1 May 2011

Mini Reviews 01/05/2011

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: Daryl Gregory
Art: Carlos Magno & Juan Manuel Tumburus
BOOM! Studios $3.99

Matt C: I’m not entirely sure whereabouts this series sits with the movie continuity but I’m guessing it’s either way before the original film or a long time after the series ended, chronologically speaking. It doesn’t require intimate knowledge of the movies though, just a general understanding that we’re dealing with a world where apes have become highly intelligent and are becoming the dominant species, with humans being left behind. This issue drops in right where tensions between the apes and the humans are at their peak, with an assassination threatening to make a volatile situation even worse. I’m going to put this in the category of ‘Intriguing But Not Entirely Convincing” – the set-up isn’t breaking new ground, and the apes could easily be replaced by someone else (aliens, other humans) without making much difference to the way the story plays out. The art’s quite resplendent throughout but nothing about the book as a whole really grabbed me, and I didn’t think it really captured the tone of the original movies (if that was the intention). I’m mildly curious to see where this goes but with plenty of other books vying for my attention these days I’m not sure I’ll be back. 6/10

Stewart R: My exposure to Planet Of The Apes as a property is restricted to the Tim Burton remake as well as occasional comedic nods in the likes of Spaceballs and The Simpsons, so I go into this with a minimal amount of knowledge about the relations between Apes and Man in this world. Gregory quickly establishes the uneasy tensions running between both species as they try to co-exist in a society dominated by the furrier citizens. There’s plenty of mystery and intrigue generated in this debut issue as the main players from the differing sides come to the fore and the main plot for the following arc is given some shape. The ‘assassination of the unifying individual’ story isn’t particularly new but then it’s fully understandable considering the incredible dichotomy that this world throws up. Gregory actually manages to combine plot progression, character introductions and action incredibly well and hats off to Magno too: he really does manage to capture emotion in the faces of every primate appearing on the page. Plenty of promise for this series following an impressive start. 7/10

FF #2
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Paul Mounts
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Steady as she goes. An excellent opener last month is followed by another sterling instalment this month. Reed has brought Doom into the fold much to the disgust of Ben and Sue, who fail to see the merit in his actions. It’s not entirely clear to the reader either why Mister Fantastic has decided to aid his nemesis, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say that he sees any superior intellect as worthy of saving, even a corrupted one, because there is still the potential there for their genius to make the world a better place. Hickman continues to weave in plot elements he’s been playing with since he first took over the writing of these characters, and his script is full of brilliant moments, whether it’s Doom taunting Ben or a wonderful wisecrack from Spidey. Epting brings it all to life with elegance and sophistication and I’m convinced that Hickman is heading in the right direction with this. 8/10

