27 Mar 2011

Mini Reviews 27/03/2011

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: Clive Barker & Christopher Monfette
Art: Leonardo Manco
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I’ve never been much of a horror aficionado but the first Hellraiser movie really captured my teenaged imagination when I first watched on VHS back in the late 1980s. Original, disturbing and packed with terrifying imagery, it spawned several (increasingly bad) sequels as well as giving us one of the icons of cinematic horror in Pinhead. The franchise has visited the comic book format before, but it’s been a decade and a half since the Cenobites have made an appearance on the printed (and coloured page) and with a reboot due to hit the big screen next year, and factoring in the enduring popularity of Pinhead, it seems reasonable to assume now is a good time to bring him and his sadistic buddies back to the medium. The best part of this debut issue, without question, is Manco’s often-extraordinary artwork. Grimly atmospheric, imaginatively horrific, it captures the right tone with apparent effortlessness. The script is where things slip though, with Pinhead wandering around in a state of ennui, seemingly keen to given up his role as a paingiver in Hell to go and experience life as a regular human being. It’s hardly petrifying subject matter and does seem to depend on the readers’ knowledge of the movies a little too much. The back-up (a preview of the forthcoming Hellraiser Masterpieces series) features a reprinted tale from Larry Wachowski (the Wachowski Brother who has allegedly become a woman) that’s embarrassingly pretentious and probably something best left in the back-issue boxes. As I said, I’m not much of a horror aficionado so this is probably a little too ‘niche’ for me. Hardcore fans of the movies may find they get a lot more out of it. 5/10

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

Stewart R: This has quickly become the X-book that you simply should not miss out on. ‘Deathlok Nation’ is proving to be as engaging and absorbing an arc as the ‘Apocalypse Solution’ was and the key to that is the emotional burden that these five teammates are carrying with them. The scene with Betsy discussing her membership of the team with brother Brian and his reaction to what they’re having to deal with is excellent, especially the panel where Ribic portrays Brian’s stunned silence. Remender keeps the team constantly unsure of their actions yet certain that action is required, which brings up some well thought out discussion and dialogue between the various team members. He’s even managed to make the Deathloks interesting and far more complicated that I ever pictured them to be and I’m certainly of the opinion that this is fighting to be Marvel’s top title currently. 9/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen & Randy Mayor.
DC $2.99

Stewart R: The War Of The Green Lanterns is finally here (the build up has been something of a protracted and expanded one) and Johns and Mahnke do their usual job of making this something of an explosive first chapter as Krona unleashes his revenge upon the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps. I like the way that all of the various participants and elements of this war have been positioned specifically over the past few months so that the initial actions and clashes are swift and raw - especially Krona’s ambush of Oa - but it’s also possible to see this being a long, drawn out, and - most importantly - gripping conflict. The key of course is going to be how all three writers tie this event together but it’s clear that enough preparation was taken in the run up so I remain positive at this juncture. 8/10

FF #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

James R: To begin, I couldn't help but raise a wry smile when I saw the title of this book. A few years ago, Mark Waid and the (much missed) Mike Wieringo started their superb run on Fantastic Four with a strong 'statement of intent' issue. Marvel's First Family were identified as having an image crisis and brought in a publicity agency to boost their profile. Their idea to get the Fantastic Four back on top?! Well, their comic was due to be re-branded 'F!F!' and everyone got new uniforms. Waid suggested that this was a crazy idea as it ignored what made the characters great to begin with... jump forward to 2011, and whaddayaknow? Fantastic Four is re-launched as FF... and everyone's got new uniforms! Okay, taking my cynics hat off, I decided to read this as my co-reviewers did a great job of convincing me to give it a second chance. I've professed my admiration for Jonathan Hickman here many times before but there's just something about his take on the Fantastic Four that doesn't feel right. At the moment, I still think this book is too heavy with foreshadowing. By using the 'Franklyn & Valeria from the Future' plot device it seems like everything Hickman does needs to have the epithet 'This will be really, really important... eventually'. Whereas I'm all for long arcs and payoffs, at the moment the title seems to be missing the spark that it had for me in during the seminal Byrne run and in Waid's masterful issues. For me, this didn't read as a brand new dawn, or an interesting diversion, just more of the same, and that's not quite enough. 6/10

