13 Mar 2011

Mini Reviews 13/03/2011

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.

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Tony Moore, Crimelab Studios, Sandu Florea, Karl Kesel & John Rauch
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The previews and preludes that have come in recent Amazing Spider-Man issues have shown tremendous promise so how does Rick Remender’s debut issue measure up? Well, it’s not too shabby actually. We’re dropped straight into a mission where the Venom skillset - in the capable hands of Corporal Flash Thompson - is specifically required and so we get to see just what this one-man-and-his-symbiote army can do as he attempts to extract a nasty-piece-of-work scientist. Remender concentrates on showing how the suit’s abilities are handled when controlled by a military specialist and the scenes where Venom first enters the war zone are a well thought out way of introducing new readers to this current version of the character. The debrief at the end of the mission also serves to highlight Flash’s predicament as the bonding with the alien poses a threat to his sanity and his life in the long term and the secrecy of his job could have far reaching implications for his personal life too. I have a couple of problems with this debut though: Jack O’Lantern seems to be a very strange pick as an adversary, while Tony Moore’s style doesn’t always seem suited to the action that is taking place on the page (and he’s not helped out by a handful of different inkers being thrown into the mix). A few negatives won’t stop me from seeing where this goes but it’ll have me being a little more cautious about my long term interest here. 7/10

Writers: Mike Raicht & Brian Smith
Art: Charles Paul Wilson III
Th3rd World Studios $4.25

Matt C: As the second volume of this wonderful series draws to a close calling it a classic is becoming less of an opinion and more a statement of fact. It really is that good. Anybody still resisting its charms at this point should just throw caution (and their preconceptions) to the wind and dive in. From the lusciously rendered, sepia-toned art to the cast of well-rounded, compelling characters, the creative team seem to have conjured up something with a pure, timeless quality that I imagine will keep it fresh for new readers for many years to come. Without wanting to sound overly evangelical, if you’re looking for something to sink your teeth into outside the spandex genre, look no further - this is probably the one series I would recommend above all others at the moment. Thrilling, moving, and wholly absorbing, to say I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on the next volume of The Stuff Of Legend would be something of an understatement. It’s books like this that keep me excited about what the medium is still capable of. 9/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe

DC $2.99

James R: The Batman world tour makes its way to Argentina this month as the Dark Knight attempts to recruit El Gaucho to his cause. In many ways this issue is trademark Morrison: idiosyncratic storytelling flourishes (it starts with a terrific first person perspective/flashback to introduce the villain Deadalus), a boatload of new characters (Morrison introduces us to a British JLA) and a healthy dose of postmodernism (as we learn that Deadalus is a fictional character made real, whilst his creator was a work of fiction). I've said before that Morrison is a writer who inspires great affection or seething resentment, and I make no secret of being in the former camp. I think the world of comics needs more idiosyncratic visions and tales that shake up the norm, and that's exactly what Grant brings to the table. I'm in total agreement with his view that Batman is so iconic that he can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, and I'm loving that this technicolour world exists (and meshes) with the darker hues of Detective Comics. The whole issue ends with a suitably bonkers high-stakes cliffhanger, and if I have one complaint it's that I have to wait so damn long for my next fix. (Oh, and I'm always going to give extra marks to any comic that mentions our home county on the first page - surely the first time Dorset has got a mention in a superhero title!) 9/10

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

Stewart R
: Halfway through and the magic is tearing its way through the world, igniting latent powers in people and unleashing mythical beasts of terrifying proportions. That there, ladies and gentlemen, is an ingredient list for a comic of epic feel and scope but Jon Price appears to have shunned that direction and is instead going for the close and personal approach. I have my doubts at this moment as to whether this choice is wringing the best out of an interesting concept and I wonder if Price is stuck in two minds as to whether he should be going all out on character development or perhaps spectacle instead to highlight the world’s predicament. There’s almost too much going on here and with only two issues remaining I have concerns that plot threads will either be left unresolved or simply skimmed over at pace. Aside from Darius’ wise-cracking, over-confident manner of heroics, none of the main characters are really being developed and I was turning the page expecting to see any one of them snuffed out in an instant and not really feel anything about it. Isaacs does her best with the material at hand but I’m not sure that will be enough to save my opinion of this series when we get to the end. 5/10

