3 Apr 2011

Mini Reviews 03/04/2011

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 & Various
Art: Mike Deodato
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: At only a dollar more than the regular price and something like three times the size, this is good value for money and well worth forking out for if you’re a fan of the character. Which character am I talking about? That would be Steve Rogers, because while the lead feature picks up the story of the Winter Soldier locked up in a Russian gulag (which is rather excellent, by the way) the rest of the tales are all about the original super soldier (which of course, goes some way to confirming the rumours that Rogers will back in costume very soon). They vary in quality but are all readable, with Cullen Bunn and Jason LaTour’s account of Cap uncovering a secret A.I.M. base being the standout, and Frank Tieri and Paul Azaceta Fuhrer-centric short - just managing to stay the right side of silliness - coming in second. Oh yeah, and there’s not a reprint in sight! 70 years of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty. Happy birthday, Cap, you old codger! 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Well, you can officially say I'm surprised! The reason I passed on this title to begin with is, well, I hate vampires. I read Bram Stoker's Dracula when I was 17, and that was plenty for me. Anne Rice? Twilight? True Blood? Sorry, it just doesn't work for me. However, I've been so hugely impressed with Scott Snyder's work on Detective Comics that I felt I should give this book a shot. Man, am I pleased I did - this issue is outstanding! It's a great jumping on point for new readers, as Snyder's tale leaps on a decade from his last arc and drops us in the Pacific during World War 2. The plot features Henry Preston being recruited for a ghost mission to Taipan, and his turmoil at leaving Pearl Jones behind. It's beautifully written and Snyder's pacing is remarkable - he has a knack for the mechanics of comics that makes his titles hugely satisfying reads that resonate after the final page. I also loved the art from Rafael Albuquerque - I thought he did a nice job on X-Force #5.1, but this world suits his style to a tee. McCaig's lush colours compliment the art beautifully, and this is an impressive read all round. On April 1st, Snyder joked that he was about to start writing Matter-Eater Lad and, all joking aside, on this form I bet it would be awesome! If you haven't taken a bite out of American Vampire, now's the time. 9/10

Stewart R: Snyder starts this latest arc by whisking us off to the midst of World War 2 and the Pacific theatre where Pearl and an evidently ageing and somewhat depressed Henry find themselves. I keep marvelling at how the series as a whole is supposed to be about the titular Pearl and Skinner Sweet yet Snyder actually manages to tell their story by focusing on human characters such as Henry throughout and it’s their characterisations that really do carry this comic along. The sadness that Snyder and Albuquerque manage to capture in Henry to pulls at the emotional chords as he begins to see the end of what he and Pearl have built for each other in their hearts, both in terms of his own growing frailty and also the outside forces trying to literally tear them apart. Albuquerque’s style appears to have matured along with the characters and there’s a new grittiness to his inking that really suits the dark period these characters seem to be moving into. This is definitely a comic that is deserving of the plaudits it has been receiving these past months. 9/10

Matt C: A “jumping-on point” said the adverts for this issue, and seeing as how I’d been regretting my decision not to pick this title up following each monthly set of glowing reviews (not least from our own Stewart R) I scooped a copy of #13 up to see if it could live up to the hype. Obviously I’m new to this world and these characters, but Snyder doesn’t overcomplicate things, allowing easy access to this new storyline while making it clear that it’s just one part of an ongoing narrative. Seeing how one of the main reasons I avoided the book when it debuted was general ‘vampire fatigue’ I’m enormously pleased to see there’s very little indication that American Vampire recycles the same old tired clich├ęs and tropes. In fact, this is an intelligently written, emotionally charged read with some beautifully rendered, stimulating imagery that’s exactly what you’d want (and expect) from a top tier Vertigo title. Count me in. 8/10

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: John Romita Jr, Tom Palmer & Dean White
Marvel/Icon $2.99

Matt C: Yeah, so the wait between issues is somewhat excessive and you could argue that it’s also inexcusable (these guys should know better by now!) but there’s something undeniably irresistible about this mischievous series, so it’s hard not to leave you’re grievances at the door and let the story suck you in. This time around we watch Dave Lizewski hooking up with a bunch of other wannabe superheroes who are keen to take the law into their own hands. It goes without saying that Dave finds himself out of his depth, and here it’s when some of his new team-mates exhibit an eagerness to dish out an excessive brand of justice. Millar’s script is funny and knowing enough not to become distasteful, while Romita’s art reminds you – in a way that a lot of his recent stuff hasn’t – that he’s fully deserving of his reputation when he really puts his mind to it (although Palmer and White certainly lend an essential contribution to the visuals). It may take its time to hit the shelves but it’s already starting to look like a worthy successor to the original. 8/10

