4 Sept 2011

Mini Reviews 04/09/2011

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: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair
DC $3.99

James R: And so the new era begins! After what seems like an age waiting for the DC relaunch, this week brings us a proper blockbuster comic in the form of Justice League #1. DC's highest profile creators and characters all packaged in one issue - or download if you're a digital fancy-dan - ...sort of! The cover promises the Justice League, but really this is very much a prologue. Out of geeky interest, earlier in the week I re-read Grant Morrison's first JLA arc from way back in '97 when DC decided to re-launch the book with its most iconic characters in the roster. Back then Morrison just dived straight into the plot, assuming that his readership was already au fait with his team (or that they needed only a cursory introduction). It made for an interesting comparison with DC's ethos now where our plot starts '5 years ago' and it's clear that our first 6 or so issues will be a 'putting the band together' tale rather than a full throttle, high ambition plot. It must be said that there's a lot here that's very good - Johns' trademark grasp of these icons is dead-on from the start (I loved the banter between Batman and Green Lantern) - and I'm confident that this will pay off spectacularly down the line. Jim Lee's art is his usual brilliant standard and he's perfectly suited to a 'big screen' type action title such as this. However, I'm also aware that in many ways, this isn't a book for a wizened ol' fanboy like me - it feels like it’s been designed to bring readers back or introduce them for the first time to DC. I feel it does that really well but I would have just liked to see a Justice League tale set in the ‘here and now’. I normally would have given this a 7, but for the ambition of this relaunch, it definitely warrants an extra mark! 8/10

Matt C: It’s likely to be the biggest seller of 2011, it ushers in a new age for DC Comics, but what the man on the street really wants to know is, is it any good? Well yes, it is, but anyone expecting a reinvention of the wheel will be disappointed. In fact, anyone expecting a straight up Justice League adventure will be disappointed too, as various reviewers have pointed out – often negatively – over the last few days. It’s set “five years ago”, so while the New 52 isn’t completely about seeing a reset button being pressed, there’s an obvious desire to get from A to B and show us how the League came together in this reformed universe. I’m guessing we’ll get a six-issue arc showing their formation, and if the following instalments are up to the same standard as this debut, both newcomers and old timers should be in for a thrilling ride. It zips along, focusing primarily on Batman and Green Lantern’s first meeting, displaying Johns’ uncanny knack for character dynamics on the move as well the incredibly accomplished illustrations from Lee (and longtime cohort Williams). It’s the big blockbuster title and while it’s taking one step at a time it still ticks all the right boxes. I’m sure there’ll be other titles in the New 52 that supersede this one in terms of engagement but this initial chapter Justice League does what it needed to: it gets in DC’s two big guns and let’s them do what they do best, which is entertain the heck out of the reader for 24 pages. 8/10

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

James R: With all the fireworks surrounding Justice League, it's almost easy to forget that Flashpoint brings down the curtain on the old DCU this week. Matt C has already done a grand job highlighting this issue's strengths and for the most part I just want to echo what he said: this has been an event that has delivered! It's not been one of the all-time classics, but I can't remember the last time a crossover came up with so many intriguing ideas or delivered such an emotional payoff. The scenes with Barry Allen and his mother, and the delivery of Thomas Wayne's letter to his son were beautifully poignant. Bruce Wayne, eternally characterised as an unbeatable and unbreakable spirit, collapsing back in his chair is one of the most memorable images of the year for me. As for gripes, I did have to roll my eyes a little at the introduction of Grifter and Co. only for them to be killed off a panel later! One of the things I don't like about a huge fight finale is that the plot can become a seemingly arbitrary sequence of cameos. But all told, this was a win - and kudos to DC for making this and Justice League their only two books of the week. Reading Flashpoint #5 and then immediately picking up Justice League really did feel like an event. Mission accomplished! 8/10