Writer: Charles Soule
Art: Renzo Podesta
Image $3.99

Matt C: This has been an intriguing and often exciting miniseries that toys with the old selling-your-soul-to-the devil myth that has been a staple in popular music culture ever since Robert Johnson arrived at the crossroads but also raises the question of whether ‘genius’ is something you’re born with or something you have to earn. It’s told with style and wit, as well as a keen grasp of various rock’n’roll motifs (and clichés) and the supernatural elements are a good fit for the central premise. Podesta’s art reminded me of Mike Oeming’s in places, Ben Templesmith’s in others, and its exaggerated approach to the proceedings has been a great help in setting the right mood. It appears there’s a sequel planned for later on this year, and while I’m not wholly convinced this is a concept that can be stretched out indefinitely, there is potential for a bit more exploration. 7/10

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

James R: A quick look at the first few pages of Jeff Lemire's Superboy should show you what a fine job he's doing on the title. In five issues he's fused a Silver Age tone with a great sense of mystery, along with his trademark emotional intelligence. This issue acts as a smart jumping-on point if you haven't got on board yet as we get the aforementioned re-cap and then the impressive sight of the Superboy/Kid Flash race! An obvious nod to the Silver Age Superman/Flash races, but given a unique spin: the action also focuses on the crowd at the finishing line at Smallville, and our two racers stop for a heart-to-heart atop the Great Pyramid. There’s an excellent sense of menace and foreboding which contrasts brilliantly with the light touch of the main narrative. Lemire is on outstanding form at the moment, and is neck-and-neck with Scott Snyder for the title of best ongoing series writer for me. The only way I could be any happier with their DC output is if the two of them collaborated on a crossover... 8/10

Matt C: The Superboy relaunch has been building up nicely so far, making me eager to read the adventures of a character I’d previously had minimal interest in. This issue is the first misstep for me. It’s perfectly readable but it’s also entirely throwaway, adding very little to the various plotlines that Lemire set in motion from the beginning. Essentially a variation on the old Superman/Flash races that have taken place over the decades it feels more like an opportunity to recap on what we’ve seen so far with some Teen Titans soap opera added to the mix for good measure. Fortunately Lemire has already shown us beforehand that he’s got plenty of juicy stuff planned for the title so there’s no cause for alarm just yet. 6/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Raulo Caceres & Digikore
Avatar $3.99

Matt C: An eight-month wait between issues. Unless you have the time to fish the first two instalments out and read them again you’re already facing a hurdle trying to recollect what happened before hand. Warren Ellis is one of the most inventive, intelligent and boundary-pushing writers in the business – and I dare someone to come up with a convincing argument to say otherwise – so you know that the odds are any comic of his you pick up will work the brain cells over in an entertaining manner. While not one of his most memorable efforts there’s still plenty to enjoy in Captain Swing #3, so the mark you see at the end of this review is indicative of the quality within and ignores any related factors. Which brings me onto my problem with Ellis’ output these days: he doesn’t always appear to have the commitment to see through every project he starts until its natural conclusion. Too many have fallen by the wayside recently (Doktor Sleepless, newuniversal, to name but two) and while he may get around to finishing some of them eventually, it’s reached a point where you start questioning whether the periodical format is best suited to him anymore. Why would anyone approach the creation a compelling narrative knowing (and he must know!) that the reader will more than likely experience humongous delays between chapters? Surely it’s a format that requires hooking an audience in so it’s eager for more? And with the amount of information people are bombarded with these days, if you’re not prepared to deliver on audience expectations then you run the risk of your work being forgotten. I’m a great advocate of the monthly format and I believe ‘late books’ are a key factor that’s seen readership gradually slipping and more people choosing to ‘wait for the trade’. Ellis isn’t the only creator out there who seems to carry a blasé attitude to those of us who follow his work in the ‘floppy’ format, but he’s definitely one of the worst. Rant over. For now. 7/10

Writer: Chris Roberson
Art: Khary Randolph
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: Repetition is beginning to set in and the momentum this series was whipping up is slowing as a result. Another issue of Benjamin Warner being surprised that various alien beings he thought only existed in his unpublished novels are alive and breathing is probably one too many. I think we’ve got the message now. What saves it from tedium is some snappy dialogue from Roberson, some imaginative, colourful art from Randolph, and a surprise twist that I didn’t see coming. It’s that twist that gives me hope that the early promise Starborn showed could still reach fruition. 6/10

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

James R: Last month, I was a tad underwhelmed with this title. After hearing so many good things about Tomasi and Gleason's work on Green Lantern Corps from my fellow Paradoxers I went in with high expectations, but ended up feeling that the tone was a little wrong (despite mentioning in my Batman Inc. review above that Batman can withstand a raft of interpretations - I just didn't buy Bruce Wayne snuggling in for the night with popcorn!) However, the hallmark of the dedicated comics fan is perseverance - there's always the sneaking suspicion that next month may just be better, and so it proves here. This is where the creative team hit really their stride. Firstly, Gleason's pencils are awesome - his action sequences are cinematic and impressively dynamic. Tomasi's script takes a welcome turn for the darker too as we learn that the White Knight is a serial killer targeting the families of Batman's rogues. After this issue, I'm now disappointed that there's only one more part left in the arc. Tomasi does so well setting up this tale it seems a shame to wrap it will all up in 20 pages time! Still, it's safe to say that the underwhelming feeling has been replaced by some healthy Bat-satisfaction. As I've said before, these are great times to be a Batman reader. 8/10

Stewart R: I commented in my Green Lantern review the other week that I had started to notice the page count reduction to 20 pages and I often came away feeling that the issue’s story had been cut short. Well, this great comic has 20 pages of sheer detective entertainment and I came away from it thinking I’d read a 40-page bumper issue thanks to Tomasi’s fine writing skills and his handling of this Dynamic Duo. Only two issues into his and Gleason’s tenure on this title and it’s clear to see that both writer and artist are perfectly at home dealing with the criminal mysteries of Gotham’s dark underbelly. The White Knight is proving to be a thoroughly interesting and somewhat creepy adversary and Tomasi has ensured that we get to see the brilliant minds of the heroes at work as they try to prevent a wave of bold murders from being unleashed upon the kin of former Arkham inhabitants. The imagery captured by Gleason is exceptional, really drumming home the ‘biblical’ nature of the crimes and I really cannot wait for the next instalment to arrive in the shops. 9/10

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

Matt C: One of my favourite comic book covers of all time (perfectly capturing Doom’s sheer tenacity and unbridled arrogance in a single image) gives way to one of my favourite single issues of all time. There may be an element of nostalgia to that statement but Secret Wars #10 remains a thrilling page-turner that pushes a great series towards the realm of the all-time classics of the genre. This issue’s all about Doom as the Latverian Monarch steals Galactus’ power and sets his sights on the Beyonder himself; the heroes are pretty much relegated to the roles of helpless bystanders, although we do get some heated discussions between Cap, Wolverine and Magneto that delivers a decent dose of drama. Shooter provides some fantastically pompous dialogue for Doom as the dictator refuses to relent when faced with a far superior power. Example? How about “Then approach me, coward – on your knees, if you have knees! Cringe before your master! Grovel before Doom!” When it comes to Victor Von Doom, it rarely gets any better than that! Zeck continues to deliver the artistic goods, with the assistance of Beatty on inks, and while he renders some great world-shaking carnage as the effects of the cosmic battle are felt on the planet, his full focus is also on Doom. From the reality-warping after effects following Doom’s first taste of omnipotence, to the battering the supervillain’s body takes during his assault on the Beyonder, to that astonishing cover, Zeck doesn’t put a foot wrong. Magnificent. 10/10


Justin Giampaoli said...

Seconding the Warren Ellis rant. Would love to see more issues of Desolation Jones and Fell, to name just two more...

Rob N said...

I agree 100% on the subject of Ellis. It's a shame that publishers don't feel they can stand up to him and say, "finish the books you've started with us before we accept any new ones from you." Or "Okay, we'll take your new mini series, but we'll only pay you after you've submitted all the scripts."

And yes, bring on some more Fell and Desolation Jones.

- Rob N

Joe T said...

I myself would have given Venom and 8, impressive debut issue, and judging by previous Remender projects, it's only going to get better. Agree about the art though.

Batman & Robin, very good. Much more impressed than last issue, or Cornell's stuff.

Batman Inc, wasn't too sure. Mostly a good issue, but noticed that it was 2 pages shorter, and not much happened really. No clue what happened in the first few pages, and the Dedalus thing still confused me.

Matt Clark said...

I generally have little interest in Venom, but then I had no interest in Uncanny X-Force either and Remender's fashioned that into an excellent series. I'll wait for a bit and see how people think this new series is panning out.