3 Jul 2011

Mini Reviews 03/07/2011

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.

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico & Andy Troy
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Back at the beginning of the century Paul Jenkins used to be one of the go-to guys at Marvel but recently he’s been given the reins of lower profile books that haven’t really troubled the sales charts. All-Winners Squad is unlikely to break that trend, but with a WWII set Captain America movie less than a month away there are bound to be people – like me – on the look out for some wartime Cap action, and this looks like it will fit the bill. For a start, it’s subtitle Band Of Heroes should give you an indication of the approach Jenkins is taking with this – there’s a definite sense that he’s trying to transplant as much of the tone of Spielberg and Hanks astonishing TV series as he can into a world of super-powered individuals, and so far it’s working. Di Giandomenico last visited this period (to my knowledge) with the exceptional Magneto Testament so it’s a pleasure to see him return with such strong, stirring artwork. The modern day sequences are intriguing and the battle scenes capture the right sense of nervous exhilaration. If you enjoy Marvel’s sojourns to the earlier part of the 20th century (see also the current Mystery Men mini) and like the idea of Captain America leading a crack team of soldiers through war torn Europe, this debut issue is likely to be up your street. 8/10

Writer: John Rozum
Art: Frazer Irving
DC $2.99

Stewart R: This fourth instalment offers a nice reflective breather following the breakneck pace of the first three issues but doesn’t show any drop in quality. Rozum takes this opportunity - a hastily organised yet very entertaining breakfast and debriefing for this group of paranormal heroes - to expand upon Annie’s mysterious backstory and that of the magnificent flying strongholds that circle the globe. Thanks to Irving’s keen hand there’s a dark mood lurking through the mystical and fantastical tale of near-immortals and fortresses containing the many forgotten secrets of the ages, and it’s his adept use of colouration that helps to sell the grandeur of these locales and the betrayal that the patrons of the Skull Stronghold were subjected to. Rozum seems to be shaping this up for the long haul by painting such a broad canvas and I for one would really, really like to see this series survive beyond DC’s September of madness. Well worth picking up these first four issues if you can, folks. 9/10

Writer: Allan Heinberg
Art: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay, Dave Meikis & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This series has been going for a year now and depending on how the schedule pans out we may not reach the conclusion until early 2012, which seems a little strange for a nine-part story. Stranger still is that as the Marvel Universe moves on apace we’re still reading through an alternate-reality that harks back to M-Day and those famous three words that Wanda Maximoff uttered in her sheer despair... ’No more mutants’. It’s that precise point that Heinberg chooses to focus upon here bringing two teams of mutants into the fray and expanding the scope and the contributing cast of characters almost to breaking point (but not quite!). I certainly enjoy his writing style and he manages to wring a decent variety of characterization from all involved but this is becoming less about the Children’s Crusade now and more about the greater impact these events would have had had this been set in the Marvel’s ‘standard timeline’. There’s not much about Jim Cheung’s superb art that hasn’t been said before and credit to the three inkers involved for I haven’t been able to see where one’s work ends and another’s starts. It’s still suffering slightly from the two month gap between chapters but there’s evidence here that Heinberg may possibly be a contender for a Marvel Architect job in the future if he maintains this level of event-writing up. 7/10

Writer: Scott Snyder & Lowell Francis
Art: Gene Ha & Art Lyon
DC $2.99

James R: I know I'm probably the most pro-DC of the Paradox boys, but still, I'm really enjoying Flashpoint. I like that you don't need to read every tie-in to get what's going on, and best of all, I've been impressed with the work that's gone in to make this alternate reality as convincing a world as possible. Batman: Knight Of Vengence is corking, and Frankenstein And The Creatures Of The Unknown has started strongly, and now I can add a fourth title to my Flashpoint reading. I was expecting to read about how Superman has fared in this altered world, but pleasingly enough Snyder and Francis start somewhere unexpected with the story of Lieutenant Sinclair, a guinea pig for the military, and we follow his progress over decades as he gains (and begins to abuse) his Kryptonian-esque powers. This reminded me of Warren Ellis when he's writing about the true cost of being superpowered (No Hero and Black Summer for example) and it's all the better for that. I would have enjoyed this even if it wasn't a Flashpoint title, and the final page suggests that things will be even more dramatic next month with the introduction of a certain Kryptonian. Way more fun than a three-issue tie-in has any right to be! 8/10

Matt C: I haven’t really ventured outside of the main Flashpoint mini into the realms of the related tie-ins but the idea of Scott Snyder working with Gene Ha was too tempting to resist. It’s a case of Snyder providing the plot again though, with Francis taking on scripting chores, and while this is a fairly solid piece of comic book writing the premise is just a tad too familiar to really mark itself out. Government created superman who gradually becomes more resentful as his power increases… yeah, you may well have read something with a similar set-up in recent years, but although some punchy art from Ha and an interesting twist at the end exhibit potential, I’m kind of thinking it’ll have to be a quiet week to make me come back for issue #2. 6/10

