10 Apr 2011

Mini Reviews 10/04/2011

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: Matt Fraction
Art: Stuart Immonen & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: The days are becoming longer so that must mean that it’s time for the major comic publishers to throw the latest in comic-event wonders at us. Like all recent Marvel events, Fear Itself kicks off in brilliant style thanks to Fraction’s mastery of pointed and succinct storytelling which remains focused on the key players at all times. The likes of Wolverine and the lesser Avengers are present in Immonen’s artwork but Fraction feels no need to have everyone chime in with their two cents, which is where the likes of Bendis have fallen down in the past. The artwork is a real treat and Immonen’s style here reminds me of Olivier Coipel’s work on Thor - possibly down to the great colouring by Laura Martin who worked on both titles. This really feels like an event book but it thankfully hasn’t thrown us straight into the midst of catastrophe which often kick-starts big stories. A brilliant first issue and I’m really eager to see what transpires over the next six instalments. 9/10

Writer: Nate Simpson
Art: Nate Simpson
Image $2.99

Matt C: When this first appeared in Previews I wasn't really fussed; I'm not a gamer so the reality-bending premise didn't really grab me. The advance buzz stoked my interest though, and while I may not be a gamer, I am a comics fan who likes discovering something new to sink his teeth into. The first issue of Nonplayer confirms there was more behind the buzz beyond wild speculation as it's really rather excellent. Set in the future where gamers connect up to a virtual reality world, we get the immediate impression that this world isn't quite the pixelated environment full of mindless 'nonplayers' the gamers like to believe it is. That's not an entirely original concept of course but it's delivered with style and energy, with the clean, bright and beautiful artwork giving it a magnetic appeal that makes Nonplayer a winner. The only downside is the rumour that issue #2 may be some way off; other than that Image are onto another winner. 8/10

Stewart R: I picked this out of Previews for Ten Forward a few months back and have to say that the first issue is terrific and any and all hype is very much deserved. Simpson kicks things off with a delicious five-panel first page that shows off his magnificent artistic ability as well as establishing that this is a ‘foreign’ fantasy land filled with creatures plucked straight from his imagination. What follows initially resembles the usual fantasy, swords’n’sorcery mould but then quickly takes a side-step into something far more interesting as it becomes clear that what we’re witnessing is part of a larger world of entertainment and gaming. The action pieces are swift and exciting while there are also some notable and subtle touches when it comes to character expression, showing that this is an artist capable of telling a story with minimal dialogue (which is a hard skill to master). The futuristic ‘real world’ setting that Dana lives her everyday life in is suitably drab and grubby but then Simpson throws in an extra idea at the end that certainly has me intrigued about what we’re seeing and I’m really looking forward to seeing where her life takes her over the coming issues. A great start. 8/10

Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art: Neil Edwards & Scott Hanna & Jesus Aburtov
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I was a big fan of Pak and Van Lente's Incredible Hercules when it first arrived - its combination of superheroism, Greek myth and genuine wit was a success, but it did feel like it ran out of steam towards the end, and by the time Hercules "died" I decided it was time to move on. My fond memories of when it was really good were enough to get me to take a look at this new title that sees the Prince Of Power stripped of his godly powers and attempting to find his way in the world where he is no longer immortal. Herc seems a lot more violent and serious than before, and the lower humour quotient makes him a less appealing character. When he hooks up with a Greek family trying to make it in America it goes into cliché overload and at that point it became clear this book wasn't what I was hoping it would be. Edwards' art is very nice, a step up from his recent work on Fantastic Four (Hanna’s inks probably account for some of that) but the writers seem to be taking this down more of a 'dark & gritty' path which, for me at least, isn't what Hercules is about. 5/10

