5 Jun 2011

Mini Reviews 05/06/2011

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 final instalment of Matt C's Secret Wars Project.

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Val Staples
Marvel/Icon $3.50

James R: In a week of truly excellent comics it was a ridiculously tough decision to pick a book of the week. However, the return of Criminal just shaded it. I really like Incognito, but man, I loves Criminal! When Brubaker really lets the noir out, it's a treat, one which is made all the sweeter by the incredible art of Sean Phillips and Val Staples pitch-perfect colours. Brubaker's tale centres on one of the tried and trusted noir archetypes, the femme fatale. Here, the woman in question is the wife of our protagonist, Riley Richards. He's a man up to eyes in debt with the mob, and a journey back to his hometown provides him with food for thought - there's the girl next door, for whom he still holds a candle, there's his wife's infidelity, and then there's the small matter of his father's death, all of which leads him to consider a drastic course of action. It will inevitably not end well, but man, is it fun to read! The extra goodness in this arc comes from the flashback sections, which see Phillips' style change to ape Archie comics and a more innocent time. Or is it? One of the things I loved about this book is the darkness hinted at the edge, from the revelation that a "stalker killed a few ladies in town" to the casual way in which Riley remembers finding a dead body with his best friend. It's a dark treat which beautifully echoes the crime comics of the ‘50s, and everyone involved in this is at the top of their game. Like the best femme fatales, this book is irresistible. 10/10

Matt C: Much as enjoy Brubaker and Phillips pulp/superhero mash-up Incognito, it’s with Criminal that I think they regularly achieve comic book perfection. I do have a rather insatiable appetite for the crime genre across many mediums, so I’m not surprised how completely this book appeals to me, and reading Brubaker’s thoughts in the back pages I can tell he’s a man with similar noirish tastes. It’s a measure of his talent that he’s able to translate his love of the genre into something that can stand its ground against many of the great works in crime fiction, be that in movies, literature, TV or, indeed, comics. That may seem like very high praise indeed, but Criminal warrants it. Of course, comics are a visual medium and Sean Phillips is equally instrumental in this book’s success. Here he intersperses his usual unique style with some more simplified Archie-esque visuals to give the protagonist’s flashbacks a Happy Days vibe (especially effective when that approach collides with the actual content of those scenes). And let us not forget colourist Val Staples, who tweaks his palette at just the right moment to emphasise the emotional tone of a particular panel. Superb stuff all told – Criminal remains one of the most vital books on the stands. 9/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

Matt C: Gorgeous art and a plethora of twists on established characters can’t quite help me shake the feeling that there’s something missing in Flashpoint. The worldwide nature of the story (check out he ‘World Map’ in the back pages to get an idea of how far-reaching this temporary change to the DC Universe really is) has me wondering whether Johns has bitten off more than he can chew again. Essentially, this should be focused on Barry Allen, but when you’ve got a war between the Amazons and Atlantean’s that’s taken out half of Europe, how much of that do you include in the main title instead of relying on a tie-in to cover it, potentially rendering it superfluous to the central narrative? There’s an awful lot for Johns to fit in during the next three issues and I can see a situation where he cuts corners to reach the finishing line. Case in point: Thomas Wayne, the Batman of this universe, buys into Allen’s explanation of a how things are really supposed to be a little to easily (and conveniently). Okay, so he’s not Bruce, but surely he’s smart enough to rule out all possibilities of Allen being delusional before helping him recreate the experiment that turned him into the Flash? Unless there simply isn’t time to squeeze that much doubt into a five-issue miniseries? Despite my misgivings, I still enjoyed this second issue and seeing how we now know it leads up to DC’s massive reboot of their Universe this August, there’s no way I’m bailing out now! 7/10

Writer: Jonathan Ross
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Image $2.99