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

Matt C: Now into its second year, this brilliant supernatural Western remains an essential read. The characters have become steadily more complex, and therefore more compelling, and if it initially looked like the series only had one trick, that impression’s been completely eradicated. Bunn proves here that he has plenty of material left in the vault to provide Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief with hair-raising adventures. Hurtt’s art, backed with Crabtree’s colours, avoids the gritty, ragged approach you might imagine would suit the setting better, but the bright, forceful visuals are entirely successful in evoking the ghostly slant on the Wild West to the point where you can’t imagine any other artistic team bringing these characters to life. While it utilizes many recognisable genre elements (cowboys chasing down a steam train!) it’s always inventive and never predictable; The Sixth Gun hits its target every issue. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque & Dave McCaig
Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: Things are looking bleak for the squad of specially trained vampire hunters as the plans of their Japanese captors becoming apparent and a horrendous end looks inevitable for poor Henry and the calculating Skinner Sweet. Snyder moves Pearl a little closer to the action as she sets out to save her love but he doesn’t throw her right into the midst of it yet so we’re left wondering whether she’ll make it in time to be able to make a difference. Always a writer who seems to recognise that the smallest of character parts mean something to a bigger story, Snyder fleshes out Henry’s squad mates even when they’ve played their final part in the action and it’s that level of detail that has made this series the hit that it is today. Even the small glint of hope that he offers towards the end of this issue is tempered by those scenes that he and Rafael Albuquerque showed us at the very start of this arc and ‘gripping’ doesn’t quite cover how well this comic has its claws into me. 8/10

Writer: Joe Casey
Art: Mike Huddleston
Image $2.99

James R: Four issues in and Butcher Baker continues to be a fist full of entertainment. Reading his excellent, freewheeling backmatter (no matter how many times I write it, I still cringe at that word!) Casey puts across a great argument that, for me, sums up this series perfectly. Casey says there is a dichotomy in comics - that comic books are simultaneously a disposable and a non-disposable medium. I think he's right - for the most part, comics should be fun and throwaway, but at the same time, most of us want them to be taken seriously (and reviewed seriously!). Butcher Baker reads like a mix of these two ideas. On one hand, it's a take on a classic trope - a group of villains work together to take down their heroic nemesis - but on top of this, Butcher Baker himself is a man questioning his place in the world and realising that he is expendable… and disposable. It also looks brilliant - Mike Huddleston is doing a great job and each page sizzles with a psychedelic energy, and the painted finishes on the final page show he's got a slew of tricks up his sleeve. All this for $2.99? A bargain and more fun than driving a juggernaut through Iraq! 8/10

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

James R: So much goodness from Snyder and Jock this month it's hard to know where to begin! Alright, I'll start with the obvious: this book continues to be the best superhero comic on the racks, and I hope that all of you are reading it! This issue sees the culmination to the Tiger Shark arc, and also sees Dick having to escape from a classic trap, giving Jock the chance to showcase his considerable talents. As much as I loved The Losers, I think he's definitely producing the best work of his career at the moment. It's also been pleasing to see Snyder add a new villain or two to the Gotham rogue's gallery - I loved Tiger Shark's minion-sacrificing psychopathy and the clues that he's part of a much older organisation makes me hope we'll see him after the reboot. But Snyder leaves the best 'til last - I always say that if a comic makes me gasp or exclaim out loud then it's a slice of pure gold, and yikes-a-hooty, the final pages of this issue both freaked me out (again, incredible pencils from Jock and colours from David Baron) with a payoff that's been coming since the first issue of Snyder's run. The character of Batman was once described as the American Nightmare compared to the American Dream embodied by Superman, and in Scott Snyder's hands, it's a nightmare I don't want to wake up from. 9/10

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

Matt C: It’s hugely gratifying to see Scalped reach its fiftieth issue. An often brutal and disturbing series, it’s tapped into some dark truths about the human condition that many comic writers would usually shy away from. But, no matter how ugly it gets, it never wallows in abject misery, and frequently highlights that even in the bleakest of situations, man has the stubborn capacity to find the faintest glimmer of hope and latch onto it. This issue looks back along Dashiell Bad Horse’s family tree, focusing on – yes! – the practice of scalping, using it to display how, after being constantly beaten down, the Native American people refuse to give in to the ‘white man’ (they simply do so in other ways now than they did during the Civil War era). Aaron and Guéra rope in a bunch of famous artistic chums to celebrate this milestone with a succession of potent pin-up pages. We may be inching ever closer to the conclusion but Scalped remains just as powerful as ever. 9/10

Writers: Christos N.Gage & Rob Williams
Art: Lee Weeks, Tom Palmer, Matt Hollingsworth, Ben Oliver, Veronica Gandini
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: I only picked up Iron Age: Alpha #1 on Andy H’s recommendation and his light waving of the issue in front of my face in Paradox. Despite a promising story I wasn’t convinced that this miniseries was going to be worth picking up and at $4.99 - a price that Marvel seem to be hitting with a worrying regularity these days - I was weary about investing my money. Well, as usual, I’m glad that I did as the two chapters of Tony Stark’s desperate quest to save the world and the future that Gage and Williams deliver are of a very high standard. Thanks to Lee Weeks somewhat classic style, the initial Avengers story really does have a retro ‘80s feel to it, working well as Tony recalls all of the grief that he caused in his lost years and the trials and losses that his teammates will have to live through and how he mustn’t intervene if he’s to complete his mission. The second story from Williams then looks at the fine line any hero must tread when dealing with events of a time-travelling nature as Tony is presented with an opportunity to ensure that the Earth’s destruction at the hands of Donald Birch never occurs but with a high ethical cost to be paid. Williams involves Captain Britain, which adds a nice touch of comic history and brings a true feeling of a globetrotting adventure to the page. It all comes together to form a great comic read and even the obscure Only Fools And Horses reference works well - how often would you hear that said on this blog? 8/10


Matt Clark said...

Stew, I'm pretty sure the events in Children's Crusade are supposed to be canon and will affect the wider Marvel Universe. I don't think it's a alternate reality type of thing.

Tom P said...

Yeah that's right, it said in the first issue It will snap into current continuity at some point.

Stewart R said...

Really? Wow, that's a little crazy considering how long it's taking to tell the tale. Obviously they'll have people checking how it's all coming together but still...