8 May 2011

Mini Reviews 08/05/2011

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 includes the latest instalment of Matt C's Secret Wars Project.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Alex Maleev & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’d just about given up on Bendis as a writer of superhero comics until recently. The brilliance of Alias and Daredevil was starting to become a distant memory as he concentrated his skills on the hamfisted, empty likes of Secret Invasion. Even the once mighty Powers had long since disappeared up its own backside. I quite enjoyed Siege last year though, taking it on face value as dumbed down, high octane blockbuster, but when he put out Scarlet on the Icon imprint with Alex Maleev as his co-pilot, it was a revelation. Intelligent, provocative, insightful and daring it was easily Bendis’ finest work in years, and Maleev turned in some stunning, career-best artwork. Normally a Moon Knight relaunch would pass me by, but the idea of Bendis and Maleev – on such a roll with Scarlet – collaborating inside the Marvel Universe again intrigued me enough to pick up this issue. I’m sad to say this is Bendis back in default superhero mode again: all the usual irritants are present and correct (yep, every character kind of talks the same!) and it’s a largely by-the-numbers 'modern' superhero book. This is the kind of stuff Bendis does in his sleep (and we now know he’s still capable of far better!) and Maleev is obviously employing a quicker, looser style, presumably so he can find the time to continue with the more elaborate work required for Scarlet. Okay, so the twist is pretty neat but that aside this is just a reminder why I stopped getting Bendis’ superhero books in the first place. 4/10

Writer: Mark A. Smith
Art: Armand Villavert & Carlos Carrasco
Image $2.99

Matt C: Yet another Image #1, this one pitched at a younger crowd (although not quite as young as Super Dinosaur) with a tale centred on a school for would-be supervillains. It’s not a particularly original premise but it is one stacked with a certain amount of potential. As you’d expect, it takes the comedic route, but while there are some amusing moments overall it’s nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. The art though is colourful and exuberant, ensuring it’s a pleasant, lightweight read even if the jokes don’t always hit their marks. The other major plus is the number of story pages (35!) for your $2.99, unquestionably good value for money. I can see this finding its feet within a few issues, and I imagine there’s an audience out there that this will connect to. Unfortunately, while I went in with an open mind, it didn’t connect with me in any major way, so I think I’ll have to leave it there. 6/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Jeff Lemire & Jose Villarrubia
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Alright, I'm now starting to run out of superlatives for this book. If I had to characterise my 2011 comics reading so far, I'd say that I'm being tag-teamed with brilliance by the genius of Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder! After Snyder's Detective and American Vampire last week, it's Lemire's turn again. I was really impressed with Superboy #7 (see below) but I was knocked out by the latest Sweet Tooth. This month, Jeppard faces off against a Grizzly for Gus' life, while the girls learn more secrets of the Evergreen compound. Lemire shows a masterful understanding of both comics layout and of visual storytelling - the two narratives occupy the top and bottom of the pages respectively, and the Jeppard/Gus story is told dialogue-free. Having read (and loved) Lemire's Essex County, I think he has a grasp on the human heart that's only matched in comics by Chris Ware. Simultaneously, he's also showing a deft touch at developing unease - in every panel of the Evergreen plot there's a palpable sense of tension. Truly this comic is a joy to read, and in my eyes, pretty much flawless. (And keep this to yourself, but I may have welled up a little at one panel. Again!) 10/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: This is beginning to feel like it’s struggling a bit, and it’s making me wonder if ‘high concept’ is really the way to go for these big events. There are a lot of impressive aspects to this series but it doesn’t feel like it’s built on a strong, solid foundation. So far we seem to be heading into a plot where the villains appear to be anti-Asgardians. Or something. There are a lot of hammers, a bunch of familiar faces being transformed into evil, ancient gods, but not much in the way of a clear focus. Throughout the issue we get snippets of news reports that are intended to amplify the mounting confusion and terror, and while they are occasionally effective, too often they're distracting, vague or perplexing (“…autism rates skyrocketing…” Huh?!). The Asgard stuff is all good, and taken individually many of the scenes are fine, but on the whole it doesn’t quite gel. It needs to get a firmer narrative thrust to really succeed. Fortunately these criticisms aren’t too distracting thanks to some gorgeously rendered artwork from Immonen, Von Grawbadger and Martin. It may have felt like Immonen was always on the periphery of the elite group of comic book artists, but here he well truly proves he’s deserves to rub shoulders with the best. 7/10

