17 Jul 2011

Mini Reviews 17/07/2011

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: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve McNiven , Mark Morales & Justin Ponsor
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: Is this the third Captain America #1 I’ve bought over the last 10 years? Okay, so Marvel’s renumbering fixation can be tad annoying (especially when you’re trying to file your collection!) but it’s just the nature of the beast these days, so there’s no point moaning incessantly about it. Instead we need to focus on what’s between the covers, and what’s between these covers is pretty good. Not great though; not yet at least. Let’s start with the best thing about it: Steve McNiven’s art. For me, this guy just gets better and better, and when paired up with an inker like Morales, someone who knows how to extract the best out of pencilled layouts, the results are pretty special. The dynamism in some of the images is so effective it feels like certain panels move. I’ve got no complaints about Brubaker’s script on the whole, but there is a worry that he’s relying too heavily on the espionage-infused-tale-with-ties-to-Cap’s-wartime-past template. It’s still good, but it’s not as refreshing as it was when the book was previously relaunched. I still had a blast with it, and it’s great to have Rogers back in the costume, but I had hoped for something a little punchier for this debut. 7/10

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra & Rachelle Rosenberg
Image $3.50

Matt C: It’s good to see Hickman back at the helm of an indie book as it was his creator-owned work at Image (in particular Pax Romana) that had me and my fellow Paradoxers frothing with praise not so very long ago. Red Wing shows a lot of promise as Hickman applies his usual brand of sci-fi intelligence to a future where time-travelling armies conduct a war across the ages. I’m glad there’s no exposition dump but I did look for a little more explanation as to why this war is being fought (and between whom?) and as has happened before, you wonder whether the idea is simply too big to cram into a four-issue miniseries. Quibbles aside though, it’s an intriguing opener - Pitarra’s art gives it the flavour of a European graphic novel and with a cliffhanger like that there’s no way I won’t be picking up the next issue! 7/10

Stewart R: Wow, an Image #1 that failed to really impress me! Through this first chapter we see glimpses of a conflict that is crossing through time but get little or no exposition to explain who is fighting and what they are fighting for. Then things shift to focus on two young pilots who have a family legacy tied closely to the start of the war and their initial moves to follow in their fathers’ chronological footsteps. This is Hickman doing science-fiction and time travel in his usual style but for me, being a reader of his other works, it feels that he’s just addressing a few ideas that he’s not been able to explore fully in issues of S.H.I.E.L.D. or FF over at Marvel and there’s not much in his script here that really grabs me. Much of the ‘Wow’ factor is left to Nick Pitarra who does a fine job of depicting the time-transcending warfare and flight with a particularly terrific page which details the unfortunate demise of one poor pilot. Considering that this is only going to take four issues to wrap up I may stick around for pure curiosity’s sake but I’ve a nasty feeling that this is Hickman trying to pull a little bit of a ‘Mark Millar’ experiment on us and that’s a model I’d personally like to see him avoid. 5/10

James R: Jonathan Hickman is a pretty divisive figure amongst the Paradox group - there are some that think his run on Fantastic Four/FF is a work of patient genius, one that's building up to spectacular heights, whereas there are others who find his endless procrastinating plotlines to be frustrating. However, most of us are agree that his work with Image is something special - Nightly News, Pax Romana and Transhuman were terrifically idiosyncratic and inventive books. As a result, it's brilliant to seeing him hitting those grooves again with his first issue of Red Wing. In short, it's a time travel story - mankind has cracked the eternal conundrum of time travel, and have used the technology to wage war across the eons. Our story focuses on a father and son - both fighter pilots in TACs (Temporal Attack Crafts) - and we follow the story of the father, thought dead when his ship hit the 'temporal wall', and his son who begins his training to follow in his father's footsteps. What’s brilliant here is Hickman's skill in making an idea-heavy issue without making it read like a lecture, and his use of the language of comics. As the fighters jump across time, they cross the distinctive 'walls' of each panel, an effect skilfully rendered by Nick Pitarra. At only four issues long, it looks like Hickman is going to carry this one on at full throttle - you should really track it down before time runs out! 9/10

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: I’d been out of the X-Universe for a good few years before the brilliance of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force reopened the door for me and with news of Jason Aaron (writer of the incomparable Scalped) getting heavily involved in directing the mutant’s future I decided now was the time to walk straight through that door to discover if I liked what I saw. And you know what? I was pretty damned impressed by X-Men: Schism #1. The thing that really struck me is how well Aaron handled the relationship between Cyclops and Wolverine – they’ve had their ups and downs but there’s a really solid bond between them, and it shines through here. It’s no secret that they’re going to fall out big time in this series, but Aaron wisely starts by focusing on what they’ll lose when that happens. There are plenty more great characters moments and some effective action sequences (superbly rendered by Pacheco – check out that double-page Sentinel attack!) but I can’t deny there was something of a flaw slap-bang in the middle of it. The event that sets the ball rolling, causing rapid escalation in anti-mutant sentiment, doesn’t really convince – I won’t get into spoilers but surely people trust politicians so little these days that they’re unlikely to be totally shocked by ‘scandalous’ revelations of this nature? Fortunately the strength of the writing and art doesn’t make this a major concern, and I’m happy to say I’ll be sticking around for more. 8/10