Writer: Paul Cornell & Various
Art: Pete Woods, Jesus Merino & Various
DC $5.99

James R: When I flagged up this landmark issue in Ten Forward a few months back, I thought it was a no-brainer as the all-star roster of talent DC called on to mark the 900th issue of Action Comics had to be worth a look. Little did I realise that this would be an issue that's caused an old-school media outrage! We'll come to Goyer's contribution in a moment, but first of all, is it worth the $5.99? If you’re a Superman fan, then it's a definite 'Yes', but for the rest of comicdom, hold onto your wallets. The first note of caution comes from the climax to to Cornell's 'Black Ring' arc; I’ve really enjoyed his Lex Luthor tale, but it finishes with an uneven chapter. We learn (again!) that Lex's ego will always be his undoing, and whereas Cornell writes well, Grant Morrison made the point far more succinctly in All Star Superman. Sandwiched uncomfortably between this tale is the Doomsday plot featuring Superman's supporting cast, which feels bereft of any drama or tension. However, it's the bonus tales where this issue perks up: Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook's Krypton story 'Life Support' is outstanding, and Jim Lee, Geoff Johns and everyone at DC should try to wrangle a run from him. Finally then, we've got Goyer's controversy bomb, 'The Incident'. Personally I can't see what the fuss is about. Superman is an American hero, conceived by American creators - that can't change. Why is anyone worried that he identifies himself as a global citizen rather than an American one? The shame here is that he makes his announcement in a hamfisted story. I never think it works when fictional superheroes pitch into real-life situations, and so the Man of Steel participating in the Jasmine revolution feels like an uncomfortable fit. So, all told, a mixed bag, but still - an amazing testament to the power and longevity of Siegel and Shuster's imagination. Here's to the next 900! 6/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: R.M. Guéra & Giulia Brusco
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: I may sound like a broken record with my constant enthusing over this title, but it’s kind of hard not to when I can’t think of any point where Aaron’s put a foot wrong throughout the entire series. The writer has recently suggested that he’s looking to wrap things up at around #60, so that could mean we’ve only got a year left with these characters. From the way things progress through this issue there's definitely the feeling that he knows where things are headed and how he'll reach the denoument, especially when something happens that indicates we’re about to hit the home straight. Aaron keeps the raw characterisation coming and Guéra turns in some art that fizzles with menace. This intense, compelling crime drama is about as good as comics get. 9/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Laura Martin, Justin Ponsor & Peter Steigerwald
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: After the rushed ending in his last issue of Thor this “debut” inspires far more confidence. Sure, maybe all the talk of the Worldheart sounds like mumbo jumbo, but Fraction makes it work here, bringing an epic scope into play but grounding it with some relatable human fears (and this is without it being a Fear Itself tie-in). As much as the writing impresses though (and it does) a lot of people are going to be drawn to this title to witness the return of Olivier Coipel to the character. One word to sum his artwork up with? Go for: beautiful. From the gobsmackng first page of the Silver Surfer you realise instantly that there probably isn’t any artist out there today more perfectly suited to the Thunder God and his milieu. Obviously Coipel’s not the only one involved with the visuals so I would be remiss not to mention the sterling contributions from Morales on inks and (primarily) Martin on colours. A gorgeous book to look at, unquestionably, but one that proves to be a thoroughly exciting read too. 8/10

James R: It's confession time. I've never been a huge Thor fan. Don't get me wrong, I loved the movie, I like him as a character, it's just that there's always been something missing for me in his own title. As from now though, that could all start to change. This is a brilliant first issue, and it's awesome to see Matt Fraction firing on all cylinders, ably supported by the lush artwork of Coipel and Morales. It's a suitably attention-grabbing epic introduction, with Silver Surfer and Galactus joining the mix, beautifully juxtaposed with a reflection on faith as we're introduced to Father Mike of Broxton asking questions of belief when the Gods of Asgard are on his doorstep. Meanwhile, Thor & Sif descend to secure the Worldheart to save Yggradsil, allowing Coipel to let rip with some dynamic action. A quality comic from first to last page, and certainly on a par with Brubaker's first issue of Captain America and Fraction's own spellbinding Invincible Iron Man relaunch. As much fun as a goblet of mead, and no mistake! 8/10

Writer: John Rozum
Art: Frazer Irving
DC $2.99

James R: I had to take a look at this title after hearing good things about it from my fellow Paradox groupers, and io9.com ran a piece on it too, describing it as 'the 1990s comic that made Alan Moore freak out', so how could I resist?! I'm pleased that I got onboard - this is quickly establishing itself as one of the smartest books on the racks. With touches of both Hellboy and John Constantine, if you're a fan of either of those unorthodox heroes you'll find a lot to love here. The eponymous Xombi, David Kim, continues to try and contain a fearsome Mr. Hyde, who may not be all he seems to be, something that can also be said for one of Kim's allies. The issue moves along at a terrific pace, and Rozum deftly balances touches of comedy with horror that verges into Vertigo territory. When Frazer Irving finds the right project, he's outstanding, and a quick comparison between these pages and his run on Batman And Robin should show you that he's now on the right title. Smart and attractive storytelling all round - let's hope that Rozum and Irving get the audience they deserve for this terrific comic. 9/10