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe
Image $2.99

Stewart R: It’s been a little while since I had the last issue in my grubby mitts but at long last another dose of Orc-based carnage has winged its way into my life! Following the mass-breakout of the one-eyed Orcs caused by swamp nymph Bowie last time out, everything starts to fall apart for the mysterious Beard as he struggles to maintain control of the mountain fortress. All of the blood-spilling carnage is depicted in Stokoe’s madcap and colourful style and I’m certainly not tiring of this rich and vibrant world that he’s created. There are real moments of tension and jeopardy here and the key for me is the sheer unpredictability of Stokoe’s script which has me genuinely concerned for the well-being of these great characters that he’s created. The ending here promises an upcoming look at One-Eye’s past which should be very interesting indeed. Any comic that has me turning the page in wince-inducing eagerness on such a regular basis has to be commended and not to sound like a broken record but I really do think
Orc Stain is worth picking up if you’re in the mood for something exciting and a touch different. 8/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
ArtL Jeff Lemire & Jose Vollarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Another month, another flawless issue from Jeff Lemire. Last month's 'artist jam' issue worked beautifully, but it's equally good to have Lemire and Villarrubia back behind the controls. The girls, caught at the end of the previous instalment, discover that their captor might be a benevolent force, while Gus and Jeppard continue to redefine their relationship as they desperately try to find their missing friends. As always, Lemire's characterisation is perfect, and his vision of a post-apocalyptic world has an incredibly 'real' feel. I particularly enjoy the way Lemire is starting to alter Gus' appearance. As the issues have progressed, he's gradually lost his innocence, and Lemire's art reflects this, giving the reader a great sense of the passage of time and of Gus' ongoing education in this broken world. Lemire is absolutely at the top of his game at the moment, and as far as I'm concerned he's yet to put a foot wrong. Sweet Tooth continues to embody everything that's great about comics right now. 9/10

Writers: Marc Guggenheim & Tara Butters
Art: Ryan Bodenheim & Mark Englert
Image $2.99

Matt C: A delivery cock-up at the tail end of last year meant that the UK was deprived of issue #2 of Halcyon, but with a reprint out along with the latest instalment this week, everything is back on track. Thank God for that, because for a series that started out with a decent opener loaded with potential it very quickly developed into a thoroughly excellent miniseries. The mystery behind the sudden evaporation of war and violence across the world has played out like a dark, twisted superhero version of a whodunit. So, when Batman analog Sabre finally uncovers the mastermind behind what’s been termed the Global Humanitarian Phenomenon, while it may seem like the obvious choice, the way the reveal is structured and delivered is quite ingenious. Along with the smart writing, the other selling point of Halcyon is some simply terrific artwork from Ryan Bodenheim. Bold, intricate and exciting, surely it’s only a matter of time before one of the Big Two snap this guy up? I had relatively high expectations for Halcyon but so far it’s exceeded them on every level. Here’s hoping the finale hits the spot too. 9/10

James R: In what is a bumper week from Image comics, I was most struck by the latest instalment of Halcyon. In this tale of a world that has suddenly become a crime free-utopia, this issue marks the point where the plot hits overdrive as we see that a utopia is actually a precursor to an inevitable tragedy, and the architect of this perfect world is revealed. It's a plot that is as smart as DaVinci wearing a special genius hat and a very smart pair of trousers, and it's been great to see Guggenheim and Butters avoid cliché and opt for surprise at every turn. The art from Bodenheim has been excellent all the way through and I'm excited to see how he conveys the inevitable super-powered finale to this tale next month. This miniseries has been a most unexpected treat, and makes me hope that someone at DC has picked up a copy of this and thought: "Y'know, this creative team would be brilliant on JLA..." 8/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney & Jason Keith
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A relentlessly brutal finale to a mini which has pretty much done what it set out to do in a resolutely entertaining manner. After being battered by the dodgier episodes of US foreign policy over the last 50 years, Cap decides it’s his turn to teach Frank Simpson a lesson of his own. This involves beating his opponent across the face with his fists and any other implements he can lay is hands on, with a hammer proving to be a most effective weapon. Simpson gets in his shots, but this issue’s all about showing that Ultimate Steve Rogers isn’t the same guy as his 616 counterpart. He’s a solider that knows that a battlefield is a place where ugly stuff can occur and he’s more than happy to dispense vicious justice in the name of the US of A. Frankly he’s a bastard, and I’d only be able to take him in small doses, which is why I’m happy to just dip into the Ultimate Universe every now and then. Four issues is just the right amount of time to spend in his company, and Aaron’s tough-as-nails scripting along with Garney’s balletic violence have made it an exhilarating excursion. 8/10

Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Mike Huddleston
Image $2.99

Matt C: Joe Casey is a wonderfully iconoclastic writer who, in an ideal world, would be spoken of in the same terms as some of the more obvious creative powerhouses that have kept the superhero concept fresh for the past few decades. Perhaps it's because his work for the Big Two hasn't reached legendary status that accounts for this situation (although his run on Wildcats 3.0 for Wildstorm is a bona fide classic, and deserves to be treated as such) but it's clear that his creator-owned project are where he really cuts loose. Butcher Baker is his latest irreverent look at the spandex-clad genre, and it's perhaps his most extreme yet, with plenty of naked flesh on display as the title character indulges in some 'adult' pastimes. The script is full of anarchic (but very knowing) wit and proactive illustrations from Huddleston. Butcher Baker feels edgy, rebellious and, most of all, a heck of a lot of fun. Image are really on a roll at the moment. 8/10

Writers: Andre Osborne, Viktor Kalvachev & Kosta Yanev
Art: Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox & Robert Valley
Image $2.99

Matt C: I needed to give this a second read through for it to really click (I think I was half asleep the first time round!) but I’m glad I did rather than dismissing it too readily. On the surface it appears to be a modern, convoluted noir tale, and while you wouldn’t be misselling to describe it as such, you’d probably want to add that its a stylish, sharp modern noir that is finding its feet but looks like it might be going places. Sure, it's packed full of familiar genre tropes (a private dick and a femme fatale on the first page!), but that’s to be expected, and the writers seem to have concocted a fairly labyrinthine plot to place their characters in. That I required another reading of Blue Estate #1 probably indicates that I’m not 100% convinced at this point, but I am more inclined to say this series is a worthy investment rather than something to leave on the shelves. 7/10

Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Art: Tonci Zonjic
Image $2.99

James R: Well, I always like to admit loudly when I'm wrong. And, for the record let it be known that: I TOTALLY UNDERESTIMATED THIS! After issue #1, I felt that it was too much of a Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) clone, but as this has gone on, I've been thrilled to see that Edmondson has kicked it up several gears. As to who Jake Ellis actually is, well, Edmondson is keeping his cards close to his chest, but he's crucially kept the pace electric and his characters compelling. I've also been really impressed by the work of Zonjic, who masterfully draws, but also given the book, giving it a truly European feel and sensibility, which is apt given the book's environment of... well, Europe! This has kept me guessing, and has upped my anticipation with every issue. Image Comics are certainly having a 2011 to remember and if you're a casual comics reader, you should take a look at their output - they are now home to some remarkable books and talent. 8/10

CHEW #18
Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I haven’t commented on Chew for a while but that doesn’t mean that the quality of this title has dropped for a second over the past few months. If anything it’s become clear that Layman and Guillory are comfortable with where they are leading Tony Chu and can take their time with occasional moments of sheer joyful insanity as we bear witness to in this particular issue. This is pure unadulterated fun as we get to see brief snippets of the lousy and highly dangerous situations Tony and Colby have found themselves in recently before they’re packed up and shipped out on yet another lethal mission. It’s the little comedy touches that make this such a grin-inducing read - a monocular female agent reading Eye Patches Monthly for example - and whether these ideas are Layman’s or Guillory’s is hard to gauge. Of course, there are also scripted moments that bring a big old “YES!” out of the lips of this reader and there was certainly an utterance of that this week when the ‘What’s in the mystery box?” question was finally answered in brilliant style. In fact, it still causes me to smirk thinking about it now. Winning. 8/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha, Joe Rubinstein & M. Hands
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: A marked improvement on the first issue that sees the focus fall squarely on Beyonder as he takes on human form in an effort to figure out exactly what makes us regular folk tick. As he materialises in front of various strangers and more familiar faces asking questions like “Why are clothes?” and “Why is eating?” it becomes a lot clearer exactly what Shooter is trying to doing in this sequel. Essentially, he’s attempting to meditate on that most unanswerable of questions: what is the meaning life? Perhaps trying to tackle such a subject within a multi-title superhero crossover is a slightly balmy idea, but you have to credit Shooter for having the stones to give it a shot. It is set up so you feel compelled to pick up other titles, which I imagine would have been off-putting for many considering the self-contained nature of the original series, and this perhaps results in a somewhat disjointed read for those refusing to play that game. Still, I’m giving it props for being much more coherent and enjoyable than the debut – even the art has much improved (perhaps due to the assistance of Joe Rubinstein?). 7/10

No comments: