18 Sep 2011

Mini Reviews 18/09/2011

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.


GREEN LANTERN #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen & David Baron
DC $2.99

Matt C: Before this reboot/relaunch I was finding that Green Lantern – at one point my favourite DC title – was slipping to the bottom of my reading pile every month. My enthusiasm had waned as, post-Blackest Night, the series had become more convoluted and overstuffed. I was ready to leave the book behind but I felt I owed it one more chance and so here we are with this new #1. I can’t deny it’s a pretty good read, expertly put together and smoothly paced, but at this point it really needed to be mind-blowingly good to retain its place on my pull list. If there wasn’t a ton of other books vying for my attention I might stick around, but in all honesty there have been several new #1s I’ve enjoyed a lot more, and considering we’re only halfway through the New 52, my wallet’s making my decision for me. 7/10

Mike S: In the wake of some sweeping changes to the status quo of some big books, Green Lantern remains unchanged from its last arc: Sinestro is now a Green Lantern and is not happy about it, while Hal has no power ring and is trying to adjust to life on Earth as a civilian. And that's pretty much it. A bit of token violence with a Sinestro Corps member, otherwise it’s all character driven stuff. So, leaving aside the HUGE issue of how Green Lantern remains unchanged when the rest of the DCU is rebooted, does it work? I guess the answer is a cautious ‘yes’. I trust that Johns has a purpose in this arc but it is a slow burn at this starting point. The conclusion sets up the rest of the arc (presumably) but as an issue in its own right it’s a tad disappointing. 6/10

Stewart R: Something feels slightly amiss here; we’ve been given a new DC #1 and it’s far, far less than the close-to excellent standard that we’ve been exposed to in many of the other titles to have hit the shelves so far. As far as I can see, Geoff Johns may be stuck between three different influences which may be affecting his usually succinct writing style. Firstly and importantly he’d set his stall out with the end of the War of the Green Lanterns, kicking Hal back to Earth and out of the Corps and in the same stroke putting Sinestro back in the Green garb of willpower which would probably work if this was to be a simple continuation of story. But then, having read this, it seems that Johns has inexplicably steered the feel and pace dangerously close to that of the sub-par live action movie that bombed at the box office this summer with the interaction between Hal and Carole AND struggled at the same time to give this a distinctive ‘something’ to make it feel like a brand new #1 to entice in the new readers. What results in an unspectacular debut that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. Arguably the Sinestro sections of the issue are the most interesting parts but I’m not convinced that this was the time to play the old switcheroo considering what DC are aiming for with the whole New 52 venture. 5/10


BATWOMAN #1
Writers: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Art: J.H. Williams III & Dave Stewart
DC $2.99

Mike S: Another DC ‘New Universe’ title that really isn't. It’s a continuation of the previous arcs in every way, with the same distinctive and (in my opinion) beautiful artwork, tight story telling and strong characterisation. This title really works - perhaps because it is newer or more detached from the old DCU, it just meshes seamlessly with the new direction. Add to this the inclusion of Firebird/Bette Kane of Teen Titans fame - interesting how she references being a Titan when it isn't clear which Titans exist in the new DCNU! - and a creepy villain in the Weeping Woman and this is a cracking first issue! 8/10

Matt C: We’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity for this issue to arrive, and now it finally has I’m sad to say it’s a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, the art’s phenomenal – no one composes layouts on a comic page quite like Williams III does – but the story felt lacking in comparison. It’s difficult to discern this at first because the visuals are so damn seductive, but there’s not the element of surprise that the previous Batwoman tales held in Detective Comics, nor is there the breathless mix of words and imagery that pins you to your seat. In comparison to what came before it felt – for want of a better word – safe. Of course I’m not going to say without the involvement of Greg Rucka this title is doomed to be a pale imitation of its former self – I sincerely believe there’s huge potential here. It’s just not reached that level... yet! 7/10