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Marco Rudy, Daniel Hor, Jamie Grant & Dom Regan
DC $2.99

James R: Sometimes it's best to be surprised. Obviously, as a 21st century geek, I'm fully wired to the interwebs, and so it would be easy to peek ahead and find out what's coming in my favourite books, but the older I get the more I relish being surprised when I read. This month's Superboy is a perfect example. Last time I felt Lemire got knocked off his stride slightly by having to incorporate the Doomsday crossover, but here he turns in the best issue of the run to date, and it's a wonderful riff on a classic Superman story. Connor awakes on a desolated Earth where he has no memory of running amok... or does he? I want to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, so I'll just say that the plot revelation made me go 'Ahhh!' out loud... and I was on my own! It's also a treat for the eyes - the four-man colouring team give the issue really stark and effective contrasts, and - hey! - a Dark Knight Returns homage panel too. In many other weeks, this would have easily been my book of the week, as it is, I just have to salute Jeff Lemire for two totally different but fantastic comics. 9/10

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art: Tan Eng Huat, Victor Olazaba, June Chung, Timothy Green II & Nathan Fairbairn
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: The split nature of this bumper miniseries title is a strange affair. The ‘main’ Annihilators tale is petering out and somehow Abnett and Lanning have managed to make these Alpha-class powered heroes seem fairly ordinary at this stage. The story involving Wraith Queens, Space Knights and the like was involving to begin with but I find myself caring a little less with each issue. I’ve come to the conclusion that the art is a big factor in this as Tan Eng Huat, while talented, doesn’t have that sense of epic scope that Brad Walker and Miguel Sepulveda managed to capture when they dealt with these characters previously, so it doesn’t deliver that necessary feeling of gravitas. It’s a shame as there’s a huge amount of potential but I’ve a feeling that this will end up a forgettable DnA experience. It’s then in weird contrast that the ‘back-up’ is far more enjoyable and actually seems to be the half of the book where the writers woke up and got excited about what they were doing. This time out DnA decide to give the Rocket Raccoon back story a bit of a dust off and a tweak here and there for newer readers and potentially expand the scope for Rocket, Groot and the rest of the animal cast should Marvel decide to stick with them beyond this series. Of course they’ve all got to survive the next issue so I’ll be picking that up just to make sure! 6/10

Writer: David Petersen
Art: David Petersen
Archaia $3.50

Matt C: Most of the time, delays between issues do nothing but disrupt the flow of a narrative, and unless you are in the possession of a photographic memory, important details may become difficult to recall over time. The Black Axe overcomes this problem due to the sheer, overwhelming brilliance of the storytelling on display. This is Petersen’s world, crafted from scratch, and yet, thanks to the depth of characterization and the majestically beautiful artwork, it feels epic and ancient, like it’s existed forever. The level of detail in Petersen’s illustrations is frequently gobsmacking, and it’s probably safe to say that the Mouse Guard series wouldn’t have made such an impact without the semi- realistic approach he takes to his tales of medieval mice. As it stands, this is shaping up to be the best offering of Mouse Guard yet, and considering the quality of what’s come before, that’s high praise indeed. 9/10

Writers: Tony Trov & Johnny Zito
Art: The Rahazzah
Red 5 Comics $3.50

Stewart R: There’s a great deal to like in this first issue as we’re dropped into the ass-kicking action with Moon Girl taking down her long-time foe Satana and a mob of her underlings. The art stands out so strongly from the start with The Rahzzah’s painted style giving everything a rich, sumptuous sheen that offers up some brilliantly lit pages. This helps to set the alternative 1950s tone but keeps things away from Gotham-like sepia gloom thanks to a very varied colour palette. Trov and Zito don’t feel the need to give us a greatly detailed lesson on Moon Girl’s history, instead allowing us to learn about her in piecemeal fashion as the story continues through the issue and it works well. Sugar Plum Fairy is a suitably creepy antagonist who should ensure that this is a cut above the usual crime-fiction fare and everything found in this debut will lock me in for issue #2. 8/10