Stewart R: For someone relatively new to the current world of the Fantastic Four like me this is a terrific debut. Hickman manages to squeeze everything that a new reader would require to know into this single issue without allowing it to get too bogged down in the kind of history lesson which could grate on regular readers’ nerves. The inclusion of villainous AIM antics and Nathaniel Richard’s differing perspective to that of his son’s keeps things fresh and offers plenty of promise for the immediate future. Epting is definitely a good choice for this comic bringing in a serious and mature level of detail while maintaining a somewhat classic look for the First Family and Future Foundation of Marvel. And while we’re on that point, I’m very glad to see the inclusion of a ‘Who’s Who’ page in there (Hickman seems to favour such bonuses) as I was on the verge of bringing up Wikipedia to figure out just who made up this expansive roster. A good start to what I’m sure will develop into an interesting series. 8/10

Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Jacen Burrows & Juanmar
Avatar $3.99

James R: The final issue of this much-discussed series from Alan Moore ends in the same vein as the prior instalments - by subverting the reader's expectations and leaving them with a sense of palpable unease. Traditionally, the last part of any comics series is the payoff issue - the last battle, the big reveal, I'm sure you know the deal. However, here Alan Moore plays this Lovecraftian tale out almost as a coda, giving it the feeling of an extended epilogue, as Merril escapes the cultists and ensures that they're brought down. The main climax of the issue comes in the final pages though, as Merril returns to see the incarcerated Aldo Sax. Their conversation is trademark Moore, and reads like the dark twin to the finale of Promethea; where that series considered an apocalypse brought on by ideas and language, but happily bringing about the next step of human evolution, this one marks an apocalypse also brought about by ideas language (the Aklo of the cult) but here it's heralding the end of the 'Vermin' of mankind. The other big reveal of the issue was lessened due to the hive mind of Internet comics geeks (like us!) puzzling it out after issue #3. It's a nicely understated read, and in comparison to Avatar's more visceral horror books, it's a great example of horror done right - one that highlights the banality of evil, and one that stays in your head a long time after you close the final page. Alan Moore has been a tad cranky of late, but when he's this good I'm willing to forgive him almost anything! 9/10

Matt C: With the more disturbing aspects of this largely successful stab at Lovecraftian horror out the way, the finale focuses mostly on wrapping up the mystery. Moore is too clever to place a full stop on the end though, finishing off with an open-ended ‘conclusion’ that leaves the reader to hazard a guess at what the future holds for certain characters. Taken as a whole, I enjoyed this series a lot more than I thought I would, although perhaps ‘enjoyed’ isn’t the right word considering some of the more depraved scenarios witnessed for the duration. It did start to lose me towards the end though as it became more immersed in Lovecraftian mythology – something I’m not overly familiar with – and it began to feel a lot more exclusive. The realism of Burrows art, along with the gruesome images he puts on the page, helped sustain the tension, and even when discussing subjects you know little about Moore’s prose is captivating. It maybe a minor work in the great man’s cannon, but worth a look all the same. 7/10

THOR #620.1
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Mark Brooks, Sonia Oback & John Rauch
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: This is when the ‘Point One’ concept doesn’t work. Overlook the regular creative team in favour of some guys who haven’t had much dealings with the character as a way to entice new readers into the fold? Doesn’t seem like the wisest of moves. It may have worked if Abnett and Lanning – usually solid, often inspired writers – had crafted a tale that was anything other than forgettable, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The Grey Gargoyle sneaks into Asgard to cause mayhem in search of treasure, and that’s about the size of it. Entirely throwaway, the saving grace being some impressive, majestic art from Brooks, who clearly understands the correct way to present these characters. It’s just not enough to part money hard-earned money for. 5/10