James R: In the new DCU there are a couple of titles that aren't relaunches so much as renumberings. This week both Batman And Robin and this book would have seemed mildly perplexing to a reader jumping on for the first time, but for those of us who have been on board with Kate Kane's adventures from Detective Comics this is very much business as usual. The story starts with Kate still estranged from her father (following the revelation previously that he had known about the terrible fate of Kate's twin sister, Beth) and investigating the disappearance of children at the hands of the spectral La Llorona. What I appreciate about this book is that it has a distinct flavour - it's very much 'Gotham: The Spooky Adventures'. So far Williams III has wisely avoided the Batman rogues gallery and familiar Bat-tropes to give us a wonderfully idiosyncratic book. It almost goes without saying that it's a thing of beauty too; ever since his incredible work on Promethea I remain in awe of J. H. Williams III who mixes grim and gritty sequences with amazing panel layout and design. I can only encourage you to pick this comic up, but if you are new to the character then I suggest checking out the Batwoman: Elegy trade - I guarantee both a great tale AND a vital primer for this book. In the meantime though it's business as usual for Batwoman’s great crime-fighting adventures. 8/10


LEGION LOST #1
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Art: Pete Woods & Brad Anderson
DC $2.99

Mike S: Being a diehard Legion fan, this is the one I was most looking forward to in the New 52 and, in places, it didn't disappoint. The choice of characters was interesting - not the usual pick of the crop in some cases. It’s nice to see Yera, Gates and Tellus get some action (although it isn't looking good for two of them at the issue's conclusion!) and the concept behind the story is interesting: trying to save the past from a future bio-terrorist only to become trapped on a world that is now infected, trying to save the future. The characterisation was good with the distinctive narrative voices and personalities helped along with some solid artwork too. Timber Wolf is the stand out here, the love of his character from the writer is being quite apparent! My gripe though, which I am hoping might be addressed soon, is that with a cast of only seven, to seemingly remove two of them in issue #1 doesn't leave you far to go, not to mention the laziness that’s evident in using death as a comic book device! I am hoping that the early demises are red herrings and that they simply remain injured. I can think of at least three ways this could have happened but if the title is already resorting to deaths for tension building I worry that the writer lacks the imagination to make this potentially enthralling title as good as it could be. I will keep reading and hope that everything here is not what it first appears. 7/10


FEAR ITSELF #6
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbdger & Laura Martin
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: There’s no doubting that Fear Itself really hasn’t lived up to the hype that Marvel spewed about it in the first half of this year but, as we near the finale, I will say that I thought this main event book has taken a slight turn for the better this week. I like how Fraction casts Steve Rogers as a man teetering on the brink of hopelessness, his every muscle and sinew screaming to carry on fighting yet the smallest cracks of doubt starting to eat away at him. Some may not take too kindly to his confrontation with Odin but I thought it was an emotional lift that was necessary to show that Captain America is not a man to give up regardless of what powers are telling him it’s hopeless and it also helps to highlight the doubt that a being as all-knowing and powerful as Odin can carry with him. That’s a point echoed with the interactions between the All-Father and Thor as the continuing themes of destiny, fate and the cyclic nature of the Asgardians existence are looked at once again through their tumultuous relationship. While an improvement on the previous instalments there’s still the lingering doubt that such an event, which has sold itself as a monumental doomsday tale yet remained strangely close and claustrophobic in scope throughout, can be wrapped up in one single issue sufficiently. I guess we’ll see what turns up next month! 7/10

Matt C: In a week where the DC Universe is a ridiculously exciting place to be again, this penultimate issue of Marvel’s main 2011 event seems to highlight how the House of Ideas has lost their way. We’ve got to this late stage and it still doesn’t seem like the story has really kicked into second gear. There’s been a lot of hot air expelled, some generally pointless fisticuffs, and a succession of characters not always behaving true to type (along with that inexcusable, cynical “shock” death). There are some nice, ‘human’ moments in amongst the bluster (May and Spidey, Thor and Odin) but they are few and far between and don’t really work as part of the whole, as the whole is essentially asking us to believe a wave of fear is sweeping the globe without backing it up with real evidence. The art’s great though, it’s just a shame it feels wasted on a project like this. Fraction is still one of the best writers Marvel has at their disposal, but this is a long way away from his finest hour. 5/10


