13 Feb 2011

Mini Reviews 13/02/2011

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: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99

Stewart R: My wait for the Tomasi/Gleason partnership on Batman And Robin is finally over and it’s a promising start to their tenure on the title. Tomasi opens things with a brief and rather fun look at the current state of the Bat-family, giving a nod to where it all started and showing that things are very different these days. Then it’s straight into the detective mix as Dick and Damian are presented with one very dramatic mystery to solve. Tomasi’s always had a decent grasp for dialogue and the morgue scene with the Dynamic Duo and Gordon highlights this perfectly; there’s plenty of collaboration as they work together to analyse the facts but without that sentence-splitting nonsense that other Batman writers like to employ. Then, when Kirk Langstrom turns up, it’s Gleason’s chance to really cut loose with a terrifically dynamic flight across the rooftops of Gotham as even stranger mysteries present themselves and hint at a very interesting story to come. An accomplished start to what will hopefully turn into an unmissable run. 8/10

Matt C: A little later than originally scheduled, but issue #20 sees Tomasi and Gleason take over this title for the foreseeable future, and first impressions are of the positive variety. Some nice interplay between the characters shows that Tomasi is definitely on the right track, and while there’s nothing particularly original about the central plotline (an extravagant suicide leading to a mystery; a familiar villain obsessed with portents of doom) it’s handled in a stylish, engaging manner. Gleason and Gray’s art is a good fit for the title: it doesn’t get too bogged down in the shadows electing instead to use darkness wisely, and Sinclair provides some wonderful colouring, bathing much of the action in an effective neon hue. Very promising. 8/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Val Staples
Marvel/Icon $3.50

James R: Well, that's me put in my place! Last month I said that issue #2 of Bad Influences wasn't quite up to the usual stellar standard of Brubaker, so this month he responds with the comics equivalent of an uppercut to the jaw. Zack Overkill ventures into the literal criminal underworld on the trail of Simon Slaughter, and these scenes felt as if they could be at home in the pages of Brubaker and Phillips' brilliant Sleeper. Brubaker has the unique gift for grafting the urban feel of a dimestore crime novels with the seemingly ridiculous world of superheroes, making them believable, resulting in a hugely entertaining read. That would have been enough for me, but this time the writer breaks up the narrative with the internal monologues of three individuals musing on the problems of humanity, their conclusions providing superb insight into their characters and driving the story forward. As always, Phillips' art perfectly captures the 'pulp noir' world, and Val Staples' colours deftly demonstrate that noir doesn't equal black - his tones give the pages a distinctive vibrancy and atmosphere. This week's winner for me by a clear knockout! 9/10

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

Stewart R: Dark, tense, action-packed and filled with emotion - a description as equally suited to Tomasi’s protagonist, Guy Gardner, as it is for this issue itself. This is quite simply a superb issue and caps off the first arc of Emerald Warriors in fine fashion. Guy’s continued scrap with Zardor takes a suitably creepy turn as the villain’s snake-motif once again comes into play and really piles the literal pressure onto the Green Lantern. Tomasi is working at the very top of his game making every passing page a must read as Guy not only fights one of the greatest threats that the Lanterns of all colours have faced but also his own inner turmoil as he struggles to keep a check on the flash of red running through him. There are no superfluous characters, exchanges or panels - everything is concise and just adds to this engrossing story as a whole. Fernando Pasarin has so much to work with and page after page sees him wring out every ounce of brutal emotion from the story. From start to finish this arc has been a visual delight. 9/10

Writer: Jon Price
Art: Rebekah Isaacs & Charlie Kirchoff
12-Gauge Comics $3.99

Stewart R: This was the strong second issue that this series sorely needed and ensures that I’ll be picking up the remaining three instalments. This time Price provides us with the necessary backstory and history of magic, showing us why the modern world is so surprised by its reappearance. While he falls back on the usual ‘Illuminati’ type group who are aiming to keep the magic under wraps for fears of what humankind could do with such power, there’s still a relatively fresh feel to events, especially as we’re left no clearer as to why the magic is returning which is certainly keeping my intrigue at a high enough level. The lack of a single protagonist is certainly not an issue as Price is rounding out various cast members as and when he needs to, and the ongoing mystery of the one individual who may be responsible for this madness means that a handful of characters are kept in focus for the time being, which works well enough. Isaacs’ pencil and ink work is precise and super-clean, throwing in some neat silhouette panels here and there for good measure and combined with Kirchoff’s varied palettes the whole thing has a crisp, fresh feel. 7/10

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

Matt C: The Unwritten is a spellbinding series, soaked in brilliance. It’s rare to find a comic that contains such complexity and ingenuity; rarer still to discover one that manages to sustain those traits over a long period of time. It’s clear though that Carey isn’t applying the Indiana Jones technique of “making this up as I go”; he’s done the thorough research, knows his stuff, and because of this has managed to establish a universe that’s both fantastical and convincing in equal measure. Tom Taylor’s jaunt through the realm of stories is one of the most fascinating arcs yet, it’s structure and delivery revealing just how expansive the potential scope of the series is. Gross continues to impress as he adapts his style to suit the different narrative strands (assisted here by Vincent Locke) and although deceptively simple on first glance, closer inspection reveals just how detailed and cleverly composed his panels are. A modern classic? It just might be heading that way. 8/10

Writer: Sean McKeever
Art: Filipe Andrade & Ricardo Tercio
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Any mention of Onslaught tends to make me sceptical about a comic but so good was McKeever and Andrade’s latest arc of Nomad (found in the back pages of Captain America for those of you not in the know!) that I decided to pick this up for a try. Having seen McKeever deliver a keenly focused look at Rikki’s exploits as Nomad in the aforementioned story I was also weary of the number of teams and characters that would get dragged into a miniseries such as this. I wondered whether he would be able to keep everything contained but even with the Secret Avengers and Young Allies involved this first issue ticks along nicely without feeling like things are getting out of hand. Rikki’s dreams/visions remain the focus around which all other events unwind and it’s once again her feelings of isolation and helplessness that the story hinges upon. McKeever manages to give every single character some page time, identifying individual traits in very quick time and using certain heroes’ quirks - Moon Knight in particular - to his and the story’s advantage. Andrade’s unique art is a definite hit; his lithe, ‘gangly’ style of characterisation allows for some great facial expressions and some explosive, dynamic action. A very good start. 8/10

Writer: S. Steven Struble
Art: Sina Grace
Image $2.99

James R: I picked this upon a whim as visually it's really arresting and I'm a sucker for a lo-fi comic. This title takes us through a few days in the life of the eponymous character, who Sina Grace draws as full-sized human doll (wait, come back, it's not creepy!) whilst everyone else in his world is portrayed as, well, normal looking! Struble writes his protagonist as a man who many of us fanboys would identify with: a disaffected, Chuck Taylor-wearing, music & comics fan with a predilection for video games... remind you of anyone? My guess is it'll remind you of several people! Li'l Depressed Boy (LDB) is broken from his malaise when he has a chance encounter with a girl who seems too good to be true: a comics fan who talks about Golden Axe and Megaman. We join them on their first date, and despite the euphoria, you sense that the course of true love may not run smooth for LDB! Given that LDB's world revolves around "poetry, music and, of course, women" there are inevitable parallels with Scott Pilgrim, and while I hate to use the cliché, if you liked that, you'll like this! My one reservation with it is that I tend to get frustrated with first world depressives in any form of art, but I was suitably charmed by this to check back in next month. A comic for all of us who carry tinnitus from gigs as a badge of honour! 7/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney, Jason Keith & Jim Charalampidis
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Aaron hasn’t quite cranked things up all that much from the debut issue but I’m still enjoying the book so far, with reservations. The idea of a jingoistic, anachronistic Captain America up against a disillusioned, embittered Captain America is a good one, but although Aaron is getting some fine stuff out of it, he hasn’t quite milked it for all its worth, at least not yet. I guess the main hurdle here is that Ultimate Steve Rogers is a bit of an arrogant, unlikable bastard – there’s probably an argument to be made saying it’s a more realistic portrayal of such an individual, but there’s no way anyone’s going to root for him like they do for the real deal. Still, the clash of ideologies makes it compelling, Aaron brings some well-timed wit in to liven things up, and Garney delivers some highly appealing, boisterous artwork. My hope is that the remaining two instalments won’t devolve into an extended punch-up and we’ll get something with a little more depth and intelligence to sink our teeth into. 7/10

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Todd McFarlane & FCO Plascencia
Image $1.99

Stewart R: So we get a reduced price tag this month, our $2 providing us with just 14 pages of illustrated supernatural espionage, 5 pages of reader letters and then the usual amount of publisher adverts. As it turns out we also get an apology for not receiving a January issue and then it all starts to feel that this slimmer issue was less of a planned promotion and more of a necessary move due to internal, unexplained delays and probably a lack of finished pages in the bag already. Regardless, this is still an enjoyable Haunt read as Daniel settles into his new life as a powered super-spy while also ignoring his deceased brother’s warning that something is not quite right in his post-life side of things. Capullo has been delivering some great art since he came onboard as the main pencil talent but his work here with the Apparition demonstrates where he really can excel himself, the menace involved really oozing from the page with Kurt’s concern and panic all too clear to see. A very slight con on the pricing side of things but decent nonetheless. 7/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellatto
DC $2.99

Matt C: The first arc didn't really deliver on its initial promise, but last issue was a cracker, and this month's instalment is very good too. We get a bit of ‘CSI: Central City' involving a dead superhero, we get a bit of human drama with a hint of self doubt and regret, and we get a general idea of how things may start to pan out as we lead up to the 'Flashpoint' event. When Johns scales things back and focuses on quite, contemplative character moments he's usually dead on target; he does have a tendency to overcrowd things when dealing with a larger palette, so that may come later. For now, with the aid of Manupal's sleek imagery, it feels like Johns has got this title headed in the right direction again. 8/10

