6 Mar 2011

Mini Reviews 06/03/2011

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.

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Tan Eng Huat, Victor Olazaba, June Chung, Timothy Green II & Nathan Rairbairn
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: It’s good to be jetting off to the far reaches of the Universe once again with Abnett and Lanning leading the way but this time we’re being charged a rather hefty $4.99 for the privilege - so are we getting value for money? Well, the page count is certainly a major plus point getting as we do 42 full-colour pages from the two stories: 20 for the main Annihilators story and 22 for the Rocket Raccoon & Groot backup, but that split shows that Marvel don’t seem to be sure how to package and deliver their SBU titles these days. The main story has plenty of punch as the Alpha Plus class level heroes begin to question if their combined might could actually pose a danger to the galaxy that they’re trying to protect, while the mysterious antagonist Doctor Dredd could provide the required amount of menace to threaten a group even as powerful as these heroes. Tan Eng Huat’s art is okay but there are some strange panels where Cosmo looks more like a horse than a dog and he definitely doesn’t seem sure how to draw the Silver Surfer. The ‘backup’ story is the winner here though as DnA show us what tactics specialist and loveable fuzzball Rocket Raccoon has been up to since the Guardians of the Galaxy went down the cosmic pan. There’s a delightful comic edge running through the writing, a nice nod back to where RR started some 30 years ago with a particular clownish assailant, and some very touching and emotional scenes captured by Green II. So aside from the odd Huat hiccup this bumper comic is off to a decent start. 8/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Sean Murphy & Dave Stewart
DC/Vertigo $3.99

Stewart R: And so we reach the climax of this miniseries after a lengthy delay and my verdict is...? The delay has taken most of the punch that this finale was going to have away and it really is a shame. Morrison and Murphy started so well all those many months ago - crazy to think this debuted back in 2009 - as we followed Joe’s strange journey through his house and the ‘other-world’ brought on by his hallucinations. Unfortunately when I picked up this last issue and began my read through I was struggling to remember what had come before and where things had been left previously. There’s still that interesting bounce back and forth between the real world and Joe’s warped perception of his surroundings and that’s made all the more effective thanks to Murphy’s delicate touch with his art. Morrison goes for an emotional tilt at the end that I’m sure will be more moving for people reading this in collected form but I just couldn’t connect to it and I have to put that primarily down to that gulf of time that we’ve been waiting for this conclusion. I’ll be leaving it a while before I read the 8 issues in one sitting to see how it works as a whole but for now I’m afraid I can only grace this with a 6/10

James R: Ah, there you are, Joe The Barbarian! To be honest, I was starting to lose faith! It's been a while since issue #7, but Morrison and Murphy finally finish their tale of a boy's odyssey within the walls of his own home, as Joe faces death in both realms. It's a suitably epic conclusion, and it follows the classic quest narrative as the hero faces a final challenge and is rewarded with a boon. Given the incredible invention of the first few issues I was surprised that there wasn't a further twist in the tale - Morrison pretty much reigns in his metaphysical tendencies, and while it doesn't have the emotional punch of We3 or All Star Superman, it's certainly a bittersweet finale. Sean Murphy cements his status as an artist to watch, and I'm intrigued to see what he does on American Vampire. Not quite perfection, but definitely a title that will live long in the memory for me. 8/10

Writers: Hoang Nguyen, Khari Evans, Paul Gardner & Mike Kennedy
Art: Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh & Hoang Nguyen
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Something of a surprise, this one. I picked it up expecting it to be all style and no substance having seen the manga-stylised preview pages and noted the slight diesel-punk tone but this is actually an intriguing debut. The writers start things off in explosive mid-mystery and steadily build up a picture of a strange war-torn and industrialised world that the Sisters Grey inhabit that thankfully lacks the heavy-handed exposition that a comic of this type could easily suffer from. The history of the Kaisers’ period of rule and the legacy of the Greys is succinctly told against the backdrop of a brutal and bloody escape that oozes cool thanks to the deft line and colour work from the artists. Subsequent scenes provide us with brief snapshots of (I assume) the various sisters on missions or dealing with the aftermath of the assassination, helping to provide those all important questions that will bring me back for answers in the following instalments. I’ll admit that it’s not 100% clear whether all of the main female characters are sisters (and several re-reads still haven’t cleared that up) but to be honest I’ll quite happily pick this up again regardless. The art is quite beautiful, admittedly favouring the guns, blades and bosoms approach which won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it works so darn well it’s hard to knock. A great debut and a fantastic price point from Image. Recommended. 9/10

