17 Apr 2011

Mini Reviews 17/04/2011

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: Kieron Gillen
Art: Doug Braithwaite & Ulises Arreola
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Kieron Gillen took over the Thor title after Straczynski’s early departure and it looked like he was being used to plug the gap before a higher profile writer (in this case, Matt Fraction) came in to take control. He admittedly had a bit of a rocky beginning but he gradually found his footing to the point where he was crafting some thrilling stories featuring the Thunder God and his brethren. As good as they were, they didn’t quite prepare me for this. The Thor book reverts back to its original Journey Into Mystery moniker and Gillen uses the opportunity to shine the spotlight on the newly resurrect Loki with exceptional results. The young Loki is shunned by his fellow Asgadians, with only the word of Thor preventing him from coming to harm, but even in a child’s body his mind is always active, thinking and plotting. The way Gillen explains how Loki went from assisting in Asgard’s demise in Siege to sacrificing himself in its defence is ingenious, and the little scene with the two brothers discussing the internet is genuinely funny. Gillen’s often lyrical prose is wonderfully evocative, and Brathiwaite’s enticing art – exquisitely painted by Arreola – lifts this far above any expectations I had before opening the first page. Room for two ongoing Asgardian titles on the racks? If they’re as good as this, most definitely. The ball’s in your court, Mr Fraction. 10/10

Writers: Khari Evans, Hoang Nguyen, Paul Gardner & Mike Kennedy
Art: Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh & Hoang Nguyen
Image $2.99

Stewart R: I’ll admit that I did have slight concerns that this was going to descend into something of a cleavage-and-heaving-bosom fest after the stunning debut but those fears have been proven unfounded following this successful second chapter. The writers here develop each plot strand significantly and clear up just who the Sisters Grey and the other various players are. There are interesting developments with Captain Garber, the only other survivor of a vicious battle that Giselle carved a bloody swathe through, and some expansion on the espionage and subterfuge games being played by feisty Dina Cummings. The writing team thankfully drop a neat refresher of what has transpired on the first page, delivering it effectively in child-hand, which dovetails nicely with the initial flashback scene. There are still sections where you have to take some things for granted with the story but this chapter has certainly fleshed out this very interesting world. The art is once again a sumptuous - if overly visceral - treat from all involved and the breakdowns dropped into the back of the comic show just what a labour of love this has been over the past eight years! 8/10

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

Stewart R: Ahhhh, a little bit of ‘smug mode’ employed by this reviewer here as Rick Remender wraps up the terrific ‘Deathlok Nation’ arc with a brilliantly scripted final instalment. Through this issue he shows the many layers (literally?) of Fantomex, takes a closer, personal look at the psyche of Wade Wilson, and thankfully leaves Wolverine slicing and dicing in the background. It’s truly inspired stuff. While the Deathlok threat feels real and very dangerous indeed it’s clear that the focus is on the progression and change in these highly skilled and emotionally volatile teammates and we can see that Remender is looking a fair way down the road when it comes to the various futures of these five wonderful characters (hence my smugness). While accomplished and deadly, Remender is also showing that these individuals cut and bleed like the rest, and that’s really helping to keep this title tense and compulsive. And what can I possibly say about Esad Ribic and John Lucas’s artwork? From cover to cover this is a shadowy delight and Wilson’s colours are a perfect fit. I’m going to have to say it: Marvel’s best and most consistent book on the shelves currently. 9/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Christian Ward
Image $3.50

Matt C: The first issue of The Infinite Vacation was saddled with delivering the exposition and creating the world the story existed it, but it did so with enough creativity and audaciousness that picking up the second instalment was a no-brainer (even if there were some nagging doubts about the logic). Now the sophomore chapter has arrived we get to see Spencer really cut loose with the concept. Yeah, maybe if you brought a magnifying over the premise you’d start to see holes, but if you’re prepared to go with the flow then this is where Spencer solidifies things enough to make the actual plot the main focus rather than the structure of the fictional environment. While the writer’s script is smart, inventive and funny it’s the mindbending psychedelia of Ward’s artwork that elevates this enterprise to another level. Hell, even the photographic sequences, while a bit disconcerting, add to the impression that we have a couple creators who are not content to settle for formula and are more than happy to mess with the medium’s conventions (as well as our heads!). When something’s this good you don’t mind waiting a little longer for it. 9/10

Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Mike Huddleston
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Yet another Image #2 this week and once again another title that could have gone a little too far into ‘babes and boobs’ territory following a risqué and raw first issue but steers off in a different and interesting direction. Joe Casey elects to focus a little less on the protagonist this time and instead show us the nefarious line-up of ne’er-do-wellers who Butcher Baker had tried to put a final end to previously. This is a varied and intriguing cast with Jihad Jones and The Absolutely adding a fresher feel to the usual stereotypical villain moulds though they still appear in tongue-in-cheek fashion with Snowman and Angerhead. When Casey does take us back to Butcher we get a brilliant meet-up with the musclebound hero and Arnie B.Willard, the southern-state lawman with a newly formed vendetta against the driver of the big rig that almost ran him off the road. Huddleston mixes up the art-styles from one scene to the next, electing a rich, lavish palette for the scenes with the bad guys and a simpler, scratchy line style for the pages where Baker drinks and drives around in his red, white and blue wagon. Image is on something of a roll at present and this is definitely a contributing effort to that success. 8/10

S.H.I.E.L.D. #∞
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra, Zachary Baldus, Kevin Mellon, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Rachelle Rosenberg & Dan Brown
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: If you’ve been enjoying Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. – where he tells of the secret organization that has been ensuring the safety of the Marvel Universe’s planet Earth for generations – chances are you’ll be looking to pick this up. Some may baulk at the $4.99 price tag, and to be honest I’m not sure if this is absolutely essential to the unfurling narrative, but as a world-building exercise – expanding our knowledge of the key characters and their environment – it’s pretty effective. It’s also more than a touch pretentious, but deftly avoids disappearing up its own backside thanks to the wealth of ideas on display. Utilizing a selection of artists I’m unfamiliar is an added bonus; none of them try and ape Dustin Weaver’s style, and their varied approaches to the visuals bring something fresh to the table. For fans only though – anyone picking this up hoping it’s a ‘jumping on point’ will doubtless walk away scratching their head. 7/10

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

Stewart R: I had something of a concern that this was only a three-issue arc - not to mention the obvious reduction of six pages from the usual count across that too! - and having completed the read I do feel like maybe we could have been given just a little more. The White Knight’s background comes into keen focus this time as he reveals his final plan to the inhabitants of Arkham Asylum and the one particular individual he holds responsible for the path that he now finds himself on. Tomasi did well in keeping the mystery behind the motives ticking over up until this point but I can’t help thinking that what we get in the reveal is a little by the numbers for such a promising foe. That said Tomasi does a decent job of looking at the strange dichotomy that both the White Knight and Dark Knight cross over into as heroic crime fighter and vengeful villain, and he certainly has the master/apprentice balance right for Dick and Damian. Gleason’s first arc on this title has been a true triumph and the future is certainly bright for the series even if this instalment didn’t quite live up to the early promise. 7/10

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

Matt C: When I first read this it was interspersed amongst the various crossovers, reprinted as the weekly Secret Wars II series in the UK. There it made sense (at least to my young eyes) as it was an opportunity to continue along the Beyonder’s journey when he wasn’t getting involved with super-folk. Taken as a standalone series it is, quite frankly, bonkers. It’s much better than its reputation suggests, but you do read it and wonder if Shooter really thought this would have the 1980s fanboys chomping at the bit to get the grubby paws on the next issue. The Beyonder hooking up with a prostitute, a pimp and a gang boss before gradually working his way up the ladder to become ruler of the world?! Yep, bonkers, but Shooter still aims high with the subject matter he’s tackling, even if he doesn’t always hit his mark. The art remains acceptable, and it’s a wonder whether this series would be viewed differently in hindsight if, say, John Byrne had been on pencil duties. 7/10

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