James R: I've been so indecisive on this book, I could give Schrodinger's cat a break from its box! To begin, I loved John's original run on Flash, but then I left the book when he did. I rejoined when he came back, but felt as if it didn't have the old magic and dropped it. No sooner had I done that, than Matt C persuaded me I should pick up last month’s Reverse Flash issue... which has now got me back onboard! To be perfectly honest, it reads like an extended trailer for the upcoming 'Flashpoint' ginormo-crossover-ultimate-crisis-thingy, and you know what? That's fine by me! It utilizes two different sci-fi staples that I love: the time travel story and the parallel universe tale. When they're done right, these latter 'Elseworlds' tales can be hugely satisfying (Superman: Red Son and Batman: Gotham By Gaslight spring immediately to mind), so the thought of a big alternate world/altered reality event coming up gets a provisional thumbs up from me. The issue itself is tightly written and neatly illustrated, and I'm now crossing everything that this book (and 'Flashpoint') is now up to speed... sorry! I clearly need another session at the terrible pun rehab centre! 7/10

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Stefano Caselli & Marte Garcia
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Well, that’s two very successful arcs in the bag for Mr Slott! The man seems to know the world of Spider-Man inside and out and also knows how to employ an ensemble cast when he needs to. Having left things at yet another cliffhanger last issue, Slott has yet more fun with Peter’s new career and employer as Max Modell gets to voice his opinion on the relationship between mild-mannered Parker and the web-swinging wonder. From there it’s straight back into the perilous action with Caselli producing an ‘amazing’ display as J Jonah Jameson and his nearest and dearest are beset on all sides by the lethal hordes of Spider-Slayers. Tying their weakness into Peter’s own abilities is a neat touch and gives needed plausibility as to why even the presence of the New Avengers is not enough to defeat these insectoid foes. A sense of impending doom seems to be woven between the pages of this issue and even when things start to look brighter for the heroes Slott then throws further, heart-wrenching tragedy into the mix. The Twitterverse has come alive this week with praise for Dan’s handling of this book in his reign so far and for this chapter in particular it’s well and truly deserved. 9/10

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

Matt C: The situation is beginning to wear on many of our heroes; tempers are flaring a lot more easily as the constant reminder of impending destruction – Galactus preparing to consume the planet – looms large overhead, quite literally. On his reconnoitre through Galactus’ ship, Doom discovers Klaw, the “self-styled Master of Sound”, who immediately becomes a loyal audience for Doom’s delicious monologues. One strange thing about Galactus' gargantuan homeworld is how a lot of the walkways and control panels are more Doom-sized rather than Galactus-sized. Very convenient, that. Other than Doom’s shenanigans, a fair amount of the issue is given over to the Wasp who, rather irritatingly, is presented as the ditzy fashionista of yore rather than the smart, strong woman seen in issues Avengers around the same sort of time. Much better is all the stuff with the X-Men: Professor X asserting himself, attempting to convince the band of mutants he can lead them into battle now he’s no longer in the chair, and an excellent scene where a skirmish with a group of villains sees Wolverine crossing the line. Although Bob Layton provides the (rather brilliant) cover – the reverse of issue #1 – inside we see the return of Mike Zeck who does a sterling job, and once again shows real skill in rendering some fantastic facial expressions. Halfway through and this series has well and truly found its stride. 8/10

1 comment:

Joe T said...

For me this week it was Amazing Spider-Man 654, Batman & Robin 20, Black Panther: Man Without Fear 515and Heroes For Hire 3.

I was incredibly dissapointed with Batman & Robin, and I really cannot see why everyone seemed to love it so much. I'd give it a 6/10 and that's feeling generous. I maybe come back next issue, I may not. Not gripped at all. Grant Morrison's departure from this book seems to have doomed it imho.

Amazing Spider-Man was very good, and I felt the death was somewhat meaningful. It wasn't a gimmick to try and sell a book, it wasn't the most important character to die, but, it was meaningful within the context of the book and will affect the supporting cast quite a bit. The art was perfect, and there was a certain shock moment. Would have been a perfect issue, if not for the outrage that was the new Venom.

Black Panther was suprisingly good yet again, and has definately been the best unexpected break out title for a long while. Fair enough the dialouge was a bit off at points, but there was so much that was right with this issue, it was hardly a problem. Have always liked this title's art (can't spell the artists name off the top of my head), but this issue was an immense level improvement. If this is how good T'challa's adventures in Hell Kitchen are going to be, I'm in no rush to see Matt make his return.

Also another suprise title for me was Heroes For Hire. Whilst I've heard good things about the writing duo of DnA, I've never actually experienced their work until now, and my only exposure to Brad Walker was in an old Nightwing trade. The creative team have really done some good work here, and I'm suprised how well characters who can't and could never hold their own book (Silver Sable, Ghost Rider, Paladin, Moon Knight in particular) could make for such a gripping "team" book. This series also does something a lot of comics fail to do nowadays-use a cliffhanger correctly. This issue is the best to date, and when you finally realize what Paladin's been doing this issue, you know some sh*t's going down.