11 Sept 2011

Mini Reviews 11/09/2011

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.

The week long time Paradox Group member Mike S joins us with some thoughts on a couple of DC's New 52...

Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Travel Foreman, Dan Green & Lovern Kindzierski
DC $2.99

James R: One of the smartest moves made by DC in their relaunch/reboot has been to draw on the prodigious talents of two of their best Vertigo creators. Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth continues to be my favourite ongoing title in comics, and Scott Snyder has been raising the bar on his own high standards with American Vampire. This week sees them both begin to carve out their own copy in the 'Dark' side of the DCU. It's clear straight off the bat that Lemire's Animal Man is something very special. The writer cleverly brings everyone up to speed with who Animal Man is with a first page that doubles as an interview with Buddy Baker, the eponymous hero of the book. We're then treated to a remarkable looking comic - Lemire is a terrific artist, but in Travel Foreman and Dan Green he's found an incredible art team that can convey the mundane world of Buddy Baker's home life as a family man, and then the horrific nightmare that makes up the second part of the issue. Lemire's script and Foreman's pencils make for a truly startling first issue, which climaxes with a haunting final image. Not only does it set up what should be an outstanding arc, but it lingers long in the mind after you put it down. If he keeps this up Lemire will be challenging Lemire for my favourite ongoing title crown! The best of the New 52 books so far, you should hunt this animal down fast. 10/10

Matt C: My experience of Animal Man runs to his appearance in 52, and that’s it. His plot thread was probably the weakest in that series, and beyond that I’d never had any interest in finding more about the character. What I do have interest in though, is just about anything Jeff Lemire does since discovering his writing through the fantastic Vertigo series, Sweet Tooth. That was enough reason for me to give this a whirl, and I’m glad I did, as so far this is the best title I’ve read from DC’s New 52. Starting with a magazine interview with Buddy Baker, aka Animal Man, it then throws us headlong into the domestic life of the Baker family, where Buddy has been eschewing superheroics in favour of animal rights activism and acting. What makes this comic such an instantaneous success is the thoroughly believable family dynamic Lemire presents here. He’s proved himself a master at creating an emotional connection with the reader in a very short space of time with Sweet Tooth, and he repeats the same trick here. By the final page you are so invested in the Baker family that the cliffhanger has the kind of impact it simply wouldn’t have in less assured hands. Foreman’s art may not be the most polished in the world but there’s a looseness that combines sparseness and detail to excellent effect. Lemire’s first major foray into the DC Universe with Superboy was pretty good but this already looks like it will outclass it in every way, and when we hit October I’m sure this will be right up there as one of the top picks from the entire 52. 9/10

Writer: Gail Simone
Art: Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes & Ulises Arreoloa
DC $2.99

Mike S: Gail Simone is born to write Barbara Gordon in whatever form she appears! Yes, I am still pissed that she is no longer Oracle but I really enjoyed this. I liked the fact that we still don't know how she is walking and I liked Barbara's internal monologue that hints at longer term implications after her shooting - it isn't just being forgotten and so far has a pretty major impact. Added to that, the artwork is cracking- she looks dynamic and like she is enjoying the role of Batgirl again- and the menace, the Mirror, is intriguing! 8/10

Writer: David Lapham
Art: David Aja & Bette Breitweiser
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I’ve never been as convinced as some have by David Lapham’s writing but following his work on Immortal Iron Fist I’ve become a big fan of David Aja’s work and will seek it out wherever I can (loving those Red Skull covers too, by the way!). Another Wolverine one-shot is the last thing the world needs but when I saw the preview pages of Aja’s art on CBR it become obvious that it needed to be added to this weeks pile. And, thankfully, it’s pretty good. A period piece (the ‘70s judging by some of the haircuts!), it features ninjas, giant robots and Nick Fury, all brought to life by Aja’s wondrous pen and some astute colour choices from Breitweiser. At it’s core it’s a fairly well-worn type of tale, with Logan avenging the death of an old friend, but Lapham keeps things exciting and seems to have a good ear for grizzled-old-bastard dialogue. What stops this from being truly great is that it clearly looks like it was originally a far longer story pitch that got compressed into a single (albeit extended) issue. Giving it a bit more time to soak up the setting, the era and characterizations would certainly have kicked things up a notch. As it stands, it’s a decent read with art from a guy that Marvel really needs to find regular work for, because it’s damned gorgeous! 7/10