Writer: Enrique Carrion
Art: John Upchurch
Image $2.99

Stewart R: If you’re going to start a new comic series and aren’t planning on going down the bargain $1.00 debut route then the next best thing is to put out a $2.99 comic and have it full to the brim with story. No less than 37 of the 40 pages on offer in Vescell #1 - I’m including the front cover here - are dedicated to Vescell’s story in some way and that puts a big tick in the box for me, especially as what Carrion and Upchurch have crafted in this initial instalment is very entertaining. A neat and succinct explanation of what has happened to Earth is provided on the first page and allows us to dive straight in to the rather complicated life of Agent Maurico “Moo” Barrino as he works as Vescell’s top agent. He’s certainly not a straight forward ‘hero’ type and Carrion ensures that he’s well rounded and with a darker edge to be found here and there. The female entourage of Avery and Machi add an extra layer of interest and certainly give Upchurch the opportunity to deliver some rather buxom, cleavage-filled panels. His art style reminds me of that of Diego Greco on Image’s Bad Dog title and it’s a very good fit for this tale that crosses through science-fiction, mystical adventure and lusty political thriller. *Sigh* yet another top-nocth #1 from Image; woe is me! Haha! 8/10

Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Tyler Crook & Bill Crabtree
Oni Press $3.99

Stewart R: This colourful and strange world of Cullen Bunn’s just gets better and better. Following the appearance of the mummified Asher Cobb in the past two issues, Bunn takes the chance to show us just what fate befell the giant fellow to see him wind up as the powerful and dessicated corpse who attacked Drake and Becky. It’s a sad tale for sure and Bunn produces a fine story of the twisted and malformed Asher suffering under fates’ constant cruelty as he fights prejudice as an outcast as well as the terrible visions that he witnesses having been gifted and cursed in the same stroke with ‘The Sight’. It’s gripping stuff and Asher is a character who you can’t help but pity as he’s tormented at every turn. B.P.R.D. artist Tyler Crook steps in for series regular Brian Hurtt and he manages to maintain that very specific look and feel that this title is now known for. This is a solid chapter that really does add to the growing world of The Sixth Gun and shows that things are far from clear-cut in the Weird Wild West. 8/10

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: As an example of how to put a modern superhero book together, this is nearly textbook perfect, featuring astute characterisation, thrilling action, big ideas and witty dialogue. But… if your familiar with Ellis’ work the you may experience a sneaking feeling of having seen this all before. Yes, it’s very clever but Ellis was doing this kind of thing a decade ago and while it may impress there is a sense that he’s sleepwalking through this. On the other hand, McKelvie really knocked me out with his art. I’ve only really been familiar with it through his work on Phonogram at Image several years back – which was basically a lot of characters talking – so I wasn’t quite expecting the dynamism and fire he brought to the page here. Definitely impressed. So, in summary, this is a fine superhero comic, and many folks won’t find anything to criticize about it, but if you’re like me then maybe you’ll think that Ellis on autopilot, while good, isn’t quite good enough to amaze anymore. 7/10

Stewart R: Darn it. I’d been looking forward to Warren Ellis’ arrival on this title since it was announced all those months ago as he’d impressed me with the likes of Ignition City and Supergods over the past couple of years. It’s clear as crystal that he’s comfortable with the science-fiction elements involved in the story with secret cities, time machines and weapons of mass destruction all included. In that respect he’s a perfect fit for directing the secretive operations of Steve Roger’s crack-team. Unfortunately I’m not so keen on his character work with the four Avengers that he's used here. Ellis clearly favours Beast with his gifted intellect and tech-heavy dialogue and that’s fair enough but Steve Rogers and Black Widow’s participation feels token at best; they’re just along for the ride and there to ask the questions for Beast to explore and answer in depth. Ellis is yet another writer who I don’t think quite understands how to portray Moon Knight and the constant signposting and referencing of his psychotic nature begins to grate quite quickly. I’m conflicted when it comes to McKelvie’s art as well; his clean style is a decent fit for capturing the secret city setting but I don’t think he gets the action sequences quite right. It’s a proper mixed bag and it might just be enough to make me put my order for Secret Avengers on hiatus. 5/10

