27 Feb 2011

Mini Reviews 27/02/2011

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: Jonatham Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta, Mark Brooks & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The bulk of this issue follows straight on on the devastating events that saw the First Family of Marveldom reduced to three members. It's almost entirely wordless but incredibly potent because of this, the visuals conveying the emotional tone perfectly. It may seem like a strange choice to employ a guest artist for such an important chapter in the Fantastic Four's history but Dragotta manages to channel some Kirby magic into his illustrations (complete with Kirby Crackle!) that somehow seems quite apt, all things considered. While the story encompasses the period of mourning for FF and their extended family it's the scenes involving the Thing where the pathos really comes to the fore. After knowing this character (a personal favourite) for roughly 30 years, watching him break down in front of some close friends was more than enough to cause a tear in this comic fan's eye. The back-up tale has Spider-Man catching up with Franklin for a bonding session now that they have something in common (both have lost uncles they were very close to). It's short but touching, well rendered by Brooks, and the appearance of the wallcrawler is nicely judged, especially considering his role in the forthcoming FF series. The most affecting single issue of Hickman's career as a comics writer yet, and also one of his best. 9/10

Stewart R: Well, what a bloody great time it’s been to jump onto the Fantastic Four bandwagon as Hickman carefully steers it down a bumpy road filled with emotional potholes! The last issue was an intense affair in terms of action while #588’s intensity comes from the overwhelming sense of grief that Hickman and primarily Dragotta manage to wring from each and every page. The absence of speech means that Dragotta has to capture every nuance of sadness, anger and disbelief in single, all important panels and he accomplishes that magnificently. From Valeria’s focused rage in leading the kids of the Future Foundation, to Sue’s sombre withdrawal from Reed, to the superb scene where Thor and the Hulk attempt to get through to Ben and allow him to grieve, to that final sequence where an exhausted Reed gets the shock of his life, it’s just brilliant. The back-up story involving Spider-Man helping Franklin get through his period of mourning is also nicely realised and rounds things out perfectly. Bring on the Future Foundation! 9/10

Writers: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber
Art: Werther Dell’Edera & Arianna Florean
Image $2.99

Matt C: The basic premise - heavenly figure commands ordinary joe to commit murder for the good of humanity - is a decent one, but the execution here is completely off. For a start, we're barely given any time to get to know the protagonist before the plot kicks into gear (literally from page 2), so rather than feeling like we can empathise with his predicament he remains a rather nondescript character throughout the whole of the issue. As we don't really understand who this guy is, his actions don't seem very convincing - he doesn't really take a lot of prompting to make the decision to commit murder in the name of righteousness, not does he ask any searching questions to ascertain why he's been chosen for the task. The art's fine but the entire enterprise is just too flimsy to warrant further investigation. 4/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Francesco Francavilla
DC $2.99

James R: With every passing month this title just gets better and better. Detective was one of the only comics that I felt carried off the two-in-one approach, but with DC's $2.99 price promise, it seemed the Jim Gordon story had to take a back seat. However, it's been totally worth the wait. This month we see Gordon come face to face with James Jr while Dick teams up with Tim Drake to take on an unusual gang. Snyder does a brilliant job of balancing out these two stories - the quiet intensity of the father and son meeting is nicely offset by the classic Batman action during the second half of the story. Special praise though has to go to Francesco Francavilla - his work is beautifully moody, and I think it takes a real talent to make a conversation between two men in a diner the most memorable thing you read in a pull-list full of apocalypses, supermen and science heroes. The colour palette is spectacular - check out how Jim Gordon is portrayed as a stark grey figure against the neon of the diner - and this adds to the terrific interplay of the script. I was also impressed with how Francavilla carried off the action in this issue too - the one double-page spread reminded me of J. H. Williams, and praise doesn't come higher than that. Back-up story? No way. This title is all killer and no filler and is, for my money, the best superhero book being published at the moment. 9/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
Art: Butch Guice, Stefano Gaudiano, Rick Magyar, Bettie Breitweiser, Pepe Larraz & Chris Sotomayor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: An acceptable finale to the 'Trail Of Captain America' arc although it is a bit rushed and could have perhaps sustained a little more examination into whether Bucky's past crimes as the Winter Soldier should prevent him from wearing the iconic costume. The reduced number of inkers means Guice's art is far more consistent, and generally excellent the whole way through, while Brubaker keeps the script tight and the pacing fast, even if it doesn't dig as deeply as it could. In a sense though it's not really the end as it appears that Sin is just commencing her plans to take down Bucky/Cap, and it looks like Brubaker is positioning her to become Bucky's arch-nemesis (a wise choice considering the lineage). Not quite up to the same standard as the previous few instalments but still in very good shape. We also get a nice send-off for the Nomad back-up – although it never really seemed like the right fit, it won me over in the end. 7/10