O.M.A.C. #1
Writers: Dan DiDio & Keith Giffen
Art: Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish & Hi-Fi
DC $2.99

Stewart R: In a box somewhere in my room I have a copy of Avengers #79 from 1970. It’s one of the only Silver/Bronze Age (it sits on the cusp!) books I own and it’s a terrific example of comic adventure and superhero hi-jinx. There are sub-plots and mysteries but they remain in the periphery where they belong and the comic is about pure action and I love it because of that. And that, my friends, is exactly what I love about this first issue of O.M.A.C.! DiDio and Giffen don’t get bogged down in origins and backstory and decide to thrust us right into the mix as Kevin Kho - in full brutish and powerful O.M.A.C. mode - attacks a secret Cadmus facility and the strange characters within at the behest of the mysterious satellite, Brother Eye. Now you’ll notice that I haven’t used the terms ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ anywhere and that’s purely because there’s no definition and no identification of either in this comic. One party - the protagonist - is attempting to gain access to the other’s base using sheer force and while Giffen’s pencil work appears to characterise certain individuals with fiendish grins and monstrous looks (perhaps a menacing moustache twirling would really have confirmed things one way or the other!) there are no motives, threats or elements of speech that come across as villainous or evil. It’s this ambiguity that makes things intriguing and will bring me back for a second helping alongside Giffen’s superb art which captures the rampaging chaos perfectly. 20 pages of super fun here folks that I’m not sure anyone was expecting, and it’s left me asking the right kind of questions! 8/10

Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Yanick Paquette & Nathan Fairbairn
DC $2.99

James R: If you're reading this blog then I probably don't have to explain the importance of Swamp Thing in modern comics. This was the book given to Alan Moore that heralded not only Moore hitting top gear as a comics writer, but the birth of 'darker' comics in the shape of the Vertigo imprint and the British invasion (hurrah!). When it was announced that the brilliant S-F writer China Mieville had a new Swamp Thing series binned because the character was about to return to the DCU, I thought: "They better have a stellar replacement lined up...". Well, wish granted! As well as (rightfully) being given Batman to write, Snyder gets to flex his horror muscles in this book, and as a first issue, it's pretty flawless. Snyder introduces us to Alec Hammond, who in a smart inversion of the ‘80s Swamp Thing (who came to realise that he was merely a vessel for Alec Hammond's memories) is a revived scientist now finding he has all of Swamp Thing's memories. Best of all is that there is a clear link between this title and Lemire's Animal Man. Both writers have confirmed that they're colluding together to intertwine their books... Great Googly Moogly, I'm in fanboy heaven! Yanick Paquette shows that he's just as adept at working on horror as he was on Batman, and it all adds up to a hugely satisfying return. I'd still love to see the Mieville series run one day, but for the time being, Snyder has convinced me it's good to go green. 9/10

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Miguel Sepulveda & Allen Passalaqua
DC $2.99

Mike S: Cornell and Sepulveda produce what, to me, is the best of this week's titles - an eerie looking book with shadowy conspiracies and alien/other dimensional menaces alongside the integration of Wildstorm characters seamlessly into the DCU. Engineer, Jenny Q, Hawksmoor, Midnighter and Apollo feature alongside a couple of newbies, and Martian Manhunter is on cracking form - brooding and aloof, hinting at Justice League links for the ‘official’ action but Stormwatch for the darker aspects of what needs to be done, he seems to fit really well here! A beautifully produced book that promises much and a definite pick up for next month. 9/10

