that just seem a bit off. Zeck's art is fine but after the preceding two classic covers, this issue's one is a bit of a generic Bronze Age job. It's serviceable but indistinguishable from countless others during the same period. Basically, we see a lot of repositioning of certain players going on here, which is necessary but not entirely gripping, at least not in comparison to what's happened so far. 7/10

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