Stewart R: All of the elements come together in one huge party of mayhem for this grand finale of Ross’ Gangsters, Vamps and Aliens series and, for the most part, it works. Eddie’s gradual transformation - both mental and physical - from ruthless mob boss to leader of humanity’s fight against the deadly armies of vampires really had me pulling for the reluctant hero to battle through against impossible odds and the rich, varied cast made sure that things remained interesting and balanced on a knife-edge right up until the end. It must be said that this bumper fifth issue is a little less about Ross’ writing and more about Edwards’ handling of the chaotic action, and while his work should be regarded as superb on the whole throughout the entire series there are a few confusing moments (one character appears to survive a high fall with nary a scratch and nary an explanation as to how they escaped death or injury!) and there’s some heavy inking and slightly simpler work over last few pages that suggest the deadline was looming a little large towards the end. Those points aside, this is a very enjoyable rollercoaster ending that caps off Ross’ first foray into the realm of comic writing with some style and has me looking forward to whatever these creators work on next. 8/10

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

Matt C: This is turning out to be something of a major disappointment. It’s difficult to figure out why the main villain, the Serpent, is doing what he’s doing – his rationale appears to be nothing more than he’s a bad guy and bad guys like causing destruction. Although we know he’s an ancient Asgadian enemy in charge of a bunch of hammer wielding acolytes who have possessed several familiar faces from the Marvel Universe, that’s about all we have to go on at present. Considering the rich Norse mythology available to plunder, it’s strange that Fraction hasn’t tapped into that to find his antagonist and instead created someone who’s almost wilfully one-dimensional at this point. The writer still produces some good individual scenes (particularly those with Thor and Loki), but they just don’t hold together to convey any real sense of world-threatening danger. The saving grace so far has been some phenomenal artwork, with Immonen, Von Grawbadger and Martin all rising to the challenge of producing imagery worthy of a blockbusting comic book event. Check out the awesome double-page spread of the destruction of Yancy Street for some concrete evidence of this. But saying that, watching Yancy Street crumble, along with some of the other scenes of devastation (and the supposed death of a major character at the end) fails to make any impact. It’s death and mayhem for death and mayhem’s sake. I still have hope that Fraction can turn things around, but it’s only the art at this point keeping Fear Itself from being completely vague and inconsequential. 6/10

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

Matt C: You could argue that we’ve already got past the real meat of the story in Halcyon and this final issue almost feels like it could be an addendum rather than the main conclusion. I say ‘almost’ because while this isn’t the strongest instalment in the series, it’s still quality stuff, and the way it leaves things at on the very final page is a stroke of brilliance. Bodenheim’s art is continuously impressive and it makes absolute sense that Marvel has snapped him up to work on some of the titles they’ve got in the pipeline. I have a feeling this series may have slipped under most people’s radar – hopefully that’ll be rectified once the trade hits the stands as Halcyon has seen an excellent idea pursued with intelligence and inventiveness. One of the best miniseries to reach its conclusion in 2011 so far. 8/10

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

Stewart R: Oh dear. Yep, following an initial moment of surprise that the first issue seemed to work for the most part, I’m afraid I’m back to where I started, thinking that Marvel should have persisted with Greg Hurwitz’s direction for this character. Bendis’ experiment doesn’t feel right at all. His messing with Marc Spector’s psychological condition has unfortunately made this come across as a dumbed down and less funny version of Daniel Way’s Deadpool or Lieberman’s Cowboy Ninja Viking, with the different facets of his personality offering their differing views on how he should tackle his current mission. The inclusion of these familiar faces as parts of Moon Knight’s fractured psyche also seems like a fucked up excuse for Bendis to roll in three of Marvel’s biggest hitters and smacks of a certain lack of confidence that a Moon Knight book based purely on the title character will succeed. That’s doubly echoed when he goes and dresses Moon Knight in the recognised garb of those other superheroes to cringeworthy effect. Maleev does what he can with the plot and action but it’s not enough to save this from being a pretty pedestrian read and further proof that Bendis is a very hit’n’miss writer. 3/10

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso & Patricia Mulvihill
DC $2.99