BATMAN AND ROBIN #1
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray & John Kalisz
DC $2.99

Matt C: Well, this certainly pisses on last week’s cliché-ridden Detective Comics from a great height (“I am Gotham!” Please!). It’s one of the titles in the reboot where the fact that we’re dealing with a rejigged universe is barely apparent, but when confronted with such an assured handling of character and situation, it hardly matters. Obviously it’s Bruce back in the cowl with Damian in tow, so that leads to a whole different dynamic than we had when Dick was the Dark Knight, but Tomasi doesn’t just coast on that – he shakes things up. Most dramatically, Bruce makes a decision to stop marking the night his parents died, instead choosing to celebrate their wedding anniversary going forward. This is Bruce realising his priorities have changed, he now has a son (and potentially an heir) and so can no longer cling to the negative elements of his past. It’s a brilliant move, and it works because Tomasi makes it feel like an organic decision rather than a forced change in character. On top of that he not only introduces one (potentially more) villain whose motives make him an entirely worthy opponent, but he also keeps the back-and-forth between Bruce and Damian consistently entertaining. The art is kinetic but clearly defined and the whole thing holds together perfectly. The ball is most definitely now in Scott Snyder’s court for Batman #1 next week! 9/10


AMERICAN VAMPIRE: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST #4
Writer: Scott Snyder
Art: Sean Murphy & Dave Stewart
DC/Vertigo Comics $2.99

James R: With all the excitement surrounding the DC relaunch over the last month, I’ve found it to be an established favourite that has proven to be the read of the week. We've waxed lyrical on this blog over Snyder's skills as a writer, and in this miniseries it's great to see him really letting rip. You can almost feel him channelling the spirit of the Indiana Jones movies as he delivers another hi-octane issue jam-packed with double agents, noble sacrifices and buckets of blood. This is way out in front as the miniseries of the year for me and it's tough to find a weakness in this book. Sean Murphy's art is magnificent as usual, and it's clear he is in his element here, delivering panel after panel of dynamic action, moody landscapes and vivid emotion. The series isn't re-inventing the comics wheel, but it is corking good fun. After a pretty underwhelming summer of blockbusters at the cinema, it's great to see Snyder and Murphy showing us how blockbuster fun should be done in the comics! 8/10


MYSTERY MEN #5
Writer: David Liss
Art: Patrick Zircher & Andy Troy
Marvel $2.99

Matt C: Not the strongest ending to an otherwise fine miniseries, and that’s not because it features the predictable confrontation between the newly assembled team of heroes and the ‘big bad’, the General. Rather it feels like it rushes too quickly towards its conclusion and that certain things that would have given it a more natural pacing have been jettisoned in an effort to get to the end. This final issue could easily been spread across two, and been stronger for it I think. Despite that, Mystery Men has still been worth the time and money spent: discovering this previously unseen era of the Marvel Universe has been a thrill and Zircher’s pulp-inspired art has been resoundingly effective. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to seeing further adventures of these characters. 6/10


SUPERBOY #1
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Art: R.B. Silva, Rob Lean & The Hories
DC $2.99

Stewart R: Well this is a proper, good old-fashioned rebooting and no doubt about it as we get an inside look at Superboy’s origin story within the realms of the New 52. Lobdell leads us through Superboy’s increasing self-awareness as an elaborate test tube experiment being conducted by the shadowy N.O.W.H.E.R.E organization. The seasoned writer nails the part human, part Kryptonian’s perspective, his only experiences having been supplied to him by his custodians, be it intentionally or from his own secret observations, and while Superboy’s inner monologue has a feeling of the emotionless alien about it, we’re all fully aware of the potential that the young man holds within his combined DNA. To help this debut maintain an emotional heart Lobdell also drafts in a character of Jim Lee and Wildstorm’s creation in the form of Caitlin Fairchild of Gen 13 fame. Here she’s cast as a young scientist working within the ranks of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and her battle to discover the secret of the human DNA donor while ensuring that Superboy remains safe is a much needed and engrossing element. The art from Silva is big and bold and aided well by Rob Lean’s simple and effective inks and that’s me booked in for a helping of issue #2. 8/10


