20 Feb 2011

Mini Reviews 20/02/2011

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: Greg Pak
Art: Stephen Segovia, Victor Olazaba & Wil Quintana
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: So ‘here we go again’ as Marvel attempt to give the ultimate Herald of Galactus a series that grabs more than a modest amount of attention. Placing Greg Pak in front of the proverbial typewriter is the first big step as he’s handled a wide range of Marvel’s characters with style and dexterity in recent years. Here, he begins things with the necessary introduction to one of the sadder tales in the House of Ideas’ back catalogue, emphasising how the being that was Norrin Radd has been buried but not completely forgotten amongst the sheen of Power Cosmic silver. The relationship between god-like master and super-powered servant is spread lovingly across the page by Segovia and the art team delivering a first dozen or so panels that reminded me a little of Ron Lim’s tenure with the Surfer back in the 1980s. This then leads into the Surfer’s intervention in an Earth-based situation somewhat beneath his power-set and station that ultimately propels him into unprecedented danger which at this early stage really does have my interest piqued! A good start. 8/10

Matt C: I’m a bit torn on this. On the one hand, I believe the Silver Surfer to be one of Marvel ‘s coolest and – when handled correctly – most fascinating characters, his cosmic introspectiveness providing plenty of dramatic scope and weight. On the other hand, it’s been a good long time (20 years?) since someone’s been able to deliver a consistently good Surfer series. There’s been the odd story here and there that’s worked, but some writer’s don’t seem to know exactly what to do with him once they get hold of him. Pak gets the opening of this issue right, as the Surfer once again ponders his role in the universe and the heavy burden he must carry, but then he takes things into frankly confusing territory as the character becomes embroiled in some shenanigans on Earth involving drugs, super-powered government operatives and the High Evolutionary. Whether it’s a case of the script or the art (or both) being a bit too busy, it’s was nowhere near as engaging as I’d hoped. The cliffhanger is intriguing but I don't know if that, and my affection for the character, will be enough to bring me back for another issue. 5/10

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: I really wasn’t sure about the ‘Point One’ initiative but that’s now two top quality comics from two purchases in recent weeks (the first being Invincible Iron Man). Dan Slott uses this opportunity to expand #654’s introduction to the new Venom by dropping us into the action on his first couple of missions in the field and there’s a terrific sense of fun that runs through the whole thing thanks to the light-hearted way that Slott characterises Flash Thompson. There’s a great True Lies-cum-Mission: Impossible vibe to be found, thanks in part to Ramos’ pencils and Cuevas’ clean yet brooding inks, not to mention of course Flash’s fancy footwork and silver tongue. Amongst the fun and nods to spy films there’s also a gripping sense of helplessness on the part of the reader as we start to see the first signs that the symbiote is beginning to corrupt Flash as their bonding continues. A great issue and it’s also managed to raise my interest in the new Venom title. 9/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Esad Ribic, John Lucas & Matt Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I couldn’t block out the chorus of praise any longer. I’d grown apart from the X-Men universe in the last five years or so, so the idea of me buying a book entitled Uncanny X-Force (not even the real X-Men!) seemed completely out of the question. But, ever since the book debuted, I’ve been keeping an eye on the constant stream of rave reviews until it eventually reached a point where I couldn’t deny the enthusing of my peers any longer. I picked up the first four issues, gunned right through them, and loved them (especially #3 and #4). If you were sceptical like me, take the plunge: all the plaudits are entirely deserved. And so we move onto the second arc, which sees cover artist Ribic take over the interior work from
OpeƱa but doesn’t show any signs of the quality slipping. As well as focusing on the repercussions of last issues shock ending, it also draws heavily on Fantomex’s backstory, and as it’s more convoluted than most, if you’re not overly familiar with it to begin with it might seem a little difficult to get your head round. Fortunately, Remender shows – as he has done from the beginning – that he can keep the intelligence and complexity running without getting entangled in layers of impenetrable continuity. Believe the hype – against the odds, Uncanny X-Force has become one of the best books Marvel are currently publishing. 8/10

Stewart R: So the first superb arc is out of the way and everything will now fall to pieces of course... NO WAY JOSE! This is just as good as any of those first four issues: Rick Remender continues to show so many different sides and elements to this small group of mutants battling to save mutant and human kind from some of the worst threats imaginable while also battling with their consciences every step of the way. The revelation about Deadpool adds an extra angle that I certainly wouldn’t have predicted but this is primarily about the enigmatic Fantomex and his ambush at the hands of several superhero mimicking Deathloks. This is purely stunning with Remender and Ribic providing us with a display of the Frenchman’s incredible fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds and there’s an emotional weight to the storytelling here that just makes me want more, lots more! Please, please try this title out if you haven’t already, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 9/10

James R: I picked this up this month because as far as I'm concerned, when three of my fellow reviewing cohorts tell me that this is awesome, I feel honour-bound to take a look! I should point out that the idea of the X-Men is one I'm very lukewarm about - from the tar-thick continuity ('So wait, he's married to the female version of himself from another dimension, who went back in time and killed his father, after he made her pregnant with their shape-shifting nemesis?!" And so on.) to the ubiquity of Wolverine, well, it’s never really clicked for me. On one hand, I do feel like a man who has wandered into a movie three-quarters of the way through, but yet on the other, I was suitably entertained by this as there are some great sci-fi concepts at play here - a hyper-accelerated universe? Cool. Parallel dimension versions of Marvel characters being used by Deathlok as a hit-squad? Also good! I'll see how the arc pans out before I decide if I'm totally onboard here, but this was a nice antidote to my X-phobia. 7/10

