20 Mar 2011

Mini Reviews 20/03/2011

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: Ed Brubaker

Art: Scot Eaton, Mark Morales & Sunny Gho Of Ifs

Marvel $3.99

Matt C
: I've steered clear of any plot details that have trickled out regarding Marvel's 2011 event book, Fear Itself - I figured as Matt Fraction is at the helm I'd be picking it up whatever, so I wanted to keep the experience as fresh as possible. This prologue hardly fills me with excitement for the impending series though, and it's a bit perplexing as to why it falls so flat. It's written by Ed Brubaker and contains a selection of characters he's spent the last few years playing around with to deserved acclaim, but in all honesty it seems like a different writer's responsible as there's little of the gripping intensity and intelligence on display that we're used to from him. It all feels rather perfunctory, and if they're setting up Sin as one of the major players in Fear Itself, she comes across as more of a one-dimensional knock-off of her father than the compelling character we were watching develop in the Captain America title. Perhaps the art contributes to this general feeling of deflation - although perfectly fine, it lacks the grittiness usually applied to these characters, and overall it comes across as a bit too 'clean'. Whether you're looking forward to Fear Itself, or a fan of Bru's Captain America, or both, I'm confident that this will prove to be an entirely skippable addition to the event. 5/10

Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Art: Sebastian Fiumara, Al Barrionuevo, Michel Lacombe, Alvaro Lopez & José Villarrubia

Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The finale to this mini suffers slightly from the introduction of some new artists to assist with its completion, and while it’s not a move that makes the visual quality suffer it is irritating that they couldn’t keep it in the same pairs of hands for such a short series. Other than that it’s been a pretty good read, with a heavier focus on character than plot, and Aguirre-Sacasa has done an impressive job of bringing the God of Mischief under the spotlight. To be honest, because of the way it was structured (framed by a ‘current’ confrontation between Loki and Thor before delving into the past), my feeling now is that it will probably work better in the collected format than it has done in single issues. Those not fussed by Marvel’s interpretation of Norse mythology are unlikely to find anything here to convince them otherwise, but Thor fans – even those of a casual variety - will probably draw a decent amount of enjoyment from this tale. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction

Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata

Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: How many times must we praise this title, the writing of Fraction and the art of Larroca and D’Armata? Well people, I don’t think we’ve come up with a number yet as month after month after month this creative team really do come up with some of their best work to bring us the continuing story of Tony Stark. While the scenes showing Pepper holding her own against Sinister Six members Electro and Sandman are - pardon the pun - ‘electrifying’ enough, the pure gold comes from the
interactions between Stark and Octavius as the former tries to come up with solution to the latter’s seemingly unsolvable physical condition. Fraction manages to construct a realistic dialogue between the two rivals as Stark not only tries to cure Otto’s physically manifested problems but also suggests that his overall outlook on life is the reason that he’s in his predicament in the first instance. The conversation swoops from touches of playful banter to serious life and death moments and it goes without saying that this is some of the most enthralling and enjoyable writing in the world of comics today. 9/10

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

James R
: There's no doubt that The Unwritten is one of my favourite books at the moment - along with Sweet Tooth it's been the series I've been pushing into the hands of friends who ask the eternal question: 'What's good at the moment?' My one criticism is that in some ways it's a victim of it's own incredible high standards - the good issues are so good that on the occasions where the narrative has been anything less than outstanding, you feel cheated! However, the current 'Leviathan' arc has been solid gold. This month Tom finally figures out how to escape the whale that's captured him and his illustrious fictional voyagers, and best of all, Carey gives us a big reveal into both the source of Tom's powers and what the battleground of his adventures truly is. Carey is clearly a hugely literate and smart writer and it's a joy to read a book that respects it's readership enough to throw in a wealth of literary references - from the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes to the Old Testament tale of Noah - and not spend pages on explication. At the back of the book, editor Pornsak Pichetshote is saluted as he is replaced by Karen Berger, and reading those pages it's clear that everyone in this creative team is intent on crafting a comic that's something special and are setting themselves the very highest of standards. At the end of this arc it's clear that they're staying true to their goals, and I cannot wait to see where the narrative of Tom Taylor unfolds to next. 10/10

Writer: Allan Heinberg

Art: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Javier Rodriguez

Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Spinning out of the events of the last issue of the Children’s Crusade miniseries, it’s questionable whether you need to add this to your collection if you’re a fan of the main book because it seems a bit too tangential and lacks the spark that Heinberg usually brings to the teenage team. Certainly if you appreciate Alan Davis’ art, and consider him one of the premiere pencillers of the last three decades, then you’ll probably want to pick this up. His wonderful panel composition doesn’t disappoint, particularly the expertly choreographed double-page splash, divided into four strips to show the subsequent stages of a brawl between our heroes and a holographic Sinister Six. Those looking for the wit, insight and character dynamics we’ve come to expect from Heinberg are likely to feel short-changed, as there’s only brief flashes of what we’re used to. This could of course turn out to be an essential component to the developing storyline in the miniseries, but at this stage it’s doesn’t look like that’s the case. 6/10

Writer: Brian Wood

Art: Simon Gane & Dave McCaig

DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R
: The brilliance of Northlanders is its scope. In using the whole Norse era as his landscape, Brian Wood isn't limited to a tight time frame or a static roster of characters. Up to now, this has given the series a fantastically sharp edge as he moves effortlessly between one-shots and more epic arcs. Two issues into 'Seige Of Paris' though, and it feels like the first misstep of the series. The premise is a neat one - Vikings lay siege to a stubbornly defended Paris of 886AD - but Wood doesn't really take the idea and run with it. We see precious little of the defending forces when it would have been great to see how they viewed the Viking horde, and our protagonists Mads and Abbo, are a little two-dimensional. The issue could be saved by some epic action, but Simon Gane's style is a little too cartoony to properly convey the horror of battle. Like I said, the joy here is the scope, and Wood will be onto another tale in two months (which I'm sure will be more to my liking) but sadly this arc has been more Hagar the Horrible than Leif Erikson for me. 5/10

