31 Jul 2011

Mini Reviews 31/07/2011

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.

Writers: Ed Brubaker & Marc Andreyko
Art: Chris Samnee & Bettie Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Ever since Brubaker teased us with some exhilarating Invaders flashbacks in his early issues of Captain America plenty of fans have been begging him to do a full blown Invaders series. This isn’t quite that – not yet at least – but it’s the closest we’ve got so far and as an opener it’s pretty damn special. This is basically another look at Bucky’s origin, but it’s well paced and surprisingly moving, suggesting great things are ahead of us with the title. Chris Samnee, whose work often clashed with Butch Guice’s grittier style in recent issues of Captain America, is completely in his element here. His retro-stylings add a layer of warmth to the proceedings, as well as providing a healthy dollop of stimulating action , beautifully coloured by Breitweiser. Using the original numbering may be a questionable decision on Marvel’s part but the quality of this ‘debut’ issue isn’t in any doubt. 8/10

Writers; David Baxter, Dave Elliot & Michael Benaroya
Art: Javier Aranda, Garry Leach & Jessica Kholinne
Image $1.00

Stewart R: Hmmm, has anyone written about a post-apocalyptic landscape before? No? I’m sure there was this comic that one time... Yup, once again a group of comic creators are exploring the well-trodden 'downfall of society and the corruption of mankind as we try to survive in a harsher and far more dangerous world' scenario. This time however, the vision put across by Baxter, Aranda et al is one that could actually come about in the not too distant future (it’s especially poignant when the US and the rest of the world nervously looks at the financial deadline looming this Tuesday!) I like the focus on the environment and dwindling resources as well as the interesting religious slant that Baxter adds to the plot to highlight the differences between the warring factions. The America that the creative team has created is part Mad Max desert wasteland, part technological oasis and reminds me somewhat of the stark feel of the Fallout series of videogames. The art’s pretty decent though there are a few strange angles and blank stares on some of the cast to be found throughout. I’ll also be waiting for some real characterisation to rear its head soon for protagonist Drake McCoy as he’s a touch one dimensional at the moment but mysteries and plot threads surfacing in this debut suggest that we’ll get to know a lot more about him over the next few issues. Reasonable for the price tag and I’ll be back for a second helping at least. 6/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Jock & Dave Baron
DC Comics $2.99

James R: It’s been another outstanding week for comics, and once again I had to perform all kind of difficult equations before settling on Detective as my book of the week. Why? Because this issue sees Scott Snyder demonstrating a skill that's incredibly difficult to pull off in comics - pacing that wouldn't feel amiss in the best movie thrillers. When reading a comic it is, of course, easy to dictate your own pace as you read, but here Snyder produces a script that compels you to burn through the pages, and once again gives us a jaw-dropping finale. Snyder has been ably supported by an equally talented pair of illustrators - Fancesco Francavilla produces dark and moody visuals that have set the tone for this series, but Jock's pencils are a cut above. His panel design is beautiful, a nice balance for his frankly terrifying images. Underneath all this, the plot focuses on vendettas and obsessions: the Joker's with Batman, and Barbara's with James Gordon. I know I've been saying this a lot, but I cannot remember the last time a Bat-book was this consistently good for such a long run. When it's collected, it'll be a majestic read, whereas at the moment it is an essential one! Darkness has never been so much fun. 9/10

Writer: John Rozum
Art: Frazer Irving
DC $2.99

Stewart R: This fifth instalment expands our knowledge of the floating castles dotted around the globe and highlights just what it is that makes the Skull Stronghold different from all of the others. Rozum allows David Kim and his friends to come up with a plan of action while offering small asides that add a few extra dimensions to some of these intriguing characters as well as expanding the very strange world in which this is all taking place. Pterodactyls, deceased giants of the Old Testament, henchmen with nothing but huge eyeballs for a head - this is one freaky show but it all works because every character is a touch bizarre for one reason or another and everything links together nicely. Rozum even takes the time to address the concerns that David has about his existence as a Xombi and whether he can continue to follow the old path of relationships that his life was treading before his transformation. For a $2.99 book there’s a great deal going on and all of it bloody enjoyable. I can only hope that the powers that be at DC are working their magic to make sure that this series continues as they’ll have one of the greatest books in their arsenal if they do! 8/10