James R: As an ageing geek, one feeling you become accustomed to is disappointment. You watch a trailer, or leaf through Previews, and think "Hey! Project X looks brilliant! That's one to look forward to!", and before you know it there's the gnawing feeling of being let down, of promise unfulfilled. Therefore it's even more of a joy when a book turns out to be exactly as good as you'd hoped it would be. I was a big 100 Bullets fan, and I enjoyed Azzarello and Risso's all-to-brief run on Batman (the 'Broken City' arc.) However, one thing that it lacked was the subtext and drive of revenge. Bruce Wayne is a man who seeks justice, rather than revenge, and so I always had the feeling that Azzarello was holding back a little when scripting his last Bat-tale. This, on the other hand, is Azzarello letting rip. In the Flashpoint universe, Thomas Wayne is a man driven by revenge rather than justice, and revenge was one of the great strengths of 100 Bullets. This issue draws out Thomas Wayne's life, and we learn that he is a man being burnt away by his need for revenge, immersed in a world he clearly loathes. We also learn that his methods are deadly: in 'Broken City', Batman was content to knock out Killer Croc's teeth; here, this Batman is willing to go a little further... This is only a three-part series, but this issue is so accomplished you feel that Azzarello and Risso could easily tell stories in this world for over ten times that length. If you're a Bat-fan at all, you owe it to yourself to check this out! 9/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Lee Garbett, David Meikis & John Rauch
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Yep, this works. Cullen Bunn gets to expand on the single panel exploit that Namor adversary Attuma - now transformed into the hammer wielding Nekkrod, Breaker of Oceans - had in Fear Itself #2 by showing how much of a smackdown he managed to put upon the King of Atlantis and his newly reconstructed kingdom. Bunn does a fine job of displaying the fear growing within the usually overconfident Namor as he begins to doubt his powers and his worth and this is coupled nicely with Stephen Strange’s slipping grip on the reduced magical talents he has remaining at his disposal. There’s also a neat glimpse of some of Atlantis’ lesser foes, now acting generals of Nekkrod’s forces, conspiring to make the best of the situation and positioning themselves for greater spoils and to bring a greater hurt upon Namor’s shoulders. I’ll dare say that Lee Garbett has now moved himself into the big leagues of top comic book artists with this effort as he doesn’t put a foot wrong, delivering with heavy hitting action and a nice line in conversational panels that really do portray the emotional weariness that these characters are suffering presently. A worthy addition to the Fear Itself event. 8/10

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Dustin Weaver & Sonia Oback
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: At first glance it seems a little strange to have capped off the first arc as a ‘volume’ and start off here right in Volume 2 where the last left off, with Leonardo and Newton’s forces pounding the crap out of each other with laser beams and weapons of destruction. However, it becomes quite apparent that this volume is going to be based around certain revelations that Hickman is going to unveil to us regarding what we witnessed during the events of the first volume. It’s an enjoyable ride to follow Michelangelo's path through the different ages and see that these highly intelligent men are so very frightened by what they cannot yet understand or comprehend. Hickman has long been the master of the convoluted plot and he really does a terrific job of making multiple threads come together and allow readers the odd opportunity to utter aloud “Oooohh, that’s cool!” Series artist Dustin Weaver keeps up the high quality on the visual side of things but doesn’t get the opportunity in this issue to throw anything as lavish as a Celestial gestating in the sun. Maybe next time... 8/10

Matt C: There’s a big part of me that has nothing but admiration for what Jonathan Hickman is attempting to achieve with this audacious series. There is, however, another (albeit smaller) part of me that wonders whether this is all just a bunch of mumbo jumbo that’s never going to lead anywhere. There’s a plentiful supply of “ooooh” moments littered throughout the issue (as there were with the preceding miniseries) but it does sometimes look like we’re being given a succession of teases without any payoffs. Having seen what Hickman has achieved with Fantastic Four and FF I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, as he’s clearly a man who takes the long-term approach to his storytelling, and Weaver’s art remains a gorgeous and versatile treat. Hopefully things will start becoming a little clearer soon though as there’s only so much headscratching I’m prepared to fork out $3.99 an issue for. 7/10