Writer: Jeff Parker

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

Matt C
: The great thing about having a group of buddies you can chew the fat about comics with is that, although there’ll be a lot of diverse (and divergent) opinions, you’re generally willing to listen to what they have to say and what they say may convince you to pick up a book you may not have given a second look otherwise. Case in point: Thunderbolts. It never really appealed in its original incarnation, and I only picked it up during Warren Ellis’ short stint purely because it was Ellis rather than any of the characters involved. I left when Ellis did, heard nothing to convince me to come back during Andy Diggle’s tenure, but when Jeff Parker came onboard several of my colleagues started frothing at the mouth, proclaiming the series’ return to brilliance, and it was enough to get me to dip my toe in again. From dipping my toe I quickly dived headfirst into the book because, yes, it is really, really good. Parker is a real master of group dynamics, which is why he can get a group of second-stringers together and make them absolute stars of the show with such ease. That’s not the only key ingredient to this book’s success though – Kev Walker’s illustrations are distinctive and intricate, able to deliver equally on the action front and the more intimate moments. Thunderbolts isn’t one Marvel’s high profile books but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best. 8/10

Stewart R
: So last issue we had Man Thing and some much needed backstory to that character and this time we get Parker moving the Thunderbolts story on and showing us that the future is far from set with the way that things are run on the Raft. I like the fact that Parker is not shy of acknowledging the greater Marvel Universe in this title but makes it actually relevant to the Thunderbolts as a team when he does and the inclusion of Stephen Strange here makes terrific sense, allowing us to get a little more time with Luke Cage too as they go on a mystical recruitment drive. All the while that’s in main focus he’s playing with ideas that will cut to the very heart of the team of and their insecurity over the fact that they may well be regarded as disposable considering the danger involved with their job. Kev Walker made this title his own many months ago and here he delivers another strong effort and seems to be playing with the panel layout to great effect. Marvel’s collection continues to grow stronger presently and this is one of the titles leading the charge. 8/10

Writer: Joe Kelly

Art: Diego Greco

Image $2.99

Stewart R
: Mr Kelly, Mr Greco, all is forgiven! I can’t even begin to figure out the length of delay we’ve had since issue #3 of Bad Dog turned up but it really doesn’t matter. This comic is about debauchery, excess and blackouts and a good portion of the fun when reading this story is the feeling that you’ve been along for the mystifying and memory-loss ridden ride. Kelly does just enough in the first few pages to remind us that Lou has been doing some serious werewolf soul-searching over his direction in life and is not ready to give up on finding that little missing girl from the side of the milk carton. Of course, nothing in this world stays on the tracks for too long and before we know it Lou and Wendell are bathing in the hedonistic bright lights of Vegas and are on the type of bender that Hunter S. Thompson would be proud of. This allows Greco to really go for it in terms of the ludicrous and the hilarious as the pair find themselves in various states of a) undress and b) chemical influence. The preamble from Kelly suggests that we may be seeing this comic more often in the near future and I for one am very happy to hear that based on the quality of this issue. 9/10

Writer: Rick Remender

Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dean White

Marvel $2.99

Matt C
: Another decent enough stab at this 'Point One' initiative - it provides new readers with a good idea of the mood and thrust of this title, but does get a little formulaic at points, especially when compared to the previous issues of the series, and as such may be considered slightly disappointing for those already onboard. Only slightly though, because there's still plenty to enjoy, from the incisive dialogue, the exhilarating action and the murky artwork that matches the morality (here provided by Albuquerque). If you've not had a look at Uncanny X-Force already, this is as good a place as any to start. Take it from someone who these days would probably cross the road do avoid another X-book - this is good comics! 7/10

James R
: This is a complete vanilla issue. As a recent convert to Uncanny X-Force I had no hesitation in picking this up, but in reality this is about as far from essential as it gets. Wolverine and the gang track down the Reavers who are planning an assault on Utopia - as far as I can make out, these 'Point One' books are designed to give the reader a 'state of play' on the title, and whereas I thought this worked well for Invincible Iron Man I really couldn't see the point of one. True, there is a neat subtext about Psylocke worrying about giving into her dark side too much, but that would've worked as well in the pages of the main title. I did enjoy Albuquerque and White's art, which carries on the very European aesthetic seen previously, but all in all, I could have lived without this. The final page preview of the next issue though - the second part of 'Deathlok Nation' arc - reminded me that there's plenty more goodness to come from this book. 6/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Mike Zeck & John Beatty

Marvel $1.00

Matt C: After stealing the Beyonder’s power, Victor Von Doom finds himself in the position of being the most powerful life form in the known multiverse. Righting a few wrongs from the very recent past, Doom tries to present himself to the heroes as a benevolent god, whose past wrongdoings are now beneath him as he prepares to ascend to a higher state of existence. Cap and co just aren’t buying it though. Doom’s vanity was always one of his biggest flaws, and the way Cap sees it, even omnipotence won’t eradicate that aspect of his character. Despite himself, Doom remains just a little too human. A great penultimate episode, packed with really strong character work, and even looking at it in hindsight, the way Secret Wars flipped its central concept on its head is still seems both audacious and brilliantly executed. 9/10

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