Matt C: Can the characters of the now defunct Wildstorm Universe find a place in this new DC Universe? The first issue of this rebooted Stormwatch doesn’t exactly make a strong case. I really wanted to like this – I loved the idea of Martian Manhunter being a member of the team – but all it seems to do is try and ape Warren Ellis’s compulsive take on the concept (which lead to the game-changing The Authority) with diminishing returns. I believe I’ve said it before, but this kind of approach, while utterly fresh and revelatory back at the turn of the century, has since seeped into the mainstream and no longer feels original or envelope-pushing. There are some good ideas here, but the whole enterprise lacks an edge, and by the end all my enthusiasm had dissipated. I was gunning for this to be a winner but, based on this first issue and the prospect of many superior issue #1s appearing over the next few weeks, this is a series I sadly won’t be pursuing. 5/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Gabriel Ba & Cris Peter
Marvel/Icon $4.99

Stewart R: I’ve just this second turned over this comic to check the price and realised that an extra dollar has been stuck onto the total. I’m supposing that that’s down to this being fresh material (the previous two recent runs were reprinted, recoloured and re-released) and to be frank I’d happily hand that amount over for 33 fresh new pages dedicated to the random time-tripping and reality-spanning adventures of Casanova Quinn. Things this time are far more downbeat as Quinn is now stuck working in a reality where he’s lost the trust of his closest friends and allies and he’s struggling to find the will to go on. Even with a slightly more depressed and emotional tone there’s still the usual madcap, psychedelic storytelling that we’ve come to expect from Fraction as Quinn is charged with cauterizing mutant universes that have sprung up following his previous chronological adventures. This gives returning artist Gabriel Ba plenty of scope to play around with the multitude of possibilities that such a job provides and there are some really fun pages depicting the variations between realities. Fraction decides to end this first issue with something of a reveal that promises much for the arc ahead and this being the first new Casanova material in three years it has to be said it’s as good as it’s ever been. 8/10

Writer: Judd Winick
Art: Ben Oliver & Brian Reber
DC $2.99

Stewart R: DC’s in-comic advertising certainly worked this week as I picked up Batwing and Animal Man on a second visit to Paradox after seeing the previews of both titles in the back of O.M.A.C. and Batgirl. I’d initially avoided Batwing as the thought of yet another member of the ‘Bat Family’ wasn’t too appealing and I had been left a touch ambivalent by Winick’s recent run on Batman And Robin. This however has proven to be a very absorbing debut that is certainly not short on gruesome incident as we witness the very different world that the Batman of Africa must operate in. Winick does a fine job establishing that criminals in the world’s second largest continent require a different level of fear management, most having seen atrocities that make the Gotham Underworld look like mere graffiti spraying punks in comparison. I like the brief inclusion of the original Batman here, establishing that Batwing is still on the learning curve but not afraid to do things his way and that he’s operating to a standard and ideal that transcends borders and cultures in his crimefighting activities. Massacre is a suitably horrendous antagonist for the piece and we’re not spoiled with too much information about him in this debut, just catching jaw-dropping glimpses of him living up to his name. The shock factor probably wouldn’t be so effective without the truly awesome work by Ben Oliver whose polished, realistic style is well suited to the visceral African setting. Another tick in the ‘win’ column for DC this week. 8/10

Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Rags Morales & Rick Bryant
DC $3.99

James R: Once again, it's a week where my esteemed co-writers have already echoed my thoughts (Stew on Batgirl and Matt on Action Comics) but I shall briefly use my time to say that I think Grant Morrison has an unparalleled grasp of how to make Superman work in the 21st century. Why? Well, he manages to blend the history of the character with a contemporary feel and wraps this up in a comic that is as visceral as the title of the book demands. If you go back and look at the original Action Comics, Siegel and Shuster envisioned Superman as a social activist, fighting crooked businessmen and politicians. So it makes perfect sense that in the 21st century, crooked big business is this young Man of Steel's first enemy. Of course Lex Luthor isn't far away, but right off the bat it's really refreshing to read a Superman who threatens Metropolis with the line: "Treat people right or expect a visit from me." When Morrison gets it right, he gets it really right, and I feel he does here. Here's hoping that his enthusiasm for Superman will run as long as his tenure on Batman. 8/10