Stewart R: So Marvel gears up for its big fraction of the X-Men with this hefty debut of Schism but it’s not quite what I expected. I figured that with only five parts/months to get through before the big split this would get stick in straight away and we’d have Cyclops and Wolverine barking at each other just like it was in the good old days. Aaron resists this however, electing instead to show just why this understanding and friendship between the two men has worked for as long as it has with Scott now willing to act as the leader his people and Wolverine willing to support his vision. The political slant of the plot gets a thumbs up from me as the governments of the world are asked to reveal and decommission their weapons of mutant destruction in light of the dwindled population and then - BAM! - another reason for everyone to get jittery raises its ugly head and those with X-genes need to be on the alert. Pacheco delivers on every level, be it action sequences, a varied montage of nations readying their Sentinels, or quainter moments dealing with the day to day living that the X-kids are experiencing. The true villain Aaron brings to the table should make things interesting and his introduction here certainly makes for fascinating reading. I’m locked in for sure but I’m still not 100% convinced that this fracture can be sold to us in a further four issues. 8/10

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Mark Irwin, Gabe Eltaeb & Randy Mayor
DC $2.99

Stewart R: After much toe-tapping and finger-drumming we finally get to see how the War of the Green Lanterns concludes and, for the most part, it is a success. Johns resists the urge to show too much of the battle against the possessed Guardians and keeps the focus squarely on Hal Jordan and his fight to defeat Krona. This is possibly to do with DC’s stand at keeping this to 22 pages for the $2.99 and I personally wouldn’t have minded paying an extra dollar to have this wrapped up in a more fleshed out fashion. A lot was made about the entities and the possession of the emotionally-repressed Guardians but that hasn’t really been touched upon and it’ll go down as an opportunity missed. The final confrontation with Krona is breathtaking though, offering up the odd surprise - which will be taken through to the September relaunch - allowing Mahnke and colourists Eltaeb and Mayor the chance to really have some fun. We get a brief look at the fallout from this conflict and the line that the Guardians are taking in light of the events that have unfolded and it thankfully seems that many of the threads left unfinished will be looked at in months to come. It’s not perfect but as far as event conclusions go this is far better than Blackest Night. 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Francesco Francavilla
DC $2.99

James R: Scott Snyder just doesn't know how to let up! After the last stunning instalment with Jock he's back with his other Detective collaborator Francesco Francavilla to deliver yet another brilliant issue. The focus swings back to Jim Gordon and his wayward son, James. After the previous bombshell finale this time we deal with Gordon's realisation about his son's true nature, whilst we're also treated to Scott Snyder's take on the Joker as he breaks out of Arkham. This might be an idea that you've read or seen a hundred times before, but with this creative team he's creepier than he has been in years. It’s a triumphant, breathless read because while there’s virtually no widescreen action or set-pieces it drives forward with incredible speed. Francavilla impressed me yet again - his colours giving the pages a nightmarish feel, and his rendering of the cast's faces - all mostly done in claustrophobic close-up – add to the effect. Snyder's run on Detective has been a treat, and although I’m sad it’s coming to an end, at the same time I'm giddy with excitement at what he's got in store for a rebooted Gotham in September... 9/10

Matt C: A tale of two psychos. One is flamboyant and colourful, the other quiet and nondescript. But is it really a case of ‘better the devil you know’? Snyder digs deep into the darker recesses of the human psyche for this issue as Jim and Barbara Gordon try to ascertain whether the recently returned James Gordon has really found his way back to sanity. Meanwhile, as we watch the Joker being carted around like Hannibal Lecter, up to his usual malevolent tricks, we begin to wonder whether someone more monstrous is hiding in plain sight. The creepy tone of Synder’s script is matched by some increasingly unnerving visuals from Francavilla, the prevalence of reds and blacks in his colour scheme taking us into the realms of serial killer horror. A fantastically dangerous issue of Detective, so good you barely notice the absence of the Dark Knight in any shape or form. 8/10

