14 Aug 2011

Mini Reviews 14/08/2011

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.


DETECTIVE COMICS #881
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Jock, Francesco Francavillia & David Baron
DC $3.99

Matt C: If we’re all being honest I don’t think anybody expected Scott Snyder’s run on Detective to be this good. Far from being ‘another Batman writer’, he’s well and truly made his mark with what amounts to a serial killer thriller storyline running through from his first issue, to this, his last (although, as we’ve seen from DC’s reboot solicitations, he’s far from done with Gotham). The reintroduction of Jim Gordon’s son, James, was an unexpected masterstroke, and the way Synder has steadily built up to this edge-of-your-seat finale has been thrilling to witness. Having not been remotely convinced by Grant Morrison’s take on the Dark Knight it was great to have a Bat-book back on my pull-list, and Snyder seemed to know exactly how to emphasise it was Dick under the cowl, not Bruce, by keeping it natural and not overdoing it. The other major ingredient to the success of this run is, unsurprisingly, the art. Jock and Francesco Francavilla have completely different styles – one more chaotically charged, the other calmer but conveying sinister undertones – but they complimented each other wonderfully, drawing the different emotional tones required to tell this twisted tale. A dark, gripping confirmation that Gotham will continue to be in ‘safe’ hands following the reboot. 9/10

James R: What to say? If you've had even a passing glance at this blog over the last year you would have seen nothing but fulsome praise for the team on Detective Comics. Without doubt, it has been my favourite superhero title, and I can't think of a single weak issue in the run. When DC stopped their policy of running a back-up strip, I was disappointed, as I loved the idea of the James Gordon tale running simultaneously with Dick Grayson's trials as Batman, but if anything it made the book even stronger. The close-up intensity of Francavilla's issues were a superb counterpoint to the kinetic action of Jock's, both of which were served up in a dark narrative that showed Scott Snyder has a brilliant take on Gotham. This month it all comes together to finish the 'Black Mirror' arc, and of course it's brilliant - again! If, for some reason, you've missed the run, then wait for the collected edition - you'll be in for a huge treat. For everyone else who has, like me, avidly followed the story, all that remains is to say a huge thank you to the creative team... and roll on Batman #1! 9/10


FEAR ITSELF #5
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: This chapter has been given the title ‘Brawl’ by Fraction and that is indeed just what it is as Thor takes on the hammer-wielding monstrosities that are the transformed Hulk and Ben Grimm while Captain America takes on the transformed Sin. Stuart Immonen shows just why he was brought in to capture this event on paper and does a fine job of depicting the bone-crunching confrontation. One thing I have noticed is that, unlike other event artists, he doesn’t seem too keen on utilising splash pages which does keep the action feeling just a little confined on occasion but that’s a negligible niggle! The bigger problem is the one part of this issue that really made me smile; I applaud Fraction for what he does here with Franklin Richards as it makes some kind of sense and adds an extra pinch of emotional weight but it also opens a problematic can of worms for me as there’s now a big old glaring solution to this whole scenario. Even at this late stage the actual beef between the Serpent and Odin is still yet to be clarified along with the intricate motives of their battle plans. Fraction may well address these areas next issue but if he doesn’t then I may start to question if that inconspicuous ball on the floor over there has originated from his hands! 6/10

Matt C: Is this the moment where those shepherding the direction of the Marvel Universe (as a whole rather than some of the entertaining individual strands) finally lose their way? With DC about to unleash its New 52, the focus has really shifted onto that publisher, but it’s not surprising so many are looking in that direction if this is the best Marvel has to offer. It’s a goddamn shame really, because while Matt Fraction has putting out some of the best (and smartest) comics for the House of Ideas recently with Invincible Iron Man and Mighty Thor, he seems completely out of his depth here. Is this really what we want from our big events these days, a succession of punch-ups between various super-powered folk that become more impressive in terms of scope and scale (and that’s down to the art, mostly) but offer less and less in the way of emotional depth or connection. I really couldn’t give a shit about what’s going on here anymore, it’s just a lot of bluster and noise held together with a very slender ‘plot’ and while the art is pretty fantastic, the only real reason I’m seeing this through is because I’ve already got this far and my completist nature wants to finish what I started. That aside, this is nothing more than a gargantuan disappointment. 3/10


RED WING #2
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: NIck Pitarra & Rachelle Rosenberg
Image $3.50