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

James R: Another month, another spectacular issue of Sweet Tooth - Jeff Lemire just doesn't know how to create mediocre books! This issue sees the drama in the 'Endangered Species' arc ratchet up a notch as Haggarty and co. catch up with the rest of Jeppard's survivors, with truly shocking results. We also gain an insight into the mind of Doctor Singh as he continues to meditate on his mission to take Gus north and his growing fear of Tekkeitsertock - the white demon whom Gus' father feared so much. What's dazzling in this book is threefold: firstly, the way Lemire keeps the plot plates spinning, adding new levels of intrigue every month; secondly the way in which he makes you care (and fear!) for his characters; and thirdly, his understanding of how comics work. Chris Ware once said that 'Drawing is a way of thinking' - the illustrated image, when used properly, can play with time and juxtapose ideas that other artforms cannot. It's an absolute joy to see Lemire demonstrating a mastery of this way of thinking every month. Long may it continue! 9/10

Writer: Robert Kirkman
Art: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Todd McFarlane & FCO Plascencia
Image $2.99

Stewart R: Oh Kirkman, you crafty devil you! What we’re given in this issue is a neat line in almost-an-answer-but-actually-here’s-another-question-instead moments as we discover a little more about Daniel Kilgore’s strange existence as the ghostly apparition that can bond with his brother to form the hero known as Haunt. Kirkman teases us with a little more knowledge about how the brothers’ bonding works and what it could mean to the two of them in the long term. He also shows that there are far greater powers at play but does so in a grin-inducing and of course frustrating way that doesn’t reveal anything about those mysterious forces pulling the strings. The moments where Daniel interacts with the strange ‘voice’ are captured very effectively by Capullo who keeps things incredibly simple and uses the white space well to provide the strange void-like setting that the deceased hero finds himself in. It’s a shame to hear that he’ll be stepping off Haunt shortly having got the job working on September’s Batman #1, especially when he and Kirkman can put an issue together like this. Another great instalment of one of Image’s best books. 8/10

Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha & M.Hands
Marvel $1.25

Matt C: Although he’d set his sights on wiping out the multiverse, the Beyonder has a change of heart, deciding that maybe to truly understand what drives humankind he must forsake immortality and become one of them. Unfortunately he’s caused so much mayhem since he arrived on Earth that there are now a great many people who are not prepared so suffer his flights of fancy any longer. This isn’t quite the epic finale it could be as, when it comes down to it, the main battle is between the Beyonder and Molecule Man, and in Shooter’s hands the Molecule Man is a major whiny irritant (to put it mildly). There’s a ton of cameos as various superheroes band together for the final confrontation with the Beyonder, but where the writer managed to capture the essence of various characters in bitesize chunks very well in the original Secret Wars series, here most of them are utilized in a perfunctory manner, often appearing to do nothing more than provide exposition. The last couple of pages work well though, and the odd panel form Milgrom is quite powerful, but really this whole issue is emblematic of the entire series: a bold idea that inevitably slipped through the Shooter’s grasp, even if he did conjure up some fine moments along the way. 6/10


Anonymous said...

I feel really bad for trade-waiting on Criminal, but I'd rather have it on my bookshelf in hardback than in a longbox in singles...

Also, Moon Knight getting a 3/10 - This does not bode well. I thought issue 1 was passable, and will stay on board if it picks up pace, I really want it to be good as well...

Joe T said...

I've got to say, this was probably the worst week I've ever had for comics this week.

Amazing Spider-Man, it's just meh. Nothing's happened, and it just wasn't believable. The Spider-Island concept is pathetic, and I don't know if I can be bothered with this title anymore. It's a shame really as Spider-Man was, and near enough always has been my favourite superhero, and the reason I even began collecting comics

Fear Itself-this event is very close to being labelled abysmal in my book. That "shock" death? It wasn't a shock, it's been solicited for months, we've seen the cover, and the teasers. Well done Marvel, great job of covering up a surprise. Marvel really should go the route of Blackest Night with this event, in which certain issues had no details released about them, until the previous issue was released. Not impressed here at all. One of the worst events I've ever come across, killing off one of my favourite characters in this whole bit to bring in new, movie going readers, which will not happen.

Flashpoint. This wasn't bad. Wasn't anything spectacular, and I'm not entirely sold on the new Kubert art, but it was a decent read. I'm very intrigued to see where this is going, how it leads to the DC relaunch, and if Geoff Johns can continue to prove he is a capable writer.

Moon Knight. I'm disgusted I even bought this. I loved last issue, but this, this was terrible. Bendis is another writer, who has lost every ounce of talent. Nothing he has produced imo since Secret Invasion has been worth reading, or noteworthy.

Uncanny X-Force. Even this lost it's magic this issue! The artwork was very nice, with some good action sequences, but it failed to do much else, except set up the rest of the arc. Nowhere near as bad as issue 9(which really was abysmal), but hardly the greatest installment of the series.

I am well & truly gutted by this weeks purchases.

Matt Clark said...

I thought it was a pretty good week all told. Some stuff wasn't as good as it could (should?) have been, but any week where a new Criminal debuts is a good week in my book!

A couple of titles not mentioned here that would have been mentioned if I had the time(!) were Who Is Jake Ellis? (turning into an excellent miniseries) and Superboy (back on form after a couple of weak issues, shame Lemire will be off it come the reboot). Oh, and I had a blast with Uncanny X-Force which has quickly become one of my favourite reads from Marvel.

Plenty of good comics out there, Joe!

Joe T said...

I gave them a re-read, and I've warmed to some more than others. First, I was a bit harsh on both Uncanny X-Force and Amazing Spider-Man. Uncanny X-Force was a solid book, one of the best titles from the big 2, and easily the best X-Men book, though I was hoping for this to be on the same outstanding level of the first arc. At the moment it's on level with the Deathlok nation art, though I much prefer the art here. This series has been very good from the start with the exception of issue 9. Amazing Spider-Man wasn't bad, just classic Spider-Man in the sense that I feel I've seen moments of this before. I have to give credit to the art team on this issue though, as they delivered something that looked like a cross between pre-Avengers Romita Jr & Daredevil Frank Miller.

Fear Itself still not impressed with. Moon Knight was still awful.
Thoughts on Flashpoint still remain positive.

Whilst there are good comics out there, I find it hard to jump into titles that aren't about superheroes(with the exception of Star Wars comics). Hopefully this is something that will change with the DC Relaunch as the "supernatural" titles such as Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E really jump out at me as having interesting concepts, and great creative teams.

Speaking of the relaunch, do we know Lemire won't be on Superboy post-relaunch?

Stewart R said...

I'm no reader of Superboy myself but Bleeding Cool have just posted a story that Scott Lobdell will be taking on the reigns on Superboy #1 for DC...

Joe T said...

Yeah, I saw that recently. Today they've shown the cover art for it, along with Superman by George Perez(writing and art) Supergirl by Michael Green and Mike Johnson with Mahmud A. Asrar presumably on art,and then the cover to the Scott Lobdell Superboy


I'm not overly keen on the design for Superman as he appears to be wearing armour (to which I can't see the need) though I am pleased to see Perez is drawing the "S" much closer to the iconic one we know and love as appose to Jim Lee's rendition. I actually really like the Supergirl redesign, and feel this should be what is applied to Superman, if he had blue legs and the classic boots. That Superboy though? I think I'm more offended than that by Barbara Gordon as Batgirl.

I've actually been mostly all for the relaunch, though I can't say I'm overly keen on the new Superman stuff-though Perez on a monthly sounds good to me!