Writer: Ivan Brandon & Jonathan Vankin
Art: Tom Derenick, Matt Wilson, Phil Winslade & Thomas Chu
DC $3.99

Matt C: If you were feeling so inclined, you could easily state: “This ain’t your daddy’s Sergeant Rock!” Quite literally, as it turns out, because the Sergeant Rock here turns out to be the grandson of the original wartime hero, and at the start of the tale he’s only a corporal, denied promotion due to regular insubordination (although his decisions usually result in tactical victories and reverence from his peers). The top brass see he’s capable of more, and after an introduction that lays out Rock’s steely persona, we’re plunged into battle. The difference here to regular war tales is that the fighting is interrupted by a superpowered being who tears through the battlefield, appearing to be fighting for the right side but causing a plentiful amount of carnage along the way before another costumed player enters the scene, making matters worse, especially for those on the ground. We don’t know who these individuals are, as their presented in silhouette – it’s implied that one of them is a certain Man of Steel, but I think that’s a red a herring, and in this rebooted universe it could be anyone. What their appearance does is take a robust opening chapter and send it off into an unexpected, exciting direction, and I’ll most definitely be back for a second salvo. The back-up story is a more of a standard-issue take on Middle Eastern conflict, a formulaic script (with an admittedly powerful ending) bolstered by some detailed, evocative art from Winslade. It’s okay, but if it was as strong as the main feature you’d be seeing a higher mark at the end of this review. As it is, I’m giving it 8/10

X-MEN #17
Writer: Victor Gischler
Art: Jorge Molina, Norman Lee & Guru FX
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I gushed about this comic two weeks ago and yes, I’m gushing about it again this week. Things are padded out in the plot department a little more this time as we’re introduced to the two sides battling for supremacy on the strange jungle planet our heroes find themselves upon. The barbarian-cum-pirate vibe of Skull the Slayer is brilliantly countered with the flight jacket, airman stylings of George Stanislaus, and these additions contribute to the greater sense of adventure flowing throughout this book. The terrific dialogue and banter continues with Gischler having playfully teamed Emma Frost and Sue Richards together which provides opportunity for one or two delightfully snide remarks and Dr Nemesis and Reed get a few chances to ego clash as well. Then of course there is the artwork and Jorge Molina who, with help on inks this time from Norman Lee and lush colouring from Guru FX, is really excelling himself. This comic is simply stunning with epic, alien vistas, dangerous wildlife and bone-crunching action throughout and this is certainly an artist - as well as a comic - to watch out for! 9/10

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Alex Ross, Jack Herbert & Vinicius Andrade
Dynamite Entertainment $3.99

Matt C: The further this series goes along, the more overstuffed it becomes with characters and the more difficult it is to keep track of who everyone is and why they’re doing what they’re doing. Unfortunately this has resulted in the whole thing kind of washing over me - I really wanted to get behind this book (it’s a huge homage to Kirby after all) but as it becomes more complicated it’s harder to find a way in, especially as the main protagonist, Kirby Freeman, is starting to get lost in the mix. Most of these characters are unknown quantities to the current comic reading audience, so perhaps a more staged approach to introducing them would have been more effective. Maybe if DC wasn’t in the midst of launching 52 ‘new’ comics then I might have stuck around to see where this series went, but financial limitations, my ambivalence to where it’s at the moment and the worry that Dynamite are about to milk the concept with multiple offshoot books (as they seem to do as a matter of course with the vast amount of their properties) means this will be my final issue of Kirby: Genesis. 5/10


Rob N said...

I would strongly recommend the Jamie Delano/Steve Pugh run on Animal Man (issues 51 to 79) to those of you who liked the Jeff Lemire issue. Lemire is very influenced by the concepts and themes that Delano introduced back then. They have a very similar approach to storytelling too. Back issues should be easily available and very cheap on ebay.

- Rob N

ian said...

Nice review's of the new DC 52 guys and I concur with the score's,Animal Man was by far the best read and Matt I concur with your review of Kirby:
Genesis,way to much going on for my liking so that's why I've now dropped it.