X-MEN #10
Writer: Victor Gischler
Art: Chris Bachalo, Paco Medina, Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, Juan Vlasco, Antonio Fabela & Jim Charalampidis
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This issue draws the ‘To Serve and Protect’ arc to a close and following two read-throughs I have come to two conclusions. Firstly, Gischler has a very good feel for Spider-Man, and secondly, I’m not sure the writer got out of this arc what he intended to. This instalment is entertaining enough as the unlikely team-up of Spidey and Emma Frost go on the run in the sewers as their newly transformed friends hunt them down and try to prevent them getting to Dark Beast to put pay to his plans. The banter between the two heroes works well and Gischler really shows that they’re cut from two different cloths while Bachalo gets to bust out a huge array of panel layouts to enhance these interactions. The problem lies in the fact that this feels less an X-Men comic and more a 'Spider-Man & Friends' title. The end comes all too quickly and doesn’t really offer the blockbuster finish that events seemed to be leading to and I personally think a trick was missed by not involving the kidnapped and transformed children more. The final two pages having been hurriedly churned out by artist Paco Medina sums up the arc as a whole - promising but lacking with that final polish. 6/10

Writer: Brian Wood
Art: Ryan Kelly & Jim Rugg
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: The finale of this insightful mini sees a tragedy affect the titular five as they find themselves starting to break away from each other as they head off on different life trajectories. Stories about groups of friends drifting apart as they ‘grow up’ may have a whiff of cliché about them due to familiarity, but Wood’s too smart to let this play out predictably, and there are enough emotional truths here to make it resonate. Many of us have been in the situation where someone who you think of as your bosom buddy for life at a certain point can be a person you eventually lose touch with and rarely see again. Wood takes this idea and portrays it as an involving, adult drama that doesn’t need to resort to cheap sentiment. Kelly (assisted here by Jim Rigg) once again captures the urban bustle of the Big Apple and helps bring the feelings of the characters to the fore. The New York Five is a moving, funny indie gem, but more than just being about a group of young things reaching turning points in their lives, it also works as a love letter from Wood to NYC, a place he describes as “the centre of the world”. Even if you’ve only visited the place briefly, you may have an idea of what he means and will appreciate how he’s managed to convey this so brilliantly through the comic book medium. 9/10

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Butch Guice, Stefano Guadiano, Chris Samnee, Mike Deodato & Bette Breitweiser
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Seeing Bucky banged up in a gulag is gripping stuff, as it digs deep into his murky past as the Winter Soldier which is, in all honesty, far more interesting than seeing him prance about as the new Cap. The character works best when involved in moral grey areas rather than performing straight-up superheroics, and indeed, so does the Captain America title in general, at least when Brubaker's at the reigns - he pretty much transformed it for the 21st Century by adding an espionage slant and spending a lot more time in the shadows. This is highlighted by including Sharon Carter and Black Widow's investigative escapades alongside Steve Rogers snooping around more directly and openly. Separate artists are employed to tackle the three different plot strands, and while each one has much to recommend it, and the decision to approach things this way is sound, a little more visual consistency would possibly be more beneficial if we're to assume these strands will tie together eventually. This title has suffered from a revolving-door approach to artists recently and it doesn't look like that's likely to change any time soon. Aside from that, this is great stuff. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Jock & David Baron
DC $2.99

James R: Another month, another brilliant issue of Detective. Snyder is, as I've said before, quickly establishing himself as one of the brightest lights in comics. He's been ably assisted by a really talented roster of artists, but it's particularly brilliant to see Jock returning this month. Dick investigates the discovery of a Killer Whale dumped inside a bank, and a corpse inside the whale, which leads him to the daughter of the man who killed his parents. I'm loving how Snyder has introduced the concept of family and legacy in this issue, and how succinctly this ties into his ongoing James Gordon story. I read this after reading a couple of very high profile DC books this week, and it was outstanding - it was also the book that resonated the loudest for me, and warranted an immediate re-read. I can't see a flaw with this title as a Bat-fan - this is how 21st century superhero comics should be written! 9/10