Writers: Conor McCreery & Anthony Del Col
Art: Andy Belanger & Ian Herring
IDW $3.99

Matt C: After last issue’s shock reveal of a certain character (whose arrival seems obvious in hindsight) we finally get to the moment the series has been leading up to: the appearance of Shakespeare. Without giving too much away, he’s not really what I (nor Hamlet for that matter) was expecting, but the way the writer’s present him here means it’s impossible to predict what conclusion for the story they have up their sleeves. Elsewhere, Iago’s treachery is finally discovered although it’s a little too late to stop Lady Macbeth from trying to make this comic’s title a reality. Belanger has a lot of fun with his panel composition and the double page splashes are intricately constructed. Three more issues to go and at this point it’s looking more and more like McCreery and Del Col are going reach the end without dropping the ball. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

James R: Now this is more like it. After what I thought was a patchy last arc (the whole Stark: Resilient thing didn't quite do it for me) Fraction hits the ground running with this one. Doctor Octopus tracks down Stark and sets him an onerous task: reboot Ock’s broken body in the same way he did with himself or Lower Manhattan gets destroyed and Timothy Cababa and Pepper Potts will meet a dastardly fate at the hands of the Sinister Six. It's a fantastic 'ticking clock' set up, and what makes the issue even better is that Fraction jumps back in time to Stark’s first meeting with Octavius. The writer does a great job of showing the animosity between the two, and it's one of the strengths of the Marvel Universe that it seems entirely plausible that both men could have crossed paths in the past. Larocca does his usual fine job on the pencils, modifying his style when illustrating the 'back then' sequences. Solid stuff all round. 8/10

Stewart R: I had been concerned that Fraction would be moving things on a little too quickly when I discovered that the rebuilding of Asgard with Stark, sorry, Resilient tech was on the agenda. Thankfully Fraction explains that Tony has once again been looking at his reinvention and the reinvention of the world from many different angles and it does feel like a snug piece of the puzzle. From there things lead into a fun comparison of two great minds, Stark and Otto Octavius, showing how their paths have crossed over the years and just how the two of them have ended up at very different ends of the moral spectrum. There’s some brilliant baiting and banter between them in both flashbacks and current scenes and once again Fraction captures Tony’s smug, smarter-than-thou attitude expertly while also giving Octavius that bitter, resentful edge that he’s now almost famous for. I certainly have no fears now that the quality is going to drop following the renumbering. 9/10

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Daryl Gregory
Art: Damian Couceiro & Stephen Downer
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: A criminally overlooked series, if truth be told. I can understand the eye-rolling many folks would respond with when presented with 'another vampire comic' but this has enough going for it to set it apart. For a start, placing it in the corporate world gives it a certain amount of contemporariness that allows for some non-intrusive commentary on the state of the economy in amongst the requisite bloodsucking (oh yes, there's definitely some metaphors there too!). I'm not entirely sure how much input Busiek has beyond the basic story structure, but there’s no question that Gregory brings a lot to the table; beyond with the overall concept of the series it's strongest element is the characterisation, and it's here that Gregory’s scripting adds colour and shade to the different cast members. At the top of the tree is Dracula himself, who waltzes through the narrative with confidence and a lips-smacking relish - pure evil personified but impossibly charismatic at the same time. Evan is the kind of guy who would normally slip through the cracks unnoticed but due to his parentage and an outlandish series of circumstance he’s found himself right in the middle of an impossibly dangerous situation, developing just enough of a backbone to try and bend it to his advantage. Conrad is a slightly clich├ęd villain, but his position as CEO of a multinational company means his actions are less predictable than they may have been in a more familiar (for the genre) environment. The Romanian vamp hunters haven't really had the opportunity to make a substantial impact, but their motley crew shows promise. The weak link at the moment is Corinna - her motivations are not clear and her actions seem more contrived to service the plot rather than natural behaviour from a believable character. The art is generally of a high standard, conveying a strong sense of menace, but the final page lets the side down a bit as its not entirely clear which character we're looking at. That aside, Dracula: Company Of Monsters remains one of Boom!'s best books. 7/10

