24 Apr 2011

Mini Reviews 24/04/2011

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: Robert Kirkman
Art: Jason Howard
Image $2.99

Stewart R: With the recent spate of decent #1 issues from Image it looked that a more adult-oriented audience was primarily being targeted but thankfully it seems that the love is still there for a slightly younger audience with Super Dinosaur. This being Kirkman I did opened the first page expecting to be confronted with blood, gore or potential profanity but it quickly became clear that this is simple, good-humoured adventure writing, albeit a little clich├ęd in some places. With Derek Dynamo, Kirkman is treading that tried and tested protagonist path that has given the world plucky and resourceful teenage male heroes like Johnny Quest, Ben 10 and Mighty Max, and there’s definitely a TV cartoon series feel to the whole comic. There’s some touching moments involving Derek and his relationship with his ailing-yet-talented father which helps to break up the missile-firing, teeth-and-tails dinosaur action which Howard delivers in a clean, crisp manner. Surprisingly, the titular dinosaur takes something of a backseat during this issue, simply acting as a necessary tool of brawn and strength which leaves me wanting to know a heck of a lot more about who he is and what he’s like. Hopefully that’ll be explored in the next issue and beyond. A promising and fun start. 7/10

Matt C: Robert Kirkman has proven himself a dab hand at this comic book writing lark over the past few years, from the likes of the unstoppable Walking Dead to little gems like Irredeemable Ant-Man. Not everything he’s turned his hand to has been up my street, and to be honest I wasn’t really that bothered about Super Dinosaur from the advance preview materials I’d seen. I decided to take the plunge because a) Image has had a good run of #1s recently, b) it’s Kirkman, and c) it’s $2.99, but literally during the first page I realised this book wasn’t for me. It’s a well-crafted comic by someone who blatantly understands the genre conventions and it’s illustrated in exactly the right way to fit the narrative tone, but if you’re looking for something even remotely challenging, look elsewhere. This seems to be pitched directly at an audience that laps up the likes of Ben 10, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that I can’t see that particular audience being interested in picking up comic books, at least not when they’re $2.99 a pop and kids can get their entertainment kicks elsewhere (a lot cheaper). In many ways it feels like a trial run for an animated show, and while I could see it working in such a format I’m sure a lot of people who get this debut issue will find that they’re nowhere near the target demographic when they’re confronted with a hero who proclaims how awesome he is every few panels. 5/10

Writer: James Wan & Michael Alan Nelson
Art: Pitor Kowalski
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: On the surface this is another one of those man-discovers-his-life-isn’t-quite-what-he-thought-it-was stories - a genre staple in other words – but dig a little deeper and you find that the writers have added a few twists to keep things fresh. The titular protagonist is told his brain cancer is at a stage where he only has a couple of weeks to live. He ponders his condition in a resigned fashion before a have-a-go-hero incident sends him straight to the ER. Things then go from bad to bizarre in quick succession as a group of black-suited guys wielding strange, lethal blades enter the scene. The rapid pace keeps you on edge and the art is suitably moody and frenetic. There’s always a danger with this kind of tale that once it starts revealing more details it loses any uniqueness as it sinks into predictability, but there’s more than enough intriguing material here to suggest that this series is worth another look. 7/10

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

Stewart R: So we’ve gone full circle now with the writing team and find ourselves back in Johns’ capable hands once again as Hal and Guy try to use non-Lantern means of locating and teaming up with Kyle and John on Oa. Krona’s corruption of the Corps members continues and really helps to show that the greatest of wielders of the Green Light are pretty much powerless in the face of his nefarious plans. The one thing I’m starting to notice is that the ‘end-game’ hasn’t really been laid out before us yet - Krona is seeking revenge against the Guardians and shaping the Corps his way to do that, but that’s all we have to go on so far. The scenes where the four human corps members decide upon their weapon of choice for the upcoming fight is interesting, not least because I don’t fully agree with some of the choices made, and Johns keeps the banter between Hal and Guy to an amusing level despite the precarious situation they’re in. The art is of the usual good standard but DC, seriously, sort the inking situation out please! 7/10