Writer: El Torres
Art: Gabriel Hernandez
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: A suitably creepy yet poignant end to a series that really surprised me by how deeply I became engrossed in it. This final chapter sees Ryoko and Alan confront the lost and angry spirits that reside within the forest of Aokigahara including those with a personal connection to the two of them. The previous issue really played on the ‘hate-filled ghost story’ aspect of this tale but Torres morphs that quite magnificently here to look at the whole thing from a slightly different angle. This is more about the way that we treat those that we love and those that love us, and how memories of those interactions shape and influence our very being from that point on, even when those feelings of love fade, or worse, become spoiled and tinged with resentment. Looking back now, Torres has addressed so many ideas and themes from cultural isolation to spirituality and belief, and it’s impressive that he’s wrapped it all up within just four issues. Hernandez’s art has been superb throughout the series and the subtle restraint displayed on what is a very moving last page shows how well writer and artist have worked together. Highly recommended. 9/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Francesco Francavilla
DC $2.99

Matt C: It started as a backup feature but got the chance to hog the limelight for a couple of issues thanks to DC’s ‘Drawing The Line’ policy which meant backups were no longer an option. This may initially sound like its not such a great deal, if we are to assume backup stories are ‘lesser’ works, but in this case the reader is the clear winner as this is one of the most well crafted tales I’ve seen emerging from the Bat-Universe in a while. Jim Gordon confronts his past when it impacts on his present in a tale that’s full of shame, regret and a deep sense of loss. Snyder gets right to the heart of what makes Gotham such a unique stomping ground in superhero literature with a brilliantly effective two-page scene with Harvey Bullock that sets the tone for the rest of the issue. It’s clear the writer understands that the city is as much a character as the likes of Batman, Gordon and the Joker – it’s a place that sees humanity exhibit its very worst traits but also, paradoxically, its very best. Francavilla’s really made his mark here: his clean, expressive art style is extremely successful at relaying the story, but what really pushes it up a notch is his colouring. The grey and brown hues of Gotham are splashed with powerful reds, suggesting the ever-present violence that plagues the city. It’s an intoxicating mix and this is a marvellously dark, twisted and emotive book. 9/10

James R: Let the Snyder love continue! It was a hard call to pick between this and American Vampire for my book of the week, but I went for Vampire as it was such a revelation to me. This, however, continues to be awesome. Last week I said that David Finch's Dark Knight was like a throwback to the early ‘90s Bat-books when compared to the sophistication of some of the other Batman titles. Now, as further evidence, here's Exhibit B: Snyder continues his Jim Gordon tale with a bravura writing performance, delivering an issue simmering with psychological tension. I always think some of the best creative pieces are those which leave an element of doubt in the audience's mind, and Snyder produces that here. Is Jim Gordon Jr. a psycho? Or is he just a little... well, unhinged?! Commissioner Gordon's sense of doubt is written brilliantly, and the darkness that Snyder warned us was coming from his first issue on the title is illustrated beautifully by Francavilla - I loved his work last issue, and he delivers again this month. This for me is up there with Gotham Central at its best - and that is high praise indeed. Long may Snyder's stay in Gotham continue. 9/10

THOR #621
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Pascal Ferry, Salvador Larroca, Matt Hollingsworth & Ulises Arreola
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: The final issue before this book reverts back to its original title, Journey Into Mystery, and Fraction jumps across to launch a new series entitled Mighty Thor with Olivier Coipel. I did get the feeling reading this that Fraction’s story was curtailed so the arrival of both ‘new’ books would coincide with the release of the eagerly anticipated movie, because there’s a serious lack of an acceptable conclusion to this tale. It’s all very vague and somewhat incoherent with the attack of the Dark Gods appearing to be thwarted with the assistance Odin shouting really loudly. The art has great capacity to seduce the eyeballs but without a strong narrative to back it up it simply becomes a succession of pretty pictures. Hugely disappointing; if I didn’t know what Fraction was capable of then I imagine my interest in Mighty Thor would plummet after reading this. Fortunately I’m fully aware he’s one of the best writers in comics right now, so I’ll take this as a blip rather than an indication of what to expect going forward. 4/10