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

Matt C: My favourite aspect of this series so far is the scenes set during WW2 where we see the Specialized Unit, Enhanced Soldiers, aka the ‘Crazy S.U.E.S.’ (basically a unit of superpowered troops) go from bonding in the barracks onto the hellish battlefields of Guadalcanal. Jenkins doesn’t hide the fact that his template for the story is the likes of Band Of Brothers and The Pacific and he successfully transplants some of the intensity of combat seen in those series into comic book form (with added superheroics, obviously). Di Giandomenico does complete justice to the combat sequences – his unique style brings real emotion to the chaos. The contemporary scenes work well too as we step ever closer to the revelation we know is on the cards (although there is a WTF moment on the last page that has me scrabbling to figure out what could possibly come next!). Although he’s ever present here, the focus is not squarely on him, but even taking that into consideration, believe it or not, this is the best book featuring Captain America to hit the shelves this week. 8/10

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Art: Pere Perez & Guy Major
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Miller follows up last month’s London based jest-fest with an issue that starts to bring all of the threads together and shoots us towards the end of Stephanie Brown’s tenure as Batgirl (*sob*). Naturally this involves the continued machinations of the Reapers, who have been a thorn in her side for the later part of this series and who send Stephanie the most brutal of messages when dealing with one of her allies. The attack on the police station is swift, yet shows just how dangerous these meta-villains are and allows Stephanie’s maturity to come through in her response. There’s still the wisecracking that we’ve grown to love but it’s now tempered with a confidence that comes with our young heroine knowing that she’s worthy of this role. And speaking of roles, artist Perez has certainly grown into his and has done some sterling work throughout his run - I’m a big fan of his regular use of repeated background panels. The writing has of course allowed this to work particularly well and this time Miller gets to play with some nice cameos and even some nice publisher-spanning dialogue and nods that brings everything neatly together for the tasty cliffhanger which ensures that next month’s grand finale is unmissable. 8/10

Writer: Jason Latour
Art: Chris Brunner & Rico Renzi
12-Gauge Comics $3.99

Matt C: I’m familiar with – and have been impressed by – Jason Latour’s art when I’ve seen it in the past but just because he’s got the chops for illustration doesn’t mean his storytelling skills will translate across to penning words. Us fanboys are a cynical bunch when it comes down to it – we’re always a bit dubious when an artist switches to writing. Surely nobody could be that talented?! Turns out Latour knows exactly what he’s doing and bangs out one hell of a mesmerizing, atmospheric script that keeps its feet firmly on the wrong side of the tracks. Brunner brings the tale to life with the right balance of sexiness and sleaziness and Renzi adds his vivid colours to finish off the effect of making you feel like your walking into situations you’d normally run a mile from. A very strong debut and if your only complaint is that the larger format means it won’t fit into a comic box then you’re obviously grasping at straws! 8/10

Writer: Tony Bedard
Art: Daniel HDR, Keith Champagne & Nei Ruffino
DC $2.99

Stewart R: I’ve been regarding GLC as the lesser book of the trinity of Lantern titles in recent months but this post War of the Green Lanterns episode manages to convince me that Tony Bedard is a man who can write measured and emotional pieces. With Oa to be rebuilt (once again!) and thousands of wrongly recruited Green Lanterns to be dismissed, Bedard uses this opportunity to show just what it means to wear the ring while dealing with the guilt that John Stewart must now add to the pile that he constantly carries with him. Yeah, okay, so this story of resolving a conflict between two warring worlds has been seen before but Bedard crafts it in such a way to reflect certain political and ethical disputes still happening in the modern world today. The big win here I’m afraid to say is the replacement on art duties of Tyler Kirkham whose stark and hard art style I can’t imagine would have suited this emotive story. The pencil instead gets passed to Daniel HDR whose ability to capture facial emotions really shines through and helps to elevate this to a standard worthy of the Corps. 8/10

Writer: Keiron Gillen
Art: Doug Braithwaite & Ulises Arreola
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Does Fear Itself finally start making more sense here? Sort of. Gillen does a better job of tying the event into Asgardian mythology than Fraction has so far, that’s for sure. He’s focusing on things happening behind the scenes, deals being made between powerful, magical beings who each have their own reasons for wanting the Serpent to meet ultimate defeat. Running through this, with his own agenda, is young Loki, who proves to be more fiendishly clever, more devious than his former, older incarnation, if that’s even possible. Gillen has made Loki into an endlessly fascinating, complex character who is compelling because it’s impossible to second guess him. You never know what his next move will be and it’s a joy to follow his successive manipulations. Braithwaite’s art is outstanding: epic, regal and muscular, it’s given an otherworldly hue by Arreola’s bright, pastel colours. Hell, I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Journey Into Mystery is the best book Marvel are publishing right now. 9/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Sean Murphy & Dave Stewart
Vertigo $2.99