Matt C: I’ve kept quiet about this book for some time, but it’s time to face facts and admit that I’m not enjoying it anymore. It’s a feeling I’ve had since the end of Blackest Night, possibly even before that, but I’m sad to say that what was once one of DC’s best superhero books has now descended into tedium. The problem? Well, the focus has shifted away from Hal Jordan as the title has incorporated other Lanterns of various colours, and as well as being overcrowded it’s also become far too convoluted. Sure, I can understand the need to incorporate Oa, the Guardians and the rich history of the GL Universe, but it shouldn’t be so constant, we should be allowed a cosmic adventure with Hal minus all the baggage every once in a while (and probably more often than that). The big plus point is Manke’s art, which is generally gorgeous even with the plethora of inkers involved. It’s not enough to make this a worthwhile purchase though, and while Johns manages to include flashes of brilliance here and there, overall it’s not worth pursuing in its current state. Once this ‘War’ is done, I think I am too. 4/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larocca & Frank D'Armata
Marvel Comics $3.99

James R: It's always frustrating to fall at the final hurdle or to stop short of the summit, but it was frustration that I felt after reading this month's Invincible Iron Man. The last two instalments have seen Fraction do a terrific job of writing a plot that pitched Stark against Dr. Octopus in a race against time, whilst flashing back to flesh out their relationship before both men had taken on alter-egos. My first cause for concern came from the cover which screams that it's a Fear Itself tie-in. “No worries”, I thought. “Fraction is the architect of Fear Itself so this will be a smooth crossover!'” Well, sadly, it isn't. The finale to this arc feels blunted as a result of the tie-in, and although the resolution of Stark vs. Octavius cleverly subverts expectations it felt strangely empty to me. Invincible Iron Man remains one of Marvel's premiere books in my eyes, but I can't help but feel that this book is lacking the punch of the early arcs. Here's hoping that Fraction comes back with a trademark two-fisted Stark tale after this Fear Itself brouhaha has blown over. 6/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Brian Hurtt & Bill Crabtree
Oni Press $3.99

Stewart R: The brilliant thing about Cullen Bunn’s Wild West fantasy adventure series has been that each issue feels like a huge read in your hands. At the closing of every final page I’ve felt like I’ve spent an age being sucked into this terrific world of gunslinging and witchcraft. This month Bunn wraps up the second arc with a climactic battle as the Marinette of the Dry Arms makes her play for the Six Guns that could essentially end all of existence should they fall into the wrong hands. Brian Hurtt gets to deliver yet another chaotic fight for survival for Drake Sinclair and Co. as they try to fend off deadly undead hordes and ferocious wildlife, and the tension his artwork delivers throughout is palpable. The Marinette’s earthly form is suitably ghastly and she proves to be a very deadly foe indeed during the latter stages. Bunn throws in some neat twists towards the end which actually took me by surprise and helped to develop these great characters even further as we head into the next arc (entitled ‘Bound’). A great issue of a great series. 9/10

Writer: Judd Winick
Art: Sami Basri & Jessica Kholinne
DC $2.99

James R: Well, it was a deathly quiet week for me and my pull list - I had two (count 'em!) titles this week, and so feeling weedy in the fanboy department, I decided to pick up Power Girl just to make up my numbers! I was a huge fan of the Palmiotti/Gray/Connor run, and when that came to an end I saw it as a natural point to jump off. I've never been won over by Judd Winick's work, so I read this with some trepidation. Once again I have to report that my assumption was horribly wrong! Winick is writing this book in exactly the right spirit - it's not the most sophisticated book in the world, but Power Girl is an ongoing reminder of how fun comics can be. The title character is embroiled in a skirmish with Siphon - a man who can, well, siphon off the powers of a magically enhanced being! He's wisely plumped to rub up against Zatanna, and as a result it's 20 pages of old-school fisticuffs and hi-jinx. Oh, and Superman is in it too. I'm happy and proud to say that I love the leftfield, the post-modern and the arch in comics, but every now and then it does me good to read a title like Power Girl to remind me of why I fell in love with comics in the first place. The art team of Basri and Kholinne aren't quite in Amanda Conner's class, but they do a fine job here, and this title stood out in a mediocre week. The promise of Power Girl visiting Gotham next month means that it's certainly punched its way back into my monthly haul. 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Billy Tan & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A self-contained issue, in the sense that it wraps up its story in 22 pages, but it still slots in nicely to the continuing narrative with the fallout from previous arcs coming into play as the characters journey further down a dark path. While ostensibly we see the team run up against the Shadow King, what Remender is doing – and doing brilliantly – is digging deeper into the individuals members’ psyches. In their own ways, they’re each struggling with what their missions involve, and Remender manages to convey this to the reader with a blend of insight and wit in amongst the action. Tan comes onboard for art duties and wisely adapts his style to suit the tone the book has already established – it’s great to see that happening rather than watching an artist impose themselves on the story at the expense of any visual consistency. Going from a non-believer to a true convert I can soundly say that Uncanny X-Force is the best X-book in years. 8/10

