6 Feb 2011

Mini Reviews 06/02/2011

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: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: “Hi. My name’s Tony and I’m an alcoholic.” Matt Fraction documented his past as an addict in a back-up article in Casonova #3 so I imagine writing an issue like this not only draws on personal experience but is also somewhat cathartic. It confronts Tony Stark’s alcoholism (and womanising!) head on in a way we haven’t seen in a while, and although there’s a certain amount of retconning going on (the suggestion that Tony was pissed as a fart during the early Avengers adventures!) it’s a largely effective ‘one-shot’ which does what it needs to i.e. get people onboard with current Iron Man continuity. Perhaps it’s not something you’d give to someone only familiar with the movies (although it does weave in some strikingly similar origin scenes) but for the average comic book reader it does act as a fast-track refresher to what’s Tony’s been up to recently, albeit in a way that doesn’t linger too long on the details. Larocca impresses again, especially when he employs a lighter, cross-hatching method to differentiate the flashback scenes, and it’s always gratifying to see that this writer/artist partnership is still going strong and shows no signs of flagging. Don’t be put off by the gimmicky ‘Point One’ malarkey: this is essential reading for fans of the Golden Avenger. 8/10

Stewart R: If nothing else, this standalone issue highlights just how talented a writer Matt Fraction is. He puts in a masterful display here by effortlessly squeezing the full summary of Tony Stark’s life into a mere 20 pages while using the man’s greatest weakness - his addiction to alcohol - as the main story thread upon which those key events from the past are paralleled; it’s actually quite astounding how well Fraction has crafted this. Working with him every step of the way is of course the brilliant art team of Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata who do a fine job of defining the difference between visions of the past and Tony’s present day speech by simplifying the line style and palette in panels relating to days gone by. I think you might struggle to find such an accomplished summary issue out there and as a regular reader who knows a fair bit about Tony’s history already I don’t mind the fact that there’s little in the way of new material between the pages. 8/10

James R: In the same way that this issue is a '.1' - not quite a full issue - this comic falls between two stools for me. On one hand, it's a 'Who I Am And How I Came To Be' issue that comics companies love to put out every few years as both an introduction to new readers and a recap for older ones (and a way to remind you what's been retconned!). On the other, it's an insight into the mind and motivations of Tony Stark. It was the usual high quality from Fraction; the idea of Tony's testimonial at an AA meeting serving as the narrative spine of the issue is great, but at the same time I'm not sure if I buy the idea of Stark's alcoholism acting as the cause for most of his life choices. However, as a man who goes along with Grant Morrison's idea that strong characters can withstand a plethora of interpretations, I'm happy to accept that this is simply Matt Fraction's Tony Stark. I am a total sucker for the 'Coming This Year!' pages in comics, and the teaser for the next 12 months of Invincible Iron Man makes it look like the book is still in great hands. 7/10

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

James R: If I just gave a description of superficial detail in this issue - Jeppard, Gus and the other survivors stop off to get supplies on their trek to Alaska - it might not sound like much, but man alive, this comic is extremely powerful! I'm always happy to reel of a list of why I love comics, but 'intense emotion' wouldn't normally make that list. Sweet Tooth has it in spades though, and Lemire's skill as a writer and an artist has been to draw me into this series in a way that no other has. I genuinely care about Gus and Jeppard, and now I also care bout the fates of Gus' fellow hybrids, Bobby and Wendy. I'm a total black-hearted cynic, so it takes a deftness of touch to make a character getting a new coat in a panel to cause me to get a lump in my throat! Over the course of this chapter, the relationship between Gus and Jeppard evolves again, as we see both Jeppard's regret and Gus' conflict over the man who had abandoned him yet returned to save him. The panel where the two stand face-to-face, unable to look each other in the eye, is already one of my favourite images of the year. Speaking of the panels, Lemire also presents the issue in a landscape format, which allows him to blend the standard comic format with storybook-style pages. This gives an innocence to issue, which juxtaposes wonderfully with the darkness not only in the pages of the issue, but also against the upcoming 'Endangered Species' arc. A quick word on the colours of Jose Villarrubia whose palette seems to improve with every issue, and makes this a truly beautiful book. My favourite ongoing comic, without question! 10/10

Matt C: Flipping a single issue on its side to go with the landscape format may not be new trick (we saw it most recently in The Unwritten #17) but it’s a good way of shaking things up and coming at an ongoing storyline from a different angle. After the pain and suffering witnessed last month, Lemire opts to reward us with a dash of hope. Obviously it’s not all ‘happy happy, joy joy’ – there are still moments of darkness – but it shows that even in the most miserable of situations human beings have a habit of discovering snatches of happiness, no matter how fleeting. To differentiate this issue further from the norm, Lemire opts for a ‘storybook’ approach, mixing illustrated prose pages with regular comic panels, and tweaking the art style with the assistance of Villarrubia, approximating the look of classical illustrations. Wonderful stuff – Sweet Tooth plucks at the heartstrings like no other book on the stands. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Carlos Pacheco, Dexter Vines et al
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Disappointing. After such an impressive build-up this finale flounders a bit as it ceases to be a standalone tale and focuses instead on linking itself in to the Millar/Hitch The Ultimates series. It’s an understandable move I guess, as it gives the mini a firm position in the Ultimate continuity and answers the question of what Thor was up to before we first encountered him as a Euro-treehugger. The frustration comes from the fact that it felt like we leading up to something momentous, something epic, but instead it steps into the shadow of The Ultimates and loses part of its own identity. There’s still a lot of neat touches (like the reveal of Donald Blake’s true identity and the introduction of the souped-up hammer) and Pacheco does a great job of giving us a different perspective on scenes we’ve already witnessed, but this wasn’t an entirely satisfying denouement if truth be told. Good, but misses out on the greatness that was hinted out in the first three issues. 7/10

Writers: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Art: John Severin & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics $2.99

James R: The Hellboy universe books are, to be honest, pretty much by the numbers: horror-mystery established in far-flung place, investigator uncovers something nefarious, investigator fights menace. For me, the books stand or falls on the strength of the protagonists - Hellboy remains great fun, while BPRD has never matched the heights of Mignola's original creation. So where does Witchfinder stand? The last miniseries featuring Edward Grey definitely had the classic horror quality of Hellboy, but on this second outing there seems to be something missing. It might be the change of location - the Victorian London setting of the last run was perfect, whereas the Wild West doesn't seem to resonate so well. I'll definitely stick with it in the hope that this incredibly talented creative team takes it up a notch, and for the art of John Severin. The man deserves a special tip of the Stetson for producing such great pencils at - get this - 88! If I can hold a pencil at 88 I'll be delighted, quite frankly! 6/10

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

Stewart R: I wasn’t convinced by the debut, especially with the introduction of the Justice League, but thankfully Beechen has managed to convince me with this second instalment that this is a series with real potential. Terry’s attempts to get the Justice League out of the way - with the aid of Bruce acting as coach - in order to get to the job of saving his family are really enjoyable as Beechen shows why Bruce was one of the greatest superhero tacticians of his day and how Terry is learning and adapting every single day that he wears the high-tech costume of Batman. There are some nice little relationship developments thrown into the mix too showing that while Terry’s life as a superhero may be jeopardising his ‘plain clothes’ love life, it’s also offering up new friendships and alliances. It’s little additions like this that are showing that Beechen is looking much further down the line and certainly making me optimistic about this book’s future. Add to that an art team who really are capturing that rich, vibrant Gotham of the future that this title demands and I’d be hard pushed not to use the phrase ‘winning combination’. 8/10