James R: A few years back, Warren Ellis came up with a dynamite idea for a comics series. It was called Global Frequency, and it was published by the now-defunct Wildstorm. In many ways, it was the perfect Ellis book - each issue was self-contained, and featured an extraordinary threat or mystery that had to be solved by a revolving group of experts in their given field. It had Ellis working on some of his favourite ideas: mad science, the cold war, alien invasion, it was a corking read. If you haven't read it, do track it down! I mention Global Frequency as this debut for Ellis' mini-run on Secret Avengers seems to be following the same blueprint. Steve Rogers and Co. have to deal with some mad science unleashed by the Shadow Council in a secret underground city and the whole thing is wrapped up in 22 pages. Ellis is a master of this kind of storytelling, and he's ably assisted by Jamie McKelvie, whose smooth lines fit this tale remarkably well. A definite treat while Marvel seems bogged down in the turgid Fear Itself event and while Ellis may not be one of 'The Architects' of the Marvel universe, he is certainly a master craftsman. 8/10

Writers: Various
Art: Various
IDW $3.99

Matt C: The Rocketeer’s never been a character I’ve had many dealings with previously. I do remember seeing the movie adaptation of the late Dave Stevens’ comic book creation (heavily influenced by the classic Republic serial King Of The Rocket Men) in less than ideal circumstances back in the ‘90s but never set eyes on the comics themselves. I’d never really thought about rectifying that but the number of top tier creators assembled for this four-issue series became impossible to resist. Picking up this book proved to be absolutely the right thing to do; an exercise in nostalgia it may be, but it’s nostalgia for an era where heroes were clean cut, villains were irredeemably evil and dames seemed to have a habit of getting into trouble. Simpler times, from a certain perspective. It’s been lovingly produced, with a high production values, and the writers and artists involved have brought nothing but pure affection to the pages. I’m certainly more interested in taking a look at Stevens’ original material now, and revisiting the movie, and anyone who missed this should look out for what will likely be a collected edition dripping with quality on the shelves of their LCS soon. 8/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: And so the original creative line-up is back together as Jerome Opeña returns to show us how X-Force’s problems continue to go from bad to worse to horrendous all within a matter of minutes of arriving back from the Age of Apocalypse. The combination of Opeña’s linework and Dean White’s fabulous use of colours - the past few issues have been purposefully lacking in blues so that their presence would be keenly felt in this issue - really is something to behold and their efforts to stop the evolution of Warren and X-Force’s worsening predicament are breathtaking. Remender has taken Archangel and turned him into a complex and calculating opponent who is far from predictable and his cool yet polite manner is a tad unnerving. Once again he uses one of the team’s inner monologue to great effect - in this instance Psylocke as she fights to save her lover - and it adds a terrific sense of urgency to the action. Despite the grand scale of the threats that X-Force keep having to face, Remender always manages to keep an eye on just why it falls on this small team to contain the situation and why, thankfully, we’re not getting guest appearances from the likes of the X-Men and Avengers every other month. That’s 14 issues now where every single one has been 'book of the week' worthy. 9/10

Writer: Garth Ennis
Art: Oscar Jimenez & Juanmar
Avatar $4.99

Matt C: It was only a couple of weeks ago I was asking someone whether this mini had actually finished and if it had, did I get the last issue, as I honestly couldn’t remember. Never a good sign. Turns out we did indeed have one more issue to go to resolve the titular “last battle” but I’m sadly going to have to say we’ve had six issues too many (and you can throw in that one-shot, The Last Enemy, as well while your at it!). I absolutely loved the first series, which was full of Ennis’ trademark profane wit and actually had some profound things to say about life and religion. In hindsight now it looks like Ennis said everything he needed to say the first time around, and what we’ve had since has just been unnecessary milking of the concept. There have been several amusing and/or clever moments along the way but nothing to justify this miniseries. Jimenez’ art is fine but I think Jacen Burrows defined the look so fully initially that no one else was ever going to do it justice. Treasure that first inspired miniseries and forget about the rest. 5/10

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