Writer: Peter J.Tomasi
Art: Fernando Pasarin, Cam Smith & Gabe Eltaeb
DC $2.99

Stewart R: The most interesting part of Guy Gardner’s prophecy was that he and Hal Jordan would come to blows during the War of the Green Lanterns and we get to see how and why that pans out in this issue. I’m glad that Tomasi has ended up with this chapter falling into his hands as I think he has the best grasp of what Guy Gardner is about and where his particular viewpoint comes from. The differences between him and Hal are amplified here due to the Parallax corruption and it gives Pasarin a chance once again to bust out with the Willpower constructs of the Green Light and show just how differently these two combatants think during the heat of the fight. I’ve become a big fan of the Green Lantern titles over the past few years, especially those stories that look at the very heart of the Corps and what each member brings to the table, and this issue certainly delivers on that front. I’m expecting to see much more of that as the event continues and hope that the quality from the creators remains just as high. 8/10

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Greg Tocchini & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

James R: I took a punt on this as a) I love Secret Avengers and b) I thought the creative team looked pretty impressive. However, I’m sad to say that this falls into the category of 'Pointless One-Shot'. I loved the idea of an Agent 13/Black Widow team-up, and there were a couple of great moments between the two ladies, but the plot was the most vanilla, pointless thing you can imagine. The two investigate a former associate of Natasha's who has been corrupted by a Lady Alicia Wells, who, in turn has a plan to take revenge on a roomful of nefarious characters. Sadly, we don't really learn anything of interest about Sharon Carter or Natasha Romanov, and Wells is the most generic villain imaginable. The whole thing gets padded out by a Black Widow and Silver Sable tale from yesteryear, which also serves no real purpose. It's fine, but in these financially tough times, Marvel charging $3.99 for this fluff is a greater crime than anything Alicia Wells could come up with. 4/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha & Christie Scheele
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: This is where the rose-tinted spectacles have to come off. I have fond memories of this sequel to a genuinely great miniseries being reprinted in its entirety (encompassing the tie-ins and more) in the UK Secret Wars II weekly comic, but reading this again now makes me wonder if I’m in for a rough ride for the next eight issues. Messy, illogical and without a strong focus to lasso the interest, it’s pretty heavy going, especially when the words seem to crowd out the art for the majority of the time. Not that the art’s much cop though – I always felt Al Milgrom’s art was functional at best, and he certainly wasn’t the right choice for such a high profile series (a fact that’s rubbed in by the rather excellent John Byrne cover). There are some good ideas being played around with, but the delivery is completely off, which is quite flummoxing considering the great work Shooter did on the first series. When you’re sat there wondering why he has Cap flying Economy Class in full uniform (isn’t that what secret identities are for?!) rather than focusing on the story at hand, you know something is seriously wrong. I’m hoping nostalgia hasn’t clouded my memory too much and things improve from here. 5/10


mo6020 said...

I'm looking forward to getting American Vampires this month. I held off for the same reasons as Matt, but I can't ignore it anymore..

Rob N said...

Hmm. I'll maybe have to check out American Vampire if you're all raving about it. In my case I didn't avoid it because of Vampire Fatigue, but rather because I was put off by the Stephen King co-credit, as I find King's books a bit boring.

- Rob N

Andy H said...

Captain America #616. That's a lot of book! Matt's take on the rumours of Steve Rogers return to Cap are added to in this months Avengers #11 where in part of the Watchers narrative he says of Steve: 'For the once and future Captain America..' Gotta be the biggest 'hint' so far.

Matt Clark said...

I have to say that if you're generally a fan of what Vertigo do then you owe it to yourself to pick American Vampire up and take a look.

Lots of stuff came out last week that I simply didn't have time to write about (and that's even factoring in the lack of Dark Horse and Image product in the UK shipment to Diamond!). A suitably downbeat ending to the latest series of Incognito, a provocative issue of Scarlet that brought the first chapter to a close, Scalped being effortlessly brilliant (of course) and a bit of a below par issue of Secret Avengers.

The real surprise for me was the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man. I've not been picking it up for a good while but had a look at the last two issues following favourable reviews and because I love Marcos Martin's art. They were good but not quite enough to get the book on the pull-list again, but I thought I'd go for this week's issue too due to it's links with what's going on with the FF. And guess what, it was really, really good. Witty, touching, it brought to mind that rather hysterical Spidey/Human Torch mini Dan Slott put out a few years back. If I'd gotten around to reading it in time it might have been a close call whether this got the vote for my 'book of the week' rather than Detective.