Matt C: Here’s what I can tell you: Moon Girl was a Golden Age character created by Garner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff (both prime movers in the early days of the industry); the art is very impressive, and The Rahazzah is a pretty badass name for an artist; and the Previews solicitation described this as ‘The Dark Knight meets Mad Men’. The last part of that sentence is where things go awry as the only thing it has in common with The Dark Knight is that it features a Golden Age superhero and the only thing it has in common with Mad Men is that it’s set in New York in the middle of the 20th Century. In other words, don’t get sucked in by the sales spiel as I was - this is about as far away from ‘The Dark Knight meets Mad Men’ (which, let’s face it, is a cool high concept pitch – is Darwyn Cooke listening?) as you can get (okay, maybe not, but I'm trying to make a point here!). As I said, the art’s really nice, but the story felt incredibly disjointed and sitting here writing this, I’m having a difficult time remembering what it was all about. Not a good start really. I think that’ll be enough for me. 4/10

Writers: Viktor Kalachev, Kosta Tanev & Andrew Osborne
Art: viktor Kalachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox & Robert Valley
Image $2.99

James R: As we've repeatedly pointed out here recently, Image currently have an impressive roster of titles - Butcher Baker, Infinite Vacation, Chew and Turf immediately spring to mind as being titles that we've all found worthy of our hard-earned cash. Blue Estate looked like a promising continuation of this streak. As a fan of James Ellroy's L.A. Noir in literature and of Ed Brubaker and Brian Azzarello's crime tales in comics, I was on board for a crime story set in the black underbelly of Los Angeles. I held off reviewing it last month as I felt it was too early to judge - there were some nice touches, but also some parts that really didn't work for me. Sadly, issue #2 didn't improve matters. The plot feels full of hackneyed stereotypes - Strippers! Hitmen! Weasley Drug Dealers! Again! - and tells us nothing new or interesting about them. Despite the fact that this book was illustrated by more people than were involved with the Moon landings, the art is incredibly underwhelming. For me, this is one crime that certainly isn't worth the time. 3/10

Stewart R: It’s strange to say but Blue Estate #2 appears to go no way towards answering any of the questions thrown up from the intriguing first issue. We get a little bit of a better handle on who Rachel is and how she’s ended up in her predicament with big-shot husband Bruce but that then leads to more questions than we started with as we learn of her attempts to rid herself of alcohol dependence. We then meet Rachel’s brother Billy who seems to be up in his neck in bad news before things take another tangent and we end up embroiled in a fight at a strip club. There’s a lot going on, and as I’ve said there are more questions that answers flying about, but you know what? It’s working well. There’s something impulsive about the writing and the dialogue that keeps me reading and wanting more. The varying art styles all come together nicely to offer a brilliantly ‘grimy’ and atmospheric feel that suits the slightly ‘Hollywood Thriller’ vibe that I think the creators are trying to capture. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but I’m enjoying the ride so far. 7/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha & Minny Hands
Marvel $1.00

Matt C: Shooter takes on life and death this issue as the Beyonder takes on the mantle of a ‘Champion of Life’, using his omnipotence to carry that idea to its logical conclusion. Yet again we see the writer tackling a big theme, making some nice observations, but - due to the sheer scale of what he’s attempting - a profound, resonating statement inevitably slips through his fingers. All the stuff with the major cosmic, conceptual beings of the Marvel Universe is great but their appearance suggests we should constantly be seeing various galactic powerhouses and races attacking the Beyonder for the threat he poses the multiverse every issue rather than us watching him have time to explore different facets of the human condition. You can’t fault the ambition that brought this project to the page but you can’t deny the multiple flaws in the delivery either. 6/10


Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

no way dude, even though i think that the Annihilators could use some fine tuning rocket raccoon still sucks.that should be a $3 book not $5.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

i could have sworn i left a comment here before. do you guys only allow comments that agree with your reviews? it's not to say that Annihilators is not with out it's problems (especially if your a ROM fan like me) but if i want to see something as silly as gun totting raccoons fighting killer clowns i'll read the Sunday comics in the newspaper. and to think i'm paying $5 an issue because of that back story. i should have waited for the Annihilators TPB.

Matt Clark said...

Blogger had a widely publicised outage on Friday which removed posts and comments that went up after May 11th. We seem to have got back the two posts that disappeared but obviously your comment was lost for good.

Don't worry, we don't delete posts if people don't agree with us. Check out our reviews - we don't even agree with each other all the time!

Matt Clark said...

I've just seen here that Blogger are working to get all the posts back up, so your original comment may resurface soon.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

nice of you to get back to me Matt C. yeah i know about that blogger fubar a couple of days ago my blood sugar was just low when i left that comment :)