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

Matt C: Halfway through this issue a character says, “Okay. This just got really weird.” and I’d say he was understating the situation quite considerably! The scene in question is quite frankly bonkers, but also incredibly audacious, showing how far Waid’s prepared to push the boundaries (without getting sucked into the puerile territory of The Boys). While he has the Plutonian being shunted into increasingly bizarre predicaments he keeps things relatively sane back on Earth as Qubit discovers they may have got rid of one global threat only for another to slide in and take its place. At this point Krause and Barreto's art flows together cohesively (without looking at the credits page I couldn’t tell you who was doing what) and Waid appears to be having an absolute blast. Irredeemable is so not the book I thought it would turn out to be, and it’s all the better for it. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ed Benes, Adrian Syaf, Rob Hunter, Vicente Cifuentes & Randy Mayor
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I have to say that of all of the DC comics in my pull list that have been restricted to 20 pages for the 3 buck price tag I only really seem to notice it in Green Lantern. It may just be the way that Johns is writing this title these days but I get to the end of an issue and come away with a sense that I could’ve just done with a couple of extra pages. In this issue Johns leads us towards the War Of The Green Lanterns with Hal Jordan and the Guardians heading down very different paths that seem likely to arrive at confrontation. The peek back at Krona and the Guardian’s distant past is an interesting addition to the story that shows that things are far from black and white in this conflict. Hal’s concern regarding the length of time he’s been in contact with his ring suggests that Johns could be taking us on a journey to the very heart of what it means to be a Green Lantern and wield the green light of willpower soon. The brief deputising of Ed Benes and Adrian Syaf into pencilling duties turns out okay but once again there’s inconsistency to be seen on the inking side and considering we’re two pages lighter these days I wish DC would sort it out as it does tarnish nearly every darn issue. 7/10

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Michael Avon Oeming & Nick Filardi
Marvel/Icon $3.95

James R: Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in! As I picked up my titles this week, Andy H produced Powers #7 and I manfully (or as close to manful as I can manage) declared "No, I'm done with it! Done! The long wait between issues! The increasing homogeny of the each arc! Walker somehow being a Green Lantern-esque character for no particular reason! Well... let me just have a look... ah... alright, just one more!" So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be none too bad! A superhero who may or may not have been a God has been murdered, and Walker and Sunrise not only have to crack the case, but have to do so under the watchful eye of the FBI (and none other than Deena Pilgrim). I enjoyed this more as Bendis has steered it back to what made this book great oh so many years ago - a good murder plot, driven by some corking dialogue. Bendis does get slightly lazy with his murders - it seems every hero gets killed by exploding in some way shape or form, and it's lost its shock value - but it remains compelling enough to avoid the axe from me for another month (year?)! 7/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Rags Morales, Rick Bryant, Phil Winslade & Nei Ruffino
DC $3.99

Matt C: After an impressive start this series became a victim of its bi-monthly scheduling as it grew increasingly difficult to follow the plot and harder to care. The narrative was too convoluted, there were too many characters vying for attention (and rarely getting what they deserved), the villain was clich├ęd and forgettable, while his masterplan was flimsy and nonsensical. The art’s been fine throughout, nothing spectacular, but I do think the black and white preview we got of Morales’ pencils prior to the series debuting was far superior to anything we saw once it arrived. Azzarello’s too good a writer to have let the whole thing go without some arresting twists and effective dialogue, but his shepherding of this imprint has failed, partly because of a certain inaccessibility and partly because of the characters themselves. There are a variety of reasons why the likes of the Spirit and Doc Savage haven’t enjoyed the consistent longevity of your Supermans and Batmans and while attempting to reintroduce them to a modern audience is entirely admirable they require a far more forceful and perceptive approach than seen here to ensure they stick around. Maybe next time. 4/10