James R: Without wanting to sound like a scratched record, once again I have to say that I love Jonathan Hickman when he's free of the constraints of the Marvel Universe (excluding S.H.I.E.L.D.!). In the second issue of Red Wing he shows us why he's such a talent. I'm always on the lookout for comic creators who do something different with the medium - I love a well-crafted superhero tale as much as the next fanboy but it's when someone stretches the limits of a narrative that I really sit up and take notice. Here Hickman does away with panels and presents four pages of a repeating image, subtly altered every time to mark the passage of time. It's a beautiful effect, and Hickman uses it to reflect on both war and family - quickly emerging as the themes of this book. Without giving anything away, the writer gives us an insight as to why the time war is being fought, and another lesson in temporal physics (trust me, it's fun, though I do think Alan Moore deserves a royalty cheque every time a comics writer uses the 'All time is simultaneous' speech!). I know this won't be to everyone's tastes, but at the halfway point I'm convinced that Hickman has delivered another innovative series to stand alongside his other Image work. 8/10


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #667
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Humberto Ramos, Carlos Cuevas & Edgar Delgado
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: While one Marvel event flounders a little, another is kick-starting in high gear as the good ship ‘Spider Island’ gets underway, steered competently by Captain Dan Slott! I really like what he’s done with this first issue, keeping Peter confused by (or unaware) of the bizarre events happening all around New York as the Jackal’s plan starts to spread its chaos across the city and his constant use of Madame Web and Shang-Chi is helping to keep a wider view of the threads of this story. The carnage that ensues when a horde of Spider-impostors descend upon the streets is terrific fun and the appearance of various Avengers allows Humberto Ramos to really flex his artistic muscles. It was his artwork on Spectacular Spider-Man almost a decade ago that got me back into comics and his quality on this web-crawling adventure is just as high. Despite being a pretty damn decent comic read I’m still not quite sold on Slott’s characterisation of the Jackal with his strange wisecracks but that’s the only troublesome wave in a sea of goodness so far! 8/10


WAR OF THE GREEN LANTERNS: AFTERMATH #2
Writer: Tony Bedard
Art: Ransom Getty, Andy Smith, Scott Hanna, Jay Leisten, Cam Smith, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Marlo Alquiza, Steve Bird & Rain Beredo
DC $3.99

Stewart R: I will say that for someone who has followed the Green Lantern Corps through their trials and tribulations across three different titles since Blackest Night these epilogues to War Of The Green Lanterns do feel like essential reading. Tony Bedard has been addressing many of the mental and emotional scars plaguing the Corps since Krona’s defeat, the crushing loss of Mogo, and of course one of the strangest deputizations that the Corps has seen in its history. While the usual suspects get a good portion of the limelight as you would expect it’s been good to see the likes of Salaak, Hanu and Vath Sarn brought into the fold as well as seeing just how troubled the Guardians are themselves by the events that have taken place. Bedard seems to be suggesting that the very fabric of the Corps is suffering from post-traumatic stress and it works on the whole. Things are certainly well poised for the dive into the four new Lantern-related titles hitting shelves next month. What doesn’t quite work however is DC’s continued trouble with art teams. Two pencillers and a small army of inkers is too many people all having a hand in these comics and it’s something that they should really look to address for the sake of consistency. 7/10


ALL-WINNERS SQUAD: BAND OF HEROES #3
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico & Andy Troy
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: There’s a definite sense that this series is moving in a different direction to where it initially appeared to be headed. The modern day mystery has already seen one casualty, a totally unexpected (and out of continuity?) appearance by a certain God of Mischief, and a promise of Earth-shattering revelations; the WW2 set shenanigans meanwhile seem to be losing the Sentinel of Liberty as a major player, with the focus shifting to unknowns such as Young Avenger, Captain Flame and Slo-Mo Jones. There is a problem here, in that it’s kind of difficult at times to figure out who’s who during the battle scenes, and in this issue it’s sometimes hard to get a handle on what’s going on during some sequences. Having said that, there’s still enough intrigue running through to keep me coming back, and I do like a good wartime superhero tale. Plus there’s Di Giandomenico’s art to consider – the guy’s a class act and he’s doing some great work here. A touch incoherent at points but a miniseries that’s still worth pursuing. 7/10


AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST #3
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Sean Murphy & Dave Stewart
DC/Vertigo $2.99

James R: Sometimes comics are brilliant from the start, delivering a smack round the chops that tells you that you've found a new favourite. Sometimes though, the greatness of a title sneaks up on you, and it's only when you find yourself asking 'How long do I have to wait for the next issue of this...?' that you realise that you've become entirely sold. This is exactly how I feel about American Vampire - I was reluctant to get on board with anything featuring a vampire, but now, well, Scott Snyder has worked his magic again. The main title has definitely gone up a gear as Skinner Sweet and Pearl find themselves in WW2, but this miniseries is also an absolute treat. With each issue, Snyder has wrenched up the action and peril, and he's been matched by the exceptional art of Sean Murphy. I've heard the similarities with an Indiana Jones movie being banded about by other reviewers, and I certainly wouldn't disagree, but we're also treated to Snyder's vampiric taxonomy. I love the idea that there's a host of different vampire species, and it's a stroke of genius to have the Carpathian strain allying themselves with the Nazi's attempt to 'purify' the Aryan blood of Europe. A top draw read from the first panel to last, and as the good Count once said, the children of the night do make some beautiful music! 9/10