SUICIDE SQUAD #1
Writer: Adam Glass
Art: Federico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty, Scott Hanna & Val Staples
DC $2.99

Matt C: The first major surprise of the New 52 for me. The concept behind Suicide Squad has been familiar to me but I’ve never really investigated any of the comics before. To be honest, until the last week or so, this wasn’t even a contender for my pull list, so I’m glad I made the plunge into the unknown, so to speak. The series features a group of Death Row supervillains who are given the chance to either wait around for the lethal injection or go out on government-sanctioned missions where the chance of survival is only slightly above nil. This isn’t a putting-the-team-together issue though, as we’re thrown right into the middle of things with the Squad are being tortured by a group of unknown assailants. It’s frequently brutal and allows us to get to know who these guys are on the fly. Strong characterization wins the day and although the mix of artists (I’m not entirely sure who did what) results in some inconsistency, there are some really powerful panels, and at least we know it’s Val Staples setting the requisite tone with his wise palette choices. A twist ending hits the spot and confirms that this is absolutely a title to stick with for the foreseeable future. 9/10

Mike S: Now, I remember the Suicide Squad that contained Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Punch and Jewelee, Lashina et al and (MUCH more importantly!) introduced the DCU to a certain Oracle! So I was kind of excited to welcome this new incarnation of the Squad and, while not totally blown away, I did enjoy the issue on the whole. The pick of characters is interesting - Harley doesn't really strike me as a good fit (but you never know), Deadshot is the link with the past and Killer Shark I loved from Secret Six. Additionally the issue allowed us to see the recruitment of the Squad members as well as setting up the premise with the reveal of the Wall. Now wait a second, a new Amanda Waller? I’m sorry, I just HATE it! How can someone who looks like she could snap in the breeze be ‘The Wall', who was imposing in name and nature??. The final mission looks interesting, and if it is as they’ve specified it’ll set the Squad against the rest of the DCNU, nicely avoiding the "bad guys turning good" motif that might cause comparisons to Marvel's Thunderbolts. Not totally sold yet, but an enjoyable read nonetheless with some nice, gritty art to complement the tone. 7/10


CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #4
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Val Staples
Icon $3.50

James R: This week sees the final part of Brubaker and Philips latest slice o' noir, as the dark tale of Riley Richards comes to a conclusion. For the record, let me say that I love everything that this creative team do, (and I'm already looking forward to their epic Fatale coming in 2012!) but I have to crack under questioning and say that I felt this finale was a touch... underwhelming. Given the climaxes of Incognito and the other Criminal arcs, I was expecting a sting in the tale or a Colombo-esque "One more thing" for Riley to have to deal with, but everything was wrapped up a little too neatly - even the tale of the Brookview Stalker felt as if it was explained too easily. I normally close the final page of these books and exclaim 'Wow!' This time however, it was more of an 'Oh'. Don’t get me wrong, this is head and shoulders above any other crime book on the racks today, but given their own dizzyingly high standards, this felt less ‘bank heist’ and more ‘entertaining petty larceny’. 7/10


SEVERED #2
Writers: Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft
Art: Attila Futaki
Image $2.99

Matt C: The debut issue was impressive but this chapter cranks things up a notch and is even better. And by better I mean very, very good indeed. The horror element is put on the backburner to a degree (although when it does manifest itself, it has a hell of an impact) and in its place we get to know a little more about 12-year old Jack Garron as he heads to Chicago to meet up with his long lost father, hooking up with another runaway, Sam, who helps him out of a sticky situation and offers to show him how to survive on the streets. What makes this issue so effective and memorable is not only it’s well judged, believable characterization but also the way it evokes the era so definitively that you can almost feel dirt underfoot and smell the stench of poverty. Part of this is down to the writing obviously, but it’s the art from Futaki that really brings the words and situations to life. Absorbing and shot through with expressive detail, there’s a lightness of touch to his style which means that when we are confronted by a gruesome sight (even when it’s more implied than explicit) it hits like a sledgehammer. Essential stuff for horror fans and beyond. 9/10