Writer: El Torres
Art: Gabriel Hernandez
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: The stark and creepy cover certainly doesn’t act as false advertising for the supernatural goings-on that transpire in this months issue of Suicide Forest. Torres determines that this is the time to show us just what is lurking in the foliage of Aokigahara as Ryoko Watanabe leads a small party on a tour of the cursed woodland and it’s not long before the darkness envelopes everything. It’s actually taken a second read through to recognise the very subtle yet effective artistic trick that Hernandez has employed here to steadily increase the claustrophobic feel as the angry spirits circle their prey and it’s very well handled indeed. I’d like a little more development of Ryoko’s character as it takes something of a backseat to the action here but the reveal at the end of this chapter suggests that we’ll learn a great deal more about her next time out. I would have told you that ‘I don’t do ghost stories’ a couple of months ago but this title has helped to shift my position on that now. 8/10

S.H.I.E.L.D. #6
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Dustin Weaver & Christina Strain
Marvel $2.99

James R: Remember when Lost was at its peak, dear readers? Ah yes, how we would all gather round and have long debates over what the Dharma Initiative was, or if the characters were all involved in a dream within a dream... no, wait, that's Inception! Sorry. Anyway, as I read the 'final part' of this series, I couldn't help but be reminded of Lost. In the same way that the show's producers would tease us with some huge plot development... and then never quite elaborate on it, leaving us muttering "This will all get explained in the end!" I think that S.H.I.E.L.D. falls into a similar pattern. Hickman is brilliant at setting up these huge, breathtaking ideas, but he's even better at leaving us hanging. This issue sees the face-off between the armies of Da Vinci & Newton, and the desperate attempts of Stark & Richards to get back from the far future. It's great fun, but it doesn't really get us anywhere; rather than the end of an arc, this feels like the end of a chapter. Yet another renaissance figure is thrown into the mix to do... well, we're not sure yet! You'll have to come back for S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity. I fully accept that this is the nature of serialised storytelling, but for my dollar, I would have enjoyed a little more payoff. It does look spectacular though, and Weaver and Strain's art has been a treat throughout. This has been a blast, but not quite the classic I hoped for. 7/10

Writer: Steve Niles
Art: Kelley Jones and Jay Fotos
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: *SPLASH* That, dear friends, was me jumping off this crazy boat I’m afraid. I kind of get what Niles and Jones are trying to do with their self-contained horror stories of differing genres - this issue sees a mafia-type gang deal with a police mole and then pay a supernatural price for their trouble - but it’s all a little lifeless. Aside from the terrific second issue each instalment has failed to provide an individual to root for or really give a rat’s ass about; instead, we just end up with an excuse for Jones’ to have fun with his art and execute a clutch of gruesome disembowelments, transformations and deaths. The first few pages start promisingly enough as the betrayed mafia thugs bait their snitch prisoner with the dialogue and Pete’s resigned state setting the mood. Then, all too quickly, the story is simply fed whole to Jones’ art which devours each nameless goon one by one as the spirits of many a cement-filled-shoe wearer come back to take their pound of flesh. It’s all too throwaway I’m afraid and I feel like I’ve thrown my 4 bucks away. 4/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Kev Walker, Jason Gorder & Frank Martin
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: When you populate your team with villains it’s pretty much guaranteed that a few of them will rebel sooner or later; some may take their time (Crossbones), others may snap straight away. Here we see Hyperion turn on his teammates during his first mission. While they’re focusing on bringing a bunch of monsters down who're intent on invading Japan, Hyperion is intent on putting the rest of the Thunderbolts out of action any way he can. Obviously the Thunderbolts – both individually and combined – aren’t easy pickings, but while they can handle themselves in one-on-one encounters it’s through teamwork that they really excel. What Parker’s done so brilliantly in Thunderbolts, what makes it such a consistently engaging read, is the way he nails the dynamics – he has a masterful grasp of how the characters interact and clash with each other, and he purposefully never conclusively answers the eternal question of whether there is truly any honour amongst thieves. Walker’s pencils are graceful and thrilling, Gorder’s inks crisp and fluid, Martin’s colours light and intoxicating. A superb, distinctive team book that demands discovery by a wider audience. 8/10

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

Matt C: Check out Cap’s anguished face on the cover (another fine effort from Bob Layton) – that’s the heavy burden of leadership for you! Even though Galactus is closer to feasting on the patchwork planet than ever before, when the Wrecking Crew dump the Wasp’s corpse on the heroes doorstep there are plenty of cries for vengeance. Cap tries to calm things down, insisting that the Big G is threat they need to focus on, but that’s not enough for She-Hulk who sneaks off to confront the bad guys on her lonesome. The X-Men – becoming increasingly proactive under Professor X’s command – get into another scrap with some of Doom’s men, while Doom himself finds out that you can’t go sneaking around someone’s home(world) for too long without being noticed. It’s another issue of momentum building; things of serious consequence are still happening, but there’s a definite feeling that everything’s going to be taken to the next level very soon. With so many characters involved you’d think many would get lost in the mix, but while Shooter – by necessity – gives certain individuals a larger share of the limelight, he doesn’t neglect the others and ensures their different personalities have an impact. 8/10

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