Writer: David Frinch
Art: David Finch, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair
DC $2.99

James R: Doing the whole 'artist & writer' trick is a rare skill in mainstream comics. Oh, sure, Frank Miller used to make it look easy (before he went totally hatstand) and my personal favourites, Chris Ware and Jeff Lemire, also make it look easy, but all in all there are precious few people who can combine the written word with the illustrated figure. (In independent comics the one man - or woman! - show is par for the course, but that's a discussion for another time...!) How does David Finch measure up in the double-threat talent stakes? Not so great I'm afraid. First, let's focus on the positive: this book is gorgeous. Seriously. It looks incredible, and alongside the inks of Scott Williams, Finch is as good as I've ever seen him, the Batman universe being a great fit for him. His character designs are great and his panel designs equally so. However, it's on the writing side that Finch doesn't quite cut the mustard. Like I said in my review of the first issue, the plot feels hugely nostalgic - it reads like the Batman/Detective comics of the early ‘90s. That's no bad thing in and of itself, but when you stand it next to the two outstanding Bat-books at the moment (Scott Snyder and Jock's Detective and Morrison's Batman Inc) it feels like an anachronism. For example, a street kid steals the Batmobile? That's a little Jason Todd for my liking (if you're not a decrepit Bat-fan like me, well, that's how Batman met Jason Todd - he was stealing the wheels of the Batmobile!) There're plenty of nice touches that show Finch understands Batman (the face-off with the Penguin and his goons for example) but at the moment, the plot needs to take a few innovative twists and turns to get it up to the 'Outstanding' bracket. 7/10

X-MEN #9
Writer: Victor Gishler
Art: Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Wayne Fauchner, Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Well, things take a very interesting turn this month and I certainly wouldn’t have predicted the appearance of one character, but it’s their relationship to the X-Men that makes Gischler’s choice the right one. It definitely adds an extra level of menace to proceedings and amplifies the threat that the new incarnation of the Lizard would have posed on his own. I will admit that on the whole the story does take a backseat to the artwork and doesn’t really break the conventional threat/big fight/bigger threat/bigger fight mould but then with Bachalo’s visuals sometimes that’s pretty damn okay! There’s the usual niggle about too many inkers dipping into the collective ink but with Bachalo’s rich line style it doesn’t prove to be as much of a factor as it can be with other artists. Once again the maestro demonstrates why he’s a good bet for colouring his own work, throwing in deliciously simple and effective contrasts and occasionally electing to go for an absence of colour to great effect. 8/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Mike Zeck, John Beatty & Christie Scheele
Marvel $1.00

Matt C: Often when you reach the end of a large-scale comics event you find yourself disappointed with the way it concludes and are left with the feeling that the writer couldn’t quite think of a way to tie things up in a suitable manner. Fortunately that’s not the case with Secret Wars: a bombastic, double-sized finale, it sees everything come to a head in gripping fashion. The omnipotent Doctor Doom is overcome with paranoia and self-doubt, helped along by the constant jibing from Klaw. The corpses of the heroes are now lying in the ruins of Doombase, and Doom has not only defeated his lifelong enemies but also the Beyonder himself. He should be revelling in his triumph, but what if a stray thought should alter reality and bring Cap and the rest of the heroes back from the dead? It’s a thrilling sight to watch the Latverian despot unravel as he discovers that perhaps a mortal man – even Doom – is not built to contain such power. Away from all the fireworks we see the newly upgraded Molecule Man transporting the villains (and a chunk of Denver) back home and also get a bit of exposition courtesy of the Enchantress that gives an indication of where the story of the Beyonder may go next. Fantastic scripting from Shooter, undoubtedly some of his best work in the medium, while Zeck delivers some epic, explosive, exhilarating artwork, probably some of his most impressive work in comics too. It suffered some slight dips in quality early on, but once it gained momentum it became unstoppable. It may have opened the doors for the reliance on ‘event books’ in the industry but that doesn’t stop of it from being a classic piece of pop superheroism. 10/10

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