30 Jan 2011

Mini Reviews 30/01/2011

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 latest instalment of Matt C's Secret Wars Project.

Writer: Scot Snyder
Art: Jock & David Baron
DC $2.99

James R: This title just gets better and better. When this creative team was announced I thought it was a great bit of comics alchemy and the finale of the first arc, 'The Black Mirror', bears that out. Dick has to escape from both Guiborg and the dark corners of his own psyche. As with the previous two instalments, it's beautifully paced, and after years of comic arcs stretched over six or seven issues, it's wonderfully refreshing to see this one wrapped up in three. I'm also a total Bat-geek, so I love it when they break out a new Bat-suit, and Snyder and Jock deliver a very cool new outfit amidst a brilliant climactic fight sequence. Add in the best of the DC’s 'Iconic' covers (for my money, anyway) and you have a total win of a comic. It's going to be great to see the Jim Gordon tale return next month, and I'm all a-tingle at the thought of what Snyder has got up his sleeve for the next arc proper. I say again, this is a great time to be a Batman fan. 9/10

Matt C: Scott Synder’s first storyline for Detective comes to a close with the same emphasis on creepy atmospherics that has moved it into pole position in front of all the other Batman titles. Dick Grayson is slowly coming to the conclusion that Gotham is plummeting to depths of immorality that it’s never quite reached before. It’s a thought that gives even this hardened crimefighter pause, and thanks to some freaky visuals from Jock, the reader will probably be nodding his head in agreement. If you like Gotham when its presented as a veritable cesspool of a city then this is where you need to be. Fantastic cover too. 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Sweet Baby Apocalypse, this is superb!! Seriously, tear down to your local comic book shop and ask for back issues or pre-order the trade paperback this instant! Remender captures an immense feeling of urgency from the get-go in this issue, finally tipping things back to a knife-edge balancing act after lasts issue’s pummelling that the black-ops mutants took. The interaction and teamwork between Wolverine and Fantomex is enthralling and gives an extra level to the visceral beating that they lavish upon the hordes of Apocalypse-followers. Once again Remender uses Fantomex’s powers to throw off the villains AND the reader, allowing Opeña to conjure up some brilliant visuals as everyone bears witness to the worst of deaths that may or may not be visited upon our heroes. When X-Force finally near their goal Remender then ramps up the tension by the boat-load, showing us and this morally-dubious team that the greatest threat to their mission may come from within. This has been a four-issue kick-start of supremely high quality and I honestly cannot recommend this enough. Unmissable. 10/10

Writer: Larry Hama
Art: S.L. Gallant, Gary Erskine & J. Brown
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: Oh dear, this isn’t what I expected and it shows that Larry Hama is better at some things than others when it comes to writing G.I. Joe comics. There’s too much of a comedy feel this time around as Hama wheels the Dreadnoks into view, queuing up gags involving chocolate covered donuts and how they threaten to bring Cobra’s latest mission to a standstill. It’s this leaning towards the funny bone that rips any serious sense of tension set up in the previous issue right out of the story and casts it to the wind. There’s also far too much exposition and narration from various characters to explain how the story has gotten to this point, as if IDW have turned round to Hama after last issue and said “Make this next issue a jumping on point NOW!”. That said, there is a great punch up between Baroness and Lady Jaye that highlights that when Hama scales back the unnecessary conversation pieces he really can deliver neat action sequences. Gallant’s simple art, Erskine’s heavy inking and Brown’s rich colouring, while sufficient to tell the story, unfortunately seem to accentuate the comedic failings of Hama and I’m sat here longing for Agustin Padilla to get a shot at this title again soon to drag a feeling of seriousness and vague realism back to the proceedings. 3/10

Writers: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
Art: Butcj Guice, Stefano Gaudiano, Bettie Breitwieser, Filipe Andrade et al
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Back to its best, no question. Is that because there are Nazis in it again? Could be - there are no other group of comic book villains (it's best to make the distinction clear between them and their real world counterparts!) more ideologically opposed to everything Cap stands for than those swastika-wearing bastards! With the Red Skull out of the picture it falls to his newly-disfigured daughter Sin to pick up where he left off, but as she's more unhinged and unpredictable than her father there's no way to know exactly what her plans really are, beyond disrupting Bucky's high profile trial. The scenes with the manipulative Faustus are the highlights, but the whole thing rattles along at such a breakneck pace that you feel breathless once you put it down. Brilliant stuff, and the back-up Nomad feature is a bit of a humdinger too. 8/10

James R: Unfortunately, familiarity is breeding contempt with this title. When Ed Brubaker re-booted it, I was one of its most vociferous fans, loving the mix of espionage, action and insane Nazis. I also thought his introduction of Bucky - first as the Winter Soldier, and then as Cap - was utterly masterful, and one of the bravest moves of recent times. However, in the last year or so, I found that the book had lost it's edge, both in terms of art and story. I dropped it after the 'Fifties Cap Tries To Blow Up The Hoover Dam' arc, but was persuaded by Matt C to give it another shot. I did, and sad to say, it's the last round in the chamber for me. My problem is that it's become Cap by numbers: each arc contains a fight sequence with goons that Cap skittles over with no real hint of danger, and then there’s a terror plot uncovered that threatens to blow up a particular part of America. This month: The Statue Of Liberty! I would have loved the whole issue to be the court case - it would have been interesting to see Brubaker discuss the implications of the responsibility of any soldier, let alone Bucky, but gah, it's done and dusted in five pages. On top of this, I just can't get on with Butch Guice's art - he's obviously talented, but it's just not to my tastes. I know my co-reviewers are loving this title, but for me the book needs a new direction. 5/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree
Oni Press $3.99