DEATHSTROKE #1
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Art: Joe Bennett, Art Thirbert & Jason Wright
DC $2.99

Matt C: Another DC character I’ve not had a great deal of experience with but Kyle Higgins sets out his stall here straight away. This isn’t going to be a ‘fun’ book. An assassin for hire, Deathstroke is no longer a spring chicken but, as he ably shows in this debut issue, he still gets the job done. There’s a definite nihilistic streak running through this comic and that will no doubt put a lot of people off, but it kind of appealed to that adolescent, rebellious part of me that still resides deep down inside somewhere. Of course, this approach could potentially become wearying month in, month out, but I like what Higgins has done here and the art’s suitably incendiary, so I’ll be back for more. Whether or not there’s a big enough audience for this kind of thing remains to be seen, but kudos to DC for giving it a crack. 8/10


RED LANTERNS #1
Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Ed Benes, Rob Hunter & Nathan Eyring
DC $2.99

Stewart R: This is one of the strange curiosities that has sprung up in the New 52: a spinoff title that is brand new but probably works far better if you already have a working knowledge of what Atrocitus and the Red Lanterns have been up to within the pages of various Green Lantern-related titles over the past few years. Peter Milligan does his best to provide a brief history of Atrocitus’ tragic past and a little insight into his wavering control over his Corpsmen but I don’t think this initial chapter goes deep enough into what these rage-filled beings can do. Milligan instead uses four pages of the twenty-page total to show brief glimpses of Earth-based stories or prophecies which I feel is something of a lost opportunity to have this debut and first arc be purely about the strange and wonderful alien characters that we only know so much about. I rank Benes as one of DC’s heavy hitters when it comes to pencillers so it’s a little strange to see him on something of a fringe title. Admittedly this is far from his best work but it’s serviceable enough considering that this isn’t much more than a serviceable first issue all around. 6/10


GRIFTER #1
Writer: Nathan Edmonson
Art: Cafu, Jason Gorder & Andrew Dalhouse
DC $2.99

Matt C: This title’s been taking a lot of flak from some quarters, and while I can understand many of the reasons why, I also can’t deny that I enjoyed this quite a bit. I’ve only read Edmonson’s current, rather excellent, Image miniseries Who Is Jake Ellis? and he brings a similar mystery vibe to the proceedings here, while Cafu’s smooth, confident penmanship keeps things nice and crisp. The big change here is that Cole Cash isn’t a badass marksman with a covert-ops military background, instead he’s a literal grifter, a conman ripping off the super rich. This perhaps isn’t the wisest move, as stripping Cash of his backstory changes the man, so essentially we’re dealing with a different character - the mask doesn’t maketh the man, after all! Still, this issue does contain a healthy amount of intrigue that ensures things remain interesting, and Cafu’s art is very strong, reminiscent of Gary Frank’s at certain points. I can see myself coming back for round two, but unless Cash starts to take on more traits of his former self, I’m not sure the audience will be there to make this an ongoing concern. 7/10

3 comments:

ian said...

Nice reviews guys,but why no review of Demon Knights or Frankenstein,by far for me the best two reads from week two of the new DC.

Stewart R said...

Thanks Ian. I can't speak for the other guys but I've no great fondness for the work of Paul Cornell it must be said, and as for Frankenstein I'm waiting for my fellow reviewers to lend me their opinion before I get invested.

Having seen the Suicide Squad reviews I may be tempted to give that one a go though!

Arion said...

I totally agree about Severed. This second issue was really great.

I just wrote a comment about it here: www.artbyarion.blogspot.com

Keep up the good work guys, this is an amazing blog,

cheers.