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This title is well and truly in the hands of Kieron Gillen now and where once, for a period of a good few years, I would have picked Uncanny up every month without wondering whether I would be getting it next month, I’m now starting to question how long I will follow this for. I take slight issue with Gillen heading back to the Breakworld story rather than stamping his own mark with something new, not least because Joss Whedon’s original story is held on something of an untouchable pedestal for me. He doesn’t aid my trepidation by making this feel like a much smaller story than it should be considering the galaxy-spanning potential. He completely missteps with his portrayal of Magneto, evidently forgetting just what sort of thinker and leader the former-villain turned X-Man is and should be, instead making him seem like a bit of a trusting dunce. While there are other niggles with characterisation Gillen does at least manage to do some good work with the refugee situation and Colossus and Kitty’s reactions to it. The other key factor that is spoiling my enjoyment however is the artwork. Don’t misunderstand me here, Terry and Rachel Dodson are a terrific pencilling and inking team in their own right, but their curvy, clean style just feels wrong for the gravity and tension required from this plot. My faith in this title is being shaken currently. 5/10

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

Tom P: If you told me a year ago one of my favourite comics would be about vampires I would have sent you on your way! I haven't enjoyed vampires since I watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a hormone-filled youth! Ah, Buffy... Anyway, I digress. A few months ago, after being impressed by Snyder's work on Detective Comics, I picked up the first seven issues of American Vampire on eBay for a bargain price. With the help of Paradox Comics I completed my collection and read the whole thing through. It's epic, fantastic and brilliantly written stuff. This issue is no exception. Set in WWII, it sees a band of vampire hunters deployed in the Pacific to clear a vampire nest ahead of the regular troops. Everything, it's safe to say, does not go to plan. I love what Snyder has achieved with this series with its scope and scale, plus this week it features a suspicious marine called Bill Pike (or is he?). Got to love it when you see you surname in one of you most beloved comics! All this illustrated by the definitive American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque. Do your self a favour and jump on this bandwagon. 9/10

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

Stewart R: So Chapter Five was something of a disappointment but this sixth part brings things back to their exciting and driven best thanks to the writing of Tomasi and artwork of Pasarin. This feels like things have been cranked up a few notches as Hal and the other human Lanterns go on the run from a possessed and determined Mogo and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps, in the process discovering some of the secrets that the Guardians have been keeping to themselves for thousands of years. The difference between Bedard and Tomasi’s grasp of these characters and their individual personalities is very stark as the rapport and tensions are handled perfectly by the latter here. The subtle changes to everyone’s perspective and behaviour due to their new exposure to various ring-powers is captured both in Tomasi’s writing and, of course, when Pasarin is really treating that paper with his work. Some of the changes in scale that the man delivers are superb and incredibly effective when dropped into a story that’s quite heavy on the dialogue and personal interactions. This issue gets an 8/10 but makes me worried for when Part Eight of this series turns up.

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

Matt C: The Beyonder mopes around, despondent that Dazzler rejected his amorous advances last issue. Yes, really. Shooter tackles another aspect of the human emotional spectrum – rejection – and once again, while the idea is commendable, the delivery isn’t always successful. Yes, I can totally understand why Shooter feels it necessary to include this chapter in the series, but really, who wants to see the omnipotent threat to all life in a superhero book wandering around, heartbroken? There are perhaps a handful of writers that could’ve made this work, but while Shooter tries, he ultimately fails. It’s not without it’s merits though. For some it’ll be the introduction of Boom Boom, a staple of the X-Men family ever since, but for me it’s the Beyonder’s goading of the Celestials and the inevitable moment he proves that they are no match for him. That’s really what I would love to have seen more of in this series because so far the stakes have never really felt that high. There’s some tasty art in the Celestials scenes, but other than that it’s business as usual i.e. serviceable. One thing's for sure, this mini is no match for its predecessor. 6/10

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