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Tonci Zonjic
Image $2.99

Matt C: The mystery deepens. Is Jake Ellis a ghost, a figment of Jon Moore's imagination or something else entirely? We get a bit of backstory this time round, and discover that Moore was involved in the CIA's remote viewing programme (against his will, it seems) before Jake Ellis appeared on the scene and helped him escape into hiding. Edmondson drip feeds just enough info to keep us hooked but not enough to dilute the suspense. Zonjic’s art is a treat, and he's an impressive 'new' talent - I'm not sure what he's done before but his illustrations have a robust simplicity to them bolstered by an exciting dynamism and a warm but noir-infused palette. An intriguing premise has quickly developed into an essential read. 8/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Ryan Kelly
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: I initially didn’t pick up the first issue of this series having never read its precursor, The New York Four, but after being reassured I didn’t need knowledge of that graphic novel I got hold of a copy and didn’t have any problems getting drawn in. It’s a book that screams ‘indie’ from the very first page but of course that kind of pigeon-holing does it a disservice. It’s an incredibly hip read with its cooler-than-you cast but Wood doesn’t make it feel exclusive and avoids full blown soap operatics by keeping it smart, witty and full of emotional truths. Kelly’s art is something special: he captures the brashness, the uncertainty, the melancholy of the main characters brilliantly, but also provides some quite stunning background work, making Manhattan come alive on the page. Probably not to everyone’s tastes but if you like comics that are down to earth, deal with relatable scenarios and dance to a contemporary beat then The New York Five is definitely worth considering. 8/10

Writer: Jonathan Ross
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Another top effort here from Ross and Edwards as Eddie Falco tries to build a small army capable of taking on the Dragomir clan who are making moves to resurrect the Old One and bring the darkest of times down upon humankind. There is so much going on within these pages but it never feels like things are getting out of hand. Ross bounces back and forth from Vampire scene to Gangster/Alien team-up and it all jogs alone at a merry pace thanks to some carefully crafted dialogue and keen narration that ties everything together. We started out with three very separate groups in the early stages of this series but now we’ve ended up with a delicious intermingling where uneasy alliances are formed and everyone begins to start realising just who is motivated by what and which side of the brewing war they’d rather find themselves on. Edwards puts in yet another inspired effort improving upon his previous work on the title thanks to some softer inking which really brings out the detail of each panel. Yet another great chapter of what has turned out to be a terrific series. 9/10

James R: Ross and Edwards have done a great job of winning me over here. When I read the first issue, I was worried that there could be too much going on - Vampires! Gangsters! Aliens! – and also worried that with so many plot strands the characters wouldn't get time to breathe. Four issues in, and I have to say I thought this month's instalment was a total romp. Ross sets up a huge, Hellzapoppin' finale, as the Strigoli Vampire clan prepare to take over the world of Man, whilst Eddie Falco and Squeed try to put together an army to fight the undead. What's so rewarding here is the sheer volume of story you get for $2.99: 27 ad-free pages! As a result, Ross and Edwards deliver a lot of bang for your buck. It is a mental premise, but hey, aren't 99% of titles on the racks equally mad? I recommend that you throw sensibility out the window when reading this and enjoy the ride. I'm sure the next issue will be as equally jam-packed with goodness, and I'm genuinely intrigued to see what other tales Ross has to tell. 7/10

X-MEN #8
Writer: Victor Gischler
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I’m really liking the way that the X-Men are being cast almost as detectives in this latest arc and Gischler has ensured that he’s got just the right line-up to keep this feeling fresh and varied as Storm, Gambit, Emma Frost and Wolverine continue to investigate mysterious disappearances of teenagers in New York. Weaving Spider-Man into the story adds that extra level of comedy value as well as adding a subtle link or similarity to all of the missing kids. I’m still not 100% convinced by Gischler’s portrayal of Emma Frost but her high-and-mighty attitude adds a neat counter to Ororo’s style of leadership. Bachalo dishes up yet another illustrated comic of delicious quality and I have to say that he definitely knows how to colour his own work - those restricted palettes really enhance each page. 8/10