Writer: Jasaon Aaron
Art: Ron Garney, Jason Keith & Matt Milla
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The issue where everything clicks into place, just like I was hoping it would! Now a prisoner of Frank Simpson, the rouge Vietnam-era Captain America, Ultimate Cap is subjected to days of torture while concurrently being forced to listen and watch replays of various atrocities sanctioned by the US Government since WWII. Cap refuses to break but the physical and mental beatings are wearing him down. It’s a relentless, gripping read as Cap’s patriotic worldview is assaulted by Simpson’s harsh truths, and although it’s obvious that Cap will always rightly remain appalled by Simpson’s methods, the question is whether what he’s learnt will alter his beliefs in any permanent way. It certainly sets up an interesting finale, and I hope Aaron can deliver on the potential displayed within these pages. There are no fears that Garney will knock it out of the park again, based on his work here: an angry, unremitting tour de force of militaristic artwork with some formidable colouring from Keith and Milla, the whole issue is visually electrifying. Excellent stuff. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire, Nate Powell Emil Lenox, Matt Kindt & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: So far, Sweet Tooth has been Jeff Lemire's (mutant) baby. Ably assisted by Jose Villarrubia's colours, Lemire has consistently delivered an outstanding comic with a regularity that should make some others in the industry hang their heads in shame! However, with his writing duties on Superboy and his upcoming OGN The Underwater Welder (which I'm giddy with anticipation for!) the man certainly deserves a mini-break. He gets it this month with assistance on the art duties from the impressive trifecta of Nate Powell, Emil Lenox and Matt Kindt. As with every page of this series so far, it's an inspired choice. The artists give us the back stories of the female cast - Luce, Becky & Wendy. The stories are told in flashback as the girls go for trek which takes a turn for the sinister. I love this book so much, I'm starting to run out of superlatives, but this title deserves the plaudits. All three tales are told with the emotion and resonance that have become hallmarks of the series, and all the artists do a great job. Villarrubia's colours give a consistency to the pages, and the final panel leaves us with another great cliffhanger. Outstanding in every way, this is comics at their very best. 9/10

Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Declan Shalvey & Frank Martin
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Get on the case people and get yourself into Thunderbolts. Jeff Parker is doing a terrific job issue after glorious issue and this is no exception. This time out he focuses on Man-Thing and his duty as the guardian of the Nexus of Realities and I really appreciated Parker giving us a glimpse into why this mysterious and silent being sticks with this team of former villains. The issue doesn’t offer us anything more than a swift history lesson and a demonstration of the creature that was once Ted Sallis’ ability to deal with interlopers into this reality, but it is nicely conceived and adds an extra level of depth to this developing team who’s roster, it seems, is likely to grow following this month’s exploits. Declan Shalvey puts in a fine effort with his artwork, the Hunters of Vellus-Kar and their reptilian steed being a highlight, and he’s proving to be a worthy substitute between Kev Walker’s stint on pencils. For a book that tends to deal with some C and D-list characters in the Marvel Universe it always seems to be A-grade or thereabouts. 8/10

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

Matt C: Galactus begins consuming the patchwork planet created by the Beyonder and while the assembled heroes make a last ditch attempt to try and thwart him, Reed Richards becomes convinced that the right course of action is to let the Big G go about his business. Meanwhile, Doom's period of defeat ends when he realises there's another way to obtain the power required to take on the Beyonder. As the series enters the home strait the stakes are raised to their highest level yet with the various characters now essentially fighting for their lives. The only weak point is Colossus' irritating pining over alien healer lady Zsaji, but that aside Shooter moves things at a frenetic pace and Zeck keeps the whole thing alive with some exciting imagery. 9/10

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