Stewart R: This is one of those titles that probably still languishes in the ‘under the radar’ category but it really should be catching a few more people’s attention as Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt are doing an exceptional job. Drake’s journey into Louisiana’s darkest swampland seeking assistance to rid himself of the blight of the Six Guns is wonderfully gloomy and atmospheric, and the secretive and imposing Henri Fournier is a great addition to the story. This is one of the first times that Bunn has exposed Drake’s emotional underside, his cool head finally falling away as his predicament starts to take its toll on body and mind. Throw into the mix some gun-slinging action against some ferocious swampland inhabitants and an intensifying mystery in Kirby Hale’s growing interest in Becky and you’ve got the ingredients for an engrossing comic read. 8/10

Matt C: I very much enjoyed the first arc of this series but always felt that the central protagonist, Drake Sinclair, was the weak link. It often seemed like Bunn hadn't fully decided how to portray him: roguish scoundrel or hardened antihero. I'm all for a bit of ambiguity but Drake came across as rather two-dimensional compared to the more rounded and fleshed out members of the cast. However, the events witnessed in the precious storyline have obviously taken their toll on him; he's become a much more fascinating character as the obsession to free himself from the curse of the guns takes over. Becky continues to be enchanting, and her blossoming romance with Kirby Hale seems a little too good to be true, so I’m guessing there's a twist due sometime soon. Hurtt brings an exaggerated quality to the proceedings but also the right sense of danger and lawlessness that you'd want from a supernatural Wild West tale. The two Damned miniseries from Bunn and Hurtt suggested they were creative partnership full of potential - The Sixth Gun has confirmed that’s definitely the case. 8/10

X-MEN #7
Writer: Victor Gischler
Art: Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There’s been a certain wave of opinion that suggests that Marvel put far too many X-books on the shelves these days but to be honest, with quality currently running as high as it is across the various titles and series, that argument may find it hard going presently. Certainly Victor Gischler has tucked six great issues of X-Men under his belt and has another decent effort here as he partners up with Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend to send a clutch of everybody’s favourite mutants off to New York. The initial montage of X-do-goodery is a really nice touch as Scott’s hired PR rep, Kate, sets out her vision and plan to get the X-Men out into the public eye and their popularity on the rise. Gischler delivers some nice chat between Cyclops and Wolverine regarding the outcome of the recent vampire war before we’re jetting off with Logan and Co to the sewers of Manhattan where Bachalo gets to have some fun with the panel layout, demonstrating just how his style differs when dealing with close-ups and wide-shot views. I have to say that his work does get a little over-simplistic in a couple of places but I’ll put that down to necessity considering he’s also colouring this time around. The last few pages are a delight as the X-Men fight off a wave of Lizards and that final panel suggests more witty banter to come next issue. 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guéra & Giulia Brusco
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: A new arc begins in this peerless series and once again it's a thrill to witness Aaron weave such deft, substantive characterisation through this rich, violent, compelling tapestry he's created. Here we see Chief Red Crow's political power threatened by a far more virtuous member of the tribe who helped raise Red Crow and is dismayed to see the path Crow has since walked. This leads to a scene where Red Crow gets to say something as beautifully, brutally poetic as "Sometimes your father is just a guy who fucked your mother. He doesn’t define who you are. " It's that kind of unflinching, unsentimental honesty that keeps this book at the top of my pile every month.
Guéra's art really draws the darkness out the damaged souls that populate Scalped - you can tell these people live their lives on the edge. Some are aware that their actions have pushed them beyond the point of no return, others are sociopaths that don't care either way. It's all in the details in their faces. Astonishing work, as always. 9/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Mike Deodato, Will Conrad & Rain Beredo
Marvel $3.99

James R: Okay, so I might not be on board with Brubaker's primary Captain America title, but man, I'm loving this! In a strange way, it's a similar reading experience to Ellis' Nextwave for me - it's unabashed fun, with the sense that anything can happen in 22 pages. This month Steve Rogers attempts a hostage swap with John Steele... and everything goes smoothly, and it's frappuccinos all round! No, of course not - it all goes to hell and it's high-octane action all the way. With every passing month, I'm becoming a bigger fan of Mike Deodato's art - he grasps the dynamics of action perfectly, and the able assistance of Will Conrad makes this book look fantastic. One gripe though: jeeping feck Marvel, enough with 'Marvel .1' pages! I would have rather read another couple of Brubaker pages than any puff-piece Quesada has to contribute. 7/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Bob Layton, John Beatty & Christie Scheele
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: After such a strong start the series does seem like it’s coasting a bit here; we pretty much get what the Beyonder ordered i.e. punch-ups between the heroes and villains. Obviously there’s a certain thrill in seeing the Molecule Man dump an entire mountain range on top of the good guys, and the way various characters bounce off of each other is undeniably entertaining (although to be fair, Shooter doesn’t get all of the characterizations right) but really it’s a case of waiting for someone to deviate from the scheduled programme. After some impressive pencil work in the first three issues, Mike Zeck steps aside temporarily to allow Bob Layton to have a crack at things (with inker John Beatty ensuring there’s visual consistency). My preference would always be Zeck, and Layton’s panels seem to get cramped quite frequently, but he does a decent enough job of things all the same. The final page indicates that Galactus will be shaking things up next issue, which should give it a much needed kick up the backside. 7/10


Tom P said...

Have to agree with you Stewart. Uncanny X-Men is 10/10 stuff everyone should read it!

Matt Clark said...

Er, think you mean Uncanny X-Force there Tom!

I think I may have been convinced to try it out; I can't really ignore all the praise any longer!

Tom P said...

Yes that's Correct! The hour was late when I typed that!