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

Matt C: This supernatural Western keeps going from strength to strength. More and more folks are crawling out of the woodwork, intent on getting their hands on the fabled weapons; some are drawn to the idea of wielding great power, others simply see dollar signs flashing overhead. The bulk of this issue is given over to an extended sequence where our heroes are attacked by dark forces and it’s paced brilliantly with a slow build before the chaos erupts. Hurtt does a masterful job of choreographing the whole thing, injecting excitement into every panel. Bunn’s dialogue is beautifully composed with an authentic ring to it that helps set the tone. A marvellous series. 8/10

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

Matt C: After being on the receiving end of a fair amount of punishment, Cap leads the band of heroes on a full scale assault of the villain’s base, and after seeing a corpse of one of their own dumped unceremoniously in front of them, none of the good guys are in the mood for playing games. There's an assumption that Doom remains biggest danger amongst the villains, but after being torpedoed out of Galactus' homeworld last issue he's not in much shape to look after himself let alone a bunch of crooks and murderers. The mistake the heroes make here is thinking that if Doom's down then it must mean he's out - they really should know by now that you can never underestimate the tenacity of Victor Von Doom! The most intense chapter of the story yet, with the Beyonder's prize all but forgotten as vengeance and survival get in the way. Zeck knocks out another supremely iconic cover, and although it only relates to a small scene inside it's kind of a pivotal moment in Marvel history as it, to a certain degree, sees the birth of one of the publishers most enduring villains created after the initial batch in the 1960s. 8/10


Rob N said...

Hi Matt. As you enjoyed New York Five, I can highly recommend 'Local' (originally published by Oni) by the same creative team. Similar story telling approach, but as a 12 issue series, it explores the life of one character (Megan) over 12 years as she moves around America (each story is set in a different town/city, roughly one year after that last). Has a similar counter culture feel as New York Five, but a bit more lo-fi as Megan is usually flat broke.

-Rob N

Joe T said...

Wow, I seriously can't believe how generous everyone is being to the final issue of Fantastic Four. I personally felt it was a major letdown, and a very poor excuse for a final issue. In no way was this a worthy send off.

Matt Clark said...

Rob - there are plenty of gaps in my Brian Wood collection I intend to fill over time. Going to start with DMZ I think.

Joe - why did you find FF a letdown? Just curious.

Joe T said...

It just did nothing. The lack of words didn't add much to the story, the last page really just detracted from the death of last issue, and the fact this is suppose to be the end of the Fantastic Four.


Hickman's quote on that ad, to me, was a total lie, and was just yet again hype. I have yet to read all of Hickman's run, but so far this is the worst installment.

Matt Clark said...

Comics are a visual medium, and the ability to convey emotion without the need for explanatory dialogue was one of the key factors in this issue's success for me.

There will never be an end to the FF, at least not a permanent one. These things are always temporary, it's the nature of the superhero genre - as the famous quote credited to Stan Lee goes, "Comics aren't about change, they're about the illusion of change". We were only 12 issues away from #600, so I wouldn't be surprised if the 'new' series reverts back to the original numbering relatively swiftly.

Andy H said...

I'm somewhere in between. Thought it was an emotional issue, especially for Ben, but a few words here and there would have been a better way to go. Have to see where FF takes us.

Stewart R said...

Well by the looks of it gents it may be worth picking up the 2nd printing of Fantastic Four #588 as they're going to be putting Hickman's script in the back so we'll be able to see just how he planned it and what text he's used for Dragotta to get the story on the page. Should be interesting at least.

Joe T said...

I agree comics need to be able to convey emotion through the art, but it was still lacking. Allusion of change, yeah I understand that too, but I simply wasn't feeling it

After re "reading" it does seem better, but still not totally won over.

Justin Giampaoli said...

Matt C - Hey, glad to see you enjoyed NY5, wanted to second the LOCAL suggestion as well. I like hearing you say you want to check out DMZ... stay tuned for a "secret project" re: DMZ. ;-)

Matt Clark said...

First TPB of DMZ read. Gets a thumbs up. Now to pick up the next volume...