IRON AGE #3
Writers: Louise Simonson and Rob Williams
Art: Todd Nauck, John Rauch, Roberto De La Torre & Dan Brown
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Part 3 of 3 for the pricier $4.99 instalments and part 4 of 5 overall - no idea what Marvel are playing at with their convoluted badging and numbering of this series, I certainly can’t believe that it’s helping readers who may have been slightly curious about picking this up, that’s for sure! Regardless of the very strange logistics, this has developed into a really entertaining read as Tony has leapt from era to era of the 20th century Marvel Universe in order to piece together Doom’s time machine and save the future of the world. This time we get two stories that look at various X-Men related incidents. The Dazzler chapter by Simonson and Nauck is big, colourful fun which is then neatly countered by Williams and De La Torre’s dark and brooding piece involving the X-Men’s famed raid on the Hellfire Club to rescue Jean Grey. I will say that of the two I do really prefer William’s gritty and nostalgic piece more but as a whole the two parts do come together nicely to keep the plot spinning on. Despite all of the various writers who’ve been involved, Tony’s characterisation has remained consistent throughout and that has been one of the keys to this idea working so well. I’ll also add that it’s always good to see De La Torre keep his finger in with the odd Marvel comic here and there and I would definitely like to see him get run on a regular title soon! 8/10


UNWRITTEN #28
Writer: Mike Carey
Art: Peter Gross, Vince Locke & Chris Chuckry
DC/Vertigo $2.99

Matt C: It’s quite something to be bowled over by a comic book on this frequent a basis, but when you consider just how ambitious Carey and Gross’ smart-as-a-whip series is, it shouldn’t be surprising, bearing in mind all the moments of genius that have come before. But it is, because every time you think they’ve reached the boundaries of where their story can go, they go off into new, unexplored territory, and it’s generally brilliant. Here we have Tom Taylor going through his father’s journals, discovering how Wilson Taylor became involved with a potent form of literature in the 1930s, one that had its roots in the pulps but was to go on to outlast them with iconography that still has incredible worldwide recognition to this very day. It’s at moments like this you think Carey must be glad he’s doing this book for DC imprint Vertigo, and not somewhere like Image, especially if the plot (or the flashback, at least) continues to move down the path suggested on the final page of this issue. The art is stellar as always, especially impressive when Gross (with the assistance of Vince Locke here) amends his style to evoke the ‘30s, or apes the primitive superhero illustrations of that era. A sublime, often breathtaking series that frequently reminds us what a unique medium for artistic expression comic books are. 9/10

2 comments:

Joe T said...

For me, it was Amaizng Spider-Man 667, Detective Comics 881, and Fear Itself 5

Amazing Spider-Man. Surprisingly, I'm not hating Spider-Island! Saying that, I'm still not totally sold on it, I mean, it is an incredibly stupid concept! That said, from what I've seen so far, Slott seems to be doing good stuff with it. This issue is definitely a step down from the previous issue (and Ramos's art has definitely gotten a lot worse since I last saw it on the title-that spread with Spider-King and Tarantula tearing into the mob of Spider-Powered criminals is absolutely hideous), but is still a fairly fun comic. 8/10 seems like a fair rating, though I'm probably going to give it a 7/10.

Detective Comics. Not too much to say about this, without simply gushing with praise. This was great. This run has probably been my favourite run on an ongoing Batman title, ever. When the solicit said that Jock & Francesco Francavillia were doing the art on one story, I was worried about how well there artistic styles would mesh together, but I'm pleased to say I didn't find it jarring at all! This issue is bitter sweet though, as I'm going to miss this art team, just as much as I'm going to miss Dick Grayson as Batman. That said, this was not only a fitting conclusion to tje run, but also to Dick Grayson's tenure as Batman, amd this volume of Detective Comics. 9.5/10

Fear Itself. God, this is awful. Even the artwork isn't as great as it has been now, offering even less to keep me gripped. 5 issues in to a 7 issue crossover, still nothing has happened, and I'm still not getting this feeling of danger that the world is going to end. In fact, I feel a greater sense of danger for the temporarily altered timeline of Flashpoint! Everyone was out of character here. Thor's line about the Hulk being a "pain in the ass"? Cap admitting defeat? Spidey backing down from his responsibilities as an Avenger? I just find it hard to accept any of it. Also, horrifically cheesy lines abound ("Know what my favourite game was as a kid? CATCH!)! I hate, hate, hate this event, with a passion. The saying goes "there's nothing to fear but fear itself"? Too right-I dread reading this title every month. 3/10

Matt C said...

Yeah, the "Pain in the ass" comment sounded totally ridiculous coming out of Thor's mouth! At least Cap admitting defeat wasn't as bad as him crying at the end of Civil War though!