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

Matt C: By Odin’s beard, could this be the first less-than-stellar issue of Mighty Thor? It just might be. I’m not saying this is a dud though – far from it, in fact. The art is eye-poppingly good, with some exquisite fight choreography on display as we watch the confrontation erupt between supremely powerful beings. Particularly impressive is the way Fraction et al handle the Odin vs Galactus scenes, refraining from fisticuffs in favour of presenting it as a battle of minds, with each combatant pulling the other’s worst fears from the darkest recesses of their psyches. Positives aside, it does seem very brief. Sure, there’s lots going on, with some great character interplay interspersed amongst the action, but it did leave me wanting at the end. Important as part of a whole, but on its own not as fulfilling a chapter as it could have been. 7/10

James R: Clash of the Titans ahoy! This month sees Galactus and Odin going head-to-head (or, as it turns out, mind-to-mind) while Thor trades blows with the Silver Surfer. This time out, I've got to focus on the beautiful pencils of Olivier Coipel, as it's his artistry that really makes the issue work. We find out that when you're as powerful as Odin or Galactus, you don't fight a peer in the conventional way - you have to defeat their mind. As a result, we get to see the two heavyweights engage in psychic assaults. Coipel draws the Kirby-esque world of Galactus when he was still Galan, and the mythological past of Odin's youth with deft skill - it's a total treat for the eyes. As a cherry on top of this visual feast, we also get Thor throwing himself full pelt at Galactus' head, with suitably spectacular results. I feel particularly cut off from the Marvel Universe at the moment - I don't think that the House of Ideas has got many compelling ones on offer, but this book is certainly making up for it. A suitably epic title for the Gods of the Marvel Universe. 8/10

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Daryl Gregory
Art: Scott Godlewski & Stephen Downer
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: This fine series reaches its conclusion, an opened-end one at that, so potentially we’ll see the story pursued further at a later date. For now we get to see how the final confrontation between Conrad and Dracula plays out with Evan working as many angles as he can to achieve his goals. It perhaps lost some of the more interesting elements it had early on, when Dracula taking on the modern world through global corporations, and began to rely on a more formulaic clash between good and evil, but it was well-written, the art always held the attention and it was a cut above a lot vampire literature currently doing the rounds. If you fancy adding a bit of blood-sucking mayhem to you ‘To Read’ pile, you could do a lot worse than seeking the collected version of this book when it arrives. 7/10

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

Stewart R: What an exhilarating issue this is with the surviving members of Henry’s squad and Skinner Sweet attempting their daring escape from the Japanese vampire farm in the Pacific. Snyder always manages to add an extra ‘something’ to any of his titles and I particularly liked Henry’s inner-monologued recollection of his first battlefield encounter as he and his comrades go up against nigh impossible odds when fighting for their freedom. By giving Sweet an enemy that could realistically spell the end for him, Snyder ensures that the danger levels remain ramped up throughout and it’s refreshing to see the first American Vampire and veteran Henry fighting side-by-side towards a mutual goal and it made me want both parties to make it through the prison facility more or less unharmed. The art from Albuquerque is to his usual high standard with some particularly nice work on delivering emotion through the characters' eyes; shock, weariness, doubt and fear all come through very well indeed. Yes, it’s a shame that writer and artist have a little mix up with ‘right and left’ when it comes to one character’s arm but that’s the only negative thing in a damn fine issue. 8/10

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

James R: In the back of this issue, the brilliant Ed Brubaker rather humbly says "I hope the rest of the story lives up to the hype." Well, I can safely say that this perfectly crafted noir tale is not only living up to the hype, it's exceeding it. This month sees Riley Richard's nefarious plan to murder his wife played out. Once again, Brubaker cuts back to Riley's youth (wonderfully illustrated by Phillips and Staples in the best Archie tradition) and we learn more about how Riley came to be married to such a Femme Fatale and we're given more clues about the murders that haunt Brookview. The character development is superb, and Brubaker shows that he's not only a great student of the noir genre, but he's quickly becoming a master of it too. The creative team even manage to throw in a nod to Frederic Weretham's Seduction of the Innocent in the last page - Wertham was particularly worried about images in crime and horror comics that showed eyes stabbed or gouged, and it's a savvy nod from a classy book. Here's hoping that Brubaker, Phillips and Staples have got plenty more dastardly schemes on the drawing board. 9/10

Matt C: The Last Of The Innocent follows a classic noir template – man finds himself boxed in by his life, aware that his wife’s cheating on him, thinks back to paths he could have travelled earlier on, decides to commit the perfect crime and bump his missus off. What raises it above potboiler status is the delivery; Brubaker gets right inside the head of his protagonist and, in turn, the protagonist gets right inside our head. He may be plotting to take a life but the level of honesty he displays makes him much nearer to a sympathetic character than you’d think. The Archie-esque flashbacks continue to be a brilliantly effective device for relaying a past that was never quite as innocent as the visuals suggest. Exceptional on every level, Criminal continues to go from strength to strength. 9/10

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