James R: Wow, two issues in two weeks! Remender certainly is setting a blistering pace on this title. The general consensus around the interwebs and the Paradox Group is that this is very much the title du jour. However, after reading this and last week's issue back-to-back, I can't quite join in with the cacophony of praise. Sure, there's much to commend about the title, and I'm certainly pleased that I took the advice of my co-reviewers and started reading this. But in these pages there remains the spectre that haunts the X-books for me - the immensely tortuous continuity. This month, Psylocke faces off against Amahl Farouk, who is... someone?! He came across as a flat 2-D villain, which meant that the whole issue felt lacking in purpose. On top of that, I sensed a feeling of deja vu in these pages - so far, the book seems to continuously split the team up and have one of them suffer an eye-popping injury. Matt C often cites Stan Lee's method of 'the illusion of change' - that ultimately, all comics tell the same story over and over, the trick is to make readers believe they're reading something new. In this issue, the illusion started to fade for me. Tan and White's art was beautiful though, and it's a definite tip o' the hat to editor Jody Lehup for producing some inspired art choices to compliment Remender's writing. Uncanny X-Force is still interesting and compelling enough for me to keep reading, but the next arc my be my last. Try as I might, I just can't love the X-Men! 6/10

Writer: Tony Bedard
Art: Tyler Kirkham, BATT, Nei Ruffino & Rod Reis
DC $2.99

Stewart R: So we get two chapters of the 'War of the Green Lanterns' this week and while there were a few niggles with Green Lantern #65 I’m a lot less happy with how this issue of Green Lantern Corps turned out. It’s very apparent here that Tony Bedard isn’t quite on the same wavelength at Johns and Tomasi - they’ve a partnership that’s spanned a good few years now so that’s understandable - but having just had Hal, Guy, Kyle and John share a hurried but focused reunion on Oa it then seems as if a veil of ignorance descends upon them as they try to get to grips with their new ring powers. Bedard seems too intent on showing what sets these guys apart from each other that he goes overboard and it doesn’t really work. This is unfortunately coupled with a month where Kirkham and BATT don’t bring their A-games to the table and the artwork only helps to highlight the flaws in the writing. There’s a real hurried feel to various pages and continuity from one panel to the next gets lost in some of the action sequences. If this event is going to work then I feel that these guys are going to have to do better in their next instalment. 5/10

Writer: Grek Pak
Art: Harvey Tolibao, Iban Coello, Sandu Florea & Wil Quintana
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Taking the man out of his silver suit of armour has been something of an inspired decision by Greg Pak in this reviewer’s opinion. It’s allowed the reader to see just how Norrin Radd feels about his role and situation as the Herald of Galactus and also highlights that on some level the Surfer and Radd are not necessarily one and the same after the Power Cosmic transformed the Zenn-Lavian into a space faring powerhouse. The moments when things begin to get a little more emotional and personal between Norrin and Suzi Endo are really nicely done and never feel too forced or out of place. They help us to warm to a character that we haven’t seen much of in the 55 years that his alter-ego has been around. Pak also does well showing that the High Evolutionary is one of those ambiguous foes who doesn’t really fall into the category of ‘villain’ despite posing a threat of deadly proportions from time to time. The art from Tolibao and the rest of the team really gives a feeling of urgency to Norrin and Suzie’s heroics and also a lovely feeling of the epic during a brief flashback to the days of the Surfer picking out worlds for Galactus. 8/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha, Joe Rubinstein & Max Scheele
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: All you need is love? The Beyonder seems to think so in this fourth issue of the limited series that sees Shooter miss the mark repeatedly as he tackles that most unquantifiable of emotions. Hats off to him for giving it a crack, especially in the context of a superhero comic, but while he does manage to make some salient points here and there he too often fumbles, resulting in something that’s implausible and embarrassing. The art is pretty bogstandard this time around, sometimes even less than that, but one particular panel (one of the best of the entire series) which sees the coupling of an omnipotent Beyonder and Dazzler, is enormously effective and actually quite beautiful. Aside from that, this is nothing more than passable. 5/10

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