Stewart R: D’you ever get comics where you feel you have to stop halfway through because it’s just too good? That’s what I experienced when reading this week’s issue of Survival Of The Fittest. The combination of Snyder’s tense adventure script and Murphy’s immaculate line work is just superb. Starting with a haunting and vivid meeting between Felicia and the loathsome Skinner Sweet, Snyder ensures that we’re kept on our toes as Felicia and Cash’s little jaunt across to Nazi-occupied Romania is anything but predictable. Plane crashes, rescue plans and gothic castles; this has got the lot, but also has some touching moments as Felicia and Cash address the tension between the two of them and the things left unsaid. The creators hint at a possible attraction between the pair, both scarred deeply by their experiences with vampires, but hold back from that particular precipice for the moment. Not much else needs to be said apart from advising you to pick this and the debut issue up if you haven’t already as this is a miniseries to truly embrace. Epic. 10/10

Writer: Mike Mignola
Art: Duncan Fegredo & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics $2.99

James R: There's something brilliant about a comics creator suddenly producing their best work again after a lull - it's like they’ve found their way home! With Hellboy: The Fury Mignola is writing the kind of story that made me fall for Big Red in the first place - not just his own unique take on horror, but the huge apocalyptic themes and undying armies are all here. Duncan Fegredo is also turning in some of his finest work - it's difficult having to imitate Mignola's style, but he does a grand job of drawing the apocalyptic scenes (though - ulp - I hope our dear ol' Blighty makes it through this arc - we take a pounding this month!) but he also does the big, heavy-hitting stuff well too. It's great to see Mignola using threads and characters that are over a decade old and giving them such explosive payoffs. At the end of this issue, we're promised a conclusion next time - I have a creeping suspicion that it might not be the end for Hellboy, but after this high-octane episode I can't wait to see how this one ties up, and it's been a while since I thought that about any Hellboy tale. Corking stuff all round! 8/10


Joe T said...

Big week. My purchases were the latest Amazing Spider-Man, Detective Comics,and Green Lantern,FF, along with the latest Captain America relaunch.

With regards to Cap, I agree with Matt. It was a good story, and the art was absolutely gorgeous, but I found the plot a bit off a rehash of previously seen stories. How many times have we seen stories in which Cap faces the re-emergence of a long dormant threat from his days in the 2nd World War, or stories in which it turns out there's been yet another Super-Soldier Steve served with in the war. When Marvel put out these stories, it detracts from the idea of Cap being something special, unique and one of a kind-much like when DC reveal hundreds of thousands of living Kryptonian relatives of Superman. It's not a bad comic, but it's not outstanding. With the exception of the art-LOVED that shield throwing sequence. 7/10 seems like a fair score.

Now onto Detective Comics. From the reviews I've seen, most people seem to think this is the best of Synder's Detective issues so far. I disagree, whilst it was a good issue, it didn't grab me as much as previous installments. The art was great, and Synder's take on a certain famous over exposed Batman villain is rather chilling, yet some part of it still didn't win me over as much as previous installments. That said, it's still part of one of the best runs on a Batman title, and I'd rate it 8/10.

Green Lantern. I've not been impressed, at all, with the War Of The Green Lanterns crossover, feeling it has showcased everything that is wrong with the franchise. The same can be said for Geoff Johns tenure on the title, post Blackest Night. This issue was the best issue of the title in a long time, but still, not at the heights the title use to be. It still showcases the faults and silliness of the franchise but was closer to being good. The art was a step up from usual though, as the hundreds of thousands of inkers managed to maintain a more consistent style. The "shock reveal" was something I predicted when War Of The Green Lanterns was approaching release, so I can't say I felt the shock and excitement. More importantly, the reveal makes no logical sense. This puts the series a potentially interesting place, but between Brightest Day, this crossover, and the lackluster movie, the franchise has lost that feeling that made it so enjoyable, and I don't know if I will still be around for the relaunch. I certainly won't be getting the last issues of Emerald Warriors, Corps, or the Aftermath title.

Amazing Spider-Man though, whilst not receiving the greatest reviews online, was probably my read of the week. Other reviewers have complained that it's a filler issue, that doesn't do anything major even though the next issue is the beginning of the Spider-Island crossover. I strongly disagree. I like the quieter, more down to earth issues, as it showcases what makes Spider-Man different from other heroes, and why Peter Parker is such a likable hero. Considering the amount of focus of Spidey being in 2 Avengers teams, and the FF, this issue was exactly what was needed. The artwork was really nice, and the back up story was somewhat emotional. Maybe it didn't do a lot, maybe it was a bit of a filler issue, but it was enjoyable. I'm prepared to give this a 9/10

FF. Didn't like it. It was weak, and as I haven't read War Of The Kings, I'm not totally sure as to what happened. I love how Hickman writes the FF, but this issue did not feature them at all. I found it weak, and wasn't overly keen on the artwork either. 6/10 I'd say. Disappointing.

Wish I'd picked up the latest Journey Into Mystery, but instead decided to go for FF. What a mistake that was!

Matt Clark said...

I'm with you on GL, Joe. I guess I'll give the new #1 a look but it's no longer a priority. It was a much better book before Blackest Night.