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

Matt C: It never ceases to amaze me how this book continues to confound my expectations. I was cynical at first; I never thought there were enough story possibilities to last far into double figures, but here we are, with issue #22, and Waid doesn’t appear to be anywhere near close to running out of ideas. The Plutonian’s outer space excursion is an inspired and compelling plotline, while back home on Earth Modeus’ infatuation with his nemesis takes a turn for the perverted. Really, what we have here, is Waid throwing in the kinds of things he could never, ever get away with when he’s working on various characters at either DC or Marvel. As he’s one of the most proficient spandex writers in the business, you can imagine that he’s probably racked up a whole load of ideas over the years that he’s never had an opportunity to use… until now. Those of you out there who bailed early because they didn’t think this series had legs should really consider giving it another shot. I think you’d be surprised at what you find. 8/10

HULK #29
Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Gabriel Hardman, Elizabeth Breitweiser & Jim Charalampidis
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Oh, how very glad I am that Tom P’s recommendation for Parker and Hardman’s work on this title all those many months ago convinced me to dive into the ongoing adventures of the Red Hulk. The ‘Scorched Earth’ arc comes to a conclusion with Ross, Rick and a special green guest star trying to fight their way across Monster Island in order to shut down M.O.D.O.K.’s control centre which continues to throw doomsday scenarios at the world. The appearance of Hulk is actually a nice touch as it shows that Ross is beginning to realise that he has to work with the devil he knows in order to find retribution and prevent world destruction. It’s also good to see Parker capture the Hulk and Banner as two separate beings sharing one body and it adds an extra dimension to the behemoth beatings that commence. Hardman really does do giant monsters and power-punches well and each panel involving a gargantuan smackdown echoes with immense force. Even when I thought the story was over there’s a terrific epilogue that shows that some legacies will just continue to live on and I cannot wait to see where these guys take that particular idea! 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Pier Gallo & Jamie Grant
DC $2.99

Matt C: Marvel comics were much more accessible round my neck of the woods when I was growing up, and there’s still part of me that considers myself a Marvel fanboy. I’ve since gone to cultivate a healthy obsession with many DC characters, but it’s primarily the icons I feel an allegiance to. When it comes to second tier characters - like Superboy – it’s usually the creative team that piques my interest rather than a fondness of the characters themselves. That’s probably a bit of a generalisation, but my point is – finally! – that Jeff Lemire has sucked me right into the world of Connor Kent and made me want to stay. It’s all down to the perceptive, soulful portrayal of Connor, the engaging, varied supporting cast and the way the teen angst slots snugly into the outlandish sci-fi tinged tales. Gallo brings it all to life with an easy charm and Grant’s colours avoid obtrusiveness but are completely vital to the visual aesthetic. Lemire’s now proved he’s got the chops for the spandex genre, and Superboy has quickly become one of the best mainstream books DC are currently publishing. 8/10

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

Matt C: Things shift up a gear as Galactus’s solar-system-sized homeworld fills the sky and Doom sets his masterplan in motion. Reed Richards tries to communicate with the World Devourer (they’ve had conflabs before) but his attempts prove fruitless – the Big G has set his mind on something and nobody’s going to deter him! As the cover suggests (a pretty decent effort from Layton) the X-Men return to the fray to assist the heroes when the villains mount a surprise attack (with Doom using the situation for his own advantage) and it results in what’s probably the most intense round of fisticuffs so far. Basically, it’s all go from Page 1, but the real area of interest is trying to figure out exactly what Doom’s up to. His pompous monologuing is a joy to read and it’s clear that his devious plotting is about to make things a heck of a lot more interesting. A far a better effort from Layton on pencils this time results in some truly memorable panels (Xavier and Magneto’s mental assault on Galactus; Storm kicking ass in style) that almost – almost! – makes you forget you’re missing Mike Zeck. 8/10


Tom P said...

Glad my Hulk recommendation was a good one, I love that book, his work on this and Thunderbolts is just pure comics gold. Amazing Spider-Man was great this week too.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

Hulk really got so much better once Jeff Parker started writing for it.

heartbug said...

Cartoons are one of the funniest characters by any means. That is why they ever bring smile and happiness on the faces of the kids and adults alike.
"how to draw cartoons"

Matt Clark said...

"Cartoons are one of the funniest characters by any means."

I love that sentence, heartbug. Thank you.